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Nikon Owner Issue 19

History of Nikon Part XVI by Gray Levett

One of the most sought after, and yet difficult to find, accessory for the Nikon rangefinder cameras is the S-36 Motor Drive. It was released alongside the Nikon SP in September 1957.

History of Nikon

The SP was the first rangefinder camera designed with the facility for motor-drive photography. Incidentally, few people know that six months prior to this release, Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) revealed a motorised S2 rangefinder camera, the S2E, to a select audience. This discreet viewing was to gauge the response of the photographic press to the concept of motor-drive photography. Press reaction to the new SP and motor drive was widespread and enthusiastic; Leitz produced an electric motor drive for their Leica 250 from World War II but this had long been discontinued. It was the Nikon S-36 Motor Drive that began Nikon's dominance in motorized photography.

Like most classic designs, the S-36 is extremely simple and easy to operate. The SP has a detachable back, which must be removed in order to load and unload film. The S-36 was produced with an integral back. The motor drive is attached and detached in the same manner as the standard back. This elegant and compact unit added a little over one inch to the camera's height and a mere eight ounces to its weight. The S-36 fits comfortably in the hand and provides a reassuring balance since there is more for the hand to grasp. A minor service centre modification of the camera was required to use the S-36.

On the back of the S-36 is a three-position ring which may be set at lock for manual operation or continuous operation. Film may be shot in bursts of two or more exposures at a rate of approximately three frames per second or as single frame advance. The S-36 may be set for rapid single exposures (at all speeds except `T' Time) using the shutter release on the top of the camera. Next to the three-position ring is a frame counter that may be set for any number of exposures from 1-36. The frame counter is subtractive and indicates the unexposed frames remaining. The motor drive will stop automatically when the counter registers zero. However, if the drive has been set for exposures beyond the length of the film, there is a clutch which will automatically slip to prevent the film being torn off the spool.

The S-36 is powered by a separate battery pack. Three different battery packs were made for the S-36. The first was a small, flat grey metal battery pack known affectionately as the `sardine can', which accepts six 1.5V penlight batteries. A brown leather, oblong version that requires six type `C' batteries replaced this model. The final version was made of grey vinyl. Nippon Kogaku also produced a small voltmeter which reads up to 9V to check battery pack capacity. The S-36 Rangefinder Motors start at serial number 94001 to approximately 950xx.

History of Nikon

In much the same way as the Nikon S-36 Electric Motor Drive was the major accessory for the Nikon Rangefinder, so too was the F-36 when it was premièred with the ground-breaking Nikon F single lens reflex camera in June 1959.

The standard back of the Nikon F is removed and is replaced by the F-36 drive unit, and, just as the Nikon SP Rangefinder camera and the models which followed required a minor service modification to use the S-36 motor drive, the Nikon F followed this practice in order to use the F-36.

The F-36 Motor Drive is almost identical both in design and concept to the S-36. It is a tad faster being powered by 12 volts. A firing-rate adjusting knob was added which allows single exposures, as well as bursts of two or more, or it can fire continuously at a rate of up to four frames per second. Early F-36 Motor Drives were powered by a grey vinyl external battery pack connected by a one-metre grey cord. The battery pack accepts 8 "C" type batteries. Later versions were available in brown and finally a black finish. These battery packs were heavy and with their trailing power cords inconvenient to use. In 1966 Nippon Kogaku introduced the cordless battery pack accepting eight AA-type batteries.

The F-36 accepts standard 35mm film of twenty or thirty-six exposures. Nippon Kogaku re-commended their re-loadable film cassettes in place of commercial film, since they felt the latter caused some friction as the film was drawn through it. It was also felt that this friction might reduce the driving speed and cause the batteries to run down more rapidly.

As these battery packs were not the most practical, Nippon Kogaku overcame this by producing the Cordless Battery Pack. This unit attaches directly to the base of the F-36 to form a compact unit. A push-button release is located on the top of the pack's grip and works independently of the motor-drive release button. The F-36 Motor Drive had the serial number 97001 and the Nippon Kogaku triangle logo on the base. Additionally, all F-36 Motor Drives have the distinctive white-filled `F' logo engraved on the front left. On later models the Nippon Kogaku triangle logo and serial number moved to the front right-hand side of the motor drive. By September 1966 the NK logo disappeared and the product name `Nikon' appeared on the back. On this page you will see the F36 Motor Drive & cordless battery pack supporting and powering a magnificent Nikon F black finish and 55mm f/1.2 Nikkor lens.