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Nikon began as a brand name for Nippon Kogaku's camera line, then became specifically the brand name for their highest level cameras, and eventually the company was renamed Nikon in 1988.   It is suspected that the name was a combination of the letters in the parent company name, but certainly it didn't hurt to sound like the established German line, Ikon from Zeiss Optical.   In fact Nikon was marketed and badged as Nikkor for the German market in the 1960s, to avoid brand rights conflicts.

Our Nikon collection is particularly meaningful to us because we use modern Nikon digital cameras and lenses in our real estate business. 

Nippon Kogaku  was established in July 1917 when three leading optical manufacturers merged to form a comprehensive, fully integrated optical company.  Over the next two decades, this company became a manufacturer of optical lenses (including those for the first Canon cameras) and equipment used in cameras, binoculars, microscopes and inspection equipment. During World War II the company grew to nineteen factories and 23,000 employees, supplying: binoculars, lenses, bomb sights, and periscopes to the Japanese military.

After the war Nippon Kogaku scaled-down to produce civilian products in a single factory.  Nikon lenses became popular with journalists during the Korean War era, frequently adapted to German 35mm cameras such as Leicas.  In 1948, the first Nikon-branded camera was released, the Nikon 1.   By the early 1950s professionals  including Margaret Bourke White, began to recognize the excellence of the camera bodies.   With the introduction of the Nikon S in 1951, Nikons began to be imported to the US.

During the 1950s into the early 1960s, Nikon branded 35mm rangefinder cameras were moderately successful in professional circles, but nowhere near as recognized as German bodies, like the Leitz Leica and Zeis Ikon.  The Nikon S series of cameras evolved from the original Nikon 1 and M models, through the S, S2, SP, S3, and S4.  However, in 1959 Nikon’s Model F SLR revolutionized the concept of “system cameras”, where interchangeable components, while too expensive for the consumer market, this equipment was very economical compared to costly German systems, and offered high reliability.   By the early 1960s the S series faded away and the F series was the main emphasis of production.

At roughly the same time, Nippon Kogaku ventured into the consumer camera market with the unsuccessful Nikkorex rangefinder line (not compatible with the F system components) in 1960, an in 1965 with the moderately successful Nikkormat line (compatible with the F system components).  In our early collection you will see more variations of the consumer-level Nikkorex and Nikkormat cameras, since the professional-level Nikon cameras were not as prone to trendy upgrades, and the main variations were in the accessories.  However, in the late 1970s the consumer-level cameras began to wear the Nikon badge, and Nikkormat branding was phased-out.

Nikon would remain the dominant force in professional 35mm cameras for several decades, while this format surpassed the TLR, rangefinder, and medium format cameras, for journalistic and action photography.  By the digital age Nikon, while top quality, has shared the professional market more evenly with Canon.

Early Nikkor Lens Codes

  • Auto - automatic opening and closing of aperture

  • Q -  4 element (quattour)

  • P  - 5 element (penta)

  • H - 6 elements (hex)

  • S - 7 element (septum) (preceded the H series on Nikon F & Nikkorex F)

  • O - 8 element (oct)

  • N - 9 element (novem)

  • D - 10 element (decem)

  • C - coated lens, for example HC has additional coating

  • AI - Auto Indexing  (Non AI lenses can damage modern cameras unless converted)

  • AF - Auto Focus

  • More Codes

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Nikon M Circa 1949

The Nikon M was introduced in late 1949 as an upgraded replacement for the Nikon 1 (Nikon's first camera).  It has a slightly larger 24mm x 34mm frame size, in between the 24mm x 32mm of the Nikon I and the international standard of 24mm x 36mm.   There were only 1,643 of these produced, making even rougher examples are very rare and desirable collectors items.  With less than 800 Nikon 1 cameras being made, these are extremely rare, and one example could be worth more than the rest of our Nikon collection.

Like the Model 1, these cameras came with a collapsible 5cm (50mm) lens, and the early models did not offer flash synchronization.  These "rangefinder" Nikons, as they are now known, use S-mount lenses which are completely incompatible with the F-mount lens system used on the SLR cameras.   The S-mount system is copied from the German Contax mount, and the lenses are interchangeable, though the focusing scale and rangefinder is inaccurate at close distances.

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Nikon S Circa 1951

The Nikon S was introduced in 1951 as an upgraded replacement for the Nikon M, with flash sync contacts and two sockets at the upper left-hand edge of the body. All cameras sold with this feature are considered a Nikon S by the factory, even if marked M.  Despite its shortcomings compared to the Leica, the Nikon S sold well, almost 37,000 units, and became the first Nikon on the US market.  

