short history and description of the Nikonos camera system
Nikonos Camera started life as the Calypsophot, designed for Jacques
Cousteau, in 1956, by the Belgian engineer Jean De Wouters. The
original lens was a Som Berthiot 35mm f/3.5, with a flat glass front
port, mounted on a special waterproof bayonet.
The design was subsequently offered to Nikon, who had the technical and
marketing infrastructure to make it into a commercial product, and the
first 'Calypso-Nikkor' camera became available in 1963 (a prototype of
this original Nikon version appeared as a gadget in the 1965 James Bond
film 'Thunderball'). The design evolved from 1963 to 1979,
with the major revisions being known as the Nikonos, the Nikonos II
(1968), and the Nikonos III (1975). The important change, from a
compatibility point of view, was that the III came with a new type of
flash connector. This change was necessary because the original
connector was unreliable. The Nikonos connectors that came later are
compatible with the Nik III, but not with the earlier cameras.
III exploded view
Photomontage: © D. W. Knight 2006
In 1979, Nikon decided that it was time for a radical redesign; to
simplify production by having more parts in common with other Nikon
cameras, and to improve exposure accuracy by using a Seiko
electro-mechanical shutter. Thus was born the Nikonos IVa (the 'a'
stands for 'automatic exposure', there was no IV on its own); which was
unpopular because of its lack of manually controllable shutter speeds,
and the fact that any leak could stop it from working (the original
cameras would often work again after being rinsed out and dried). The
Nik IVa system also included an automatic Speedlight, the SB101, and a
feature whereby the camera would be automatically switched to the 1/90
s flash sync speed whenever the flash was ready to fire. The IVa used
the same 3-pin sync connector as the III, but with the old 'bulb' flash
contact now used for the 'flash ready' signal.
|The Nikonos V ("Nik five")
appeared in 1984. This gave
the user the option of manual shutter speeds, a half-decent built-in
lightmeter, and introduced TTL automatic flash. The TTL feature
required a new 5-pin flash connector, and compatibility was maintained
by the clever wheeze of making the the two extra pins in the camera
socket spring-loaded, so that they would be pushed back out of the way
when a Nikonos III plug was inserted. The companion plug has two flat
contacts, which mate with the sprung pins of the V, but are simply
ignored by the III and IVa. This feature gives at least manual flash
compatibility across the whole Nikonos range from III onwards, but it
meant that you had to make sure that the flat contacts were clean
before inserting the plug. The Nikonos V connector is still used on
modern underwater housings.
Some facts about the Nikonos V
The Nikonos V is not an SLR camera.
The Nikonos V does not have a rangefinder.
All Nikonos (pre RS-AF) lenses were designed for focusing by
estimation. This would appear to require either skill or measurement on
the part of the user, except that the camera was not normally used in
that way. For underwater use, the camera was normally fitted either
with a wide-angle lens, or with a macro attachment. Wide-angle lenses
do not require focusing in the normal sense - for most purposes they
are best set to the hyperfocal distance, i.e., the upper depth of field
mark is placed at ∞. Macro attachments are provided with
distance prongs and framers, and so do not require focusing except for
adjustment to the recommended setting.
The principal advantage of the Nikonos was the ability to use fully
water-corrected lenses in wide-angle photography.
The Nikonos V was for many years the industry
standard professional underwater camera, but became obsolete with the
advent of high-resolution digital photography (>4Mp). Nikon
attempted to replace it in the early 1990s with the Nikonos RS-AF
(Reflex System - Auto Focus), essentially an underwater F4, but the new
camera was fabulously expensive and few could justify the cost. The
RS-AF was soon discontinued except for fulfilment of existing
government contracts, and Nikon instead continued to market the Nikonos
V until 2001.
For slightly more than the cost of servicing a
Nikonos V, it was posible in 2006 to buy an underwater digital camera
and housing that would exceed the performance a Nikonos with its
standard 35mm lens (photography had moved on).
Made in two colours; orange and camouflage green (intended for press
photographers operating in jungle war zones, the Nikonos II and III
models having been used extensively during the Vietnam War).
Nikonos cameras and system components designed
for use underwater are conservatively rated to a depth of 50m.
35mm film, 36 x 24mm format.
: Manual, Aperture Priority Auto, TTL
Flash, & B.
: Man 1/30 to 1/1000s, Auto
30s to 1/1000s, special M 1/90s mode works without battery.
X-sync @ 1/90, 1/60, & 1/30s.
: ISO 25-1600 (25-400 for TTL
flash). External ISO selector allows exposure bracketing.
Viewfinder built in for 35mm lens (full field corresponds to 28mm
view). Viewfinder LED display gives metered speed and flash status. A
standard accessory shoe on the top of the camera allows viewfinders for
other lenses to be mounted.
|The speed control gives manual (electronic) shutter
speeds from 1/30 to 1/1000s. The A (auto)
position gives aperture-priority auto-exposure with speeds from 30s to
1/1000s. In A mode, the camera is set to
the X-sync speed of 1/90s when a Nikonos V (TTL) compatible flash unit
is connected and ready to fire. In manual-electronic modes (1/30 -
1/1000s) the flash ready signal sets the camera to 1/90s only if a
higher speed is selected, ie., flash sync is possible at 1/30, 1/60,
The battery is disconnected in M90, B and R modes, and
battery drain is minimised if the camera is left in one of these modes
when not in use. M90 (mechanical 1/90s) is a special modethat allows
the camera to be used when the battery is dead. B mode is used for time
exposures - the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button
is pressed. Since the camera is not powered in M90 and B modes, there
is no TTL flash control when using these settings, but manual flash
working is possible. R (rewind) position disengages the film-advance
mechanism to allow the film to be rewound into its cassette.
The frame counter (next to the speed control) is reset to 'S' (start)
when the camera back is opened. A switch in the frame-counter mechanism
disconnects the battery until frame '1' is reached. If an electronic
mode is selected, the shutter will fire at approx. 1/1500s until the
counter indicates '1'.
||Film Speed (ISO / ASA) Control.
The external ISO control, normally set to the film-manufacturer's
recommendation, can be used for exposure bracketing when using
electronic modes. The available ISO range is 25 to 1600 when using
ambient light, and 25 to 400 when using TTL flash. True Nikonos-V
compatible strobes (Nikon and Ikelite) give an error signal if an ISO
value of greater than 400 is selected.
||Shutter release and Lock.
Protruding shutter button allows the camera to be used while wearing
gloves. The Lock-lever (L) prevents accidental firing. Lightly pressing
the shutter button activates the viewfinder display. The display
remains on for 16sec if the battery is in good condition, but goes out
immediately on releasing the shutter button if the battery is low.
|The frame markings within the viewfinder area are for
the 35mm lens, and correspond to 85% coverage at ?. Parallax
compensation mark indicates the shift required when working at 0.8m
The LED display at the bottom of the viewfinder indicates selected
shutter speed, over exposure warning, under exposure or camera shake
warning, and flash ready. In manual-electronic modes, the
camera-metered speed flashes if different from the selected speed.
If you are thinking of taking a Nikonos camera underwater, you should
probably think again. Photography has moved on, and a cheap digital
camera and underwater housing can (with the aid of image processing
) be made to produce results as good as or better
than those that could be obtained with the venerable Nikonos.
than simply deleting the advice we gave years ago however, we will
assume that you want to dive with a Nikonos camera for some special
reason, such as that of making a historical movie.
|Power source is a DL1/3n
3V Lithium Cell.
2x S76 silver cells can also be used, but the lithium cell lasts longer.
Replace battery when the terminal voltage falls below 3.00V
Nikonos IVa and V use the same battery holder.
||Sync blanking plug
Waterproof blanking cover, for Nikonos 1-5 & RS (M14 x 1.0).
||User O-ring set.
