Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spotlight: Nikon F

Nikon F with 50mm 1:2 Lens, Non-metered finder, metal hood, and cat

The Nikon F is a 35mm SLR made by Nikon in 1959 (It's actually the first SLR Nikon ever produced). It's a full system camera, featuring a multitude of interchangeable lenses, finders, focusing screens, and backs. Along with being a fantastic camera, the "F" has an important history.

Up until the "F" came out, professional news photographers pretty much only used German rangefinders, such as the Leica M3 and Contax IIa. This all changed when the Nikon F was released. The "F" system allowed for the use of many different types of lenses, from ultra-wide angle to extreme telephoto. The system also incorporated many different focusing screens and finders, allowing the photographer to adapt to any shooting situation. Rangefinders did not have this kind of flexibility, as a rangefinder can only accurately use lenses that the camera body has frame-lines for (unless you use a cumbersome accessory finder). Interchangeable finders were also out of the question for rangefinders. So, basically, the Nikon F was way more versatile than any Leica or Contax camera, which led to its popularity and ultimate commercial success. Nikon's success with the "F" system paved the way for other Japanese camera manufacturers such as Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, and Canon, which would all eventually take the world by storm with their various SLR systems.

Nikon F with prism viewfinder removed

My shooting experience with the Nikon F was a positive one. Being a fully manual 35mm camera, the focusing screen and viewfinder are free from any match needles, numbers, or blinking lights that are present in more recent SLR cameras. Some people may miss seeing aperture, shutter-speed, and other information in the viewfinder, but I found it refreshing. There's nothing distracting you from the beautiful bright image on the focusing screen. I was surprised by how bright and contrasty the image is in the viewfinder. While the image is not quite as nice as on my Pentax LX or Olympus OM-2n (much newer cameras), it beats out other cameras of its age such as the Exakta VX and Pentax Spotmatic by a long-shot.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how quiet the shutter is. Many SLR cameras from the late 50's/early 60's make a deafening "CA-CLACK!" when the shutter is fired, but the Nikon F only makes a soft (yet satisfying) "ch-chunk." I took a few pictures of random people in a mall while testing out the camera, and no one seemed to be bothered.

Here are some photos that I took while testing out my Nikon F...