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How Nikon Makes its lenses
February 4, 2013 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How Nikon Makes Its Lenses
posted by dhruva (60 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice bookend to a post I made quite a while back.
posted by notsnot at 7:46 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beautifully photographed with Zeiss master primes.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:48 PM on February 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Invention is amazing.
posted by cribcage at 7:51 PM on February 4, 2013


People, not robots!
posted by R. Mutt at 7:52 PM on February 4, 2013


Gorgeous.
posted by device55 at 7:55 PM on February 4, 2013


To compare and, likely, contrast: How a Leica lens is made.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


People AND robots!
posted by R. Mutt at 8:03 PM on February 4, 2013


I think the director intentionally filmed the people steps, and not the robot steps. There was nothing shown about making and assembling the cases / electronics for instance. That said, I am really impressed with how hands-on (at least some of) the lens making seems to be. I feel better about the thousands of dollars (of my company's money) I've dropped on Nikkor lenses.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2013


I have (among other things) an older Nikkor-P 105mm f2.5. It is functional, well-engineered, and a thing of beauty.
posted by carter at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2013


This is one of the rare posts that I wound getting totally wrapped up in. When the video was over, I honestly though, "I have to post this to metafilter."
posted by boo_radley at 8:16 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


At Nikon, we make sure our lenses are precise by having many people look at them.

I understand that the director wanted to focus on the people in the process, but this comes across as just... humanwashing? [neologism needed]
posted by phooky at 8:17 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


In a related note, Nikon (and Canon and others) are Killing Camera Repair
posted by reiichiroh at 8:23 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


tapesonthefloor: "To compare and, likely, contrast: How a Leica lens is made."

I suspect the Leica employees are paid much more and get to spend time with their children.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:31 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the director intentionally filmed the people steps, and not the robot steps.

They made it look like the glass was being made in a medieval smithy.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:36 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"To compare and, likely, contrast: How a Leica lens is made."

They should do one for Holga lenses that consists of arts and crafts grandmas lovingly cutting the bottoms off of soda bottles and shaping them down with the little fold out file on a pair of nail clippers
posted by nathancaswell at 8:39 PM on February 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Wow, I never knew this about Nikon. I spent the first half of the video thinking "surely, this is about how Hoya or Ohara makes glass blanks for Nikon lenses."

Turns out I'm wrong, and Nikon actually makes a lot of its own optical glass, or rather, its wholly-owned subsidiary does. I'd thought that was rare or extinct the high-end optical world.
posted by CHoldredge at 8:50 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect the Leica employees are paid much more and get to spend time with their children.
Because you don't know the difference between Japan and China?
posted by delmoi at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


(checks Nikon lenses)

35mm f1.8=Made in China
18-55mm f3.5=Made in Thailand
Nikon D90=Made in Thailand
posted by dunkadunc at 9:01 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


They also have lens factories in Japan, where I assume this was filmed.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on February 4, 2013


I began with my Dad's cast-aside. It was a Mamiya Super Deluxe. A fixed-lens 35mm rangefinder I took pictures of my sister's 4-H cows with, the light-meter long since shot, but with every roll of Tri-X I fed into it, the cardboard box the plastic cylinder it came in had an Exposure Guide, which is the mantra of every news photog ever… F/8 and be there.

Then, after they were convinced it wasn't a pubescent fad, I got a Pentax K1000 for my B-day - the cheapest 35mm SLR out there. With it came the 50mm f.2.0 - this was the SLR "Kit" of the time: body + 50mm prime. Zooms were luxuries.

The Takumar 70-200 f/4.0 I begged and pleaded for for X-mas certainly was, as was the 28mm f/2.8 Pentax prime - I spent almost $60 on this in the late '80s. A veritable fortune, for me, at the time, as was the Vivitar 285HV flash. The second-best photos of my life were taken with this kit. The hardware and film ate all of my part-time-job money.

So, then I got accepted to art school, and needed Serious Cameras. Tuition at this (highly respected) Art School was not an issue, so I got cameras instead.