Back door, Lens, Battery holder, and sync socket.
Standard Nikonos O-rings are made from Nitrile-Butadiene rubber (NBR)
with a Shore hardness of about 60 (softer than standard O-rings, which
are usually Sh~70).
The Nikonos grease supplied in the O-ring kit is petroleum gel
(Vaseline). Silicone grease (e.g., Dow Corning Molykote 111) is far
superior (less soluble in water and highly water repellent).
If you obtain a secondhand Nikonos camera from a private seller, or
have a Nikonos camera that has not been submerged for some time,
taking it underwater without getting it serviced is asking for trouble.
The most heavily stressed O-ring seal in the Nikonos V camera (and in
the IVa) is that around the film advance lever shaft. It tends to dry
out and become abraded, giving rise to a slow but insidious leak into a
delicate part of the camera mechanism known as the 'winding stack'.
A full service for a Nikonos V involves complete replacement of
non-static O-rings, housing only pressure test, full function test,
recalibration of the light metering system, and final pressure test,
with fixing of trivial faults and adjustments along the way. The
procedure requires camera calibration equipment, a pressure tank,
special tools, hole plugs and electrical adapters, and access to the
service manual. Individuals who do not possess advanced technical
skills and a well-equipped workshop are advised not to attempt it.
What should I do if I flood a Nikonos V?
Do the following within the hour:
Switch off (set to M90).
Remove the lens, the film, and the battery.
Remove the plate covering the electronics
section (4 small screws).
Set the ISO/ASA knob to 100. Use a fingernail
to pull out the clip that holds the ISO knob (use of pliers carries
the risk that you will scratch the back-door O-ring seat). Pull out the
control assembly by the outer knob.
Prize off the plastic cap that covers the film
advance lever (if fitted) and throw it away (it serves no useful
purpose). Unscrew the film advance / speed shaft from the top. Pull out
the control assembly by the speed knob.
Remove the 3 Philips screws which retain the
inner body (1 in the film-cassette well, 2 in the take-up spool well).
you have a soldering iron, unsolder the 5
flash connector wires (blue, yellow, violet, green, black) next to the
Pull out the inner body (thumb in the
film-cassette well, forefinger between the film-advance sprocket and
the take-up spool).
Don't put your fingers anywhere near the
Flip the inner body over.
DO NOT tug on the flexible printed circuit that connects to the
viewfinder LED assembly.
Release the LED display from the viewfinder by
undoing 2 screws that secure the LED mounting plate to the housing.
Use the correct size of watchmaker's screwdriver and take care not to
shear the screws or damage the screw-heads. If you cannot remove these
screws without causing damage, you can undo the clamp that joins the
two flexible printed circuits; but re-connection is a tricky operation.
you were able to unsolder the wires leading
to the flash connector, the camera mechanism is now free in your hand.
Repeatedly wash the affected parts with distilled water. Washing works
by serial dilution, ie., the 1st rinse removes about 95% of the salt,
the next rinse removes 95% of the remaining 5%, and so on. Try not to
get unaffected parts wet, but for a serious flood, was everything over
and over again with fresh distilled water.
DO NOT wash the mechanism with industrial
alcohol. Alcohol will dissolve all of the lubricants and adhesives used
in production, and will cause the mechanism to become an economic
Allow the camera to dry naturally in a warm
place, or warm it very gently with a hair-drier to speed things up.
you have identified and corrected the cause
of the flood, fit the speed control and film advance lever to the
camera mechanism and check that it functions mechanically. If there is
any water in the shutter assembly, the shutter will stick and further
drying time is needed. When mechanical functionality is restored,
install the battery and check electronic functionality. If all is well,
the camera mechanism can be re-installed into the body. Clean out all
of the O-ring grooves with paper towels, re-grease the O-rings,
re-assemble the camera, and check all functions. Don't forget to clean
and re-grease the O-rings of the controls which have been disturbed
(ie., ISO Knob, and 3 rings on the speed/advance control shaft).
Do not remove O-rings from their grooves
using screwdrivers or other sharp tools. Handle O-rings only with the
soft parts of your fingers. O-rings that cannot be removed by hand can
be removed by making a tool out of flexible plastic (similar to or
actually a guitar plectrum).
Get the camera serviced and professionally
reassembled as soon as you get back to civilisation.
The Nikonos camera system has a very large range of lenses associated
with it; primary optics having been manufactured by Nikon and
Sea&Sea, and other lens accessories having been made by various
manufacturers. All can be used with any manual focus Nikonos (or
Calypsofot) model (not the RS-AF), with the exception that early
versions of the Nikonos 15mm f/2.8 are incompatible with the TTL
metering system of the Nikonos IVa and V. Nikon used the terminology
'W-Nikkor' for a waterproof lens corrected for use in air (recognisable
by the flat front glass), and 'UW-Nikkor' for a lens corrected for use
underwater (and having a convex or concave front glass). Nikon also
made an LW-Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens, for use in tropical conditions (air
corrected, not submersible). All of the W-Nikkor lenses focus in water,
but of the UW-Nikkor lenses, only the 28mm f/3.5 will focus in air. One
of the principal advantages of the Nikonos system was the availability
of water-corrected lenses, which (before the advent of image radial
) always gave a higher resolution than an
air-corrected lens mounted behind a port.
Underwater resolving power of Nikonos lenses
Source: 'Diver-operated cameras and their marine
biological uses', A.
Svoboda, in 'Underwater Photography and Television for Scientists',
J.D.George, G.I. Lythgoe, and J.N. Lythgoe, 1985, ISBN 0-19-854141-4
|UW Nikkor 15mm f/2.8:
||73 lines/mm centre @ f/8.
|UW-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5:
||72 lines/mm centre @ f/8
|W-Nikkor 35mm f/2.5:
||62 lines/mm centre @ f/8
An air-corrected wide-angle lens behind a dome port, no matter how
expensive, will always give lower edge resolution than a properly
water-corrected lens. This is due to the introduction of chromatic
aberration at the air-water boundary. If the camera is a digital camera
however, or if the film is to be scanned, it is possible to correct for
chromatic aberration using software. If software correction is applied,
a good air-corrected lens can be turned into a good water-corrected
lens, and results similar to or better than those obtained with
UW-Nikkor lenses can easily be achieved.
Nikonos Air / Water Lenses and Viewfinders
|W-Nikkor 35mm f/2.5
Standard lens, works in air and underwater.
Coverage: 62° in air, 46°30’ in water.
Resolution: 62 lines/mm, centre, at f/8.
Min focus: 0.8m. Min aperture f/22. Filter thread 58mm.
Normally used with extension tube or supplementary lens.
|W-Nikkor 80mm f/4
Normally used underwater with the Nikonos close-up outfit (for 1:2.2
macro) - gives better resolution than the 35mm lens with extension
Coverage: 30°20’ in air, 22°45’
Min focus distance 1m. Min aperture f/22.
Filter thread 58mm.
Bare lens is difficult to focus underwater due to very small depth of
|UW-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5
Moderate wide-angle rectilinear lens, offering easier focusing and
greater resolution compared to the 35mm lens. Designed for underwater
use, but gives acceptable results in air.
Resolution: 72 lines/mm, centre, at f/8.
Coverage: UW 59°. Min focus 0.6m. Min aperture f/22.
Filter thread 58mm.
||Action finder 35/80mm
Rapid underwater framing for the 35/2.5 and 80/4 lenses.
||Action finder 28mm
Rapid underwater framing for the UW-Nikkor 28mm lens.
||DF10 80mm Optical Viewfinder
Optical finder for the W-Nikkor 80mm f/4, with parallax adjustment.
