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Nikon News Hound: The Origins of Nikon

Updated on August 25, 2009

Vintage Nikon Artifacts — Testaments to a Long Life

Original Nikon F body cap for to fit the first Nikon manual focus SLR camera.
Original Nikon F body cap for to fit the first Nikon manual focus SLR camera.
This rare COM-Nikkor 37mm F1.4 lens used to record computer images to micro film.
This rare COM-Nikkor 37mm F1.4 lens used to record computer images to micro film.

The Origins of Nikon

Barely a century ago, in 1917, three separate Japanese optical makers joined together in Tokyo. They formed a new company called Nippon Kogaku K.K. — which translates directly into "Japan Optical Company". At the time Nippon Kogaku enjoyed the favor of both the Japanese Imperial Navy and the Mitsubishi conglomerate. The name “Nikkor” was first introduced in 1932 and was applied to their Aero-Nikkor lenses for aerial photography. Nikkor was an abbreviation of Nippon (Ni) Kogaku (ko) K.K. with an "r" added in the tradition of the finest lenses of the day — such as Sonnar, Tessar, and Xenar. The popular tradition of adding an "r" to the end of a brand was also used by optical companies such as Kodak with their Ektar brand, and Wollensak with their Raptar line.

The Nikkor brand continued to evolve and diversify. It soon gained the attention of industrial concerns which quickly recognized the value of these high performance optics. Throughout the 1930s, Nikkor glass was used for Hansa-Canon cameras.

The first camera to be branded a "Nikon" was the Nikon 1. It was a rangefinder style camera built in 1948 and came with it's own 50mm ƒ/3.5 Nikkor lens, a cloth shutter, and six variable shutter speeds including a "B" setting for bulb and a "T" setting for Time. There were fewer than 1,000 Nikon 1’s ever made. Even fewer were stamped on the base with the “Made In Occupied Japan” moniker. Some have indicated it was a remarkable co-incidence that the "Nikon" name was created independent of the "Zeiss Ikon" product many considered the top quality camera of the day.

In the early 1950's, Nikon got a very big break. Life magazine began extolling the virtues of Nikkor lenses over their more expensive German made counterparts. This helped to establish a robust overseas market for Nikon/Nikkor product.

In 1959 — just a decade after their first camera was released, Nikon introduced a new style 35mm film camera. A Single Lens Reflex with interchangeable lenses. The Nikon F. It was the first time Nikon introduced their own proprietary lens mount — soon to be known as the "F mount". Fifty years later, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the Nikon F mount. Apart from Nikon, no other camera maker has managed to support the use of the same lens system for so long and with this style of camera. The legacy of lenses that have been offered to consumers is enormous. Although the original Nikon F mount has seen improvements made over time, some current models of the Nikon SLR digital camera can still use an original lens from 1959 with slight to no variation at all. The ubiquitous nature of Nikon's F mount enables a Nikon manual focus lens of another era to be used on many cameras today. This helps to explain why good quality specimens of early lenses — including the Nikon Ais — exhibiting unique lens signatures are still being highly sought after today. In the future another article will expand on some of these unique lens signatures.

If the subject of Nikon News, views and tips piques your interest, be sure to also visit thehome of the Nikon News Hound from time to time.

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    • profile image

      Jay Drew 6 years ago

      As for asking if AF or manual lenses are used by me, as in so many surveys, the wrong question is being asked. The answer: Prime lenses mostly AF. I don't like zooms.

    • mrdot profile image

      mrdot 7 years ago from New York, NY

      I Love Nikon!