The thing about writing a blog is that, well, one thing leads to another. Yesterday in the post about Nikon's new 58mm lens, I called the Noct-Nikkor 58mm of 1977 "the world's first aspherical SLR lens." I think this was my mistake, based on a misreading of the materials I read prior to writing the post.
Old friend Chuck Westfall of Canon USA contacted me to partially correct this—he's the one who provided the link to the aspherical Canon FD 55mm ƒ/1.2 AL, first marketed in March of 1971. I made the change in the post.
(By the way, most of these older lenses are now collector's items.)
Later, Chuck looked into the matter a little further, and found (no surprise) a further wrinkle to the story. The first aspherical lens for an SLR was actually a Nikon lens after all. It was the OP Fisheye-Nikkor 10mm ƒ/5.6, announced in 1968 and discontinued in 1976. Chuck wrote, "You might recall this lens; it was Nikon's third fisheye for F-mount SLRs, following the 8mm ƒ/2.8 and 7.5mm ƒ/5.6 models, but the first one to feature orthographic projection rather than the more conventional equidistant projection design of the earlier fisheye lenses." Nikon has a great web page on the history of its fisheye lenses.
So does this settle the matter? Not quite—and here comes the wrinkle. The back elements of the OP Fisheye-Nikkor 10mm ƒ/5.6 extended so far into the mirror box that the lens could only be used on SLRs with the mirror locked up! So it could be used on SLR cameras, but not when they were being used as SLRs. Also, it didn't support auto aperture stopdown.
So while the Nikon fisheye perhaps walks away with the "first ever" honors, the Canon FD 55mm ƒ/1.2 AL is really the first aspherical lens for SLR cameras that supported both reflex viewing and automatic diaphragm operation—in other words, the first one you could use on an SLR as SLR lenses are normally used.
Oh, and by the way—why isn't Nikon's new 58mm an ƒ/1.2 lens, if it's really intended to be an homage to the 1977 Noct-Nikkor? The answer is that to do so would make it too big, heavier, and even more expensive, with little in the way of payoff. And there's just no need. In 1977, high-speed film was ASA (as it was called then) 400, and you could squeak out E.I. (exposure index, as any departure from the rated ASA or film ISO was correctly called) 1600 if you used special developers and were willing to accept a heavy image-quality hit. Now, many digital cameras can shoot natively at ISO 3200 with quite acceptable quality. Really, even an ƒ/1.4 open aperture is primarily for viewing convenience and DoF effects, not because it's needed for exposure speed—and the half stop between ƒ/1.2 and ƒ/1.4 is largely irrelevant.
(Thanks to Chuck Westfall and Ctein)
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Featured Comments from:
Jeff Ralph: "Here is an interesting review of the Canon 55mm from the May 1978 issue of SLR Camera magazine."