Nippon Kogaku W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM
Lenses

Nikon (Nippon Kogaku) W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM – Nikon’s Tiny Gems, pt 1 – By Agata Urbaniak

September 27, 2021

This lens review is going to focus on the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5, in part 2 and 3 I’m going to look at two other W-Nikkor LTM lenses, stay tuned to find out which!

Over the lockdown period I moved away from shooting concerts towards a more casual kind of photography, scoping out locations in the neighbourhood, using photography as a pretext to leave the house and break the monotony of working from home. Before, I would always primarily consider whether a lens is going to be suitable for gigs. The tiny underground (often literally) venues I’d frequent provide very little in terms of lighting and so speed was usually the first criterion I’d take into account. Now that the concern that anything slower than f/2 might not be that useful is gone I was able to consider a wider variety of lenses. Having been very satisfied with the results I was getting with the Japanese Summilux, I turned my attention to lenses from the similar period, especially those that came in the Leica Thread Mount.

In my past investigation into LTM lenses, I somehow missed Nikon. I was well aware of Canon’s offerings as well as Leica/Leitz itself. Coming from a Nikon DSLR, which I credit with making me eventually end up in Leica (I had a mostly manual set of lenses for it, which primed me for this shift), this was a great and surprising oversight. In the process of delving deeper into older lenses, I got an itch to replace some of my more “modern” ones, including the Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, with something more classic. Not that there was anything wrong with this particular lens, it ticked all the boxes – great image quality, compact, relatively fast, solid build, easy to find filters. But the call of the classic was strong. It was a purely capricious thing.

That’s when a Google search turned up a tiny and inconspicuous lens, one that inspired feelings of great regret in one reviewer for ever having gotten rid of it. It was the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5, released for the S-mount (Nikon’s answer to the Zeiss Contax) and LTM in 1951. A single-coated, non-retrofocus, Gauss type, moderate wide angle lens.

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM

Background

Back in the 1940s and 50s, Nikon was already a big player in the photographic industry. But they weren’t Leica or Zeiss. Most other 35mm camera makers copied either one of them, Nikon was in the Zeiss camp. Their rangefinders looked remarkably like Zeiss Contax ones, with the seemingly identical (and over-engineered, if you ask me) internal/external lens mount. Many of their lenses copied Zeiss formulas. But Nikon wasn’t just second-grade Zeiss, they produced photographic gear every bit as good, on occasion even better, than the Germans did in those days. They paired outstanding build quality (by any standard) with optical designs that always strived and often succeeded to improve on the original. They made lenses not only in their own S-mount, but also in LTM and even occasionally in Contax mount.

Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain what exactly makes a lens appealing. 35mm and wider has never particularly been my thing, 50mm and up just felt a lot more natural. But once I mounted the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 lens on my Monochrom it did not come off for a good while. It might not be a pancake but it’s still impressively small, sticking out by less than an inch (about 23mm) from the camera mount, and being about an inch and a half (~35mm) wide. It makes for a very compact combo, pocketable even if you have roomy coat pockets. It looks petite even on my Leica III body. And it offers a tremendous fun factor.

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM mounted on the Leica M Monochrom typ 246

Build and handling

The W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 shares its basic specs such as the focal length and maximum aperture with the Voigtlander, but it’s even smaller. Curiously, it’s not lighter which gives it this really nice, old-timey, solid brass feel. The LTM version was available in chrome and later chrome with a black band (same formula). Comes equipped with an infinity lock so keep that in mind when getting an adapter for it (it requires the version with the cutaway). It has a ~180 degree focus throw typical for LTM and focuses down to 3.5ft (1m). Focusing feels smooth with the right amount of resistance but that of course might depend on the condition of a particular copy. The 8 curved blade aperture stops down to f/22 at full-stop clicks.

What adds to the pleasure of shooting with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 is the fact that it’s so small you can’t see it in the viewfinder, not even in the very corner outside of the 35mm frameline. You have to look at an angle to even see that you have a lens mounted. With the hood on, the blockage is limited to the tip of the corner of the 35mm frameline and is pretty negligible. The filter thread size is 34.5mm. Good luck finding filters this size! Luckily, there’s an easy solution detailed below.

Compatible accessories - lens caps and filters

A set of compatible accessories – genuine Nikon/Nippon Kogaku lens caps, a Leica A36 cap, a 34.5mm Nikon yellow filter, a Leitz A36 red slip-on filter

LTM or S-mount?

All that the LTM version requires to mount it on a digital Leica M body is an LTM to M adapter, either a genuine Leitz or a third party one, in order to bring up the 35mm framelines and correctly focus using the rangefinder.

Problem-free adaptation of an S-mount lens isn’t always a given, especially in the case of wide angle lenses. However, the Amedeo S to M adapter is officially compatible with this lens and won’t cause any issues. It is a much more complex adapter, making it a lot more expensive, and therefore making the LTM version more sought-after. Personally, I also think the LTM version of the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 looks better due to its smaller size and chrome finish.

