Mount­ing up

One hole, over half a decade – why Nikon’s F-mount has stood the test of time

NPhoto - - Feature -

It’s not quite lens nir­vana – there are some lim­i­ta­tions to take into ac­count

The F-mount cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary in 2009, mak­ing it the long­est-run­ning lens mount for 35mm SLR in­ter­change­able lens cam­eras in the world. The F-mount was in­tro­duced on the Nikon F in 1959 and it’s been a con­stant through­out Nikon’s his­tory, pro­vid­ing a sub­stan­tial amount of back­wards and for­wards com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween lenses and cam­eras over the past five decades.

Nikon de­cided that it needed to pro­vide a de­gree of fu­ture-proof­ing and en­able the use of larger aper­ture lenses. The re­sult? The F-mount di­am­e­ter of 44mm.

But the F-mount hasn’t stayed frozen in time, and there have been some no­table evo­lu­tions. For in­stance, 1977 saw the in­tro­duc­tion of auto aper­ture in­dex­ing (Ai). Ai-type lenses en­able the au­to­matic set­ting of max­i­mum aper­ture. In 1983, the F-mount had to ac­com­mo­date both aut­o­fo­cus and the ex­change of aper­ture in­for­ma­tion be­tween the lens and cam­era us­ing cen­tral pro­cess­ing units. Is it com­pat­i­ble ? Although you can phys­i­cally at­tach F-mount lenses from the ’60s to the lat­est Nikon dig­i­tal SLRs – and vice versa – it’s not quite in­ter­change­able lens nir­vana, as there are a num­ber of caveats and lim­i­ta­tions to take into ac­count. For a kick-off, Nikon’s non-Ai lenses may need to be mod­i­fied to pre­vent me­chan­i­cal dam­age when they’re at­tached to later bod­ies. Although DSLRs can accept Ai lenses, only high-end bod­ies will me­ter through the lens. In ad­di­tion, some dig­i­tal SLRs don’t have a built-in fo­cus­ing mo­tor, so can only aut­o­fo­cus when a lens with a built-in mo­tor – AF-S or AF-P – is at­tached. And then there’s Nikon’s range of G lenses, which lack an aper­ture ring and are in­tended to work with dig­i­tal SLRs where the aper­ture is ad­justed us­ing the cam­era’s com­mand dial. This is not an ex­haus­tive list!

Most F-mount lenses are de­signed to project an im­age that cov­ers a frame of 35mm film, or an FX imag­ing sen­sor, which has the same 36x24mm pro­por­tions. Nikon’s DX cam­eras have sen­sors that are 1.5x smaller – ap­prox­i­mately 24x16mm – but they re­tain the same F-mount. This means you can hap­pily use ‘full-frame’ lenses on DX bod­ies, al­beit it with the im­age cropped. Nikon’s smaller DX lenses can also be fit­ted on FX bod­ies, with the cam­era au­to­mat­i­cally crop­ping the im­age frame to DX size.

Above The Nikon Df has retro styling – and the orig­i­nal F-mount

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