The Nikon F camera, introduced in April 1959, was Nikon's first SLR camera. It was one of the most advanced cameras of its day. Although many of the concepts had already been introduced elsewhere, it was revolutionary in that it was the first to combine them all in one camera. It was produced until October 1973 and was replaced by the Nikon F2. Aspects of its design remain in all of Nikon's subsequent SLR cameras, through the current Nikon F6 film and Nikon D5 digital models (which still share its Nikon F-mount for lenses). The "F" in Nikon F was selected from the term "re-f-lex", since the pronunciation of the first letter "R" is not available in many Asian languages. That tradition was carried all the way through their top line of Nikon cameras until the introduction of the Nikon D1 (digital) cameras decades later.
Specially modified Nikon F cameras were used in space in the early 1970s aboard the Skylab space station
The Nikon F was enormously successful and showed the superiority of the SLR and of the Japanese camera manufacturers. It was the first SLR system to be adopted and used seriously by the general population of professional photographers, especially by those photographers covering the Vietnam War, and those news photographers using motor-driven Nikon Fs with 250-exposure backs to record the various launches of the space capsules in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, all in the 1960s. After the introduction of the Nikon F, the more expensive rangefinder cameras (those with focal plane shutters) became less attractive. It was originally priced at US$186 with 50 mm f/2 lens; in November 1963 the US price was $233 for the body with a standard prism plus $90 for the 50 mm f/2 lens or $155 for the 50 mm f/1.4.
A combination of design elements made the Nikon F successful. It had interchangeable prisms and focusing screens; the camera had a depth-of-field preview button; the mirror had lock-up capability; it had a large bayonet mount and a large lens release button; a single-stroke ratcheted film advance lever; a titanium-foil focal plane shutter; various types of flash synchronization; a rapid rewind lever; a fully removable back. It was well-made, durable, and adhered closely to the successful design scheme of the Nikon rangefinder cameras.