Watch: Take a tour around the Nikon Museum in Japan
Although Nikon’s been struggling for a little while, they are starting to make some ground to catch back up. But how did Nikon start? How has their journey taken them from their humble beginnings to where they are today?
Photographer and YouTuber Taylor Jackson decided to find out. So, he went to Japan to visit the Nikon Museum in person to find out. He also spoke to some of Nikon’s engineers about the various products they helped develop.
How did Nikon begin?
As Tyler describes it, the Japanese camera market’s beginnings rose from the consequences of World War I. While Germany was the clear leader in the field at the time, the war meant that the country’s resources largely remained within the country.
This meant people in Japan couldn’t get cameras and lenses. With access to such equipment gone, the Japanese decided they needed to catch up.
As Japan began to modernize in the early 20th century, the challenge was to catch up with Europe.Nikon
Developing Japanese industry was the pressing need in every field, and it was an especially urgent issue in the optical industry where high technology was crucial.
Nikon was established in 1917 as Nippon Kogaku K.K., and began by making optics and microscopes. By 1932, they’d established the Nikkor brand. A name that lives on today as Nikon’s lens line. They had no interest in making their own cameras at the time.
But that all started to change in 1934 when another Japanese manufacturer popped onto the scene. Canon. They produced a camera very similar to Leica. Nikon and Canon actually coexisted quite peacefully at this point.
In the 1940s, Canon decided they were going to start making their own lenses. So, Nikon decided to start making cameras and the Nikon Model I was released in 1948. People with money still bought German, but as Nikon and Canon started to spread throughout the world, people realised they could get similar quality results for a lot less money.
Over the years, Nikon has released many different cameras and seen a number of transitions. Rangefinders, then mechanical SLRs, then electronic SLRs with advanced features like autofocus, electronic exposure and TTL flash.
Where are they now?
The two most recent transitions are the initial switch to digital and the switch from DSLRs to Mirrorless cameras. The first of these began for Nikon in 1995 with the help of Fujifilm. Then, there are those strange Nikon/Kodak Hybrids. Nikon finally released its own DSLR, the Nikon D1, in 1999.
Nikon’s first attempt at transitioning to mirrorless with the Nikon 1 series proved to be a bit of a disaster. This time around, with the Nikon Z mount, it looks like the company’s finally back on an upward climb again.
You’ll want to watch the video above to fill in some of the rest of the details in Nikon’s story. But you’re not just hearing Taylor’s take on it. We hear directly from Nikon engineers who had a hand in developing some of these cameras.
As someone who’s been shooting with Nikon SLRs and DSLRs for more than two decades (and currently own 15 of them), I found Tyler’s video particularly fascinating. There were several older cameras shown off in the tour that I didn’t even know existed.
It might have also added a couple of older Nikons to my shopping list, too!
It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite. But I think I get the most pleasure out of my old Nikkormat FTn and FT-3 bodies. There’s something freeing and relaxing about a camera that only lets you adjust the aperture and shutter speed and doesn’t require batteries (you just don’t get to use the built-in meter).
What’s your favourite Nikon camera over the years?
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.