This Model S is featuring a 135mm (1.35cm) Nikkor Q lens and the external viewfinder for the 135mm lens with parallax view adjustments.  Later versions of the S models had the accessory shoes closer to center, making external viewfinders more accurate.


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Nikon S Circa 1952

This Nikon S was produced a bit later and shows the standard Nikkor H 50mm lens. 


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Nikon S2 Circa 1955

The Nikon S2 was introduced in 1955 as a replacement for the Nikon S.  It was smaller and lighter, had a lever winder, and a larger viewfinder, along with a faster 1/1000th shutter speed.   This is an early model with the chrome shutter speed dial. Over 56,000 of the S2 model were produced.  The S2 transitioned to the international standard 26mm x 36mm frame size, and expectation for the US market.

This camera is shown with a 135mm lens and a varifocal finder which can be adjusted from 35mm to 135mm and for parallax views.


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Nikon S3 Circa 1958

The Nikon S3 was introduced in 1958 as a replacement for the Nikon S2, incorporating some of the advances of the Nikon SP, but targeted at the high-end consumer market.   The Nikon F was adapted from the mechanics, case, and features of the S3.

This camera is shown with a 105mm lens (10.5cm) and a matched viewfinder which can be adjusted for parallax views. When using the standard viewfinder, the S3 features a life-size viewfinder, and is said to be the first offering a 35mm-coverage viewfinder.

Nikon S3 - Ken Rockwell

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Nikon F Circa 1959

The Nikon F was introduced in 1959 with a comprehensive range of high quality lenses and accessories.  The lens mount introduced with this camera is still used by new Nikon cameras including the D and F series of digital cameras.  Lenses from this camera works can be adapted to work with my new Nikon digital cameras, but only with manual focus.  Regardless, the images are sharper than those made with the modern consumer level zoom lenses.

This is one of the earliest Nikkor F-mount lenses, the 50mm S Auto f/1.4.  The metering forks on the top of the lens are sharply triangular where later lenses would have rounded (crab-claw) prongs.

35mm film became popular as automation allowed for economical enlarging processes, and high quality lenses allowed the smaller images to rival the sharpness of medium format cameras such are the Rollieflex, Yashica, and Hasselblad systems.   Even Kodak's base cameras in the 1960s and 1970s used a form of 35mm film in a plastic "Instamatic" cartridge.

During its lifespan, new items were continuously added, comprising bulk film magazine, electrical motor drive, viewfinders, focusing screens, close-up and scientific attachments, flash units, remote controls, and even a Polaroid back,  as well as a wide variety of exposure meters, both separately available or as part of the finder prism, the latest of those being TTL meters, known as the Photomic.

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Nikon F Circa 1960

This well worn example was my first single lens reflex camera (SLR), and first 35mm.  I bought this at a garage sale in about 1983, and it was a great camera, but eventually the benefits of autofocus and automatic metering brought me to the Cannon A-1 which I used in college, and this served me well into the digital age, when I returned to Nikon for the D series digital SLR format.  

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Nikkorex 35  Circa 1960

The Nikkorex 35 was introduced in 1960 as a less expensive alternative to the Nikon series.  It was a single lens reflex camera produced under contract by Mamiya to a Nikon design, but with little relationship to the Nikon S or F series of cameras.  It was a larger and heavier camera.


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Nikon F Circa 1961

This is the same Nikon F shown above, but this time wearing some accessory gear from the 1960s, a clip-on light meter, a waist-high view finder with a flip up cover, and a newer Nikkor H lens.   When I first bought the camera it had an external clip-on light meter (see:   I never liked it and have typically bracketed my shots, so many years ago it was separated from the camera - these are highly desirable collectible curios now.  I found this one on eBay.   The waist high viewer is very useful for fast shooting, especially to get low angle shots without constant kneeling and ducking.

For the most part, the Nikon F has the core of the Nikon SP rangefinder camera adapted to accept the SLR components and larger lens format.   The SP was the finest of the Nikon rangefinder series, and subsequent models such as the S3 and S4 were more economical downgrades.

Ken Rockwell Review - Nikon F


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Nikkorex 35  II   Circa 1962

The Nikkorex 35 II replaced the Nikkorex in 1962.  The brand name was displayed across the light meter window.  The cameras had Nikkor lenses but the cameras were manufactured by others.  It was produced with a 50mm prime (fixed length) lens, like the Nikkorex 35 above, but this camera is shows with the wide-angle lens attachment, that screws into the 50mm lens.

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Nikkorex 35  II (Zoom 35)  Circa 1962

 The Zoom 35, is the Nikkorex 35 II with a 43mm - 86mm zoom (shown here).   It is otherwise the same camera as the Nikkorex 35 II.

