The pride of my collection (or likely anyone's for that matter) has arrived...

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by onevision|1, Apr 15, 2010.

  1. Here it is ... an ultra rare Nikon F3HP modified for NASA and flown on two shuttle missions (sts-49 AND sts-63) including the maiden voyage of Endeavour.


    Ever since seeing an ad back in the 80s for Nikon promoting their F3 and the space program, I have wanted a real space flown camera. Even though this particular one has flown twice, it is in remarkably good condition and the shutter is strong. As it is very rare to see a modified camera for space travel, I thought I'd share with you all some photos of the gear so that you can see the differences between the off the shelf F3 and the NASA version. I've got my feelers out compiling more information about this model and am in contact with a few folks at NASA and have even reached out to Nikon's Japanese division to learn more since the camera was built in the Ohi plant in Tokyo.

    I must admit it feels fairly odd to be holding it in my hands knowing its place in history. Not only is the body modified, but the lens, a 35mm F1.4 AI-S, is custom as well. It weighs about twice that of a standard consumer model. Numbers are large for easy viewing. Distance scale is in feet only. Screws cover holes on the focusing ring to accommodate the instalation of a multi armed focus bracket to enable easier focussing wth (big) gloves on. Too cool! I've had it in my hands for just over 24 hours and I can't take my eyes off it.

  2. Congratulations, Timm! Yup, I'd think that would be the pride of anyone's collection.
  3. holy wow...
    may i ask where you acquired it?
  4. Fabulous!!! Congratulations on obtaining an amazing piece of history.
  5. Nice piece...
    I don't collect cameras, but if I did, (and I could get my hands on that camera), I think that would also be the pride of my collection.
    Congrats on your acquisition.
  6. Very impressive! You should consider contributing some photos and a write-up to the site as well.
  7. thanks for sharing. Definitely, very cool.
  8. I'll second (or third) the WOW!! Thanks for the photos. Dave
  9. Great! Excellent piece of photo history.
  10. bmm


