Repair: Nikon S3/S4 part1

Hello, everybody! I am currently lusting for a Nikon D700. I had one a few years ago, most of my published pictures were taken with it. I missed it very much, it’s not as tough or feature-packed as a Nikon D3 but it has everything you’ll ever need. Because of my last statement, many professional lensmen bought the Nikon D700 instead of the Nikon D3 and just added a grip. You’re now able to get Nikon D3-like functionality for less. It became a problem for Nikon so they stopped making similar business decisions in the future. This is the reason why the Nikon D8XX series compliments the Nikon DX series. It won’t make any business sense for a lower-tiered body to compete with the flagship. That wasn’t the first time Nikon had the same issue, many decades ago in the 1950s, there was a camera that had nearly-all of the flagship’s big features but Nikon played their cards really well when they introduced the cheaper version of the camera, that is the topic of our article today.


The Nikon S3 came after the Nikon SP, it’s basically a stripped-down version without the amazing viewfinder and rangefinder mechanism that made the Nikon SP such a formidable camera. It had in its place a simpler viewfinder with frame lines for 35mm, 50mm and 105mm. This made the viewfinder a bit cluttered but it’s fine since the viewfinder of the Nikon S3 is bright and it is also quite wide, with 1:1 magnification which makes it easy to view. This was done to make a camera that’s more affordable without sacrificing what made the Nikon SP’s chassis such a success. Sure, you won’t get the amazing viewfinder of the Nikon SP but it’s pretty-much the same camera without it.

This is the Nikon S4, it was based on the Nikon S3 but there’s no self-timer, a manual film counter dial has replaced the automatic one and its viewfinder now doesn’t have the 35mm frame line. This was made to make the camera a more reliable machine as requested by journalists and professionals. This camera was made with input from the late David Douglas Duncan himself, it is a bare-bones camera with everything a professional needs in the field. It’s a rare camera but it’s not difficult to find one lately.

This shows the manual film counter mechanism better. It is similar to what the Nikon S2 has but I am not sure if it’s identical. It may look similar from the outside but it may be a bit different on the inside.

This is Bjørn Rørslett’s camera, I got his permission to share this photo. It’s a rare black version of the Nikon S3. The rewind lever has a plastic tip, I think this makes this camera the very desirable Nikon S3 Olympic version unless I am mistaken. I will let you know later if I hear back from him again. This is a highly-collectible camera, it was sold together with the Nikkor-S 5cm f/1.4 “Olympic”. It got that name because it was sold during the 1964 Olympics.

I love the Nikon S3 very much, it’s a very ergonomic camera to use, all of its controls were well-positioned and you can use it instinctively without your fingers getting confused. You can actually operate the camera with just one hand which is remarkable.

I will stop the introduction at this point and we’ll continue in later articles. Before we start the repair section I would like to remind you that this is not a camera for beginners or novices to work on. This requires an experienced repairer to work on. You’ll require tools and experience to repair this one. It is foolish to work on this without both, all you’ll do is destroy a vintage and valuable camera. If you have money to burn, go ahead. If you don’t value its significance, be my guest. Having said that, it’s hard to find people who are knowledgable in this camera. Make sure that you have good contacts, ask if you are not sure and be sure to investigate the repairer’s background. Don’t give your camera to a cowboy, that won’t help at all.

Before We Begin:

If this is your first attempt at repairing a lens then I suggest that you check my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read what I wrote about the tools that you’ll need to fix your Nikkors.

I suggest that you read these primers before you begin (for beginners):

Reading these primers should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a novice. Before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube or the internet. Information is scarce, vague and scattered (that is why I started this) but you can still find some information if you search carefully.

I highly recommend that you read my working with helicoids post because this is very important and getting it wrong can ruin your day. If I can force you to read this, I would. It is that important!

For more advanced topics, you can read my fungus removal post as a start. This post has a lot of useful information and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Top Panel):

While the article says Nikon S3, I’ll only show you a Nikon S4 repair article. I don’t have notes for the former but I will update this article if ever I get one.

The start of most camera repairs is the removal of the top panel. It houses a lot of the camera’s important mechanisms, you can repair most problems in this area if you know how the camera works. Since I am familiar with this, I instinctively know where to begin and what to remove. You will require the special A/R ring remover and other special tools to work on this. If you don’t have any of them then leave the camera alone and give it to an expert.

You begin by removing the housing of the film counter. It’s being secured by these set screws. Loosen these but don’t extract them, they can be misplaced easily.

Remove the housing and re-tighten the screws so they won’t get lost.

Remove this shim next. Without this shim the film counter won’t move, it is responsible for maintaining some distance between the housing of the film counter and the actual dial itself. Never lose or warp this.

Remove this protective cover. It covers the screws of the advance lever so it won’t look ugly. This also prevents dirt from getting into the film counter so it won’t get jammed.

The advance lever can be removed after you extract these. These are brass screws and their heads can be easily damaged if you’re not careful.

Carefully remove the advance lever. You may have to push the lever back, it has flanges that latch to the advance mechanism. If you force it you’ll break the flanges and you now have a useless camera.

