A Nikon S3M rangefinder 17.5 x 24 mm half format camera serial number 6600125 with Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 reached a hammer price of 40,800 euros during the 26th Westlicht Camera Auction held in Vienna on November 22, 2014.
The camera is one of the 50 units made in chrome of a total of 195 Nikons S3M half-frame 17.5 x 24 mm cameras manufactured in 1960 by Nippon Kogaku and able to expose 72 negatives with a 35 mm film roll by means of a 17.5 mm width x 24 mm height vertical film gate which had to be manufactured for holding the small frames exposed by this rangefinder camera.
The beauty of lines of this camera belonging to the halcyon days of Nippon Kogaku has to be seen to be believed and the finish and aesthetic appearance of the chromed dials, levers and buttons on the top panel of this professional photographic tool made to last a lot of decades of intensive use becomes unutterable.
This camera is a good example of the RF camera philosophy (based on remarkable compactness and low weight, top-notch quality small lenses featuring high luminosity, lack of swivelling mirror enabling shooting handheld at very low shutters speeds of up to 1/15-1/8 sec with available light, thorough mechanical working, entire construction with noble metals, and an exceedingly silent cloth shutter resulting in very low noise on shooting) but with the added advantage of being able to both develop a very high shooting rate of 12 frames per second with the then state-of-the-art S72 motordrive thanks to its 17.5 x 24 mm format (which on being a 50% smaller than the 35 mm enabled a faster advance of frames because the horizontal travel shutter curtain had to run less space than with 24 x 36 mm format negatives) and do 72 exposures without changing film, something very important in agile and dynamic photojournalism in which defining pictures were often lost while replacing the already exposed 35 mm film rolls.
The Nikon S3M, launched into market in April 1960 and tested making photographs of ski competitions during 1959, greatly embodies the concept of a photojournalistic camera featuring small dimensions, low weight and tiny half-frame negatives that enabled the photographers to get pictures as long as possible without having to change film and also very quick reaction times during continuous shooting, an idea that would be fulfilled to the utmost by the great Eugene Smith in 1965 when he made a number of assignments with exceedingly compact and lightweight Olympus Pen-F System half-frame 18 x 24 mm cameras and a raft of lenses.
Top view of the half-frame 17.5 x 24 mm format Nikon S3M. The very small size of the excellent 7 elements in 10 groups and 12 diaphragm blades Nikkor-S.C 5 cm f/1.4 attached lens matches the compactness of the camera body.
From left to right can be seen the eyelet for neck strap, the terminal for flash and electronic flash, the film rewinding crank, the Nippon Kogaku logo, the accessory shoe (with the electric contact for cordless flash gun just on it), the shutter speed selector dial (with the synchro indicator for flash synchronization above it), the shutter release button, the AR ring for setting film advance (A) and film rewind (R), the single stroke film advance lever and the big dial with the automatic exposure counter and the film load reminder.
Detail of the Nikon S3M rewinding crank (on whose left can be seen the lug for transport strap and the terminal for flash and electronic flash) and the legendary Nippon Kogaku logo.
Eyepiece of the 1x magnification viewfinder combining VF and RF window of the Nikon S3M featuring always displayed bright-line frames for 35 mm, 50 mm and 105 mm lenses.
Though the chassis of the Nikon S3M is the same as in the Nikon S3, both the film chamber and the viewfinder had to be modified for the 17.5 x 24 mm format in the Nikon S3M.
The small chromed fluted lever on the right is intended for selecting the parallax corrected bright-line frames for the aforementioned primes.
Windows of the rangefinder (on left of the image) and the viewfinder (on the right of the image) of the Nikon S3M, whose effective RF baselength of 60.5 mm and VF 1x manification are better than the ones featured by a modern digital Leica M9 (47,1 mm and 0.68x respectively) and on a par with the formidable Leica M3 (63 mm and 0.91x).
The life-size viewfinder of the Nikon S3M is amazing, lacking any geometrical distortion and enables the photographer to compose and focus with his both eyes open, shooting in real time and with great levels of discretion thanks to the exceedingly short lag of its horizontal focal-plane shutter whose curtains are made of Habutae silk and generates a whispering almost imperceptible noise when shooting.
Detail of the self-timer, adjustable between 3 and 10 seconds.
Gorgeous top panel of the Nikon S3M 17.5 x 24 mm half-frame format rangefinder camera sold at Westlicht. The configuration of the dials, controls, buttons and components stem from a wise criterion: to be instantly available for the photographer´s decisions and use.
This is an all-metal handmade professional camera and masterpiece of painstaking engineering, built on the keynote of being able to flawlessly yield high quality pictures throughout many decades of hard work under all kind of environments.
On far right of this top panel can be seen the big dial with 72 exposures film counter which had to be modified with respect to the 24 x 36 mm format Nikon S3, whose film counter had capacity for 36 exposures.
Upwards image of the Nikon S3M showing its baseplate in which can be seen from left to right the film type (ASA speed) reminder dial, the tripod socket, the Nippon Kogaku Tokyo logo engraved with pantograph under which is the camera series number, and the lock for removing and replacing camera back.
Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza