Nikon SLR-type digital cameras


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Nikon Photomic FTn special NASA Appolo 15, 1975

When the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wanted a more portable camera for its space missions, it went to Nikon. The challenges of producing a camera that worked safely and conveniently for astronauts in space are many, including having controls that are large enough to operate for astronauts wearing bulky gloves. The camera must also be able to function flawlessly in zero gravity situations, in the vacuum of space, and while being roasted by the intensely hot rays of the Sun in outer space.
(Unknown Specifications)


Nikon F Nasa with "horns"

As mentionned by Barney Britton in DPreview, Nikon has a long history of making cameras for use in outer space. A small exhibition at this year's CP+ show in Yokohama showcases some of the company's most famous models.
First up is a Nikon Photomic FTN, adapted for use on the Apollo 15 mission to the moon. Although it looks much like a conventional FTN, this modified version features a thicker body shell, NASA-standard insulation in the battery chamber (electrical fires in space are no joke) and larger, easier to grip controls.(1)

The 'horns' on the lens enable the main controls to be manipulated easily when wearing thick gloves. Notice also the lack of a leatherette covering on the camera body. The modified FTN also featured internal changes to accommodate the thinner, polyester-based films used for specialist missions.(1)


Nikon F Nasa without viewfinder




This is another heavily modified F, without a viewfinder. This camera is similar to motordrive-equipped models supplied to NASA for the 1973 Skylab missions. The fatter, easier to grip controls are obvious in this view.(1)




Nikon F3 Nasa



"small" Nikon F3 Nasa












"big" Nikon F3 Nasa


Nikon F3, F4 and F5 NASA

After the Nikon issued from the Photomic FTn, some others special cameras were developed for the NASA by Nikon from the basis of F3 and F4 bodies. The Nikon F3 was developed for a large part from the NASA specifications.
To day, the standard cameras sold for public as the Nikon F5 have in standard all the specifications required for space missions and do not require body modification. They just need special preparation from Nikon.


Space walking with a Nikon F3.



The Nikon F was a relatively old camera by the time it was used on the Skylab missions, but NASA didn't supply any modified F2 bodies - instead jumping straight to the F3 in the early 80s.
This is a 'small' F3, with a modified motordrive and high-magnification finder, supplied to astronauts on early space shuttle missions. Compared to the the earlier (and hugely costly) F/FTN conversions, the F3 cameras that Nikon supplied to NASA were much more similar to the standard models available for sale to the general public.(1)

This is the 'big' F3, also used on space shuttle missions in the 1980s. The bulk film magazine could hold enough film for 250 images before it needed to be reloaded. On earth, this looks like it would be one heavy camera to carry around, but of course that's less of an issue in zero gravity.(1)


Nikon F4 Nasa


Nikon F4 Nasa digital back




In 1992, the standard Nikon F4 film body was converted to digital by placing a one megapixel monochrome CCD at the film plane. The sensor was a Loral CCD 1024x1024 pixel array with an active area of 15mm x 15mm.
The battery-operated Electronic Still Camera (ESC) retained all the features of the F4 camera body and accepted any lens or optics with a Nikon mount. Nikkor lenses used on STS-48 included a 20mm f/2.8 AF, 35-70mm f/2.8 AF, 50mm f/1.2 and 180mm f/2.8 AF.



Boitiers reflex numériques Nikon pour la Nasa


New-York viewed from space


Atlantis space shuttle


Nikon D4 DSLR at International Space Station


NASA ordered its first digital cameras in 2008 for use in space:
- a set of six Nikon D2XS DSLRs, followed by Nikon D3, 11 D3S in 2009, D3x cameras and flashs used until final flight of space shuttle Atlantis the 21th of July 2011.
- 48 Nikon D4 DSLRs from 2013 to 2016 and 53 Nikon SLR D5 from November 2017.
NASA is reusing Nikon lenses and accessories previously launch with the Nikon D4 and D2Xs cameras and planning to keep the D5 cameras in circulation for 12-18 months.


Nikon D4 Nasa with EVA cover




Skipping forward to (almost) the present day, this is a Nikon D4, shrouded in a special EVA cover - a thermal blanket, designed to protect the camera from the extreme temperature variations experienced during spacewalks. Made from mylar, kevlar, aluminum and no doubt plenty of other advanced materials, each EVA cover reportedly costs around $20,000.
The next camera destined for use in space, by astronauts will be D5 with EVA cover on the International Space Station (1)


To consult page about others Nikon prototypes or to consult the preceding bulletin or to announce your remark to me and/or to send a message to me.
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The texts of this page engage only their author and in no case Nikon Corporation
(1) Texte of Barney Britton in DPreview
Nikon, Nikkor and Nikkormat are trademarks of Nikon Corporation, Tokyo Japan.

Created February 8th 1998, Updated March 3rd 2018
© Pierre J.