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The Nikon RS underwater camera system

by Brian Pitkin

Reproduced from in focus 44 (Apr. 1992)

As no doubt most members will be aware by now, Nikon have announced a new 35 mm format single lens reflex (SLR) camera and flashgun designed exclusively for underwater use. Despite the plethora of articles which have already appeared in the diving press, it was felt worthwhile including a feature on this important and long awaited technical advance in our specialist field in this issue of IN FOCUS.

At the outset I should make it clear that the Nikonos RS is not an upgrade of the Nikonos V, but a completely new and exciting camera. Before you rush out to buy one however bear in mind that it costs two ormore times as much.


The body is made of die-cast copper silumin oxidised aluminium alloy and is about a half as large again as the Nikonos V. A motor winder is integral. At 7.7 x 5.9 x 3.3 inches (196 x 151 x 85 mm) it weighs in at 72.7 ounces (2.06 gms) on the surface and 32.4 ounces (920 gms) underwater. All joints are sealed by '0' ring gaskets and the camera is able to withstand pressures down to 100 metres.

The body_is ergonomically designed so that it can be readily gripped with the right hand, the shutter release button failing readily under the thumb. There is a power manual focus lever just where the right fore finger lies, making focusing simple and easy. On top of the camera are the exposure compensation/ISO Film speed control, the Shutter speed control and the exposurelmetering control.

To the right of the viewfinder and mounted on its flank in front of the Shutter speed control is the focusing control. On the opposite side to the grip lie the flash synchronisation and remote control terminals. The flash terminal accepts the new Nikon SB-104 flashgun.

Flash synchronises from 1/30th to 1/ 25th of a second in automatic mode. In manual mode the shutter fires at the up to a maximum of 1/25th. At manual speeds higher than 11125th the shutter is automatically set to 1/25th. The flash ready light is incorporated in the viewfinder.

The viewfinder is offset at nine degrees and is an action type with a large view. The highpoint is 60 mm which should allow easy use underwater whilst wearing a face mask. The viewfinder uses a BriteView screen for maximum sharpness and clarity. A bright LCD readout provides comprehensive information on the camera's settings.

Access for loading film is via the hinged lockable back, reminiscent of the Nikonos V, but there is an additional inner camera door for access to the film compartment. Film speed is automatically set by the DX code reader in the camera (speed of non-DX coded film can be set manually) and this speed is displayed in the viewfinder (along with the manually selected Film speed) and exposure compensation value. The battery chamber, rewind lever and rear- curtain flash sync switch (see below) are safely within the camera's back. The frame counter, illuminated by an LCD, is of the additive type, and counts backwards as the film is rewound (automatically when the lever is turned). If this is anything like the rewind on my Pentax then this means that in camera double exposures are possible.


Nikon have produced three lenses for the Nikon RS:- a 50 mm, a 28 mrn and a zoom 20-35 mm.

The Micro-Nikkor 50mm allows for close-ups down to 1:1 or life size with an aperture range of f2.8 - f22 and a focusing range of infinity to 0.55 ft (0.167m). It is 4.0 in diameter x 5.0 inches long (103 x 126mm) and weighs in at 38.8 ounces (1,10Ogms). It has a picture angle of 35'.

The 28 mm lens is the standard lens with a focusing range of infinity down to 0.85 ft (0.26m) allowing for close-ups down to 1:6. It has an aperture range of f2.8 to f22, like the 50mm and is 3.9 inches in diameter and 3.3 inches long (99 x 85 mm) and weighs 19.4 ounces (550 gms). It has a picture angle of 59.8°.

The zoom 20-35 mrn lens is the first underwater zoom. it has a focusing range of infinity to 1.2 ft (0.38 m) and an aperture range of f2.8 to f22. It is 6.4 inches in diameter and 5.1 inches long and weighs in at 61.7 ounces (1,750g). It has a picture angle of 79° down to 51°.


The Nikonos RS has five different focusing settings. You can either take pictures using single-servo autofocus, autofocus lock, continuous-servo autofocus, freeze focus or power manual focus.

Single-servo focus assures that the shutter is automatically released the instant the subject is in focus. You can also compose your picture with the subject off-centre by using the autofocus lock.

Continuous-servo autofocus automatically tracks a moving subject and predicts its position at the precise moment you trigger the shutter.

Freeze focus 'waits' for the subject to move into focus and when it does releases the shutter.

If you want to control focusing then the power manual focus allows you to do so. The viewfinder display indicates whether the subject if in focus, focus- tracking or out of focus.


The Nikonos RS uses five segment matrix metering, which it is claimed makes short work of quickly changing and complex lighting and can work in landscape or vertical mode.

If you select aperture priority, auto-exposure then you can set the to determine depth of field and the camera system automatically sets the matching Shutter speed for correct exposure. The viewfinder display indicates whether aperture priority or manual exposure has been selected. The matrix metering is claimed to be so sophisticated that it can also allow for automatic balanced fill-in flash!

If you set the Shutter speed manually then centre weighted metering is automatically activated. This concentrates 75% of the metres sensitivity - to the 12mm centre circle of the viewfinder and allows for TTL control over the exposure.

There is a 'B' setting for long exposures and exposure compensation by +P 2 EV in 113 step increments. The Shutter speed in use, deviation from correct exposure and exposure compensation mark are displayed in the viewfinder.


The Nikonos SB-104 has a guide number of 16 in metres (presumably with 100 ISO film) and covers 100o, recycling in only 3 secs. It is powered by a removable, rechargeable Ni-Cad battery pack which is shielded from the flashgun main electrical chamber in case the rear door seal is breached.

It can be set for matrix balanced fill-in flash, centre weighted TTL flash, manual flash (full; 1/4; 1/16 power settings) or rear curtain flash sync. The later can be used to produce the trailing image effect of a speeding object as the flash fires as the shutter closes rather than as it opens, but the camera must also be preset before closing the camera back to use this facility.

The flashgun can be used a a normal flash, as a slave flash, as a flash slave in multi-flash operation or as signal flash and has a test setting.

The self diagnosis signals include a flash ready light, a heat signal, a moisture signal and a flash performance signal.


Nikon look as if they have done their homework on this one. The Nikonos RS is big and at around £1000 for the body alone its expensive. God and Ocean Optics Ltd only know how much it'll cost to service and repair, but I can't wait to try one.

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