My Nikon F4

I have wanted a Nikon F4 camera since I first saw one. For me it is the absolute pinnacle of 35mm film SLR cameras.

This one is now mine.

It is fairly easy for me to explain why I like this camera so much I just had to own one, it is also fairly easy for me to explain why it will probably not get much use compared to some of my other film cameras.

The Nikon F line was the pinacle of their 35mm film cameras, the original F and F2 are still widely regarded as the finest cameras ever made and the F3, 4, 5 and 6 carried that lineage through into the present day. The F4 carried the torch as Nikon’s top camera from 1988 until 1996 when the F5 was launched. 8 years at the top seems like an eternity compared to the turnover now present in the digital photography age.

The F4 was the first F body to include autofocus, matrix metering and a built-in motordrive but it still retained full compatibility with all previous Nikon F mount lenses and carried over all the top features of the F3 such as mirror lock-up and interchangeable viewfinder prisms. It is built like a tank compared to the F3 though, which for many is a problem, but for people like me with big hands it is has a genuinely ergonomic grip.

The technology of the F4 is tried an tested rather than experimental. My Canon T90 is of a similar age and has and LCD readout and multi-function control wheels like any current digital SLR, but the F4 has no such technology (apart from a couple of tiny LCDs in the viewfinder). Instead it has a traditional style layout of shutter speed dial, exposure compensation, ISO value, drive mode etc. with the aperture adjusted using the ring on the lens. The approach is to have a control for everything rather than everything on one control. I like that approach.

This is the last of the truly mechanical professional 35mm cameras. It takes a bit of figuring out, but once you learn to handle it everything is easy to get to and fast to adjust. The only downside is a reliance on batteries (four AA cells!) for the camera to function, but it will do about 30 rolls on a set of batteries and it is not exactly hard to carry spares. Plus if things were critical you should be carrying one of the mechanical FM bodies as a backup.

This brings me neatly to my revelation about this camera in the context of my current film photography revival project, which is this: no matter how advanced your film camera is, it is ultimately designed for one primary purpose, to remove itself as an obstruction between your lens and the film for a given fraction of a second. Ultimately, for all the preparation a camera carries out, the image that is produced is created purely by the lens resolving light onto a piece of film behind it.

If i can put the same lens and same roll of film on a much smaller, lighter and simpler Nikon FE (for example) then what is the F4 bringing to the party for all it’s extra bulk and complication?

The answer is obvious as there is a good reason why NASA took F4’s into space, but if i am not flying a shuttle mission, or going to the ends of the earth to get an image then do I really need an F4? With digital cameras there is always an argument for newer and better, as the image sensor is the bit you are really buying. But with film cameras for a given lens and film combination then 1/125th of a second is the same whether triggered manually through a cloth curtain shutter or electronically through an exotic carbon composite double shutter with vibration damping mechanism.

That said, I love my F4 very much. It may not become my everyday working camera, but it is currently sitting on my desk with it’s bright yellow strap and I can’t help but pick it up now and then to marvel at it. I have a roll of FP4+ loaded and will be putting it through it’s paces over the next couple of weeks.

A nice Nikon F3 HP body is on my shopping list, but I think the F4 will probably be the greatest film camera I will ever own (short of maybe a Hasselblad 503CW).


3 thoughts on “My Nikon F4”

  1. I too share your love off the mighty F4, had mine for several years now, although I shoot more digital these days, there’s nothing better than loading up a new roll and getting back to good old fashioned photography.

    1. It’s a proper bit of machinery. I’ve been through a few revisions of digital cameras so far and am likely to go through a few more, but I get the feeling my F4 will still be used for as long as they continue to make film.

  2. I liked my Rolleiflex, Nikon F3, F5, Fe, Nikkormat, Canon EOS 1N, Minolta XD7, and the Canon 1V HS. I also liked all those other cameras MF and digital. Nonetheless the Nikon F4s is the winner of them all.

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