The legendary Nikon Nikonos 35mm film SLR was originally created by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jean de Wouters in the ’60s. Built for submarine photography, it could stand a Kraken’s bite. But this US Navy SEAL’s camera wasn’t an ordinary Nikonos.
This Nikonos was a total mystery. A secret that not many people knew about until recently. In fact, its existence was repeatedly denied by the manufacturer, even after the US Navy published this photo, showing a member of SEAL Team One equipped with one and the following caption:
980608-N-3236B-003 NAVAL AIR BASE CORONADO, California (June 8, 1998) — Navy SEALs attached to SEAL Team One, Naval Air Base Coronado, CA, conducts training using the Nikon/Kodak DCS 425 underwater digital camera which can send real time digital images to decision makers, and an LPI LPD tracking device uses brevity codes to send both mission status and precise longitude/latitude. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer Mate 2nd Class Ted Banks. (RELEASED)
A digital Nikonos? Nobody had a digital Nikonos. Digital Nikonos just don’t exist. They didn’t exist in 1998 and they never ever existed. Nikon never manufactured them. In fact, Nikon cancelled the Nikonos in 2001, three years after this photo was taken.
So what the hell is this “digital camera which can send real time digital images to decision makers”? It is a Nikonos, but with different guts, modified by Eastman Kodak Company Commercial & Goverment Systems. The model name was the DCS 425 M, a black and white DSLR made for the military. According to Jarle Aasland – who investigated the origin of the puzzling beast – Kodak officially denies their existence:
I’m sorry but those cameras never existed here at Eastman Kodak. We never made cameras for that specific use. The information you have is incorrect.
Jarle’s information wasn’t incorrect, however. It was later confirmed by Jim McGarvey, Kodak’s lead engineer on the DCS cameras who said that the division would take commercial camera designs to adapt them for special needs in limited runs.
It’s too bad that Nikon cancelled the Nikonos. Not only it is a beautiful camera that requires no casing for diving, but it’s a perfect camera to take into any environment with no protection needed whatsoever. [Nikonos via Nikon Rumors]