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Nikon F (F Finder - Early) Circa 1962

This is the Nikon F with the first photomic metering prism.  There would be three major styles, with the latter two offering through the lens metering (TTL).  This first system measures light through the round window to the left of the large F on the front of the prism.   Adjusting tubes called "angle restrictors" could be attached to the window to simulate the length of the lens.   The bright metal disc to the left of the metering window, is the battery cover.  In later versions this would be threaded for storage of the angle restrictor.  This early version also has the "flag switch" to close the meter window.

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Nikkorex F   Circa 1962

The Nikkorex F was introduced in 1962 with more resemblance to the Nikon F, but shared none of its components or quality features.  It was made by Mamiya; however it could use the interchangeable Nikkor lenses designed for the F Series; this one came with a 7-element S lens.  It was physically larger and heavier than the Nikon F.

Later Mamiya sold the rights to Ricoh, which produced it as the Ricoh Singeflex.  Some of these were imported under the Sear name badge as the Auto Rikenon.  supposedly these all used the Nikkor F-mount system.

In 1963 Associated Press photographer, James "Ike" Altgens, using a Nikkorex F with a pre AI 10.5 cm lens was the only professional to capture the Kennedy assassination on film.   Here is a link to the Dealey Plaza Museum and Altgens' Nikkorex

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This is the same Nikkorex F with an180mm Soligor lens with the clip on light meter  That is a nice lens, with the f22 aperture but without the old bayonet structure typical of Nikkor lenses. It manually selects between full open aperture for focusing and the selected aperture for shooting. Many of the vintage Soligor lenses were made under contract by Tokina.

Nikon F Circa 1963 (Black)

This is the same early model F as shown above, but in the popular black finish.   This camera is wearing a Nikkor - N Auto 24mm wide angle lens.  The N lens has nine elements.

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Nikon F (F Finder - Late) Circa 1964

This is the Nikon F with the second photomic metering prism.  There were only slight changes, where the battery cover was threaded for storing the angle restrictor, and the metering shutoff flag was replaced with a button system; see the two chrome buttons on the upper left side of the meter.  There was a transitional version with the threaded storage and the flag.

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Nikkormat FT Circa 1965

The Nikkormat FT was introduced in 1965 as a replacement for the unsuccessful Nikkorex line; however, these cameras were directly manufactured by Nippon Kogaku's and were similar to the size of the Nikon F, and were able to mount the F series lenses.   For the most part, these shared the same rugged quality of the professional level F series, but with fewer options and accessories, and offering simple through the lens light metering (except on the FS).

These were targeted at, and moderately successful in, the high end consumer and budget professional market (now called "prosumer market").  With the Nikkor F lenses and excellent mechanics, this would take as good of a photo as the Nikon F cameras.   The line would continue until 1978, when subsequent prosumer cameras would wear the Nikon badge.  

I like this camera and it came to me with the same Nikkor H f2.0 lens that I used for years on my Nikon F.   This lens is tack-sharp working with my D200, for studio shots of the collection.  We have examples of most Nikkormat models in the collection.


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Nikon F Circa 1966 (Black)

This shows the Nikon F mounted on the F36 motor drive, developed from the S36 motor drive for the Model SP, in 1959, along with the Nikkor 200mm Q Auto prime lens.   This is one of the most difficult motor drives to find and this one has the battery pack included (bottom narrower rectangle).

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Nikkormat FTn Circa 1967

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Nikon F (TN Finder) Circa 1967 (Black)

This shows the second generation metered view finder, the T with the N upgrade, and the right-angel or periscopic eyepiece.   This eyepiece is very handy for tripod shots, allowing the photographer to stand in a more upright position. The lens is an early Nikkor-Q Auto 135mm four element lens.   The T series introduced through the lens metering, and the N indicates the later models with center weighted metering.

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Nikon F (FTN Finder)  Circa 1968

This is the Nikon F body with the third iteration of the "photomic" lens finder/prism, which had become the professional-level standard.  The photomic option was first offered in 1961.  It is also wearing a period appropriate Nikkor Q 135mm lens.

The final metering prism for the Nikon F, the Photomic FTn, introduced in 1968, provided 60% center-weighted TTL which became the standard metering pattern for Nikon cameras for decades afterwards.  Additional viewfinders included a waist-level viewer, a 6 power magnifying finder, and an "action finder" with a larger viewable area.

Nikon F (Sports Finder)  Circa 1970

This is is a Nikon F featuring a Sports Finder prism, one of the ugliest but most useful of the Nikon viewfinders.   It also features the trigger extension with an oversize button.   The view is huge and very easy to focus, even with older eyes.   If I had such an excellent viewfinder on my modern Nikons, I would never need auto focus.