Nikonos Wide-angle Lenses & Accessories
||Rubber Lens Hood
Rubber lens hood for the 35mm/2.5. Provides complete knock protection
in rough working conditions.
||Lens Protector Ring
Lens protector ring 58mm. Fits 80, 35, & 28mm lenses. Prevents
damage to filter thread in rough conditions. Can be removed in water to
allow fitting of optical accessories.
||Spare Front Lens Cap
Spare 60mm slip-on lens cap, for 80, 35 & 28mm lenses.
||Spare Rear Lens Cap
for all manual focus Nikonos Lenses (not RS).
||Lens Case CL50A
Lens Case CL51 (80mm)
Hard lens carrying case, black leatherette.
The focal length of a lens in water is not
directly comparable to the focal length of a lens working in air. The
parameter of interest is the Angle of Coverage. E.g., the 15mm UW
Nikkor has the same coverage (94°) as the 20mm Nikkor f/2.8
lens used on Nikon F series SLRs.
The Sea&Sea 15 and 20mm Nikonos mount
lenses were a low cost alternative to the UW-Nikkor counterpart. They
gave good results, but used a simplified version of the Nikonos
bayonet, which did not preserve the back-focal distance exactly, taking
its reference from the front of the camera housing rather than from the
inner body. Hence image sharpness could vary slightly depending on the
camera tolerances and whether or not the lens was pushed firmly into
Nikonos underwater wide-angle lenses do not focus in air!
||Sea&Sea SWL16 wide adapter
Sea&Sea 16mm Super Wide conversion lens for the W-Nikkor 35mm
f/2.5. Screws into the 58 mm filter thread.
Can be attached & removed in water.
Depth of field: 0.6m - ∞ @ f/8.
Max aperture f/5.6. Coverage 91° (Not designed to focus in air).
Optical viewfinder with parallax adjustment knob.
Optical elements are acrylic.
90° coverage, suitable for 15-16 mm lenses. Was also Supplied
with masks to modify coverage for use with 35 & 20-24 mm lenses.
||Sea&Sea NWL20 20mm f/3.5
Low cost alternative to the Nikon 20mm lens.
Angle of coverage 79.31°.
Min focus distance 0.4m.
Smallest aperture f/22.
Filter thread 58mm.
Suitable viewfinders: VF15, VF17, DF12.
All glass optics.
High eyepoint finder, 96° coverage, with internal markings for
35, 20 and 15-16mm lenses.
underwater use. View will appear out of
focus in air.
||Sea&Sea NWL15 15mm f/3.5
Low cost alternative to the Nikon 15mm lens.
Angle of coverage 96°.
Min focus distance 0.3m.
Smallest aperture f/22.
Sea&Sea SWL-Fisheye 12mm f/3.5
||Angle of Coverage:
Full frame fisheye.
Min focus distance: 0.3m.
Minimum aperture: f/22.
Depth of field at f/22 is 0.13m - ∞ (the near subject
front lens element).
Supplied with Neoprene dome protector and bag.
Fisheye lenses impart outward curvature (pincushion distortion) to any
straight lines which do not pass through the centre of the field, but
eliminate much of the perspective distortion associated with
rectilinear wide-angle lenses. Fisheye distortion may be used as a
creative effect, or may be minimised in pictures without dominant
geometric elements by making any horizon line pass through the centre
of the field.
Fisheye Viewfinder VF12
(90% of the 12mm fisheye frame).
Oversize eyepiece allows full frame viewing with diving mask.
||UW-Nikkor 20mm f/2.8
Water corrected, rectilinear high-resolution lens.
Angle of coverage 78°.
Min focus distance 0.4m.
Smallest aperture f/22.
Filter thread 67mm.
||DF12 20/28mm Optical Viewfinder
Nikon optical viewfinder for the UW-Nikkor 20mm lens. Magnification
0.35×. Coverage 85%.
