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Author Topic: The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely  (Read 1579 times)

Michael Erlewine

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The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« on: April 10, 2018, 05:59:15 pm »

The Nikkor “O,” commonly referred to as the “CRT Nikkor” is a bit of an orphan. The “O” stands for the Greek number “octo” (8), due to their being eight optical elements in its construction. It is also reference to as an oscilloscope lend, because it was designed to monitor computer CRTs. It was not designed for daylight use and if use there produces all kinds of interesting effects. It is not an APO lens either, just the opposite. Yet, in its own way, it’s one of the sharpest lenses out there.

Because of its anomalies, this is a limited-use lens. It does not reach infinity. It has no focus ring. It has an unusual mount and it is only really sharp wide open. And wide-open is stated as f/1.2 and that is fast in my book.

In other words, wide-open the CRT Nikkor is so fast that its depth-of-field is razor thin, good for very little to most photographers. It has, by design, strong curvature to adapt to the curved screens of early computer monitors. Oh yes, and before I forget it, at about $1000 a pop, the lens can be expensive.

And yet, it is one of my most used lenses and has produced what some folks tell me are the most lovely photos I have taken. I have to agree. So, what gives? Why does this oddball lens command so much of my attention?

Aside from the results of this lens having a bit of a random factor, a throw of the dice, so to speak, most users that I have talked with like the quality of the bokeh. A lens that fast has some powerful bokeh, which photographers love. I know that I do. It has 12 aperture blades.

Other problems are its rather narrow reproduction range and the fact that if it is to be used for something more than an atmospheric one-off shot, it has to be mounted on a focus rail and stacked.

While many users of the Nikkor CRT use if for, as mentioned, single-shot somewhat blurry one-shot photos, there is another group of us who use the lens to stack focus because like a painter with a brush, we can paint in focus anywhere on the image, leaving everything else as a very lovely bokeh. As for me, I combine very nice bokeh with very sharp areas in high focus. I find the combination the focus and blurry background to be attractive.

The only problem I personally have run into is that the very fine focusing required to paint focus well (using a focus rail) often takes a great many layers, which is tiresome, even for someone like myself who was brought up on tedium.

As an archivist of popular culture, I created (along with a team) the largest collection of recorded music on the planet. And we did the same for one of the two largest movie and film databases. This included many millions of pieces of information, so I am very familiar with tedious procedures.   

To repeat, my one complaint about the Nikkor CRT lens is how almost painfully long it took to stack enough focus fine enough to produce the effect that I liked about the lens. Recently, with the acquisition of an automated focus rail (StackShot), I found that it could easily stack focus with the CRT Nikkor at the fineness I require and quite effortlessly. 

Although the Nikkor CRT lens has an aperture ring, what is most unique about this lens can be found mostly by using it wide open. As the aperture is increased, the lens accordingly becomes more and more normal and the bokeh effect, of course, is lost. I always use it wide open.

So, my love of the lens came from taking that very, very fast lens (f/1.2) with its razor-thin depth of field and carefully painting it as you would a color, only here we are painting focus. The result is that we have a sea of bokeh with more than one point or area of the image in focus. In other words, one area might be right up front in the image, and others could be here or there in the distance.

This is unlike a traditional photo, where there is a single plane and only the points (usually a single point) on the plane are in focus. Our eyes are directed to that point in the plane most in focus. However, in focus stacking the eye is free to roam and find its own point of focus. If there are many points of focus in stacked photo, we can decide which ones interest us. That is one of the features of focus stacking, this freedom to focus, whether we realize it or not.

In my experience, the CRT Nikkor is not the easiest lens to use, but well worth learning to get what you want out of it, if you like the effects it produces. It took me a while to find how I want to use it.

I first learned about the CRT Nikkor from the great lensman Bjørn Rørslett, who pointed it out to me and then I saw it exampled for me in an atmospheric shot by Akira, a member of NikonGear. I liked what I saw and could see the possibilities for my kind of work. I soon found myself stacking with it and liking it more and more. There are basically two versions of the Nikkor “O” and I have them both. One has some red lettering on the barrel. I can’t see any real difference between the two.

So, if you can put up with a specialty lens and the time it takes to learn to use it, I very much recommend the CRT Nikkor. And I repeat, what did seem like a very limited lens to me, when used with the StackShot, is IMO a very much more flexible lens.

Some examples are shown here.     
« Last Edit: April 11, 2018, 05:13:19 am by Michael Erlewine »
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Rado

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2018, 07:37:47 pm »

Those are indeed lovely pictures.
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uaiomex

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2018, 12:31:50 am »

+1


Those are indeed lovely pictures.
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kers

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2018, 05:41:25 am »

photo 3 is very nice!
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Pieter Kers
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32BT

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2018, 11:07:42 am »

The big question though; what's causing this? I mean, if we're going through the trouble of finding such a lens...

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Simon J.A. Simpson

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2018, 07:10:31 pm »

The big question though; what's causing this? I mean, if we're going through the trouble of finding such a lens...
Axial chromatic aberration ?
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32BT

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Re: The Nikkor “O” CRT 55mm f/1.2 Lens: A Recipe for Lovely
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2018, 05:31:11 am »

Axial chromatic aberration ?

Possibly, or misaligned elements, since the colorshift isn't visible in the OOF areas and the shift is also visible on the left of the image, but it doesn't seem to be mirrored.

The more i look at it, the more i dislike it. There is also very distinct noise differences between areas, not a smooth transition, and the horizontal banding is present here as well. Considering the amount of money and quality invested in the capture, this should be nothing short of perfect, otherwise; what's the point? imo.
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