NIKON S3 - Remake 2000 and Comparison with SP

(c) Frank Mechelhoff                       Neu October 2022                     Diese Seit auf Deutsch

The predecessor : NIKON S2

Nikon S3

In 1964, Nikon discontinued production of their rangefinder cameras (also called the S-series or S- mount) in favor of their SLRs (F-mount: Nikon F, Nikkormat). It can be assumed that this was preceded by an eminent drop in demand. The last model was the S3 "Olympic", named by 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first which took place in Asia.

In 1957 Nikon launched the SP, a beautifully designed professional camera, top of the range. As a special feature, it had two viewfinders: one a 1:1 lifesize rangefinder with four framelines (50, 85, 105 aand 135mm) plus an additional wide-angle viewfinder for 28 and 35 mm, albeit quite small (0.4x).
Until the Leica M6 (1984) this was the
only camera with a viewfinder for 28mm focal length. At that time, no competitor could offer framelines for six focal lengths, and what's more, with 1:1 "lifesize" magnification.

The slightly cheaper S2 from 1954, although probably the most important camera ever built by NIKON, seemed already outdated compared to the new top model SP - only three years after its market launch - mainly because of its viewfinder (with only a 50mm frameline) and the double shutter speed wheel that rotates when the shutter is released. Although it was still sold out, an update was due and expected.

The Nikon S3

This came one year later, in 1958 : The S3, a semi-professional model, placed a little below the SP, superseded the S2. Weight at 580g, about 20g lighter than the SP, apart from the viewfinder, signature and nameplate, both models were technically largely identical. Priced at ¥86,000 (domestic price in Japan), it was not far below the SP (¥98,000), the most expensive Japanese 35mm camera, but not much above the S2 at ¥83,000 (each with f/1.4 lens). In addition, it offered a self-timer, the modernized shutter (like the SP or F) and a viewfinder with three framelines (35/50/105 mm). Other than the SP, these were not parallax-corrected or reflected, but only projected, and were somewhat thicker and protruding than these on the S2. Those who look into the viewfinder for the first time may be irritated by the three prominent frames, but you get used to it.

Nikon S2 und S3
Image Nikon S2 top left, Nikon S3 "Millennium" bottom right. S3 with larger viewfinder opening, self-timer and modified lettering.

Apart from that offered a "lifesize" (1:1) viewfinder with 35mm frame, then only the Canon P (populaire), which appeared a year after the Nikon S3 and (purely "accidentally", I guess...) had the same technical characteristics as the Nikon S3, but added a parallax-corrected viewfinder. A shiny design as well, for Leica screw-mount lenses, at  ¥52,700 - 1/3 cheaper, and probably therefore more successful in terms of sold items..!

Units sold


56.715  (1954 for 5 years)

14.310 (1959 for 3 years) + ca. 8.000 (remake)
95.000 (1958 for 3 years)
85.000 (1958 for 9 years)
CANON 7 (inkl. 7S/7Sz)
22.348 (1957 for 5 years) + 2.500 (remake)
157.000 (1961 for 7years)
227.000 (1954 for 12 years)

RF production data

Statistics Production of rangefinder cameras 1945-1970 : post-war boom and end in the 1960's.
The peak was reached in 1955 (Leica M3). The innovations of the late 1950's could not stop the decline.

Nikon S3 Millenium,
S3 Millenium and S2 with associated lenses - again for size comparison. The updates to the shutter speed wheel and frame counter are clearly visible. The modernized outfit suits the S3 extremely well.

Collector status before 2000

After the end of the NIKON rangefinder series in 1964, a collector's cult developed around it over the next two decades, quite comparable to LEICA - mainly in America and Japan. In Germany, legal disputes with Zeiss-Ikon (and their close connection to photo shops) that lasted well into the 1960s ensured that they did not even go into business! As a result, the Nikon rangefinder cameras were generally less well known in Europe - also because of the smaller quantities compared to LEICA - until the Internet made their existence generally known.

Interestingly, there was not the same cult of collectors around CANON Rangefinder cameras (the production of which was discontinued somewhat later than the Nikons, namely in 1968), or if , then it did not result in similar collector's prices. However, CANON's original prices were also slightly lower than NIKON's (and slightly lower than LEICA's) and their built numbers were generally slightly higher; so the offer is bigger. You also have to give the NIKONs credit for looking similarly chic and iconic to LEICA, while some CANON cameras from the 1960s (namely their SLRs) lack this elegance. The eye also buys.