Supplied with detachable mask to modify coverage for use with the 28mm
lens. With internal parallax markings.
||UW-Nikkor 15mm f/2.8
rectilinear wide-angle lens.
optic compatible with TTL
light-metering systems of Nikonos IVa and V.
lines/mm, centre, at f/8.
Angle of coverage
focus distance 0.3m.
Depth of field scale, in side window, mechanically linked to the focus
and aperture controls, makes this lens extremely easy to use. Normal
practice is to choose the working aperture and set the focus so that
the upper depth of field marker is on infinity (hyperfocal mode). The
lower depth of field marker then gives the minimum working distance, as
(relative to film plane)
the minimum distance relative to the lens front element, subtract 11cm;
eg., at f/22, everything more than 10cm from the front element will be
A typical flash / ISO 100 film combination gives a working aperture of
f5.6 - f/8. With more attention to focusing, the lens can easily be
used with ISO 25 film.
||DF11 15mm Optical
Nikon companion optical finder for the UW-Nikkor 15mm. Magnification
0.24x. Coverage 90%. Built-in parallax compensation marks for 0.6m and
Nikonos Close-up and Macro accessories
The most popular macro accessory for the Nikonos was a set of extension
tubes for the 35mm f/2.5 W-Nikkor. Nikon however, did not make
extension tubes (although it allowed some to be badged as Nikon
products), because the extension tube forces the 35mm lens to work well
outside of its design focusing range and results in rather poor
resolution. The table below gives the maximum achievable centre
resolution (in lines/mm) for various common macro lens configurations;
from which it can be seen that an SLR macro lens with a flat port, in
addition to its freedom from prongs and framers, gives considerably
better results than the Nikonos 35mm f/2.5 (other SLR macro lenses are
likely to give similar results to those in the table, because the port
is the major resolution limiting factor). The 28mm f/3.5, on the other
hand, gave better performance than an SLR either with the Nikonos
close-up outfit, or with an extension tube. Note that the Nikonos
Close-up lens is an achromatic doublet, and cheaper single-element
close-up lenses give inferior results.
Resolution in lines/mm of some camera systems
* Source: 'Diver-operated cameras and their marine
biological uses', A.
Svoboda, in 'Underwater Photography and Television for Scientists',
J.D.George, G.I. Lythgoe, and J.N. Lythgoe, 1985, ISBN 0-19-854141-4
|55mm Micro-Nikkor + flat port.
|UW-Nikkor 28mm + Nikonos Close-up lens
|UW-Nikkor 28mm + Extension tube
|W-Nikkor 35mm + Nikonos Close-up lens
|W-Nikkor 35mm + Extension tube
||Nikonos Close-Up Outfit
2 element Achromatic Close-up lens, for use with Nik3/4/5 & 28,
35, or 80mm main lens; with distance piece, subject frames, and
stabilising bar which attaches to the accessory shoe.
Reproduction ratio depends on main lens as follows:
80mm Lens: 1:2.2 (UW), 1:3 (air).
35mm Lens: 1:4.5 (UW), 1:6.5 (air).
28mm Lens: 1:6 (UW).
||Ikelite Extension tubes
and framers for 35mm lens.
Lightweight corrosion proof moulded extension tube, with removable
black stainless steel framer, for the W-Nikkor 35mm f/2.5. Tube fits
between the main lens and the Nikonos camera body, and cannot be
changed underwater. 1:1 tube gives life-size image on the film. 1:2
gives 1/2 life-size. 1:3 gives 1/3 life size.
#4090.11, 1:1 extension tube and framer.
#4090.12, 1:2 extension tube and framer.
#4090.13, 1:3 extension tube and framer.
||Sea&Sea Extension Tubes for 35mm
Extension tubes with distance piece and removable framer prongs. Framer
prongs can be unscrewed and clipped underneath to avoid shadow when
using side-lighting. Tube fits between the main lens and the Nikonos
camera body, and cannot be changed underwater.1:1 tube gives life-size
image on the film. 1:2 tube gives 1/2 life-size. 1:3 tube gives 1/3
SS35m3, 1:3 tube for 35mm lens.
