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Nikon Model S microscope

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Click on the photos for high-resolution versions.


This is a nerd post. I apologize to non-nerds, who surely will find it boring. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to come back in a day or two, after I’ve moved on to another subject? 🙂

I admit it. I have a fetish for scientific instruments. Partly it’s because they’re complicated, and I like things that are complicated. And partly it’s because well-engineered instruments, to me, are indistinguishable from art. I’ve annoyed a few artist friends, actually, by suggesting that technology may constitute much of the art of the 20th Century. Just look at the high-resolution photos of this instrument to appreciate how photogenic and elegant it is.

I certainly cannot afford scientific instruments when they’re new, nor do I have a use for most of them. But, thanks to eBay, many old instruments fall into the hands of liquidators and junk dealers who put them up for auction. Old instruments, if they continue to work, never totally lose their value, as far as I can tell. Working instruments regardless of age are still useful to hobbyists. And there are many collectors. Collectors, like me, seem to always have an eye for superb design.

My Nikon fetish came about from my Nikon cameras. Again, I cannot afford professional Nikon cameras when they’re new. The camera bodies alone, no lenses included, can cost $7,000 or more. But, after professional photographers move to the newer models, older professional cameras become affordable on eBay. I have a Nikon D1X that is now my backup camera. My current camera is a Nikon D2X. As soon as the D3 professional cameras are affordable (another year or two?) I will upgrade to a D3. There is nothing like the solid feel of a Nikon professional camera — heavy, complicated, sophisticated, no nonsense. The design is superb. The camera soon becomes a part of you.

The vintage Nikon microscopes caught my eye because of their classic design and the astounding quality of the manufacturing. Do I really need a microscope? No. But they make great educational toys. I always disliked biology lab in college (biology courses were required back then), and I often had a very hard time seeing in the microscope what we were supposed to be seeing. But I still remember the basic techniques of making slides and using a microscope.

The Nikon Model S microscopes were made during the 1960s and 1970s. The Nikon Model S must have been the first Japanese microscope to make its way into the world market. Previously, German microscopes were the rule. The Model S was highly configurable, with interchangeable parts. There were different stages, different condensers, different lighting sources, and of course a wide range of eyepieces and objective lenses. Professionals would never use a mirror-lighted microscope anymore, but they’re good for collectors because the mirror goes right on working.

The history of the Nikon company is interesting. The company has been around since 1917. They hired a bunch of German engineers and started making optical products. During World War II, Nikon made optical ordnance, as well as binoculars, bomb sights, and telescopes. After the war they started concentrating on cameras, and the rest is history. If it had been possible to win World War II with fine instruments superbly built, Germany and Japan would have beaten the daylights out of the Allies. Instead the Allies won the war with, um, instruments that were more blunt.

Many of the Nikon Model S microscopes had a flaw that has held down their value. The fine focus mechanism (in some models) used a nylon gear that, over time, shrank and cracked. This was a serious mistake by Nikon; they weren’t stingy in the parts they used. But apparently the appeal of nylon was that nylon gears didn’t have to be lubricated. Though the microscopes came with a 25-year warranty, getting the parts to repair the fine-focus mechanism has become increasingly difficult. Luckily, not all Model S microscopes used the coarse-focus and fine-focus knobs that were coaxial. Instead, the coarse- and fine-focus knobs are separate, one in front of the other, and they do not have the problem with a nylon gear. Fortunately, that’s the type of microscope I bought. I had done the research and knew what to watch out for. The manual that came with my microscope says that it is a Model SBR. I have never been able to find, on-line, a manual for the Model S microscopes with the non-coaxial focus knobs. If any collectors have Googled their way to this page and are curious about how the manuals differ, please leave a comment. But you can see the difference in the photos. There are coarse-focus and fine-focus knobs on both sides of the microscope. The fine-focus knob has a scale engraved on it, and its travel is limited to 2mm.

I suspect that my microscope was used for metallurgy, because the wooden case (yep, I got the wooden case as well) included the manual for the Nikon EPI-illuminator, which attaches below the head of the microscope and illuminates the specimen from above. Unfortunately, the EPI-illuminator was not included with my microscope, though I have the manual if any collectors need it.

The microscope is in excellent working condition and appears to have been lightly used. The photos were taken with a Nikon D2X camera with a 28-85mm AF lens.

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Update:

I’ve had several requests for scans of the Nikon EPI-Illuminator manual. These four scans are the complete manual.

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9 Comments

  1. Namin wrote:

    Excellent post. A crash course for novices in microscope .

    Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  2. Hal Brundage wrote:

    Great article. I too am a fan of nikon cameras and equipment. I bought an old Nikon S metallurgical microscope on ebay. I had the the epi illuminator but I am having trouble getting it to work properly. Could you possibly send a scan of the manual for the epi illuminator that you got with your microscope. Thanks in advance. Hal

    Friday, April 22, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  3. Steve wrote:

    Hi ,
    Read your article with great interest . I have also acquired an S series microscope with an Epi Iluminator. However I need a replacement bulb and I am struggling to find any documentation on this illuminator so that I use the correct wattage replacement in the lamp housing. You mentioned that you had the manual for the Epi illuminator . If its not too much trouble would it be possible to email me a soft copy of it . BTW I also have to address the well known Co-Axial fine focus issue also . So need to buy a new gear I guess , but that’s for another day .
    Best Regard,
    Steve

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  4. Fredric R. Durrette wrote:

    Great article. I collect Nikon microscopes and currently debating trying to write a book on them.

    http://jalbum.net/a/1342772

    Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  5. Thomas wrote:

    I bought a Nikon SBR a few years back. It has the wooden case with the 25 year Guarantee card affixed inside. Per the card, it was purchased 8 Sep 1966 by a Sylvan B. Green of Philly. His obituary says he interned at SUNY Medical Center in Syracuse from ’72-’73, so he must have been a student when he bought this. It has a light that fits to it and I have used it a couple of times. My girlfriend was a biology student.) It also came with 2 spare bulbs for the light. I do not know if this is the illuminator that was mentioned. It is regular 110V.

    Friday, July 8, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  6. Douglas Doede wrote:

    Excellent article, and I just wanted to add my thanks for posting the Nikon EPI-Illuminator manual. I purchased one a few months ago and haven’t been able to use it properly. This manual will be a big help.

    Friday, July 22, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  7. John Nobel wrote:

    Hi, I have one of these Model s and have used it for a long time, great piece of equipment, I use it for air samples, since 1994, love it, I would love accessories for it, I like the illumination device…I thin my lens are wearing out, especially the oil immersion…is there maintenance parts? Thanks for the interest…I would like another, maybe a one for looking at insects…thanks

    Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  8. Al wrote:

    Wow – A fantastic and informative post!
    The pictures of that gorgeous scope are drool-worthy (to the average microscope collector). The EPI really peaked my interest 😉

    Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  9. arthur brogard wrote:

    I have Nikon Model G microscope. Seems to be the monocular version of the model S.

    The stage will not stay put and I cannot identify the tensioning mechanism if there is any.

    Have you any advice or perhaps a link to the Model G or Model S manual?

    Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

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