The Nikon SP That Made the Jacket Cover of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan and the Nikon SP

Daniel Kramer took this photo of Bob Dylan sitting on a stoop in Gramercy Park in New York City several weeks before Dylan recorded the 1965 sessions that became the iconic 60s album Highway 61 Revisited. It captures Dylan sitting in front of the apartment of his manager, Albert Grossman at 4, Gramercy Park West. Kramer placed Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth (carrying the Nikon SP with matching 50mm Nikkor 1.4 [you can identify the lens by the OEM Nikkor hood]) behind Dylan “to give it extra color”. Dylan is wearing a Triumph motorcycle T-shirt under a blue and purple silk shirt, holding his Ray-Ban sunglasses in his right hand. Photographer Kramer commented in 2010 on Dylan’s expression, “He’s hostile, or it’s a hostile moodiness. He’s almost challenging me or you or whoever’s looking at it: ‘What are you gonna do about it, buster?’”

Highway 61 went on to be universally recognized as one of Dylan’s best works and among the greatest albums of all time, ranking No. 18 on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” . Its single Like a Rolling Stone is ranked the #1 Rock and Roll song ever on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Consider this: Positively Fourth Street, arguably one of Dylan’s greatest songs and an iconic 60s work on par with Like a Rolling Stone, wasn’t considered good enough to make it onto the album. Instead, it was released as a single in 1965 with From a Buick 6 as its B side.

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Nikon SP

The SP was Nikon’s professional level 35mm rangefinder introduced in 1957 as a competitor to the Leica M3. It was the culmination of Nikon’s rangefinder development started in 1948 with the Nikon I, and was “arguably the most advanced rangefinder of its time.” Nikon stopped development of the S series rangefinders with the introduction and success of the Nikon F. Basically, you couldn’t give away an SP during the ’70s through the early ’90s. Today, they command premium prices, with the 2005 SP reissue routinely selling for $5k. It’s a beautiful camera in black paint paired with the legendary 35mm 1.8 W-Nikkor. The SP remains, with its uber-sophisticated dual rangefinders – one that projected parallax corrected frame lines for the 50, 85, 105 and 135 Nikkor lenses, a second with parallax frames for 28 and 35mm lenses – the most sophisticated non-metered 35mm rangefinder ever made by anyone, including Leica.

Nikon SP

22 thoughts on “The Nikon SP That Made the Jacket Cover of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited

  1. Rob Campbell

    Bob doesn’t look in the least bit fierce in the photo: I think we are seeing his lite version of a smile; he looks quite cute.

    If you want more fierce, then the beautiful (when smiling) FLOTUS gives a better impression of boredom/disgust during some public performances where it’s fairly clear she’d rather be somewhere quite else. Other than during public appearances, of course, I have no idea how she prefers to emote. You can’t have everything. 🙂

    I must really be getting old: it’s almost impossible to find a radio station not pushing X’mas music. Surely, toddlers don’t listen to all the channels?

    I think I’ve weaned myself off the Q2 Mono fantasy. I think that in the final analysis, I’d rather retain the colour option on any digi camera that I have. Thing is, though I do subscribe to the ethic of leaving home with but one camera and one lens already in place, that might not be a 28mm. Come to think of it, that’s a focal length I’ve never owned, going, instead, straight from 24mm to 35mm with no detours en route. It might have suited the younger William Klein, though.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Bob doesn’t look in the least bit fierce in the photo: I think we are seeing his lite version of a smile; he looks quite cute.

      I agree, Rob. He looks like a push-over. I’m surprised some brute didn’t accost him and his buddy and steal the SP.

      I do subscribe to the ethic of leaving home with but one camera and one lens already in place, that might not be a 28mm. Come to think of it, that’s a focal length I’ve never owned, going, instead, straight from 24mm to 35mm with no detours en route.

      Interestingly enough, I feel the same way about the 28mm. I just don’t see in it. I usually jump from a 35 to a 24 or, better yet, the 21. 28 just seems superfluous.

      Reply
  2. Keith Laban

    As far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing wrong with the Q2 Mono, it’s B&W. What about the 28mm lens I hear you say? OK, so there’s only two things wrong with the Q2 Mono, it’s B&W and it has a 28mm lens. What about it being a fixed lens I hear you say? OK, so there’s only three things wrong with the Q2 Mono, it’s B&W, it has a 28mm lens and a fixed focal length. What about the price I hear you say? OK, so there’s only four things wrong with the Q2 Mono, it’s B&W, it has a 28mm lens, a fixed focal length and it’s jolly expensive.

    Seriously though, if the Q2 (colour version) had a 35mm lens I’d probably be using it now.

    Reply
      1. Keith Laban

        What’s to love about the Q2?