I had a Calumet Cadet 4x5 with a Zeiss Tessar f/4.5 and a Goss Luna-Pro F for large format photography, and did the best work of my life on it. I had a Koni-Omega 6x7 rangefinder with a 90mm f/3.5 and it ruled the studio. I didn't want to get rid of the K1000 and the gorgeous glass that it came with, but I was going Pro… and that meant Canon or Nikon. I got a Nikon FA, with the matrix metering and motordrive and the Soulless 50mm f/1.4 and Ugly 28mm f/2.8 and Kinda Nice 180/f2.8 Nikkors. It wasn't even the seventh best kit of my life, as I wound up with a Minolta pocket rangefinder and a complete Contax MM kit somewhere along the way. It was down there around the 110 Instamatic I had as a 7-year-old, only it ate batteries more quickly.

Don't let the video deceive you. Stick with what you got - switching to Nikon ain't worth it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:06 PM on February 4, 2013


notsnot: as soon as I saw this post, I thought of that one, though I despaired of ever finding it. I have mentioned that one many, many times.

Choldredge: Nikon still does a very large business in a lot of very high-end non-consumer-photography markets, like the optics used in the silicon chip manufacturing process. So not too surprising they still make their own glass.
posted by louie at 9:08 PM on February 4, 2013


CHoldredge: Nikon even makes eyeglass lenses.
posted by zsazsa at 9:11 PM on February 4, 2013


(Not an issue for the school - they charged community college rates for their courses, despite their stature, and I had been saving for a 4-year university.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:13 PM on February 4, 2013


Here are some pictures of their factory in Sendai, which looks very similar, and the exterior shot at the end seems very similar to the other exterior shots of one of the main buildings. I would guess that's where the video was made. Obviously Nikon's cheaper consumer products might be made in other places.
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on February 4, 2013


Years ago I worked for Nikon, teaching engineers all the English they needed to go to trade shows and explain how their steppers worked. I was all, but cameras, right? And they were like, nope, anything with a lens, dude. Anything with a lens.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:21 PM on February 4, 2013


The number of humans involved disappointed me somewhat. I was expecting to see precision engineering through absurdly accurate milling machines and quality control through high magnification cameras attached to all sorts of defect detection software. All those humans with their dust-clothes and gloves and their breath and their holding-up-the-lens-to-lightbulb... just didn't scream "precision" to me, which I would have thought was the original intention of the video.
posted by rh at 9:28 PM on February 4, 2013


I am waiting to get my new Nikon eyeglass lenses - my prescription is super-bad nearsightedness, so high index glass + (finally) progressive lenses put me into a set of Nikon lenses, which cost A Lot. So yes, not just camera lenses.
posted by parki at 9:32 PM on February 4, 2013


delmoi:
I suspect the Leica employees are paid much more and get to spend time with their children.
Because you don't know the difference between Japan and China?
"

"Leica's high-performance lenses are all made, by hand, in Germany."
posted by stbalbach at 9:36 PM on February 4, 2013


I thought he was more into tapes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2013


Canon Lens Manufacture Process.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Leica lenses are vastly superior to Nikon and Canon. But best lenses I ever used were the Zeiss Planar lenses on the Hasselblad 500CM. Alas I could not find any Zeiss camera lens construction videos, but they make some damn amazing lenses for industrial processes in chip manufacturiing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:54 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nikon has marketshare, and always will, but the best kept secret in the bang-for-the-buck department is Pentax DSLRs, starting with the K-x. My K-5 is one HELL of a capable camera and I can still use all the old k-mount manual focus glass on it (without an adapter) and any m42 (screwmount) lens with an adapter - including the gorgeous Asahi Pentax Takumars, which are built like tanks with buttery focus action. my hobby: Pentax-generated photo stream
posted by spock at 9:57 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can still use all the old k-mount manual focus glass on it (without an adapter)

Nikon owners can say the same thing with their F-mount lenses. I can put a Nikkor manual focus lens from the 1960s on a 2013 Nikon DSLR.
posted by gen at 10:09 PM on February 4, 2013


Much love for the Pentax. The k01 is an real bargain these days kitted with the amazingly thin 40/2.8. I love the 50/2.0 that Slap*Happy cites - there's something chunky and cold to its bokeh that appeals to me as much as the 50/1.4 appeals with its warm creaminess.
posted by wotsac at 10:12 PM on February 4, 2013


Even Pentax cripples their K-mount on their DSLRs.

