The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 14
History of Nikon Part XII by Gray Levett
The Nikon SP has long been considered the pinnacle of Nikon’s rangefinder camera range. It is the camera to which many collectors aspire. It was discontinued in the early nineteen sixties but now it is back – at least in a limited edition
The legendary Nikon SP rangefinder camera was introduced in September 1957. Due to the success of the S2 model, Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) found themselves competing with the other three major miniature camera manufacturers, Canon, Leica and Zeiss. Nikon had recognised that with the introduction of the Leica M3 in 1954, it needed to pull out all the stops to improve on the S2. This they did magnificently with the SP.
The P in SP stood for Professional and with this model Nikon had created their finest and most innovative rangefinder camera. The SP was unique and was a complete change from all the models that had gone before. The viewfinder of the SP was the most comprehensive ever made. Covering nearly half the width of the camera is what gives the SP its distinctive appearance. The viewfinder has projected, parallax corrected frame lines for 50, 85, 105 and 135mm lenses, each one being introduced by a lens field selector dial. To the left of the viewfinder there are field frames for 28mm and 35mm lenses that are fixed in position. Within the frames there are markers to compensate for close-up parallax.
One of the biggest problems with rangefinder cameras, even today, is that the subject is not viewed through the lens, which takes the photograph. This system causes problems with parallax. When lenses are interchanged, the field of view also alters and it is necessary to transmit this information to the photographer, usually via a separate optical finder. The SP was the only rangefinder camera able to accept six different lenses without having to use accessory viewfinders.
The SP offered shutter speed settings of 1 to 1/1000 sec., B (bulb) and T (time) on a rotating shutter speed dial. The SP was the first rangefinder camera to have a self -timer, an automatic resetting frame counter, and a motor drive lug to allow the body to be motorized; also an interlock to prevent accidental firing of a flash unit.
The SP created a sensation when it was released and helped forge Nikon’s dominance in the field of motor drive photography, which it continues to enjoy today. The S36 motor drive was electrically powered and offered a fixed speed of 3 fps (frames per second). It should be remembered that apart from the long-discontinued electric motor drive on the rare Leica 250 from World War II only spring-wound motors such as the Leica Mooly and the Bell Howell Foton were available. The SP was and is a truly unique camera and fully deserves its high placing amongst the most collectable of all Nikon’s rangefinder cameras.
We had a pleasant surprise when the Nikon Corporation recently announced the release of a black finish Nikon SP camera fitted with a 3.5cm f/1.8 W-Nikkor lens in a limited edition of 2,500 and designed for the Japanese domestic market. For the film camera enthusiast it is a dream come true to be able to buy a brand new Nikon SP in an age of digital dominance.