Fast wide-angle lenses since the
by Frank Mechelhoff
CANON L-1 with 35/1.8 (black)
next to NIKON SP with W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8.
The first high-speed 35mm
In the pre-war and early
post-war period up to the early 1950s, the ZEISS Biogon 35/2.8 was the gold standard in terms of performance and
light intensity, but with its large, far-reaching rear lens it
was unfavorable to handle.
In 1951, NIKON
presented a new, faster 35mm with f/2.5
, which was also
qualitatively convincing. At the same time, the development of newer types of
glass with higher refractive index and lower dispersion
(lanthanium glasses) progressed, which allowed newer designs.
In 1956 CANON and NIKON
patented two 35mm with f/1.8, the patent from Canon (inventor:
Jiro Mukai) was submitted 5 months earlier, and showed a 7-lenser in 4 groups, including a
cemented triplet behind the aperture. Aberration curves were
specified, but only up to an angle of view of 30° - a 35mm
small picture has 63°, i.e. 2x 31.5°. No aberration curves were
given in NIKON's patent, the lens section shows a Biometar
type with an attached, converging doublet with a large rear
lens. The front
lens of the NIKKOR is also larger in diameter.
Patent US 2854890A, CANON/ Jiro
Mukai, filed 1956-01-04 (in Germany 3 days later)
refractive glasses: max N=1.6935 V=53.5 (LaK, last
Patent US US2896506A, NIKON/ Hideo Azuma,
filed 1956-06-05 Higher
refractive index glasses:
max N=1.785 V=25.9 (SF, last element) and N=1.691
V=54.1 (LaK, penultimate element)
Left Nikon (S-Mount), right
Left Nikon (S-Mount),
right Canon (LTM).
The CANON 35mm/1:1.8
shown here is the rare black version, sold with the few
black cameras offered. Since 1956 CANON has
build the first rangefinder camera with a 35mm
viewfinder - the VT - one year before LEICA M2! Cameras of the V series
(VT, VL, L1-L3) had switchable viewfinder magnification:
35mm, 50mm and "RF" (100-135mm), without framelines. So
they were offered as a set with 35mm lenses as well.
Left Nikon (S-Mount),
right Canon (LTM).
The W-Nikkor here is also unusual for its metric scale,
which was a rarity within Nikon Rangefinder lenses. Only a
few, late versions were available with it, all the rest came
with feet scale. Of course, the metric scale is used in
Japan, but nearly all NIKON lenses and cameras were build to
be exported, mainly to the USA. In the 1950's, Nikon and
Nikkores were far too expensive for large domestic demand,
asking 3/4 of the price of LEICA...
Lens brochure, prototype
with missing f/2 clickstop. the aperture ring
is conical and differently fluted.
Standard version with black
bezel and silver focus ring. It
cost 32,000 yen in Japan.
Link zum CANON CAMERA MUSEUM
Many NIKON afficionados
claim that "their" W-NIKKOR 35/1.8 was the fastest wide-angle lens in
the world . It came onto
the market in September 1956 (presumably
came up with that date, but he is a
bit early in some cases). In fact, it is very
unlikely that NIKON was on the market earlier than
CANON with their 35/1.8; verisimilar it was vice versa : Miyazaki Yōj noted April 1956 for first availability date for the
CANON 35mm f/1.8, Peter Kitchingman May 1956.
may be noted that also in 1956 FUJINON
launched a super fast 35/2.0 wideangle as well
as a 50/1.2 in Leica Screwmount.
any case, only 2 years later, CANON went one better, the
35/1.5 (CANON Camera Museum). The patent was filed on July
31, 1957, inventor again Jiro Mukai.
diagram shows clean aberration curves up to an angle of
view of 32°. The lens (costing 35,000 yen) is a further
development of the 35/1.8, with the front lens split
into a doublet (similar to the Summicron and Nokton 50mm
lenses from Leica and Voigtländer of the time). Glasses with a higher
refractive index were used than with the 35/1.8: max
N=1.72 V=50.31 (LaK, last element). The performance of the
lens was quite good at close range with an open
aperture, but it was very susceptible to flare. This is probably why
the light intensity was also limited to f/1.5 (Around
2006, a prototype was auctioned on Yahoo Auctions in
Japan that was actually labeled f/1.4 ). A
was known from NIKON as well.
To this day, the CANON 35mm
1:1.5 is the fastest in Leica Screwount (LTM, M39)
LEICA needed until 1961 to catch up, or to take the top spot
again, whereby the first, famous f/2.0 Summicron
came out as early as 1958. Patent US2975673A was filed by LEITZ CANADA
on August 26th, 1959 - Link bei Google - Inventors were
Walter Mandler and Erich Wagner. Instead of 8 elements
as with CANON and their own f/2 Summicron, just 7
elements in 5 groups. The front lens was
considerably smaller compared to the CANON 35/1.5,
probably to reduce stray light sensivity - of course, at
the costs of light-falloff to the edges. In terms of
performance, the CANON could not be surpassed ( "King of Flare"); the lens remained in
the range until 1993!
refractive glasses: max N=1.72056 V=47.59 (LaF, last
element) and max. N=1.7899 V=48 (LaF, 2x)
MTF diagrams by
Erwin Puts, Leica Compendium, 3rd ed 2011.
until the early 1970's that SLR lens manufacturers caught up
in speed, with SLRs having to use retrofocus designs. With NIKON, these were still
reasonably easy to carry , but with ZEISS, they were very large and heavy.
completely failed to offer a 35/1.4.
Again, it took until 2003 - more than 40 years!
- that COSINA/Voigtländer brought an even faster 35mm
onto the market, which is still the fastest 35mm
wide angle in the world, now in the 3rd - optical 2nd -
- Voigtlander VM 35mm
1.2 Nokton (2003)
lenses/groups, MFD 0.7 m
- Voigtlander VM 35mm
1.2 "II" Nokton (ca. 2010)
lenses/groups, MFD 0.5 m - optically unchanged to
- Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 III Nokton
332g, 9/7 lenses/groups, MFD 0.5
Brochure (Prices effective as of March 1956) : Includes new Canon V (T) and 35/1.8 Lens.
The lens was priced at 150 USD (viewfinder and case extra) or
350 USD with the Canon V as a set. Also included the following
new lenses: 25/3.5, 28/2.8, 50/1.2, 50/1.8-II, 400/5.6. Five
years warranty included!
Canon Lenses, Brochure 1958
- which proves that a 50/1.4 wasn't avalaible yet in that year,
1958 - Anyway there is no such thing as a
8-element 50/1.4 Canon Rangefinder lens (the diagram often
called for it is in fact the 1956' FUJINON
Robert Rotoloni, Nikon
Rangefinder Cameras, London 1993.
Peter Kitchingman, Canon M39 Lenses 1939-1971. A Collector's
Peter Dechert, Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-1968, Hove/East Sussex, 1985
Canon Camera Museum : refers May1957
as date of issue for the 35/1.8, but isn't very dependable with
dates, i.e. wrong for the 50/1.4 LTM (1957 instead of 1959)
Canon Rangefinder Sales Brochures
Miyazaki Yōji (宮崎洋司)
(キヤノンレンジファインダーカメラ) / Canon Rangefinder Camera.
Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1996
Randol Hooper: The Other 35. The Screwmount Canon Lenses,
Article Series for LHSA, ~1995. (Source of
the 8-elements 50/1.4 rumor as mentioned above)
Canon Lenses, Directions and Tables, Brochure No. 327,
10/1956, Printed in Japan