Image of Nikon 1 by Rick Nordin (Nikon Historical Society)

Cameras have been made in Japan since the early 20th Century, the first lens factory opened in 1907. The First World War brought on a rapid growth in the optical industry through a military hungry for optical products of all kinds.

In 1917, Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Kabushikigaisha (Japan Optical Industries Co. Ltd.) was founded to design and produce lenses for a wide variety of equipment and devices. It even supplied Canon with lenses (Canon had started manufacturing Leica copies)!

After Canon started making its own glass, Nippon Kogaku KK began to make its own 35mm camera based on the prewar Contax body and Leica shutter. In 1988 it changed its name to the name its cameras were known by: the Nikon Corporation.

Nikon’s first post-war 35mm camera, the Nikon 1 was introduced in 1948 (see above). Nikons still have the clockwise rotation to remove lenses, the same as Contax.

Nikons extraordinary success is mainly due to the enormous system of lenses and accessories on offer (see image below from a 1980s Nikon brochure).

Since my Dad gave me his FM2n and other stuff I have been a keen Nikonista! I now have eleven Nikon bodies but my all-time favourite is the all-mechanical F2 which is a joy to use.

1962 Nikon F

The Nikon F was Japans answer to the Leica rangefinder domination of the market. Nippon Kogaku had already improved the quality of their own rangefinder cameras culminating with the SP, but needed a product to beat the Germans. They came up with the then new genre of SLR, and the ‘F’ (from reFlex) was an adaptation of the existing SP body. What was groundbreaking about this camera was not only the very high quality of manufacture and the lenses, but also the combination of all the desirable features such as instant return mirror, 100% viewfinder, mirror lockup, interchangeable prisms, and self timer into one camera.

This example is an early example (3rd year of production) with the Nippon Kogaku brand left over from the original SP body from which this is derived.

The F became the mainstay of professional photographers the world over due to its legendary reliability and robustness. One famously saved the life of Don McCullion by stopping a bullet fired at him.

1975 Nikon F2 Photomic

This was Nikons professional camera to replace the legendary F. It was similarly very solidly built, in cast aluminium with brass top and bottom plates. They are also very reliable, the grease used to lubricate the mechanical parts doesn’t dry up like that used by Leitz. Wheras the F was based on the previous rangefinder cameras (themselves based on the pre-war Contax) the F2 was a complete redesign from the ground up by a team lead by Akihiko Sato. The shutter is a horizontal titanium focal plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/2000 second, B and T. The self-timer was adjustable from 2 to 10 seconds, and in conjunction with the shutter T setting could cleverly be used as an extension of the shutter speeds from 2 to 10 seconds! The pentaprism was available with one fitted with a built-in TTL meter, known as a Photomic head. Most models were bought with this ‘head’ so versions with a plain pentaprism are very rare. Other heads were available such as waist-level. Focussing screens are also interchangeable and ones for the Nikon F also fit.

In 1977 an updated version, the F2A was introduced to take Ai lenses. This did not incorporate an Ai indexing ring behind the lens mount as other Nikons did like the FM. Instead the finder (DP-2) was fitted with its own coupling device. Other versions were offered with more sensitive Silicon rather than CdS meters as the Photomic head was updated until the camera was replaced with the electronic F3 in 1980. However the F2 is widely regarded as the pinnacle of mechanical SLR design and build quality – it was made with over 1,500 individual parts!

“Nikon F2 is an iconic camera in so many different ways” (The Phoblographer).

“The F2AS is the last, best, most advanced and most durable mechanical camera ever made by Nikon. It might be the best ever made by anyone” (Ken Rockwell).

“The Nikon F2 is still widely considered the greatest 35mm mechanical SLR of all time”. (Josh Solomon – casualphotophile.com)

“It is over 40 years old, but using it is like driving a beautiful well machined vintage Rolls Royce. Also, because there’s no auto-focus or auto-exposure, I have full control of everything. The F2 simply became an extension of my eyes and hands”. (Sover Wong – F2 Doctor)

1980 Nikon EM

This interesting camera was introduced for “women” in that it is supposed to be easy to use! Introduced in 1979, it has aperture priority only. The aperture is selected on the lens, and the shutter is selected by the camera. A scale in the viewfinder shows the speed selected. If the battery fails, the shutter has a default of 1/90th.

It is very small and light, but was eclipsed by the Pentax MX and Olympus OM1, and lasted until 1982.

They are inexpensive to buy, although this is a mint example. Only AI lenses work, the current lens on the camera is a Nikon Series E. These lenses were made of plastic rather than metal, but the image quality is still up to usual Nikon standards, therefore they are much sought after! Currently there are a lot of YouTube videos extolling the virtues of this neat camera, still built to Nikon’s usual quality standards.

The EM was replaced by the FG.

