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Part 2 : "NIKKOREX Zoom35"

A camera designer's dream realized — a fixed-zoom lens camera

NIKKOREX Zoom35

AF(Autofocus) point-and-shoot compact cameras with zoom lenses, some of which are small enough to hold in a pocket, sell very well.
This had been a camera designer's dream for a long time — cameras with fixed zoom lenses that didn't require switching lenses with various focal length.

The NIKKOREX Zoom 35, marketed in 1963, was the first camera which realized this dream more than 30 years ago.

Zoom lenses had long been developed for movie cameras. before 1959, when the "Voigtländer-Zoomar 1:2.8 f=36mm...86mm" was adopted as an interchangeable lens for the lens shutter SLR "Bessamtic" of the Voigtländer, Germany.
This was the first time a zoom lens was used for a still camera.

In December the same year, Nippon Kogaku K.K. marketed the Auto Nikkor Telephoto Zoom 85mm f/4 - 250mm f/4.5 lens for the Nikon F.
Various focal lengths were obtainable using this single lens, freeing photographers from having to switch lenses frequently.
Such utility was welcomed by valious camera users.
Thus the "age of zoom lenses" started in the still camera world.

If a single zoom lens can cover the normal shooting range of focal lengths, photographers no longer have to change lenses.
Then, interchangeable lenses no longer have to be interchangeable and can be fixed to camera bodies.
With this camera having a zoom lens fixed to its body, you can enjoy various frame angles economically.

On the other hand telephoto and wideangle front conversion lenses were prepared for the NIKKOREX 35 (1960) and NIKKOREX 35II (35/2) (1962) (See "Nikon Family Cousins: Part 1"), lens-shutter SLR cameras having no lens-interchangeability.
These front conversion lenses were, however, too large to be used easily and were awkward to handle.

Nippon Kogaku K.K. designers thought that telephoto and wideangle effects should be easier to attain, in order to take full advantage of the NIKKOREX as an SLR camera. These led to development of the NIKKOREX Zoom 35.

When was the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 lens for the Nikon F marketed ?

Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm
f/3.5 lens attached to Nikon F

The Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 lens used for the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 was also put on sale as an interchangeable lens for the Nikon F.
The lens became very popular among Japanese Nikon users, who nicknamed the lens "Yon-San-Hachi-Roku (4-3-8-6)".

These two (2) products were planned at the same time, along with separate prototypes. Although the two lenses differed in zoom control, they shared a common optical arrangement.
Apparently, the lens for the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 was remade as an interchangeable lens.

However, an interesting story lies relating to their debut date.

I interviewd several people who were involved in designing these lenses, and none of whom were sure which product was first put on sale.

The annex of the Nikon history book "Nikon's 75 Years" (not for sale) states that the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 went on sale in Junuary 1963, and that the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 went on sale in February of the same year.
Thus, this book states that the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 was marketed earlier than the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 was.

In fact, it is more likely that the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 was marketed before the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm was. The April 1963 issue of "Asahi Camera" magazine reported on the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 in its "Newface Clinic" feature. The end of the article states that the camera lens would be available for sale for the Nikon F in the near future.
This shows that the Zoom Nikkor 43-86mm f/3.5 had not been on the market by the time the magazine was published.
I also have the memory that the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 was marketed before the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 was. Mr. TATENO, Yokoyuki, who writes "The History of Nikon" article in the series, agrees.

Considering the "Asahi Camera" article, it's likely that the NIKKOREX Zoom 35 went on sale in February 1963.

Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 lens

Then, When was the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 put on sale ? Looking for an answer, I looked at old camera magazines, but I could not find the accurate date.
There is no article about this lens among camera magazines published in 1963.
In 1964, "Asahi Camera" magazine introduced this lens as a new product in an article about the Nihon Camera Show held in March of that year.

"Shashin Kogyou" magazine had no article introducing this lens, but featured a picture of Nippon Kogaku's booth at the "Japan (Nippon) Camera Show" which shows the Zoom Nikkor Auto 43-86mm f/3.5 lens exhibited among super telephoto lenses for the Tokyo Olympics (1964-10).

