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The Insane Zoom Powers of the Legendary $75,000 Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm Lens

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Look at the insane zoom that $75,000 worth of glass got you in the 1990. It's the work of the Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED lens, 18 elements assembled in a body that looked like a shoulder-mounted missile launcher.

This thing was almost 35 inches long (888mm) and had a 9.33-inch (237mm) maximum diameter. Its weight: 35.2 pounds (16 kilograms)!


When it was first used in 1990—at the Koshien Stadium—the Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm had "the longest focal length of any zoom lens for 35mm-format cameras."

In the photo above you can see the same scene taken with 50mm (top left) and the 1200-1700mm lens, all placed 130 meters away from those two women.


Here's the story of its genesis, according to Nikon:

At Koshien Stadium the photographers' seats are situated next to the center-field back screen so as to enable news photographers to shoot the home plate, which is over 130 meters away. From this position it requires a focal length of 1200mm to capture the pitcher, the catcher, and the batter in frame, and a focal length of 1700mm to shoot a full-frame vertical photograph of the batter. In short, the 1200-1700mm was developed for shooting pictures from the photographers' seats at Koshien Stadium.

In 1980s, a rival company was making a 1200mm f/5.6 super telephoto lens. The newspapers were beginning to switch over to cameras made by this company in order to use the lens in their coverage of baseball at Koshien Stadium.

In May 1989, Nikon rushed to begin development of its own super telephoto lens for Koshien Stadium. The company resolved to complete the prototype by March 1990, in response to the fervent wishes of the newspapers.


Nikon says that this lens "restored the reputation of the Nikon brand in terms of news photography." What is even more interesting, however, is their claim that Digital SLRs killed these lenses because now "the images can be easily cropped and image quality is high, even with a high ISO setting." [Nikon via Photography Bay]