Your friends have mostly switched to digital. Maybe you’ve even tried that. There’s a problem, though. You want to take the absolute best underwater photographs, and you want to be able to choose your best shots and enlarge them to grace your walls so your friends who don’t dive can share some of the wonder you enjoy while diving. Perhaps you’ve even discovered the hard way that those 5, 6, or 10 megapixel files from housed digital cameras just won’t cut it when asked to make a true photo-quality 16 X 24 print!
Or maybe you’re a professional technical diver who needs more than the 50 meters (or 164 feet) the Nikonos V is rated to, the 61 meters (200 feet) Light and Motion and Ikelite housings are rated to, or the 91 meters (300 feet) Aquatica aluminum housings are rated for. The Nikonos RS was designed for professionals, and is designed to dive deep, with a conservative 100 meter (328 foot) depth rating.
The Nikonos RS is, simply put, the absolute best underwater film camera system ever made. It has been the workhorse of professional divers for over a decade. To create the Nikonos RS, Nikon used the 6006 camera body and electronics as a departure point, and then created a housing and modifications to address every underwater photography concern. These cameras were so expensive to make, and the demand by those who could afford to own the best underwater system was relatively small, so Nikon only made these bodies for 4 years. Additionally, these cameras offered such significant new capabilities they were actually subject to export control laws when introduced!
The Nikonos RS is a true single-lens reflex camera, where your view through the viewfinder actually looks through the lens and sees the image that the film will record. The vast majority of underwater cameras are the simpler rangefinder type, which require special viewfinders as you change lenses. The large, high eyepoint Nikonos RS viewfinder was designed to use looking through a scuba mask, and has been described as the best ever for an underwater camera. It works great even if you don’t have your mask right up against it. This system eliminates those pictures you missed due to poor composition, incorrect focus and so on.
This is an autofocus camera, with predictive focus tracking that automatically adjusts focus and anticipates where moving critters will be as the shutter is actuated for perfectly in-focus pictures. It also features "power" manual focus control. It has a focus priority mode that allows you to preset the focus, hold down the shutter button and when your subject swims into focus, the camera and strobes fire, taking the picture at precisely the right time. This is a super feature for macro subjects--preset the focus, hold down the shutter button and move in on the subject until it is in focus, and the camera takes that once-in-a-lifetime shot!
The Matrix Metering system divides the scene into 5 segments to more accurately expose your photograph. The camera also has center weighted metering.
Being a Nikon professional product, you know that the optics for the Nikonos RS system are the best ever made. Housed camera users must accept some level of image quality compromise caused by lenses designed for use on land being placed behind a dome port and taken underwater. The Nikonos RS lenses were designed for underwater use with the water in contact with the front glass element, and there are no compromises involved since they do not have to work through an extra layer of glass with the resulting degradation in clarity and color and changes in the focal length.
The R-UW AF Micro-Nikkor 50mm f/2.8 lens is made exclusively for use with the Nikonos RS. This lens lets you take normal photographs while diving, but it also has the ability to continue focusing all the way to a 1:1 reproduction ratio for those really small critters you sometimes run into on reefs. Since the lens is autofocus and adjusts as you or the subject move, there’s no longer any need for metal framers that scare some subjects away. There’s simply no other underwater macro lens that can do what this lens can do!
The 20-35 RS lens is the only zoom autofocus underwater lens with superior Nikkor UW optics, moving from wide angle to a normal view simply by turning the zoom knob on the side of the lens. It’s much easier to zoom than trying to get a bit closer to that skittish subject you’re almost close enough to!
Nikon also made a 13mm fisheye lens and a 28mm "standard" lens for the RS. Rene Aumann in Germany manufactured an 18mm rectilinear wide-angle lens with coverage equivalent to the 15mm Nikonos lens used with the Nikonos I through V systems see here and a 2X teleconverter for the 50mm lens see here filling perceived needs Nikon didn’t address with the RS system. Service remains available for those through his company.
The Nikonos RS has a die-cast body made of a special aluminum alloy. Looking through the viewfinder, you will see focus indicators, the exposure mode, the shutter speed, the aperture, the film speed, the DX setting, an ISO mark, the exposure compensation set (if any), an over or underexposure alert and a strobe ready light. Film automatically advances to first frame when you press the shutter release the first time after loading, and film advance is automatic after each shot.
This camera has flexible focus modes, including Single-Servo or Continuous-Servo autofocus, Power Focus and Freeze Focus. The autofocus detection system is a TTL phase detection system with a detection range of approximately EV minus 1 to EV 19 (ISO 100). Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 1 second and there’s a B setting also. Flash sync is more flexible than most underwater cameras, ranging from 1/30 to 1/125 second in A mode, with a 1-second shutter speed available in rear-curtain sync mode
Using SB-102, SB-104, SB-105 or a variety of other strobes from companies like Ikelite, etc., this system offers complete through-the-lens (TTL) flash exposure control, with flash duration controlled by the matrix metering system. The system is incredibly accurate! Please see more on the SB-104 on my SB-104 page here.
Manual Match needle exposure control is particularly easy to use with the f-stop control adjacent to the shutter release. You can set the aperture without moving your hand from the normal shooting position. Exposure compensation is a large easy-to-use knob that is conveniently placed where your left hand can make adjustments easily.
Nikon made a remote shutter release if you really want and need one (it’s a cable, not IR).
Wow! You've read all that! If you're seriously interested in owning the ultimate RS system, please contact me. I acquire and list RS equipment when I locate it in good condition. If you're interested I recommend looking at the Nikonos RS instruction manual here. I'll be happy to put together a great set for you if I have what you want in stock.