    Wow from me also - that is truly awesome.
    I don't know whether to be more amazed at this bit of kit, or at the fact that we're almost 10 posts into a thread without a single criticism of its autofocus system, frames-per-second, iso performance, lack of AF-S and nano coatings, corner sharpness when shooting at a brick wall (albeit that would be hard from space!?!) etc :)
    Thanks for sharing, what a great historical photographic item to own.
  11. Very nice collectible. Congratulations, Dave. That thing has a very high cool factor.
  12. I notice the sticker marked "EVA" on the back. EVA typically means "extra-vehicular activity." I wonder if this camera was rated for EVA and used out in the vacuum of space.
    I also wonder what that part marked "bendix" is and why it requires an additional ground wire. Hmm, spark hazard between the motor and the body? Just conjecture.
    I just love the way they took an engraving pen to that beautiful lens.
  13. I am a fan of F3's anyway - so this is ultimately eehh.. cool.
  14. Lex - yeah I tried sending in some compartment case clarifications into the MIR site once and never got a response so I'm not sure if they ever got to the correct person or not. Do you have a contact there?
  15. Thanks for sharing this unique camera. Love the blacked out bits, very trick. As well, the exposure details of A for shutter, F11 and minus 2/3, wonder if they used Kodachrome?
  16. Likely a variant of Kodachrome. I understand Kodak was contracted to develop a 64 ISO transparency substrate that was half the thickness of standard so that a standard 35mm cassette could hold 72 frames.
  17. Sweet. The lens is very interesting. Congrats!
  18. Good for you!
    If you want to feel better than good, then consider sharing it. With me that is. I promise to take good care of it.......
  19. Wow - pretty much the ultimate F3 collectible. Looks like this setup was designed for the "thin film" that could squeeze 72 frames in. Note that the count-down feature on the drive goes up to 72, rather than the standard 40 frames. I see also that the standard shutter lock/power switch was removed - is that correct?
  20. What a wonderful collectable.You got it for less than $2700!,am I correct?amazing!.Thanks for sharing.
  21. Fascinating. It looks all-business, dedicated functionality.
  22. I always knew that people on PhotoNet were serious about their photography, but this takes things to a whole new level! Congratulations on your new acquisition - positively a bargain at $2700.
  23. What a great, and really interesting, camera.
    Maybe the Bendix part is for the flash. There's no hot shoe but the film load instructions start with Remove Flash and end with Install Flash. There's a flash sync terminal but it's hard to say where the flash goes.
  24. I like how the lens looks even more solid than Nikkors from that age. You can almost feel its weight by looking at it.
    Congrats on your acquisition Timm, I'm really happy for you.
  25. Andrew - the flash contact on the NASA modified is in the same place as it would be on the standard consumer F3 - right under the rewind crank. An AS-4 would slide into place and then the flash could mount on there.
    OK folks, I have visually compared the body against a consumer F3 and this is what I have discovered:
    • The width of the body is about 5mm wider than the consumer model
    • The film counter on the top of the camera winds to 72 and is inside a bubble magnifying window.
    • The shutter speed command dial has B (Bulb) in orange on the consumer F3 and in white on the NASA modified
    • The center command dial release button is silver on the consumer F3 and black and slightly smaller on the NASA modified
    • The center of the film advance lever is silver on the consumer F3 and black on the NASA modified
    • The advance lever handle is taller on the NASA modified and notched on the end.
    • There is no power switch on the advance lever of the NASA modified like there is on the consumer F3
    • There is no multiple exposure lever on the NASA modified
    • There is no film plane indicator mark on the top of the NASA modified
    • The depth of field preview button is black on the NASA modified and silver on the consumer F3
    • The levers for the Mirror lock up and Mechanical Shutter release are longer on the NASA modified, compared to the consumer F3
    • There is no self timer LED on the NASA modified
    • The NASA modified has no neckstrap eyelets
    • The NASA modified has no leatherette. Instead the body is completely matte black – possibly titanium but I cannot be certain
    • The viewfinder illuminator button on the consumer F3 is red, while it is black on the NASA modified
    • The lens release button is black on the NASA modified and silver on the consumer F3
    • The exposure compensator button is black on the NASA modified and silver on the consumer F3
    • The ASA/ISO dial increments differ on the NASA modified. Both go from 12-6400, but the NASA modified displays 12,25,64,100,160,320,500,1000,2000,4000,6400 and the consumer F3 displays 12,25,64,100,200,400,800,1600,3200,6400
    • Inside the film chamber, the film takeup spool on the NASA modified is almost completely enclosed with only a few narrow slots. I assume this is to reduce the possibility of misleading
    • The rear door features two additional bars on the NASA modified to help press against the takeup spool and the sprockets to ensure the film was kept engaged, preventing any slack.
    • The film index holder of the consumer F3 is a stippled black, while the NASA modified is an off-white square.
    • The NASA modified has Nikon engraved on the rear to the left of the finder. Consumer F3s are to the right.
    • The focusing screen is divided into 4 equal quadrants with a center weighted area-sized circle in the center and a smaller focusing circle in the middle of that. This centre circle has a diagonal split screen. The rest is clear.
    • Some bodies were used as EVA units. This meant that they were able to perform extra vehicular activities, meaning they could likely be used outside the craft in the vacuum of space. Special internal parts and/or adhesives/lubricants were probably built into those units. EVA models would carry an EVA sticker on the rear. Others were designated AEC cameras and were usually fixed at a window or the like and were usually set for Automatic Exposure Control (aperture priority), and very likely with intervalometers.
    • There is no Nikon sequenced serial number on any of the parts visible on the outside. Instead all removable pieces have dual engraved serial numbers (finder, body, focusing screen, door, battery holders, motor drive, battery pack cap). One with a P/N number which NASA refers to as the ‘drawing’ number – perhaps pertaining to the design plans. The second is a 4 digit serial number.
    • The Motor drive of the NASA modified and the MD-4 share few similarities. The NASA modified is much larger in size, features a counter and command wheel up to 72 frames.
    • There is a sliding control to engage rewind and a reset button to reset the frame counter.
    • Each drive I’ve seen on the ‘small’ cameras have stickers on the rear providing quick instructions and setting reminders for various types of shots – with and without flash, how to load, how to rewind, etc.
    • The command dial and trigger are over sized to assist use with gloves.
    • The engravings for OFF, Continuous and Single are also oversized.
    • Small square blue velcro pieces are attached to the side of the drive. Often the lens caps would have Velcro squares on them too, so I would guess this would be to keep the caps from floating away.
    • The battery chamber is much larger on the NASA modified than on the MD-4 drive. Specially designed AA battery packs are used to provide power.
    • The side of the drive has a Battery check button and a red and green led lamp to display the battery strength.
    • There is a grounding wire threaded into a control on the front of the drive. Not sure what this is for – perhaps it is used in conjunction with an intervalometer.
    • A red lamp also shows on the front of the NASA modified drive – perhaps this is the self timer indicator.
    • The base of the NASA modified features a metal quick release type of bracket for quick mounting to permanent brackets perhaps located on the inside and outside of the shuttle.
    • The NASA modified lenses also tended to be beefier and heavier than their consumer counterparts. I have a 35mm F1.4 AI-S lens for an AEC camera which weighs in at 440 grams – which is a fair chunk more than the consumer version.
    • The lenses were likely bulkier to accommodate larger rings for focus and aperture control using gloves
    • Lenses almost always had threaded lens caps as push pin designs won’t work too well in zero gravity
    • The barrels of the 35mm F1.4 lens have two screw holes in the focusing ring and two in the aperture ring. These holes would be used to attach brackets that would assist in focusing with gloves on, such as when the camera was used outside of the shuttle. When used inside the shuttle, the brackets would be removed and screws would be reinserted to fill the holes
    • Both the focusing ring and the lens cap would likely have male/female squares of blue Velcro. Blue makes it easy to see against the black. NASA’s version of the ‘keep cap’
    • Aperture numbers and the distance scale would feature engravings in a large font to enable easy viewing. The distance scale was in feet only. The NASA modified lens still featured a depth of field scale as well as an infrared focus index.
    • These lenses likely used special lubricant formulations as well as more robust parts than their consumer equivalents.
    • One characteristic of all my NASA lenses (both shuttle flown and not) is that there are tiny white specs on the edges of the front elements that look to be inside the lens. Its not fungus and it always appears on the very edges of the elements, so I suspect this is likely by design in the manufacture and use of the adhesives.
    The uber cool factor is raised yet another notch!
  26. Oh, and regarding the price I paid? Sadly no, I didn't pay $2700 for it.
    The 'cost' listed on the stickers on the camera and the lens I suspect were the inventory costs to NASA for the equipment. Whether that is what they paid Nikon for them or that was a 'depreciated current value' for reporting purposes when the stickers were applied, well thats unknown.
  27. Congratulations on your find. I looked up those shuttle missions; what they were doing out there, probably with your camera around, in use for something, was truly amazing.
  28. stp