The remake of the S3 : "Millennium" Edition

The collector's cult surrounding NIKON vintage cameras, combined with the high prices and a certain demand, made NIKON decide to bring a remake of the S3 onto the market, more than 30 years after the end of production - of course with the newer "Olympic" lens, and Multi-Coating (1964 all lenses were single-coated). Although still largely "mechanical" cameras such as the FM2 were still being built at the time, the design and manufacturing hurdles were enormous - as Nikon later largely admitted honestly . The old production tools were no longer available and had to be rebuilt, and the camera had to be completely redesigned with CAD ( reverse engine ering). Later, production and assembly took place much slower than planned, because after this long time, the special precision know-how was long since retired! Next it turned out that the number of pieces had been calculated too optimistically; sales were rather sluggish. Despite the enormous prices, NIKON does not make a profit with the cameras, building them was purely a matter of brand image. And, predictably, there was criticism from collectors that it wasn't the top-of-the-line SP that had been replicated, but the S3 only.
Allegedly, NIKON disassembled some of the cameras and repainted them in
black, the more sought-after "collector's colour".

Five years later, NIKON did this process again for the remake of the SP - now taking into account the desire for the top model and black color from the start - together with the 35/1.8 lens (again multi-coated) that is also coveted by collectors and in a "more limited" quantity. Now, however, it was been criticized that the titanium shutter of the later series (and the F) was not installed, but the fabric shutter of the first model. An attempt was made to prevent a price drop like that of the S3 remakes by eliminating photo business (sales directly from factory) and was successful: the prices of the SP "Limited Edition" remained stable and today (2022) are around the 2.5-fold of the S3 "Millenium". There was no foreign sale. However, the supply of "new in the box", with all papers, unused cameras is already very large!

S3 Millennium, Chrome (Oct 2000) ¥480,000 incl. domestic tax (~ €5,000)
Quantity (supposedly) 8,000
S3 Millenium, Black (Jun 2002) ¥530,000 incl. domestic tax   (~ €4,580) Quantity 2,000
SP Limited Edition, Black (Jan-Jun 2005)
¥724,500including domestic tax   (~ €5,200) Quantity 2,500

(The exchange rate of the yen fluctuated quite a lot in those years, between 1.10 and 0.70 EUR per 100 JPY)

Nikkor-P.C 10.5cm f/2.5

Nikkor105f2.5 on S3
Nikon S3 Millenium with Nikkor-PC 10.5cm f/2.5 in latest version, with rare metric distance scale. Almost all Nikon rangefinder lenses have distance scales in feet only. High performance portrait lens with legendary reputation, Sonnar design (link to story at NIKON, 1001 tales #45, by Haruo Sato). 1954 as the first volume black Nikon lens ( enamelled aluminum ) on the market and established more than a mere fashion, but the modern lens style.

All Nikon rangefinder cameras have two lens mounts: one internal bayonet with scale and coupled focussing helicoid for 50mm lenses, and one External bayonet, not coupled to the helicoid for lenses with own helicoid and focus ring, for all other focal lengths (or the last version of the 50/1.1 lens, which was too heavy for proper focusing with internal bayonet and focussing wheel). The focussing wheel in front of the shutter button can , but does not have to be used. This is only practical with light lenses, the "Olympic" 50/1.4 isn't that easy to focus by the wheel.

W-Nikkor 3.5cm 1:2.5

The third lens presented here, suitable for the 35mm viewfinder frame of the S3, is a wide-angle :
The compact, six-elemets
W-Nikkor 3.5cm 1:2.5 , and mounted to the external bayonet as well. A bit soft at open aperture, it is very sharp and suitable for landscape shots when stopped down a bit. Here the later (2nd) version in black. The aperture is set by the serrated filter ring, not visible in the above-look. There was a final, 3rd variant with a "hill and valley" focus ring and silver aperture ring, corresponding to the 35/1.8, which is quite rare. Link to the story at Nikon (1001 nights tale #37 by Haruo Sato).

Nikon S3 w. 35/2.5

W-Nikkor 2.8cm 1:3.5

The 28mm fits the SP's wide-angle viewfinder and is also shown here, in the first (brass/chrome) version. It was the first Nikon wide angle with 28mm and came out a short time after the Canon Serenar 28/3.5 (with Leica screw thread), both are six-element Gaussian designs. It is very similar in size and shape to the 35/2.5, so in the chrome frame it is less easy to confuse theses two!  Link to the story at Nikon (1001 nights ta le #79 by Haruo Sato) 
W-Nikkor 2.8cm 1:3.5

Collector status after the remakes

Remarkably prices for rangefinder cameras from NIKON and CANON have fallen over the past 10 years, while LEICA and VOIGTLÄNDER (Bessa) have been rising. So you can buy NIKON's comparatively cheap (consider import duties!)

The cheapest purchase today is the S3 Millenium in chrome. For around 2,000 euros you get an almost new , top-quality mechanical camera with a modern f/1.4 lens - where else can you find that? The only thing that could be criticized is missing a TTL light meter - but it didn't exist in 1964 either... (except for PENTAX SLRs).