I'd be first in the line for a full frame Pentax for my 70's Super Taks mind.
posted by brilliantmistake at 11:47 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Leica lenses are vastly superior to Nikon and Canon.

Vastly superior in what way? I'd love to see some blinding testing on camera lenses (badum tsch). The top tier lenses of each manufacturer are probably very close in quality. That said, Nikon lenses from the film era do tend to have a hard and harsh sharpness (especially noticeable in out of focus areas) compared to the softer look produced by Leica lenses, for example.
posted by quosimosaur at 11:49 PM on February 4, 2013


Vastly superior in what way?

Any lens is a compromise, always. It already begins in the design phase: Designing out all abberations is impossible without ending up with a gigantic hunk of glass. And even then. So the designer first has to decide what kind of corrections are more important.

This is where most of the difference in "feel" betweeen lens brands comes from: The different brands tend to approach designing lenses in very different ways, resulting in a different look and feel.

After the design is done, the thing has to be manufactured. Every piece of glass needs to be held in place in the right position for the lens to perform optimally. This is where brands such as Zeiss and Leica do a lot better than Canon and Nikon. But, again: A compromise. This precision is expensive

Then of course there are some fundamentals of lens design that no one can get around:

Designing a retrofocus lens (most SLR lenses) is much harder. Designing a zoom lens is much much harder again. Leica lenses are not retrofocus designs, don't zoom and are expected to cost a lot. This gives them a lot of freedom to produce awesome lenses. Nikon and Canon on the other hand need to make retrofocus designs that zoom and don't cost an arm an a leg.

Given those constraints, what Nikon and Canon have been doing is nothing short of magic, imo.
posted by Djinh at 12:16 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you ever look at a photo and think "wow...only a Leica lens could've taken that photo" or "what a nice picture, it's a shame the photographer was using a Nikon lens"? Can you actually look at a photo and identify the lens with which it was taken?

I'm not saying that side by side comparisons won't yield some differences. But I think it's an exaggeration to say one brand is "vastly superior" to another. To find a substantial difference in image quality you need to switch to a larger format.
posted by quosimosaur at 2:42 AM on February 5, 2013


Do you ever look at a photo and think "wow...only a Leica lens could've taken that photo"
No, because then I'd have to spend 25 grand on my hi-fi.
posted by colie at 3:18 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do they make large format DSLRs? It is pertinent to my interests.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:25 AM on February 5, 2013


Medium format, absolutely. Large format? Not as far as I know. I use one of the largest film SLRs. A 6*8 on 120 film. Those mirrors can cause a lot of shake once they get too big.
posted by michswiss at 3:54 AM on February 5, 2013


Do you ever look at a photo and think "wow...only a Leica lens could've taken that photo"

Yeah, actually I do, but then, I have a BFA in Photography, and have dealt with thousands of images for reproduction in print. I can look at pictures and see deficiencies in the image or outstanding aspects that are due to lens quality.

>Do they make large format DSLRs? It is pertinent to my interests.

Medium format, absolutely. Large format? Not as far as I know.


At a certain point, it doesn't make any sense to make larger format sensors. Cameras like the Hasselblad H4D with a 60 Megapixel sensor move so much data they are almost as impractical as using 8x10 sheet film, and just as impressive. Consider that Large Format for digital. What puzzles me is why Hasselblad stopped using Zeiss lenses and decided to design their own.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:17 AM on February 5, 2013


Clicking that Hasselblad link makes me want to search Google for "selling kidney boston ma".
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:22 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do they make large format DSLRs? It is pertinent to my interests.

Well, there are a number of 4x5 and 8x10 SLRs (and TLRs and rangefinders), many of them accept graflock backs, which includes scanning backs these days... so, yes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:45 AM on February 5, 2013


What puzzles me is why Hasselblad stopped using Zeiss lenses and decided to design their own.

