Nikon in space

How Nikon cam­eras have helped to shape our view of the world

NPhoto - - Feature -

NASA has cap­tured more than 700,000 im­ages with Nikon equip­ment

Nikon’s jour­ney into space be­gan in 1971, when the Nikon Pho­tomic FTN was used on the Apollo 15 mis­sion. Up to this point, NASA had stuck with Has­sel­blads and 70mm film, but re­quired a more por­ta­ble so­lu­tion. Nikon has been NASA’s go-to 35mm sys­tem since then.

In the late ’70s, Nikon worked on two NASA-mod­i­fied ver­sions of the F3 for use in the Space Shut­tle pro­gram. Pro­duc­tion was car­ried out along­side the de­vel­op­ment of the con­sumer F3, which had yet to be re­leased. The ‘Small Cam­era’ was equipped with a mo­tor-drive and was ca­pa­ble of hold­ing up to 72 frames per film. There was also a ‘Big Cam­era’ that had a large 250-ex­po­sure film back that could be loaded with thin­ner long film. It had a dark slide that al­lowed as­tro­nauts to re­move the film back in the mid­dle of a roll and switch to a back loaded with dif­fer­ent film.

out of th is world

On Septem­ber 1991, a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the Nikon F4 was taken into space on Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery. The Nikon NASA F4 Elec­tronic Still Cam­era was one of the first dig­i­tal cam­eras in the world – and out of it. The Nikon F4 had al­ready es­tab­lished it­self as the next-gen­er­a­tion pro­fes­sional SLR, with its cut­ting-edge aut­o­fo­cus, built-in mo­tor-drive, Ma­trix me­ter­ing and a host of elec­tron­ics, but the NASA F4 added a dig­i­tal cam­era back with a one megapixel mono­chrome CCD sen­sor at the film plane.

Nikon’s re­la­tion­ship with NASA has con­tin­ued into the dig­i­tal age, with NASA re­quest­ing D2Xs DSLRs in 2008, fol­lowed by D3s bod­ies in 2009 for use in record­ing ac­tiv­i­ties aboard the Space Shut­tle and In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

By 2010, the ISS was start­ing to re­sem­ble a zero-grav­ity Grays of West­min­ster, with an un­mod­i­fied D3s, eight D2Xs bod­ies mod­i­fied for EVA (Ex­trave­hic­u­lar Ac­tiv­ity), four D2Xs eye­pieces for fram­ing through a space hel­met, seven SB-800 Speed­lights and 36 Nikkor lenses (in­clud­ing three tele­con­vert­ers) float­ing around. At that point, NASA had cap­tured more than 700,000 im­ages with Nikon equip­ment that had been car­ried into space.

These days, you’re more likely to see the D4 in the hands of ISS as­tro­nauts, per­haps fit­ted with a Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR twinned with the Nikon AF-S FX TC-14E III 1.4x tele­con­verter, to give the equiv­a­lent view of 1120mm.

Above This im­age, taken on a Nikon, is truly out of this world…

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