The Nikon SP is a 35 mm rangefinder interchangeable lens film camera, and it is not only considered as the best Nikon rangefinder camera ever, but also the “Best of Nikon,” the camera Nikon is most proud of, a masterpiece of precision. The Nikon SP will go on to win the grand prix the following year at the 1958 World Expo held in Brussels.
However, it is the more basic Nikon S3 which becomes the more popular model because it is more affordable (its viewfinder accomodates frames for fewer lenses). It also has the world’s first life-size 1:1 viewfinder.
I love that both cameras are shown with a 50mm (5 cm) F1.4 prime lens attached. Notice that they also already have a front wheel dial even way back in 1957/1958 (but here it is used as a Focusing Wheel for the rangefinder). And that diagonal line lends power to the design. I think I like the Nikon logo in the center of the S3 better than at the edge for the SP, but then the elongated viewfinder of the SP is quite impressive. The reason the SP has its elongated viewfinder is to accomodate as many lenses as possible and so it has this “universal finder” that shows the view for 50mm, 85mm, 105mm and 135mm lenses. The SP is meant to compete with the Leica M3, but I am glad that it did not try to copy the look, opting instead for a distinctive design and look all its own, especially the angled edges.
The legendary Nikon F is simplicity in design with clean lines and an unintimidating look. I like the low pointy prism, the elegant self-timer and the little “claw” at the top of the lens mount (in fact, it is called the “Slotted coupling prong” for coupling the diaphragm of the lens with the exposure meter). And Nikon had the best lens design for many years.
Nikon Photomic FTN
The Nikon F sees successive improvements with the 1962 Nikon F Photomic, the 1965 Nikon F Photomic T and the 1967 Nikon F Photomic TN. I love the Photomic viewfinder, and the 1968 Nikon Photomic FTN takes the prize.
Nikon F2 Photomic
In 1971, the Nikon F2 and F2 Photomic are introduced. This Photomic viewfinder improves on the previous models and allows the display of the CdS (exposure) meter, shutter speed, aperture, and meter needle (matching the shutter speed and aperture needle meant a correct exposure) in the viewfinder.
I also love the Photomic viewfinder on the F2, especially with the cute little window at top right. It is the Maximum Aperture Indicator and, as its name implies, it displays the maximum aperture of the attached lens in the window that is also then seen through the viewfinder. Back then, without electronics, the engineers had to be astute to give useful analog information to the photographer and when the solution also happens to be pretty, it’s “good design.” I wish that Nikon engineers and designers would return to this mindset that they had at the beginning to conquer challenges and to be the best. (They seriously have to find creative engineering solutions to fit the Z 9 / Z 8 into the body of a Z 7. If Sony can do it, so can Nikon. Right?)
Can a self-timer be called iconic? Well, I absolutely love the elegant self-timer design on the F2. The black and white/silver viewfinder, self-timer, depth-of-field preview button and lens release button all seem to be dressed in tuxedo for a fancy dinner party. The Nikon F2 Photomic looks very elegant — à la James Bond.
That’s it! What are your favorite Nikon retro film camera designs?
P.S. Nikon already has a retro style APS-C mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z fc, based on the Nikon FM2 design. The Nikon Z fc looks beautiful, but it is still unfortunately very much a Mode Dial-based camera in its operation as opposed to fully-analog style control dials of the Fujifilm X-T series. In other words, you cannot just directly and intuitively use the shutter speed dial and the aperture ring, but you must still ask the camera permission to do so by first selecting a shooting mode. That reliance on mode dial operation frustrates me to no end. Their next retro mirroless is a full-frame mirrorless, the Nikon Z f.