A brief overview of the development and history of the Nikon F5
(Images courtesy of Theirry Ravassod at Nippon Kogaku Kulb)
Early F5 Prototypes
As with many of Nikon’s top camera’s that were evolutionary in their design, a number of prototypes were made before actual production. Details are not widely publicised and to see them usually means travelling to Japan. Above are examples of the clay, wood and pre-production F5 prototypes.
(Images courtesy of Author)
The Nikon F5
Revealed to the World in June of 1996 at a press conference in Sweden, The Nikon F5 represented a quantum leap forward in camera technology. Whilst it had many of the basic features of the F4 and was still a true ‘systems’ camera, the way in which it delivered these features was truly revolutionary. The design and styling were again courtesy of Giorgio Giugiaro with ergonomics that surpassed all other cameras on the market. The extensive use of titanium and magnesium also meant it was going to last well beyond the next evolution of the F series and could handle plenty of abuse from professionals. Its 1,005 segment colour matrix meter with an image library of more than 30,000 files to compare exposures set the benchmark for many years even into the digital era. The F5 also sported 24 custom setting so that users could tailor their preferences. The other major selling point was the blistering 8 frames per second that it could achieve whilst still keeping focus on moving subjects in any of the five AF sensors.
(Images courtesy of NASA)
Since the Apollo and Skylab era, Nikon’s partnership with NASA gave way to numerous camera innovations and allowed a test bed for Nikon to explore further development. Almost all of Nikon’s flagship models have travelled into space albeit some more modified than others. It was also the birthplace of the first Nikon/Kodak digital cameras. The few F5’s lucky enough to travel into space were virtually the same as those in the hands of many photojournalists and photographers, a testament to the manufacturing standards of Nikon. All that changed was the internal lubricant. The F5 first flew aboard Endeavour in 1998.
(Images courtesy of Yong Kiat Lim)
In 1998, knowing full well of the impending digital revolution that was just around the corner, Nikon released a special anniversary edition of the F5. It commemorated 50 years since the introduction of the first Nikon 35mm camera (1948-1998) and was limited to a production of 3000 pieces. The changes were purely cosmetic but none the less appealing. The top plate, red inside rubber grip and body cap were detailed in silver with the standard ‘Nikon’ name badge on the DP-30 finder re-written in the original typeface of the Nikon I. The Nippon Kogaku logo was also included on the rear of the camera. This was all presented in a custom box with an anniversary strap to match.
The DCS Evolution
Nikon and Kodak have had a long and successful partnership in experimenting with digital cameras. The DCS series initially began with variations of the Nikon F3 and Canon F1 before progressing to adapting consumer bodies. In 1999 Kodak launched the 600 series DCS cameras which where essentially the DCS 520 internals inside an Nikon F5 body. Initially aimed at both studios and photojournalists, the release of the D1 by Nikon later that year meant Kodak would eventually concentrate on studio applications before retiring the concept. The 700 series DCS cameras were again F5s with updated electronics and improved sensors. Of note, the DCS 600 series were flown aboard the Space Shuttle along side unmodified Nikon F5s.