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Nikon F2 (DP1 Finder) Circa 1970

The Nikon F2 was introduced in 1970 as an improvement to the F, but still sharing compatibility of accessories such as viewfinder/prisms and lenses.  The photomic (metered) prisms could be shared between the F and F2 bodies, but the later prisms delivered with the F2 bodies would only fit the F bodies if the front Nikon plate was removed from the camera for clearance. 

The motor drives were not interchangeable between the F and F2 bodies, nor were the backs, because the F2 featured a hinged back rather than the removable back/base of the F.  This F2 is shown with the early DPI photomic metering system and the MD3 motor drive.

Ken Rockwell's F2 Review

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Nikkormat EL Circa 1972

The EL was a companion product to the Nikkormat FT-series cameras, using the same size frame (same size as the Nikon F & F2) with electromechanical components, opposed to the traditional mechanical components in the FT Series.   It was Nippon Kogaku's first electronic exposure camera.  The ELW was introduced in 1976; this camera accepted the Nikon AW-1 autowinder, offered down to 8 seconds shutter speed, and had the improved Type K focusing screen offered on the FT2.

The EL series measured 145 mm by 93.5 mm and weighed 1.7 lbs. This was very large and heavy compared to most amateur SLRs of the mid-1970s.


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Nikkormat EL-W Circa 1972

The EL-W is the same camera as the EL above, but adapted to accept the AW-1 winder, as shown above.   Nikon would refer to the consumer level equipment and "auto winders" and the professional gear as "motor drive", until the introduction of the FM and FE series.


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Nikon F2S (DP2 Finder - Black) Circa 1973

The Nikon F2S was introduced in 1973 with the improved DP2 metering prism, which is significantly different than the DP1 shown above with superior sensitivity and accuracy.   There would be subsequent improvements to the metering prisms for the F2, with the DP3, DP11, and DP12, but all of these would remain visually similar to either the DP1 and DP2.  The DP11 shares the leatherete covered front panel with the DP1, and the DP3 and DP12 have a  ribbed front similar to the DP2.  The DP3 has an enhanced LED readout and improved reliability.   The DP11 and DP12 are designed to work with the AI (automatic aperture indexing) lenses, thus the forward facing aperture display windows were eliminated.

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Nikkormat FT2  Circa 1975

The camera body is made of a die-cast aluminum alloy and finished in either chrome plating or black and thus give it such a distinctive solid feel. Since all Nikkormat bodies are built to supplement the professional bodies of the F2. It has a non-interchangeable eye-level prism finder with built-in, through-the-lens centre-weighted exposure meter providing 92% of the picture field.   This is the last pre-AI Nikkormat , shown here with a Nikkor 55mm pre-AI Micro lens, one of Nikons sharpest lenses.

Both shutter speed and lens aperture information are visible in the viewfinder. There are two way to check the meter reading, inside the viewfinder or externally on the top plate. As any other mechanical Nikkormats, the depth-of-field preview button is also locates at the top plate and a featured similar mirror lock-up control. Shutter speeds are set by a ring round the lens mount, and ASA speeds by an index below the lens. This index is locked unless the catch on the shutter speed setting lever is pulled. 

Nikon F2 (DP11 Finder) Circa 1977

This Nikon F2 features the DP11 metering viewfinder, which is an upgrade to the DP1, with the ability to use the AI (automatic indexing features). This is shown with the Vivitar Series 1 zoom lens.  Note the AI style (Hognose) bracket on the lens, just below the K on the finder.  The holes allow light to get to the AI lettering on the lens (repeating the aperture settings), allowing the photographer to see the aperture setting in the viewfinder.

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Nikkormat FT3 Circa 1977

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Nikkormat FT3 (Black) Circa 1977

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Nikon EL (2) Circa 1978

The Nikon EL marked the end of the Nikkormat line of cameras, as a Nikon badged modification to the Nikkromat ELcamera.   It was basically a rebadged ELW with the enhancements of the FT3, the AI feature (auto-indexing) and a faster light meter sensor.

Ken Rockwell's EL2 Review

Nikon FM Circa 1978

The FM replaced the Nikkormat/Nikon EL series, but was smaller, lighter and had more professional features.   It is the first in the series of compact F-series cameras.  These have a rugged copper aluminum alloy chassis.  Over the next twenty-nine years the same chassis and basic design philosophy was used for the FM and FE cameras, up to the FM3A of 2001, considered to be one of Nikon's best film cameras.  The FM was constructed almost entirely from metal and used a mechanical shutter. It was manual-focus-only, with manual exposure control. Being mechanical the FM needs no batteries except for the light meter.

