lunes, 4 de agosto de 2014


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The Nikon S from 1951 meant the turning point in the history of Nippon Kogaku (renamed Nikon Corporation in 1988) in particular and the Japanese photographic industry generally speaking, in spite of being clearly beaten by the following models of rangefinder cameras made by the firm during fifties:

- The Nikon S2 from 1954 which featured a larger viewfinder with a 1.0x magnification and a brilliant frame (the Nikon S viewfinder with 0.60x magnification lacked bright-line frame), better constructive materials (die-cast aluminum instead of the Nikon S sand casting aluminum), less weight (the Nikon S is built like a tank), a longer rangefinder effective base length, winding lever, rewinding crank, top shutter speed increased to 1/1000 sec, sync flash speeds dial up to 1/1000 sec and other improvements, as well as being the first Nikon rangefinder camera to be utterly redesigned to hold 24 x 36 mm film, etc.
- The extraordinary Nikon SP from 1957. Considered the best 35 mm rangefinder camera in history along with the Leica M3, featuring a superb eyepiece of the viewfinder with 1x magnification that sports dual nature and keeps inside a VF located on the right, with 1x magnification optimized for the very accurate framing with 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm lenses -together with bright-line frames for them all and automatic parallax correction at every distance (and another VF with 0.4x magnification and Albada type, optimized for use with 35 mm lenses -with bright-line frame- and 28 mm lenses - whose coverage area is made up by the limits of this 0.4x viewfinder also integrated in the camera body-), shutter with titanium curtains, bright-line frames adjustable for lenses between 28 and 135 mm, window showing the chosen flash synchronization speed, film counter with autoreset system and indicator of the type of film being used.

- The Nikon S3 from 1958 and Nikon S4 from 1959.

Nikon S, the camera which marked the start of Japanese photographic industry international expansion. It appears here with the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4.

And there were some important reasons for it:

A) After checking the great image quality rendered by a Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 which had been shown to him by Miki Jun (local correspondent for Life magazine in Japan) in early May 1950, the Californian photographer Horace Bristol (a Life photographer) went to see David Douglas Duncan (also a Life photojournalist) who became quite surprised too on observing the very good resolving power and superb contrast for the time that attained that lens, so after testing the aforementioned Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 (along with a Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 that likewise fascinated them) decided to visit with Jun Miki the Nippon Kogaku factory at Ohi (Tokyo) in mid May 1950, being welcomed by Dr. Masao Nagaoka, President of Nippon Kogaku.

That was a revelation for both Life photographers, who made particular thorough tests and verified that the Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 outperformed the Zeiss Sonnar 8,5 cm f/2 in resolution and contrast, while the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 approached very much to the resolving power of the Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/1.5, beating it in contrast.

Additionally, they realized that Nippon Kogaku Japanese lenses achieved a better printing quality on illustrated magazines, thanks to their greater contrast than highly luminous Carl Zeiss and Leitz existing at that time, something very important for both photojournalists, so they quickly changed their screwmount Leica (David Douglas Duncan) and Carl Zeiss (Horace Bristol) lenses for Japanese Nippon Kogaku ones in LTM39 thread mount and Contax bayonet respectively for their Leica IIIc and Contax II cameras.

On June 27 1950, David Douglas Duncan, coming from Fukuoka (a city in the south of Japan) was the first photographer to get pictures of Korean War, equipped with two Leicas IIIc, one coupled to a Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 and another one attached to a Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/4, both of them manufactured by Nippon Kogaku in LTM39 thread.

When David Douglas Duncan sent his original black and white Eastman Kodak Super-XX 100 ASA negatives developed with DK-20 in Japan to the main office of Time Life Inc. in New York and the photomechanic tests with half tone plates were made, a great thrill was generated because they provided excellent contrast and visual perception of sharpness and the reproductions made from them on the luxurious paper of Life magazine was superior regarding printing quality to all the pictures got with 35 mm cameras and that b & w emulsion that they had handled before.

This was very important, since the Kodak Super-XX was then the photojournalistic black and white film par excellence, with its very high ASA 100 sensitivity for the time, which made possible to save a lot of photographs shooting handheld with available light and highly luminous lenses, unlike the Kodak Panatomic-X b & w film, the benchmark in terms of resolution and lack of grain, but whose very low sensitivity of ASA 32 was not suitable for its use in agile and dynamic photojournalism with 35 mm rangefinder cameras.

The news spread quickly, as well as being fostered by in-depth articles appeared in Modern Photography magazine, The New York Times (which published on December 10, 1950 an extensive report made by Hank Walker, Life photographer, on the Nikon S and the increasing use of Nippon Kogaku lenses by professional photographers during the Korean War), Life and the annual number of US Camera magazine from 1951 with pictures made by David Douglas Duncan with the previously quoted Japanese lenses, in addition to the September 10, 1951 Life magazine cover in size 26,8 x 35,6 cm of the Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida with stunning resolving power and contrast, made by Jun Miki with his Leica IIIf and a Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2.

This is War! A Photo-Narrative of the Korean War, lavishly illustrated with pictures made by David Douglas Duncan during the Korean War with his Leica IIIc and Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5, Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 and Nikkor-P.Q 13,5 cm f/3.5 . From the very first moment of its appearance it became a reference book in the History of Photojournalism and enhanced even more throughout decades the great international prestige of the lenses manufactured by Nippon Kogaku for its S series rangefinder cameras, screwmount Leicas and Contax II respectively featuring LTM39 thread mount or bayonet.

It provided Nippon Kogaku with a huge international prestige, fostered by the fact that the excellent for the time lenses made by the Japanese photographic firm had an outstandingly lower price than the Zeiss and Leitz lenses sporting equivalent focal lengths and luminosities.

This way, a number of photographers assigned to the Korean War quickly changed their Zeiss lenses with Contax bayonet or LTM39 thread mount Leitz ones for the Nippon Kogaku objectives.

Advertisement of the Nikon S and its highly luminous Nikkor lenses in full page of the Popular Photography magazine in 1951. The headline ´ The Nikon 35 mm Embodies the Best Features of the Most Expensive Miniatures ´ summed up the key element in the birth of the Nikon S: Nippon Kogaku had created a rangefinder camera joining the best virtues of the Contax II and the LTM39 thread mount Leicas, with the added benefit that its Nikkor lenses beat in optical performance in the center and specially in contrast to the equivalent focal length objectives featuring identical widest apertures of both famous German firms, an at a much cheaper price. It´s likewise noteworthy that still in 1951 the cameras using 35 mm film were called miniature, because during fifties professional photographers working with Speed Graphic 4 x 5 large format cameras and 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ medium format Rolleiflex cameras were a broad majority.

Another event occurred that launched Nippon Kogaku fame even more: Carl Mydans (an extraordinary Life photographer), user of Contax II, was sent to Korean war to complement with David Douglas Duncan the strategic retreat of American troops to the Pusan defensive perimeter, and Douglas Duncan insisted Mydans on acquiring Nikkor lenses for his German 35 mm rangefinder camera.

In July 1950, Carl Mydans visited the Nippon Kogaku factory in Ohi (Tokyo) and bought a Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 and a Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/3.5, both of them in Contax mount, whose rangefinder coupling section was modified, and in 1951 he would change his Contax II (a far superior camera from a qualitative viewpoint, much larger effective base length and an 1x magnification viewfinder instead of 0.60x) for a Nikon S, because the latter was exceedingly robust, featured a much more reliable shutter, its lenses delivered a superior image quality and an amazing flawless prolonged working ability under extreme climatic conditions.

Such factors made that other great photographers sent by Life to the Korean War, like Hank Walker (coverage of Incheon invasion), Margaret Bourke-White (coverage of the operations against guerrilla units behind the line front during the stalemate stage of the conflict) and Michael Rougier (coverage of D.W.Eisenhower visit) also opted for the Nikon S and Nikkor lenses.

Even, Max Desfor, an Associated Press photographer and user of Speed Graphic 4 x 5 large format camera who covered the Korean War too, bought a Nikon S and some Nikkor lenses, using the Nippon Kogaku  camera as a second body, which is relevant, because between 1950 and 1953 vast majority of professional photographers on assignment in the Korean conflict (particularly those belonging to Associated Press like George Sweers, James Martenhoff, Gene Herrick, Jim Pringle, Fred Waters, E.N. Johnson, William Straeter, John Randolph or Max Desfor himself) used Speed Graphic 4 x 5 large format cameras with Kodak Ektar 127 mm f/4.7 or Raptar Wollensak 135 mm f/4.7 and Kodak Super XX ASA 100 film or Kodak Plus-X ASA 50 film featuring a 13 times larger surface than those same black and white emulsions in 24 x 36 mm format that were used throughout the Korean War by the photographers who took 35 mm cameras (Leicas IIIc and IIf, Contax II and Nikon S 24 x 34 mm) with Nikkor lenses manufactured by Nippon Kogaku.

