Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Spotlight: Nikon S3

Nikon blew everyone's minds in 1959 when they released the Nikon F single-lens-reflex camera system, which simultaneously shifted the market away from Germany to Japan, as well as killed off the rangefinder as the professional's choice in camera, in favor of the SLR.

However, before the F, there was the Nikon S line of professional rangefinders, designed as slightly cheaper alternatives to the exorbitantly priced German Leicas of the time. It's sad that these cameras are mostly forgotten, as they are beautiful, extremely well-made photographic instruments.  The Nikon S3 is one of these rangefinders, released in 1958, only a year before the revolutionary F.

The similarities between the S3 and the F are bountiful, as the cameras share roughly 40% of their parts. The F is essentially an S3 with a prism plopped on top of it. This lack of prism, combined with the smaller lenses of the S system, make the S3 a much more compact package than the somewhat bulky F.  It's easier to walk around with, and is less obtrusive when making photos (especially with the lack of the F's mirror-slap).

Okay. Enough comparing this little beauty to the F.

Build quality is top-notch. The all-metal construction feels extremely rugged; all the knobs, buttons, and levers are a joy to adjust. Shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second, plus bulb and time exposure modes. The viewfinder shows frame-lines for 35mm, 50mm, 105mm lenses. With my glasses on, the 50mm frame-line takes up the entire finder (I can't even see the 35mm lines unless I take my specs off). The rangefinder patch is large, contrasty, and easy to focus with. Focus is achieved by either twisting the lens barrel, or by turning a small dial that's on top of the camera next to the frame counter. The former method is definitely the way to go, as it takes about 6 full turns of the little dial for me to go from infinity to the closest focusing distance (3 feet). Focus locks at infinity.

I took my S3 out with me this past weekend to downtown Evanston, IL. Here are some photos I made with it while hanging out with my wife, and our friend, Nicole. I used a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor Lens, and Kentmere 400 film.

While I still prefer my Nikon F (and SLR's in general), I still had a great time experimenting with the S3. It's a beautiful, well-crafted camera any rangefinder fan will love. Thanks for looking!