A Nikon I rangefinder from April 1948 has become the highlight of the Westlicht 30th Camera Auction on 19th November 2016, fetching a price of 384,000 euros, which establishes a new world record figure ever paid for a camera of this brand
It is the oldest known surviving production model Nikon in the world, made in 1948 — one of the two cameras manufactured that year and currently in existence—, featuring the serial number 60924, and the third one made after the first Nikon I which had the serial number 60922
Amazingly, only three years after the end of the Second World War which left their country devastated, the Japanese were able to create and launch into market this gorgeous camera which — in the same way as the rest of Nikon rangefinder models subsequently produced during fifties — combined the best traits of Contax and Leica cream of the crop rangefinders, so it boasts the external appearance of a Contax II from 1936 while internally it doesn´t sport the vertical travelling Contax II shutter with tambour-profiled metal blinds in its curtains, but a focal-plane horizontal travelling rubberized-cloth similar to the Leica shutter begotten by Oskar Barnack and improved by the mechanics genius Ludwig Leitz and Willi Stein during late thirties and first half of forties.
On the other hand, the Nikon I features a negative format size of 24 x 32 mm (enabling to get 40 pictures with a 35 mm film roll), which the Japanese considered the ideal one to match the illustrated publications of the time and made possible high quality enlargements up to 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm), though instead of wounding eight sprocket holes between frames as the worldly widespread 24 x 36 mm format cameras, it just made it with seven, so it couldn´t be exported to the United States, where besides, the Kodachrome colour film was the sensation then and the slide mounting equipment worked with 8 sprocket holes.
Ravishing minimalist top panel of the Nikon I serial number 60924 from 1948, showing from left to right: the rewinding knob, the hot shoe for auxiliary finder and other attachments, the mythical Nippon Kogaku Tokyo logo engraved with pantograph, the slow shutter speed dial (from 1 second to 1/20 sec), the fast shutter speed dial (from 1/30 sec to 1/500 sec, Time and Bulb modes and located on the slow shutter speed dial), the reversing lever (with arrow A advancing film and arrow R reversing film), the shutter release button and screw (reachable by removing the protecting ring) for attaching wire release, the knurled winding knob which simultaneously winds the shutter and advances film and the counter dial (inside the winding knob) which automatically records picture numbers.
The unutterable beauty of lines of the camera (with its distinct sharp corner edges) matches the nice original early single coated 6 elements in 3 groups Nikkor-H.C 5 cm f/2 standard lens serial number 70811 (which was the eleventh one made) coupled to it and visible on top of the image.
Hans Ploegmakers, one of the world´s leading experts on the history of Nikon, holding the Nikon I serial number 60924 with its Nikkor-H.C 5 cm f/2 lens serial number 70811. A member of the Nikon Historical Society, he has been throughout many decades a key figure in the preservation of the huge historical, cultural and technological legacy of the Nikon rangefinder cameras, lenses and accessories manufactured between late forties and 1960, along with other international first-class experts on Nikon brand like the pundit Robert J. Rotoloni, Uli Koch, Hans Braakhuis, Stephen Gandy, Yuki Kawai, Bill Kraus, Yutaka Ohtsu, Akihiko Suzuki, Bob Rogen, Thierry Ravassod, Jim Emmerson, Tom Abrahamsson and others, in addition to the commendable work accomplished by the Nikon Kenkyukai Tokyo and its recognized authorities on Nikon like Dr. Ryosuke Mori, Dr. Manabu Nakai, Shoichiro Yoshida, Mikio Itoh, Hirosi Kosai, Dr. Zyun Koana, Akito Tamla, Michio Akiyama and others.
Aerial diagonal right view of the Nikon I serial number 60924 from 1948 with Nikkor-H.C 5 cm f/2 serial number 70811 lens beside its near mint condition metallic cap with the Nikon logo.
Baseplate of the Nikon I serial number 60924 with the Made in Occupied Japan engraved inscription, the golden middle tripod socket and the locks (placed on both ends) for removing and replacing the camera back.
On the lower right area of the back of the camera, you can see the eyepiece for combined RF and VF.
Front view of the top panel half area of the Nikon I serial number 60924 showing the focusing wheel (located just above the window of the rangefinder, slightly on the left), the big round winding knob cocking the shutter and making the film advance, the counting dial inside it, the reversing lever (with arrow A and arrow R to respectively advancing and reverse the film), the shutter release button and screw for attaching wire release removing the protective ring to reach the screw, the slow shutter speed dial (in contact with the baseplate) and just on it the fast shutter speed dial, the engraved Nippon Kogaku Tokyo logo and the hotshoe for auxiliary finder and other attachments.
View of the Nikon I serial number 60924 with its Nikkor-H.C 5 cm f/2 lens serial number 70811 leaned against the table, displaying all the dials and buttons of this entirely metallic camera, whose manufacturing standard of quality was superb for the time and intended to be used throughout many decades of professional hard work, flawlessly functioning with full reliability currently in 2016, 68 years after its creation, and lacking the programmed and fast obsolescence inherent to current digital cameras both in the amateur and professional domain.
On the left of the image, just under the R letter, can be seen the small toothed wheel used to focus lenses
Front view of the Nikon I serial number 80924 without its lens, exhibiting the focusing scale in meters and the windows of the rangefinder (on the left of the image) and the viewfinder (on the right), as well as the eight screws to secure the faceplate.
Needless to say that the chrome-silver finish oozes class and beauty to spare.
On the other hand, the finder magnification is of 0.60x.
Back view of the Nikon I serial number 80924 from April 1948 with the black round eyepiece (surrounded by a thin fluted silver chrome ring) of its 0.60x magnification viewfinder visible on top left.
Inner film chamber of the Nikon I serial number 80924. It was roughly finished, hand painted and features some unevenness, something inevitable at the time, only three years after the beginning of the Second World War, when the budgets were very tight.
Amazingly, the original curtain is in good condition, in spite of the fact that its material was not as good as the one boasted by later Nikon rangefinder cameras like the Nikon S, Nikon S2, Nikon SP and Nikon S4, which had the Habutae silk shutter.
Bottom cover plate of the Nikon I serial number 80924 from April 1948 with its two locks for removing and replacing the camera back. It doesn´t sport any system to protect the adjustment of the shutter tensions.
Right half area of the Nikon I serial number 80924 top panel in which we can see the shutter release button located between the high shutter speeds dial (on the left) and the knurled winding knob with the frame counter inside on the right.
The whispering sound brought about on pressing the shutter release button of this camera is almost inaudible, and comparable in this regard to the likewise utterly mechanic shutters featured by the screwmount and M rangefinder Leicas, enabling a great discretion during the photographic act, as well as possessing the amazing stability when shooting at very slow shutter speeds like 1/15 sec and 1/8 sec, thanks to the absence of a swivelling mirror typical of the mirrorless with rangefinder cameras to which the Nikon I belongs.
Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza