The Nikon F, The Camera That Saw Everything | Bill Smith

I want to talk you about a camera icon, the Nikon F. The Nikon F, beloved by working pros, documented a lot of world events over a two decade period in the 1960s and ‘70s and can take the credit for turning the German camera industry into a niche concern.

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Up front I am the proud owner of four Nikon F’s, two eye level prism models, a Photomic Tn and FTN. One of my eye level prism F’s a second year production example belonged to my dad and I’m the second generation caretaker of that camera.

 Fundraising in the Front of the General Store

Fundraising in the Front of the General Store

The F wasn’t the first SLR as we know it, the Minolta SR and Asahi Pentaxes have that honour. What the F excelled at was being a system camera with robust mechanicals that can be forwards compatible when technologies evolved.

 Highway 10 Abandoned Farm

Highway 10 Abandoned Farm

At introduction a Nikon F with a Nikkor S 50 f2 lens was $350 USD in 1959, the Nikon D5 of the day and a lot of money back then. Also introduced at the same time was a lens system covering 21 mm to 1000mm focal lengths.

 Highway 10 Abandoned House One

Highway 10 Abandoned House One

Being an SLR the F could use lenses longer than 135mm which you can’t do with a rangefinder without an awkward attachment. Loading a Nikon F was much easier than a Leica M series rangefinder in 1959.

 Highway 10 Abandoned House Two

Highway 10 Abandoned House Two

The F unlike other SLRs was and still is a system camera with a motor drive and a variety of prism heads including:

Eye level- the most desirable.

Photomic with the flag switch

Photomic T.

Photomic Tn

and Photomic FTN

 Looking Down Harold’s Headstander

Looking Down Harold’s Headstander

Now most meter heads are now dead, if you still have a working meter head then you have to deal with the mercury 625 battery issue. There are work arounds with the MR-9 battery adapter, or get the meter head adjusted to 1.5 volts.  

 MacLaren Sideroad Looking South

MacLaren Sideroad Looking South

So, should I get one?

If you’re a Nikon fan and you don’t have an F, hell yes! Nikon F’s are by and large affordable save for the first 1000 cameras and the final Apollo series in the mid 1970s. The F can accept Pre-Ai, Ai, and AiS lenses provided they have the rabbit ears. Now if you have an eye level prism F you can even use AFD lenses on the camera.

 Stappell’s Chair Off Season Three

Stappell’s Chair Off Season Three

I recommend the following lenses: Nikkor H 28 f3.5, Nikkor  50 f2, the Nikkor P 105 f2.5 and 200 F4. You too can channel being a mid 1960s AP Photojournalist.  

 Stapell’s Chair Off Season

Stapell’s Chair Off Season

Now Mat Marrash of Film Photography Podcast mentioned on one of their episodes the Nikon F stays on the shelf in his store due to it perceived as being heavy. As mentioned, Nikon F’s are very robust cameras, Contax T2 point and shoots aren’t engineered to stop bullets. While built to take a ton of abuse out there in the real world, most Nikon F’s while mechanical do need CLA’s, especially ones that have been sitting around for a long time, budgeting for an overhaul is a good idea. As with any camera purchase, do your research and there are plenty of online resources on the Nikon F along lots of books. So there you have it, the Nikon F, the camera that saw everything.

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Bill Smith, a Southern Ontario-based film photographer, specializes in landscape, street, architecture and portraiture. Bill is a co-host of Classic Camera Revival podcast. Follow Bill on Twitter or Instagram.