SS35m2, 1:2 tube for 35mm lens.
SS35m1, 1:1 tube for 35mm lens.
||Sea&Sea SS28m2 1:2 tube for 28mm
Sea&Sea 1:2 extension tube for the UW-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 lens.
Gives half life-size image on the film. The 28mm lens with an extension
tube achieves considerably greater resolution than can be obtained with
the equivalent 35mm lens setup.
Flash systems for the Nikonos were made by numerous manufacturers; and
many modern underwater strobes still support the Nikonos TTL flash
protocol. Note that the Nikonos TTL flash interface is electrically
compatible with pre-digital Nikon TTL cameras (except the F3); which
meant that photographers could use a Nikonos for some shots (ie.,
wide-angle) and a housed Nikon 35mm SLR for others (eg., macro), and
share the same flash unit between the two systems.
The Nikon electronic flash systems for the Nikonos were, in historical
order, the SB-101, SB-102, SB-103, SB-104, and SB-105. The SB-101
(pre-dating the Nikonos V) was a manual flash unit with an optional
SU-101 auto-sensor. The battery compartment for the SB-101 was separate
from the flash head, inside the handle, and the use of anodised
aluminium with brass screws (a strong corrosion cell) made the battery
compartment impossible to dismantle after a year or so of underwater
use. Hence, flooding the SB-101 battery compartment tended to make it a
write-off. The SB-102 was the first TTL flash unit for the Nik V, but
could also use the SU-101 auto sensor for compatibility with the Nik
IVa. The SB-103 was a smaller flash unit, physically similar to the
later SB-105, which replaced it. Neither the SB-102 or the SB-103 had
sealed battery compartments, and the SB-103 was subsequently recalled
because it represented an explosion hazard in the event of a battery
compartment leak. The SB-103 had the interesting feature that the
high-voltage circuit-board tracks ran perilously close to the
connections of the integrated circuit that managed the TTL flash
signals - hence one drop of water through the battery cover seal and
the whole thing could die. This unfortunate heritage led Nikon to go
for a completely over-the-top solution with the SB-104, the electronics
compartment being completely sealed, fitted with oxygen absorbers, and
filled with dry nitrogen. Servicing the SB-104 was thus a highly
specialised job, but the strobe was reliable. The last in the line was
the SB-105, which had a sealed battery compartment and was well
designed and straightforward to repair. The SB-104 and SB-105 could
be used with some non-preflash digital cameras (the flash control
circuitry was too sluggish to handle pre-flashes).
Notice that Nikon never got away from the lamentable 'standard
lighting' configuration, with the strobe on the left side of the
camera. The best place to put a single strobe is directly above the
camera in normal circumstances, and having to detach the strobe from
the tray so that it can be hand-held in the correct position is
somewhat unergonomic. Hence, many users preferred to replace the Nikon
bracket with a fully articulated lighting arm (Ikelite, TLC,
Non-underwater Flash accessories
|Nikon TTL flash for Nikonos
auto, Manual full, 1/4. 1/16, Slave.
|Guide No (Full, ISO 100, UW):
|Angle of coverage:
||Ni-CD pack SN-104
||4 x AA, NiCd or
|Flashes per charge (approx):
||45 (Ni-Cd), 120
|Recycle time (approx):
||4s (Ni-Cd), 6s
|Dimensions (head only)/mm:
||124 dia, 222 L.
||99W,, 130H, 181D
|Weight (w/o battery)
|Nikonos to PC sync adapter
submersible! Adapts Nikonos III / IVa /
V to work with conventional manual land flash via PC lead.
|Nikonos TTL hot shoe adapter
submersible! Adapts Nikonos V to work
with Nikon hot-shoe compatible TTL flash units. Operation with Nik III
and IVa is manual only.