It's a not-very-well-kept secret that Fuji designs and builds their glass, and to be honest, CZ and Shriro Group aren't all that interested in each other since the Germans got their sweetheart deal with Sony.

On the other hand, Fuji makes some very, very, very good lenses. They don't have the CZ "look" - but their own characteristic silvery and smooth "look" is worthwhile.

In an interesting twist, CZ will be making lenses in Fuji's X-mount, possibly as a raised middle finger - "Oh, we want to make sure Fuji owners have access to quality lenses."
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:17 AM on February 5, 2013


Yeah, actually I do, but then, I have a BFA in Photography, and have dealt with thousands of images for reproduction in print. I can look at pictures and see deficiencies in the image or outstanding aspects that are due to lens quality.

Oh cool. How about the differences between Zeiss and Leica for the 35mm format? I'm curious to know if there are any characteristics that distinguish the two makers?
posted by quosimosaur at 5:20 AM on February 5, 2013


Do you ever look at a photo and think "wow...only a Leica lens could've taken that photo" or "what a nice picture, it's a shame the photographer was using a Nikon lens"? Can you actually look at a photo and identify the lens with which it was taken?

I just shot something with two cameras, an A cam that was the cinematographer's RED Epic with his Zeiss lenses and the B cam that was a RED Scarlet with Canon lenses. Same sensor. Much of the shoot took place in a restaurant that was lit with natural light so same lighting for both cameras. I had kind of mentally decided that all modern lenses are sharp and fast so the difference between the glass wouldn't be that severe. Holy shit I was so wrong. You can absolutely tell which shots were shot with the Zeiss lenses and which were the Canons. It was shocking how much better the Zeiss looked. And I wanted them to be interchangable, I really did. These were mid range Zeisses too. I made that joke about Master Primes earlier but they don't cost 25k a pop for nothing. I'd love to post some stills for you to illustrate this but I can't as the piece hasn't come out yet.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:37 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking of cameras, whatever happened to DaShiv?
posted by TedW at 5:54 AM on February 5, 2013


How about the differences between Zeiss and Leica for the 35mm format? I'm curious to know if there are any characteristics that distinguish the two makers?

35mm CZ equipment has this beautiful delicacy in the bokeh, the transition from focus to blur is so smooth, and the contrast tuned to produce amazing edge effects, it will sometimes seem as if the object in-focus is projecting or receeding from the image in 3D. This is startling and a bit puzzling when looking through a loupe with one eye...

It's less apparent on a computer screen, but GIS "Zeiss 3D effect" or "Zeiss 3D Portrait" - some of the portraits and flower close-ups will appear to =hover= above the background, as if you could move your head around and peer =into= the photograph.

Good lenses are designed with the interplay of many different aspects of an image in mind - it's not all about the resolving power or MTF.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:06 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm curious about Zeiss v Leica because it was an enduring argument that would pop up every now and then at the camera store where I worked. Not having thousands of dollars to splash out, I've never had the opportunity to compare the two myself. I do have a Pentacon Six with one of the standard 80mm Eastern European Carl Zeiss lens, but I've never done large prints of the photos. I also have some trouble getting the focus right; the waist level finder isn't the brightest, and the magnifier is a little finicky.
posted by quosimosaur at 6:14 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm curious about Zeiss v Leica because it was an enduring argument that would pop up every now and then at the camera store where I worked.

GIS "Leica Glow" to see how Leica handles edge effects and bokeh - the objects in-focus seem to glow.

When people talk about how sharp these lenses are, they're using shorthand for the lens characteristics that sets the two company's design philosophies apart. Some of the more collectable CZ and Leica glass aren't very sharp at all, in terms of resolution or MTF, but they strongly exhibit those desirable traits. These show up, or don't, depending on a number of factors with the image - but when they do, wow.

Almost forgot, the best one between the two is clearly oh, look, the editing window is about to expire.

