Nikon Pronea S


Launched in 1998,  the Pronea S is Nikon’s second and last APS SLR. Nikon rapidly lost interest in the APS format, and refocused its R&D (and sales) efforts on the more promising Coolpix digital cameras. With its smaller image format and lenses, the Pronea can be considered a remote ancestor of the vastly more successful Nikon D40.

 

Nikon Pronea S (flash deployed)
Nikon Pronea S (with the built-in flash deployed and a Nikkor AF 24mm lens)


Apart from the fact it’s using APS film instead of more conventional 135 (24x36mm) film, there is nothing really remarkable about the Pronea S. Its characteristics are aligned on the other mid-level amateur cameras of its time.


It benefits from the advantages brought by the APS format (smaller size than 24×36 cameras, choice of three aspect ratios for the prints) but it also suffers from all the limitations that ultimately caused the demise of the APS format.


In a typical Nikon fashion, the Pronea S preserves some form of compatibility with the large family of Nikkor F lenses: in fact, modern AF and AF-S lenses work perfectly on a Pronea. However the IX-Nikkor lenses, designed specifically for the Pronea and its smaller APS  format are absolutely incompatible with the rest of the Nikon bodies: the back of the IX lenses protrudes so far in the reflex  chamber that it would be on the trajectory of the reflex mirror of a 24×36 SLR.

 

Nikon F mount / Nikon Pronea mount
Both use the F mount, but an IX lens can only be mounted on a Pronea body
Nikon F mount / Nikon Pronea mount
The back of the IX lens protrudes much more in the reflex chamber than the back of a Nikkor AF or AF-s lens

The resale value of the Nikon Pronea S is very limited. Mint (if not new) cameras and lenses can still be found, and they generally sell for a few dozens of dollars. They can be collected as curiosities, but their usage value is limited: Kodak and Fuji may cease manufacturing APS film rapidly, and the IX-Nikkor lenses are absolutely incompatible with any “normal” Nikon body.

 

Nikon Pronea S (front)
Nikon Pronea S
Nikon Pronea S (back)
Nikon Pronea S (back)
Nikon Pronea S (above)
Nikon Pronea S

Olympus OM1n / Nikon Pronea S (Side)
Olympus OM1n / Nikon Pronea S (Side)
  • APS SLR cameras are smaller than a comparable 24×36 autofocus SLR with a built-in flash, but the Pronea S is larger than an older SLR such as the Olympus OM-1
  • The choice of films was already very limited when the format was supposed to be the next big thing: practically, color print film from Kodak and Fuji in 100, 200 and 400 ISO declinations was the only thing you could get. Now that the format is near extinct, only 200 ISO film is available.
  • Compared to a 24×36 image, an APS image is 56% smaller. APS requires higher enlargement ratios, which makes film grain more visible.
  • The film loading mechanism of APS cameras is fragile. The film can stay trapped in the camera if one of the little plastic parts holding the cartridge in place breaks.
Olympus OM-1/ Nikon Pronea S / Cartridge
Olympus OM-1/ Nikon Pronea S / Cartridge

For more about the Pronea S

Another point of view about the Pronea S, courtesy of Ken Rockwell.


The APS Film Format

Harbor of Porsall, Britany (France). Minolta Vectis S1
Harbor of Porsall, Britany (France). Minolta Vectis S1
135 (24x36) and APS format cartridges
135 (24×36) and APS format cartridges. The APS cartridge is more “intelligent” than the conventional 135 film container. An icon at the bottom of the cartridge shows the status of the film (new, partially exposed, totally exposed, processed) and a magnetic strip at the back of the film records the camera’s setup and the user’s preferences, in particular the form factor of each print (APS-C, H or P)


In 1991, Kodak, Fuji, Canon, Minolta and Nikon started working on a new film format, designed to address all of the supposed shortcomings of the 135 (24x36mm) format and bring a new lease of life to film before its replacement by digital technologies.


The development of the new format took longer than expected. The APS film format was officially launched in 1996, but the industry tried to force higher prices on consumers and botched the commercial launch.


Digital cameras became viable earlier than when everybody had anticipated, and as early as 1998, the camera manufacturers had come to the conclusion that the APS format was a lost cause.

