For those of you who are not really into camera history, this thingie may look quite unimpressive. It’s just a simple SLR. The speeds range goes just from 1 second to 1/1000. No internal or TTL light meter. No auto mode and no automatic winding. Well, yes, it’s got interchangeable prisms, but still…
Even though, there are two things in this cutie that changed everything, EVERYTHING in camera and photography history. It was 1959, and Rangefinders were still king. The Leica M3, THE no-nonsense rangefinder camera was the rage: professionals had abandoned everything else because Leica and its system were aeons away from any competitor. Yet, this was to last only five years, because, friends, all pros abandoned their fabulous Leicas in favor of this unassuming SLR camera above: the Nikon F.
How can this be? Wasn’t Leica the ultimate camera from Heaven, bestowed upon us mortals by the (German) photography gods? Well, yes it was, but there is something I must tell you about photography gear: do not tell anyone I wrote this, but in 35mm format and for professional use, SLR cameras are intrinsically superior to rangefinder cameras. Yes, 35mm SLRs had been around for some time in 1959, but there were some technical problems to solve before they could be a serious alternative to rangefinders. Well, the Nikon F was the first camera to solve them all AND to be marketed successfully. It wasn’t only the best camera system for pros, it was also sold by people who, with their most aggressive marketing, KOd the entire world’s camera industry, specially German.
With the advent of the Nikon F, with a range of lenses from fisheye to 1000mm from day one, electric winding accessories, TTL interchangeable prisms and focussing screens, unlimited macro capability, instant return mirror… I say, with the advent of the Nikon F, Leica went from the only choice of pro gear down to the camera of the dentist: luxurious but hopelessly outdated and still with a price tag for pro equipment; only for rich afficionadoes.
It wasn’t only intrinsically better (in fact, most competitor systems of the era plain looked like toys if compared to the F system), but it was sold by ambitious people whose strategic goal was to torn competition worldwide asunder and succeed. The Japanese invented not just the modern assembly line and quality control, but also real marketing.
The same thing that happened with photo industry also happened in all other fields where technology was involved, from hi-fi to automobile industry. For thirty years Japan was the king of technology, and the Nikon F was one of the main spearheads of it all. Hiro Hito’s lads conquered a bigger chunk of the world with the Nikon F than they did with the Zero airplane fighter or the super heavy battleship Yamato. Think bout this next time you look at this unassuming camera.