(I'm about to lay down some cash on a Fuji system, and say goodbye to my last film camera stuff, so I've been thinking about cameras and lenses a lot lately.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:41 AM on February 5, 2013


The part of the process that seems the most like magic to me gets a little no-sold here... it's like cloudy glass blob, cloudy glass ingot, cloudy glass disc, cloudy glass disc, cloudy glass disc, BEAUTIFUL SHINING LENS ALL DONE.

HOW DID THAT PART HAPPEN.
posted by SharkParty at 6:59 AM on February 5, 2013


Pretty sure the goo you see getting poured on in a later stage is a wet abrasive that smooths the glass.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:14 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was the magic lens elves, SharkParty. Didn't you see them?
posted by scruss at 7:31 AM on February 5, 2013


One thing that's amazed me is the sheer number of companies that make telescope eyepieces, given that the amateur astronomy market is tiny. I hadn't heard of Nikon eyepieces, but apparently they make them, though no one in the US appears to sell them (over the Internet, anyway). They are, of course, priced at the very high end.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:51 AM on February 5, 2013


Those are microscope eyepieces, I believe... they manufacture a line of microscopes. Some skywatchers rig their scopes to use 'em.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2013


My K-5 is one HELL of a capable camera and I can still use all the old k-mount manual focus glass on it (without an adapter) and any m42 (screwmount) lens with an adapter

Allow me to chime in here with my primary hate for Canon, as I have many thousands of dollars worth of great FD mount lenses that are useful for precisely dick in a digital world (yes...that includes using adapters. Every one I've tried was awful for one reason or another).
posted by kjs3 at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2013


The photos I like best don't depend on technology for their charm. They have a time and a place and reveal the character of the subjects and the photographer. And mostly they exist on paper, which is part of today's unfolding tragedy.
posted by Twang at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2013


And mostly they exist on paper, which is part of today's unfolding tragedy.

you can always print them out and fold them
posted by nathancaswell at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2013


Clicking that Hasselblad link makes me want to search Google for "selling kidney boston ma".

LOL well it's a good thing I didn't link to the forthcoming new model, the H5D. That one makes me want to search google for "stealing and selling your kidney boston ma".

I'm curious about Zeiss v Leica because it was an enduring argument that would pop up every now and then at the camera store where I worked. Not having thousands of dollars to splash out, I've never had the opportunity to compare the two myself. I do have a Pentacon Six with one of the standard 80mm Eastern European Carl Zeiss lens, but I've never done large prints of the photos. I also have some trouble getting the focus right; the waist level finder isn't the brightest, and the magnifier is a little finicky.

Yeah, the Zeiss lenses really needed a medium format to show their best qualities. Slap*Happy has it right, they can really have a 3D effect, it is sometimes almost startling. I used some of my Hasselblad transparencies as demos of our drum scanner and Iris at my old graphics service bureau, we scanned them at 40 megapixels because that was the largest size Syquest cartridge we had at the time (this was a long time ago). Our customers could just not believe the quality, especially when we zoomed in down to below film grain rez.

Anyway, you are right, it is hard as hell to use a waist level finder. I used the PM-5 Angle Prism Viewfinder on my 500CM. That is the damn finest piece of photo equipment I ever used. There is something about that particular 45 degree arrangement that was perfect, and very easy to focus (with interchangeable ground glass viewfinders for fanatics like me). And focus is absolutely critical with this lens. My photo professors said that when I switched from 35mm to 120, my pictures all looked static because I used a tripod instead of moving around with the camera. They were right, I got the angle prism and that was really usable like a 35mm. But my best work was on a tripod, with multiple exposures with different lens apertures, overlapping only a small field of focus. You could get really precise hyperfocal distances with those big Zeiss lenses.

The Leica lenses seemed to work better at small sizes like 35mm. Our school darkroom had a bunch of Leitz Focomat 2C enlargers. The Leitz lenses on the enlargers were just as good as those on a Leica camera, and way better than the quality of the negatives anyone could produce without some 35mm camera of equivalent quality. It appears the IIc had the capability of doing larger formats but I never tried it out, I had my own Beseler 4x5 enlarger.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:03 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by cortex at 1:01 PM on February 11, 2013


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