Classic Cameras: The Nikon SP

The Nikon SP is a fantastic shooter and a Camera Legend.

 

The Nikon SP is a classic rangefinder camera, introduced in 1957. It is the Holy Grail of Nikon rangefinders. Actually, the black Nikon SP 2005, a reissued limited edition of the SP would probably be considered the Holy Holy Grail! I recently saw the SP 2005 camera and 35mm f/1.8 kit come up for sale at KEH for $3799. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of cash. Needless to say, it sold quickly.

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“Dreamtime” 2014. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor, Holga 400 film. It’s New Year’s Eve 2014, and ho! Looks like Grandma the babysitter is falling asleep 🙂

I used a Nikon S2 rangefinder with the 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor S mount lens a few years back and loved it, which led me on a chase for the SP. And the lens I wanted was the 3.5cm (35mm) f/1.8 W-Nikkor, which is probably the one most Nikon S users want. It took me a couple of years, but I was able to get the camera and lens separately for under a $1000. You gotta have patience! 🙂

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“Slices Of America” 2015. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor, Holga 400 film.

The SP is Nikon’s first professional grade camera. That alone gives it a lot of historical significance. It is the camera that precedes the pro Nikon F single lens reflex. In fact, if you look at the top plate, the SP is basically a Nikon F in rangefinder form. Shutter speeds are up to 1/1000 plus B and T. The Nikon S mount lenses and the Nikon F lenses are NOT compatible.

The SP as compared to a Leica M is a little more fidgety in use. The lenses and lens mount need to be aligned a certain way for the lenses to be attached. The focus wheel is cool, but is much slower in actual use. Fortunately, you can focus lenses the old fashioned way by using your hands on the lens.

The shutter is smooth and the build is solid, as you’d expect from a Nikon and I have been able to get sharp shots with speeds as low as 1/30th in low light on ISO 400 film.

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“Gyro” 2015. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 Nikkor, Holga 400 film.

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“Papaya King” 2015. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor, Holga 400 film.

If looking for an SP, prices are trending from $600 (plain jane chrome body only) to almost $4000 for rare editions such as the SP 2005 with the 35mm f/1.8 Nikkor.

Despite its quirks, especially when compared to the smoothness of a Leica M, the Nikon SP is one of my favorite rangefinders to use. When paired with the awesome 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor lens, it is a street shooters dream for film.

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“New Years Lady” 2015. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor, Holga 400 film.

The Nikon SP is a Camera Legend and definitely worth your time to seek one out. I haven’t shot much film in the last few months, but I noticed the last three rolls of film I shot were all on the Nikon SP. For me, that says it all.

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“The Crazy Duck” 2015. Nikon SP, 35mm f/1.8 W-Nikkor, Holga 400 film.

Note: The Holga 400 film was not my first choice for this camera. I had shot the first couple of rolls on Ilford XP2 (chromogenic), but just as I was done, my local C41 developer stopped developing color film! I had a roll of Holga 400 black and white film and decided to try it out. I think it’s a good film, but developed in D76, it was a bit too grainy for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love “grainy” but with the SP and 35mm f/1.8 I wanted a film that would get more out of the combo. I think the Holga film would be perfect where it belongs…in a Holga camera 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Classic Cameras: The Nikon SP

  1. I was offered one of these by a guy at work. It was originally owned by his grandfather. It was kind of beat up and I didn’t know where I was going to stow it so I passed. You certainly have posted some awesome shots here. The gyro stand is my favorite among favorites.
    Incidentally, Nikon did adapt one of the rangefinder lenses to the F. The 105 f/4 which I was tempted on more than one occasion to obtain because it’s the only T lens in alphabet soup parlance and I wanted get the unique quality of a triplet lens. But the preset diaphragm scared me off since it’s a telephoto.
    Excellent write up as usual bro….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your kind comments. The SP has 1x magnification vs the M3’s 0.91X so the SP’s viewfinder is larger, but they’re pretty close until you view them side by side. My SP has a slightly yellow view in the viewfinder, while the M3 has a lightly blue tinge. Both are dimmer than the M8. The rangefinder patch in my M3 is clearer and easier to focus than my SP. It could be that the SP just needs a fix up, but it did not prevent me from being able to use it for taking picture taking as illustrated in the article. Either one are awesome shooters! Hope this helps.

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      1. Thank you for such a prompt and useful answer. I have a Contax iiia but the view finder is small. I have never held a Nikon range finder. I am now keen to buy an sp. Not many of them in Australia but KEH has them every now and then.
        Cheers
        Andrew

        Liked by 1 person

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