Classic Cameras Friday! – Nikon F 1959

First perfected mechanical 35mm SLR

  • Many other firsts, too
  • $329.50 with f2 lens in 1959 ($2469 in 2010 dollars)

Twenty-three years after the first 35mm SLR, the Kin矇 Exakta, the first perfected mechanical SLR finally appeared: the famous Nikon F. Almost all of its main features had appeared in earlier cameras, but never all together:

  • Instant-return mirror
  • Instant-reopen diaphragm
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Self timer
  • Interchangeable finders
  • Interchangeable viewing/focusing screens
  • 100% viewfinder
  • Mirror lockup
  • Optional 250-exposure back
  • Optional motor drive

Not only did the Nikon F have the features, but it had great Nikkor lenses, all the way from 21mm to 1000mm. Its ruggedness became legendary. It came from Nikon, makers of what were arguably the world’s best rangefinders. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Nikon F was a system.

The Nikon F was so perfect that its replacement, the F2, didn’t show up for 12 years.

Nikon F was called the “first perfected mechanical 35mm SLR”. After the Nikon F, numerous 35mm SLRs appeared in the early 1960s that had what I call the essential features: focal-plane shutter, instant-return mirror, instant-reopen diaphragm, and, of course, pentaprism finder and interchangeable lenses. Before the Nikon F, only one obscure camera, the Zunow, had them all. The Nikon F defined what a serious SLR had to be.

With the mechanical camera perfected, development after the Nikon F went towards making SLRs with the essential features cheaper (even at age 15, I could afford a Konica FP) and making them more automated. But the days of waist-level viewfinders, mirror blackout, diaphragms that reopened only when you advanced the film, and expensive leaf-shutter cameras were permanently over. Any makers who didn’t follow the Nikon F’s lead were history.

As unattractive as the Photomic finders were, they did allow Nikon to stay current with developments in TTL exposure metering during the 1960s. The first Photomic in 1962 (mine, shown below, is almost that old) was one of the first, if not the first, shutter- and aperture-coupled CdS meters for any SLR. (Technically it wasn’t built-in, however, which is why the Minolta SR-7 has that distinction.) Later Photomic finders even gave the Nikon F through-the-lens (TTL) metering–without changing the body!

Cesar Out!