Nikon S

Cameras of Ansel Adams

Though not referenced by Ansel in interviews or writing, to my knowledge, there is a Nikon S camera which is documented as being sold by Ansel to his friend and attorney Richard Leonhard (see text below). And along with the camera Ansel gave him a receipt for servicing and the purchase of 135mm lens like the one shown above. The lenses were typically sold along with an auxiliary viewfinder specific to the lens-length (on top of camera above).

It would make sense for Ansel to try a Nikon rangefinder, since he had been using the lens-compatible Contax cameras since the mid 1930s. He has acknowledged use of the Contax, Contax II, and Contax III, but has not mentioned the post-WWII Contax IIa or IIIa. Many photographers replaced their pre-war Contaxes with Nikon rangefinders. But it appears that Ansel returned to Zeiss-Ikon when he switched to SLRs, adopting the Contaflex and later the Contarex.

The documented history of the camera (above) starts on August, 10th 1960 with the copy of an invoice to Anselm Adams from Adolph Gasser, Camera Supplies in San Francisco for the repair of his Nikon S and the purchase of a 135mm Nikon lens.

On August 11th, 1960 Adams sold the camera no.6094433 with the 50mm Nikkor no.316874 to Richard Leonhard, his long time attorney for $130.00 together with a Contaflex IV** outfit. Dick Leonard wrote to to Adams, “Dear Ansel : It was so good to see you this afternoon. I do appreciate your quick action on the Nikon camera and lens….”

In May 1987, his wife, Doris F. Leonard wrote a letter: ‘…we have been close friends of Ansel and Virginia for 50 years …. In 1960 …. Ansel had just completed his superb book on ‘The Islands of Hawaii’…and the photography for ‘Fiat Lux’* …. Ansel used the Contaflex** and the Nikon for photographs for both books’.  In 1987 Richard sold the Nikon S together with a Nikon reflex housing to Bill Fraker Jr. for $2,350 (original invoice attached). The outfit includes the early Nikon S no.6094433 with Nikkor-S.C 1.4/5cm no.316874, cap, ever ready case, original instructions – all in fine and perfect working order.

NOTES: * It is unlikely that the camera was used for Fiat Lux, which was shot beginning in 1963, after the date when Ansel sold the camera. ** An example of the Contaflex IV is also in our collection.

Read more:

Ansel Adams as best man for Adolph Gasser.