Nikon EL-Nikkor N 80/5.6

Second generation Japanese orthometar enlarger lens. Multicoated.

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Weight 104 g
Dimensions 80 mm
Focal Length (mm)

80

Max Aperture (f)

5.6

Min Aperture (f)

32

Aperture Type

Straight 8

Elements

6 / 4

Sharp (Near)

90.8%

Sharp (Far)

89.3%

Rear Mount

M39

Front Thread

40.5mm

Flange-Focal Distance (mm)

73.7

Extension (mm)

53

Bokeh Character

Excellent at f5.6. Slight soap bubble + onion. Refined.

Production

1980-2006

Serial Numbers

604734, 748507

Reviews

  1. 16:9

    “A product so perfect it remained utterly unchanged for 26 years and remained in production after it was officially ‘retired’ as an enlarger lens, continuing life as an industrial optic” . . . could be a description of several top-flight Delta lenses. But the 80mm feels a little bit special even among this company. Not every Nikon lens has a ‘1001 Nights’ dedicated to it. Not every enlarger lens is so well corrected that it resolves as well at distance as it does at close range, or into the corners like this one. Optically, it’s near-faultless – on a 35mm sensor, at least: stopping down (from its admittedly unappealing f5.6 maximum aperture) barely increases its performance: in fact, it’s a hair less sharp centre frame at f8 – the trade-off for a fractionally improved C Zone. On average, a score of just over 90% is recorded for across the frame sharpness, placed it in the lower ranks of the elite Gold category.

    Its rendering style is also excellent: particularly smooth wide open and fairly civilised stopped down. Colour saturation is closer to the level of more exotic apochromats, and contrast is pleasingly a little above average – though still (usefully) lower than a modern prime. Geometry appears to be spot-on – though I haven’t yet tested this too critically. All forms of CA verge on nil and it even delivers pretty sunstars, reminiscent of Nikon’s 1970-80s taking lenses. By the early 1980s Nikon’s multicoating was pretty good, which sharpens the effect, and reduces flare to lower than average levels (for an enlarger lens). Having said that, especially without a hood, period flare is still a ‘feature’.

    It helps its case that 80mm is a sweet spot for enlarger lens use: an ideal focal length for macro and copy work, and an ideal image circle for tilt and shift movements – which means that it covers medium format well, too.

    In 1980, Nikon was criticised for its move away from the metal ingots of their 1960s enlarger lens range to ‘resin-based’ (plastic) production. And, yes, the N-Series lenses were lighter, and felt less ‘reassuring’ in the hand. The aperture rings were so light, and so lightly damped, they feel broken. And yet, time has told: whereas many moving parts from lenses of the same vintage are rusty, bound up, and showing signs of being tampered with one too many times, there is an abundance of pristine EL-Nikkor N’s on the market. Partly this is testimony to the good sense and careful engineering of Nikon’s ‘resin-work’ and partly because they designed these things to be fiendishly difficult to take apart – and equally good at resisting the ingress of moisture and fungus. Rather like old Porsches, their ubiquity is testimony to the understated excellence of their build quality.

    The featherlight aperture ring is an unintended bonus for modern users: many old enlarger lenses have stubborn mechanisms that require an amount of torque to operate comparable to that needed to rotate the lens out of its mount – whereas the Nikon N’s float from click to click effortlessly, but nonetheless positively and are a pleasure to use, seemingly no matter what age or condition the lens.

    The only caveat is a slightly higher than average amount of focus shift and prominent IR hot-spotting. Fortunately, Nikon included a front filter ring enabling easy reversal for higher magnifications or fitment of a standard 40.5mm hood. You’re used to stop-down metering; why not stop-down focusing?

    There are many excellent lenses at this focal length, but few are without weakness: the EL-Nikkor 80/5.6 N does everything rather brilliantly: the equally superb Fuji EX 75 and 90 are slightly sharper centre frame, but not quite as keen in the corners; the Leicas match it close up, but fall apart at distance; the standard Rodagon and Componon – also the Ental II, Komura, Hoya and other fine lenses – are a clear notch behind the Nikon and Fujis optically, and the comparable Apo-Rodagon-N 80/4 and Apo-Componon 90/4.5 are monstrously more expensive. Apart from these only the Agfa Color-Solagon DI 70/4.5 matches them for all-round competence but it’s rare and awkward to adapt. Prices of N Series lenses have gently increased but they are still fair value compared to a larger, dedicated macro lens, which won’t be sharper, especially at the smaller apertures this lens excels at.

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