Nikon Still Video Camera (prototype)

Text by Jarle Aasland

Update January 2011: Turns out that Nikon's original Still Video Camera (SVC) prototype was developed by Matsushita Electric (Panasonic). More info below the original article.

Photos of the original Nikon Still Video Camera (SVC) prototype are extremely difficult to find. In fact, I've only seen one before (what I assume is the official product shot to the right). Much to my surprise, I recently came across two more, printed in the Swedish magazine «Aktuell Fotografi», dated Jan/Feb 1987.

As far as I know, this is the first time any of these photos are published on the Internet. Notice the «Nikon Viewer» unit, completely different from the QV-1010T transmitter that was included with the later QV-1000C kit.

The Still Video Camera was first showcased at Photokina 1986 in Cologne, and was later shown to journalists visiting Nikon Europe in December. It was also on display at the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) trade show in Chicago in 1987.

Interest wasn't overwhelming..

Here's a rough translation of the Swedish article:

In December it was time for a new meeting in Amsterdam (where Nikon has its main European office). Proud engineers, headed by Mr. Kawahara, showed a prototype Still Video Camera, and a prototype four color transmitter.

The Still Video demonstrates that Nikon believes in the new technology (electronic images). The color transmitter indicates that the time isn't here quite yet...

Despite the fact that Nikon can achieve 300.000 pixels, compared to Canons still video with 190.000, it's still not enough.

- This is not good enough if the new technology shall replace the old.

And the interest for the new still video camera wasn't overwhelming, while about 100 journalists and editors applauded the new transmitter.

Aktuell Fotografi's Per Lindström, one of the first people to test the new still video, found that the new Nikon has much in common with traditional Nikon cameras, making the new acquaintance pretty pleasant, despite everything...

Improved image quality is Nikon's contribution to the development of the new technology. Future Nikon photographers using Nikon Still Video Camera (SVC), can chosse between "frame", allowing 25 exposures per disk, and "field" allowing 50 exposures (like other still video cameras) on a standard two inch diskette (the tiny casette that is used for storage is the biggest limitation - optical storage, similar to CD-ROMs, is a possible alternative for the new technology.

Nikon SVC feels like a "real" camera. It mostly resembles a traditional Nikon, everything is located where it should logically be (Nikon is known for making cameras that "feels good in the hand"). You'll find shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and of course an automatic program, as in a regular Nikon.

The only thing I'd like to see after spending half an hour with this prototype is - in addition to better image quality, of course - an improved viewfinder, perhaps an HP-finder (Nikon photographers are spoiled).

Film sensitivity should also be improved. SVC has a sensitivity equivalent to 100 ASA. At least 400 ASA is required if Nikon SVC is to become a "press camera" - and it's likely that only large daily newspapers are prepared to spend the 25-30000 kronor (Swedish crowns) that the still video will cost.

Nikon continues an old tradition - they will not surrender old Nikon photographers. Older Nikon lenses will fit the new still video (using an adapter), but the small "negative format" transforms a normal lens to a 200 mm telephoto, making this a marginal option.

The prototype that Aktuell Fotografi tested in Amsterdam, had a special built zoom, 10-40mm (equivalent to a 35-180mm).

In one year, at the soonest, the SVC can be found on the shelves. No later than 1988 the first cameras will be delivered, promised Nikon engineers in Amsterdam. Then, in 1988, Nikon will offer a complete system for electronic image workflow, including the "box" used to "develop" and transmit electronic photos.

Per Lindström

Original text printed in Swedish magazine «Aktuell Fotografi», Jan/Feb 1987.

Nikon prototype made by.. Panasonic

Previously uknown (at least not mentioned anywhere else, as far as I know) is the fact that Nikon's first electronic prototype wasn't made by Nikon at all. Mr. Kenji Toyoda, the former planning manager of Nikon's Electronic Imaging Division explains why the Nikon SVC prototype is so different from the Nikon QV-1000C still video camera introduced two years later:

«The prototype is very "Panasonic" like. Since Nikon did not have sufficient technologies for video signal processing in the early stage, we asked Matsushita Electric for their assistance. So, the viewer/transmitter also adopted much Matsushita design. On the other hand, the QV-1000 system was developed with Nikon's own technologies. That is why they are very different.»

And then, putting all the pieces together, I found this Norwegian newspaper article from October 1984, describing how «Electronics take over photography - magnetic disk replaces film». The article is illustrated by - you guessed it - a photo of a Panasonic still video camera (apparently displayed behind closed curtains) at Photokina 1984.

The prototype is also mentioned in a 1985 article in Popular Mechanics and other sources. The Panasonic electronic still camera looks slightly different than the Nikon prototype, but both are made by Matsushita Electric and undoubtedly have a lot in common. Mr. Kenji Toyoda's thoughts:

«I have seen this one, but in magazines. I agree with you that it may contain a lot in common with the Nikon prototype.»

Further reading
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