This highly sought-after macro lens (or Micro in Nikon's language) was introduced in 1961. It can focus all the way from infinity down to only 10 cm and achieve 1:1 magnification without extention tube. All the subsequent replacement versions required the use of extention ring to achieve the same magnification. There are 2,277 units produced in two versions, starting with serial no. 171501. The first version has a recessed filter ring which makes it difficult to even just attaching a normal lens cap. (Unless you have the dedicated front cap with longer pins for this lens.) It was rectified with a protuded filter ring in the second version starting from serial no. 172323. A drawing of a prototype with "Tick marks" is shown in some early literature. The production version doesn't have any "Tick marks". Most users claim this lens is razor sharp and outperforms many modern optics. You know, they just don't make thing like this anymore!
The lens extends from 6.6cm to 12cm as its focus changes from infinity to minimum focus distance.

Prototype with Tick Marks in early literature


Mounting the lens in the reversed position
This lens can be attached to the bellows unit in reverse, producing an astonishing 4.2 :1 magnification. According to the user manual, the very rare M-B adapter tube is needed to mount this lens to the bellows in this manner. The reason is that the filter thread is actually on the rotating aperture ring itself. The M-B tube is attached to the inner thread of the lens. It serves two purposes. One is to raise the filter thread by a few mm so that the aperture ring does not come into contact with the BR-2 reverse mounting ring or lens cap mounting pins. The other reason is to prevent the lens from rotating during aperture change when you reverse mount it. For the same reason, M-B tube is also needed when you attach a polarization filter on the lens. Not only the M-B tube is almost impossible to find, it is also a well-known problem that the M-B tube may be stuck in the lens if over-tightened. You can simply attach a 52mm clear filter on the lens and it will do the job of raising the filter thread by a few mm so that the aperture ring will not come into contact with lens cap pins or BR-2 ring. In fact, Nikon engineers did just that when they released the version two of this lens.
            The second version of 5.5cm Micro with a protruding filter ring                
The rare orignal user manual. Print code: L3001 (61.11.1A) C
Sharpness Test: 5.5cm f3.5 vs 55mm f2.8
I always wonder how this classic gem would fare against its more modern counterpart like Ai-s Micro-55mm f2.8. Let's find out in the test below!
D700 + Micro 5.5cm f3.5 preset stopped down to f5.6. The photo shows the full frame.
D700 + Ai-s Micro 55mm f2.8 stopped down to f5.6. The photo shows the full frame.
100% crop from the 5.5cm f3.5 shot
100% crop from 55mm f2.8 shot
As shown in the above samples, the sharpness of the two lenses are so close that any difference you see is probably down to focus error. That is pretty impressive for a lens released in 1961?! Bearing in mind that the Ai-s Micro 55mm f2.8 can only achieve 1:2 magnification without using extension tube while the 5.5cm preset can go all the way to 1:1. See the full power of this lens unleashed in the 100% crop photo below!
Approximately 1:1 magnification (100% crop)

Updated on 11 Dec 2018