 

The most emblematic APS camera, the Canon Elph (known as the Canon Ixus in Europe) was superseded by the first Digital Elph in Year 2000. In 2002, all the cameras manufacturers had reverted to 24x36mm or gone digital, and APS was dead.

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Innovative Metering – Fast Shutter – Conventional Ergonomics – The Nikon FA (Intro)


The Nikon FA is the last major manual focus SLR launched by Nikon. An evolution of the FM2 and FE2 cameras, it shares with the latter most of its body shell, a very fast shutter (up to 1/4000sec., 1/250sec. flash synchro speed) and a TTL flash metering mechanism. It finally catches up with Canon’s A1 and offers the same four automatic exposure modes (aperture and shutter priority, program and semi-auto).


Its “Automatic Multipoint Metering” (AMP) – a world premiere – is its real claim to fame. Better known under names such as “matrix”, “evaluative” or “multi-segmented” metering, it is now the default metering system of every dSLR in production.


Launched in 1983, this conservatively styled camera with very conventional ergonomics had a relatively short sales career. It was made obsolete in 1985 when Minolta took the market by storm with its first autofocus SLR, the 7000 (Maxxum 7000 in the US). Minolta’s competitors, Nikon included, spent the best part of the following three years trying to catch up. The FA stayed on Nikon’s catalog until 1988, and was not replaced. Its semi-automatic sibling, the FM2n would be sold until 2001, when the FM3a, a sort of combination of the best characteristics of the FM2 and the FE2, was launched.

Nikon FA with the MD-15 motor
An impressive (and heavy) camera: the Nikon FA with the MD-15 motor drive.


The metering system


Until the FA was launched, most of the cameras only offered some form of center weighted metering: the exposure sensor evaluated the luminosity of the whole scene, and because the sky is typically in the upper third of the frame, and the main subject of the picture in the center, it was designed to give more importance to the portion of the picture located at the center of the lower part of the frame.


It worked for most of the cases. If the subject was back-lit and not centered, the photographer had to determine the exposure with the subject at the center of the frame, memorize the exposure settings, and move the camera to compose the desired picture.


Some high end cameras also had a second exposure metering system, which evaluated the luminosity of a much narrower portion of the scene, almost a spot in the middle of the viewfinder. But spot metering and exposure memorization are not always easy to use , and are far from being idiot proof. The engineers at Nikon were pretty sure that with the newly unleashed power of integrated circuits, they could develop a new approach.


More after the jump


Viewfinders: coverage, magnification and eye relief (Intro)

Eye Relief
Eye Relief


A large proportion of photographers wears prescription glasses – I know, I’m one of them – and almost everybody wears sun glasses occasionally. But surprisingly, until high eye point or high eye relief viewfinders appeared – on the Nikon F3 HP in the early eighties, photographers with glasses could not see the integrality of the scene – let alone the aperture or speed information on the LED displays surrounding the view of the scene- without having to move their eye balls up and down and left to right.


As far as viewfinders are concerned, some cameras are better than others, though. The quality of the viewfinder of a manual focus camera is influenced by three factors:

  • Coverage: It’s the percentage of the image captured through the lens which is going to be shown in the viewfinder. 100% coverage is desirable – but expensive to manufacture, and only top of the line cameras (the real “pro” models) show the integrality of the scene in the viewfinder. Most SLRs show between 85% and 95% of the scene. Point and shoot cameras, (more precisely the few P&S which still have an optical viewfinder) are much worse. The best of them, the Canon G11 only shows 77% of the scene that will be captured through the eye piece.

  • Magnification: If the magnification was equal to 1, an object seen through the viewfinder would appear to be the same size as seen with the naked eye (with a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera). The photographer could even shoot with both eyes open. If the magnification ratio is lower than 1, then the object will appear smaller in the viewfinder than seen with the naked eye.


    Magnification has an impact on composition and focusing. If the magnification ratio is very low (below 0.4) the image becomes so small that it’s difficult to compose the picture. Magnification is also a critical factor for picture sharpness on manual focus cameras: the accuracy of the focusing is directly related to what the photographer can see on the matte focusing screen, and the higher the magnification, the easier it’s going to be for him or her to focus accurately.


    More after the jump