Is a NASA-issued camera still on your vintage camera wishlist? Prepare some $$$ because we’ve got just the right stuff for you. For our latest vintage find, we were able to spot a NASA Nikon camera and lens collection that is waiting to call your shelf its next home.
The collection, listed by Nashville-based spaceshotcollectibles, is comprised of Nikon F4s and F5 camera bodies, a 1000mm lens, and a 17-35mm lens. The listing doesn’t indicate if the items are still in good working condition, although they do show some signs of wear and usage marks. However, there are also some stickers and velcro/hook and loop tapes suggesting that the camera bodies at least were among the ones used for NASA spaceflights.
As no other information on the cameras was provided, we once again had to use our online sleuthing skills to sniff out more details on these purported NASA Nikons. Fortunately, award-winning photographer Timm Chapman has some answers for us on his dedicated pages for the NASA Nikon space cameras.
The NASA Nikon F4 Electronic Still Camera (ESC) was the first ever digital camera flown by NASA aboard the Space Shuttle Orbiters. It was designed beginning in 1987, and prototypes were made in the coming years until its maiden voyage aboard Shuttle Discovery in 1991. It was a revolutionary camera in design as it was able to electronically capture and digitize photos with resolution close to the quality of film. The digital images were stored on removable hard disks and could be converted to downlink transmission format or even enhanced with image processing software. Interestingly, the sensor equipped in the film plane of the ESC was a 1024 x 1024 (15mm x 15mm) CCD sensor developed by JPL and Ford Aerospace instead of one bearing 35mm film proportions. Chapman also noted that while at least 14 modified F4 bodies were made for the project, only three ESC units were eventually produced (and have made it to the eight shuttle missions until the late 1993). It’s possible that the F4s in the listing is a prototype.
As for the NASA Modified Nikon F5, it was the last 35mm film camera that NASA flew to space missions. Its maiden voyage was in December 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Nikon’s long history of working with NASA for these space cameras led to several technological provisions that Nikon eventually incorporated into their professional cameras, so there weren’t a lot of modifications necessary for the NASA F5, save for replacement of reformulated internal lubricants meeting NASA requirements. The NASA Nikon F5 models all came with a Nikon MF-28 data back that allowed astronauts to record important data related to the image they shot directly on film. These were typically printed between frames.
The F5 was also modified into Extravehicular Activity (EVA) cameras, chosen for its fast and accurate autofocus, and impressively accurate matrix metering. A custom thermal blanket, with material and construction similar to the spacesuits, was made to insulate the camera during EVA use. Unlike the thermal blanket used for the F3, the F5 blanket also surrounded the sides of the lens and the top and sides of the viewfinder. The sticker on the F5 body in the listing suggests that it was an EVA unit.
As with the previous listings, we suggest asking around for any information from experts (might as well get in touch with Timm Chapman) about this collection before surrendering your $14,999.99. Head to the ebay listing once you’re ready to buy.
Photos from the ebay listing by spaceshotcollectibles