A rare Nikon 1200mm f/11 lens recently appeared on eBay. The earliest Nikon non-refractive long lenses were the Nikkor-Q 400mm f/4.5, Nikkor-P 600mm f/5.6, Nikkor-P 800mm f/8, and Nikkor-P 1200mm f/11. All of them were on the market around 1964 and withdrawn in the mid-1970. These lenses are actually lens heads and require a focus unit to be functional.
The following image shows the lens heads:
The first focus unit was the CU-1 (1964), which was replaced by AU-1 (1974). All lens heads share the same focus tube. There was a cradle that was used as a lens support so that a heavy lens head would not bend the weak lens unit making focusing difficult. I can tell you that even the smallest Nikkor-Q 400mm f/4.5 mounted on CU-1 can make focusing difficult. Therefore, I always use the AU-1.
There were two versions of the Nikkor-P 800mm f/8 lens head. The older version has a longer conical section between the larger head and the cylindrical lens tube.
The following images show each lens mounted on a focus unit and the Sony NEX-5. Sorry, I could not find any images of the Nikkor-P 600mm f/5.6. The use of a very sturdy tripod and a Gimbal head is required.
Manual focusing is always difficult with the Sony NEX-5. The following was taken using the Nikkor-P 600mm f/5.6 at 5.6. The second image is the center 1200×1800 crop. It is a bit soft, but OK. This may be due to some focusing error.
The following was taken using the Nikkor-P 1200m f/11 at 11. The distance is about 40m. The second image is center 600×1200 crop.
As you can see, these 1960’s era lenses are not bad at all.
About the author: Dr. Ching-Kuang Shene is a photography enthusiast and a professor of computer science at Michigan Technological University. You can find more about him and more of his writing on his website and on his blog. This article was also published here.