Remove this ring. it’s the actual thing that cranks the advance mechanism. I caution you not to put this back in the wrong way, it’s not symmetrical.

This collar is hard to remove, you will need a special tool for this.

I made a pipe-key from a piece of scrap metal tube. This tube is my favored tool for the job and I use it solely for this purpose.

Carefully unscrew the collar. The threads of the collar are fine, you can ruin the threads easily by cross-threading it. Make sure that the threads engage before you screw it back.

Before you remove the A/R ring you must extract this screw first. This screw secures the collar of the shutter button which also secures the A/R ring.

The A/R ring can be removed by a special tool that digs-into these holes. The tool’s prongs should match these holes perfectly or you risk damaging this.

The A/R ring opener should do the job and you should be able to remove this with a little bit of effort. The collar can get stuck, alcohol can help you get it out if that happens.

Once you remove the A/R ring assembly you’ll see how this controls the film advance/rewind action. The A/R ring couples to these 2 screws underneath the top panel.

The shutter speed selector dial can be removed once you extract this screw.

It’s spring-loaded so be careful while you remove it. The screw is delicate, it was made from brass and you can easily strip its threads. Imagine that little screw holding the tension of the spring. That’s the reason the later Nikon F’s have 2 screws here.

Carefully remove this spring. There’s a brass collar underneath it, it’s there to provide a secure seat for the spring. Don’t lose that collar or warp it. It’s a delicate and essential part of this mechanism.

The shutter speed selector knob can now be removed. Notice that the collar is still inside the knob, grime can make it stick to the knob.

The hot-shoe connector can be removed with a special tool. You should not use another tool for this, only a flex-clamp will do this safely and it has to be the exact one made for the job, its inner diameter should be the same,

The rewind crank is secured by this small screw. Carefully loosen it and you can unscrew the crank and the housing off.

Jam a piece of wood in the rewind fork and then unscrew the rewind crank.

Never lose this tiny bushing.

The rewind fork can now be removed. You may find a few washers here, it’s important that you know where those washers are supposed to be so you’re able to put this back properly again later.

Carefully remove this plate using a lens spanner or anything that will fit. It’s important that you don’t scratch this thing. I will usually attempt to remove it with a rubber tool first before I use a metal tool on this just to be safe.

The top panel can now be safely removed. Be careful when removing it, you may catch on something in the process and ruin the camera. Go at it slowly and you should be able to remove it with no trouble at all.

The foam seems fresh, it looks like somebody repaired this camera recently. Once the top panel is gone you can now proceed to remove the front panel.

Extract these screws and make sure that you don’t scratch the front panel.

Carefully remove this, too. I think this one is longer than the previous two.

Here’s another one. If I’m not mistaken, this one is the longest screw here. It is important that you remember which screw goes where.

The front panel can now be safely removed.

Clean everything well and make sure that you don’t leave any residue. This is important because you’ll be touching this part of the camera the most, it’s should be clean so you won’t get sick just by using your camera. You should make it a point that you wipe and brush every single part of the top panel. I even soak some of the parts in alcohol overnight just to make sure it’s clean and the germs are all dead. For parts that are painted, simple brush it with warm water and detergent, that should remove the layers of dirt and germs without harming the paint.


This is just the beginning. This task usually takes me 15 minutes or less, it’s easy for me to do this since I am used to this, I’m so familiar with it that it’s second-nature to me. I know which one to remove first and what tool to use. If you are familiar with the Nikon F then this part should be familiar to you. The Nikon SP’s top panel can be removed in a similar way, too.

We will get to the other parts in the coming parts so come back to see more. I hope that this article will help those who are curious about their cameras, I hope that my warnings don’t fall-on-dead-ears. I can’t prevent people from mutilating their cameras if they really wanted to despite all my warnings. It is important that I build a directory of trusted repairers here in the site and that should give people an idea as to who’s trusted or who’s not.

For easy navigation, here are the links to the other parts:

I advise that you read them all in-order so you’ll follow everything better.

Thank you very much for following my work. If you loved my work, please share this with your friends at social media. You can also consider making a small donation, that will help me offset the cost of maintenance. This site is image-heavy and most of the hosting fee goes there. Your support also helps me purchase, develop and scan film so you also see lens reviews that were shot with film, too. I try to make this site the best as far as Nikons go, part of that is actually making lens reviews with samples that were taken with film. Thank you very much for supporting and following my work. See you again next time, Ric.

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the site’s upkeep, you can make a small donation to my ( Money is not my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

Buy me a roll of film or a burger?

Thank you very much for your continued support!


Helping support this site will ensure that this will be kept going as long as I have the time and energy for this. I would appreciate it if you just leave out your name or details like your country’s name or other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Repair: Nikon SP 1/3 | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
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  3. Ron
    Mar 23, 2020 @ 08:14:05

    These are indeed fantastic cameras. Just a few days ago I calibrated my S3’s rangefinder (horizontal). I feel confident doing simple work on my own. For anything more complex, your website helps me appreciate the difficult work repairmen do.


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