Nikkor T 500 ED: Is it sharp? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I know the reputation of this lens is high. But I came to share with a friend who ownes one (and from who I borrowed it) and we could not state that the lens was sharp. We both pulled out a variety of pictures taken with the same lens sample (an early make) and with different cameras in a variety of situations, with a range of f-stops. Even if they looked good under a 3x loupe, closer scrutiny on all the slides we had showed a certain lack of details, just as if the resolving power of the lens was relatively poor. However, on Chris Perez and Kerry Thalmann's lens test page at, this lens came out relatively well, with 42 lpm at f32 versus 48 to 54 lpm for a long lens: the Fujinon 450/12.5. But placed side by side with an Apo-Ronar 360's shot, the T 500 slides are really noticeably softer. For example, a slide taken with the A-R showed distinctly the blades of grass at a distance, when with the T 500, grass was just a green mass. We are now wondering if this particular lens is behaving correctly, or if other T 500's are perhaps sharper than this one?

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 02, 2001


Paul: I do not own the 500 Nikkor Tele but know that David Muench uses one. Look at his book "Plateau Light" where quite a few of the shots were taken with it to see the results he gets. Additionally, I think a problem with this lens could be variable quality. You may have to try more than one to find a better one. Besides, any comparisons with the Apo Ronar are of the apples and pears kind. No tele could possibly compare with the ARonars of similar focal length, which are some of the best long lenses still made. Based on MTFs, even the new Schneider 400 tele is miles away from the Apo Ronars, what would you expect from a lowly telephoto? If I really wanted sharp pictures and long lenses, I would go for a camera with longer bellows rather than telephotos. Apo Ronars are made to a 450mm F, and much longer though I do not know if the longer ones are shutter mounted. Best wishes for the New Year.

-- Julio Fernandez (, January 03, 2001.

Are you sure the rear element is screwed in to its proper position?

-- Ellis Vener (, January 03, 2001.

Thanks Julio, best wishes to you too. Ellis, yes I think it is correctly seated. The reason I say that is because it is regularly exchanged for a 360 or 720 element and a malfunction in the thread would have been immediately noticed. Yes Julio, you are certainly right when you say performances of a tele should not be compared to a long lens. Nevertheless, there is not much like the Nikkor combo with it's three focals in one and I wished I would be happy with it. Also very handy for short bellows cameras. The long Ronars are unfortunately too large and need to be fitted in front of large shutters. The 480 is already Copal 3 (vs Fujinon 450 Copal 1) and too big for anything smaller than 8x10. There is a 1,5 Kg! 600mm T-Nikkor, beautiful but BIG! and a 1Kg ! 600mm Fujinon T (don't know about it's performances). Best would be to test another 500 to see if it's better.

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 03, 2001.

I have used the Nikon 360T, 500T and 720T and found the sharpness to be good at 360 and merely adequate at 500/720. I have since taken a strong liking to the above-mentioned Rodenstock Apo-Ronar 480mm in a #3 shutter, which I regularly use on my Linhof Technikardan with stunning results. This 480mm produces transparencies with amazing detail and gorgeous color saturation.

-- Ross Martin (, January 03, 2001.

Thanks, Ross. So you have come to the same conclusion with the 500 Nikkor. I would be inclined towards the Ronar too if I had the necessary bellows extension. On my Technika, at the end a macro extension tube, I'm not sure the 1Kg lens would feel comfortable. But sure, image quality is at the top with the Ronars.

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 04, 2001.

Very interesting question, since I was planning to obtain a Nikkor 720mm tele later this month! Now I'm having doubts. Ross, what sort of apertures were you using when you found the image to be mediocre?

My intention was to use the 720 for long tele shots on 4x5, plus use it with a rollfilm back for super-tele MF shots. Hmm.....maybe not such a good idea??

Might there have been old/new batches of differing quality?

-- Danny Burk (, January 04, 2001.

Let me clarify that I have not put the 360/500/720 through any rigorous scientifically valid test, this is just my opinion on what I see with one particular sample, generally reinforced by comments and lens tests from other shooters. I will be the first to admit that there are many factors other than lens quality that can influence the final result when shooting with long glass, but in my own experience even the best telephoto designs don't deliver all the crispness I see with conventional designs of similar focal length. I have a nice shot of a single yellow tulip in a field of red on my website using the 500T wide open, and when I have shot with it at f/22-32 the results are good enough for marketing and printing but they are not as contrasty, sharp and saturated as my Rodie 480. I have also shot the Fujinon 600T at f/32 and close examination of the trasparency with a loupe revealed noticeable chromatic abberation in the corners. I have not shot the Fuji 450mm but based on the many wonderful user comments it would seem to be a very good option to the telephoto lenses and should be usable on the Technika if an extended lens board is used (Wista makes a great extension tube set that can add nearly 100mm of sturdy extension).

As usual, your results may differ so it could be well worth renting a 500/720T to test for yourself before deciding.

Best Regards,

-- Ross Martin (, January 04, 2001.

Talking of lenses is a scary thing. Giving it a second thought (and a good wipe to my loupe), I might have been too critical about the Nikkor. The 500 is really not that bad. In fact when I got my slides from the lab, I thought well ! they are sharp! And unless you use a strong loupe, you will not notice the difference, in sharpness at least. I have some shots made with the Ronar that are not that sharp either.

As Ross suggests (nice website you have!), there are other factors (camera stability). Thinking to your comments, I realize that there is something else in the Ronar that makes the pictures "appear" sharper. Even when you look at the slides from a distance, you can see that the Ronar's slides are sharper (when in fact they are perhaps not!). It is the amazing contrast and color clarity this lens produces. A bit like the impression you get when you switch to Velvia from a softer kind of film, but only in a shade.

