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Nikon: A Century of Innovation

They’ve been in the game for a long time, 100 years to be exact. 

Nikon. One word and everyone already knows what I’m talking about. They’re one of the most well-known, well-loved camera makers on the planet and, as of this month, they’ve been around for 100 years. A full century. That’s an incredibly long time and an equally incredible and beautiful history.

Once upon a time, there were three Japanese optical companies…

No, seriously. 

Way back when, it really did start with three of Japan’s leading optical manufacturing companies. In 1917, the companies merged to become Nippon Kogaku K.K. or Japan Optical Industries Co. Ltd.

Still not quite the brand we recognise today, but we’re getting there. A short while after forming, the company went full throttle on research and development, becoming the primary manufacturer of optics for the Japanese military.

It was a difficult time for much of the world, but after the war, Nippon Kogaku returned to their roots and resumed the production of more civilian friendly optical products. Lenses, telescopes, microscopes, you name it, if it had or required optics, it seemed like they were making it.
The lens range was a little more on track with the NIKKOR moniker nailed down in 1932 and known to be some of the most precise lenses at the time.

1948 saw the release of the Nikon I, a rangefinder camera and the first product to bear the actual Nikon name badge. Only about 400 of them were ever made so needless to say, it’s a rare collector’s item now. Though it was highly anticipated, it didn’t receive the warmest welcome upon its release. However, a cold reception didn’t stop Nikon at all. In fact, they worked harder. They listened and they learned. They pushed forward, committing themselves to change and improvement.

A mere 6 months after the Nikon I experience, Nikon overcame several performance issues and incorporated requests and ideas into the new Nikon M (1949) and Nikon S cameras (1951) that followed shortly after. Nikon was starting to gain traction on its own, but was still very much a ‘local’ camera company. As it often happens, though, one photograph can make a huge impact.

While Nikon was quietly evolving, famous American photographer, David Douglas Duncan, happened to be doing some work in post-war Japan when he had his first encounter with a NIKKOR lens. It was owned by Japanese photographer and photojournalist, Jun Miki, who asked if he could take Duncan’s photo.
Despite the shot being taken in low light, Miki–with his NIKKOR 85mm f/2.0 lens–was able to capture a stunning portrait which he presented to Duncan the next day.
Astounded by the sharpness and quality produced in such unfavourable conditions, Duncan was hooked. He started fitting NIKKOR lenses to his camera just before heading over to cover the Korean War in 1950 for LIFE.

Once back in New York, his colleagues were amazed by Duncan’s photographs. His already notable work helped popularise the optics in America. A piece in the New York Times shed light on the incredible quality of Nikon and NIKKOR products and things really started to shift into gear.

Inspired by the Nikon SP Instruction Manual from 1957. Who doesn’t love this retro vibe?
Breaking into the North American market meant that a world of opportunity was suddenly at their fingertips. All Nikon had to do was keep listening, keep improving, and keep producing. Luckily, this was something they had come to excel at.

1957 saw the release of the now legendary Nikon SP, one of the most innovative Rangefinder cameras ever made in Japan at the time. Its defining feature was a built-in universal viewfinder that supported 6 different lenses. With fast, quiet curtain shutters, a direct connection flash sync accessory shoe, and a built-in self-timer, the SP was an award winning camera that put Nikon in the spotlight.

As Nikon continued to adapt and evolve so too did their camera range, finally becoming something a little more recognisable for photographers even today; The Nikon F.
The iconic Nikon F became a new standard for professionals upon its release in 1959.
Departing the realm of professional rangefinder cameras, the Nikon F hit the market in 1959. It was the first 35mm SLR made by the company and one of the most advanced cameras of its time, taking all the most in-demand features and combining them into one robust little unit. After all this time, finally, photographers didn’t have to compromise. For obvious reasons, this became a new standard for what professionals had come to expect from their gear.

Nikon was on the rise and everyone else was backed against the ropes. The Nikon F was in production for an astounding 15 years, really hammering home the fact that Nikon was here to stay.   

On top of producing cameras for professional photographers, Nikon went a step further. Say, a step off the planet further. In 1971, they agreed to a contract with NASA that would see them develop a camera for the Apollo 15 lunar mission. What’s cooler than that? Not much, if I’m being honest.

The Nikon Photomic FTN was chosen as a base for the soon-to-be space camera. Due to its lofty destination, the specifications for this camera were incredibly tight. Only NASA approved and specified materials could be used in the design to prevent as many problems as possible for the Astronauts that would be using it. 
Nikon and NASA have been working together since 1971, bringing us all to the moon and back.
Each Photomic FTN camera had to be heavily modified to withstand the harsh and unusual conditions of the lunar surface. Nikon had finally reached the moon.  Even to this day, the partnership with NASA still stands. Every manned space flight since Apollo 15 has had Nikon cameras and lenses on their equipment checklists.

