|Leather Case and Light Meter Have Both Seen Better Days, but the Nikon S is Pretty Good|
Inspired by Limom’s camera chronicles, and Chandra’s newFujifilm X100T, I thought I’d tell a camera story of my own. It’s about the camera my dad brought home from him when he came back from Korea at the close of the Korean War. It is a Nikon S.
Rarely, a product is so good that the company from which it comes is renamed to that of the product. Even less often, that product started out with its name copying an established brand. Nikon is such a company. It got established after WWII by producing excellent cameras that were far less expensive than those produced by the Germans; the previous leaders. This happened starting with the first cameras that Nikon produced. These Nikons were rangefinder cameras and came from a company struggling to re-establish itself. The company, Nippon Kogaku, produced outstanding optical products, but the closest they came to a camera before WWII was the production of lenses for Canon. Ironically, as it was to turn out, they got their start in optics by bringing some Germans to Japan for help in the wake of WWI.
These early cameras were, arguably, better than anything that came from Germany, which found itself with part of its camera factories in the Russian Zone. Nippon Kogaku synthesized the best elements of the Zeiss and Leica products and they called it “Nikon.” Nikon was a merging of the Nippon part of their name and the Ikon of Zeiss Ikon fame. Later, Zeiss came after Nikon for trademark infringement, but they’d waited too long.
|At the Right of the Camera are Where the Flash Attachments Go. Plug into "F" for Fast Shutter Speeds|
Anyway, this camera, a Nikon S, was the first large selling Nikon. It was actually their third try at a camera, starting with the Nikon 1 that first saw the light of day in September, 1946. Nikon was a fairly sentimental bunch and their early cameras all started with a “609” prefix in honor of the first Nikon 1. Well, until they ran out of numbers and moved up to “610” and beyond. Our camera, purchased new by my dad when he was in Japan on R&R from the Korean War, is 6105314. LOTS of American servicemen purchased the Nikon S and the steadily improving cameras that followed it. The lenses were so good that professional photographers purchased the lenses to replace the German ones on their Leica cameras.
The third picture shows the various knobs on top of the camera. All three knobs AND the shutter release rotate when the film is being wound. The shutter speed control is really odd. There are actually two different knobs there. One controls the “slow” shutter and the other controls the “fast” shutter. The fast shutter runs from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds exposure. Later, Nikon combined the two shutter speed dials into one and increased the maximum shutter speed. Truly this is something from a different era, considering that the shutter itself is made from cloth.
|Besides the Knobs, the "A/R" Lever Decides Which Way the Film Winds|
The fourth picture shows another oddity compared to more recent film cameras. There are two knobs that must be turned from “S” to “O” in order to remove the entire camera back. Three more oddities I’ll mention. First, since the camera is entirely mechanical (not even any light meter in the camera), there’s nothing in the camera to indicate what speed film might be being used. Hence the pink note attached to the camera back. Second, while the lens is interchangeable (using a bayonet that’s the same as the Zeiss Contax), there is no way to reflect different lenses through the viewfinder. It is set up for a 50mm lens, pure and simple. Third, while the film advances the same as a normal 35mm for each shot, the negatives are 2mm shorter than standard. This is because Nikon originally wanted to get more photos off each roll, but the US Occupation authorities nixed it because they weren’t compatible with Kodak.
|Postit Pad Helps Remember What Speed Film is in the Camera|
In closing, the camera is built like a tank. It weighs just a hair under 2lb, which is the same as a modern Nikon DSLR with a zoom lens, and which is just a bit more than my Praktica camera (really a renamed Zeiss made in East Germany) with its own 50mm lens and its built-in light meter. I’ve heard that using the “Sunny 16” rule works great, and I think we’ve got another light meter sitting around somewhere. I’ve also heard that it is almost impossible to find a flash unit that will work with the camera nowadays. Oh well, one probably doesn’t use a 60 year-old camera to take indoor flash pictures anyway.
For more on Nikon history, go here, here, here, or here. I especially recommend the first and second sources for their story on the older history of Nippon Kogaku and the Nikon rangefinder cameras. The last reference covers many other major camera companies.
|Nikon Labeled their Early Lenses in Cm. Hence, This Camera Has a 5cm Lens Rather than a 50mm|
|Lens Locks into Focus at Infinity. Button on Front Unlocks the Lens Focus|