Rangefinder Cameras

Nikon produced eight 35mm rangefinder camera models in 12years!

Nikon started producing 35mm rangefinder cameras in 1948 and produced eight models over the next twelve years, a total in excess of 130,000 Nikon rangefinder cameras being produced. Nikon rangefinder production ceased a year after the legendary Nikon F SLR went into production. Nikon looked at the best and most successful Leica and Contax type rangefinder cameras as a starting point for a camera and improved it again and again, hence the eight different designs and models. The Nikon I used a non standard frame size of 32x24mm to increase the normal 36 exposures to 40 on a standard 35mm film, this resulted in standardisation problems and had to be changed after the first year of production.

It should be noted that Nikon have had several limited production runs over the years as "anniversary cameras", these tend not to be used as cameras but grace the collections of many wealthy camera collectors. Nikon reproduced S3's in 2000 and SP's in 2005, both were limited production "anniversary" cameras and were rapidly snapped up by eager Japanese collectors.

 


1948 - 1949 Nikon I Professional Rangefinder Camera (738 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive ?

Self
timer ?

32x24mm

Silk focal plain

1" to 1/500"

No

Yes S-mount

No

No

 

Nikon M Professional Rangefinder Camera

1949 - 1950 Nikon M Professional Rangefinder Camera (1643 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive ?

Self
timer ?

34x24mm

Silk focal plain

1" to 1/500"

No

Yes S-mount

No

No

Once the Nikon I was exported to the USA it was found that most automatic film cutters were preset to the standard Leica size, in consequence by the end of the film frames had been cut in half. As a quick fix the film drive sprocket ratio was changed to that of Leica but it was not possible to increase the frame width to 36mm with the existing sand cast aluminium body, this "temporary fix" camera was re-designated the Nikon M.

 

Nikon S Range-Finder 35mm Camera

1950 -1954 Nikon S Professional Rangefinder Camera (36,746 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive

Self
timer ?

34x24mm

Silk focal plain

1" to 1/500"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

No

No

As sales of the Nikon M increased in America it was soon noted by photographers that the camera lacked a Flash/PC socket, Nikon engineers quickly corrected this minor, but serious, omission and designated the resultant camera the Nikon S. Unfortunately Nikon's engineers lacked the necessary time to re-design the body to a 36x24mm frame size due to immanent production quota requirements.

 

Nikon S2 Rangefinder 35mm Camera

1954 - 1958 Nikon S2 Professional Rangefinder Camera (56,715 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive ?

Self
timer ?

36x24mm

Silk focal plain

1" to 1/1000"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

No

No

The Nikon S2 finally introduced the standard 36x34mm frame size, this was possible due to redesigned die-cast aluminium body casting, the top shutter speed was increased to 1/1000". The S2 also had a brighter viewfinder with higher magnification making the camera more user friendly.  The film advance knob was replaced with a lever which was faster to use and the rewind knob had a folding handle to speed up film rewinding.

 

Nikon SP Rangefinder 35mm Camera

1957 - 1965 Nikon SP Professional Rangefinder Camera (22,348 Produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive

Self
timer

36x24mm

Titanium or Silk

1" to 1/1000"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

3 FPS

10 sec

The SP was Nikon's best rangefinder, it's bright line finder is the best and most comprehensive of the rangefinder range. Late production SP cameras featured titanium foil shutter blinds (a world first) replacing the rubberised silk blinds, a ten second self timer and an optional 3 FPS electric motor-drive (world first) could be fitted. Black bodies were introduced to make press photographers less obvious in war zones. An anniversary version was produced in 2005 for the Japanese market.

 

Nikon S3 35mm Rangefinder camera 2000 anniversary model

1958 - 1959 Nikon S3 Professional Rangefinder Camera (14,310 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive

Self
timer

36x24mm

Titanium or Silk

1" to 1/1000"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

3 FPS

10 sec

The 1958 Nikon S3 was similar to the SP but had it's viewfinder significantly simplified to allow cheaper production of what was a very expensive camera, this increased the potential customer base and helped sales to non press users. Like the Nikon SP early cameras it initially had a rubberised silk focal plane shutter, later ones were fitted with a titanium foil focal plane shutter. In 2000 Nikon produced a limited anniversary version of the S3 for the Japanese market only.

 

Horizontal focal-plane shutter with rubberized "Habutae" silk curtains

1959 - 1960 Nikon S4 Professional Rangefinder Camera (5,898 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive ?

Self
timer ?

36x24mm

Silk focal plain

1" to 1/100"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

No

No

1959 sore a serious financial depression which had an adverse affect on camera sales, in order to maintain profitability a "cut down" version of the rangefinder camera was produced, the viewfinder was simplified again, the shutter went back to rubberised silk, self timer and motor drive capability were omitted, this proved to be a wise move as situation soon improved but other companies had sold their existing expensive stock very cheaply - even at a loss!

 

Nikon S36 rangefinder motor-drive

1960 Nikon S3M Professional Rangefinder Camera (195 produced)
 

Frame
size

Shutter
type

Shutter speed
range

PC/Flash
sync speed

Interchangeable
lenses ?

Motor
drive

Self
timer

18x24mm

silk focal plain

1" to 1/1000"

1/60"

Yes S-mount

9 FPS

10 sec

By 1960 the Nikon F SLR was replacing rangefinder cameras in most photojournalist's kit, however the Nikon SM3 half frame camera was already developed and ready for production but was soon abandoned in favour of the legendary Nikon F SLR. The S3M was able to take 72 exposures per film and as only half as much film needing to be advanced per exposure achieved a remarkable 9 FPS on specially set up cameras

 

VFM Flash Memory Cards

Rangefinder Cameras

 

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