Nikon rangefinder models
image by Cheol Jang (Image rights)
The Nikon was the first camera introduced by the optical manufacturer Nippon Kogaku K.K.. It is a 35mm rangefinder camera, now known as the Nikon I. The original design was approved by September 1946. After over a year of development and testing, manufacture began in March 1948. Sales began in September 1948 with a shipment of 100 cameras to Hong Kong. Production grew slowly over the next year, with all but a few of the cameras being sold to overseas markets including the United States. Because it uses a derivative of the Zeiss' Contax camera mount, the Nikon camera bears a strong external resemblance to that camera. However, both the shutter and rangefinder mechanism followed the Leica's, resulting in a simpler, easier to manufacture design.
The factory, encouraged by the Japanese government, chose the 24 × 32mm frame size pioneered by Chiyoda Kogaku—known as the Nippon format—which yielded more frames per length of film, and matched more closely the common paper sizes. However, the United States importers, Overseas Finance and Trading Company, objected to this non-standard format. It did not correspond to the automatic slide cutting machines being used in the US, and the images might be sliced in the middle. In addition, the Central Purchasing Office (CPO) that controlled the sales of cameras to the military exchange stores in Japan decided that they would not approve cameras for sale with that format either. Effectively cut off from the two most important markets for their new camera, Nippon Kogaku redesigned the camera's film gate, pressure plate and gearing in August 1949. This became the Nikon M. Introduced in the autumn of 1949, this model can be recognized by the M preceding the body number. The Nikon's body casting and shutter did not permit increasing the format to a full 24 x 36mm. Therefore Nippon Kogaku settled for an intermediate frame format of 24 × 34mm, but did change the gearing to increase the number of perforations per image to the standard 8 (instead of 7 for the 24 x 32), This was acceptable to the export market as slides, although still slightly narrower, were now always cut between frames.
The Nikon M was sold in the PXs, and United States sales resumed, but the camera received little attention in the western media until the fall of 1950, when photographers from the Life magazine began reporting on the Nikkor lenses' sharpness. The Nikkor-P.C 1:2 f=8.5cm received the first attention, but the 5cm f1.5 (later f1.4) and 135mm Nikkors also received praise. A demand to fit Nikkors to reporters' Leicas were immediately met at the factory in Tokyo, and soon the word spread that these Japanese lenses were just as good as, or possibly better than their German counterparts.
In November 1950, Nippon Kogaku made built-in flash synchronization a factory standard.
|Nikon M, S, and SP|
image by Rick Soloway (Image rights)
The Nikon S, was a Nikon M with these flash sync contacts, two double sockets set in the upper left-hand edge of the body. (The M was dropped from the serial numbers in April 1951.) All cameras sold with this feature are considered a Nikon S by the factory, even if marked M.
The Nikon I, M and S all appear similar in appearance. They are heavy, have shutter speeds only up to 1/500th of second and the viewfinder for the 50mm lens is small. Despite these shortcomings, the Nikon S sold well with over 34,000 manufactured from 1951 through 1954. By chance, a number of Nikon S cameras have one more serial number digit, known as the 8-digit Nikon S. When reaching 6099999 the engraver continued at 60910000, but it was soon realized that the long serial number was impractical, and after some 1200 cameras, the numbering reverted to 6100000. The 609 prefix refers to the date the design was approved in September 1946. The 8-digit camera is about twice as valuable as the ordinary 7-digit version, while Nikons MIOJ (Made in Occupied Japan) are even more valuable.
Several highly sought-after models were made available throughout the 1950s, and the first SLR camera from this maker, the Nikon F, shares the basic body configuration of the latest rangefinder models. All Nikon rangefinders are considered highly collectible and fetch very high sale prices, commanding just as high prices as those for Leica cameras of the same period.
- See also the page about lenses in Nikon rangefinder mount.
- Official Nikon's History & Technology site:
- Nikon Rangefinder Lens Price & Information Guide
- Short history of Nikon until 1949 (pdf) at the Nikon Historical Society website, with details about the Nikon I
- Nikon S2 at Photoethnography by Karen Nakamura
- Nikon S3 at Scott's Photographica Collection
- Nikon S2 at the Vintage Nikon DSLR website
- Nikon MS rangefinder instruction manual at www.orphancamers.com
- Nikon SP Rangefinder instruction manual at www.orphancameras.com
- Articles at Cameraquest:
- Nikon I
- Nikon One Garage Sale Treasure
- Nikon M Unsynced
- Nikon M recovered from the trash
- Nikon M Synced
- Nikon S
- Nikon S2 nice shooter
- Nikon S2 Black Dial Prototype?
- Nikon S2 Black 1st Pro Nikon
- Nikon S3 Black Olympic
- Nikon S3M Black Half-frame w/ Motor Nikon's rarest regular production camera
- Nikon S3 2000
- Nikon S4
- Nikon SP Rangefinder System Overview
- Nikon SP Black most handsome Nikon?
- Nikon SP Motor Jacobson Powercon Cordless Battery Pack
- Nikon SP Variations
- Nikon SP Illuminator a unique accessory Leica should copy
- Nikon SP 2005
- Nikon S, Nikon S2 on www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand (in French)
- Nikon kamera no koneta, with many documents on the Nikon rangefinder models