The Nikonos camera system is obsolete. A digital underwater
camera and housing can be obtained for little more than the typical
cost of servicing a Nikonos V. Hence the only reason for taking Nikonos
equipment underwater is so that people can be filmed or photographed
with it. If not dissuaded, the following advice might be
If buying secondhand Nikonos equipment with the intention of using it
underwater, you need some kind of guarantee from the seller. A
considerable proportion of the equipment offered for sale by private
individuals turns out to be faulty, often in some subtle but insidious
way, and spare parts can be hard to obtain. The classic problem of the
Nikonos III was that of a cracked top-plate, which was caused by
lending the camera to someone who didn't know that you have to remove
the lens before you can get the camera open. You'd think that this
problem would have been rare, but it was our most common reason for
declaring a Nikonos III to be a write-off. The Nikonos II had a cast
aluminium top plate, but the author has even seen one of those broken
in two by someone who tried to remove it with a hammer and chisel
(which goes to prove that there really are people from other planets
walking amongst us). Nikonos IVa and V cameras tend to leak into the
winding stack, so take off the electronics cover plate and have a good
look for corrosion. The TTL flash system of the Nikonos V will cease to
work if the sync socket has been flooded (the springs in the TTL
contact pins corrode and cease to conduct electricity). It follows that
signs of tender loving care are good, but signs of abuse are very bad.
The important issue to understand however, is that Nikonos camera
systems are like cars; in that they consume parts as a proportion of
the operating cost, and occasionally need expensive repairs. Before
committing money to a system which is no longer in production, address
the problem of how it will be maintained.
Here is the maintenance status of some common and less common items of
Nikonos equipment (this list was oroginally compiled in 2006):
Calypso-Nikkor / Nikonos
(1963 - 1968):- collectable.
(1968-1975):- No spares (o-rings available).
(1975-1979):- No spares (o-rings available).
Write-off if camera
top is cracked.
(1979-1984):- No spares except o-rings and
parts common to
Nik V. Write-off if film-advance return spring is corroded.
(1984 - 2001): No spares except reclaim and
standard japanese O-rings.
W-Nikkor 35mm f/2.5 & UW-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5
versions ware black anodised. Old versions are plain aluminium and are
less valuable. Look out for dented filter rings, scratched optics,
stiff controls, and internal flood residues - all of which are very bad
UW Nikkor 15mm f/2.8
- there were two versions of this
lens. The old
version with the back element projecting into the camera throat does
not work with the Nikonos IV and V auto exposure
systems. The focus scale window is acrylic, and will crack if the lens
is cleaned with alcohol.
LW-Nikkor 28mm f/2.8
- This is a 'land waterproof' lens
for use in
rainforest environments (Vietnam war press photography). It cannot be
used underwater, but few were produced and the item is collectable.
:- Unrepairable if battery compartment is flooded.
Housing cracks possible. Best avoided.
:- Very badly designed from a service point of
view, can be very difficult to repair at the electronic component
level. High voltage and low voltage circuit tracks are too close, so
tends to die from minor water ingress.
Factory recall. Collector's item only. Due to a
potential explosion hazard, Nikon recalled all SB103s and replaced them
with the SB105. Replaced SB103s were rendered useless by drilling a
hole in the case. Some of the drilled SB103s found their way back onto
the secondhand market - caveat emptor!
:- Discontinued 2002. Over-complicated design
housing, microcontroller-managed circuitry), weird battery pack.
Reliable but un-maintainable..
:- Replacement for the SB-103. Discontinued 2002.
small underwater flash. TTL reset too slow for digital cameras that
:- Over-complicated, unmaintainable.
DWK 2006. 2012, 2018
This article uses images and artwork produced by Calypso-phot, Nikon,
Sea & Sea, Ikelite, and David Knight. David Knight is the
Jenny with Nikonos CU outfit, green Nik V and Sea & Sea YS50,