Nikon Multiphot: The Macro-Nikkors

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Nikon Multiphot: The Macro-Nikkors

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The Nikon Multiphot system is a large table-top enlarger-like device with a very long bellows used for magnifying objects. The Multiphot was designed to cover the area of magnification from 1:1 up to something like 10x, the point where regular microscopes come into play. This machine was designed for large-format 4x5 photography, although it also came in a 35mm Nikon F-mount version. The Multiphot typically came with four lenses, usually called the Macro-Nikkors, which are quite rare and expensive on the used market. 

For my work the Nikon Multiphot system with its Macro-Nikkors (four high-magnification lenses) is a mixed bag. Let’s review the Macro-Nikkors, which are single-coated lenses, as they were not intended to be used except in the laboratory. When used outside in daylight, they may be prone to flair. I have mostly used them in the studio, but the 65mm and 120mm I have used in the field. The four lenses are:

19mm f/2.8 (white colored ring)
35mm f/4.5 (blue-colored ring)
65mm f/4.5 (yellow-colored ring)
120mm f/6.3 (red-colored ring)

Macro-Nikkor 19mm f/2.8
The Macro-Nikkor 19mm f/2.8 is designed for 15x-40x, (marked 20x on the lens barrel), too high for anything I do, and not something one would take into the field. This lens has a RMS microscope screw mount, so an adapter to Nikon-F has to be obtained. Typically, this lens is used in the studio on a tripod, as the working distance is only about 20mm or so. I don’t use (or even own this lens) because I seldom shoot macro greater than 1:1.

Macro-Nikkor 35mm f/4.5
The Macro-Nikkor 35mm f/4.5, which I have used, although somewhat sparingly, can be used on a standard DSLR, although it too is designed for high magnifications, optimized 8x – 20x, but marked 12x on the lens barrel. I have used it, mounted directly on a Nikon body, with the camera on a focus rail. This lens has a RMS microscope screw mount, so an adapter to Nikon-F has to be obtained.

Macro-Nikkor 65mm f/4.5
The Macro-Nikkor 65mm f/4.5 is everyone’s favorite of the set, being actually usable for macro and even close-up work. It is optimized for 2.5x – 10x, and marked 5x on the barrel. This lens has a Leica M39mm thread, for which an inexpensive adapter to Nikon-F can easily be found on Ebay.

Macro-Nikkor 120mm f/6.3
The Macro-Nikkor 120mm f/6.3 (12 cm on the barrel) is optimized for 1.2x – 4x), but marked 1x on the barrel is quite usable on a bellows. This lens has a Leica M39mm thread for which an inexpensive adapter to Nikon-F can be found on Ebay.

All of these four Macro-Nikkors are very sharp, so resolving power is not a problem. What is a problem is the fact that as far as I can tell, none of these lenses are highly color-corrected and it shows in the photos it produces. They are very sharp, but to my eyes the color is kind of crude, crude enough not to recommend itself IMO. These lenses were made for magnifying objects at 1:1 or higher, rather than for color-copying film, etc. of one kind or another. In other words, these are not enlarger or film-scanning lenses, which have to be more color corrected.

The color is not horrible; it is just not lovely, and there is not a lot you can do about it in post to improve it, or: why bother?  And these lenses are collected and are expensive.

The takeaway from experience with the Macro-Nikkors for close-up work is that my initial search for very “sharp” lenses has to be amended with a clause “… provided they are highly color-corrected,” – apochromatic. Sharpness by itself does not make a fine lens for my work. A good example of this are the Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm and 100mm macro lenses. The build is incredible and they are very sharp indeed, but Zeiss did not go the extra mile to color-correct them, so there they sit on my shelf. I keep trying them, because they are such nice lenses and a 50mm macro lens is hard to find. But each time I use them I am reminded once again by the various aberrations they exhibit to put them back on the shelf. I am going to sell mine, if anyone wants to have them. They have seldom ever been used.

If you’re a micro-photographer, shooting is at 1:1 and above, verging on lab work, these lenses fill the bill. However, chances are you don’t have a long-enough bellows to get the ultimate out of the lenses. You would have to have the Nikon PB-6 bellows (plus PB-6E extension) to approximate what the Multiphot bellow sytem (300mm) provides.

If you want to use these lenses for “normal” photography, forget about it. They are meant to be used fairly wide-open, and if you use higher apertures to get greater depth-of-field, diffraction will stand in your way. However, if you are a focus-stacker, these lenses are great for stacking focus, provided you don’t expect highly-corrected color.

As for myself, I have grown accustomed to highly-corrected color, so these lenses no longer are acceptable for me, unless I just want to magnify something and have it sharp.

The Macro-Nikkors do require special adapters and since I don’t tend to use extended bellows, I use them in two ways:

(1) Directly mounted on the camera, and then the camera and lens mounted on a focus rail, in order to focus. These lenses have no way of focusing otherwise.

(2) The other method is to mount them on a bellows, which is what I do most of the time.

These are very sharp lenses that don’t go to infinity, must have special adapters, and then have to be mounted on some focusing device (rail or bellows). They are not well-corrected, so the color IMO is a little harsh. And they are very expensive. Still, I have three of them and do use them occasionally, but usually only to remind myself why I don’t want to use them often.
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