With all the trial and error that went into creating actual space-cameras, there were a lot of takeaways and new technology that Nikon was able to incorporate into their earthbound models.  It’s exactly this kind of innovation that kept Nikon in the hands of professionals for so long, capturing some of the most recognisable photographs of all time, including that one National Geographic cover photo that everyone knows. [Afghan girl 1984 taken by Steve McCurry]

It was taken with a Nikon FM2, originally released in 1982. It was a time when competition between camera manufacturers was fierce and the world was starting to see a shift from mechanical camera bodies to ones featuring more electronic automation.

Talk about a classic read; we were lucky enough to get our hands on an old school Nikon F booklet.
The FM2 was created with serious photographers in mind, not really intended to be a professional level camera despite the fact that so many professionals chose to carry it. The all-mechanical FM2 was incredibly robust and reliable, able to handle a range of punishing scenarios without fail, making it the ideal companion for photographers venturing into unknown territory.

Jumping forward a few years to 1999, the 80’s have un/fortunately ended and things are starting to look a little more familiar. Or at least the internet was finally a big thing. 
While some of us were concerned about Y2K, Nikon was concerned with releasing something amazing; the D1.
Released in 1999, the monstrous Nikon D1 was a real powerhouse of its time.
The D1 was a digital SLR designed from the ground up with integrated metering, white balance, and tone compensation. It had a 4.5 fps frame rate and a whopping 2.7MP sensor. At the time, that was actually pretty amazing. Before you laugh, I’ll take this moment to remind you that was 18 years ago. 

Looking back through the years of Nikon’s incredibly rich portfolio, there’s almost too many landmark cameras and moments to choose from. The D90 in 2008 had the first video recording capabilities ever seen in a DSLR camera. In 2010, Nikon delivered a D3S and two D3X cameras along with a host of NIKKOR lenses, accessories, and software to be used by Astronauts aboard the ISS.

On top of capturing some of the most iconic photos ever made, they’ve also captured our imaginations as one of the most recognisable, reliable, respected photographic brands to this date.

It’s a long and vibrant history that came from truly humble beginnings. From post-war to the moon, Nikon has made a lasting impression on so many people.

Here’s to the next hundred years!

The Panasonic GH5 In The Wild

South Africa is on the bucket list for many photographers. The beauty of its natural landscape combined with its famous wildlife makes it a must-visit destination for tourists and photographers alike. In April, Panasonic invited 4 Digital Camera Warehouse team members to join a week-long training trip to South Africa that also celebrated the launch of the Lumix GH5. A trip of a lifetime, where we could join our partners at Panasonic to learn about their latest, incredible camera in a landscape like no other in the world.

We left on the Tuesday after the Easter long weekend and 14 hours after take-off and 11,000km across the earth the wheels of our Qantas 747 hit the tarmac at O.R Tambo International airport in Johannesburg.

Over the next 5 days the DCW team had the incredible opportunity to learn the GH5 intricately at some of the most beautiful sites on earth.

14 hours down, 2 hours to go.
ISO 800 | 1.6 sec | f/5.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 7-14mm Lens @ 7mm
We stayed in Sun City on the edge of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and National Park. Sun City could be described as the South African equivalent of Las Vegas; a ‘World within a City’.
The Cascades Hotel - Sun City
ISO 200 | 1/3200 sec | F4.5 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @ 12mm
Our first adventure was a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the plains of the Pilanesberg National Park. An unforgettable introduction to the area and an unparalleled vantage point for a perfect overview of the kind of landscapes Africa is known for. 550 hectares in size, the park is home to over 7000 animals including the Big Five - Lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Leopards and Rhinoceros. Graced with near-perfect weather for hot air ballooning, we were greeted by the roar of burning propane, filling our balloons with hot air.
Preparing for take-off
ISO 400 | 1/200 sec | f/3.5 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @ 24mm

