Fast wide-angle lenses since the 1950's            Seite auf Deutsch

by Frank Mechelhoff                 New February 2023

Canon and Nikon Wideangle 35/1.8

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 wide angle

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 Mukai 35mm f/1.8
Patent US
2854890A, CANON/ Jiro Mukai, filed 1956-01-04 (in Germany 3 days later)
High refractive glasses: max N=1.6935 V=53.5 (LaK, last element)
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)

Nikon, Canon 35/1.8
Left Nikon (S-Mount), right Canon (LTM).

Nikon, Canon 35/1.8
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.

Nikon, Canon 35/1.8
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...

Nikon SP, Canon L1

Lens brochure cover
Lens brochure, prototype with missing f/2 clickstop. the aperture ring is conical and differently fluted.
              black and silver version
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 Robert Rotoloni 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.

Canon 35mm
                          f/1.8 black and silver version

It 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.
In 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.

              35mm f/1.5 an Canon P Canon
              35mm f/1.5

 Canon Patent
            35mm f/1.4

The patent 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 35/1.4 Prototyp was known from NIKON as well.

To this day, the CANON 35mm 1:1.5 is the fastest in Leica Screwount (LTM, M39)

Canon L1 w.

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!
Extremely high refractive glasses: max N=1.72056 V=47.59 (LaF, last element) and max. N=1.7899 V=48 (LaF, 2x)

Summilux first version
Summilux 35mm f/1.4 1961 diagram

MTF diagrams by Erwin Puts, Leica Compendium, 3rd ed 2011.
MTF Summilux 35mm f/1.4


It wasn't 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. PENTAX completely failed to offer a 35/1.4.

3x Nokton 35/1.2 M-Mount
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 - version :


CANON Sales 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!

            V with 35mm f1.8 from brochure

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 50/1.2 lens)

Robert Rotoloni, Nikon Rangefinder Cameras, London 1993.

Peter Kitchingman, Canon M39 Lenses 1939-1971. A Collector's Guide, 2008

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)

Pacificrimcamera 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

Lens Brochure

Canon 35mm
            f1.8 ( SN10002) Prototype

Back to Camera main page