Nikon Nikkor-O 2.1cm f4 Review / by Jake Horn

The Nikon 2.1cm f4 was a revelation in it's day. Originally designed for the Nikon S rangefinder system, this invasive wide allowed a never before angle of view. The lens performed so well that Nikon adapted the mount for use on it's then, brand new F mount system. This lens first arrived on the photographic scene some 57 years ago (you can find more info on Nikon's own history page). While its' invasive nature requires the use of mirror lock-up, the rear element design limits use to the F and F2 models only. So is this still a viable lens for film shooters? Or rather a dinosaur suited for display on a collector's shelf?

That's right, mirror lockup and a viewfinder required

That's right, mirror lockup and a viewfinder required

When I sought out to procure a 2.1cm for myself, I decided that the original viewfinder was a bit ugly and the lens is a bargain when sold without it. Instead of the Nikon finder, I opted for the Voigtlander cylindrical metal model (DA216B). It looks much sleeker in my opinion.

Mounted on the Nikon F with Voigtlander Shoe Base

Mounted on the Nikon F with Voigtlander Shoe Base

SPECS:

  • 8 Elements | 4 Groups
  • Filter Ø = 52mm
  • Min Focus = 0.91m
  • Weight = 172.5g
  • Length = 21mm (55mm including invasive portion)

This optic is very strait forward. It handles just like a rangefinder wide angle, having to use the zone method for focusing. While this is great for most working apertures, it can be tricky at f4 at ten feet or less. I've gotten much sharper images in bright light when I can stop down to f8 or greater. I feel that this lens has produced great results with F11 and F16 in particular.

Center Performance at 100% (Center of Tree Shot Below)

Center Performance at 100% (Center of Tree Shot Below)

While you may notice resolution is a tad on the soft side, the color rendering is outstanding. I'd like to shoot some more landscapes on slide film with this lens, but the colors consistently have a cool yet vibrant feel from negative film. Of course this is extremely subjective due to the scanning process.

Mounted on the Nikon F with the Nikon AS-4 Shoe Adaptor

Mounted on the Nikon F with the Nikon AS-4 Shoe Adaptor

One thing to watch out for is uneven exposure across the film plane. Note the dark skies at the top of the frames below. It appears that this is due to the rear element being so close to the film plane, only 7mm. Not sure if this is a slight alignment issue, or a tolerance issue between the body and mount design, but it get worse at fast shutter speeds. While it did not completely ruin my shots, I found that shots slower than 1/500th had no issues.

I would recommend this lens to anyone still shooting with the original F's and are looking for a lightweight wide. But I would not encourage anyone to go out of their way to use one. It's a very interesting lens with unique characteristics, but it's charm stops there. In the end, it's a 21mm option that lacks the performance of the wide angles available today for a fraction of the cost. I would say a 20mm f3.5 AI is a better option if you need something wider than 24mm. If you are looking at getting the 2.1cm f4, I see that the prices have increased in the 3 years since I got mine...so I wouldn't wait. 

USS Midway, San Diego  -  Nikon F | Ektar 100 | F16 | 1/500th sec

USS Midway, San Diego  -  Nikon F | Ektar 100 | F16 | 1/500th sec