Additional Information on
Nikkor 20mm Ultra-wideangle lenses

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Nikkor lenses at 20mm is another favourite lens of mine. The MF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s can truly be claimed as a classic and it was a crystallized result of a persistent effort by Nikon in years of lens development to enable the last version of the MF lens to be in such a perfect state optically and physically. The various versions introduced over the years may even confuse a seasoned Nikkor faithful and I will try my best to compile information relates to its respective models that may carry with varying specification, appearance and performance for your reading reference.

Nikkor Manual focus 20mm lens.jpg
20mm Nikkor lens started as a Nikkor rangefinder lens in 1959. The rangefinder version has an equivalent in a F-mount 2.1 cm f/4 Nikkor-O. Nikkor 20mm lens was basically designed to replace the old 21mm lens as not all Nikon SLR bodies can accept the 2.1cm wideangle lens because it has a different optical design which saw rear section of the lens extends very deep inwards. Making it be only usable with a camera that has mirror-lock up mechanism. Further, the lens uses an auxiliary finder for picture composition which is not entirely useful especially when close focusing is needed.

Anyway, although many Nikon faithful still think the old 21mm lens has a far superior design optically, but in no way the lens is friendly to use on any SLR camera, even if it has a mirror-lock-up feature. The design of the lens has offset the strength of a typical SLR camera with direct reflex viewing because once the reflex mirror has been flipped upwards, the viewfinder will black out and there is no way for you to handle pin point focusing nor for picture composition. Instead, the auxiliary finder provides the tasks but there will be differential optical accuracy when close focusing is needed. Further, in real life application, with the rear section of the 21mm lens is only barely 5mm away from the shutter curtain, where physically it yields less picture angle coverage than how an actual focal length of 21mm should deliver. So, Nikon redesigned a new lens version that has a retrofocus design to overcome such drawback while also aimed to improve lens handling. The replacement lens was a very unique Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD lens that eventually debuted in 1969. Despite its moderately slow lens speed at f/3.5, the Non-Ai 20mm lens has quite a large dimension and weighs equally heavy at 350g. It also has a larger 72mm filter attachment size. However, the advantage this lens presents is, the retrofocus design has eliminated any needs to lock the mirror upwards when used with any of the prevailing Nikon SLRs. Well, the design of the lens is not just confined to the 21mm as other series such as ALL first generations of Fisheye-Nikkor lenses do have similar lens-to-camera requirement. Anyway, before the Nikon FM and Nikon FE were being introduced in 1977/8, all THREE series of Nikon F, Nikkormat and Nikon F2 series have a mirror lock up as standard feature which making them no problems to accept these kind of lenses.

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Illustrations in the usage of perspective to show differig effect with a 20mm ultrawide lens to cover the huge Sleeping Buddha inside Wat Pol temple, Bangkok, Thailand. Copyright ©-free images collection 2002. leofoo ® (each at 43k) Jpeg

The period between 1973-1974 was quite eventful as Nikon surprised the photo community by introducing three Non-Ai ultra-wideangle lenses in Nikkor 15mm f/5.6 and Nikkor 18mm f/4.0 in quick succession to enable Nikkor lens family to have a wider selection of alternatives for ultra-wideangles. The 20mm focal length also was given an upgrade by Nikon but strangely, instead of expecting the lens updating program would involve a faster lens speed for the Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD, Nikon actually introduced a new version for the 20mm lens which has a SLOWER maximum aperture at f/4.0 ! However, Nikkor 20mm f/4.0 has a very compact, lightweight design (weighing merely 210g versus 350g in the f/3.5 UD version) and uses 52mm filter accessories instead of 72mm.

Macro photography using 20mm reverse by Jarmo Holopainen
Subsequently, with the lens development cycles* that kept rolling on, Nikon again announced another upgrade in 1979; this time around, the maximum aperture of the 20mm lens was reverted back to a faster lens speed at f/3.5. The extremely compact Ai-Spec Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 lens which has a simpler 11 elements in 8 groups design. The classic Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s was only being introduced late in 1984 to replace the slower f/3.5 version. It has a slightly more complex 12 elements in 9 groups optical design and it was also introduced as an Ai-S native Nikkor. So, with such a rich background behind, which stretched well over 16 years , the birth of this Nikkor classic was in no way coincidental ! With the MF to autofocus evolution, Nikon eventually replaced the MF version with an AF-Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s version in 1989 which followed by another subsequent upgrade with an AF-Nikkor Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D lens in March, 1994.

