As a Nikon user and collector, I’ve noticed quite a few Nikon film cameras appearances in the movies and on TV shows. This short article outlines those appearances. I’ve also written in more detail about the Nikon F’s appearance in one of the all time great movies – Apocalypse Now and there is an equivalent article on Leica M cameras in the movies.
The Nikon F, Film Star
The first of Nikon’s SLRs was quite the film star, as described in Michael Pritchard’s excellent book ‘A History of Photography in 50 Cameras‘.
“The Nikon F reinforced its reputation and established itself as modern design icon through its starring roles in films such as Blow-Up, with David Hemmings as a fashion photographer in London; Apocalypse Now with Dennis Hopper as a Photojournalist; and, later, with Clint Eastwood as National Geographic photographer in The Bridges of Madison County.”
Nikon SLRs in Movies
Beyond those described above, the Nikon F series Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras appeared in several movies, including more greats like Full Metal Jacket and Taxi Driver. I found additional appearances from a little internet research, which revealed quite a few more. The Nikon F, F2, F3, F4 and F5 have all made appearances, but despite searching, I can’t find a movie with Nikon’s final pro SLR, the mighty Nikon F6 in it. Whilst I haven’t included TV, I am sure that my favourite TV detective, Columbo, used a Nikon F or F2 in one episode but I can find no reference to it. I suppose I will just have to watch every episode again… I am also yet to see another favourite, the Nikon FM3a on the screen, though the FM and FM2 have made appearances. With retro cameras becoming more popular its by no means impossible it’ll appear one day.
- Lolita (1962, Nikon F1)
- Blow-Up (1966 Nikon F)
- The French Connection (1971, Nikon F Photomic)
- Diamonds are Forever (1971, Nikon F)
- The Killing Fields (1984, Nikon F)
- Jaws (1975, Nikon F2)
- Taxi Driver (1976, Nikon F2)
- The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978, Nikon FM with MD motor-drive)
- Apocalypse Now (1979, Nikon F)
- Cannonball Run (1981, Nikon F)
- The Year of Living Dangerously (1982, Nikon F)
- Under Fire (1983, Nikon F2)
- Ghostbusters (1984, Nikon FE2)
- Full Metal Jacket (1987, Nikon F) Private Joker and Rafterman!
- Gorillas in the Mist (1988, Nikon F)
- Groundhog Day (1993, Nikon F Photomic)
- The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Nikon F with S36 motor drive)
- Heat (1995, Nikon F4)
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Nikon F5)
- Ronin (1998, Nikon FE2)
- Ford v Ferrari (2019, Nikon F Photomic)
- City of God (2002, Nikon F)
- Walk the Line (2005, Nikon F Photomic)
- The Bang Bang Club (2010, Nikon FM2)
- Batman v Superman (2016, Nikon S3 Y2K)
- Ford v Ferrari (2019, Nikon F Photomic)
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020, Nikon F3 HP)
The First SLR?
Today many people think of the Nikon F as the first Single Lens Reflex camera, but it was actually the much less well known Ihagee (who made the Exakta VX Ihagee Dresden famously used in Rear Window) that manufactured the first 35mm SLR outside of prototypes. The F brought the innovations and features of earlier models into a single body so well that earlier models seem to have faded from consumer memory. Its effect on the camera market is similarly profound as it ended the dominance of German rangefinders from Zeiss and Leica. If you are interested in the history of photography there are a couple of comprehensive timelines on the site. From Chemistry to Computation is the timeline of the photographic process, whilst the Camera Timeline Year by Year describes camera introductions and innovations every year from 1900 to the present day.
My Nikon Film Cameras
I have a late Nikon F from 1971 and it shoots very well. It has the original standard non-metered eye level finder, like the ones Dennis Hopper was carrying in Apocalypse Now. As much as I like an integrated light meter, the Photomic heads spoil the lines of the F too much so I use a hand held lightmeter. The Photomic heads are a little easier on the eye on the F2 and I have added a DP-12 Photomic head to my 1975 F2. I have a rather battered 1980 F3, which I bought in Sweden, and a 2004 F6, which I use a great deal. I also have an FM3a and FM2n, both of which are very lightweight and great to shoot with.
Other Classic Film Cameras in Movies
A huge number of film camera manufacturers have come and gone and their products have appeared in hundreds, if not thousands of movies, but below are a few of the more notable ones. Of the models listed below, I have only shot with the Olympus OM-1, another game changing camera which began a shift towards more compact, lighter 35 mm SLRs, away from the increasing weight of the Nikon pro SLRs and back towards the smaller form factor that Leica had always delivered with rangefinders.
Though I don’t have any of the Rolleiflex models listed below (2.8F and T), I have a Rolleiflex 3.5F from 1961 which I absolutely love, and is considered by many to be one of the finest film cameras ever made. The Rolleiflex uses 120 medium format film which produces huge and very detailed 6x6cm negatives. Shooting a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera is an entirely different experience to shooting either an SLR or rangefinder, and though manual focus can be challenging, gazing at the world through that illuminated ground glass screen that sees the world back to front is absolutely entrancing.
- Rear Window (Graflex Speed Graphic, 1954)
- Lolita (Agfa Isolette, Nikon S2 Rangefinder, 1962)
- From Russia With Love (Rolleiflex T, 1963)
- Bullit (Rolleiflex 2.8F, 1968)
- Jaws (Pentax Spotmatic, 1975)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Rollei B35, 1977)
- National Lampoon’s Vacation (Olympus OM-1, 1983)
- Easy Money (Exacta VX, 1983)
- The Killing Fields (Rolleiflex 2.8F, Pentax Spotmatic, 1984)
- Bridges of Madison County (Nikon SP Rangefinder, 1995)
- Ronin (Leica R6.2, 1998)
- Catch me if you Can (Kodak Retina 2C, 2002)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Pentax 67 medium format, 2009)
- Jurassic World (Lomography Diana F+, 2015)
- Batman v Superman (Nikon S3 Y2K Rangefinder, 2016)
- Kong: Skull Island (Canon AE-1 Program, 2017)