Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nikon SP - the ultimate digital retro camera

I realize that Nikon at long last introduced its own retro camera design with the Nikon Df. I have also heard that the real launch of the Df was delayed as a result of the tsunami in Japan, which explain why the Df does not have any ground breaking features.  It has the 16mp sensor form the D4, the limitinig 39 point focus screen from the the D610, and a price tag that is way above what these feature would justify.

In 2005 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its legendary Nikon SP rangefinder camera, Nikon released a limited edition, black replica copy. Today that copy is selling for $4000 and more. This price is way above what a high end, digital, retro version of this camera type would sell for if it were to become available, and started me wondering what it would be like if Nikon had introduced the SP as a retro mirrorless camera instead of the SLR Df.

Let me put this another way: Think X-Pro-1 functionality, then think 24mp APS sensor like the one in a D7100 or D5300, next think about all the X lenses already available to use, and finally think about the chic retro design the Nikon SP already has. Put it all together and you could be looking at the coolest retro design digital camera of all time. I realize I'm just dreaming here, but a camera with these specs would easily out-shine the Df and give the Fuji X-series and Leica M some serious competition.

Even Nikon admits: "...among historical masterpieces such as the Nikon F, and high-class models like the Nikon F4 and F5, it is apparent that the camera most worthy of recognition as the "Best of Nikon" is the Nikon SP."
A Nikon SP rangefinder camera shown here with a 3.5cm f/1.4 lens mounted on it, a 5cm f/1.4 and 10.5cm f/2.5 lens nearby. On the upper left is a clip-on Nikon meter. This system was state of the art in 1957. 
Introduced in 1957 after a line of excellent predecessors, the Nikon SP had some innovative features for its time and quickly became a photojournalist's favorite tool. The Sp had two viewfinders, one with interchangeable frame lines for 50, 85, 105, and 135mm, and another next to it dedicated to 28 and 35mm wide angle. That is six built-in frames, more than any other camera of its time.   

The camera was quite expensive for its time costing over $3000 in today's dollars. A high end digital version today would probably come in at less than that. The price of a Df is considered high at $2700. 

The SP was such a legendary camera that in 2005 Nikon introduced a reissue black SP in a limited edition. A 2005 SP goes for thousands of dollars today, way more than a new digital version would cost.

The SP was designed to compete with and indeed surpass the Leica M3 rangefinder camrea, the first of the "M" series, which had been released in 1954.

Further development of the Nikon rangefinder was doomed with the advent of the SLR boom. To keep pace with competition, the first Nikon F SLR came out in 1959 just two years after the SP's introduction. The basic camera body and functionality was the same, but with an SLR mirror box replacing the viewfinders, and of course a whole new complement of lenses. The SP was discontinued in 1962 as Nikon turned its full attention to producing SLR cameras. 

At the time of its demise a prototype SPX rangefinder was on the drawing boards. It had built-in TTL metering, and a zoom finder for 35-135mm lenses.
Admittedly the idea of a retro digital version of the Nikon SP is just me rambling on, but think about it. How many of us would buy a retro SP rangefinder, X-mount, 24mp,  APS sensor-sized version with combo EVF-Optical viewfinder it Nikon made it available. My name would be first on the list. 

Now all I have to do is convince Nikon to produce it.

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