1946–

1946–

Reaching out around the world

Becoming the Comprehensive Optical Instrument Manufacturer of the World

As Japan experienced postwar restoration and growth at miraculous speed, many of its products were disseminated to the rest of the world. Nikon's optical equipment performance was highly evaluated, and played an important role in creating world recognition for the new, superior quality of "Made in Japan".

1946

Pointal ophthalmic lens is marketed

1946

Nikon brand name is adopted for small-sized cameras

When deciding what to call a compact camera developed to meet the strong demand for domestically produced cameras, the company came up with the tentative name "Nikorette" to express compactness while building on the "Nikko" abbreviation of its Nippon Kogaku name at the time. However, due to opinions that this was a weak-sounding name for a product destined to be a major future player, the company used the Nikko base and added an N to the end which creates a more masculine impression in the Japanese language, and thus the official Nikon name was born.

1947

1947

Tilting Level E and Transit G surveying instruments are marketed

Level E and Transit G

These surveying instruments were Nikon's first products after World War II. On the left is Tilting Level E and on the right is Transit G2, which was an upgrade of Transit G and released in 1949.

1948

1948

Nikon Model I small-sized camera is marketed

Less than two years after the completion of blueprints in September of 1946, the first Nikon camera, the Nikon Model I, was launched in March of 1948. This camera contained original inventions such as small radial ball bearings used for the shutter release, and was the result of overcoming many tough challenges, from research through to marketing.

The Nikon Model I was highly anticipated after being advertised in magazines and via other channels before its release. At the time, supply could not keep up with the strong demand for domestically produced cameras, but the real battle began the moment the camera went on sale. Designers had to field complaint after complaint, and find effective solutions on a daily basis. Nevertheless, they overcame issues one by one and made improvements leading to the Nikon M model of 1949 and the Nikon S of 1950. After that, the camera continued to evolve into the S2, SP, and to the single-lens reflex Nikon F. Nikon cameras advanced continually until their robustness and sophistication went on to attract renown, making Nikon a global brand.

Level E and Transit G Level E and Transit G

The first Nikon camera and the first product to bear the "Nikon" name. It was first sold as "Nikon", but "Model I" was added to the product name to distinguish it from subsequent cameras.

[movie]View a movie “Becoming a Worldwide Brand”

Model I profile projector is marketed

Model I profile projector

A profile projector redesigned from an in-house-use model to incorporate the parallel beam illumination method and other features.

1950

1950

The New York Times introduces the superior features of Nikon cameras and NIKKOR lenses to the world

On December 10, 1950, the New York Times published a special article commending the excellence of Nikon cameras and NIKKOR lenses. This was based on high acclaim by LIFE magazine photographers who had traveled to the Korean War battlefields. On the bitterly cold Korean Peninsula, while other cameras were frozen and unusable, Nikon's worked well and recorded how the severe battles were fought.

The New York Times article reported that, "NIKKOR lenses are extremely precise, with high efficiency, and better than German lenses" and "Previous Japanese cameras had only beautiful exteriors, while internal performance was inferior, however, this Nikon camera is intricate and provides beautiful results."
Because of this, NIKKOR lenses which were equal to German lenses pre-war, achieved the world's highest class and completely renewed the image of "Made In Japan" which had previously been "cheap and bad quality". As a technology-intensive nation, Japan started here.

1952

1952

Nikkor Club is established to promote photography culture

Having been highly acclaimed and relied on by Life Magazine photographers, NIKKOR lenses became a favorite of prominent photographers around the world. While interest in Nikon and NIKKOR was also growing among amateurs, the Nikkor Club was founded as an international association for friendly exchange among keen users of NIKKOR lenses.

Founding members included international photographers from Life Magazine and Magnum Photos, top photographers from Japan, novelists, scholars and film actors.

Nikkor Club Nikkor Club

Nikkor Club was established with the help of Ihei Kimura, Ken Domon, Jun Miki, Yusaku Kamekura, Kenji Mizoguchi and Hideko Takamine. The photo shows copies of the newsletter that was first published in 1953. The first issue is in the middle.

1954

1954

Model SM stereoscopic microscope is marketed

Model SM stereoscopic microscope

The model SM stereoscopic microscope was the only product of its kind in Japan at the time that featured a built-in three-step variator, which prevents focus drift during zooming, and epi-fluorescence illumination.

