"Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away….." goes the Simon and Garfunkel classic. Well, Kodachrome 25 Professional Film / PKM, known for its exceptional results in outdoor travel and nature settings, was discontinued in 2003 by Kodak, and now it appears that you can say goodbye to most of the Nikon cameras using film, too. Nikon has announced that it is phasing out its production of film cameras and lenses in favor of concentrating on digital photography implements.
Nikon will continue the production of its flagship F6 and the FM10, and some manual-focus lenses for those cameras, but will phase out all other cameras and most of its manual focus lenses. Those that will remain in production are the: Nikkor 20mm f/2.8, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4, Nikkor 50mm f/1.2, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 and the PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D.
Nikon sales of film camera bodies made up a paltry 3% of their overall imaging division sales last year, down from 16% in sales the year before. Nikon sees the shift as just a way to stay competitive and keep current with the changing world of photography. According to a statement released in the US: "…the company has decided to concentrate its vast resources toward those business categories that continue to demonstrate the strongest growth."
Nikon has always been adept at quickly adapting to the market economy in order to survive, so this change should come as no real surprise. According to the Nikon Historical Society in the US, Nikon was originally formed in 1921 from three small optical companies (one of them dating as far back as 1881) and went by the name Nippon Kogaku K.K. or the Japan Optical Co. The three came together to produce lenses, telescopes, microscopes and the like for the scientific and medical communities. Eventually, they began producing photographic lenses for plate back cameras and - ironically, considering they are now chief competitors - made "Nikkor" lens for Canon’s famous Hansa camera of the 1930s. In fact, from the early 1930s until 1947 Nippon Kogaku K.K., using the name Nikkor for their lenses, made all of the lenses for Canon cameras and eventually some for Leica.
For World War II, Nippon Kogaku K.K. was commissioned by the Japanese government to fill the need for binoculars, bomb sights, periscopes and aerial lenses. During the war Nippon Kogaku K.K. grew to 23,000 employees and nineteen factories.
Post World War II, as they were reduced to 1400 employees, Nippon Kogaku K.K. realized that a shift from a purely optical firm to a camera manufacturer was necessary to stay competitive. In 1948, after a few false starts deciding on what type of cameras to manufacturer, Nippon Kogaku K.K. became Nikon, the Nikon 1 was born, and then came the more well-known Nikon M 35mm camera that was exported to the US.
What followed was a series of very fortunate events for Nikon. Nikon made improvements to shutter speed and lubrication and eventually became known for their cameras’ durability and temperature resistance. Where other cameras failed to work in colder climates, the Nikon excelled. In 1950 as professional photographers tried to cover the Korean War, they needed a camera with just such features and durability. The Nikon S that came out in 1950 included the addition of a sync-flash, and it became the camera of choice. The New York Times endorsed the "superiority quality of Nikon cameras and Nikkor lenses" and the Nikon legend grew from there.
Through the decades Nikon continued its high quality performance and contribution to the evolution of the film camera. And while Simon and Garfunkel used the Nikon as a metaphor for wanting to hold onto a view of the US through rose-colored glasses, it was actually through the Nikon camera that many war photographers, and therefore Americans, saw the horrors of the Vietnam War.
In the 1970, 80s and early 90s, Nikon continued to grow and change to attract more and more of the consumer mainstream market, with offerings that included retractable lens compact cameras and the common auto features found on every camera made today. In 1995, Nikon produced its first digital still camera: the E2/E2S. And that brings us to today.
Like Kodak, who was forced to move from film to digital to save itself, Nikon has been driven to this decision to survive a market economy as well. Nikon drives the point home that the company must adopt appropriate measures to ensure its continued success, "…allowing more of Nikon's planning, engineering and manufacturing resources to be focused on the digital products that now drive our thriving industry."
So it is actually we, the consumers, who have gone digital; Nikon is just following suit. Perhaps Nikon’s shift to a concentration on digital will allow them to produce a new digital camera model more frequently than every four years.
While we certainly mourn the clear end of an era, we can only wait and see what opportunities this transition will bring.