The 43-86mm lens became one of the best-selling lenses, but its debut was a quiet one.

The mysterious "43-86mm" zooming range

Auto NIKKOR WIDE-ZOOM
1:2.8 f=3.5cm ~ 1:4 f=8.5cm

To fix a zoom lens to the camera body and cover the normal shooting range, the lens must include 50mm — the focal length of a standard 35mm (135) format camera lens. It was very difficult to shorten the focal length of a zoom lens to 50mm using optical technology of those days.

Before producing the 43-86mm f/3.5 lens, Nippon Kogaku K.K. planned to develop another zoom lens for the Nikon F, the Auto Nikkor WIDE-ZOOM 1:2.8 f=3.5cm-1:4 f=8.5cm. A prototype was produced and mass production was planned before development of this lens was suddenly discontinued.

Judging from various accounts, size was a major impediment to marketing this lens.

The planned 3.5-8.5cm f/2.8-f/4 lens had an optical system of 13 elements in 8 groups, with two (2) compound lenses groups of three(3) lens elements. Front lens diameter was 78mm. Lens weight exceeded 1kg. Although large lenses have been used for normal shooting more recently, lens designers at that time might have considered such a large lens to be too inconvenient to use.

Therefore, cost and size were important problems.

Variable maximum aperture according to zoom might also have stymied lens development. This would not be a problem today, but it was a serious problem before the advent of TTL exposure measurement and TTL flash exposure control.

In fact, the history of Nippon Kogaku's zoom lenses indicates that most zoom lenses up to the mid-1980s had a fixed aperture, except for such ones as the aforementioned Auto Nikkor Telephoto Zoom 85mm f/4 - 250mm f/4.5 lens (which was marketed before the 43-86mm lens) and the Auto Nikkor Telephoto Zoom 200mm f/9.5 - 600mm f/10.5 lens (which was marketed shortly after the 43-86mm lens).
This shows that Nippon Kogaku had long sticked at developing zoom lenses having a fixed aperture.

Auto Nikkor Telephoto Zoom 200mm f/3.5-600mm f/10.5 mounted on the Nikon F
Auto Nikkor Telephoto Zoom 85mm f/4 - 250mm f/4.5 mounted on the Nikon F

Later, Nippon Kogaku tried to reconsider the marketing plan of the 3.5-8.5cm f/2.8-f/4 lens.
Shortening the focal length enlarged the front lens, so as a practical compromise, the designers increased the focal length millimeter by millimeter and repeated to redesign.
A zoom range of 43mm to 86mm at f/3.5 was just the strict point of compromise at the time.
The 43-86mm f/3.5 lens zoom range seems random and awkward, but there was a reason for it.

If a lens having maximum aperture of f/8 was permissible, as it is in more recent zoom compact cameras, the lens designers might have had less difficulty.
At that time, however, sensitivity of color film was relatively low (ASA / ISO 50 at highest) while even large grip-type speedlight units had not yet become popular, not to mention camera-built-in ones.
Such a slow lens was not acceptable.

Dreams come true......

Nikon TW Zoom / TW Zoom QD
(Zoom Touch in the U.S. market)

After several tries, including the manual-focus Fuji Flash Fujica Zoom Date which went on market in November 1978, camera designers realized their dream for the first time in 1986 with the Pentax Zoom 70 Quartz Date 35mm (135) -format camera.
Since then, all-around cameras having a fixed normal zoom lens have become the standards for point-and shoot compact cameras.

The Nikon TW Zoom / TW Zoom QD AF zoom compact camera (known as the Zoom Touch in the U.S. market) went on sale in October 1988. For Nikon designers, it took 25 years to make their dream come true !

Note

  • This issue first appeared in "Nikkor Club Quarterly" magazine , published by the Nikkor Club, and was later revised for "Camera Review : Classic Cameras" published by Asahi Sonorama.
    It was re-revised for Nikon's webpage.
  • Products, brands and companies names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.