W-Nikkor C 3.5cm (35mm) f/1.8 – NK35-18 by Skyllaney

W-Nikkor C 3.5cm (35mm) f/1.8 - NK35-18 by Skyllaney

Lens Review

W-Nikkor C 3.5cm (35mm) f/1.8 – NK35-18 by Skyllaney

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Leica M10-P, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

The W-Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 was the world’s first super-speed wide-angle lens and a premium choice for Nikon’s 1950s rangefinder cameras. While it’s easy to overlook this lens because of its f/1.8 aperture when faster lenses like the Summilux 35mm f/1.4 Pre-a or ASPH are available, it’s crucial to appreciate what it brought to the table at the time. Nikon was ambitiously trying to outperform German optical giants like Leica by producing something faster than f/2. This lens, designed with front and rear elements for use at f/1.4 but optimised at f/1.8 to minimise vignetting, showed Nikon’s commitment to pushing the boundaries. Compatible with the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) without any modifications, it became highly sought after—only about 1,500 of these lenses were ever made for the LTM.

My interest in this lens was reignited after a coffee with Linden, who had purchased the lens from Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics. This company, headed by Chris—a dedicated fan of the Sonnar design—specialises in lens conversions.

In this post, I’ve tested this lens on both digital and film formats. For digital shots, I used the Leica M10-P camera. For film, I used Fujifilm Fujicolor 400 and Kodak Ektachrome E100. Let’s see which results you like best! For higher resolution, you may refer to my Flickr.

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Leica M10-P, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

Adapting an S Mount Lens on Leica Cameras?

The lens features a modified Double Gauss design with single-layer blue and amber coatings and lanthanum glass. However, the rear lens group is too large to fit directly onto a Leica M body, prompting me to search for a solution. I eventually stumbled upon a thread on Reddit discussing how to rehouse this lens with an Amedeo adapter.

BernardNoir explains in the thread: “The W-Nikkor lens rear lens group housing was modified by making a new smaller housing. So, you remove the rear lens group and take the cemented element out of the housing and then place it into the new slimmer housing and then screw in the completed new ‘rear lens group/housing.’ Thus allowing you to achieve the usage of an S-mount Amedeo Adapter.”

So, it turns out that adapting this lens on a rangefinder camera is possible, but it does require some modifications.

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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

Omnar NK35-18 - Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8 by Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics

Chris from Skyllaney didn’t just add an extra minimum focusing distance (MFD) to this lens, bringing it down to 0.5m (without rangefinder coupling); he also rehoused the entire lens in a beautifully crafted brass barrel, finished in black paint and designed and assembled in the UK. The lens is coupled from 0.65m to infinity with a short focus throw. It is well-constructed, light, and compact. It accepts a 43mm filter, which, while not a common size, is used by the Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 V2 and Voigtlander Nokton 28mm f/1.5 ASPH VM.

Focusing the lens is straightforward. According to the Omnar lens website, you can choose between a light or heavy focus feel. However, it would be an improvement if the barrel didn’t rotate while focusing. This rotation makes it necessary to constantly check the lens to adjust the aperture correctly when trying to make quick changes. Overall, it’s a solid and attractive lens with a nice black finish and antique brassing.

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Lens barrel

Lens Character

The lens exhibits a warmer colour tone compared to the Leica Summicron. I discovered this by comparing it with two other Summicrons and the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 using Kodak Ektachrome E100 colour reversal film in the same environment. The lens appears sharp when wide open, with a hint of softness around the highlights. It maintains a moderate level of contrast even at wide apertures, resulting in solid and well-defined images. The lens performs particularly well in rendering red and green colours, bringing out the vibrancy in a way that is very true to life.

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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

In terms of bokeh, the out-of-focus areas resemble the scumbling technique in painting, which involves applying thin, translucent layers of paint over existing layers to create a subtle, hazy effect that adds depth and luminosity. This gives the bokeh nice tonal variation and texture.

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Kodak Ektachrome E100, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

I am surprised by how well the lens performs at f/1.8, which can be credited to its well-controlled vignetting. This is impressive because the front and rear elements are designed for an f/1.4 lens, making it very usable wide open, unlike the Summilux 35mm f/1.4 pre-asph with its characteristic ‘Leica glow’. Once stopped down to f/2.8, the lens achieves superb sharpness with no obvious distortion.

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Kodak Ektachrome E100, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Kodak Ektachrome E100, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

More Film Samples (Fujicolor 400)

Close Focus Ability

With the rehoused barrel and focusing helicoid, the Omnar NK35-18 now achieves a closer rangefinder-coupled focusing distance down to 0.65m, and an uncoupled focus range from 0.5m to 0.65m. In contrast, the original S or LTM mount version of this Nikkor lens could only focus down to a minimum distance of 0.9 metres.

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Leica M10-P, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Leica M10-P, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

Quick Comparison vs. Leica Summicron

I conducted a non-scientific comparison of the famous Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8 against two other Leica lenses: the legendary Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 V1 with 8 elements and the Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 IV Pre-asph (known as the “King of Bokeh”). All shots were taken on Kodak Ektachrome E100 film processed in E6, without any post-correction. I used the Nikkor at both f/1.8 and f/2 settings. Which one do you prefer, and why?

Final Thoughts

This small and versatile lens truly has a lot to offer. Interestingly, it was the fastest wide-angle lens available when it was first released in 1956 with an aperture of f/1.8. It took Leica until 1960 to catch up, introducing the Summilux 35mm f/1.4. At that time, Nikon was clearly ahead of the game.

If you’re seeking an alternative to Leica that provides great sharpness and a nice vintage tone, the Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8 is an excellent choice. You can acquire an S external mount copy and have Skyllaney modify it for you. While not cheap, the quality of the work justifies the expense. Alternatively, if you’re in Hong Kong, you can contact me—there’s a local expert here who can modify and adapt this lens for use on a Leica rangefinder camera, though not with a complete rehousing.

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Kodak Ektachrome E100, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Kodak Ektachrome E100, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8

I would love to spend more time with this lens! It certainly deserves more recognition. Some say this might be the best rangefinder lens Nikon ever produced. While lens reviews are inherently subjective, to me, this lens is memorable, and I find myself preferring it over certain other lenses.

Special thanks to Linden, who lent me this amazing lens.

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Fujifilm Fujicolor 400, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Leica M10-P, W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8
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Prev Film Photography Cheat Sheet: FAQ for Beginners

2 Comments

  1. Hi Anson
    This is an inspiring post. As the lucky owner of the lens you have helped me find some direction in using it, and given me some insight into its fingerprint. I really like, for example, the portrait of the woman looking out into the view below. The resolution seems reliably solid, and the background blur is old fashioned (deformed shapes, and firm outlines), yet not too busy or swirly. The lens – from the mid-1950s – belongs more in the style to come in the ’60s and ’70s, and not like the style of many ’50s lenses that have a much older fingerprint.
    The portraits of you are also really informative. The lens seems about as sharp as the 8-element, not as sharp as the 7-element, with the 7-element’s colour saturation, and considerably warmer than either of those two Leica lenses. My instinct is to use the Nikkor more for colour work (like the 7-element), and the 8-element more for black and white (though your glass of water shot and fisherman on the rocks shows that the Nikkor has no problem showing tone).
    Thanks for taking the time to try this lens out and share your experience with us.

    • Thanks for letting me try this gem! Yes I agree that this lens is very solid and I like the old fashioned look and it should be use for more colour work. Besides, I am also curious about how it performs on B&W film like Tri-X or HP5.

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