B) The Nippon Kogaku optical designers had painstakingly studied both the ultraluminous Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 and Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 8,5 cm f/2 lenses without antireflection coating for 35 mm format previous to the II World War created by the genius Ludwig Bertele in 1932 and 1933 and the postwar lenses sporting identical optical formula but featuring antireflective T Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5, Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85 mm f/2 (made in East Germany) and the Zeiss Opton Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5 and Zeiss Opton Sonnar 85 mm f/2 (manufactured in West Germany, in the city of Oberkochen) and decided to optimize as much as possible the contrast of their new lenses for 24 x 34 mm and 24 x 36 mm format, applying pragmatic criteria of cost savings to the utmost feasible, enhancement of production easiness and maximum reduction of optical elements possible, not only without reducing quality but even increasing it, which anticipated approximately eighteen years to realistic conceptual decisions of optical design according to market circumstances that had to be implemented by Walter Mandler in 1969 in the Leitz factory at Midland, Ontario (Canada) with the Summicron-R 50 mm f/2 for Leicaflex, whose optical formula reduced to 6 elements (instead of 7), simultaneously improving contrast, above all at f/2, and augmenting image quality with respect the previous design.

Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4, the first standard lens made in the world with such widest aperture. Manufactured between late 1950 and 1962, nothing less than 100,000 units were sold, a very significant figure for the time, and replaced the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 also featuring 7 elements in 3 groups and 12 diaphragm blades, which was launched into market in May 1950 and would be the Nikkor standard lens used by David Douglas Duncan since late June 1950 during the Korean War. The making by Nippon Kogaku of these two standard 50 mm lenses along with the Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/2, only five years after the end of the II World War in which Japanese industry had been greatly leveled, and using handcrafted working parameters with very scarce economical means and materials is one of the greatest feats in the History of Photography.

Although it had experimental furnaces for the melting of crystal for obtaining optical glasses and a Naxos-Union machine acquired in Germany in 1922 and able to grind optical elements, and even had set up an optical glass research facility in one of the areas of its factory at Shanagawa (in the south of Tokyo) in 1923, during the late forties and first years of fifties, Nippon Kogaku, being aware that hadn´t got the wherewithal, technical means, updated machinery, computers or optical glasses combining very high refractive indexes and low chromatic dispersion to be able to get with an acceptable production cost a high uniformity of top-notch performance as to resolving power and contrast in center, borders and corners at every diaphragm and focusing distance (something that wouldn´t be possible until 1956 with the appearance of the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Dual range featuring 7 elements -four of them being the very expensive LaK9- in 5 groups and the Asahi Pentax Auto-Takumar 55 mm f/1.8 sporting 6 elements in 5 groups with M42 thread mount in 1958- though the latter rendering less contrast than the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 and Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/2-) chose to apply a practical criterion and achieve full operativeness in its Nikkor f/1.5, f/1.4, f/2 and f/3.5 at maximum aperture with an acceptable image quality that became superb for the time on stopping down two diaphragms.

Nikon S advertisement in full page inside the U.S Camera magazine of 1951, commending the optical and mechanical virtues of the Nippon Kogaku Rangefinder System of Cameras, Lenses and Accessories. It greatly fostered the Japanese brand leverage within the worldwide photographic market.
Top priority was given to both contrast and resolution in the center of the frame and using a very high quality antireflective monocoating with blue tonality which was the evolutive summit of a wide range of antireflection coatings that Nippon Kogaku had been manufacturing since mid twenties in different very high quality optical instruments for the Japanese Imperial Navy and that had turned the Ohi (Shinagawa, Tokyo) based optical firm into the world benchmark regarding this side from mid forties (even ahead of the Carl Zeiss monocoatings based on Alexandr Smakula fundamental principles which had been secretly developed by Germany during World War II), yet had only been applied to large size optical contrivances for the Japanese Imperial Navy, specially the ones manufactured for submarines periscopes, hugely resistant to the most adverse environment conditions and whose evolved formulae were used in the optical elements of Nikkor lenses from 1948 on, so currently the antireflective monocoatings of most photographic lenses for 24 x 36 mm made during late forties and fifties by Nippon Kogaku are often in very good condition, more than sixty years after their creation.

In addition, it must be mentioned the remarkable inventiveness and intuition of  Nippon Kogaku mechanical engineers, who provided the horizontal travelling plano-focal shutter of the Nikon S (whose curtains were made with rubberized Habutae silk on both surfaces, inspired by the one featured by screwmount Leicas, designed by Dr. Ludwig Leitz and whose curtains were made of silk cloth) with a back curtain tooth placed on a ball bearing whose rotation smoothness proved to be very efficient for the perfect functioning of the camera even at temperatures of -30º C.

And all of this deserves high accolades, because between 1946 and mid fifties, Nippon Kogaku had to work with rather scant economic resources and nothing short of a permanent dearth of materials that they compensated by dint of great optical experience,

A Nikkor lens is examined by an expert Japanese technician inside the Nippon Kogaku factory at Ohi (Tokyo) on January 5, 1952. © Photo AP Bob Schutz

impressive greatly manual unit by unit working ability, ingenuity to spare, fullest use of the few available means and widest possible utilization of the great optical know-how gained throughout roughly twenty-five years manufacturing all kind of top quality optical instruments and opto-mechanic components for the Imperial Navy.

The Japanese, great admirers of the German photographic industry (particularly Carl Zeiss and Leica, its two more prominent firms), had started their photographic way to great extent since 1929 when Kakuya Sunayama became the key optical designer of the Ohi (Tokyo) based firm after the experience acquired (regarding formulation of lenses for photographic cameras, polishing and grinding of optical elements, mechanical assemblies, etc) in contact with the seven proficient optical designers and mechanic engineers from Zeiss who had been hired by Nippon Kogaku in 1921 and remained in Japan throughout five years, and specially through the teachings imparted by the engineer and optical designer Heinrich Acht (who would prolong his stay in Japan until 1928), it all being complemented by a European learning tour made by Sunayama in the second half of 1928 and early 1929, during which he visited the Leitz factory in Wetzlar, some Zeiss facilities, the Taylor-Hobson factory in Leicester (England) and some further optical factories in Holland and France, watching on the spot the different techniques of lenses manufacturing used, systems of series production, quality controls and so forth.

C) The creation of the Laboratory for Optical Precision Instruments by Saburo Uchida, Takeo Maeda and Goro Yoshida in November 1933 had resulted in the first Japanese rangefinder 35 mm camera, the Kwanon prototype from 1934, and the Hansa Canon Standard Model from 1935, inspired by the Leica II (Model D) from 1932.

The Hansa Canon Standard Model from 1935 featured an optical viewfinder system integrated with a coincidence rangefinder, a mount for interchangeable lenses (made by the mechanic engineer Eiichi Yamakana) and a Nikkor 50 mm f/3.5 standard lens (created by Kakuya Sunayama) that had been designed and manufactured by Nippon Kogaku, which had been asked for help by the firm Seiki Kogaju - future Canon - , something that had outstandingly enhanced the image of Ohi (Tokyo) concern since mid thirties, in such a way that after Nippon Kogaku made its first 24 x 32 mm camera Nikon I in 1948 and the Nikons M and M Sync in 1950, the arrival of the Nikon S (whose bayonet mount is very similar to the Hansa Canon) meant the complete consolidation of the firm´s cameras and lenses division.

D) The huge rangefinders in synergy with the main and secondary artillery of the superbattleship Yamato, whose building was ordered by the Japanese Imperial Navy to Nippon Kogaku in early 1937.

The largest of them, whose size was 15 m, was located in the top area of the high structure in pagoda of the bridge

and was by far the world optical state-of-the-art in this kind of exceedingly accurate devices, being able to make that this ship, the most powerful of its class ever made, could zero in on enemy warships at a distance of 40 km with its main naval artillery made up by three turrets with 18 inch (46 cm) guns, two of them being fore and one astern, each one holding on its turn a further 15 meter rangefinder (whose ends protrude on both sides of the turres) which enabled to keep on independent accurate shots solutions with amazing precision if the main 15 m rangefinder placed on top of the high structure in pagoda of the bridge was damaged.