1957

1957

Nikon SP rangefinder camera is marketed

The signature and legendary Nikon SP was a flagship of rangefinder cameras made in Japan.

The most important feature of this camera, a built-in universal viewfinder that supports six interchangeable lenses (focal lengths 2.8, 3.5, 5, 8.5, 10.5, 13.5cm) was highly acclaimed by professional photographers. These cameras were prized for their whisper-quiet curtain shutters, rear curtain accelerator and silent braking to absorb shock (with coiled axial clamping), as they were designed to produce extremely low operating noise and shock. These technologies began to develop into a system camera with a motor drive unit (capable of 3 frames per second), finder frame illumination for dark locations, and a flash sync connection in the accessory shoe, all directly connectable without a cord. Nikon's first self-timer was also built in.

The Nikon SP, together with the NIKKOR lens and optical glass, won the grand prix at the 1958 World Expo held in Brussels.

Nikon SP Nikon SP

35mm rangefinder camera, Nikon SP

The Grand Prix Medal from the Brussels World Expo

The Grand Prix Medal from the Brussels World Expo

1959

1959

SLR camera, the Nikon F is marketed

Bringing together Nikon's optical and precision technology, the Nikon F drew a major reaction from around the world, and was in production for 15 years up to 1973, with more than 800,000 units produced – effectively solidifying the Nikon and NIKKOR brands.

Newly developed were main components such as the mirror box, pentaprism and bayonet, while the rest could be said to be the same as the SP. However, major technical hurdles had to be surmounted in developing the mirror box and pentaprism mechanism, such as the need to switch the optical axes of photograph and viewfinder systems at high speed with a mirror.

The bayonet mount was made of stainless steel to sufficiently withstand the weight of a telephoto lens. Looking ahead to the future, a 44mm⌀ (34mm⌀ for the Nikon S) internal diameter was also adopted to enable use of larger aperture lenses. This was the "Nikon F mount" which is also used with new digital single-lens reflex cameras – a technology that has been handed down for more than half a century. This system is the world's longest used lens mount originally designed for 35mm SLR cameras.

The Nikon F takes full advantage of the SLR characteristic of being able to actually project onto the film what the user sees in the viewfinder by making the finder's field of view 100%. Titanium (0.02mm thick) was adopted for the shutter curtain for the first time in the world. In addition to shutter speed, the achievement of a complete coupling system combining aperture with the Nikon exposure meter was a world's first. The company prepared accessories as a system, and the motor drive used in the SLR camera was also a world's first (enabling continual shooting at 3.6 frames per second).

Nikon F Nikon F

Nikon's first lens-interchangeable SLR camera. It incorporated a number of world-first features, such as an exposure meter fully coupled with aperture and the practical application of a motor drive. It established a strong presence as a high-end SLR camera.

1962

1962

Ultra Micro-NIKKOR high-resolution optical lenses are marketed

After the war, Japan had deployed an American micro-file system for saving bulk documentation on microfilm, but because many more strokes are required for writing Japanese characters than the alphabet, the lens resolution of the system was insufficient. Hence, the company developed the high-resolution "Micro-NIKKOR" lens in 1956, which resulted in a flood of inquiries from printing companies and electronics manufacturers about high-resolution lenses. There were also demands for higher-resolution lenses to be used for creating the printed circuit boards required for the manufacture of electronic components.

Thus, in August of 1962, the Ultra Micro-NIKKOR was developed. Two years later, the company succeeded in developing a lens boasting the highest resolution of any in the world. With this resolution it was possible to distinguish some 1,260 paired black and white stripes per millimeter. A 330-page English novel was successfully compressed onto a microfilm just 12.6 x 13.2mm in size – the Ultra Micro-NIKKOR took both the Japanese and global markets by storm.

Subsequently, the technological legacy of the Ultra Micro-NIKKOR would be inherited as the core technology of semiconductor lithography systems, which would be called "the most precise machinery in history."

Ultra Micro-NIKKOR Ultra Micro-NIKKOR

Developed for the production of photomasks required for photolithography. The lens had the highest resolution of any lens at the time.

