Text and photos by Jarle Aasland
In October 2006 I came across a Nikon S-100 Color Video Camera on eBay. It sold for only $9.99 (Buy it now), so I got it. I wouldn't normally bother to buy an old video camera, but for many reasons, this one is a little special.
First, let me say that I know little about this camera. Apparently, I'm not alone. The only information I've found is an article on Nikon's own web site (from their historical Nikon Family Cousins series). A very interesting read, indeed. Much of the information below is based on the Nikon article.
My particular unit came with the S-100 Camera Control Unit that was used to connect the camera to the external SV-100 recorder unit. The SV-100 was a big, bulky unit that was carried over the shoulder, not unlike the Digital Storage Unit (DSU) that was used by Kodak's first F3-based DSLR, the DCS 100. The SV-100 was not included with my kit. Both the camera markings and instruction manual is in Japanese, so it's probably safe to assume that this unit was originally sold in Japan. The eBay seller had bought it from an estate, and knew nothing about its origin.
Apparently, the S-100 didn't sell very well. From the Nikon article: «Nikon home video camera system developed in such a large scale didn't sell at all.»
I can't be sure, but I have a feeling that the S-100 was never sold outside of Japan. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. The serial number of my camera is 1100709, matching the Camera Control Unit.
The camera has a 11.5 - 69mm f/1.2 TV-Nikkor lens with a 58mm filter thread. It looks and feels like a regular manual focus Nikkor lens (i.e. very nice), except that focusing is reversed - infinity is to the right. The lens is permanently attached to the camera, and can't be dismounted.
Some day I may try to hook the camera up to a TV, VCR, or something. The cables/plugs are not familiar to me, so I need to do some homework first. I'm not too optimistic, and won't loose any sleep over it. We'll see.
A piece of history
In 1977, just before Nikon was giving up its 8 mm movie camera (cine camera) business, the company formed a Video Feasibility (VF) team, to investigate the business feasibility of a home-use video camera.
The VF team concluded that Nikon should proceed in the video business. At the time, Nikon didn't have the technology or know-how needed to produce an electronic video camera, meaning that new talent had to be recruited from outside the company.
According to the Nikon article: «Large-scale talent scouting unprecedented in the history of Nippon Kogaku started this way». The S-100 may have failed as a commercial product, but the process that led to its development was apparently very good for Nikon in the long run.
The «Color Video Camera S-100» was released in June 1982, and became the first and only video camera developed by Nikon itself. (Nikon later sold rebranded video cameras made by other manufacturers, but that doesn't count.)
Nikon's big, bulky solution - with its external recorder unit - came too late to compete with other industry giants. Both JVC and Sony announced their first camcorders in 1982. Sony's Betamovie Beta camcorder was promoted with the catch phrase "Inside This Camera Is A VCR." Nikon couldn't compete with that.
Nikon's video development group was disorganized.
«However, talents invited and brought up at that time contributed to build a basis of the field of electronic imaging of Nikon, having formed the core group for developing such products as film scanners and digital cameras.»
Based on the above, the S-100 could be considered a predecessor to the QV-1000C (Still Video Camera) - Nikon's first electronic, filmless camera, and perhaps even later digital models, including the revolutionary Nikon D1. After this, photography would never be the same.
Needless to say, I'm happy to have this rare piece in my collection.
External links will open in a new window.