In fact it's not difficult to understand. The Ronar has only four lenses and so the dispersion is minimized. It was built to give sharp edges to the print types and this is exactly what it does when it is used for photography: You get sharp details, crispness as Ross says. The Nikkor has six elements and is tele design. The slides produced, (well I will seem stupid) are sharp, until you compare them with those produced by a Ronar (or similar lens). Then you get an impression of some sort of softness, diffusion or lower contrast (be aware we are speaking of almost imperceptible shades). I remember the Telyt, a long focal lens for small cameras, made by Zeiss. A very simple design, cumbersome and not very luminous, but as sharp and contrasty as you could wish at the time they were made, and with excellent separating power. You could distinguish the hair of whatever animal was photographed. Tele designs have since caught up thanks to the low dispersion glasses, but I'm not sure they beat the Telyt.

Julio says that Muench uses a Nikkor and for sure, he gets nice results! And anyhow, for printing a book, even a good 6x7 has enough information to make a sharp image. And when it comes to scanning for LightJet prints, contrast and sharpness are secondary issues and can be easily corrected electronically. There is often almost too much contrast in a Velvia anyway. So the Nikkor should not be misregarded and it has other advantages such as short on bellows and convertibility. If someone would give one to me at this point, well I'm not quite sure I would refuse!

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 07, 2001.

Error about Telyt: Maker is Leitz, not Zeiss.

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 07, 2001.

Paul, you make some good observations. The Nikkor 500T is certainly good enough for real-world use, especially when contrast/saturation/sharpness can be effectively massaged in Phototshop before making nice ink-jet or Lightjet prints. I would not have noticed where the Nikkor tele lacked until I saw the transparencies from the Apo-Ronar.

I have to sometimes remind myself to quit obsessing over fairly minor differences in lenses, etc. and just get out the door and make more images!

Best Regards,

-- Ross Martin (, January 07, 2001.

Paul: you make some interesting observations in your comparisons of the Ronar and the 500T. I think that what you saw in the Ronar slides and in the Telyt pictures was more than contrast.

Lenses have a dynamic range and that is the area below their MTFs. The ability of the lens to image the range of tones in the subject depends on that tonal range. Thus, the larger the better.

Other factors like color aberrations also have play a part.

I have yet to see a LF telephoto (for which MTFs are available) display the kind of dynamic range attained by non-telephoto long lenses of similar focal length. This comparison includes Tele Tessars, Tele-Apotessars, Tele Artons, Apo Ronars, G Clarons, and Tessars. Even the new 400mm Tele Apo Tessar does not stand well in comparison with long lenses, in particular the Apo ronar which is outstanding in color correction, MTF, etc. Not that I have seen an MTF for the Nikkor. Nikon's microscopy and binocular divisions do use MTF, but if Nikon's camera lens division also does, as is sure to be the case, the results are a best kept secret.

Judging the quality of the tonal range in photographs is probably not always easy, as much depends on the original subject. Your A/B test certainly did tell you a lot and my guess is that what you saw is in pretty good agreement with the technical data. Contrast and fake sharpness can be increased in Photoshop and to some degree be a useful crutch for bad lenses, but I do not believe that the richness of photos taken with high the best optics and good films can be duplicated by digital manipulation of images from poor optics or films. Theoretically, at least, anything can be done digitally although my guess is that doing the above successfully is most unlikely. Last, I am in favour of field testing, but a problem with field testing is that only good results need no further scrutiny. i.e. in filed testing there is no such a thing as a false positive, but there are indeed false negatives as far as the lens is concerned due to a multitude of extraneous factors.

By now you have made your move, do let us know how it all turns out. Good luck.

-- Julio Fernandez (, January 11, 2001.

Hi Julio! Thanks for your enlightments and for putting the right words on my elucubrations. So it's the MTF's (Mean Time before Failure? :) that counts. (I'll have to dig into the manuals someday, maybe in next life ! I had numerous looks at the strange graphics, and ended up thinking I was too stupid to understand). I rejoin you on field testing. It's the only way to know for sure (along with other users experiences and comments). The problem is: one has to buy a lens to test it, unless abusing of the return policies of some dealers, or knowing someone kind enough to let us give it a trial.

The Apo-Ronar I have is a 40 y/o 360 on old Compur (it's hard for me to believe that I am even older when I see it's weird look!). It has one advantage though: it is small and light, compared with the current lens and Copal 3 shutter. Going the Fujinon way with the 450 C (270 g.) is a David against Goliaths comparison with the big 1 kg Ronar 480 and was in fact the only choice I had, with the Tech, out of the teles. I bought the lens because some said good things about it. I do not know yet if I will get the "Ronar effect" to some extent but will soon test it when it arrives.

Talking digital, you are absolutely right. If something is missing in the slide, "digital massage" as Ross put's it earlier will only be a fake effect but will not redeem what is gone for ever.

-- Paul Schilliger (, January 11, 2001.

I must have been tired when I wrote the previous! Sorry Julio, I hope you can put up with my rudeness. I have since made a test film with the lenses I had and those recently bought (unfortunately could not test a Nikkor). The test was made in studio under flash lighting to minimize factors such as camera shake. Ratio was about 1/15 life size. The Fujinon C 300 and 450 are the clear winners. Not only extremely sharp, but excellent chromatic correction. The 360 ApoRonar (40 y/old!) is a little softer and starts showing some color fringing. The Fujinon T600 is slightly in retreat and shows chromatic aberration, but not bad for such a long telephoto. This confirms that the Fujinon C series are some of the best lenses around combining compactness, coverage and high optical quality.

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 03, 2001.

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