Vintage Nikon Cameras
Vintage Nikon cameras are cameras that were produced from 1948 until the late-1970s by the Nikon Corporation.
Founded in July 1917, Nikon today specialises in imaging and optics and produces a wide range of products, including microscopes, measurement instruments, binoculars and cameras.
Nikon cameras, particularly the Nikon SP, directly competed with models from Zeiss and Leica in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the introduction of the Nikon F in 1959 established Nikon as one of the leading camera manufacturers in the world and for nearly three decades the Nikon F-series SLRs was one of the most widely used 35mm film camera by professional photographers.
The Nikon F-series established a number of features that are now commonplace in SLR photography, such as interchangeable lenses, motordrives, viewfinders, electronic shutter control and multi-zone “matrix” metering. However, in the mid-1980s, Nikon’s dominance began to waver due to the introduction of autofocus SLRs that were becoming available from companies such as Minolta and Pentax
Guide for collectors
Along with Leica, vintage and rare Nikon cameras are especially sought out by collectors and good quality models are regularly sold at either reputable high-street vintage camera dealers or notable auctioneers, including Christie’s, Bonhams and Westilicht Photographica.
Nikon has in the past produced a variety of rare and unique models that were produced in small numbers, particularly their commemorate models. Models such as the Nikon FM Gold 60th Anniversary and the Nikon F5 50th Anniversary were produced in very small numbers and are highly valuable to collectors.
Rare production cameras like the 1957 Nikon S2-E, of which only five are known to still exist, can reach incredible prices (see below). The Nikon FM2 Titanium, although enjoyed a relatively large number of units, is a rare example of a Nikon production camera and is a sure future investment for collectors.
Additionally, due to their adoption by photojournalists, especially those who covered the Vietnam War, collectors should search catalogues and lots for cameras that were once owned by any notable names.
Collectors should be aware of purchasing supposedly rare Nikon cameras on online bidding sites such as eBay. Although not as common as counterfeit Leica’s, fake Nikon’s are still prevalent on the market. Always be sure to refer to the models serial number to verify its authenticity.
In December 2010 at Westilicht Photographica Auctions in Vienna, Austria, two Nikon cameras sold for two record breaking amounts. A rare 1957 Nikon S2-E and a F3 NASA both sold for €168,000 each. Made in 1986, less than twenty F3 NASA models were ever built and were used for American Space Shuttle missions. Both cameras far exceeded their original estimate and became the two most expensive Nikon cameras sold at auction.
Two Nikon I cameras that both had “Made in Occupied Japan” engraved onto their base plates were sold at two separate auctions held by Bonhams and Christie’s in May 2008 and October 1994 respectively. The Bonhams item fetched £2,220 whilst the Christie’s camera, which was equipped with its lens cap and original case, sold for £12,100. It is reported that only four-hundred Nikon Is were ever distributed worldwide.
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