The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 15
The History Of Nikon Part IV by Gray Levett
A highly celebrated war photographer introduced Nikon into the West. His name is David Douglas Duncan. This is the story of how he discovered Nikon.
In the spring of 1950, David Douglas Duncan, a LIFE magazine photographer, visited Japan to take pictures of traditional Japanese fine arts. While he was there Duncan made a fortuitous discovery one day when his assistant, a young Japanese photographer, Mr. Jun Miki, took his photograph. Duncan was so impressed by the results he asked to be taken to the manufacturer Nippon Kogaku KK (Nikon) to examine the Nikkor lenses and compare them with his favourite Leicas. He started testing a 35mm f/3.5 and one camera body, spending about a week doing the tests.
As a result of this, Duncan bought a complete set of Nikkor lenses. Two days later on Sunday June 25th war broke out in Korea. He was sent with General MacArthur to fly down to Fukuoka. LIFE magazine cabled Duncan after receiving his first photographs in New York, asking, "Why are you using a plate camera?" The photographs were so sharp that within a matter of weeks every staff man passing through Tokyo bought himself a set of Nikkor lenses!
When Carl Mydans and Hank Walker, two photojournalists additionally covering the Korean War, arrived in Tokyo, they also purchased Nikkors. (Walker took the Nikon S body as well.) Carrying their new equipment, the two men flew to the Korean peninsula. It was a cold winter that year, with temperatures around -30oC. The photojournalists had a hard time; cameras were freezing and ceasing to function. But not Hank Walker's new Nikon S. Not only did it work perfectly even in these harsh conditions, it also produced the magnificent photographs that won him the U.S. Camera Prize in 1950. Mydans' Nikkor lens stood him in equally good stead, for he too won the same prize for his outstanding pictures. On December 10th 1950 the New York Times featured a full article on the emergence of Nikon's use in the ranks of professional photojournalists.