TagNikon F3 review

The one that fits- revisiting the Nikon F3

“Digital photographers buy cameras because they’re better than last years model. Film peeps are just looking for the one that suits them best” Dan K

When I first started this site, the very first Gear Wednesday post was an ode to the Nikon F3. I’d used one back in the day, and lusted after one, and finally gotten one. And it was a perfect fit.

An out take from this summer's project shot on the F3 with a 35mm f/2 on Rollei CR200

An out take from this summer’s project shot on the F3 with a 35mm f/2 on Rollei CR200

I tend to put some cameras down and not pick them up for a long time, and some just go away from me as a result. But this one gets picked up over and over again. There are many reasons. It’s about as bullet proof a camera as I have ever used, electronics and all. It’s not a young camera either, the serial numbers indicate it was made in December of 1983, so next month it will be thirty two years old. It’s been given a CLA once to my knowledge. I think the seals are original. I change the batteries in it once a year. The LCD works well, although one segment is getting a little dim.

Unlike almost everything else from that era, the ergonomics actually work. That is a testament to the genius of Giorgetto Giugiaro. Not much else from that era has any ergonomic utility at all. It’s still a  joy to use. When I pick it up it simply fits my hand. The viewfinder gives the right amount of information, and all of the controls are exactly where I expect them to be. Even though there is only a simple spot meter, it’s perfect every time. It’s the most automated camera I own, and I think it’s just the right amount. Anything more than this and I would be leaving it on the shelf instead of using it.

shoot-463I’ve only picked up a couple of lenses for it. A Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 and a 35mm f/2. Both sharp and well built. They fit my style of storytelling. I toy with the idea of a wide, like a 24mm or maybe wider, and I’d love to pick up a 85mm for portraits. I doubt I’ll ever get anything beyond that, though.

It still sounds like a love story when I write about this camera. It’s the one that suits me best.


Dan K’s images. And his Twitter.

Serious photojournalism- the Nikon F3


My F3 with HP viewfinder and 50mm f1.4

Some cameras have a certain following. Any Leica fan gets giddy at the sight of that red dot. Medium format guys talk about Hassy and Rollei. The Nikon F3 had a huge following, but in less classy circles. The F3 fan was unshaven, probably unwashed, sporting a worn surplus M65 field jacket, press credentials, a hangover, and the prized manual focus F3 SLR on a wide strap.

In 1980, Nikon introduced the F3, a camera aimed at photojournalists who wanted robust cameras, They had loved the F and F2, which were all mechanical and reliable. They all looked askance at the F3 to begin with. It was electronic, required batteries, and had some automatic functions. The more complex the machine, went the established wisdom, the more likely it was to fail. They needn’t of worried.

The successor to the F3, the F4 was introduced in 1988. The successor to the F4, the F5, was brought to the market in 1996. So many PJ shooters loved the F3 it continued to sell even after two generations of follow on products were introduced. Nikon finally shut down production of the F3 in 2001. Factory service for the camera is still available from them. People love their F3s.

It’s an easy camera to love. The last of the manual focus pro SLRs. They are slightly more reliable than bricks, with a shutter life cycle spanning decades. They handle naturally. The viewfinder is modular, so it can be changed out according to assignment and personal preference. I have a HP finder on mine now, but I like the standard DE 2 as well. You could get an autowinder for the camera. You could get some absurd options, like waist level finders, sports finders, camera backs that held 70 feet of film for hundreds of exposures. There was even the option of an all titanium body. The thing is the swiss army chainsaw of cameras.

F3 on Amtrak

In my sleeping compartment, heading to Denver from Chicago on the California Zephyr.

But what I like the best about the beast is it does the one thing I want. It gets out of my way and lets me take the picture. Seems simple, but like most simple things it’s hard. There’s no menus, or fiddly placement of the controls. Everything is close to hand and natural, so that I can do anything I need on the fly without taking my eye off the eye piece. The finders are all big, bright, and 100% of the captured image. Sure, it has some flaws. Most notably the flash mounting which is on top of the film winder for some reason. But the flaws are ones I can live with.

When I write about my F3, it sounds like a love story. Mainly because it is.