The History of Nikon Rangefinder

Did you know that cameras produced by Nikon during the post-World War II era that left it occupied by America are now collector’s items? Or that the company works in pioneering technology for the absolute perfect focus, so microscopes can capture time-lapses for cell mutation? I didn’t.

1.     Nikon has a large military background.

Following its history in a Japan beyond and during the second world war, wherein it provided lenses and optical gear for the Japanese military, to past that, at a point where Nikon lenses (and eventually cameras) became famous worldwide both by casual photographers and hobbyists but also professionals and extreme enthusiasts – one thing I like about Nikon is the fact that they’ve always had amazing lenses.

2.     Nikon sold its lenses to Canon when it first started out.

So amazing, in fact, that they started up shop by selling these lenses to Canon. Nikon, originally, was founded by a group of optical revolutionaries, if you will – their combined knowledge produced some of the finest lenses in the world. It was these fine lenses that made Nikon popular outside of Japan following World War II when the widely famous American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. While working on an assignment in Korea during the Korean War, Duncan met Japanese photographer Jun Miki, who later became an incredibly influential figure in the Japanese photography sphere. Miki introduced Duncan to Nikon lenses, and he brought them back home after fitting them to his Leica, creating a sort of hybrid Nikon rangefinder. Due to their reputation for amazing lenses, It was the only one of two cameras to continue making detachable and adjustable F model lenses following the arrival of autofocus technology.

3.     Nikon has a complicated naming history.

Nikon’s name is interesting, as well. For those who can read some basic Japanese, you’ll notice that the company writes its name in katakana, a writing system the Japanese developed as pronunciation guides for foreign words. However, originally, Corporation was known as Nippon Kougaku Kougyou Kabushikigaisha – which, in short (and English) means “Japan Optical Industries Corporation”, and was written completely in native Japanese. It was only with the release of its first cameras that renamed itself, blending Nippon Kougaku (Japan Optical) with Ikon, the name of a German-manufactured line of cameras, thus creating Nikon. However, this landed them in legal trouble at first! So, it changed the name of its disputed line of cameras to Nikkor, which was a westernized version of the shortened form (Nikko) of the company’s original name… yeah, this is starting to get confusing, huh?


Nikon rangefinders competed with other major rangefinder brands Zeiss and Leica, and 50s onward the Nikon F series became the go-to Nikon rangefinder camera for a solid three decades. A mark of quality that lasted the company to today, as they’re still competing heavily in Japan’s large camera industry with giants like Sony, Fujifilm, and Canon.


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