Having not bought a new camera for a while I decided it was time to meet another of my heroes. (Enter stage left) The Nikon F3.
When I started photography at University I had a friend called Lloyd who had a Nikon F3. I was shooting with a Canon A1 at the time, a great camera, but there was just something about the Nikon that I liked better. Maybe it’s the round viewfinder, or the detachable prism, or the sleek Italian styling, I’m not sure exactly what. But as a package the F3 is just lovely.
It sits next to me now, between my F and my F4. You can see the family resemblance, the F3 carries the proportions and layout of the F while also hinting at the ergonomics and styling of the F4. Interestingly it is both smaller and lighter than both of them (although there are cars that are smaller and lighter than a Nikon F4). A highpoint of practicality perhaps? A Leica moment of performance without excess before the boom of functionality for functionality’s sake?
As a camera to use, the F3 is just sublime. I have a decent number of good 35mm film cameras to choose from these days, so I take many ‘pro’ features for granted in anything I’m using, leaving my comparisons to be based on more subjective elements of the camera design and handling. I pick up the F3 and there is precisely one button I had to look up in the manual, the rest are obvious and logical (the mystery lever beside the lens turns out to be a secondary shutter release button, nice).
There are three things that stand out;
1 – The viewfinder. Mine has the later ‘HP’ prism and boy is it good. Big and bright and you can see it all without having to ram your eye right into the back. It’s like IMAX compared to a DSLR – Having just tried them back to back I would say it beats my D800 (which is on a par with the F4’s viewfinder). Most cameras to me feel like you are on the outside looking in, but the F3 feels like you are on the inside looking back out.
^^ Look into my eye…….
2 – The mechanical action. The film advance action is so light and smooth you’d have to question the sanity of replacing it with a heavy motor and 4 AA batteries (looking at you F4!). The shutter button is beautifully sprung and the film advance lever is light and smooth and precise in a properly precision engineered way. Someone spent time making this feel this nice, it didn’t happen by chance.
3 – The styling. The Nikon F and F2 have a raw mechanical honest beauty, the F4 and F5 have a clear product design language to them. The F3 bridges the gap between them. In it you see the traditional compact SLR shape but you also see the origin of design features like the moulded hand grip with the red line and the chamfered top plate edges. It’s also very thin, a film canister width plus a couple of millimetres, like a rangefinder body with a reflex housing rather than the more all-in-one moulded shape of subsequent bodies.
All in all there is a lot to like in a camera that is a relative bargain at the moment. I could have bought 23 of these for the price of the newly announced Nikon Df digital-FM2-a-like (or one of these plus a 50mm f1.2 lens, a 35mm f1.4 lens, an 85mm f1.4 lens and about 140 rolls of Tri-X). AND you get all the fun of developing your own film thrown in for fun.
I’ll be running a roll through it this weekend to check it’s all in order and putting the images up shortly. I’m between internet providers at the moment so I’m off the grid for a week or so, but perversely this probably gives me more time to write this stuff.
Although. This does mean I’ll need to buy an F5 now. Maybe one for the Christmas list.