For most in the group this was the first real chance we'd had to test the GH5's photo and video capabilities. Owners of the outgoing GH4 expressed that the ergonomic layout and logical menu carry over well to the successive model, making it a natural transition for users upgrading to the GH5. The learning curve was a bit steeper for traditional DSLR users, but once they got up to speed they praised the versatility and intuitive nature of the touch to focus and touch to shoot capability provided by the flip-out touch screen.
We ascended above the plains of the reserve to reveal a sprawling green expanse dotted with lakes and encompassed by a ring of ridges that were created after volcanic activity 1200 million years ago.
The unique Pilanesberg landscape
ISO 200 | 1/125 sec | f/6.3 | Panasonic GH5 + 7-14mm Lens @ 14mm
Lens changes came thick and fast. As we drifted and pirouetted across the reserve we were greeted with new landscapes, interesting angles and different perspectives. For capturing the vast, sweeping landscape, the most popular options were the trusted Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 or the new Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 MkII or the Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH OIS were used to zoom into the landscape to capture detail on the ground or enlarge subjects in the distance.
All angles covered
ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | f/6.3 | 400mm | Panasonic GH5 +100-400 Lens @ 400mm
Our next planned activity was a friendly race on some lawn mower powered trikes. It was a good opportunity for some friendly competition and a chance to test out the GH5’s 225 hybrid autofocus points and impressive Full HD 180fps slow-motion recording capability.
2 Fast, 2 Furious
ISO 200 | 1/1300 sec | f/5.6 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400mm Lens @ 160mm
After an amazing stay at Sun City, we checked out and set up camp 30 minutes north of the Ivory Tree Game Lodge of luxury huts, campfires, and a shower that was a private cubicle outdoors, under the stars. Monkeys, zebra, wildebeest and other wildlife were practically on our front doorstep. We were ready to hit the trails of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve to really test the abilities of the GH5.
A little visitor
ISO 3200 | 1/640 sec | f/6.3 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @ 25mm

Anyone bring marshmallows?
2 Shot Composite
Campfire: ISO 1600 | 2.5 sec | f/6.3 | Panasonic GH5 + 7-14mm Lens @ 7mm
Sky: ISO 1600 | 20 sec | f/4.5 | Panasonic GH5 + 7-14mm Lens @ 14mm 
We were assigned a driver and guide for the remainder of the trip. Wildlife is the most active at sunrise and just before the sun sets, allowing them to rest and conserve energy during the hot afternoon sun. As a result, we split our adventures into two outings each day.

Our Exploration Vehicle
ISO 800 | 1/125 sec | f/4.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @ 35mm
Cruising down a rutted dirt trail in an open canopy 4WD, wind in the hair, the sun setting in the background, and ‘Africa’ by Toto blazing through the speakers is a memory I will treasure forever. The next 3 days of learning about Africa’s flora and fauna were a blur. We saw 4 of South Africa’s ‘Big 5’, with only the buffalo eluding us due to their migration activities at that time of the year.
Larger than life
ISO 200 | 1/400 sec | f/4.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400mm  Lens @ 100mm
The GH5 exceeded expectations in our extensive field test. It's myriad of shortcuts and customisable menus delivers access to your most frequently used functions and settings making it easy to be prepared for unexpected opportunities.

It's fast, accurate hybrid focusing was also essential when trying to capture elusive animals that have evolved over millions of years to try and remain out of sight to potential predators. The thumb joystick made selecting your focus point a cinch, enabling fast composition changes without taking your eye off the subject.

Best Friends
ISO 1250 | 1/500 sec | f/5.8 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400mm Lens @ 318mm
Most surprising was the real-world difference the 5-axis in-body image stabilisation and how much of a positive difference the Dual I.S. or Dual I.S.2 improved image sharpness when shooting with compatible O.I.S lenses. On safari, the Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH OIS was definitely the lens of choice, thanks to its Dual I.S.2 compatibility and whopping 200-800mm 35mm equivalent focal range. So many images on this trip would not have been possible without the impressive 5-stop advantage that the combination of in-body and in-lens stabilisation provides, allowing us to confidently exploit the full range of the zoom to create more detail in the image.
True Fact: Zebras are black with white stripes
ISO 640 | 1/250 sec | f/6.3 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3mm Lens @ 400mm
A lioness on the prowl for breakfast
ISO 800 | 1/250th sec | f/4.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400mm Lens @ 100mm

Glorious sunset
ISO 200 | 1/800 sec | f/2.8 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @ 12mm

Our last day in South Africa was marked with a memorable visit to Borite Primary School, located in a rural village neighbouring the national park. We were greeted with a big smiles and an enthusiastic musical performance from the kids.

Kids from Borite Primary School
ISO 200 | 1/2500 sec | f/4.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 12-35mm Lens @15mm
A sizeable donation from Panasonic Australia combined with individual donations from everyone in the group resulted in a total of over AUD$2500 going towards building a much needed classroom for the school. Classroom supplies and sporting equipment were also distributed, allowing the kids to feel a more immediate impact from our visit.

Our South African experience with Panasonic and the GH5 left us with motivation to return and explore what other photographic adventures the country has to offer.
Queue Lion King theme music
ISO 200 | 1/125 sec | f/10.0 | Panasonic GH5 + 100-400 Lens @ 160mm
Word Contribution: Tommy Trinh. Image Contribution: Tommy Trinh & Saul Sheldrick.