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When shooting timelapses, small deviations of aperture position between shots can cause an image to flicker. The most obvious way is buy a lens that doesn't reset aperture on every shot you take. What are those lenses labeled? Do they exist?

The second approach is to disconnect the lens a little, so that the aperture stays fixed. This introduces the problem of aperture resetting on lens disconnection. Also, when the lens is disconnected a little, the camera won't even take a picture. At least on a Nikon D3300 with DX VR AF-P Nikkor 18:55mm f/3.5-5.6G lens. Are there lenses that allow disconnection without resetting the aperture and also allow the camera to shoot with the slightly disconnected lens?

I am looking for a Nikon D3300 solution, but hey, feel free to comment about other manufactures as well.

  • youtube.com/watch?v=lbkM5ekaDl8 At 6:40 is the explanation of the problem. – sanjihan Aug 12 '16 at 21:23
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    The minute shot-to-shot inconsistency of the 1950s era mechanical aperture control lever rears its ugly head. Again. – Michael C Aug 12 '16 at 21:23
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Nikon has a few E type lenses (not to be confused with the totally different E-series lenses) with electromagnetic aperture diaphragms controlled from the camera electronically. An E type lens has a single letter "E" immediately following the maximum aperture of the lens in the lens' name. For example, AF-S Nikkor 105mm f/1.4E ED. Unfortunately almost all of them are either very expensive long telephoto, expensive wide aperture lenses, or very expensive Perspective Control lenses. PC lenses are also sometimes referred to as Tilt-Shift lenses. These E type lenses would allow more precise control of the aperture position by the camera than it is capable of with the mechanical linkage found in the overwhelming majority of Nikon F-mount lenses. But there will even be very miniscule variances in aperture size between frames with the E type lenses as the aperture is opened back up to the maximum between frames.

The problem you are encountering with your "G" type lens is that Nikon is still using a clunky mechanical lever left over from the 1950s to control the aperture in the vast majority of their lenses. Such a mechanical linkage is less precise and consistent than an electromagnetic servo motor attached directly to the aperture diaphragm and controlled electronically. That is the source of your inconsistency from shot to shot.

Your D3300 is not capable of using the technique used in the video referenced in your question. Even if you disconnect your lens and manage to set the aperture with a makeshift solution, the D3300 will not release the shutter, even in manual mode, when a lens is not detected.

Other camera manufacturers have changed over to electronic apertures as early as 1987 with the creation of the Canon EF lens for the new EOS line of cameras.

The aperture on such lenses can be "locked" in a single position by stopping down the lens to the desired aperture, holding down the Depth of Field Preview button (on EOS bodies that have a DoF Preview button or another button that can be remapped to that function), and disconnecting the lens from the electrical contacts between it and the camera body. Since the power contacts are the first to disconnect and the interface is designed so that the power contacts can't touch any of the other contacts on the lens this is perfectly safe and harms neither the camera, the lens, nor the photographer. Canon EOS cameras will also allow the shutter to be released in Manual exposure mode even when no lens is detected by the camera.

  • Correction: not all E lenses are PC lenses anymore. There are at least 8 additional E lenses now. It started with the 800mm/5.6 E AF-S VR, followed by the 400, 500 and 600. Also, the recent 300mm f/4E Phase Fresnel and the updated 24-70mm f/2.8E. There's even a DX lens, AF-S DX 16-80 mm f/2.8-4E ED VR, which is only about $1k (cheap compared to the rest). The DX 16-80mm and the 24-70mm f/2.8 (and perhaps the 24mm PC-E and 45mm PC-E) are the only ones I can imagine being very useful for timelapse. And other than the DX, like you said about the PC lenses, they're very expensive. – scottbb Aug 12 '16 at 22:31
  • Are you sure some of those lenses aren't "ED" (Extra-low dispersion)? If not, the list of F-mount lenses at Wikipedia is seriously out of date. – Michael C Aug 12 '16 at 23:45
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    I'm sure. Actually, the only E lens that isn't also ED is the 85mm PC-E. The rest are ED (even including the DX 16-80mm). I also forgot to list the brand new 105mm f/1.4E ED. Nikon's lens list is a lot easier to scan through than Wikipedia's, which you're right, is a bit out of date. – scottbb Aug 13 '16 at 0:01
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    One would think the Nikon site would allow you to sort the lens list by lens various lens parameters such as "D", "G" and "E". Nope. – Michael C Aug 13 '16 at 0:11
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The most obvious way is buy a lens that doesn't reset aperture on every shot you take. What are those lenses labeled? Do they exist?

Unfortunately, the process you describe is not a function of the lens. Rather, it is the camera body telling the lens to stop down the aperture prior to the shot, then releasing the aperture back to its open position after the shot.