The system of optical elements and groups of this massive rangefinder (whose specifications were kept in the utmost secrecy until the sinking of Yamato battleship by the United States naval air force on April 7, 1945 during its approach to Okinawa island and also hitherto) was at the forefront of innovation in its time, sporting a great technical complexity and attained an outstanding accuracy - which made up for the inferiority of the Japanese Navy flagship with respect to the electronic radar guided MK 38 GFCS system of main artillery fire control on board of the American class Iowa battleships - , complemented by a further rangefinder measuring 10 meters, located just behind the large battleship chimney, likewise boasting an extraordinary optical level and which directed the fire of each one of the two secondary artillery turrets having three 155 mm guns, each of them holding a 7,5 meter rangefinder.

After the end of the II World War in September 1945, and though all the existing drawings (including the ones depicting its optical system of fire direction featuring the two aforementioned 15 meter and 10 meter rangefinders, along with the other three of 15 meters and two further ones of 7,5 meters) were destroyed, the whole impressive know-how and optical experience gained during the development of those fabulous rangefinders together with the breakthrough advances in opto-mechanical precision engineering introduced in their prisms were inside the head of some Nippon Kogaku experts who had collaborated in their development and used a few years later some of the technical resources set up in them for the first time - hugely reducing both optical and mechanic components to a miniaturized scale- for the birth of the Nippon Kogaku cameras rangefinders from 1948, with a number of budgetary constraints (it was impossible to create cameras sporting such a wide rangefinder effective base length like the Contax II and a 1x viewfinder magnification that would have shot up the series production costs) that compelled in the beginning to design rangefinders getting good accuracy but being simple and not very expensive to build - with a moderate effective base and 0.60 x VF magnification- for the Nikon I (1948), Nikon M and M Sync (1950) and Nikon S (1951), but after the beginning of the great international sales from 1953 and the obtaining of a significant cashflow, in 1954 Nippon Kogaku launched into market the Nikon S2, a far better camera than the Nikon S and boasting a rangefinder with larger effective base length and a 1x VF magnification.

Three years later, in 1957, an even greater percentage of the wealth of knowledge acquired during the development of the rangefinders of Yamato battleship was miniaturized and transferred to the excellent rangefinder boasting a wide effective base length and a viewfinder of great quality and complexity featuring a 1x magnification and incorporating 28 optical elements, located in the right area of the eyepiece, with bright-line frames for 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm (which are selected by the photographer turning the big dial with black background and figures 5, 8.5, 10.5 and 13.5 placed on the upper left area of the camera around the rewind crank) featuring automatic parallax correction, and a second separated viewfinder, of Albada type, sporting a smaller magnification - 0.4x - and being in the left area of the eyepiece, whose window indicates the 28 mm frame, as well as having a built-in bright-line frame encompassing the image area covered by a 35 mm lens - without automatic parallax correction - , with which the Nikon SP enables the very accurate use of nothing less than six focal lengths: 28, 35, 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm.

E) The visionary nature of Joe Ehrenreich, President of Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries (EPOI), who in 1953 reached an agreement with Nippon Kogaku Tokyo and began importing the Nikon S and highly luminous Nikkor lenses to United States, making an indefatigable labour together with his team made up by Herbert Sax ( a highly experienced man in the scope of photographic equipments quality controls) and Joseph K. Abbot (a very knowledgeable professional in finance and marketing), making the brand known and getting big sales figures, in such a way that that between 1951 and 1955 a total of 37,000 Nikon S cameras were sold worldwide (a very important figure for the time), United States being the country in which most of them were sold.

Ehrenreich realized from scratch that the quality/price ratio of the cameras and lenses made by Nippon Kogaku was virtually unbeatable at those moments (from 1954 onwards the formidable Leica M3 would become the opto-mechanical qualitative benchmark, but at a much higher price than the Japanese rangefinder cameras) and grasped the immense future possibilities of those Japanese products, particularly among the professional photographers, to such an extent that he strengthened the concept of after sales support and counseling to customers by the firm, set up Nippon Kogaku centers in the most significant arenas of different sports in which EPOI lent Nikkor telephoto lenses, and even travelled to Japan twice a year to report the Nippon Kogaku top directors on the improvements suggested by professional photojournalists with whom he was in steady contact.

F) Robert Capa was wearing hanging on his chest a Nikon S camera with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 with which he made around 14:55 h of May 24, 1954

his last colour picture with Kodachrome K-11 ISO 12 film when he was advancing around 3 kilometers from Than Né, province of Thai Binh (Vietnam), with a French column in retreat, a few seconds before dying when stepping on a mine, and in which can be seen seventeen soldiers of the French column (one of them, located on the left of the image, is wearing a campaign radio, while the one placed on the right and nearest to the camera has got a mine detector), and in the background, slightly on the right of the image, a tank can be glimpsed.

Capa had been invited to Japan by Mainichi editorial in April 1954 to get pictures for illustrating a new magazine that they were going to launch, and Nippon Kogaku took advantage of that chance to deliver him five Nikon S cameras and fifteen lenses, along with abundant rolls of 35 mm colour film, to test all of the material, which he made, getting above all pictures of children, until Charles Raymond Macklan, picture editor of Life, asked him to go to cover the Indochina War between France and the Vietminh during four weeks, replacing Howard Sochurek.

At the moment of the explosion, Capa had two cameras, a Contax IIa with Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2 with which he made the last picture of his life, in black and white one, just before dying, and the mentioned Nikon S with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 lens that was sent flying through the air up to a distance of some meters.

The Complete Nikon Rangefinder System, a reference work written by Robert Rotoloni, a great authority in the Nikon rangefinder system and President of the Nikon Historical Society. This extraordinary book, edited in 2007, is the fruit of more than 30 years of research and was launched into market 25 years after the first 1982 edition. It features nothing more than 548 pages, including 1,350 black and white illustrations and 24 pages with colour images made by the photographer Tony Hurst. It´s undoubtedly an indispensable book for any enthusiast of photography who wishes to delve into the knowledge of the fascinating history of Nippon Kogaku along with its cameras, lenses and accessories.

The amazing Nikon RF System of Cameras, Lenses and Accessories has been kept alive for a lot of decades specially thanks to the praiseworthy labour of the NHS and its world class experts like Robert J. Rotoloni, Uli Koch, Hans Braakhuis, Stephen Gandy, Hans Ploegmakers, Yutaka Ohtsu, Bill Kraus, Yuki Kawai, Wes Loder, Dr. Milos Mladek, Tom Abrahamsson, Akihiko Suzuki, Bob Rogen, Thierry Ravassod, Jim Emmerson and others, along with the also laudable work of the Nikon Kenkyukai Tokyo and its knowledgeable Nikon authorities like Dr. Ryosuke Mori, Dr. Manabu Nakai, Shoichiro Yoshida, Mikio Itoh, Hirosi Kosai, Dr. Zyun Koana, Akito Tamla, Michio Akiyama and others.

© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Mariano Pozo Ruiz, who kindly lent his Nikon S camera for the making of the pictures illustrating this article. 

jueves, 31 de julio de 2014


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Nikon S with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 featuring a nice blue tonality single coating. This was the camera with which the Tokyo based great Japanese photographic firm started in 1951 its meteoric international progression with remarkable selling figures.

After the appearance of the 24 x 32 mm format Nikon I in 1948 and the 24 x 34 mm Nikon M and M Synchro in 1949 and 1950, Nippon Kogaku (a concern founded in 1919 through the merging of the three most important optical manufacturers in Japan) launched into market a new camera in 1951: the Nikon S, with which it was able to compete for the first time with both the 24 x 36 mm rangefinder screwmount Leica cameras and the Contax II and IIa, through the following basic parameters:

- To attain with very limited financial resources (only six years had elapsed since the end of the II World War in 1945 in which most Japanese industrial facilities and factories had been razed, so the country was still in a reconstruction stage) the maximum feasible building level, superior to Nikon I, Nikon M and Nikon M Sync, even under the harshest climatic conditions.

- Horizontal travelling focal-plane shutter manufactured in cloth, inspired by the ones sported by the LTM39 screwmount Leicas and also generating an exceedingly low sound intensity, almost imperceptible, on pressing its release button. Though evidently the external appearance of the Nikon S greatly resembles the Contax II, its inner mechanical components are in a very high percentage fruit of the ingenuity and perseverance of the Nippon Kogaku Japanese engineers, who chose to include a horizontal travelling focal-plane shutter following the track of the classic screwmount Leicas, whose working reliability and duration over time were far superior to the much more complex metallic focal-plane vertical travelling shutter of the Contax II.