Imagine how an Ai-S 20mm ultrawide was being used inversely to capture this tiny creature. ... have you ever tried once ?

Credit: Image courtesy of Jarmo Holopainen, whose online PORTFOLIO can be accessed at PBase. Image copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

* Supplement: According to the excellent reference book Nikon Hand Book by Peter Braczko, he reported and pictured a prototype compact Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 lens in his book which he mentioned the lens was displayed during Photokina 1976 but strangely, the prototype lens was not being marketed at all.

Hierarchy of lens development for the Nikkor 20mm lens looks something like this:
Lens Type Year Construction Closest Distance Filter Size Remarks
2.1 cm f/4 Nikkor-O 10/59 8 elements 4 groups 0.9 m 52mm Mirror Lockup, accessory finder to compose
Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD 11/67 11 elements 9 groups 0.3 m 72mm 390g, 72mm attachment size, non-A(
Nikkor 20mm f/4.0 1974 10 elements 8 groups 0.3 m 52mm 210g 52mm attachment size, AI & non-AI(
Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 77/78 11 elements 8 groups 0.3 m 52mm 235g AI, 52mm attachment size
Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 1981 11 elements 8 groups 0.3 m 52mm 235g Ai-S, 52mm attachment size
Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s 10/1984 12 elements 9 groups 0.25 m 62mm Ai-S, CRC, 62mm attachment size
AF-Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 02/89 12 elements 9 groups 0.25 m 62mm AF, CRC
AF-D Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 03/94 - 12 elements 9 groups 0.25 m 62mm AF-D, CRC

My F3/T and 20mm.jpg 20mmf28af.jpg
The current version of the Nikkor 20mm is an autofocus AF-D 20mm f/2.8 lens that has an exacting optical design with the last version of the MF Nikkor wideangle lens introduced back in 1984. But whatever it is, if you intend to look forward to buy a new 20mm ultra-wideangle lens, always opt for the latest AF version for better compatibility with a possible SLRs in the future.

Copyright-free images collection © 2001 leofoo.gif
<<< ---- I bought my Nikon F3/T back in 1983 and subsequently got a MF 20mm f/2.8 lens in 1985. I have used this combination for the last 15 years and I am still keeping and have been using both the lens and the camera regularly for my personal photography.

With the exception of high speed Olympus Zuiko 21mm f/2.0 - the lens speed of f/2.8 of the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 is ranked among the fastest lens in this class. Other than a good lens speed it offers, the superior optical design of this Nikkor lens is also very well corrected for common aberrations such as spherical, curvature of field and also astigmatism. The lens has incorporated a floating lens elements system so as to maintain its exceptional optical performance to its closest focusing range which starts at 0.25 meter to infinity (OO). This Nikkor ultra-wideangle lens has always been famed for its stable, natural colour fidelity and high image contrast across all aperture settings, possibly very much attributes to use of Nikon's NIC lens coating to all its 12 elements within its optical construction. Flares is extremely well control in this lens even for backlit situations to enable photographer be able to explore many other photographic possibilities. The lens has first rated built quality and it has a very well illustrated depth of field scales engraved on the chrome aperture ring for easy reference. Combining with its good features and other unique optical characteristic such as the extensive depth of field it provides and its exceptional performance at its entire focusing range and aperture settings, making this lens an perfect ultrawides to start off for general photographic applications which includes journalism, news and events, commercial/industrial and even for creative works photography.

20mm lens is perhaps the right focal length to start off for experiencing the exciting world of ultra-wideangle photography. The angle of view of 94° is almost double to a comparing standard lens at 46°. What is most important is that the 20mm takes in about four times the picture area. For example, if you stood about four meters (about 13.1 ft.) from a subject using a 50mm lens (with the camera held vertically), you would record the same size image as at 1.5 meters (4.9 ft.) with a 20mm lens.

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"... Here is a picture taken near my home in England, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, a place I visit to be lonely..." - Ernie -

<<< ---- Credit: Ernest Walker <>copyright © 2004. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer(s).

