Nikon To Concentrate On Digital Cameras, Drops Film Bodies

In a press release distributed first in the United Kingdom yesterday and today in the States, Nikon Corporation announced they have made a decision to focus the company’s resources on digital cameras instead of film cameras, and that they will soon stop making almost all of the Nikon film camera product line.

Nikon said they would continue to recognize professional photographers by manufacturing their flagship film camera, the Nikon F6, along with the manual FM10 amateur camera, and a number of manual interchangeable lenses that are specifically made for the film-only Nikon camera bodies. Until today, Nikon offered nine different single lens reflex (SLR) film cameras, including the F6 and FM10.

The announcement from the Japanese company came in a statement posted on a Web site for Nikon’s UK division, where 95 percent of Nikon’s sales in the last seven years have been digital products. Nikon said that sales of their top digital cameras, and D1 and D2 product line, as well as the success of the D70s and D50, helped the company’s profits climb by 20 percent in the first half of the fiscal year, and helped to move along the company’s transition to a nearly all-digital camera product line.

In addition to the Nikon film cameras being discontinued, other products that will drop out of production and sales include all Nikkor lenses for large format cameras, Nikkor lenses for darkroom enlargers, Nikkor interchangeable manual focus lenses, and related accessories. Nikon anticipates the discontinued products may be in retail distribution until Summer 2006, but they will not be replaced when out of stock.

Nikon said they will continue to manufacture the following lenses for film cameras: Nikkor 20mm f/2.8; Nikkor24mm f/2.8; Nikkor 28mm f/2.8; Nikkor 35mm f/1.4; Nikkor 50mm f/1.2; Nikkor 50mm f/1.4; Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8; Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8; and the PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D.

Today’s announcement by Nikon marks another milestone in a gradual transition in the camera maker’s long history. The company started out making only lenses, and then rangefinder film cameras, and then SLR film cameras, and most recently digital cameras. For many decades three film camera makers dominated much of the world’s 35mm rangefinder and SLR photographic market: Canon, Leica, and Nikon. Nikon seemed to be the dominant force in the marketplace in the 1960s, 1970s, and the early 1980s with their film SLRs, especially with news photographers and journalists, before Canon moved heavily into the field in the 1990s and gained many of the professional users.

In 1917, three of Japan’s optical makers joined to form one company in Tokyo called Nippon Kogaku K.K. They first used the name “Nikkor” in 1932 to identify their lenses. Through the 1930s, Nikkor made lenses with a bayonet mount for Hansa-Canon cameras. The first Nikon camera was the Nikon 1, a rangefinder camera in 1948 with a 50mm f/3.5 lens, a cloth shutter, four shutter speeds plus “time” and “bulb” settings. Fewer than 1,000 Nikon 1’s were made, and some were manufactured with “Made In Occupied Japan” stamped on the base.

The rangefinder line continued through the 1950s with the Nikon M and Nikon S, the S2, the SP, the S3, and S4. The S3m Nikon Rangefinder was introduced in 1960, and for the Millennium, Nikon produced a Nikon S3 Y2K in 2000, and a limited edition black body S3. The last Nikon rangefinder film camera was the Nikon SP, released in 2004, a recreation of the original and legendary camera with a 35mm f/1.8 lens and a cloth curtain shutter.

The Nikon F 35mm SLR film camera was introduced in 1959 and it was quickly popularized by photojournalists as a “news” camera. The chrome body and a viewing prism that allowed the photographer to see exactly what the lens was seeing, regardless of which lens was in use, with a single-stroke film advance, made it easier to use than a rangefinder camera for many while photograph rapidly-moving subjects or changing scenes. Nikon followed with the Nikon F Photomic in 1962, basically a Nikon F except with an interchangeable prism “finder” that included a built-in light meter. The Photomic T version of it came along in 1965 and the TN model in 1967.

The Nikon F Photomic TN (all black, with no brand icons) was developed for NASA in 1968 for use on America’s space shuttle, and the first major advance on the F model came with the release of the Nikon F2 in 1971. Consumer (or “pro-sumer”) models first came out in 1977 with the Nikon FM, and the Nikon FE in 1978 and the EM in 1979. A high-speed motor driven version of the F2/T was released in 1978 in advance of the Moscow Olympics (the “boycotted” Olympics) with a top speed of 10 frames per second and a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000th second.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Nikon continued to advance their high-end profession F camera line with the F3 in 1980, and for the “pro-sumer” the Nikon FG and Nikon FM2 in 1982. It was full eight years before the next major leap forward in the F line, with the release of the F4 in 1988. It marked a major design departure from the traditional Nikon F camera body shape. The new fourth-generation camera featured ergonomic design for fitting into the photographer’s hand, and the change in appearance even carried over to a change in the typography in the Nikon logo on the prism front. The camera had interchangeable viewfinders, interchangeable film backs, auto-focusing lenses, freeze focusing, bracketing, multiple electronic automatic exposure features, and multiple power sources. The Nikon F5 was introduced in 1996 with highly complex 3D color matrix light metering, interchangeable finders, and sophisticated integrated flash technology.

Nikon’s future changed radically in 1995 when they partnered with Fuji Film Co. to develop one of the first “35mm” professional digital cameras. Around the same time, Eastman Kodak used a Nikon N90S body to develop their version of a professional digital camera, the Nikon/Kodak DCS420, a large and bulky camera that offered no way for a photographer to view the images that were stored on an internal computer hard drive (which was housed beneath the camera body in the space traditionally occupied by a motor drive). The images had to be exported through an SCSI cable port on the camera’s back to a computer in order to be viewed on the computer’s screen.

Nikon released their first high-end digital professional camera on their own, without development partners, in 1999 with the Nikon D1, a camera modeled in appearance after the F5 35mm film camera. The D1 uses small, removeable “flash” memory cards instead of film (which can be slipped into an external card reader or a laptop computer's PCMCIA card slot), and it has an LDC viewing monitor on the camera’s back for instant visual feedback to the photographer. The next professional digital versions that followed were the D1X and the D1H, followed in 2004 with the “pro-sumer” D70. Today Nikon also offers another “pro-sumer” version, the D50.

Nikon’s commitment to the high-end film camera for professionals continued with the release of a sixth generation version of the original F, the Nikon F6 introduced in 2004. The camera, likely to be their last high-end F model as the company’s emphasis switches now to digital, features Nikon’s most advanced 3D color matrix metering to date, which works in one or all of any 11 selected focus areas, multiple auto-focus modes, five shooting modes, four film advance modes, and the full range of automated and integrated flash systems.