Lens making is a skill that has been around for thousands of years and today it is paired with incredible technology from manufacturers like Canon, Leica, and, of course, Nikon.
In other words, that hunk of glass hanging off the front of your DSLR isn’t just the latest a series of semiconductors — something that was revolutionary just because it was shrunk down by a few nanometers — these are real, physical objects that aren’t 10,000 times more powerful than they were in the 1980s or that cost a fraction of a fraction to produce relative to a few years ago.
On January 28, Nikon released a video celebrating the 80th anniversary of their Nikkor lenses. It offers a behind-the-scenes look into how its widely used lenses are made. The video starts from the production of the glass from sand and goes through final assembly, all in three-and-a-half minutes.
The video doesn’t give any insight into the interior of a lens, but it’s surprisingly complex. A lens has multiple elements inside of it, each of which have different qualities — some might be aspherical while other are low dispersion. These elements all form a stack that is accurate, adjustable, and, when it comes down to it, pretty tough.
In case you’re wondering how the “Nikkor” brand name was chosen, here’s the explanation Nikon gives in its anniversary press release:
The brand name for Nikon lenses, NIKKOR has become synonymous with high-performance, high-quality SLR lenses. The NIKKOR name comes from adding “R”—a common practice in the naming of photographic lenses at the time the name was established—to “Nikko”, the Romanized abbreviation for Nippon Kogaku K.K. In 1933, the large-format lens for aerial photography was released with the name Aero-Nikkor.
The total number of lenses manufactured since the beginning has exceeded 75 million units. The lineup now includes more than 80 types of lenses.