Meeting your heroes: The Nikon F

Ladies and Gentlemens of the Internets. I present the original Nikon F.

Ok, disclaimer. This isn’t my Nikon F, I’ve borrowed it to run a film through to check it all works as it should. But still, this is one of my favorite cameras ever, so I thought it merited a couple of posts about it.

The F was the first SLR camera made by Nikon, introduced in 1959 – over half a century ago. The serial number of this one suggests it was made in 1970, making it a mere 43 years old (and significantly older than I am). This camera was the beginning of the lineage that the current D4 represents, the uncompromising and dependable single digit camera series.


This model has the light meter head on it to give in-camera metering with a simple match needle in the viewfinder to indicate over, under and correct exposure. It has no automatic modes of any kind, just aperture, shutter and film speed adjustments. The aperture is adjusted on the lens itself and communicates the value set to the meter through a mechanical linkage at the top of the lens.

Beside these controls there is mirror lock-up, depth of field preview and a clockwork self-timer. Oh, and a ratchet for winding the film on with.


The camera is heavy, in an old school way. With the 50mm lens on it is comparable to my D800, but it is easy to hold and surprisingly ergonomic given it’s simple blocky shape. By all indications the meter works on this one, although modern non-mercury batteries are of a slightly different voltage which throws the meter out slightly. Comparing with a handheld meter I’ve dialed back the film speed by 1/3 stop to compensate – So shooting ISO 400 film (Tri-X!) and setting the camera to ASA 320 seems to give the same aperture/shutter combinations as a properly calibrated light meter.


Looking through the viewfinder shows a focus screen of vintage age. It’s not the clearest to focus with, but it is big and bright even compared to a modern full frame DSLR. There is a split image rangefinder in the center of the standard screen, but it lacks usual matte diamond effect zone around that which I tend to rely on most for focus confirmation. I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to find a modern screen that would improve things though.


This camera is legendary when it comes to it’s durability. It was the first and only 35mm film SLR to be used on the moon by NASA and has probably shot more significant images in more places around the world than any other single camera. The F2 that followed was very similar and continued the same principles as the F. Even when the F3 came along and added electronic control and semi-automatic exposure modes the lineage of the F can still be seen.

The F bayonet lens mount from this camera has been carried through the entire history of Nikon SLRs. My D800 will shoot fine with the lens from this F, and although more modern lenses loose a lot of functionality when mounted on the older F, shooting with them is still possible.

So there we have it. Perhaps one of the most iconic film cameras ever made. This one is sitting on my desk next to a Fuji X100 (one of the next generation of iconic cameras?) and the two look like brothers. It’s coming out with me tomorrow, so some pictures to follow in another post.


2 thoughts on “Meeting your heroes: The Nikon F”

  1. It is sad that this type of camera was fitted with the Photomic, totally unreliable and expensive to replace.

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