NIKON S2 "Chrome dial", "Black dial" and prototypes

(c) Frank Mechelhoff                       New March 2023                     Diese Seite auf Deutsch

Nikon S - S2
In December 1953 E. LEITZ presented the new LEICA M3. It was  high time for a successor to the IIIf model actually. The Japanese didn't just copied it, they had improved it, especially CANON: Simple rear door film loading, viewfinder magnification... Since Oskar Barnack's death (in January 1936), the Leica had hardly been further developed.

Now a show of strength was necessary, and that's exactly what happened: new lens bayonet, large viewfinder with a large viewing opening and changeable focal length reflections, quick-release lever (initially in two strokes), one-piece speed dial with slow speeds
- only the "German", non-metric speed layout with 1/250, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, 1/10s, 1/5s, 1/2 s had not yet been refrained from. It became apparent that these were impractical when the attachable (coupled) light meter was invented.

However, the M3 was larger and heavier than the IIIf.
The weight now roughly corresponded to the CANON and was (empty) 590 grams, the IIIf had only weighed 410 grams. Lenses and their caps were also larger, which was quite noticeable for photographers with coat pockets and mountaineers. To be sure not to lose any customers, a IIIg model was added - perhaps the best "screw-on" of all time, with an enlarged viewfinder. And the M3 didn't have a 35mm viewfinder as standard -dis just 50, 90 and 135mm. Academic photographers were still a little disdainful of wide-angle focal lengths back then. Concentrate on what was "important for the picture" and telephoto lenses were preferred
- there were hardly any wide-angle lenses of decent quality and speed... Later (1958) the M2 was added, with 35mm framelines and lower magnification viewfinder (0.72 instead of 0.91)

For the Japanese "copyists", in particular NIKON took the M3 very seriously.
Their new American importer, Joe Ehrenreich, traveled to Japan several times, like his predecessors, and made sure that the wishes of professional photographers were realized in series. NIKON was by far the most expensive Japanese camera, prices were about 3/4 of LEICA. For the M3, Ehrenreich recommended Nikon "Keep it different!" Don't try to copy them, hold your line! That turned out to be wise advice. Direct copies were also impossible, the M bayonet was patented.

Even before Ehrenreich's takeover, the "NIKON" - 
Modell S, the only one offered at that time, essentially the same camera since 6 years - finally was further developed. Like the M3, it has a large viewfinder eyepiece, viewfinder magnification was 1.0x which enabled the photographer to take photos with both eyes open. However, there was only one frameline, 50mm, and it wasn't parallax corrected, as LEICA offered, and also not as bright and clearly visible. Functionally, they were (still) behind LEICA, but had left CONTAX behind. The serial number range of the S2 was from 6135000 to the middle 619xxxx range. So it is amazing that there is a prototype with the number 6136958 (a bit after production start) with a single speed dial and integrated flash synchronization. Heaven knows why this was not put into production. Apparently, an exposure meter coupling was not provided, as there is no groove or locking possibility. But the modern, geometric speed lwayout (which LEICA introduced two years later) was already there. The S2 was also the first NIKON to offer a 24x36mm film size (instead of 24x32), with motor connectivity and available in black (by special order).

Nikon S2 Prototyp

Nikon S2 Prototyp

It wasn't until 1957 that NIKON had the next model ready that could really compete with the Leica M - the NIKON SP. Since this also became more expensive, the S2 was kept available as a subordinate model.
Nikon S2 chrome
                dial - black dial

With the SP, the 50mm lenses were now also supplied in a high-quality black finish (previously the 85/1.5 and the 105/2.5 had been available in black/aluminium enamel). Since the S2 in chrome now looked a bit old-fashioned, although it was only 3 years old, it was given an optical refreshment as the S2 "Black-dial" (unofficial name, not advertised or used by Nikon). Speed dial (still double), frame counter disc, synchronization time disc and bayonet focus ring (marked exclusively in feet) were now black on the camera. Perhaps the most beautiful NIKON Rangefinder Camera?
Nikon S2
              Black Dial

                        S2 Black Dial

Nikon S2 Black Dial

In the mid-1950s, when high-quality cameras were fast-moving, the life cycle of the S2 had come to an end a year later: Archrival CANON had released the V and VI models with 35mm view, and then the CANON P  with a focal framlines for 35, 50 and 100mm at a time with parallax compensation (and still 1/3 cheaper than NIKON).

Nikon S2
                                                          black dial
                                                          with 3.5cm

The S2 with 50mm frame only (an not much larger field of view) required an auxiliary finder if used with a 35mm wideangle lens. Since 1956 NIKON offered a 35mm brightline finder - equal in quality to the Leitz SBLOO, but somewhat smaller - not that easy to locate presently and not sold in large numbers, because just one year later the Nikon SP was the mainly sold camera, which had the 35mm framelines inbuild.

Nikon S2
                                                          black dial
                                                          with 3.5cm

Nikon was forced to follow suit and, with a model change, shared more of the same parts with the SP model. The
S3 (1959) realized automatic flash synchronization and single speed dial (already implemented in the prototype 5 years earlier), as well as a larger viewfinder with also 3 focal length reflections - simultaneously visible, albeit without parallax compensation - and also plastic protection for eyeglass wearers,  self-timer and resetting frame counter - mostly from from the SP.
This ended the S2 - which was the camera in the history of NIKON wh had led to full employment for the former military lens manufacturer and tranformed them to a civil camera maker (~ 57.000 units produced,
of which were ~ 15.000 "black dial") and paved the way to a real professional camera maker (SP and F models)...

External Link -- Mike Eckman : Nikon Rangefinder Prototypes

NIKON S3 "Millenium" Edition

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