Ultra Micro-NIKKOR 29.5mm F1.2

Ultra Micro-NIKKOR 29.5mm F1.2

1963

1963

NIKONOS all-weather camera is marketed

NIKONOS

Designed to be water-/pressure-/corrosion-resistant, and positioned as an amphibious "All Weather" camera.

1964

1964

Ruling Engine No. 1 is installed at the Tokyo University of Education

Ruling Engine No. 1

The first ruling engine in Japan. Until the 1960s, it was known as the "fantasy machine," as the ultrahigh precision required for its manufacture was extremely difficult to achieve.

1968

1968

Photo gallery Ginza Nikon Salon is opened

Ginza Nikon Salon

Established with the aim of boosting Nikon's corporate image and the culture of photography. The first exhibition was "The Eyes of Ihei Kimura (celebrated Japanese photographer)." (Osaka Nikon Salon was opened in 1974)

Rotary encoder RIE digital measuring instrument is marketed

1969

1969

Call for entry for the 1st Nikon Photo Contest International (now Nikon Photo Contest)

The Nikon Photo Contest International started as an international photography contest promoting interaction between both professional and non-professional photographers with the aim of contributing to the development of photography culture. The first time the contest was held it attracted more than 21,000 submissions from 37 countries around the world. Since 1974, Nikon Calendar photos have been selected from these submissions. Continuing to evolve to create new opportunities and uncover new dimensions, the name of this historical competition was changed to Nikon Photo Contest, and modern methods and contexts were adopted starting from the 34th competition in 2012.

1971

1971

Nikon Photomic FTN is mounted on Apollo 15

In January 1971, Nikon agreed a contract in response to a request from the American National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). This was to supply cameras to record the Apollo 15 mission to the lunar surface to be launched that year, and for the Apollo 17 mission planned for the following year. The 1968 Nikon Photomic FTN was selected as the base for the development.

NASA had designated specifications to ensure that these cameras would function correctly in the extreme environments of space. These included use of NASA-specified materials such as lubricants and high shock absorption characteristics, and to prevent possible problems due to the reflection of sunlight, the exterior of the devices were to be matte black. 55mm F1.2 lenses were mounted, also finished in matte black. By June, all of these criteria had been satisfied and the company supplied NASA with nine cameras. These products were headed for the moon the following month with the launch of Apollo 15. The NASA-specification Nikon Photomic FTN was also later adopted as a special camera system used in Skylab, a mission during in which three astronauts lived in space over a prolonged period. The cameras were designed to photograph the Earth's ozone layer and Auroras.

Nikon Photomic FTN Nikon Photomic FTN

Based on "Nikon Photomic FTN," modifications were made to specifications and materials, such as lubricating oil, based on special requests from NASA.

[movie]View a movie “Challenge to the Universe”

MND-2 extra-long-distance meter is marketed

MND-2

Developed jointly with Mitsubishi Electric, this instrument made it possible for the first time in Japan to measure distance using light waves.

Nikon F2 is marketed

Nikon F2

The Nikon F2 aimed for easier operation, faster shooting and more automation while maintaining "F" compatibility with interchangeable lenses and accessories. The camera featured improved functionality and refined details such as a reliable 1/2000 second high-speed shutter for the professional photographer use, a 2-10 second slow shutter utilizing a self-timer mechanism, a large-size mirror, hinged rear-lid and a more convenient shutter button position.

1971

Development of Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Glass

ED Glass is a special glass designed to compensate for chromatic aberration and achieve clearer images.

Compensating for chromatic aberration of the lens usually entails correcting the focal points of two different wavelengths so that they match. However, with telephoto lenses in particular, there are more than two wavelengths involved which means the amount of focal deviation (secondary spectrum) is larger and there is more chromatic aberration which degrades image quality.

Low-dispersion glass was shown to be effective in solving this problem, so the company began its manufacture. In December 1971, the company developed a new type of optical glass called PC102 ED Glass. Taking the lead over other companies, Nikon achieved upsizing and mass production with a continuous melting process.

In January 1972, the company released the NIKKOR-H 300mm F2.8 aimed at the press, which was used to shoot various competitions at the Sapporo Olympics. PC 102 improved lens performance and was adopted for the 300mm and longer telephoto and zoom F-mount lenses, although it missed the initial production of this lens.