    So I presume they used the flash when they were on the dark side of the earth and couldn't quite see the area they were traveling over.
  29. Very interesting -- you must have been looking for this gem for quite a while!
    Do you know how the lens exactly differs from a regular 35/1.4 apart from the appearance? My guess would be slightly different mechanics, but the overall form factor looks very similar to the regular one, so I would be a bit surprised if the differences are more than just handling and maybe some special grease.
  30. Thanks for sharing with us Timm. That's what I call a fine work of craftsmanship from Nikon.
  31. Oskar - no I don't know exactly exactly what all the lens differences are. Maybe something with the coatings? Likely the lubricant. I don't know the element makeup of this guy. The minimum focussing distance is about 6 inches. According to the Roland's Nikon Lens list, the consumer model is .3m or aboiut 1 foot, so this one can focus closer and man is it sharp. Don't know how the lens performs on the edges at 1.4 in comparison to the consumer model.
  32. Congrats! *drool*
  33. I'm drooling too. I appreciate the nice pictures of the special camera.
    I'm surprised the viewfinder illuminator button was not eliminated or oversized as I would believe it would have been very hard to get to with those giant gloves.
    On my regular F3HP, the finder light is hard to use without gloves. I'd guess it would be impossible with gloves. But it's pretty much useless anyway, especially in brightly lit situations. If you look at the checklists taped to the camera, they indicate standard settings, and when using those settings, there would rarely be a reason to view the exposure info in the finder at all.
    What surprises me is that they use the standard finder for EVA use. I'd think they'd want to use the DA-2 action finder (or a special NASA variant), as it's more suited to use with a helmet.
  34. Richard, interesting point on the viewfinder and use with a helmet. I would have thought it impossible to look through the viewfinder through an EVA helmet. What would be cool Timm, is if you can find some actual photos taken with that camera on those missions .
    So what cameras do they use now in space ?
  35. Great find! Have you taken any pictures with it?
  36. Andrew - looks like NASA currently has a bunch of D2XS models recording events
    However I understand NASA placed and order for the D3S bodies late last year. As it seems like there can be a multi year lag after delivery before one will be trusted to go to space, they likely won't be up there this year.
    John - I've tested the shutter, but no, I haven't run film through it. It was designed for thin film so I wouldn't want to take a chance in harming the mechanics by sending regular emulsion film thru it. This isnt a user camera by any stretch
  37. Interesting Timm, but the D3s seems to be the more appropriate camera I suppose. On the subject of special lubricants, incase anyone doesn't realise HOW cold it is out there, I believe it is in the order of -273* C. That is VERY cold.
  38. All EVA cameras I believe, left the spacecraft wrapped in a white thermal cover. I unfortunately didn't get one for mine... :(
  39. The part named "Bendix" is a connector cap to protect the pins inside the cannon plug. The "ground wire" is not a ground wire but a strap to prevent the cap from getting lost ( space!!!). If you were to press in and turn it will pop off and then you can see the connector. And, if there is a similar connector on the consumer version in/around the same place then I'll bet that they share the same function.
  40. how does it work! does it fire, and if so, how do the pictures come out?
  41. Yes, with the battery pack in place, it fires strong, operating like a regular camera. I won't be running any film through it since this was modified for use with 'thin' film that Kodak specifically manufactured for NASA. Putting regular emulsion thickness thru it might jam something. This is a museum piece and as such, it should not be used.
  42. I have one little tidbit, second hand, to contribute. When I was in collage 24 years ago on of my instructors previous job was at NASA Ames in charge of coatings and out gassing of equipment. I think he did work on the camera program. That would explain the color differences on your exquisite piece. They had a limited color pallet of coatings that worked and did not out gas. I'm sure the main body surface has a different "feel" compared to the consumer version.

  43. OK folks, I have cobbled together a white paper of sorts from all of the information I have collected thus far on the F3 small camera in the space program.
    Many people contributed to the information on this page so I hope you will find it an interesting read.

Share This Page