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1985 Nikon F301

The Nikon F-301 is a replacement for the FG. It has motorised film transport (although strangely it doesn’t have motorised film rewinding!) and DX film coding. It has been described as the poor mans F4!

I bought this from eBay for under £10 as it was described as not working. This also included the original instructions and a system brochure. When it arrived it was mint and included a mint exmple of the bottom of the ERC. I put in some fresh batteries (the battery compartment was also mint) and actually it works fine! I’ve tried a film in it, and the results are excellent. The later F501 had auto-focus.

According to High 5 Cameras”One of the most underrated 35mm film SLRs in todays world has to be the Nikon F-301. I suppose that is to be expected considering it had a very short production life and was generally hated in its day by the Nikonista fraternity”

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1992 Nikon FM2n

Many regards this as the pinnacle of Nikon mechanical film cameras (although I think the F2 deserves this accolade). The battery just powers a silicon TTL meter cell with LEDs in the viewfinder similar to the F2AS. The body construction is all-metal and bullet-proof!

This particular model, the last iteration of the FM line, only takes Ai lenses (fitted is the 50mm f1.8 Ai-S). The Titanium vertical focal plane shutter has speeds running from 1 second to 1/4000th.

It was a popular choice as a backup body by professionals in the latter part of the 20th Century. In fact my late Father bought this mint example from Greys of Westminster as a backup to his F100 on his trip to Antarctica as he was worried that the cold may affect the electronics of the F100. When he passed it on to me I don’t think it had even been used as the F100 never let him down.

For examples of it in use see my ‘Portraits’ slideshow page.

1999 Nikon F60

I bought this camera for around £10 for spares but it didn’t have the part I was looking for. As I had a spare AF Sigma 28-200 Zoom Lens,  which came with a D100 I bought a while ago, this seems the perfect lens for this camera!

Aimed at the amateur user, it has few bells and whistles. According to Ken Rockwell “Don’t buy this primitive and discontinued poor copy of the excellent Canon Rebel 2000!!” He then says that it takes great pictures – it’s still a Nikon!

P.S. I heve put some batteries into this camera, and it doesn’t work even though the vendor stated that it did. It refuses to autofocus properly and an error message (FEE) appears on the display. According to the manual this can happen when the lens is not set and locked to the smallest aperture (f22). I fitted two lenses which work fine with my F100 (including a Nikon AF-D which the manual says is compatible with the camera), and with both I obeyed the instructions to the letter but to no avail.

It has become nothing more than an ornament, or worse, a doorstop! It needs to go in the skip, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away!

2003 Nikon F100

This camera belonged to my father, for a long time it sat on a tripod in his study. When I inherited it, it had a sticky rubber coating (a common ‘feature’). Following suggestions found online I managed to eliminate this.

According to Wikipedia “The Nikon F100 is a 35mm film-based single-lens reflex camera body introduced in 1999. It is often thought of as a scaled-down version of the Nikon F5, and as a precursor to the Nikon F6. The F100 was discontinued, along with most other Nikon film cameras, in 2006. The F100’s metering system is a development of Nikon’s matrix metering technology introduced in 1983 on the Nikon FA. The meter in the F100 uses a 10 segment light sensor and uses distance information from Nikon D-type and G-type lenses for more accurate exposure calculations when using direct flash. In addition to matrix metering, the F100 also offers standard center-weighted and spot metering modes. Also incorporated into the camera is Nikon’s Dynamic Autofocus system and a 4.5 frame per second motor drive with automatic rewind. The top motor drive speed can be boosted to 5 frames per second with the addition of the Nikon MB-15 battery pack.

The F100 also provides many features which are common among high-end 35mm SLR cameras, such as automatic bracketing modes, DX film speed sensing, and custom functions that allow photographers to tailor certain aspects of the camera’s operation to the way they work.

“There is no other 35mm camera on Earth offering a better combination of practical features and performance (for me anyway) to get you the images you demand” (Ken Rockwell).

2003 Nikon D100

The D100 was my father’s first DSLR. When he upgraded to the D200 he gave it to me!

As my Dad liked Nikons, to be different I went down the Canon route, buying a 2003 Canon 300D (Rebel), which was the first digital SLR on sale for under £900. However when I acquired the D100 I sold the Canon and used the money to buy a decent A3 printer.

By today’s standards this is quite basic (8 Megapixels) with a small rear LCD screen. It came with a 24-120mm Nikkor zoom lens. However it took quite good pictures until it was replaced with a D90.

I sold it to a friend, but without the lens which I retained, as it had some signs of fungus. Missing it in my collection I bought another for around £30!

2009 Nikon D700

This was my Dad’s last camera which he retained until his death in 2020 (aged 94). I had borrowed it from time to time, as being full frame it took better images in low light. I used it to take candids of the factory workers in my workplace (TI Automotive) in 2013.

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