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Nikonos V Review - Underwater photography

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: nikonos, underwater, photography, photographic, disciplines, film, sports

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The first generation of underwater cameras

What seemed the easiest solution was to use any of my cameras and just purchase a housing that would allow for their safe operation underwater. And several brand names appeared: Ikelite first, then Subal, Aquatica , Sea & Sea, Seacam, Nexus and others. 

My daughter Tatiana at a very young age in Cozumel, Mexico.

The problems now were:

  • The cumbersomeness of the underwater housings (Where to store them and how to carry them)
  • The price, which resulted ludicrous (above that of any of my cameras)
  • Each camera required its own special underwater housing, to enable the use of their individual controls.
  • To top it, each combination camera-lens needed a different clearboy or dome.
  • Surely this contraptions are justified for serious depths, below 300 feet or more, but they were ridiculous for snorkeling and difficult to justify for recreational diving where we were normally not interested in going below 120 feet.

 It just had to be another solution .........




Ives Jacques Cousteau, our oceanographer hero who did show us the sea,  -he who with the Mexican oceanographer Miguel Bravo were able to make Cancun Bay a sanctuary, patrimony of humanity-  had dreamed with creating the perfect underwater camera. So he asked his company La Spiro Technique, to investigate the necessary but were never able to find the adequate optics. Nevertheless, if with Emile Gagnan he had been able to invent the aqua lung in 1943, to replace the cumbersome divers' scaphander, something equivalent had to be possible with the photographic camera.

After many painful failures, help from Nikon was requested. Nikon of course jumped to the occasion and accepted the challenge.
Nikon and La Spiro technique worked jointly and finally announced their success to produce a viable underwater camera in 1961. 
The camera was first sold in France under the name Calypsophot, a Jacques Cousteau registered brand name; in Japan it went to market two years later as the Nikonos I, in 1963.

Nikonos I

It revolutionized the market: light, compact, easy to use rangefinder camera, without the need for a separate underwater housing, capable of withstanding the pressure of a depth of 165 feet (50 meters) and temperatures all the way down to -4°F (-20°C). 

Each one introducing great improvements, the Nikonos II made its appearance in 1968, the Nikonos III in 1975 and the Nikonos IV-A in 1980.

Nikonos III

So carefully, dearly stored my Nikonos III and went out to purchase a brand new Nikonos IV-A. It had the first integrated exposure meter; there was no need to guess the light underwater (which was always very complicated and frequently frustrating); plus, there was no further need to dismount the lens to reload the camera. The Nikonos IV-A could be reloaded from behind, like any decent land camera.

Nikonos IVa

Chronicles of the time relate that the divers from all over the world sent letters and telegrams to thank Nikon for its efforts and to make some additional suggestions.

Evidently Nikon listened because the end result was the formidable Nikonos V. As soon as it came to market I made one mine, back in early 1984. 

Click for bigger picture


Years later Nikon brought about the nice Nikonos RS, the first autofocus underwater camera in the world. Facing insufficient demand it's production was abruptly discontinued, ended, kaput-zed ...... just when I had saved enough to upgrade...
(3 Votes )
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Originally written on September 10, 2010

Last updated on December 19, 2017

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 45770 posts

1 comment

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 5, 2013

Beautiful images. Thanks for share with us.