Autofocus camera systems need plenty of light coming into the camera to work properly. Therefore, during composition, the camera leaves the aperture open wide (even if you set the aperture to a small number). It's only when the shot is taken is when the aperture is closed down to the desired size. This is why some cameras have an aperture preview button: in order to see, exactly, the depth-of-field you will get when you press the shutter button.

So, no, there is not a lens type you can buy to do this, because it's not a function of the lens.

EDIT: Actually, there is a lens type you can buy: the lens needs to have a Nikon mount, but not have an aperture control linkage. That is, it cannot be controlled by the body at all. The only non-adapted lenses I can think of that are available in F-mount are:

  • Lomography's Petzval and Daguerrotype Acrhomat lenses use Waterhouse stops, rather than an iris aperture. So the aperture control is literally sliding in different aperture stop plates.

  • Some (perhaps all?) Lensbaby lenses, such as the Burnside 35, Velvet 56, do not have aperture linkages on their F-mount versions. (I verified this by looking at eBay listings of F-mount versions of their lenses, looking for listings with images of the mount).


However, having said that, it is possible to solve the problem just by buying a different lens, under certain conditions. The condition is basically, buy a lens with manual aperture control to use on an incompatible camera body, along with an adapter to mount the lens to the camera.

For instance, to achieve what you want, it is common for people to use a Canon DSLR body with an appropriate Nikon-lens-to-Canon-body adapter, with a Nikon non-"G" (and non-"E") lens (i.e., a Nikon lens with mechanical aperture and an aperture control ring). With this configuration, the Canon body cannot provide any aperture control. The aperture is entirely determined by the control ring on the lens body, and it doesn't change before, during, or after the shot.

There are a few unstated facts in the setup described above that makes it all possible:

  • Nikon's flange focal distance or registration distance is the largest of the common 35mm DLSRs on the market. This is the distance from the sensor plane to the lens flange mount. Nikon's is 46.5mm; Canon's is 44mm. This means that to mount a Nikon lens on a Canon body, a gap of 2.5mm must be inserted between the Canon camera and Nikon lens, in order for the lens's optical geometry to work as intended. But you can't put a Canon lens on a Nikon body, because the lens needs to be 2.5mm closer to the sensor than the Nikon's flange will allow.
  • Nikon non-"E" lenses have a mechanical aperture linkage that sets the aperture size.
  • Nikon "G" lenses have mechanical apertures, but do not have an aperture control ring. Only a camera body (or certain aperture-enabling adapters intended for use when reversing lenses for macro photography) will control the aperture.
  • The aperture for any non-"E" Nikon lens will close down to its smallest size when disconnected from a camera body.

I am looking for a Nikon D3300 solution

In the general case, it just can't be done. With any Nikon body, the aperture will be opened and closed for every shot.

However, if you don't mind losing the ability to focus far away (i.e., you are timelapsing near subjects, or macro subjects), then you actually can achieve this with any non-"E" Nikon lens.

  1. You need to mount a lens-reverse adapter to the camera body. This adapter will give you a 52mm male filter thread just a millimeter or two in front of the flange mount.
  2. Then mount an aperture-enabler that has 52mm female filter threads to the lens-reverse adapter (such as the Fotodiox Nikon G Aperture Control Enabler. This essentially un-reverses the reverse-mount adapter, but also adds an aperture control ring in the process. The combination is essentially a 10-15mm thick extension tube.
  3. Mount the Nikon lens. You now have aperture control of the lens, that is not actuated at all by the camera body, so the aperture doesn't change at all shot-to-shot.
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    Or you could just use any EF lens on an EOS body with a DoF Preview button, set the aperture in manual mode, and push the lens release while holding down the DoF Preview button. Turn the lens just enough to disconnect the first electrical contact that switches off power to the lens. The aperture is locked until reconnected to the camera's power. Either focus manually or prefocus before locking the aperture. As long as the power is disconnected to the lens the focus won't move either unless you turn the focus ring. – Michael C Aug 12 '16 at 21:40
  • @MichaelClark Absolutely, thanks. I meant to put that in my answer, but I was hurriedly trying to wrap it up before having to leave my desk for the day... out of time! – scottbb Aug 12 '16 at 22:13
  • Any possibility of "get an inexpensive used lens, and rip out the aperture linkage" being a viable solution here? – rackandboneman Dec 17 '18 at 17:37
  • @rackandboneman I suppose it depends on the lens. If the lens is AI, then it's possible the camera might refuse to operate when it tries to control the lens, but not get feedback confirmation that the aperture had indeed been moved. But if the lens was pre-AI, or just never could, then I suppose that might work. – scottbb Dec 17 '18 at 18:10

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