Nikon S3
      Millenium - Nikon F (FTN)

With an AMEDEO adapter, the Nikon S (rangefinder) lenses can also be used with the LEICA-M (or -L). This adapter contains an adjustment worm for the focus including a rangefinder coupling. There are two versions of the adapter: For 50mm lenses (without external bayonet) or (as shown) for all , for internal and external bayonet connection. On the Leica, the "Olympic" Nikkor 50/1.4 is one of the most compact, fast 50's, even with the adapter!
Leica M, Amedeo Adapter
      und Nikkor 50/1.4

Canon P and
                      Nikon S3
Canon P and Nikon S3 with their latest 50mm f/1.4 lenses .

Both cameras had very similar specs , size and weight , but the Nikon S3 costs about 1/3 more than the Canon P, launched one year later (1959), and therefore, sold less.
Both Nikon S3 and the Canon P had large, bright lifesize (1.00x) finders with brightline framelines for three focal- lenghts, 35, 50 and 100/105 mm . The frame lines were et ched into the glass, not projected as in the highest rangefinder mode ls (Canon 7, Nikon SP). Canon P finder has parallax correction, the more expensive Nikon S2 hasn't!
Both cameras are without meter, but for the Canon P are easy to find and cheap Coupled Selenium Meters available , which work reasonably at most light conditions (except night possibly). For the Nikon S3 there were also coupled selenium meters, but these are very rare and nowadays mostly dead, plus they give the whole camera an unwanted SLR look.
Comparison result: The CANON P is, as the NIKON S3, a very capable, very smooth, great useable rangefinder camera, with the plus of smaller price, and usability of LEICA screwmount lenses, which are a bit more common than S-series Nikkors .

Canon P, Nikon S3

The S3 was sold with the "Sonnar type" 50/1.4 initially, which dated of 1950, whereas the Canon was available with a new one"Planar type" 50/1.4 launched in the same year as the camera, 1959, which received excellent reputation. So Nikon created a Planar type 50/1.4 lens as well, the so called "Olympic" lens, which was issued to the public as late as 1964, when their last series of rangefinder cameras were sold.
the last Not yet. The S3 shown here is the "Millennium" remake , issued 2000.
Plus there was a final SP remake in 2005.

External Link: What happened if...? -- NIKON Rangefinder Prototypes (SP2/ SPX) a
Great article with pictures by Robert Rotoloni, at Mike Eckman's website
Nikon SP2 + Prototype Lens Nikkor-S 1:1.4 f=35mm
External Link: Nikon Rangefinder
Nikon SP2 + Prototype Lens Nikkor-S 1:1.4 f=35mm

Nikon S3 and SP in practice

A beautiful Nikon SP now complements my NIKON RANGEFINDER collection. The viewfinder field is a bit smaller than on the S3: you can barely see the 50mm frame with glasses; with the S3 with 35mm. I would say that for people who mostly shoot with 35 or 40mm , the S3 is clearly the better camera. The SP is the most suitable for those who use a lot of telephoto lenses . Since the parallax correction of the SP is also more important.

Nikon SP S3

Both cameras are very easy to handle , with all the adjustment levers and wheels being mechanically strict for today's tasteswalk, but don't pretend to do it yourself. Both cameras are sufficiently compact but not tiny (WxHxD 136 x 81 x 41 mm) and weigh 590g each (like the Leica M3).

The rangefinder (1.00x, lifesize, as with the S3) has 4 frames that can be added using the rotary ring: 50mm is always visible, the others are added up, so that with the 13.5 position there are also 105 and 85 next to the 50mm can be seen (the 135 frame is red-orange, the others are yellowish). The visibility of the frames is sufficient - on the S3 they are more visible, bright, almost too dominant.

The measurement spot is clearly visible - of course not as distinct as on Leicas or Bessas from the 2000s. The viewfinder of the S3-2000 is neutral in color - that of the SP has a slightly greenish tint - as withmy almost 70 year old S2 too. And the SP has at most 10 years less under its belt. She did well for that!

The wide-angle viewfinder of the SP (28/35) - view on the far left, small but not too small - has no measuring spot. Both cameras - the S3 and the SP - already have a glasses-friendly plastic collar around the viewfinder eyepiece. The viewfinder of the S3 is larger than the SP.
Eyepiece SP
S3 Eyepiece
Nikon SP
              w. W-Nikkor 35/2.5

From the SP (1957), the NIKON F (1959) got the timelessly functionally designed controls and most of the mechanics (it is 11mm wider and 95g heavier because of the mirror box).
Everyone considers the SP to be the pinnacle of the NIKON S series, and of course it was the most sophisticated and expensive. But the S3 is by no means the worse camera. Which of the two you prefer is purely a matter of taste in terms of appearance and the viewfinder. It's fair to say that the SP's more complex viewfinder is also more susceptible to dust and aging. Because apart from the viewfinder, the cameras are identical. Identical?Not 100%, because my SP is a late version, with a titanium lock , which Nikon had taken over from the mirror reflex F -- but only the SP, not the S3, got it. You almost can't tell it's metal, it's so thin. The S3 with cloth shutter triggers slightly quieter, so it's more the model for street photographers.

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