It took a while, but with a break in the changeable weather we’ve been having and some time to myself I managed to run a roll of film through my Nikon F4. As it turns out it was a 5 year out of date roll of Ilford FP4+ which I would normally have down-rated to ISO 100 to allow for the loss in sensitivity of the film over that time (a stop per decade is a good rule of thumb). However, the F4 reads the film speed from the roll itself, so in this case I let it do it’s thing and then bumped the exposure slider half a stop in Lightroom to get everything looking nice later on.
I think I got away with that little oversight.
The F4 is actually a really great camera to use. Big and solid, easy to hold with a big clear viewfinder and all the controls falling neatly to hand (or finger). I fitted my 35mm f2.0 prime lens and tired to play with just about every feature to check it all worked.
For a camera of it’s time, at the crossover point between manual and automated cameras, it copes with both worlds remarkably well. I had heard that the auto-focus was rubbish, as this was Nikon’s first real attempt with only a single central focus point instead of the 51 in my D300, but I found that with sensible technique (focus on something with a high level of contrast) and liberal use of the AF lock button it did everything I asked, focusing quickly and confidently.
The viewfinder is just sublime on this thing. Big and bright with just enough info displayed to let you know whats going on. Modern DSLRs give me blurred vision in one eye after squinting through them for a while, but this is much more comfortable. I gladly pay the price of a big heavy glass prism on a camera to have a view like this.
I went in search of new and varied subjects and ended up at the Falkirk Wheel, a place I had visited previously to shoot some HDR images with my digital SLR. As a subject it presents a lot of opportunities both for overall images of the overall structure in it’s setting as well as closer detail shots of the curved and textured concrete details.
I find 36 shots on a roll to be a few too many to round off in a single shoot and back when film was freely available (and cheap!) I always favored shooting 24exp rolls instead. Therefore to finish the role I did some more Edinburgh back streets around the parliament building and the royal mile. As usual the best 8 or so are up on my Flickr stream, where you can see my continued obsession with shooting old doorways.
I think the only bit I don’t like is the matrix metering this camera uses. This is not a particular gripe with the F4, but more matrix metering systems in general. The issue I have is that the camera is making decisions without inviting me to the meeting. I used matrix mode for the whole roll and found it worked alright for standard outdoor scenes with plenty of sky in the picture but tended to get it wrong when I was shooting up close or using unusual compositions.
This isn’t too much of a problem as the exposure latitude of film allows you to rescue things in Lightroom, but it is slightly annoying as the exposure seemed to jump about a bit. I’ve now set it to center-weighted metering and I think that is where it will stay from now on, it may be as easily fooled, but at least it is consistently fooled so I can have a decent stab at compensating for it.
Overall this is a fantastic camera. I really enjoy shooting with it and for all it’s “Best camera in the world” status it is no more complex to use than a basic model of the time. Ergonomically it is also spot on, I just picked up my Nikon D300 by way of comparison and they are about the same overall size and weight, but the F4 feels much nicer and natural to hold and use.
The F4 is a timeless classic film camera. It feels modern, solid and well designed and apart from the retro LCD viewfinder readouts it could have been made in 2010, never mind 1989.