        The Q2 with 28 Summilux costs around the same as the 35 M-Summilux lens alone and far less than the M10 with similar sensor and no lens. It is of course also autofocus.

        The fact is the Q2 (colour version) still has three of the four things I suggested were wrong with the Q2 Mono, for which I am grateful, for without them I could now be regretting a decision to buy.

        Despite those three reasons not to buy I do dread the temptation of a Q2 version with a 35 Summilux, simply because of my love for the 35 Summilux on an M.

        Reply
        1. Rob Campbell

          Had I bought myself a Z6 I’d probably be regretting that too. I watched a Grays of Westminster video just before coming here: there’s yet another update, and one that requires you send the camera to Nikon and you have to pay for it… I gave up watching a third of the way into the video. I think I heard them say that Nikon was moving all production away from Japan, but still hanging onto the factory for other purposes. Soon, everybody will need an iPhone.

          The more we progress towards digital heaven the more complicated the entire trip becomes.

          I have to put the car through it’s MOT tomorrow, and I had it in Ford’s yesterday and this morning just to try to ensure I get the thing throught the test. I agree with such tests as being both sensible and necessary.

          However, I walked out of Ford’s with an unexpected bill over 800 euros. Turns out I needed a new fan belt (which no longer comes as just a belt, but as a kit of several parts! This may be because the car is a diesel – I don’ know) and that the water pump was leaking. The number plates in Europe carry a little blue emblem with the flag and the country code. On my plates, the blue backgound of the tiny emblem had faded away, which after ten years in the sunshine isn’t surprising. However, though the large, black registration numbers themselves are perfectly clear, they replaced the entire plates because the tiny, faded emblem wouldn’t have made it through the MOT. Jeez. Surely, a sticker to put on top of the faded bit would have sufficed? And my total mileage? Still below 34,000 kilometres over those ten years. As far as I remember from the previous MOT, that test costs circa €50, so that’s something to look forward to tomorrow.

          I hate this time of year; the damned car insurance becomes due the first week in January. Thank God I didn’t buy any cameras; must have had a premonition of things to come. I think this really is my last car; using a taxi now and then would be cheaper.

          ;-(

          Reply
          1. Keith Laban

            Rob, that one of a kind pay-for update is for 12-bit 4K or Full HD ProRes Raw video recording, something I doubt you or I would ever want or need. Since buying the Z7 bodies there have been a whole bunch of really useful free updates. The majority of Nikon’s production has been in Thailand for years.

            Tim, sending all positive thoughts to you for the New Year.

          2. Rob Campbell

            “As far as I remember from the previous MOT, that test costs circa €50, so that’s something to look forward to tomorrow.” ……. Me.

            Well, good news and bad news: first the good news, which is that unlike the last time, this time the MOT cost me just €35.02 (why the added two cents, I wonder?); yes, the car passed its test, which would have been odd if it had not, considering the unexpected €800 + dropped on it yesterday to get it up to standard.

            Not so good news: because the car’s now ten years of age, the MOT certificate and sticker is only valid for one year, unlike two when she was a younger woman. That probably explains the lower price: they expect to make more out of you in the end because you now have to double your visits. Cool. Accountants, no doubt. 😉

            Keith: you’re right – no video interest from me at all, Nikon or anybody else.

            Anyway, season’s greetings to all.

            Rob

  3. Dogman

    I’m curious about one thing in the “61” cover photo. The camera shown has a round rangefinder window. It’s not easy to see here but it’s evident on the original 12″ album cover.

    I realize Dylan had many influences on me over the years. My first motorcycle was a Triumph. And my first serious camera was a Nikon. However, it was an F. I also used to wear Ray-Bans and wear Hawaiian shirts.

    God, I love that album! I still listen to it several times a year.

    Reply
  4. Stephen J

    Positively Fourth Street must be one of the most hateful songs, I understood that it was directed at Lou Reed, but that may be apocryphal. Nevertheless, still one of his best… there are so many!

    My favourite though is “When I paint my Masterpiece”, the idea that “there is always more to come”, and that it might even be your best, is so life affirming.

    Some time back, I was asking around for advice regarding a wide for occasional use, I was recommended to the Voigtlander 21 f/4, still not got around to it, but soon… For the other end, I am tempted bt the Macro-Elmar, it is so small, anyone… any ideas?

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Stephen: I too love When I paint My Masterpiece. One can argue it’s a, well, masterpiece.

      The VC 21 is a wonderful lens for a great price. I use mine all the time. On the GXR with M Mount, it translates to a 32mm and is my rig of choice for street photos. F8, iso 1600, scale focus. Just pint and shoot. The perfect street photography set-up.