Beginning with interchangeable lenses, ED glass is currently also utilized for binoculars, Fieldscopes and a derivative glass is employed for semiconductor lithography projection lenses. To put it simply, this material has become indispensable to Nikon products.

Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Glass Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Glass

NIKKOR-H 300mm F2.8 used ED glass for the first time

1971

Ruling Engine No. 2 is completed

A ruling engine refers to a diffraction grating ruling machine, and is a device for manufacturing diffraction gratings.

In 1964, Nikon completed Ruling Engine No. 1, the first domestically produced ruling engine as a part of Ministry of Education projects (currently the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). However, the device was not practical due to accuracy and stability issues. Even later in the 1960s, the ruling engine was considered more of a theoretical "fantasy machine" than a reality in Japan.

Around this time, Nikon was considering new business with spectroscopic analysis machines. Diffraction gratings are key parts of spectrum analyzers. They are optical components that consist of fine structures on glass or mirrors to provide spectra from the interference of light diffracted as it passes through the grating. The company became aware of the need for the ruling engine.

Nikon began developing its second ruling engine in 1967. While basic parts were outsourced due to budgetary and time considerations, Nikon moved ahead with the development of a control system for the glass substrate stage and its laser interferometer. Nikon also worked on various developments such as diamond cutter polishing technologies and replica production technology for mass production of diffraction gratings. Ruling Engine No. 2 was completed in 1971, and Nikon began mass production of the 2-inch square diffraction gratings to be mounted in the "Nikon monochromator G-250" spectrum analyzer. Thus, the "fantasy machine" had finally become a reality.

The achievement of Ruling Engine No. 2 gave Nikon a big boost toward developing semiconductor lithography systems.

Ruling Engine No. 2 Ruling Engine No. 2

Ruling Engine No. 2

1976

1976

Biophot and Metaphot microscopes are marketed

Biophot

The world's first successful commercialization of a microscope objective lens for the CF system. The system was referred to as "the first innovation in 100 years." The photo shows a Biophot microscope.

1977

1977

Development of the Nikon F2 Titanium Uemura Special

Naomi Uemura was one of Japan's leading adventurers. Among his many accomplishments, he was the first Japanese to reach the summit of Everest, first in the world to climb the highest peaks on five continents, circumnavigate the Arctic Circle and reach the North Pole solo by dog sled, for which he was awarded the People's Honor Award in 1984.

On arriving in Alaska on his 12,000-km solo dog sled trip around the Arctic Circle in May 1976, Uemura was greeted by news photographers. Nearly all the cameras pointed at Uemura were Nikons. In such a harsh environment many other brands of cameras failed and were not able to record the moment.

In June 1977, Uemura expressed his desire to Nikon for a camera to take on his solo dog sled trip to the North Pole. Such a camera would have to withstand heavy shock and the extremely low polar temperatures. For this reason, the drive system was lubricated with special cold-resistant oil, and the shutter speed was adjusted to function properly in temperatures around minus 50°C. The camera was retrofit with titanium for the top, bottom, penta and front cover parts. At the time, Nikon was the only company able to manufacture titanium camera parts. A prototype was put in the trunk Uemura used on his dog sled, and tested for shock by rolling it down some stairs at the company's Oi plant.

This resulted in the world's first titanium-exterior SLR camera in December 1977, called the Nikon F2 Titanium Uemura Special, of which three units were completed. The following year, Uemura headed across Greenland on his solo dog sled trek toward the North Pole with two cameras, and shot 180 rolls of film of the six month adventure.

In 1982, the Nikon F3 Titanium Uemura Special, based on the Nikon F3, was manufactured for his 3,000-km Antarctic dog sled trek and scaling of the Vinson Massif, the highest peak on the Antarctic continent. But due to the Falklands war in March of that year the trip was canceled and the cameras were not used on an expedition.

(With the cooperation of the Uemura Museum Tokyo and Uemura Naomi Memorial Museum)

Naomi Uemura Naomi Uemura

A self-portrait of Naomi Uemura using a self-timer. A shadow of the camera is visible on his thigh.
Photo courtesy of Bungei Shunju

Nikon F2 Titanium Uemura Special

Nikon F2 Titanium Uemura Special on display at the Uemura Naomi Memorial Museum (Toyooka-city, Hyogo Prefecture)