- Preservation of the 24 x 34 mm format (also sported by the Nikon M and M Synchro and 2 mm larger than the Nikon I).

- Utmost possible reduction of production cost without lowering quality, through the involvement of a not very big number of highly qualified specialists featuring a lot of years of experience and able to accomplish different tasks in the optical and mechanical domains alike.

- Flash sync contacts with the shape of four sockets (two for fast speeds between 1/30 seg and 1/500 seg and other two ones for slow speeds between 1 sec and 1/8 sec) located on the upper left border of the camera.

- Highly luminous Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 as a standard lens instead of the Nikkor 50 mm f/3.5 and Nikkor H.C 5 cm f/2 which had been sported by Nikon I, Nikon M and Nikon M Red Sync.

- As competitive as possible quality/price ratio.

- A viewfinder featuring 0.6x magnification (the same as the Konica Hexar RF launched into market forty-eight years later, in 1999) and combined with the rangefinder - simple but getting good accuracy - in an only window, in the same way as in the Zeiss Ikon Contax II and IIa. Obviously, both the viewfinder magnification and the RF effective base length were far from the ones in the Zeiss Ikon Contax II and IIa by which the Nikon S is strongly inspired, but no other thing could be done in that regard to implement cost savings. Besides, the aim was to create a camera optimized for use with 35 and 50 mm lenses, although it could also be used through special auxiliary finders with the excellent Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/2, Nikkor S.C 8,5 cm f/1.5 and Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/3.5, which were together with the Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 the lenses that really catapulted Nikon to international fame after being used by the photographers Jun Miki (in LTM39 thread mount on Leica IIIf), David Douglas Duncan (in LTM39 thread mount on Leica IIIc) and Horace Bristol (with Contax bayonet on his Zeiss Ikon Contax II) during the Korean War from 1950 on.

The beauty of lines of the Nikon S is certainly remarkable, showing an appearance evoking the Contax II (1936) and Contax IIa (1950) created by Hubert Nerwin, Zeiss Ikon Chief of Design of Photographic Cameras between thirties and fifties.

Nevertheless, it features many more differences regarding them than could seem, since its begetter Masahiko Fuketa, Nippon Kogaku Chief Designer, opted for creating a rangefinder camera devised for joining traits of the Contax II (octogonal profile enabling a very good grab by the photographer, angled corners, detachable back, toothed focusing wheel on the right front area for use with wideangle and standard lenses, shutter speeds dials located on the upper area and bayonet mount) and screwmount Leicas (horizontal travelling focal-plane shutter also made in rubberized cloth, specifically Habutae silk, in the Nikon S) on both sides, adding a lot of internal components, driving gears systems and springs of his own.

On the other hand, after thoroughly studying the flange distances of the lenses backs with respect to the film plane of the Contax II and the LTM39 screwmount Leicas (34,85 mm and 28,80 mm respectively) the first one was chosen.

And regarding the focusing helicoid, its pitch is identical to the one sported by the Contax II and IIa.

The top panel of the Nikon S mirrorless rangefinder camera stands out in its minimalism and unutterable elegance, with a really laudable level of mechanizing of the metallic surfaces and of the grooved dials and control knobs, since it is a practically a 100% handmade product subjected to a number of highly exhaustive quality controls unit by unit.

On left half of that upper panel you can see the very sturdy metallic ring for the transport strap lug, the letters F and S indicating the position of the four small sockets for the insertion of flash cable plugs for its synchronization (F is placed above both sockets for the fast synch between 1/20 sec and 1/500 sec, while S is located just above the two sockets for slow synch speeds between 1 sec and 1/8 sec), the rewind knob, the hot shoe to attach different auxiliary finders and the mythical Nippon Kogaku Tokyo logo handcraftedly chiselled with outstanding precision.

Detail of the rewinding knob and the letters F and S respectively adjacent to the contacts for flash synchronization at fast and slow speeds, separated by the robust ring for the strap lug. On its turn, on the lower right area of the image can be seen the 0.60x viewfinder integrated with the coincidence rangefinder.

Just above the letter R can be seen the toothed focusing wheel inherited from the Contax II and IIa.

At the same time, in the right half are the fluted dial of fast shutter speeds between 1/30 sec and 1/500 sec (under which is the smooth and wider dial of slow speeds between 1/20 sec and 1 sec + B), the shutter release button with thread for attaching cable release, the reversing lever located just in front of the shutter release button (and sporting two usage modes: with the arrow in ´ A ´ position the 24 x 36 mm film advances and with the arrow in ´ R ´ position the film is reversed), the counting dial automatically recording the number of exposures made, and concentric to it is the grooved big winding knob simultaneously winding shutter and advancing film.

To choose the high shutter speed (between 1/30 sec and 1/500 sec) we wish, we must firstly cock the shutter turning on the right the big winding knob. While doing this, we´ll see that the upper fluted dial of high speeds (placed on the left of the shutter release button) spins anticlockwise, in the same way as the classical LTM39 screwmount Leicas.

Following it, you must slightly lift the upper grooved dial - same method as with screwmount Leicas – of fast speeds (located on the left of the shutter release button) and turn it until making the selected value coincide with the tip of the black arrow placed on the left.

To select a specific slow speed (between 1/20 sec and 1 sec + B), the first thing to do is putting the fast speeds top dial in the position of 20-I red mark, after which the tiny lever integrated in the larger dial ( located under the fast speeds one ) must be turned grabbing it with left hand finger and thumb until it coincides with the quoted arrow.

It´s noteworthy that on pressing the shutter release button (whether we are using a fast or slow speed), the top dial of fast speeds turns right, exactly as in the classic screwmount Leicas, because the Nikon S (as happens in the rest of 24 x 36 mm format Nippon Kogaku rangefinder cameras) features a horizontal travelling focal-plane shutter manufactured with cloth and strongly inspired by the mythical utterly mechanic shutter sporting rubberized cloth curtains and designed by Dr. Ludwig Leitz during thirties, an authentic prodigy of gear trains, springs and integral miniaturization of components (which had been painstakingly studied by Nippon Kogaku Japanese engineers since mid thirties), in such a way that the working reliability and the ability to endure a hard professional use through many decades are optimized.

Notwithstanding, unlike the screwmount Leicas (from the Leica III of 1933 until the Leica IIIg made between 1956 and 1960) which have the dial for slow shutter speeds in the upper right area of the camera body front, just under the letter R of the small rewind lever, in the Nikon S 

Masahiko Fuketa decided to locate the dial of slow shutter speeds (1/20 sec, 1/8 sec, ¼ sec, ½ sec, 1 sec and T for long exposures) under the dial for fast speeds, to achieve a greater using convenience and access ease for photographers.

Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 featuring 7 elements in 3 groups, 12 diaphragm blades and a minimum focusing distance of 90 cm.

Manufactured between 1950 and 1962 and weighing 152 g (chromed version) or 143 g (black colour version), it was the first lens for 24 x 36 mm format in the world boasting a maximum luminosity of f/1.4 and features Nikon S bayonet, albeit it was also manufactured in screwmount Leica, Contax bayonet and Exakta mount.

It´s much smaller than the 50 mm f/1.4 lenses that would appear during sixties with the 35 mm reflex cameras, because on being a rangefinder camera, the non retrofocus optical design of the lenses for the Nikon S was much purer and could be built with fewer elements and groups, no mirror has to be avoided, the back of the lens is much nearer the film plane and generally they offer a superior optical performance.

Back of the rangefinder Nikon S camera, on whose upper left area appears the 0.6x viewfinder eyepiece integrated with the coincidence RF. More on the left can be seen the two sockets “ S “ for slow speeds flash synchronizations between 1 sec-1/8 sec through the insertion of the two flash gun plugs. Just in front, out of image and adjacent to the metallic ring for the transport strap lug, there are two further " F " sockets for the flash synchronization at fast speeds between 1/20 sec and 1/500 sec, likewise using two specific flash gun plugs.

Windows of the rangefinder (on the left of the image) and viewfinder (on the right of the image) of the Nikon S.

The 0.60x VF magnification and an effective rangefinder base length not very big but enough thanks to the wide separation between both windows (inherited from the Contax II and IIa) would be improved in the Nikon rangefinders manufactured from the 1954 Nikon S2 with its brilliant viewfinder featuring 1.0x magnification, until reaching the formidable Nikon SP from 1957 with its 1.0x VF magnification and an effective rangefinder base length of 58 mm.

