Nikon 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED Lens: A Look Back at this Massive Lens

Nikon 1200-1700mm Lens

Nikon’s Recollections section on its website just added the Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED beast of lens from 1990.  The lens was constructed of 18 elements in 13 groups and had a minimum focusing distance of 10 meters.  It weighed in at a hefty 35lbs.

The 1200-1700mm lens featured a two-section lens barrel, in which only the rear portion of the lens barrel would rotate when changing from horizontal to vertical views.

2 Section Lens Barrel

2 Section Lens Barrel

Telephoto lenses with a tripod collar commonly feature a structure in which the entire lens barrel is rotated in order to change the composition from vertical to horizontal (this is referred to hereafter as the vertical/horizontal rotating mechanism). However, it would require considerable strength to rotate an entire lens barrel that weighed as much as that of the 1200-1700mm. To enable smooth vertical/horizontal rotating, the lens barrel of the 1200-1700mm is divided into front and rear sections, and only the rear section is rotated.

With the 1200-1700mm, whose front section of lens barrel is fixed, rotating the position of the camera between vertical and horizontal rotates the focus ring. Focus does not change, however, since care is taken in the design of the vertical/horizontal rotating mechanism to ensure that movement in the mechanism does not affect the rotation of the focus ring.

The reach of this lens is flat out amazing. See the sample photos below.


50mm (for comparison)

Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED at 1700mm

Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED at 1700mm

The “was first used in 1990 at the Koshien Stadium, the baseball ground at which the spring high school baseball tournament is staged.”  After that, Nikon delivered these lenses to news organizations in Japan and the rest of the world.  Beginning in 1994, Nikon made the massive lens available on the general market on a build to order basis.

I haven’t found any official retail prices on it; however, I’ve seen quotes ranging from $60,000 to $75,000 based on dollar values in the early 1990s.

[via Nikon]



  1. Mel Snyder says

    Now, $60,000 sounds like a lot of money for a lens. But it’s really quite reasonable when you consider that, with it, you could sit on the balcony of your Florida condo and shoot elephants at a watering hole outside Kinshasa…

  2. Peter Geran says

    I was at the Nikon Professional office in Tokyo in 1988, and a guy came in with one. I thought it was a ” loaner” from NIKON, but, turned out it belonged to the guy.

    That lens makes my 800mm f5.6 look small.

  3. says

    With those easy-to-grab handles top and bottom, it looks as much like an M-16 machine gun as a photographic piece.
    The first house I bought cost only 15k more than the 60k price tag for that lens.

    I’d rather have the house. Let the military have this lens. How would one even break even on that purchase?

    • Peter Geran says

      Wild life work. Survelliance … Every working professional should have one ;-)

      Weddings.. Especially if you didnt like the couple… Great for portrait work. Fantastic bokeh.

  4. ChokDK says

    Now put this little thingy into the next PAS camera please :D:D

    Ooh boy who wouldn’t love to be able to take pictures with that zoom factor.
    But – even wih the well known danish taxes these glasses are still even more expensive than my first house (refering at Stu Marks)

  5. Ashley Groome says

    Back in the good old days when Nikon made “real” lenses.

    I think I’m tearing up – choke. :-)

  6. Peter Geran says


    I still have my 300mm f2.8 AF-S, 500mm f4 AF-I, 800mm f5.6 ( manual) 8mm f2.8 ( Full circle fisheye )

    I reckon these qualify as ” Real Lenses ” :-)

  7. says

    This lens would compliment a police force nicely. They could shoot survelliance photo’s, then use the lens as a battering ram to catch the person(s) they were watching.

  8. John_IGG says

    Imagine this one on a D300s, or even better on a V1…

    The sky is the limit!

    I don’t need one I can’t possibly afford one … I want one (: …

  9. JorPet says

    I’ld get one in a heartbeat, but they aren’t compatible with the TC-20E, so what would be the point?

  10. William Dyer says

    People sometimes wonder why I workout at the gym! It’s to lift the camera bag full of Nikon lenses and camera bodies! Since I can bicep curl 50 pounds one handed, I might have a chance of getting that monster on a tripod! However, taking it out day hiking is still out of the question! ;-)

    • says

      Great article! The photo with the photog carrying the lens on his shoulder really drives the point home regarding its massive size! and the two subjects in the image are actually 18 meters (about 60 feet) apart! That’s truly impressive!

  11. Womble says

    Canon’s 1200mm lens offered a 1.4x TC, which took it to 1700mm, but it was one or the other, not a zoom between the two. And it was even more expensive (there was one going second-hand at B&H for over $90k for a while).

  12. David F says

    You know, I bought a 300mm f4 Zeiss and have rarely used it. Why? 1: The haze in summer is greatly enhanced and often ‘smears’ the shot, (despite filtering) and can rarely attain good super clean pictures (cooler days are good) on long shots. Sports etc. OK, but longer shots to infinity – not much luck unless it was winter. 2:It is a heavy lens – so light travel is out with it often. Now since I have changed over to film making, the picture is super critical. Judging from this shot, unless I am wrong here, IMHO, the out of focus sections are dreadful with what appears to be multiple out of focus images side by side with a terrible bokeh – whatever, it certainly is not pretty and therefore I would not use this lens.


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