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.
Nippon Kogaku was established in July 1917 when three leading optical manufacturers merged to form a comprehensive, fully integrated optical company. Over the next seventy years, 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 civilian products in a single factory. In 1948, the first Nikon-branded camera was released, the Nikon I. Nikon lenses became popular with journalists during the Korean War era, frequently adapted to German 35mm cameras such as Leicas. But by the mid 1950s professionals began to recognize the excellence of the camera bodies as well
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 I and N models, through the S, S2, S3, SP, 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
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