Lower cover of the Nikon S seen with the camera upside down. The tripod thread is located in the center, while at both ends are the semicircular metal strips through which the photographer can remove the back cover by turning them until the engraved arrows point to “ 0 “.

Then, the photographer must hold the camera with that back oriented towards him, introducing the 35 mm film spool on the left chamber and stretching part of emulsion until it fits in the take-up reel on the right.

Once the film has been loaded, the metallic back of the camera has to be replaced and secured by turning the semicircular metal strips until the arrows point to “ S “.

And to verify that the film is being wound properly, the big winding knob (located on the upper right area of the camera, by its border, and simultaneously making the film advance and cocking the shutter) must be slightly turned right and check at the same time that the rewind knob (placed on the upper left area of the camera, just beside the letters S and F) moves in the opposite direction to the one indicated by the black colour arrow engraved on its surface, id est, anticlockwise).

The original ever ready leather case includes a plastic depth of field scale indicating the focused area corresponding to each of the f stops of the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 between widest aperture and f/16, 

along with a further also plastic scale with number guides for flash exposures.

In the top right area you can read A.S.A 40-64, which indicates that in 1951 black and white photographic emulsions like Agfa Isopan and Kodak Plus-X Panchromatic had still a very low sensitivity which ranged between those values (with the only exception of the Kodak Super-XX monochrome film featuring a sensitivity of ISO 100 and often pushed to ASA 200), while the 24 x 36 mm colour films like Kodachrome, Agfa Colour Negative Film Type T and Agfa Colour Negative Film Type K had a sensitivity between 10 and 12 ASA.

Therefore, to possess the most luminous lenses available to be able to shoot handheld without trepidation became a necessity for the photojournalists of that time who worked with 35 mm rangefinder cameras.

Metallic cap of the Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 with the mythical logo Nippon Kogaku.

Nikon S with Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/3.5 featuring 4 elements in 3 groups, introduced in 1950 and a very good lens for its time (though at full aperture its performance was a bit soft compared to f/5.6, f/8 and f/11, diaphragms in which its image quality improved significantly), delivering moderate saturation of colours but with a very nice and characteristic vintage image and based on the Carl Zeiss Jena 13,5 cm f/4 slightly increasing its widest aperture.

Because of the 0.60x magnification of the VF of the Nikon S which gets better synergy with wideangle and standard objectives, this lens required the use of an auxiliary specific finder or the highly versatile Nikon RF Varifocal Type I auxiliary finder.

It is considered one of the most beautiful lenses for 35 mm format cameras ever made and was extensively used by David Douglas Duncan during the Korean War, getting with it to name only an example the portrait of the Chinese soldier opening his famous reportage ´ Retreat, Hell ´.

                                 © Life Magazine Time Inc.

David Douglas Duncan, Life photographer, appears in this image made in 1950, in the beginning of the Korean War, with his Leica IIIc coupled to a Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/3.5 manufactured by Nippon Kogaku in LTM39 thread mount.

 Nikon S with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 inside its ever ready leather case

© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Mariano Pozo Ruiz, who kindly lent his Nikon S camera for the making of the pictures illustrating this article.

Nikon S: The Beginning of Success ( I I )

sábado, 12 de julio de 2014


Texto y Fotos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

La Nikon S de 1951 supuso el punto de inflexión en la historia de Nippon Kogaku (rebautizada como Nikon Corporation en 1988) en particular y de la industria fotográfica japonesa en general, pese a ser claramente superada por los modelos siguientes de cámaras telemétricas de la empresa fabricados durante la década de los cincuenta: 

- Nikon S2 de 1954 que incorporaba un visor de mayor tamaño con magnificación 1.0x y marco brillante - el visor con manificación 0.60x de la Nikon S carecía de marco de encuadre-, superiores materiales constructivos  - aluminio troquelado en vez de fundido en molde de arena como la Nikon S- , menor peso - la Nikon S está construida como un tanque-, una mayor longitud de base efectiva de telémetro, palanca de avance de película, manivela de rebobinado, velocidad máxima de obturación aumentada a 1/1000 seg y otras mejoras, además de ser la primera Nikon telemétrica totalmente rediseñada para albergar película de 24 x 36 mm, etc.

- La extraordinaria Nikon SP de 1957. Considerada la mejor cámara telemétrica de 35 mm de la historia junto con la Leica M3, dotada de un soberbio ocular del visor con magnificación 1x que posee carácter dual y alberga en su interior un VF situado a la derecha, con magnificación 1x optimizada para el enfoque muy preciso con objetivos de 50, 85, 105 y 135 mm - así como líneas luminosas de encuadre para todos ellos y corrección automática de paralaje a todas las distancias-  y otro VF de magnificación 0.4x y tipo Albada, optimizado para uso con objetivos de 35 mm - con marca luminosa de encuadre- y 28 mm - cuya demarcación de cobertura está formada por los límites de este visor 0.4x auxiliar también integrado en el cuerpo de cámara- , obturador con cortinillas de titanio, marcas de encuadre luminosas y modificables para objetivos entre 28 mm y 135 mm, ventana indicadora de la velocidad de sincronización de flash elegida, contador de fotogramas con sistema de autoreajuste e indicador del tipo de película utilizada.

- Las Nikon S3 de 1958 y Nikon S4 de 1959.

Nikon S, la cámara que marcó el inicio de la expansión internacional de la industria fotográfica japonesa. Aquí aparece con el objetivo Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4.

Y las razones de ello fueron varias: 

A) Tras constatar Horace Bristol (fotógrafo de Life)  la gran calidad de imagen que daba un objetivo Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 que le había mostrado Miki Jun (corresponsal local en Japón de Life ) a principios de Mayo de 1950, el fotógrafo californiano fue a ver a David Douglas Duncan (también fotorreportero de Life) que quedó igualmente muy sorprendido al observar el muy buen poder de resolución y soberbio contraste para la época que conseguía dicho objetivo, por lo que tras probar el mencionado 
Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/2 (así como un Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 que también les fascinó) decidieron ir a la fábrica Nippon Kogaku en Ohi, Tokyo a mediados de Mayo 1950, acompañados por Jun Miki, siendo recibidos por el Dr. Masao Nagaoka, Presidente de Nippon Kogaku. 

Aquello fue toda una revelación para los fotógrafos de Life, que realizaron exhaustivos tests particulares y confirmaron que el Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 era superior en resolución y contraste al Zeiss Sonnar 8,5 cm f/2, mientras que el Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 se aproximaba mucho a la resolución del Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/1.5, superándole en contraste.

Asimismo, verificaron que los objetivos japoneses Nippon Kogaku conseguían una mejor calidad de impresión sobre las revistas ilustradas, gracias a su mayor contraste que los Carl Zeiss y Leitz de alta luminosidad existentes en ese momento, algo muy importante para ambos fotoperiodistas, por lo que rápidamente cambiaron sus objetivos Leica de rosca (David Douglas Duncan) y Carl Zeiss (Horace Bristol) por los japoneses Nippon Kogaku en montura de rosca LTM39 y de bayoneta Contax respectivamente para sus Leica IIIc y Contax II.

El 27 de Junio de 1950, David Douglas Duncan, procedente de Fukuoka (ciudad al sur de Japón) fue el primer fotógrafo que hizo fotografías de la Guerra de Korea equipado con dos Leicas IIIc, una acoplada a un Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 y otra acoplada a un Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/4, ambas fabricadas por Nippon Kogaku con montura de rosca LTM39.

Cuando David Douglas Duncan envió sus negativos originales de película de blanco y negro 100 ASA Eastman Kodak Super-XX revelados con DK-20 en Japón a la oficina principal de
Time Life Inc. en Nueva York y realizaron las pruebas de fotomecánica con las placas de medio tono, se produjo una conmoción, ya que aportaban un contraste y percepción visual de nitidez excelentes y superaban en calidad de impresión en el lujoso papel de la revista Life a todas las fotografías hechas con cámaras de 35 mm y dicha emulsión argéntea que habían manejado con anterioridad.

Esto era muy importante, ya que el Kodak Super-XX era en ese momento la película de blanco y negro fotoperiodística por excelencia, con su muy alta sensibilidad para la época de ASA 100, que permitía poder salvar muchas fotos disparando a pulso con luz ambiente y ópticas muy luminosas, a diferencia del Kodak Panatomic-X, referente en poder de resolución y ausencia de grano, pero cuya muy baja sensibilidad de ASA 32 no era apropiada para su uso en fotoperiodismo ágil y dinámico con cámaras telemétricas de 35 mm. 

La noticia se difundió con rapidez, potenciada además por extensos artículos aparecidos en la revista Modern Photography y el New York Times (que publicó el 10 de Diciembre de 1950 un extenso informe realizado por Hank Walker sobre la Nikon S y el creciente uso de objetivos Nippon Kogaku por fotoperiodistas profesionales durante la Guerra de Korea) así como Life y el número anual de la revista US Camera de 1951, con fotografías de David Douglas Duncan hechas con las mencionadas ópticas japonesas, además de la foto de portada de la revista Life de 10 de Septiembre de 1951 en tamaño 26,8 x 35,6 cm del Primer Ministro japonés Shigeru Yoshida con impresionante poder de resolución y contraste, realizada por Jun Miki con su Nikon IIIf y objetivo Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2.

This is War! A Photo-Narrative of the Korean War, profusamente ilustrado con fotografías hechas por David Douglas Duncan durante la Guerra de Korea con su Leica IIIc y objetivos Nikkor-S.C. 5 cm f/1.5, Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 y Nikkor-P.Q 13,5 cm f/3.5 se convirtió desde prácticamente el momento de su aparición en un libro de referencia en la Historia del Fotoperiodismo y realzó todavía más si cabe durante los años siguientes la alta estima entre los fotógrafos profesionales de los objetivos fabricados por Nippon Kogaku para sus cámaras telemétricas de serie S así como para las Leicas de rosca y Contax II con montura específica LTM39 o de bayoneta respectivamente.

Elló confirió a Nippon Kogaku un enorme prestigio internacional, aderezado por el hecho de que los excelentes para la época objetivos de la empresa fotográfica japonesa tenían un precio notablemente inferior al de los Zeiss y Leitz en las focales y luminosidades equivalentes.

De este modo, muchos fotógrafos que cubrían la Guerra de Korea cambiaran rápidamente sus objetivos Zeiss con bayoneta Contax o Leitz de rosca por los Nikkor de Nippon Kogaku.

Anuncio de la Nikon S y sus objetivos Nikkor de alta luminosidad a página completa en la revista Popular Photography en 1951. El titular The Nikon 35 mm Embodies the Best Features of the Most Expensive Miniatures  sintetizaba el aspecto clave en la génesis de la Nikon S: Nippon Kogaku había creado una cámara telemétrica formato 24 x 36 mm que aunaba las mejores cualidades de las cámaras Contax II y Leicas de rosca, con el beneficio añadido de que sus ópticas Nikkor superaban en rendimiento óptico en el centro y sobre todo en contraste a las focales equivalentes con idénticas aberturas máximas de diafragma de ambas famosas marcas alemanas, y a un precio mucho más bajo. Destaca también el hecho de que todavía en 1951 se denominaba cámaras miniatura a las que utilizaban película de 35 mm, ya que durante la década de los cincuenta aún eran muy abundantes los fotógrafos profesionales que utilizaban cámaras Speed Graphic de gran formato 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) y Rolleiflex de formato medio 6 x 6 cm. 

A ello hay que añadir el enorme ingenio e intuición de los ingenieros mecánicos de Nippon Kogaku, que añadieron al obturador plano focal de recorrido horizontal de la Nikon S (cuyas cortinillas estaban hechas con seda Habutae encauchutada en ambas superficies, a inspiración del que equipaba a las Leicas de rosca, diseñado por Ludwig Leitz y cuyas cortinillas estaban hechas de tela de seda) un diente de cortinilla trasera asentado en un cojinete de bolas cuya suavidad de rotación demostró ser muy eficaz para el perfecto funcionamiento de la cámara incluso a temperaturas de -30º C. 

Se produjo además otro hecho que catapultó todavía más si cabe la fama de Nippon Kogaku: Carl Mydans (extraordinario fotógrafo de Life), usuario de Contax II, fue enviado a la Guerra de Korea para complementar con David Douglas Duncan la cobertura de la retirada estratégica de las tropas norteamericanas al perímetro defensivo de Pusan, y Douglas Duncan insistió a Mydans en que adquiriera objetivos Nikkor para su cámara telemétrica alemana de 35 mm.

En Julio de 1950, Carl Mydans visitó la fábrica Nippon Kogaku en Ohi (Tokyo) y compró un Nikkor-P.C 8,5 cm f/2 y un Nikkor-Q.C 13,5 cm f/3.5, ambos en montura Contax, a los que se modificó la sección de acoplamiento al telémetro, y en 1951 cambiaría su Contax II (cámara de superior nivel cualitativo, mucho mayor base efectiva de telémetro y magnificación de visor 1x en vez de 0.60x) por una Nikon S, ya que esta última era robustísima, con un obturador de mucha mayor fiabilidad, ópticas que daban una mayor calidad de imagen y una asombrosa capacidad de funcionamiento prolongado sin problemas bajo condiciones climáticas extremas.

Dichos factores hicieron que otros grandes fotógrafos enviados por Life a la Guerra de Korea, como Hank Walker (cobertura de la invasión de Incheon), Margaret Bourke-White (cobertura de las operaciones contra unidades guerrilleras tras la línea del frente durante la fase de estancamiento del conflicto) y Michael Rougier (cobertura de la visita de D.W. Eisenhower) se decantaran también por la Nikon S y objetivos Nikkor.

Incluso, Max Desfor, fotógrafo de AP usuario de cámara Speed Graphic de gran formato 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) que también cubrió la Guerra de Korea, compró en Japón una cámara Nikon S y varios objetivos Nikkor, utilizando la cámara Nippon Kogaku como segundo cuerpo, lo cual no deja de ser muy relevante, ya que entre 1950 y 1953 la mayoría de fotógrafos profesionales que cubrieron el conflicto de Korea (sobre todo los de Associated Press como George Sweers, James Martenhoff, Gene Herrick, Jim Pringle, Fred Waters, E.N. Johnson, William Straeter, John Randolph o el propio Max Desfor) usaron cámaras de gran formato Speed Graphic 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) con objetivo Kodak Ektar 127 mm f/4.7 o Raptar Wollensak 135 mm f/4.7 y película de blanco y negro Kodak Super-XX ASA 100 o Kodak Plus-X ASA 50 de superficie 13 veces mayor que la de esas dos mismas emulsiones en formato 24 x 36 mm que fueron utilizadas durante la Guerra de Korea por los fotógrafos que llevaron cámaras de 35 mm (Leicas IIIc y IIIf, Contax II y Nikon S 24 x 34 mm) con objetivos Nikkor fabricados por Nippon Kogaku.

B) Los diseñadores ópticos de Nippon Kogaku habían estudiado concienzudamente tanto los objetivos ultraluminosos Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 y Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 8,5 cm f/2 sin revestimiento antirreflejo para formato 35 mm previos a la II Guerra Mundial creados por el genio Ludwig Bertele en 1932 y 1933 como los objetivos de posguerra de idéntica fórmula óptica pero dotados con revestimiento antirreflejo T Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5, Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85 mm f/2 (fabricados ambos en Alemania Oriental) y los Zeiss Opton Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5 y Zeiss Opton Sonnar 85 mm f/2 (fabricados en Alemania Federal, en la ciudad de Oberkochen) y decidieron optimizar al máximo posible el contraste de sus nuevas ópticas para formato 24 x 34 mm y 24 x 36 mm, aplicando criterios pragmáticos de reducción de costes al máximo posible, potenciación de la facilidad de producción y reducción al máximo posible de los elementos ópticos no sólo sin disminuir la calidad sino incluso aumentándola, que se anticiparon aproximadamente dieciocho años a decisiones conceptuales realistas de diseño óptico conforme a circunstancias de mercado que hubo de implementar Walter Mandler en 1969 en la fábrica Leitz de Midland, Ontario (Canadá) con el Summicron-R 50 mm f/2 para Leicaflex, cuya fórmula óptica redujo a 6 elementos (en vez de siete), mejorando a la vez el contraste, sobre todo a f/2, y aumentando la calidad de imagen con respecto al diseño precedente. 

Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4, el primer objetivo standard fabricado en el mundo con dicha máxima abertura de diafragma. Fabricado entre finales de 1950 y 1962, se vendieron nada menos que 100.000 unidades, una cifra muy significativa para la época, y sustituyó al Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5 también de 7 elementos en 3 grupos y 12 palas de diafragma, que fue lanzado al mercado en Mayo de 1950 y sería la óptica standard Nikkor utilizada por David Douglas Duncan desde finales de Junio de 1950 durante la Guerra de Korea.
La fabricación por Nippon Kogaku de estos dos objetivos standard de 50 mm así como el Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/ 2 sólo cinco años después del final de la II Guerra Mundial en la que Japón había quedado arrasado y utilizando parámetros de trabajo artesanal manual con muy escasos medios económicos y materiales, constituye una de las mayores proezas en la Historia de la Fotografía. 

Pese a que desde 1918 poseía hornos experimentales de fundición de cristal para la obtención de vidrios ópticos y una máquina Naxos-Union de pulido de elementos ópticos adquirida en Alemania en 1922, e incluso había creado una instalación de investigación de vidrio óptico en una de las zonas de su fábrica principal en Ohi (Shanagawa, al sur de Tokyo) en 1923, a finales de los años cuarenta y durante los cuatro primeros años de la década de los cincuenta, Nippon Kogaku, plenamente consciente de que no tenía los recursos económicos, técnicos, maquinaria moderna, ordenadores ni vidrios ópticos que aunaran muy altos índices refractivos y baja dispersión cromática para poder conseguir con un aceptable coste de producción una alta uniformidad de muy elevado rendimiento en cuanto a poder de resolución y contraste en el centro, bordes y esquinas a todos los diafragmas y distancias de enfoque (lo cual no sería posible hasta 1956 con la aparición  del Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Dual Range de 7 elementos -cuatro de ellos LaK9- en 5 grupos y el Asahi Pentax Auto-Takumar 55 mm f/1.8 de 6 elementos en 5 grupos con montura de rosca M42 en 1958 - aunque éste último con menor contraste que el Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.5, Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 y Nikkor P.C 8,5 cm f/2 -) optó por aplicar un criterio práctico y lograr plena operatividad en sus objetivos Nikkor f/1.5, f/1.4, f/2 y f/3.5 a plena abertura con una calidad de imagen aceptable que se transformaba en soberbia para la época al diafragmar dos puntos.

Anuncio a página completa de la Nikon S en el interior de la revista U.S Camera de 1951, ensalzando las cualidades ópticas y mecánicas del Sistema Telemétrico Nippon Kogaku de Cámaras, Objetivos y Accesorios, lo cual reforzó considerablemente la influencia de la mítica marca japonesa en el mercado fotográfico mundial.

Y se priorizó tanto el contraste como la resolución en el centro, utilizando un monorrevestimiento antirreflejo de muy alta calidad y tonalidad azul que era la cúspide evolutiva de una amplia gama de recubrimientos antireflejo que Nippon Kogaku llevaba fabricando desde mediados de los años veinte en diferentes instrumentos ópticos de gran calidad para la Marina Imperial Japonesa y que habían convertido a la empresa óptica con sede en Ohi (Shinagawa, Tokyo) desde mediados de los años cuarenta en el referente mundial en esta faceta (por delante incluso de los revestimientos simples T de Carl Zeiss basados en los principios fundamentales de Alexandr Smakula que habían sido desarrollados en secreto durante la II Guerra Mundial), si bien únicamente se habían aplicado en dispositivos ópticos de tamaño grande para la Flota Imperial Japonesa, especialmente los fabricados para periscopios de submarinos, enormemente resistentes a las condiciones ambientales más adversas y cuyas fórmulas evolucionadas fueron utilizadas en los elementos ópticos de los objetivos Nikkor a partir de 1948, por lo que  hoy en día los monorrevestimientos antirreflejo de la inmensa mayoría de objetivos fotográficos para formato 24 x 36 mm fabricados a finales de los años cuarenta y década de los cincuenta por Nippon Kogaku se hallan normalmente en muy buen estado, más de sesenta años después de su creación.

Y todo ésto tiene un mérito enorme, ya que entre 1946 y mediados de los años cincuenta, Nippon Kogaku tuvo que trabajar con muy escasos medios económicos y poco menos que permanente carencia de materiales, lo cual compensaron a base de gran experiencia óptica, 

Un objetivo Nikkor es examinado por un experto operario japonés en el interior de la fábrica Nippon Kogaku en Ohi (Tokyo) el 5 de Enero de 1952. © Photo AP Bob Schutz 

impresionante capacidad de trabajo manual en gran medida artesanal unidad por unidad y aprendizaje, inventiva a raudales, aprovechamiento integral de los pocos recursos disponibles y máxima utilización del gran conocimiento óptico adquirido durante aproximadamente veinticinco años fabricando todo tipo de instrumentos ópticos y componentes óptico-mecánicos de muy alta calidad para la Marina Imperial Japonesa.

Los japoneses, grandes admiradores de la industria fotográfica alemana (sobre todo de Carl Zeiss y Leica, sus dos empresas más destacadas), habían iniciado en gran medida su andadura en el sector fotográfico a partir de 1929 cuando Kakuya Sunayama se convirtió en el diseñador óptico clave de la firma con sede en Ohi (Tokyo) tras la experiencia adquirida (con respecto a formulación de objetivos para cámaras fotográficas, tallado y pulido de elementos ópticos, ensamblajes mecánicos, etc) en contacto con siete expertos diseñadores ópticos e ingenieros mecánicos de Zeiss que habían sido contratados por Nippon Kogaku en 1921 y permanecieron en Japón durante cinco años, sobre todo el ingeniero y diseñador óptico Heinrich Acht (que prolongaría su estancia en Japón hasta 1928), todo ello complementado por un periplo europeo de aprendizaje realizado por Sunayama en la segunda mitad de 1928 y principios de 1929, durante el que visitó la fábrica Leitz de Wetzlar, varias instalaciones de Zeiss, las instalaciones Taylor-Hobson en Leicester (Inglaterra) y algunas fábricas ópticas de Holanda y Francia, contemplando in situ diferentes técnicas de fabricación de objetivos, materiales utilizados, sistemas de producción en serie, controles de calidad, etc. 

C) La creación del Laboratorio para Instrumentos Ópticos de Precisión por Saburo Uchida, Takeo Maeda y Goro Yoshida en Noviembre de 1933 había tenido como resultado tanto la primera cámara telemétrica japonesa de 35 mm, el prototipo Kwanon de 1934, como la Hansa Canon Standard Model de 1935, inspiradas en la Leica II (Model D) de 1932.

La Hansa Canon Standard Model de 1935 llevaba un sistema óptico de visor integrado con un telémetro de coincidencia, una montura para ópticas intercambiables (obra del ingeniero mecánico Eiichi Yamakana) y un objetivo standard Nikkor 50 mm f/3.5 (obra de Kakuya Sunayama) que habían sido diseñados y fabricados por Nippon Kogaku, a quien la empresa Seiki Kogaku - futura Canon- había pedido ayuda, lo cual había potenciado notablemente la imagen de la empresa de Ohi (Tokyo) desde mediados de los años treinta, de tal manera que tras fabricar Nippon Kogaku su primera cámara para formato 24 x 32 mm Nikon I en 1948 y las Nikons M y M Sync en 1950, la llegada de la Nikon S (cuya montura de bayoneta es muy similar a la de la Hansa Canon) supuso la plena consolidación de la división de cámaras y objetivos de la firma.

D) Los telémetros en sinergia con la artillería principal y secundaria del superacorazado Yamato, cuya construcción fue encargada por la Marina de Guerra Japonesa a Nippon Kogaku a principios de 1937.

El más grande de ellos, cuyo tamaño era de 15 m, estaba ubicado en la zona superior del puente de mando en forma de superestructura de pagoda

y fue con diferencia el estado del arte en óptica a nivel mundial en este tipo de instrumentos de alta precisión, siendo capaz de conseguir que este navío, el más potente de su tipo jamás construido, pudiera hacer blanco y hundir barcos de guerra enemigos a 40 kilómetros de distancia con su artillería naval principal formada por tres torres con cañones de 18 pulgadas (46 cm), dos a proa y una a popa, cada una de las cuales albergaba a su vez un telémetro de 15 metros (cuyos extremos sobresalen a ambos lados de cada una de dichas torres) que permitía seguir teniendo soluciones de tiro independientes con la máxima precisión si durante el combate resultaba dañado el telémetro de 15 metros ubicado en lo alto de la estructura de pagoda del puente de mando.

El sistema de elementos y grupos ópticos de este enorme telémetro (cuyas especificaciones fueron mantenidas en el más absoluto secreto hasta el hundimiento del Yamato por la fuerza aeronaval norteamericana el 7 de Abril de 1945 durante su aproximación a Okinawa y también hasta hoy en día) era avanzadísimo para la época, de gran complejidad técnica y obtenía una altísima precisión - que compensaba la inferioridad del sistema de radar del buque insignia de la Armada Japonesa con respecto al sistema electrónico de control de tiro de artillería principal MK 38 GFCS guiado por radar que llevaban los acorazados norteamericanos de tipo Iowa- , complementado por otro telémetro de 10 metros, ubicado justo tras la gran chimenea del superacorazado, también de extraordinario nivel óptico y que dirigía el tiro de cada una de las dos torres de artillería secundaria dotadas con tres cañones de 155 mm, cada una de las cuales albergaba a su vez un telémetro de 7,5 metros. 

