Nikon marks 100th anniversary July 25

By Karen Knapstein

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About: Nikon

1 The company now known as Nikon has been in business for 100 years. Two of Japan’s leading optical manufacturers merged, with capital investment from Koyata Iwasaki, the president of Mitsubishi, July 25, 1917, forming Nippon Kogaku K.K. (“Japan Optical Industries Co., Ltd.”) Immediately after, it merged with Fujii Lens Manufacturing. Headquartered in Tokyo, the newly formed optics firm begins researching optical glass in 1918. However, it suspended operations because of technical difficulties. (The company’s name becomes Nikon Corporation in 1988.)

2 First marketed in 1921, Nikon’s MIKRON ultra-small-prism binoculars were one of the first binocular models developed, designed and manufactured by the firm. MIKRON binoculars are re-released in 1997, again proving popular with collectors.

3 The name “Nikon” was adopted for small-sized cameras in 1946. However, it wasn’t until 1948 that a camera actually bore that name. It was sold as simply “Nikon,” but “Model I” was added to distinguish it from subsequent camera models.

4 Japan took the lead in professional photography equipment in 1959 thanks to the introduction of the Nikon F single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. It has a motorized advance making the camera capable of exposing four frames per second. The camera also has lenses from 21mm to 1000mm, giving photographers speed, diversity, and reliable image capturing. In November 1965, six years after the release, the 200,000th Nikon F is presented to photographer David Douglas Duncan. The famous photographer made the Nikon and NIKKOR brand names known all over the world. Nikon F-series cameras were produced until May 1974; more than 850,000 were made. 

Cameras prized by collectors

Nikon I camera

This Nikon I camera, in original condition and good working order with original shutter blinds, sold for 40,000 euro (about U.S. $45,929, excluding buyer’s premium) June 10, 2017. Photo courtesy WestLicht Photographica Auction

5 A Nikon I camera, in original condition and good working order with original shutter blinds, sold for 40,000 euro (about U.S. $45,929, excluding buyer’s premium) June 10, 2017, at WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna, Austria. The very early ‘5 digit’ Nikon I features two film guide rails, fixed spool, uncovered base, matching serial number in back door and number “3” engraved inside. (A chassis number was used to complete the camera from its single parts.) Base plate engraved “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN,” with matching Tokyo Nikkor-H.C 2/5cm no.708363 lens, UV filter, cap, black painted hood, original Nikon film spool, original yellow/white Nikon I instruction manual, and rare blue velvet maker’s box.

6 A rare Nikon S3 rangefinder camera sold for 85,000 euro (about U.S. $97,600, excluding buyer’s premium) during the June 10 WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna. The original owner of the outfit is reportedly a U.S. Navy intelligence officer stationed in Japan. The Nikon S3-M black camera with S72 motor drive in black, 1960, no. 18x24mm was in fully original, perfect working and near mint condition. The motor drive is number 94885 and registers up to 72 exposures. The large, green Nikkor-S 1.4/5cm battery pack is number 413204. 

Cameras reliably serve on Everest, in Hollywood, and in Space

Nikon S3 rangefinder

Rare Nikon S3 rangefinder camera. It sold for about U.S. $97,600, excluding buyer’s premium June 10. WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna hosted. Photo courtesy WestLicht Photographica Auction

7 The Nikon F camera’s use by explorers is a testament to its toughness durability and reliability. Influenced by Japanese climbing parties using Nikon cameras on their Mount Everest expeditions, in 1963, the American Mount Everest expedition purchase 20 Nikon F systems to document the adventure. The group, including James W. Whittaker, who is the first American to reach Everest’s summit, reached the peak May 1, 1963, and the Nikon Fs reportedly “delivered a fully satisfactory performance in the recording of valuable measurements and investigations.”

8 Nikon cameras can be spotted in many iconic films from the last several decades. In Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (1979), the photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper is outfitted with several Nikon cameras. In “Full Metal Jacket,” (1987), the character J.T. “Joker” Davis, played by Matthew Modine, carries a Nikon camera. Both films are directed by Stanley Kubrick.

9 In November 2015, WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna, Austria, sold one of the rarest Nikon lenses in existence: the Nikkor Fisheye 5.6/6.2mm SAP, circa 1964. Covering a picture angle of 230 degrees, the lens captures views behind the camera. As number 1014, this is the first of only three lenses available; it is in almost new condition with caps and leather case. Excluding the buyer’s premium, the Nikkor Fisheye lens sold for 130,000 euro (about U.S. $150,300). 

Nikkor fisheye lens

WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna, Austria, sold this Nikkor Fisheye 5.6/6.2mm SAP, circa 1964, in November 2015. One of the rarest Nikon lenses in existence, the optical gadget sold for about U.S. $150,300. Photo courtesy WestLicht Photographica Auction

10 The eponymous cameras made it to outer space in 1972. According to NASA, the equipment for the Apollo 16 mission included a 35mm Nikon F “fitted with a 55mm f/l.2 lens for astronomical and dim-light photographic experiments.” The Nikons perform well; the ISS is equipped with several. As of July 2010, more than 700,000 photos had been snapped by Nikon cameras from outside the earth’s atmosphere. Many of the images taken from space are freely available on the internet, viewable at https://images.nasa.gov.

Compiled by Karen Knapstein, print editor, Antique Trader.

Cleaning Nikon cameras on International Space Station

US astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore inspects one the cameras aboard the International Space Station Jan. 25, 2015. The crew was preparing for a photo session of station experiments. Barry is the Commander of Expedition 42. Photo by Barry Wilmore
Courtesy International Space Station/NASA

Sources: www.liveauctioneers.com/westlicht-photographica-auction; pixelpluck.com; cameras.reviewed.com; eol.jsc.nasa.gov/FAQ/#camera; www.nikon.com; imaging.nikon.com

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