Filters and hood

The filter thread of the LTM version of the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 is a difficult to find 34.5mm, however A36 (36mm) clamp-on filters (as well as the SOOGZ A36 to 39mm adapter) fit perfectly and are easy to come by. They also don’t interfere with adjusting or reading the aperture value. The mouth of the lens doesn’t rotate when changing the aperture so no issues with using gradient filters. If you’re as attached to using filters as I am, this is very good news.

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM with a red Leitz E36 slip-on filter attached

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM mounted on the Leica M Monochrom typ 246 with a red Leitz A36 clamp-on filter attached

This also means that if you want to use a hood, you don’t have to look for the illusive and pricey genuine Nikon accessory. Leitz FOOKH hood (for the Summaron and Elmar 3.5cm lenses) fits and compliments the lens’s chrome finish well. It doesn’t black out the corners even when stacked with an A36 filter.

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM mounted on the Leica M Monochrom typ 246 with a FOOKH hood attached

W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 LTM mounted on the Leica M Monochrom typ 246 with a FOOKH hood attached

Image quality

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter

A disclaimer – I don’t perform tests on lenses, nor do I directly compare centre and corner sharpness. My shots might often be quite similar because I revisit the same spots over and over, but also I very well will not be able to present similar shots from the different lenses for comparison. I treat all my shots but try to stick to the basics, and avoid cropping whenever possible. Because I only shoot digital black and white, there’s no way for me to comment on issues such as chromatic aberrations or colour shifts.

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter

The W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 is more than sufficiently sharp in the centre and very good at bringing out textures. The sharpness drops to a degree in the corners although not drastically. I don’t stop it down past f/5.6 and find it acceptable throughout. I don’t think the amount of detail this lens delivers should be an issue for anyone but those particularly fussy in this regard, in which case – hey, what are you doing reading a review of a 70 year old lens?

I didn’t spot any noticeable distortion, which is no surprise as symmetrical non-retrofocus designs rarely suffer from it. The vignette is low to moderate but I say so as someone who likes vignetting. It’s one of those lenses I like to add a little extra to.

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz Rm (deep red / infra-red) A36 filter

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter

Contrast is good for a lens this old, I like to pump it up by using a red or dark red filter which it also handles very well. Bokeh is quite nervous but I think it adds to the classic, imperfect look the lens produces. In wide angle lenses it’s not usually a characteristic that takes high priority over sharpness and distortion.

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 demonstrating bokeh

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz Rm (deep red / infra-red) A36 filter; far from the world’s most attractive bokeh however you can get some nice subject separation at maximum aperture

The flare resistance is quite impressive even when used without a hood. The C in the name indicates it’s coated. Taking photos against the sun hasn’t proved to be an issue in normal shooting.

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 demonstrating flare

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter; you can see a slight flare but not too bad considering the sun is almost in the frame

Sample photo taken with the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 demonstrating flare

Leica M Monochrom typ 246 + W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 + Leitz R (red) A36 filter

Final thoughts

The W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/2.5 is a beautifully crafted classic lens that belongs mounted on a camera, not behind glass in a collector’s cabinet. It offers a good balance of resolution sufficient for digital and subtle vintage charm that doesn’t overwhelm the photo. Using it feels effortless, despite its small size it’s anything but flimsy and it’s surprisingly comfortable to use. This lens has certainly piqued my curiosity about the other, similar Nikon offerings. It wasn’t long until I zoomed in on its wider and seemingly less popular sibling.

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Mike Watkins
    September 27, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    Great article on one of my favourite lenses. One thing to note is the S-Mount version focusses to 0.9 meters, so what you lose on size you gain on usability. The black S-mount version also weighs less as there is less brass in the construction.

    Hopefully your wonderfully sharp and sparkling pics won’t force up the price of these beauties!

    • Reply
      Agata Urbaniak
      September 27, 2021 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks Mike! I don’t have first-hand experience with the S-mount version so tried focusing as much as possible on the LTM one. Sadly, I think the ship of Nikon rangefinder lens affordability sailed long ago!

      • Reply
        Kodachromeguy
        September 29, 2021 at 5:09 am

        Great examples! Nice lens. Unfortunately, the equivalent Leitz 3.5cm Summaron
        affordability ship sailed away a long time ago, as well.

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    September 27, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    Really interesting, and great results. ! Thanks!

  • Reply
    SEBASTIAN
    September 28, 2021 at 2:12 am

    Wonderful review, thank you. Does it really focus down to 1 meter (3.5ft) though? It says 4ft on the scale which is about 1.20m.

    • Reply
      Agata Urbaniak
      September 28, 2021 at 9:10 am

      Thank you Sebastian! Yes it definitely focuses down to 3.5ft, that mark is obscured by the lever in the locked position.

  • Reply
    John Earnshaw
    September 28, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Excellent review. Just before Christmas last year I bought a “mint” Nikkormat FTN and 50mm f2 lens, a totally different animal I know, but I was amazed just how good the lens was when used on my digital Df. It has superb sharpness, no distortion and produces some wonderful black & white conversions. Shortly afterwords, a good friend of mine “gave” me his 35mm f2.8 Nikkor (he’s an Olympus user) and this proved to be equally as good. Nikon certainly knew how to produce superb optics. My current 50mm f1.4 AFD is nothing like as good or well made. There are some superb lenses out there at very reasonable prices, I recently bought a Tamron Adaptall 2 28mm f2.5 with a Nikon mount for £39 and it is superb.

