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The Nikon SP and other 1950s and 1960s rangefinder cameras competed directly with models from Leica and Zeiss. However, the company quickly ceased developing its rangefinder line to focus its efforts on the Nikon F single-lens reflex line of cameras, which was successful[19] upon its introduction in 1959. For nearly 30 years, Nikon's F-series SLRs were the most widely used small-format cameras among professional photographers[citation needed], as well as by some U.S. space program, the first in 1971 on Apollo 15 (as lighter and smaller alternative to the Hasselblad, used in the MercuryGemini and Apollo programs, 12 of which are still on the Moon) and later once in 1973 on the Skylab and later again on it in 1981.

Nikon popularized many features in professional SLR photography[citation needed], such as the modular camera system with interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, motor drives, and data backs; integrated light metering and lens indexing; electronic strobe flashguns instead of expendable flashbulbs; electronic shutter control; evaluative multi-zone "matrix" metering; and built-in motorized film advance. However, as auto focus SLRs became available from Minolta and others in the mid-1980s, Nikon's line of manual-focus cameras began to seem out of date[citation needed].

Despite introducing one of the first autofocus models, the slow and bulky F3AF, the company's determination to maintain lens compatibility with its F-mount prevented rapid advances in autofocus technology. Canon introduced a new type of lens-camera interface with its entirely electronic Canon EOS cameras and Canon EF lens mount in 1987. The much faster lens performance permitted by Canon's electronic focusing and aperture control prompted many professional photographers (especially in sports and news) to switch to the Canon system through the 1990s.[20]

Post-millenium film camera production[edit]

Once Nikon introduced affordable consumer-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D70 in the mid-2000s, sales of its consumer and professional film cameras fell rapidly, following the general trend in the industry. In January 2006, Nikon announced it would stop making most of its film camera models and all of its large format lenses, and focus on digital models.[21]

Nevertheless, Nikon remained the only[citation needed] major camera manufacturer still making film SLR cameras for a long time. The high-end Nikon F6 and the entry-level FM10[21] remained in production all the way up until October 2020.[22]

Digital photography[edit]

Digital single-lens reflex and point and shoot cameras[edit]

Nikon NASA F4 front view with DA-20 action finder, Electronics Box and lenses. Launched September 1991 on board the Space Shuttle Discovery, mission STS-48.

Nikon created some of the first digital SLRs (DSLRs, Nikon NASA F4) for NASA, used in the Space Shuttle since 1991.[23] After a 1990s partnership with Kodak to produce digital SLR cameras based on existing Nikon film bodies, Nikon released the Nikon D1 SLR under its own name in 1999. Although it used an APS-C-size light sensor only 2/3 the size of a 35 mm film frame (later called a "DX sensor"), the D1 was among the first digital cameras to have sufficient image quality and a low enough price for some professionals (particularly photojournalists and sports photographers) to use it as a replacement for a film SLR. The company also has a Coolpix line which grew as consumer digital photography became increasingly prevalent through the early 2000s. Nikon also never made any phones.

Through the mid-2000s, Nikon's line of professional and enthusiast DSLRs and lenses including their back compatible AF-S lens line remained in second place behind Canon in SLR camera sales, and Canon had several years' lead in producing professional DSLRs with light sensors as large as traditional 35 mm film frames.[24] All Nikon DSLRs from 1999 to 2007, by contrast, used the smaller DX size sensor.

Then, 2005 management changes at Nikon led to new camera designs such as the full-frame Nikon D3 in late 2007, the Nikon D700 a few months later, and mid-range SLRs. Nikon regained much of its reputation among professional and amateur enthusiast photographers as a leading innovator in the field, especially because of the speed, ergonomics, and low-light performance of its latest models.[25][unreliable source?] The mid-range Nikon D90, introduced in 2008, was also the first SLR camera to record video.[26][27] Since then video mode has been introduced to many more of the Nikon and non-Nikon DSLR cameras including the Nikon D3SNikon D7000Nikon D5100Nikon D3100Nikon D3200 and Nikon D5100.[28][29][30][31][32]

More recently, Nikon has released a photograph and video editing suite called ViewNX to browse, edit, merge and share images and videos.[33][34][35] Despite the market growth of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras, Nikon did not neglect their F-mount Single Lens Reflex cameras and have released some professional DSLRs like the D780,[36] or the D6[37] in 2020.

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras[edit]

In reaction to the growing market for Mirrorless cameras, Nikon released their first Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras and also a new lens mount in 2011. The lens mount was called Nikon 1, and the first bodies in it were the Nikon 1 J1 and the V1. The system was built around a 1 inch (or CX) format image sensor, with a 2.7x crop factor. This format was pretty small compared to their competitors. This resulted in a loss of image quality, dynamic range and fewer possibilities for restricting depth of field depth of field range. In 2018, Nikon officially discontinued the 1 series, after three years without a new camera body.[38] (The last one was the Nikon 1 J5).

Also in 2018, Nikon introduced a new mirrorless system in their lineup: the Nikon Z system. The first cameras in the series were the Z 6 and the Z 7, both with a Full Frame (FX) sensor format, In-Body Image Stabilization and a built-in electronic viewfinder. The Z-mount is not only for FX cameras though, as in 2019 Nikon introduced the Z 50 with a DX format sensor, without IBIS but with the compatibility to every Z-mount lens. The handling, the ergonomics and the button layout are similar to the Nikon DSLR cameras, which is friendly for those who are switching from them. This shows that Nikon is putting their focus more on their MILC line.

In 2020 Nikon updated both the Z 6 and the Z 7. The updated models are called the Z 6 II and the Z 7 II. The improvements over the original models include the new EXPEED 6 processor, an added card slot, improved video and AF features, higher burst rates, battery grip support and USB-C power delivery.[39]

In 2021, Nikon released 2 mirrorless cameras, the Z fc and the Z 9. The Nikon Z fc is the second Z-series APS-C (DX) mirrorless camera in the line up, designed to evoke the company's famous FM2 SLR from the '80s. It offers manual controls, including dedicated dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO.[40] The Z 9 became Nikon's new flagship product succeeding the D6, marking the start of a new era of Nikon cameras. It includes a 46 megapixel Full Frame (FX) format stacked CMOS sensor which is stabilized and has a very fast readout speed, making the mechanical shutter not only unneeded, but also absent from the camera. Along with the sensor, the 3.7 million dot, 760 nit EVF, the 30 fps continuous burst at full resolution with a buffer of 1000+ compressed raw photos, 4K 120 fps ProRes internal recording, the 8K 30 fps internal recording and the 120 hz subject recognition AF system make it one of the most advanced cameras on the market with its main rivals being the Canon EOS R3 and the Sony α1.[41] (As of February 2022)