Combining its unique optical behavior and a moderately fast maximum aperture, this lens is very useful for shooting in tight quarters for available light photography. Weighing merely at 260 grams, it is highly portable. The immense depth of field generates with applicable aperture frequently allows you to shoot without even looking through the viewfinder should such responsive need arises. Actually, the trick of getting into successful ultrawide photography is how to manage perspective and careful picture composition. Sometimes, as oppose to general beliefs, it is not always true to stay far to shoot with ultrawide lenses but rather, I would advise you try working in closer as you can so as to retain a closer relationship with the subject and usually that works better with this kind of lenses. Besides, as ultrawide lenses often takes in unrelated elements in a photograph (such as sky or intruding human figures behind etc...) which might dilute the visual impact of the main subject element in your image, by working in close minimizes such potentials to make your photographs less appealing.


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User's Tips: In any case, unless it is what you intended to with for exaggerate and manipulating perspective in your photography, always keep the camera level and keeping the film plane parallel as excessive off-center tilting of picture angle may result in distortion of perspectives, in particular when dealing with human figures.

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Those days, it was such a pain to create VR scene (Digital camera has its strength here..). See how I made a QTVR scene with the 20mm lense.

Lastly, another possible good application of this 20mm ultrawides is, it can also be a excellent choice for macrophotography. For an instance, by mounting a Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 reversibly via a BR-3 adapter ring on a Nikon Bellow Unit, up to astonishing 12X magnification is possible - it is the highest ratio you can achieve with a Nikkor lens in the Nikon 35mm photographic system.

Specification for Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s

Focal length/Aperture: 20mm f/2.8
Lens construction: 12 elements in 9 groups
Picture angle: 94°; Diaphragm: Automatic; Aperture scale: f/2.8 ~ f/22 on both standard and aperture-direct-readout scales
Exposure measurement: Via full aperture method; meter coupling ridge provided for Nikon Ai cameras and meter coupling shoe for Non-Ai SLR cameras
Maximum Reproduction ratio: 1:8.3

My 20mm lens.jpg
Distance scale: Graduated in meters and feet from 0.25m (0.85ft.) to infinity (oo)
Weight: 260g; Dimensions: 65mm dia. x 42.5mm long (overall) 64mm extension from lens flange
Filer attachment size: 62mm (P=0.75); Filters : 62mm front screw-in

Copyright-free images collection © 2001 leofoo.gif

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Front lens cap: Screw-in Lens; Lens hood: HK-14 slip-on type
Lens case: CL-30S hard leatherette; Usable teleconverter(s):
TC-200, TC-201s, TC-14A Warning: Certain AE modes (Programmed AE and Shutter Priority AE) on selective Nikon SLRs will not work efficiently with older TC devices. Use an Ai-S version for better compatibility, read the respective Tele-Extender(s) sections. NOTE: Serial numbers for this 20mm lense was believed to have been started with 200001 for this Ai-S-only ultra-wideangle Nikkor lens

Credit: Image of this Nikkor 20mm f/2.8s with its dedicated lens hood courtesy of Mr. "Bill <>". Image Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.

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Others: Noct Nikkor | OP-Nikkor | UV Nikkor 55mm 105mm | Focusing Units | Bellows-Nikkor 105mm 135mm
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Tele-Converters: TC-1 | TC-2 | TC-200 | TC-201 | TC-300 | TC-301 | TC-14 | TC-14A | TC-14B | TC-14C | TC-14E | TC-16 | TC-16A | TC-20E

Recommended links to understand more technical details related to the Nikkor F-mount and production Serial Number: by: my friend, Rick Oleson by: Hansen, Lars Holst

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Credit: MCLau®, who has helped to rewrite some of the content appeared this site. Chuck Hester® who has been helping me all along with the development of all these Nikon websites; Lars Holst Hansen, 'Hawkeye' who shares the same passion I have; Ms Rissa, Sales manager from Nikon Corporation Malaysia for granting permission to use some of the official content; Ted Wengelaar, Holland who has helped to provide many useful input relating to older Nikkor lenses; Some of the references on production serial numbers used in this site were extracted from Roland Vink's website; Hiura Shinsaku from Nikomat Club Japan. Lastly, to all the good people who has contributed their own expeience, resources or kind enough granted permission to use their images of their respective optic in this site. It is also a site to remember a long lost friend on the Net. Note:certain content and images appeared in this site were either scanned from official marketing leaflets & brochures published by Nikon and/or contribution from surfers who claimed originality of their work for educational purposes. The creator of the site will not be responsible for may discrepancies arise from such dispute except rectifying them after verification. "Nikon", "Nikkormat", "Nippon Kokagu KK" & "Nikkor" are registered tradename of Nikon Corporation Inc., Japan. Site made with an Apple IMac.