Tag Archives: Nikkor-SC 50mm 1.4

The Leica Experience Without the Leica

Nikon S3 2000 Limited Edition

If Leica announced they were going to offer a brand new M2, built to the original specs, coupled with a state-of-the-art Summilux 50mm f1.4 and original lens hood- and offer it as a kit for $1600, I suspect you’d happily sell your grandmother into white slavery for a chance to buy as many as possible. The lens alone would be worth the price.

Why then can’t people give away the brand new in box Nikon S3 2000 editions stowed away fifteen years ago when Nikon released the S3 Millennial edition? Think of this. A New Leica M-A, the current iteration of Leica’s mechanical film M, sells new for $5195, with free shipping; for the 50mm Summilux add an extra $4395. That’s $9590. (Given you’re buying it from B&H in New York, add $870 in local sales tax: total price door to door $10,540). Yet today you can find an unused, never taken out of the box S3 Millennial, with 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor that is every bit the equal of the MA with Summilux, for $1600 or thereabout on eBay ( hell, I’d argue that the S3 is better built than the MA). And few people seem to want them. That’s crazy.

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Nikon S3 Millennial with 35mm W-Nikkor

Millenial Nikon S3 with W-Nikkor 35mm 1.8

In 1957 a LEICA M2 and 50mm f/1.4 lens sold for about $3800 in today’s money, while the pro Nikon, the Nikon SP went for $3,000 with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4. Released in 1958, Nikon designed the S3 as the lower-cost alternative to the SP, sort of the equivalent of the Leica M2 in relation to the M3. The only real difference between the SP and the S3 was the viewfinder. While the SP employed two separate viewfinders that covered the 28/35/50/85/105 and 135 fields of view, the S3 employed a single viewfinder with fixed 35mm, 50mm, and 105mm framelines and no parallax correction or frame switching. Frankly, if you confined your needs to a 50 or 35, the S3 was as good as the SP, certainly as robust and well- built. In 1958, the S3 with 50mm f/1.4 cost ¥86,000 (about $2600 in today’s money) compared to the SP which was ¥98,000.

Black Paint Nikon S3
Black Paint S3 Millennial With 50mm 1.4 Nikkor-S

In 2000 Nikon reproduced the original S3 and offered it as the S3 2000 (“S3 Millennial”), an exact duplicate of their classic 1958 S3 in chrome finish.   Nikon produced 8000 cameras by hand assembly, 300 per month. In 2002 Nikon released the black paint S3 2000 with a production of 2000 units. Nikon’s cost was more than the selling price of the camera, over $6,000 each. The initial retail price for both the chrome and black paint the kit was around $6000, and most were bought up by collectors and put on the shelf with an eye to appreciation. The rise of digital photography, however, knocked the legs out from under the S3 as an investment, and many collectors are selling their new, unused, still in the box Millennial S3’s for pennies on the dollar. Today you can find an unused, never taken out of the box S3 with f/1.4 Nikkor for $1600 on eBay.

With the M2/M3 in 1955,  Leica came up with an enduring design that made the camera a natural extension of the photographer’s hand. The M3 embodied minimalist functionality at its best, radically simple, both in design and function, everything accessible with minimum fuss.  Of course, the M2/M3 was the inspiration for Nikon’s first pro rangefinder, but the SP included some of its own innovations. For example, with its forward focusing wheel and shutter release to the rear of the top plate, it was designed to allow your index finger at the shutter trigger while using your middle finger to focus with the focusing wheel.  One-hand operation. (This is how the Nikon F, built on the rangefinder platform, inherited its unwieldy shutter position  – the recessed shutter position had been designed to accommodate the focus wheel of the rangefinder series, but, of course, made no sense on the F which didn’t have a focusing wheel. Nikon moved the shutter trigger forward on the bottom-up designed F2).

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Nikon S3 Millennial
Nikon S3 Millennial
Nikon S3 Millennial with 50mm Nikkor f/1.4 and Leica M2-R with DR Summicron

The S3 has the same minimalist ethos as the Leica, simple to use and very reliable. It’s also made to the same incredible high manufacturing standards, hand-built in the same manner as the M. And the Millennial Nikkor 50 is an exceptional lens, every bit the equal of the current Leica optics. While Nikon claims it’s a faithful recreation of the 50 era Nikkor 50, it does use modern coatings and tighter tolerances, and its output is markedly superior to the original Nikkor of which it is a recreation. It’s a testament to Nikon’s optical expertise that a 50-year-old optical design can match the best modern Leica optics.

So, if you want a new fully mechanical precision film rangefinder built by one of history’s iconic manufacturers, you can spend $10,540 on a Leica M-A with ASPH Summilux 50 – or you can buy a chrome S3 Millennial kit on eBay for $1600-$1800 (or if you want the black paint version, $2700. I’ve got a chrome version, which I actually prefer to the black paint version. For me, old Nikon rangefinders should be chrome). And, given Voigtlander offers many of their excellent and reasonably priced rangefinder lenses in Nikon S mount (21mm f4, 25mm f4, 28mm 3.5, 35mm 2.5, 50mm 2.5, 50mm 1.5, 85mm 3.5) you can assemble a nice system of new, modern optics for your new S3 without the problems that come along with 50-year-old lenses. If you choose the S3 Millennial, you can have the “Leica Experience” without the price premium, the snobbery and buffoonery, the condescending elitism, the ignorant comments from the hoi polloi, the envious looks from the guy with the x100; just the simple joy of using a superbly made mechanical rangefinder with a wide choice of excellent optics. And the camera is new – nobody else’s problems to deal with.

What’s not to like about that?

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