Report: Nikon Museum Special Collection pt3

Hello, everybody! We are going to continue with our Nikon Museum Special Collection series and we’re going to see some special Nikon cameras here in this report. Nikon has made many special-purpose cameras and this is just a small portion of what’s been made. I spent the most time in this portion and I really enjoyed observing the special cameras and I hope that you share my enthusiasm.

IMG_1460This is the Nikon F2MD, it’s rare and some people don’t even know about it. It has the special Electornic Eye (Nikon EE) attachment that controls the size of the mounted lens’ aperture automatically based on the reading from the mounted metered prism that supports it. The big drum magazines can hold about 750 frames of film. Mounted on it is the special Nikkor 200mm f/2 AI, I want to own one of these but I don’t have the space to store it.IMG_1461Here’s a closer look at the small card beside it.

Nikon F3:

The Nikon F3 is my favorite camera and it’s the best manual Nikon in my opinion when it comes to handling and practical use. It’s also the first professional Nikon camera to have an electronic shutter which made it controversial back then because people were used to mechanical shutters and doubted the reliability of electronic shutters but it proved itself and went on to become Nikon’s camera with the longest production run. Nikon once said that the Nikon F3 will have parts for 50 years after its release and that it would work for about that long. While there’s no doubt that the camera will work for 50 years, the claim that it will have parts for 50 years is just marketing BS because you can’t buy any today! I have some spare parts but I got those from other repair shops.

IMG_1316 2The use of electronics simplified a lot of things when it came to mechanical parts count but it made it a bit difficult to service because you need special equipment to properly do a complete diagnosis of the system which can make fixing difficult for a DIY hobbyist. It’s still a reliable camera today and I still use mine regularly.

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Here are some close-ups of the exploded-view of the Nikon F3. The heart of the system is the main FPC (Flexible Printed-Circuit) which houses all of the important parts to control the metering, shutter and other things related to the camera’s operation. The design of its shutter is basically the same Leica-type shutter from the pre-war days, the reason for this is the photographers wanted this over the more efficient Copal Square design. I don’t know how much of this is true but I recall hearing this from a couple of people. If you are eagle-eyed you will also see the plastic housing for the metering system. The Nikon F3‘s meter is situated under the mirror, a first for Nikon as far as I know because the traditional place for the meter is beside the prism. This allows the Nikon F3 to meter the scene even without a prism attached to it. To make this possible, the mirror has a small flap underneath it that closes and opens as it flips and rests back into position. This flap opens a hole so that light can pass-through the semi-transparent center of the mirror and reach the meter. This is the reason why the Nikon F3’s meter is so heavily-biased towards the center with a 80/20 ratio instead of the traditional 60/40 that Nikon has been using since the 1960s. This results in the Nikon F3 being more accurate in certain situations such as a back-lit scene but many people find it difficult to use and confusing at first.

Golden Nikons:

This is the tackiest part of the exhibit. It showcases some of the gold-plated cameras that Nikon has made for commemorative purposes. I said “some” because Nikon has also made golden versions of their other models such as the ugly gold-plated Nikon FA. I don’t know what’s the impetus for this but they sure look interesting if you’re a collector. People who don’t care much for these golden cameras find them ugly and I hope that I’m not alone. It is good that this trend only lasted for a short time.

IMG_1458This one comes with with its own special version of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 Ai. The serials of these items match as far as I know and you won’t see these for sale because these were never sold to the public unless you get lucky.

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This was released for the 60th anniversary of Nikon (Nippon Kogaku). I don’t know how many of the golden Nikon FM sets were made but estimates put them at around 300.

IMG_1455I can live with the golden Nikon FM but this ugly golden blob looks hideous. This is the golden Nikon F50, it was so successful that 1,000,000 bodies were made and this golden one was made to commemorate that milestone.

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This golden tadpole was not sold and was only given to special people and companies. It’s so tacky that you will be forgiven for thinking that this one was bought from a toy shop.


The Calypso was made for Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a house-hold name for us who are in their 40s and older. This camera was the brainchild of the famed explorer and it was made for him by La Spirotechnique. La Spirotechnique does not have a lot of experience making cameras so they cooperated with Nikon and the Nikonos was born. It all started with a basic model and the series went on to become the best in the market since there’s nothing in terms of competition. It’s so tough and reliable so it soon became the camera of choice for some war photographers in the Vietnam War. It is so tough that it is resistant to the humidity of the jungle and that made it a valuable tool for war photographers. The Nikonos series became the choice of many professionals from the military, scientific and others including rich hobbyists and the final model is the Nikonos 5 which ended production in 2001.

IMG_1471These are beautiful cameras and they have a unique charm of their own. I own one and I love how it feels in the hand, the controls are big so you can easily use the camera even with gloved hands underwater.

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Here are the main differences of the 3 cameras that you see in this exhibit. The Nikonos and Nikonos 2 share the same basic body design.

Nikon S:

The Nikon S is the last evolution of Nikon’s first camera design – the Nikon 1. It’s fun using it despite the tiny 50mm viewfinder and the inconvenient and slow-to-operate dials. If you want o know more about this camera then read my article about the Nikon S.

IMG_1463This particular camera was specially modified for Life Magazine, the main differences are the bigger dial for film advance and the black color scheme. Note that it’s merely a painted camera (over a chrome finish) instead of the proper treatment using primer, etc. This is the first black camera that Nikon made and it began a long tradition within Nikon. These black cameras were once exclusively sold to the press and you won’t be able to buy them unless you have credentials but that changed and people can buy whichever one they prefer.

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Here’s a closer look at the camera. The film advance dial is huge to make it easier to use with gloved hands. The rewind dial is taller than usual and it’s ribbed like the advance dial for easier grip. Nikon could have just added the usual crank but I don’t know why they didn’t. Notice that the film counter is positioned higher than usual to correspond with the taller dial so you don’t have to dig deep into the dial just to turn it.

Nikon S3M:

This is the very rare Nikon S3M, it’s a special camera because it uses a half-frame format like the Olympus Pen. The fiewfinder is different because the mask is tall instead of long to reflect the film format. It also has special film magazines, back, motor drive, batteries and cables to complete the set. This camera was manufactured in really small batches with estimates in the low hundreds (300?). The reason for this camera’s existence is speed. Half-frame is a small format and you won’t need much to advance such a small area of film to get to the next frame so this allowed the Nikon S3M to achieve 9 fps if used with the motor drive. This would have been useful for surveillance and sports photography. A small format also allows you to shoot more using a single roll and that’s part of the appeal of using a half-format camera. This is as rare as it gets and I only saw 2 in my life.

IMG_1465This is such a bulky setup. I wonder how you’re going to turn the focusing wheel and the shutter dial is at a very inconvenient place to press. The film magazines are huge!

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Here’s a picture showing how the power pack looks like. It’s a clumsy setup and I would not want to use something like this at all. I used to shoot events and I used a similar power pack for my flash and it always gets in my way.

Nikon SP:

The Nikon SP is Nikon’s best rangefinder camera design. It is a complicated camera with a lot of delicate parts in its rangefinder mechanism. The body became the basis for the toughest SLR ever made, the Nikon F. Later designs that other Japanese manufacturers made have more features but they don’t come close to what the Nikon SP when it comes to build and toughness. It’s a revolutionary camera and it’s regarded by many as the pinnacle of Japanese rangefinder camera design from that era. If you’re interested to know more about the Nikon SP then you can read more about it here.

IMG_1326 2The Nikon SP is a simple camera compared to more recent cameras like the Nikon F4. It’s a familiar camera to work with if you have worked on a Nikon F and some parts can even be swapped but there are some parts that look similar but have small differences and they can’t be used interchangably.

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Here’s some close-ups of the exhibit. I spent plenty of time here identifying the parts, this mechanism is familiar to me and I was impressed at myself for identifying them all apart from the screws. Please forgive me for tooting my own horn, I need to appreciate myself more in the form of simple self-validations. 😉

Nikon Marine:

This is the Nikon Marine, it’s a specail case for the Nikon S2, Nikon S3/S4 and the Nikon SP rangefinder cameras so you can use them underwater. It must be a very clumsy setup to use but you don’t really have a lot of options back then so it’s better than nothing. It looks expensive and must have cost a lot, probably as much as the cameras it’s meant to protect.

IMG_1334I don’t know how you can fire a flash bulb underwater without protection. I can’t see the thing up-close so I’m guessing that it has some kind of housing protecting the bulb. If you have any information about this please fill us in.

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The Nikon Marine comes complete with filters and its accessories. The main housing is a big unit and basically consists of 2 large castings. You focus and compose through a tiny hole on the top and you use a big dial at the front to focus and change the aperture. I am not sure if it supports different kinds of lenses but it looks like it only supports just a one maximum aperture – f/3.5.  This narrows the options down to only two possible lenses, the W-Nikkor.C 3.5cm f/3.5 and the W-Nikkor.C 2.8cm f/3.5. I wish there’s a picture showing how things work inside for us to see where things are coupled and how.

That’s it for part 3, see you again next week for another interesting post on this special Nikon Museum exhbit.

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