Nikkor-T ED 600mm Telephoto Convertible Large Format Lens

March 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I have been wanting a longer telephoto lens for many years for my large format view cameras.  I needed the reach many times over the years as well as the compression for specific landscapes.  

The Nikkor-T ED 600mm large format telephoto lens is hard to come by these days, so I was happy that I was able to find a solution.  

This lens is a convertible type that allows for the lens to be used at 600mm, 800mm, and 1200mm.  It uses the same front element for all three focal lengths, and to acheive the desired focal length, the back element is changed out.  As you can imagine, it is nearly impossible to find someone that had the entire kit with the front and all three rear elements.  I ended up buying different parts from people to eventually acquire the 600mm and 800mm version.  At this time, I don't have a need for the 1200mm focal length, but I may investigate that at a later date if I can get a small extension board for my 8x10 view camera.

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I needed the 600mm and 800mm focal lengths primarily because I make platinum prints and my workflow is completely analog.  This means that I need to create a film-based negative the exact size of my platinum prints.  Since platinum printmaking is a contact printing method, I am not able to crop and make adjustments to my negative, assuming a want to make a full sized print.  It is possible to mask an area in a larger negative and make a smaller print.  I have to get it right in the camera and ultimately on the film so these lenses are critical for some of my subjects.  I love to isolate lone trees in my compositions and these longer focal lengths will help me be able to do this.  I also like to have the option for compression in my mountain landscapes.  


This is a sizable lens weighing 1650g (3.63 lbs) with a front element of 95mm.  It has just enough image circle for 8x10 coverage (minimal movements), but plenty of opportunity for whole plate (6.5x8.5) and 5x7 formats.  

One of the unique advantages of this lens is its reduced bellows draw requirements.  A normal lens requires a bellows draw that is equal to its focal length.  For example, my Fujinon-C 600mm lens requires a bellows draw of 600mm for infinity.  Fortunately my Chamonix 8x10 view camera can handle this, but that is my maximum focal length in my bag until now.  On a side note, the Fujinon-C has a huge image circle and it a fraction of the size and weight of the Nikkor-T ED lens.  There are always pros and cons to every choice.  

The bellows draw requirements for the Nikkor-T ED lens is as follows:

  • Bellows Draw for 600mm - 409mm
  • Bellows Draw for 800mm - 527mm
  • Bellows Draw for 1200mm - 755mm

The rear lens component is interchangeable between the ED 600mm f/9, ED 800mm f/12 and ED 1200mm f/18 making it a unique telephoto lens setup for my large format cameras.  

There are three key things to note about the Nikkor-T ED telephoto lens.  First, it is a true telephoto lens that requires a much lessor bellows draw.  The telephoto design is different than a standard long lens.  Many photographers, especially using smaller formats, interchange long lens and telephoto lens to mean the same thing.  This is not the case for large format lenses.  

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To focus at infinity with a standard lens, it requires a bellows draw of approximately the same as the focal length.  This is going to be very helpful for me with my whole plate camera in particular because I have a maximum bellows draw of 600mm.  It will also be a nice benefit for my 8x10 as well since I will have room for a small degree of magnification, if I would like to use it.  With my Fujinon-C, I am basically racked out.  

The second thing to note about this lens because of its telephoto design is its optical center (nodal point).  Most normal lenses have nodal points roughly in the center of the lens located on the side towards the shutter.  This lens has its optical center located on the front, which has implications on using front axis tilts.  This causes the image on the ground glass to move as you apply tilts.  

In contrast, the optical center of a telephoto lens is located in front of the lens. Practically, this means that applying axis tilts on a non-telephoto lens causes the lens to tilt at or near its optical center. As a result, the image moves very little on the groundglass. In contrast, the location of a telephoto lens's optical center causes the image on the ground glass to move as the lens tilts. This effectively makes it more difficult to use movements for front tilts and swings.  I tend to use back movements most of the time anyway, so this should have little impact on my workflow.  I like to be able to exaggerate the foreground in many of my landscapes, and this is why I use back movements in many cases.  

The final thing a photographer should know about this lens is the smaller image circle.  As I mentioned above, my Fujinon-C 600mm has about twice the image circle of this Nikkor lens.  Having the option to use a 600mm lens on my whole plate and 5x7 cameras because of the lesser bellows draw requirements is a huge win for me, and having access to 800mm on my 8x10, whole plate and 5x7 cameras is a very unique opportunity that I have been missing for years.\

As I begin to use this new lens, I will follow up with new articles sharing my technical and creative thoughts along with the silver gelatin contact prints and pure platinum prints made using this lens.  

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