Tras el final de la II Guerra Mundial en Septiembre de 1945, y pese a que todos los planos existentes del superacorazado Yamato (incluídos los de su sistema óptico de dirección de tiro dotado con los dos mencionados fabulosos telémetros de 15 y 10 metros, así como los otros tres de 15 metros y dos de 7,5 metros) fueron destruidos, todo el impresionante know-how y experiencia óptica adquiridos durante el desarrollo de los mismos así como los revolucionarios avances en ingeniería de precisión óptico-mecánica introducidos en sus prismas estaban en la cabeza de varios expertos de Nippon Kogaku que habían colaborado en su desarrollo y que utilizaron pocos años después algunos de los recursos técnicos estrenados en ellos - reduciéndolos a escala miniaturizada- para la génesis de los telémetros de las cámaras telemétricas Nippon Kogaku a partir de 1948, con muchas limitaciones presupuestarias (era imposible crear cámaras con base efectiva de telémetro tan sumamente ancha como la Contax II y una magnificación de visor de 1x que habrían disparado el coste de producción en serie) que obligaron en un principio a diseñar telémetros de buena precisión pero sencillos y no muy caros de construir - con una base efectiva moderada y magnificación de visor 0.60 x- para las Nikon I (1948), Nikon M y M Sync (1950) y Nikon S (1951), pero tras el comienzo del gran aumento internacional de ventas a partir de 1953 y la obtención de un importante cash flow, se creó en 1954 la Nikon S2 muy superior a la Nikon S y dotada de un telémetro de mayor longitud de base efectiva y una magnificación de visor de 1x.

Tres años después, en 1957, un porcentaje aún mayor del caudal de conocimientos adquiridos durante el desarrollo de los telémetros del Yamato fue miniaturizado y transferido al extraordinario sistema de visionado de la Nikon SP, dotada de un excelente telémetro de amplia longitud de base efectiva de 58 mm y un visor de gran calidad y complejidad con magnificación 1x y que incorpora 28 elementos ópticos, ubicado en la zona derecha del ocular, con marcas luminosas de encuadre para objetivos de 50, 85, 105 y 135 mm (que son seleccionados por el fotógrafo girando el dial grande con fondo negro y cifras 5, 8.5, 10.5 y 13.5 ubicado en la zona superior izquierda de la cámara alrededor de la rueda de la manivela de rebobinado) dotadas con corrección automática de paralaje, y un segundo visor separado, de tipo Albada, de menor magnificación  - 0.4x - y que se encuentra en la zona izquierda del ocular, cuya pequeña ventana indica tal cual el encuadre de 28 mm, además de incorporar una marca luminosa que delimita el área de imagen cubierta por un objetivo de 35 mm - sin corrección automática de paralaje -, con lo que la Nikon SP permite la utilización muy precisa, sin necesidad de visores externos independientes, de nada menos que seis focales: 28, 35, 50, 85, 105 y 135 mm.  

E) El carácter visionario de Joe Ehrenreich, Presidente de Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries (EPOI), que en 1953 llegó a un acuerdo con Nippon Kogaku Tokyo y comenzó a importar la Nikon S y objetivos Nikkor de alta luminosidad a Estados Unidos, realizando una labor infatigable junto con su equipo formado por Herbert Sax (hombre de gran experiencia en control de calidad de equipos fotográficos) y Joseph K. Abbot (gran experto en finanzas y marketing), dando a conocer la marca y consiguiendo grandes cifras de ventas, de tal manera que entre 1951 y 1955 se vendieron a nivel mundial un total de 37.000 cámaras Nikon S (una cifra muy importante para la época), siendo Estados Unidos el país en el que se adquirieron más unidades.

Ehrenreich se dio cuenta desde el principio de que la relación calidad/precio de las cámaras y objetivos fabricados por Nippon Kogaku era en esos momentos virtualmente imbatible (a partir de 1954 la formidable Leica M3 asociada al nuevo Summicron-M 5 cm f/2 se convertiría en el referente cualitativo óptico-mecánico, pero a un precio muy superior al de las Nikons telemétricas) y percibió las inmensas posibilidades de futuro de tales productos japoneses, sobre todo entre los fotógrafos profesionales, hasta el punto de que potenció enormemente el concepto de apoyo y asesoramiento post-venta a los compradores por parte de la empresa, estableció centros en los estadios importantes de distintos deportes en los que EPOI prestaba teleobjetivos Nikkor, e incluso viajaba a Japón dos veces al año para informar a los directivos de Nippon Kogaku sobre las mejoras sugeridas por los fotorreporteros profesionales con los que estaba permanentemente en contacto.  

F) Robert Capa llevaba colgada sobre su pecho una cámara Nikon S con objetivo Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 con la que hizo aproximadamente a las 14:55 h del 24 de Mayo de 1954 

su última fotografía en color con película Kodachrome K-11 ISO 12 cuando se hallaba avanzando a unos 3 kilómetros de Tahn Né, provincia de Thai Binh (Vietnam) con una columna francesa en retirada, pocos segundos antes de morir al pisar una mina, y en la que se aprecia a diecisiete soldados de la columna francesa (uno de ellos, ubicado a la izquierda de la imagen, lleva una radio de campaña, mientras que el ubicado a la derecha más próximo a la cámara tiene un detector de minas), y al fondo, ligeramente a la derecha de la imagen, se vislumbra un tanque.

Capa había sido invitado a Japón por la editorial Mainichi en Abril de 1954 para que hiciera fotos con las que ilustrar una nueva revista que iban a lanzar, lo cual aprovechó Nippon Kogaku para entregarle cinco cámaras Nikon S y quince objetivos, así como abundantes rollos de película en color de 35 mm, para que pusiera todo el material a prueba, lo cual hizo, realizando sobre todo fotografías de niños, hasta que Charles Raymond Macklan, editor gráfico de Life, le pidió que fuera a cubrir la Guerra de Indochina entre Francia y el Vietminh durante cuatro semanas en sustitución de Howard Sochurek. 

En el momento de la explosión, Capa llevaba dos cámaras, una Contax IIa con objetivo Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2 con la que hace la última foto de su vida, en blanco y negro, justo antes de morir, y la mencionada Nikon S con objetivo Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 que salió volando a varios metros de distancia.

The Complete Nikon Rangefinder System, obra de referencia escrita por Robert Rotoloni, gran autoridad en el sistema telemétrico Nikon y Presidente de la Nikon Historical Society. Este extraordinario libro, editado en 2007, es el fruto de más de 30 años de trabajo y fue lanzado al mercado 25 años después de la primera edición de 1982. Consta de nada menos que 548 páginas e incluye 1350 ilustraciones en blanco y negro y 24 páginas con imágenes en color realizadas por el fotógrafo Tony Hurst. Es sin duda una obra indispensable para todo aquel entusiasta de la fotografía que desee profundizar en el conocimiento de la fascinante historia de Nippon Kogaku así como de sus cámaras, objetivos y accesorios.

El excelente Sistema de Cámaras Telemétricas, Objetivos y Accesorios Nikon ha seguido vivo durante muchas décadas y continúa plenamente operativo hoy en día gracias sobre todo a la encomiable labor de la NHS y sus expertos de talla mundial Robert J. Rotoloni, Uli Koch, Hans Braakhuis, Stephen Gandy, Hans Ploegmakers, Yutaka Ohtsu, Bill Kraus, Yuki Kawai, Wes Loder, Dr. Milos Mladek, Tom Abrahamsson, Akihiko Suzuki, Bob Rogen, Thierry Ravassod, Jim Emmerson y otros, junto con el igualmente muy meritorio trabajo del Nikon Kenkyukai Tokyo y sus reconocidas autoridades en Nikon como el Dr. Ryosuke Mori, el Dr. Manabu Nakai, Shoichiro Yoshida, Mikio Itoh, Hirosi Kosai, el Dr. Zyun Koana, Akito Tamla, Michio Akiyama y otros. 

© Texto y Fotos José Manuel Serrano Esparza

El autor desea expresar su agradecimiento a Mariano Pozo Ruiz, que prestó amablemente su cámara Nikon S para la realización de las fotografías que ilustran este artículo.