Apologies for a somewhat technical discussion -- you can skip most of this and just look at the pictures of The Big Lens and I won't be offended. (grin)
A couple of weeks ago I reported about achieving part of my "bucket lens" dreams with the purchase of the oddball Sigma 12mm f8 Fish-eye (DW), giving me a full-frame fisheye lens for my Nikon D1/D1X/D1H.
But before that I had acquired the #1 objective on my bucket lens list and had found the last version of the world's first superzoom lens -- the Nikon 200-600mm f9.5 AIS Zoom-Nikkor on eBay. Yes, I said f9.5. This version has the improved lens formula with 19 elements in 12 groups and both the AI meter coupling link and the AIS programmed coupling prong for the Nikon FA -- which has the added benefit of having a linear response on the automatic aperture link, which means if I ever have the lens CPU chipped, it will shoot perfectly with all the modern Nikon digital cameras.
According to my Nikon serial numbers source, there were 5167 of all versions of the 200-600mm made over a remarkable 20 years, but by numbers the rarest is this last model, with only 525 of the AIS version produced. Good news for me is that most collectors want the earlier lenses -- I wanted one to shoot. Way to go me.
Front end of 200-600mm f9.5 AIS Zoom-Nikkor. The front of the lens takes an 82mm filter and the HN-10 lens hood splits in half to hold similarly sized Series IX filters. I also managed to snag the 82mm/Series IX unmarked Close Up Attachment lens, which changes the focusing range from ∞-13 feet, down to 13-7.5 feet. Don't know when I'll have a use for that, but most of these got separated and lost.
What's a superzoom? It's a zoom lens that falls into the supertelephoto range. For me, that's 400mm or longer -- 300mm lenses are on the border and qualify for supertelephoto only if they're the big 300mm f2.8 or f2 lenses. The thing about supertelephoto lenses is that they're a pain to use. And some are frightfully expensive -- nearly all are more that I paid for the 200-600. You really need to choreograph using them. Their high magnification amplifies any motion or vibration, many are heavy and difficult or impossible to handhold and their shallow depth of field makes them hard to focus. Harder still when it's f9.5 wide open.
Nikon came out with their first 35mm SLR, the Nikon F, in 1959. Two years later in 1961 they introduced two zoom lenses -- there'd been only one zoom lens for 35mm cameras before that -- the 8.5-25.0cm f4-4.5 and the 20-60cm f9.5-10.5. A clean AI-converted 85-250mm f4 Zoom-Nikkor is on my bucket lens list partly because it matches the 200-600 and uses the same filters and hood. For that matter, so does the 500mm f8N Reflex-Nikkor. For a while I owned a Sigma 500mm f8 Mirror lens in a Nikon mount, but it had this setscrew for rotating the camera to vertical which scratched both my Nikon F2 Photomic and F2SB Photomic finders. And before the 200-600, I could go to 400mm f8 with the 200mm f4 and the TC-200 2× teleconverter, which is the closest I could get to supertelephoto in my arsenal.
Not only is 600mm longer than 400mm -- I have advanced degrees in Physics and Applied Physics, you know -- but (a) that's an effective focal length of 900mm on the DX Nikons and (b) I can use the TC-200 *** to make it a 400-1200mm f19 lens, which yields an effective focal length of 1800mm in DX.
So why am I reporting this now in June? Well, it took a little while to get the filters I needed -- and I am not taking a piece of glass that large outside without some protection up front and because of the magnification, an 82mm Nikon L37c UV filter at that. And then it gets carried around in a Nikon CT-F1 aluminum lens crate, so I didn't bring it home until I really had time to lug it and use it. Could not get a proper solar filter in time for the solar eclipse -- which was a bust anyway -- but I had my eyes on the Transit of Venus at sunset in West Michigan...
So I brought it home on Friday, finally, and lugged it out into the garage to test it on Monday evening. Yes, these are boring pictures. I was testing it before trying to lug it out into the field.
Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n and 200-600mm f9.5 AIS Zoom-Nikkor. (Click on photo for larger.)
FX camera at 200mm.
FX camera at 600mm.
Nikon D1X and 200-600mm f9.5 AIS Zoom-Nikkor (Click on photo for larger.)
DX camera at 200mm (EF 300mm).
DX camera at 600mm (EF 900mm).
For comparison, this is the same boring driveway shot with the Sigma 12mm f8 Fish-eye.
Why did Nikon produce this lens for twenty years, even after they had "replaced" it with the 180-600mm f8 ED Nikkor? In part because it was far cheaper than the replacement. In part because I've been told that it can take fantastic photos -- it's why I've wanted one.
I was working for the Northwestern yearbook when the first big fast supertelephotos came out. I remember the guys shooting football games renting a 300mm f2.8 from time to time. We used to joke about iron and glass -- cameras and lenses -- and using Cold War terms like throw weight to talk about the big glass. This lens has some serious throw weight. It's heavy for sure, but it is beautifully balanced and the focusing and zooming ring is so smooth and easy, it has to have a lock setting.
But I'm gonna need a bigger tripod...
*** -- Technically there is a chance of vignetting with the TC-200, but since the Nikon D1-series are DX cameras, they only use the center of the image and it's not a problem. If I really want to use a teleconverter with the FX sensor Kodak SLR/n, I should go with the TC-14B, or the TC-300/301.