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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