  • Reply
    Lee
    September 28, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    So where on the price spectrum of LTM glass would you put this and other W-Nikkor lenses. Surely if you bought this 35mm f/2.5 to replace your Voigtlander Color Skopar, you aren’t able to find them at bargain prices, since LTM versions of the Color Skopar tend to cost around $300. In terms of bargain LTM glass, there are various Soviet options that cost under $100, followed by Canon LTM lenses that occupy the next rung up of the price and quality spectrum. Where would you rate these Nikkor lenses? Are they all as tiny as this 35mm example? Is it the small size you’re really paying for here? Thanks.

    • Reply
      Agata Urbaniak
      October 8, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Lee, I was quite lucky to find my copy on Ebay from a seller in HK for about 300 odd quid and it somehow slipped under the customs radar. They normally tend to be a bit more expensive, especially those in Europe. The 2.8cm in turn tends to be a bit more expensive than the 3.5cm. LTM versions command higher prices because S-mount W-Nikkors can’t be adapted to Leica M with the exception of the 3.5cm f/2.5, and also because S-mount adapters tend to be a lot more expensive and are in shorter supply. My Voigtlander was M-mount, Voigtlanders in LTM are sometimes more expensive because they are rarer and vintage. It wasn’t my intention to make any money in the process of replacing it with the Nikkor but I think that’s what ended up happening. It was more of a caprise of mine to replace my more recent lenses with older ones.

  • Reply
    Jonathan Leavitt
    September 28, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    My first camera was a Nikon S-2 Rangefinder and when I changed to Leica I acquired a complete set of Nikkor’s lenses for LTM from 135 down to 28 including the two other 35mm lenses. Great to see someone giving these gems the attention they deserve. The 50mm F1.4 is quite hazy wide open but it was re-designed in the “olympic” version which is excellent. I have found them all charming and the 28mm F3.5 especially impressive. And they fit in your pocket like spare change, so you can go out for the day with three extra lenses in case you need them, and no camera bag.

    In discussing 35mm LTM lenses don’t forget to remember the Schneider Xenogon F2.8 which is quite impressive and has great contrast. Not sure what they cost but they’re worth it too.

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    September 29, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    What a great lens review! Very complete: technical info, user experience, and great photos – both of the lens, and more importantly, with the lens 🙂

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    September 30, 2021 at 1:01 am

    A nice review. I zipped over to eBay to see what was being offered. Not inexpensive, to say the least.
    In the book “War Without Hero’s” by David Douglas Duncan, he recounts how he used a Nikon 28mm lens on his M3. (A book on Viet Nam published in 1970.) The 28 surpassed any other lens he had tested.

    • Reply
      John R Flinn
      November 3, 2021 at 7:44 pm

      I agree with Duncan. I use the Nikkor 28mm F2 ai for astro and landscape photography and it is a gem. There is no distortion to the stars at the edge of the field.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    September 30, 2021 at 1:04 am

    Oops! Forgot the last line:
    “There must be something really special with those Nikon lenses from that era.”

  • Reply
    Jonathan Leavitt
    October 4, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    I have an almost complete set of Nikkor’s lenses for LTM (a few of them are too rare and expensive) and they are almost all quite excellent, But this is perhaps the best. In some photos the sharpness and clarity are almost supernatural. You can keep it in your pocket like spare change In case you need it. Comparing this lens with the enormous 28mm lenses being sold today, like a Zeiss Otus, makes me wonder why there aren’t more modern competitors, the only example being Leica’s revived f 5.6 lens.

  • Reply
    David Kovaluk
    October 4, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    I came across this lens in my local shop a couple years ago. I had recently moved to the Nikon Z mirrorless stuff and was working to put together a small camera kit that I could still rely on for good image quality. I was shocked to see how well the 3.5cm f/2.5 performed! Since I would be using an adapter, I opted for one with a helicoid so I could get that closer focusing (which this lens handles nicely). A few months later, I met a friend for lunch who was working for Fuji at the time. The GFX100 was the new thing and he brought one along with an M-mount adapter that was in development. I pulled this 3.5cm lens out and his eyes lit up. It was the kookiest setup, but I was so impressed with the coverage of this tiny little optic! It covered the whole GFX sensor and that rig looked absolutely ridiculous. It’s such a lovely little lens – a little soft wide open but nothing extraordinary. Eventually I picked up an S-mount version as well but I found the aperture mechanism, which is a ridged metal ring that sits inside the front of the lens, actually began hurting my fingers with use throughout the day. I much prefer the thread mount version.

    • Reply
      Agata Urbaniak
      October 4, 2021 at 2:03 pm

      Wow you’re kidding! I occasionally think of getting a GFX body but worry none of my lenses (I usually go for the small lenses) would be any good and it would actually just open a whole new can of worms, and I have too many lenses as it is.

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