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Nikon 100th Year Anniversary: My Favorite Nikon Cameras

There was a time, not too long ago, when Nikon ruled the camera world. If you were thinking of getting into photography, a Nikon rangefinder or an entry-level SLR would be the ticket. For news and sports photography, pro photographers almost exclusively used Nikon SLRs and lenses, and made Nikon cameras famous around the world.

As previously announced, this July 25th, Nikon is celebrating its “100th anniversary” as a company making optical products. It started in 1917 when two of Japan’s leading optical manufacturers merged and, with capital investment from the President of Mitsubishi, formed a comprehensive, fully integrated optical company known as Nippon Kogaku K.K. (Today, Nikon is still listed as one of the companies under Mitsubushi.) Nikon Europe blogged about seven Nikon Firsts and I thought I would reach back into my memory and share some of my favorite Nikon cameras, some I’ve owned and others I’ve drooled over:

1. 1955: Nikon S2 introduced Japanese cameras to the North American market, billed as “the world’s finest camera in consideration of the price.” Of course, the “best” rangefinder camera at the time was the Leica M3, costing many times more. The Nikon S2 body was made of light-alloy diecast, and the picture size was the standard size of 35 mm film, 24 x 36 mm (“Leica” format). It offered a one-motion winding lever and a rewinding crank lever. It also offered a life-size finder which could be seen with two eyes, as the magnification was the same as the naked eye. The S2 was followed by the SP (1957) and S3 (1958).

Nikon S2

Nikon S2

2. 1959: Nikon F. Nikon understood pretty quickly that the rangefinder design with a viewfinder that saw the scene differently than the lens limited the use of telephoto lenses with a focal length of 135 mm or more. It therefore added a reflex box (with a mirror and a pentaprism to flip the view right side up) and quickly became a favorite of photographers.

Nikon F

Nikon F

Nikon F cut-out showing the reflex box and pentaprism

Nikon F cut-out showing the reflex box and pentaprism

3. 1971: Nikon F2 and F2 Photomic. The epitome of camera design perfection right in these two cameras. Nothing, IMHO, has come close since.

Nikon F2

Nikon F2

Nikon F2 Photomic

Nikon F2 Photomic

4. 1972: Nikomat EL targeted to amateur photographers and featuring an electronically-controlled shutter.

Nikomat EL

Nikomat EL

5. 1972: Nikon Photomic FTN went into space for use in the space station “Skylab.”

Nikon Photomic FTN

Nikon Photomic FTN

6. 1975: Nikonos III underwater camera. After the Nikonos V (1984 – 2001), Nikon announced that it would discontinue the Nikonos line in 2001, to the great dismay of underwater photographers.

Nikonos III

Nikonos III

7. 1977: Nikon FM is the all-manual camera to get if you wanted to learn photography. It was compact, light and affordable. A classic.

Nikon FM

Nikon FM

8. 1980: Nikon F3. Flagship. Professional-grade. Also introduced that love-it-or-hate-it red vertical line that characterized Nikon’s SLR since then. Hint: get rid of the red line, curve or whatever. Nikon followed with the F4 in 1988, the F5 in 1996 and the F6 in 2004 (still available for order at time of writing).

Nikon F3

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 with optional motor drive

Nikon F3 with optional motor drive

9. 1999: The Nikon D1 convinced many film professional photographers to give digital cameras a chance — and many never looked back.

Nikon D1

Nikon D1

10. Nikon D90. World’s first digital SLR camera with movie recording. Some laughed (mea culpa, I did) but it would prove prophetic: today, no self-respecting DSLR dares come out without the functionality of recording high quality videos.

Nikon D90

Nikon D90

All camera pictures courtesy of Nikon.

Of course, to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Nikon has made available certain Anniversary Products that you can purchase, from actual D5, D500, lenses, leather straps to miniature replicas and pin collections.

Nikon 100th Anniversary Miniature Nikon F Camera with detachable lens and back, and a loadable dummy film cartridge

Nikon 100th Anniversary Miniature Nikon F Camera with detachable lens and back, and a loadable dummy film cartridge

Though Nikon (and every other camera manufacturer, for that matter) is struggling to maintain its place in the hearts (and pocketbooks) of amateur and professional photographers — and made the mistake of not taking the mirrorless market seriously enough — don’t sell it short, yet. Some of the brightest minds in camera and lens design work at Nikon — and they might (will, we hope) yet surprise us. So, Nikon, here’s to 100 more years of great [mirrorless] cameras and lenses!

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