      Reply
      1. Larry Cloetta

        I’ve got an SP, and agree that in some ways it is nicer than my (nice) M3; obviating the need for accessory viewfinders for one, and the rock solid long term accuracy of the (titanium) shutter speeds for two. Obsessive Leica CLA’s turn out to be pointless and unnecessary on an SP, as shutter speeds and rangefinder alignment on your 60 year old SP are going to be right on and likely to stay that way in perpetuity on an SP that’s “never been apart.” At least that’s been my experience with a variety of S2’s, S3’s, SP’s, and M’s.
        I sold off my VC 21 after comparing it to a Contax 21 Biogon (original one) which I can use on the SP as the VC was “too contrasty” for me and I just preferred the results from the Biogon. Don’t imagine it would easily adapt to the GXR, though.
        As a Dylan aficionado (i.e. nutcase) I’ve found Emma Swift’s recent “Blonde on the Tracks” CD to be the best collection of Dylan covers I have ever heard, by a long way, and well worth having on its own as opposed to being just another fan centric curiosity. Music recommendations, like lens recommendations are very much YMMV.
        Merry Christmas!

        Reply
    2. Keith Laban

      I’ve been fortunate enough to own and use a few remarkable wides including the Rodenstock lenses for the Hasselblad ArcBody and the Hasselblad HCD 28, but I’d rate the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21 f/3.4 ASPH as being as good if not better. It’s tiny by comparison: can’t recommend it enough.

      Reply
    1. Stephen J

      I saw that for the first time following an earlier recommendation of yours Rob, it remains a frequent watch.

      Anita O’Day is stunning, reading about the event, apparently she was on her uppers and had nothing to wear for the show, she was also (shall we say) a little under the weather, but stole the show with clothes from the local charity shop… It was Newport after all.

      There are many great little sequences in the film too, the opening with Gerry Mulligan is great, as are Mr. Berry and Mr. Armstrong… er Chico Gonzales too…

      … oh and Dinah Washington, what a presence.

      Thanks and Merry Christmas to all, but better still, here’s to the new year.

      KBO

      Reply
      1. Rob Campbell

        No matter how often I watch, that couple dancing on the roof of the house never falls off; perhaps next time, when they’ve had a couple more beers or whatever…

        If any of you watched and enjoyed La Dolce Vita, here’s a link to a contemporary version of a similar theme that’s in colour, and perhaps even more beautiful and certainly worthy of the several times I’ve managed to find and watch it online. The movie’s called La Grande Bellezzza:

        https://www.bitchute.com/video/2r76cdeNlnVB/

        Enjoy!

        It’s 15° inside today; there’s snow on two of the Mallorcan mountains that I can see from here through the trees. Local architects who never provide insulation because, as everybody knows, the Med is a place of permanent summers, ought to be shot. Or be forced to read out loud George Sand’s A Winter in Mallorca, and every night for an entire winter. Maybe they are all in league with the electricity company?

        Reply
  5. Jon

    I just know that despite the brilliance of Dylan, I wanted to smack him and Neuwirth in the Pennebaker film for their elitist attitudes towards even the most sincere media or other questions….like they were doing us a tremendous favour by being on tour in the UK. It must be so hard to share your music with people and then to be popular and then scolding everyone for being popular…sigh. I call them ‘proto-ironic-sarcastic-hipster’. The music was great; the attitude in that film was complete shite.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      I agree. Dylan was/is an ass. He’s been playing that role for 60 years. It got old about 6 months in.

      Reply
      1. Stephen Gandy

        ” Basically, you couldn’t give away an SP during the ’70s through the early ’90s. ”

        Nonsense. As a long time Nikon collector and one of the original members of the Nikon Historical Society, I can assure you Nikon SP’s have always been in short supply and have always commanded relatively high values.

        Reply
        1. Leicaphila Post author

          Bullshit. I remember SP’s, with lenses, going for next to nothing in the 70’s. Nobody wanted them. They were obsolete, old tech with discontinued optics. Users traded them in droves for the F, where they sat unnoticed on store shelves for years. Apparently the only people stupid enough to pay good money for them were geeks who typically joined gear societies like NHS; had you walked into any NYC camera store in 1978 you could buy your choice of Nikon rangefinder with lenses for next to nothing. Nobody, but nobody, wanted them. Unlike you, Nikon aficionados were buying F’s.

          Reply
  6. Stephen Gandy

    The NYC market was an exception to the world market place thanks to a over concentration of gear heads chasing the newest and greatest. Talk to Fred Krughoff. He made a fortune buying Nikon Rangefinder gear for next to nothing in NYC and selling it world wide. Too bad for your bank account you did not have his knowledge or business savy. Your ignorance made Fred a lot of money. And I was buying Nikon F’s.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      nice way to dance around the fact that I’m right and you’re not. Typical. As for your friend, good for him. I’m happy to hear someone made some money off the fact that nobody wanted SPs in the 70’s. Just proves my point, but apparently, you’re too obtuse to see the obvious.

      Reply

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