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Nikon KE-48C

Let me first confess that I'm a fan of the Nikon F. There's something about the build of the camera and the way the mechanics feel in your hand that makes it very interesting camera. Not to mention all the different variations that exist in the roughly 10 years of production. The KE-48C is a militarized version of the Nikon F with an FTn finder. This was in the late 60s and early 70s and I believe that many saw action during the Vietnam War. I doubt that the one I have has seen war - the condition is too good for that. Perhaps it was used in a more docile setting but still military. Who knows. There are no engraving on the camera, unlike the ones I've seen on the web. I believe that this is normal, the US military sometimes machine engrave, sometimes they engrave freehand and sometimes they just didn't bother.  

The business end of this camera is the backplate. Without that sticker, its just a plain old Nikon F. 

The business end of this camera is the backplate. Without that sticker, its just a plain old Nikon F. 


Honestly, its just a standard Nikon F with a sticker on the back stating the model number, contract number, and so on. The sticker is one of those thin metal ones with stamped serial number that matches the body and with adhesive to it. When you put your fingers on the sticker you can feel it move like a piece of thin metal/plastic. 

So how did I get to own this sweet looking specimen? I was having my breakfast one morning and I browsed a Korean online store and came across the fella. Most samples I've seen online were in a much worst shape than this one, and the serial matches plus I trust the shop enough to buy sight unseen. I've bought enough mechanical cameras in my life to know that most mechanical defects could be adjusted and fixed, and the meter is probably dead or losing its sensitivity (something about CdS meters). Nikon F finders are notoriously prone to prism delamination and for me they're acceptable as long as it doesn't interfere with the viewfinder too much. The lure of the KE-48C was so strong I didn't care too much about defects. I wanted one to shoot with. There are only 2 sites that I could find on the English web with any mention of this camera, one on CameraQuest and another one by Matthew Lin. What they both agree was this is one rare camera. 

This serial is 72xxxxx which is towards the end of the run, so well past the Nikon Fs with the Nippon Kogaku logo, which I prefer. This one is so practical it is boring. Note the pre-Apollo frame advance lever. Right after this model is the last one with plastic tip. 

This serial is 72xxxxx which is towards the end of the run, so well past the Nikon Fs with the Nippon Kogaku logo, which I prefer. This one is so practical it is boring. Note the pre-Apollo frame advance lever. Right after this model is the last one with plastic tip. 

This is the general edge wear on the black paint on my KE-48C. I don't know, out of the pictures I've seen online this seems to be the best preserved one I've seen. Then again there could be some mint ones in private collection that is never displayed. Who knows. 

This is the general edge wear on the black paint on my KE-48C. I don't know, out of the pictures I've seen online this seems to be the best preserved one I've seen. Then again there could be some mint ones in private collection that is never displayed. Who knows. 

With FTn finder. One of the final version for the Nikon F. I like this look but too bad mine has a meter that is stuck to "on". I'm sure I can lubricate the switch to have the off button working but since there's no 625 1.3V battery out there, I couldn't' be bothered. I'll just shoot with my brain meter or with an external Sekonic which I think is more accurate than a 40 year old CdS cell anyway. 

With FTn finder. One of the final version for the Nikon F. I like this look but too bad mine has a meter that is stuck to "on". I'm sure I can lubricate the switch to have the off button working but since there's no 625 1.3V battery out there, I couldn't' be bothered. I'll just shoot with my brain meter or with an external Sekonic which I think is more accurate than a 40 year old CdS cell anyway. 

 

What's it like to shoot with a Nikon F? They're not as smooth as a Leica M for sure. The king of butter smooth operation still goes to a Leica M3 as far as I'm concerned. Then again if you wanted a mechanical SLR, I don't believe any come close to an F. I've owned a Canon F1 for a while, and while it felt hefty, it has a clank to it when the shutter is tripped. The F just feels a lot tighter. When you wind the lever, it is mostly smooth with the feel of the gears engaging some cams along the way. It feels like a ratchet. But satisfying. There are not that many controls, just the photographer, aperture, shutter speed and focus to worry about. Of course if you need mirror lockup or DOF preview, the buttons are there. Otherwise its full manual and there's something satisfying about shooting without batteries. Like hunting with a bow and arrow I guess. Or a dagger! The cheapest Nikon F I have cost me just $25. You have to try one to know what it is like.