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The Nikon S2 Rangefinder

The Nikon S2 was released in December 1954 at a time when Nikon was struggling to keep up with the Leica M3 Rangefinder. They didn’t catch up with Leica until 1957 when they released the SP and then surpassed them with their first SLR the Nikon F. Even with this lag, the Nikon S2 was still Nikon’s best selling rangefinder with more than 56,000 being sold through out its production.

Even though Nikon was behind in features for their newest rangefinder, the S2 had a lot to offer compared to its predecessor the Nikon S. The major change being the final transition over to the 24 x 36mm film format we know today as 35mm film. The Nikon S2 also now had an advance lever instead of a knob to advance the film with ease. It offered shutter speeds up to 1/1000th of a second, up from 1/500th with the S. It was sharper, faster, and more modern with a PC terminal and a hot shoe. The S in the name is said to designate the added flash synchronization that Nikon added onto their former Nikon M body creating the S series of cameras.

Earlier S2s have a chrome shutter speed dial, and later they were black. The all black S2s are rare and more expensive because when they were released you could only buy them on special order if you had press credentials.

The Camera

The synchro dial around the rewind lever has an X for electronic flash and the other speeds are for syncing with a bulb flash. To use an electronic flash you would set the synchro dial to X as well as the shutter speed dial.

The shutter speed dial has two levels. The top dial is for higher speeds of 1/60th up to 1/1000th of a second, plus B for bulb and X for flash. There is also a setting for 30-1. You must set the top dial to this setting in order to use the lower dial of slower speeds which are 1/30th down to 1 second and T for timed shots.

The lens is removed by pressing in the latch behind it and turning the lens. The lenses were compact because the camera body itself housed the focusing helical instead of it being inside the lens itself. This means you can turn the wheel on the top right of the camera, and that turns the lens for you, or you can manually turn the lens to focus it yourself. Doing it yourself though, makes it easier to accidentally turn the aperture dial.

The viewfinder has 1:1 life-size magnification, meaning if you look through it with both eyes open, it looks as if you’re looking through a window. Other cameras that don’t have this may look like you’re looking through someones prescription glasses. The image in the viewfinder may be smaller than in reality. Therefore, you have to keep one eye closed and you can’t be as aware of your subject and its surroundings.

While this camera has so many advantages, one big disadvantage is that the VF only accommodates a 50mm lens. If you want to use any other focal length, you’ll have to attach an external viewfinder.

My Experience

I talked about my search for a reliable rangefinder to add to my collection in my Canon review. While I fell in love with that camera after Mike Eckman lent it to me, I still want to see all my options before I invest. Being the owner of all cameras great and obscure, Mike decided to send me a surprise loan. This time the box included two cameras, an Exakta VX 1000 (review coming soon), and for my rangefinder quest, the Nikon S2.

While I have wanted to one day save up for a Nikon SP because my love for the Nikon F has me wanting the camera is was born from, Mike sent a note with his reasons behind these two picks. Two being that the S2 is more affordable than the SP and the viewfinder not being as prone to haze as the SP.

Kentmere Pan 400
Kentmere Pan 400

The dual shutter speed dial proved a little difficult for me to remember at first. I was taking some still life shots on a tripod and a cable release, and ended up with half a blank roll because I forgot to set the top dial to 30-1 before choosing my slow speeds

Kentmere Pan 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Tri-X 400

The Nikkor – S 5cm f/1.4 lens is known to be contrasty due to the coating on the lens and I can definitely attest to this with the color photos I took. I had to dial the contrast back on some of the shots, but even so, the following photos are some of my favorite color photos I have taken since starting film again.

Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400c

I also wanted to test the slow speeds on the roll again after that first disaster that ended up in blank frames. I set up a still life with a vase of flowers and set the camera on a tripod with a cable release. This time I made sure I set the top speed dial to 30-1 before setting the lower dial to my slow speeds.

Kodak Tri-X 400

The only issue I had with this camera was the 1:1 viewfinder while sitting on a tripod. I would try to look through it and focus with the rangefinder patch, which was difficult in itself, and then I would tend to be off with the composition of the shot because I was looking in at an angle. No matter which way I looked the frame was there and I couldn’t tell which one was true. You can see the shot below was off center. This happened to me a lot. I’m sure it’s something I did wrong.

Kodak Tri-X 400

Final Thoughts

In the end, I could appreciate the beauty and the effort that had gone into the design of this camera so many years ago. I can’t believe I am saying this but I actually still think the Canon 7 is my favorite rangefinder thus far. That doesn’t mean the Nikon S2 isn’t a great camera. I think I just enjoyed the user experience a little more with the Canon 7. That being said, I would still highly recommend this rangefinder for all of the reasons I have mentioned in this article.

I hope you have enjoyed this review. You can also watch my video below to see footage I took shooting with the Nikon S2. Let me know down in the comments if you have a Nikon S2. I always enjoy talking to you all. Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

*Side note: I have changed some things in my setup, so the follow button may no longer be available on the side panel. If you are not doing so yet, I’d love for you to sign up to follow me through email. That option is still available.

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