Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 lens review

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 on a nikkormat FTn

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 on a Nikkormat FTn

Today's guest post by Benjamin Ang is on the Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 lens (click on images for lager view):

History and Overview

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 lens

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 lens

Released along side the Nikon F in 1959, the Nikkor-S 5cm f/2.0 was the first normal lens produced for the F-mount. It was quickly replaced by the Nikkor-H variant just 5 years later making it a bit of a difficult lens to find. While the 2 cousins resemble each other cosmetically, the ‘S’ has an optical formula of 7 elements - one more than that of the more ubiquitous ‘H’.

As can be seen, the 5cm is a good bit smaller than the 50/1.2 AIs: the other 50 I use frequently. It has the black and silver finish typical of early non-AI lenses and is similarly made exclusively of metal and glass. While not very dense, it feels solid and gives the impression of a serious piece of equipment. Its scalloped focus ring is precise with no play whatsoever, as is the aperture ring.

Notice the 9-bladed aperture on the 5cm; a unique point among slow 50s

Notice the 9-bladed aperture on the 5cm; a unique point among slow 50s

Sadly, I dented the filter thread when I dropped my F3 awhile back. I brought it in to a Nikon Service Center but they informed me the metal was too thick for their technicians to straighten out (I thought that was kinda funny).

A closer look at the 9-bladed aperture. The rim is shiny due to the modifications  stated below. Also note the lack of screws, a norm for early F-mount lenses.

A closer look at the 9-bladed aperture. The rim is shiny due to the modifications
stated below. Also note the lack of screws, a norm for early F-mount lenses.

The earliest 5cms had 9 aperture blades, and came without ‘click stops’ relying instead on ‘tick marks’ on the aperture ring. These are considered extremely rare and fetch terribly inflated prices on the market (as do all other ‘tick mark’ lenses). Later on, the usual click stops were incorporated, followed by a shift to having 6 aperture blades. The optical formula remained the same for all versions. The version I have has 9 blades, but no ‘tick marks’.

To mount this on my D700, I had to thin down the aperture ring by just a bit, and remove the ‘rabbit ears’. In its current configuration, it doesn’t communicate with the camera and you need to dial in compensation when stopping down. I’m working on adding a prong to connect to the AI tab, but I shoot the lens wide open most of the time and it hasn’t been too much of a bother as it is. The latest versions don’t require any work on the aperture ring.


I’m not one to test lenses for resolution and other technical details, so the following will be a short summary of my subjective experience.

Shot at f/2.8 with K1 extension ring; colours are natural; solid but not over done.

Shot at f/2.8 with K1 extension ring; colours are natural; solid but not over done.

The 5cm isn’t the sharpest of lenses, but is certainly sharp enough, even wide open, for real use. The central portion of the image is actually fantastic and leaves little to be desired, but there’s a noticeable drop in image quality toward the corners where colours may get a little smudgy. While stopping down improves resolution to a very good level, the extreme corners are never as crisp as newer lenses. In real life, however, it almost never bothers me.

100% crop of the above image

100% crop of the above image

In terms of contrast, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In good light the lens performs well, giving pleasant, smooth colours. In dim/flat light, it doesn’t quite deliver the crisp of modern lenses. Colour rendition in the latter situation can get smudgy at times. Stopping down improves contrast and it’s very good from f/4 and above.

CA and LOCA are incredibly well corrected and are never ever an issue. (like, ever)

The lens flares quite a bit when the light comes in at a grazing angle. Thankfully, that’s hardly ever the case. What’s cool is that it is easy to induce when you want to, adding an extra tool for creativity.

For a more technical analysis, take a look at this comparison with the 50 1.8D.

Why the 5cm f/2.0?

‘Wait up…’ you say, ‘you have the 50/1.2 AIs, perhaps the best manual focus 50 made by Nikon, and you use this?!’

London China town, @ f/2.0

London China town, @ f/2.0

Well, yes, I do. And not just once in awhile either. Why? In my 6-odd years behind the camera, I’ve not touched Photoshop; I prefer to use the unique rendition of different lenses to capture and/or create atmosphere and emotions. While the 50/1.2 AIs is really special, it just isn’t the 5cm f/2 when it comes to rendition; I don’t think any other lens is.

Both lenses have a signature rendition: the 50/1.2 being crisp, yet dreamy and surreal, with unbeatable skin tones, becoming almost perfect when stopped down; the 5cm having a more removed, emotional and, at times, ‘retro’ rendition. The slightly muted contrast of the 5cm actually grants an incredible amount of plasticity in shadows and a smooth roll off in highlights. Wide open, images feel ‘dense’, and portray emotion and atmosphere beautifully. Stopped down a little, it becomes more typical, but still renders scene with a bit of an old school feel to them.

All in all, its output is unlike any other 50mm I’ve used to date and I really enjoy this lens for it’s unique character. The idea of shooting with a lens this old and unique is just fantastic icing on the cake. While the 5cm f/2 may not be ‘better’ than current lenses, it’s certainly very different.

Sample photos

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 sample images taken at f/2:

Nikkor-S 5cm 1:2 sample images taken at f/4:

Benjamin Ang is a full-time student at the University of Florida. His search for lenses with special ‘character’ has led him to use primarily manual focus prime lenses, and to convert lenses from other mounts for use on Nikon SLRs. He strives to capture and convey both atmosphere and emotion in his work, preferring to strip away colour to help viewers focus on these aspects. His website can be found here:

If you have any interesting ideas for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • You can’t argue with the results! These images do have a unique old-school feel.
    While I’m digital and AF-S only, I feel that if Lightroom isn’t enough to get the shot just right, the image just sucks.
    Nothing against you photoshop masters who shoot for editing! It’s just not my thing.
    I’ve been thinking of picking up an old MF classic. This may just push me over the edge. Thanks for the post!

  • guymp

    It reminds me of a Nikkormat FTN I owned and loved, and eventually exchanged for a Nikon FE. Many of the AI and AI-S lenses are still in my bag, and still used regularly with a D3 and D800E. Don’t believe it when people tell you it’s essential to use “digital” lenses. Some of the old ones are still cracking good lenses by any standards.

    • gsum

      Very true. My 1971 non-AI (modified to AI with a dab of epoxy putty) is easily the equal of my modern lenses for sharpness and spends more time on my D800 than any other lens thanks to it’s light weight.

      • guymp

        Of course the new lenses are in a different league at wide open aperture, but old primes really work in certain conditions, and are pin-sharp and very straight at f/5.6-f/8 and, as you say, light, and lovely to use. There is certainly life in them, yet.

  • HotDuckZ

    I’m really hated manual focus lens because there is no MF fine-tune. And Nikon still not made any manual focus aid, I want it on Live-View with Pv & Fn function it’s will really killer feather.

    • Trying to MF is pointless if your focusing-screen is not up for it… unless you’re shooting at f/11-f/16 or something.

  • Spy Black

    People who didn’t grow up in the MF era always make weird comments about having to manually focus. I always find it amusing. I guess Nikkor-S lenses spanned a good period of time. I still have an f/1.4 Nikkor-S optic that I got with my first camera that I ever bought back in the early 70s, an old Nikon F Photomic with a flip-up meter. That lens, which I battered in my youth, has the 6-bladed aperture ring, although it too has a “screwless” flange, and it is called a 50mm, not 5cm lens.

    • benjamin

      hey, the letter behind ‘Nikkor-‘ actually denotes the number of elements in the lens, so any lens with 7 elements would have ‘Nikkor-S’. Q = 4, P = 5, H = 6, O = 8, N = 9. the earlier version of your 50/1.4 was the 5.8cm f/1.4.

      • Spy Black

        Yeah, I kinda figured with the 6-bladed aperture and the 50mm lettering that it was the next gen, but the “S” thing threw me off.

  • joseph

    Awesome! I know what you are talking about. I have a Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 with the same rendering. It’s good to know about this lens, I will have to pick one up to compliment the 35. I’m waiting on all the spiteful comments now who will claim that the only thing that matters is the MTF chart…

    • benjamin

      I’ve heard a couple of good things about that 35/2.8, and now from you as well.. perhaps i’ll have to try it myself sometime; i’ve not found a 35mm that’s truly impressed me yet.

      • joseph

        Well just don’t expect “sharp” results, compared to modern lenses, unless stopped to f/8 or below. But it has “the look” to it, around, painterly style that I really like. Just shot a roll of color film today, need to develop it…

        • joseph

          *a round

  • Haim

    it will be interesting to check mine on the D300s

  • Captain Megaton

    The nine blades really do seem to make a difference to the quality of the bokeh. I’ve used the Nikkor-H.C 50/2 extensively, 6 blades, and while wonderfully sharp and free from any kind of color distortions, the bokeh was just nasty as all get out.

    I’m surprised and saddened to hear you ground down the aperture ring to fit the lens on your D700. Pre-AI “Auto” Nikkor lenses mount just fine on D40-D5200 bodies, you didn’t have to vandalize such a rare lens like that!

    • benjamin

      actually, the blades only make a difference when you stop the lens down. wide open, it doesnt matter how many blades there are because they just don’t get into the optical path. its the lens design that makes a difference here.

      as for modification, the lens wouldnt fit on any of the new cameras including those without the AI tab. so i couldnt have used it otherwise. i was abit apprehensive of doing the mod as well, but to me, there’s really no point in owning any lens if you can’t use it. and it s been just fantastic to use.

  • neversink

    Very nice post…. I had a Nikkormat as a back up to my F and F2, great camera, but I hated where the speed controls were. Eventually sold it at a reasonable price to a student….

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