The FM was not taken seriously compared to the F2 when introduced, but the only fundamental difference was: interchangeable screens, interchangeable prisms and 250 exposure film backs (rarely used items). 

Ken Rockwell's Review FM/FE Series

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Nikon FE Circa 1978

The FE was Nikons first electronic camera requiring batteries.  Based on the FM, it differed by using electronics for most functions including the shutter

Ken Rockwell's FE Review

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Nikon EM (Black) Circa 1979

Nikon F3 Circa 1980

The F3 was Nikons last iteration on the original F frame from the late 1950s, with significant upgrades including electronic features.  Though the F4 was introduced only 8 years later, the F3 was produced for 21 years until it was discontinued in 2001.  It is consider by many to be the finest manual focus camera ever made; future Nikon professional cameras would offer auto focus.  Though ironically Ken Rockwell prefers the F6 for manual focusing attributes. 

This is the HP version or High Point camera, with the DE-3 High Eyepoint prism/finder. The major advantage of this finder was that the entire viewfinder image could be seen from a distance of 2.5 cm from the viewfinder. This made the F3 more usable by those who wear glasses when shooting, or were forced to shoot in high glare situations while wearing sunglasses.

The camera show is mounted on the MD4 motor drive unit which can drive the camera at 13 frames per second.  It uses 8 AA batteries.

Ken Rockwell 's F3 Review

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Nikon FG Circa 1982

The FG was the successor to the Nikon EM camera of 1979 and the predecessor of the Nikon FG-20 of 1984. These three cameras comprised Nikon's first family of ultra compact 35mm SLR camera bodies. Although the FG had a much less advanced shutter than the more expensive Nikons of the day, it had a very sophisticated electronic design compared to earlier electromechanical Nikons.  This was considered to be an entry-level camera.

This camera is displaying one of my favorite lenses and the one which I have used the most in photographing the Nikon collection.  It has a small f22 aperture and inherently excellent depth of field with low diffraction levels; it is especially useful for photographing cameras with long lenses.


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Nikon N4004 Circa 1987

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Nikon F4 Circa 1988

The F4 was Nikons first professional level camera with auto focus and a built-in motor drive; it also features matrix light metering.  Where the F2 and F3 were evolutions from the original F, the F4 was a fully new camera design, and the basis for the evolution to the F5 and F6 on the same basic body.  It remains popular with professional photographers because of the dedicated knobs (no multifunction buttons) and it is the most compatible model for use with older and newer lenses.

 Ken Rockwell's F4 Review

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Nikon F5 Circa 1996

With the exception of a couple of knobs and the rear hinge, the F5 looks identical to the D1 (below).  The advantage over the F4 is that it is more rugged.  The current F6 is lighter than the F4 or F5, but just a continuation on the theme.

Ken Rockwell's F5 Review

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Nikon D1 Circa 1999

The D1 was Nikons first professional level digital camera, challenging Kodak’s domination of this field.   It was also the first digital SLR designed and built by one of the major brands.  It was introduced at about one-third of the cost of the Kodak DCS 620, its nearest competition.  The retail price was $4,999

While the 2.74 megapixel CCD sensor (DX size) is mediocre by today’s standards, it compared favorably to Kodak’s 2.0 megapixel sensor.  

This camera was closely modeled after the F5 (above), which was at the time the most recent professional level film camera.  The controls are similar to allow easy transitions between the cameras. 

Ken Rockwell'S D1 Review

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Nikon F100 Circa 1999

 Ken Rockwell's Review Nikon F100


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Nikon N55 Circa 2002

 Ken Rockwell's N55 Review


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Nikon D100 Circa 2001

The Nikon D100 is a 6-megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera designed for professionals and advanced hobbyists, as a lower cost and less rugged alterantive tot he D1.  It was introduced in 2002 as a direct competitor to the Canon EOS D60.  With a price of $1,999 for the body only in the US, it was the second 6-megapixel DSLR to break-below the $2000 barrier, after the EOS D60.

Although the name D100 suggested that it was a digital version of the Nikon F100, the camera design more closely resembles the Nikon F80 (also known as Nikon N80 in U.S.), which is a much more consumer-oriented camera than the professional F100. The price of the camera dropped over time to $1699 in May 2003, and $1499 in December 2003. In the Spring of 2004 Nikon released the D70, which offered superior features to the D100 at a lower price of $999. However, Nikon continued to produce the D100 until 2005 when a more advanced and professional-oriented successor, the Nikon D200, was released.

Ken Rockwell's D100 Review