I woke up and thought today maybe was a fine day to kick it all off, and why not jump straight into the pit and give it a go with the good old Nikon F3 for a start.
A small bunch of Nikon F3's in a few different versions and configurations. There are two standard HP cameras where one of them also got the MD-4 motor attached. Then there's the "Press" version to the left which is a bit different to the two others in a few ways.
Much has been said up through the years about this camera, and I got a feeling we might not have heard or read the last words about them yet. It's popularity is still fairly high, they are still easy to get hold of, and there seem to be a lot of camera left in some of them yet. They are not the cheapest film cameras available these days, but for around $150 and upwards you should be able to get a decent enough example coming your way. My cameras does not exactly look decent, I know, but then again they were cheap as chips when I got them. They look like trash bins, but they still work as they should more or less.
The F3HP in standard configuration without the motor drive or anything else attached. Seen here with the fine Nikkor 35mm f/2 lens of "K" type. It's just referred to as a "New Type" Ai lens, and is basically the same thing but with rubberized grips and some finer textures than the earlier type.
The Nikon F3 was produced from 1980 to 2001, even parallel to the production of it's younger AF siblings the F4 and F5, and it came in a number of versions. The one you are most likely to end up with if going to buy one is the standard HP edition. That's the one with the "High (eye)Point" finder, which I'm told should make it easier to see what you need through the viewfinder without pushing your entire eyeball into direct contact with the glass. Some people say it's a great finder if you use glasses, but I can't sign to that statement as I don't use such things as for yet other than for reading small letters. What I do know though is that the finder is big and quite bright, and absolutely clean from things coming in the way. An unobstructed view which is very pleasant to work with.
Further the F3 was also built in a Titanium version and a Press version, and it came with a few different viewfinders and prisms. Every special bit and piece thinkable was delivered for the F3 for all kinds of special use. You probably don't have to give them any thought as they are not needed to operate the F3 on a daily and normal basis.
It's a manual focus camera, designed to be used with give or take any lens Nikon ever made for their SLR range. That goes for a lot of the Nikon's anyway. You can even pop a brand new "G" lens on the thing, but it will only work at the smallest aperture, which would just annoy you to the breaking point. These gelded lenses are for the brand new pixelating cameras only, not built to be attached to any real camera.
Apart from the quite well bashed prism you can see the clever but somewhat useless red button which will ignite the tiny lamp visible to the right of the little window through where the image of the chosen aperture is made visible inside the viewfinder center top. Careless use of the red button will drain your batteries in a rather effective way. If you can hit the tiny push button at all, that is.
Press version to the left, and the standard HP edition side by side. It kind of stands out that press kit, don't you think?
The F3 is not a particularly light weight camera. The quite ribbed standard version weights in just short of 800 grams (760g on my kitchen scale). That's the camera house only, with two tiny LR44 batteries, a light strap attached and film loaded. If you then attach the Nikkor 35mm f/2 lens you will add 300g to it, and ends up at 1060g, still using my own kitchen scale. Things really start to happen if you grab the "P" version with say the quite considerable Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 lens attached. The same scale then showing figures telling me that this pack weighs around 2100g. This version contains the MD-4 motor (not possible to remove on my camera) with the Nikon chargeable Ni-Cd cell (MN-2) attached. There is an option using an insert for AA batteries as well, I have not put that thing fully loaded with batteries on top of the scales, but a wild guess telling me it will most likely do nothing else than add some weight to it all.
Still I must say the F3 in any version is not a bad camera to carry around. It's very well balanced in any configuration and just more or less sits there until needed. My advice though is to carry it on your shoulder instead of having it hanging at your chest. It's more of a sidearm than anything else, I think.
Cool feature for the long time exposure people. A tiny handle to the left of the eyepiece will close the curtains for any stray light to enter the film from this side of the camera. Neat, huh...?
Features and flaws then, of which there certainly are a few to be found.
The F3 needs batteries to work properly. That's just the way it is either we like it or not. I would love to see a version with both fully manual and fully automatic operation, but if that's something you need
The F3 do have a mechanical shutter for emergency use should the batteries go dead and you don't carry spares. Keep in mind that it's a rather amputated solution though, which fires the shutter mechanically at around 1/80th of a second (flash sync speed). It still is way better than ending up with a totally dead camera should the batteries suddenly drop dead. The "P" version with the big motor attached will take it's power from the rechargeable cell. My rechargeable batteries are probably quite old, and have seen a lot of use up through the years, but they still works fine and will stay charged through quite some time should they be let alone for a while without being used.
A few features built into the Press version. The shutter time wheel is raised to make it easier to reach, rubber on the shutter release and additional O-rings inside where needed. Serial number is also starting with the letter "P"
When looking into the viewfinder of the F3 it is an annoying fact that Nikon failed to get a decent analog exposure meter built into the thing. You know what I'm talking about. Analog pin or hand on the left side of the finder is and has always been the best way to show exposure and available light. Instead they decided to put a tiny LCD display up at the top of the finder which show you the measured light in form of numbers indicating the current shutter speed in relation to the aperture you have chosen on your lens barrel when the camera is in Auto mode. The light measuring itself is as good as it gets with Nikons centerweight light metering, but they could have put in something a bit more intuitive than this tiny thing. Maybe the answer lies in the fact that anything built in the 80's containing an LCD was a sure way to success whether it was a watch or a camera or whatever.
Worth to note is that inside one of my finders I have to keep my eye in a very awkward position to actually see the LCD at all. It seems that something is covering up the image of it, and I have to sort of look around whatever blocks it to see the figures on the small screen. It could well be that this comes from something having been knocked out of place at some point in history. This is on the "P" version, by the way, which is equipped with a slightly different prism and finder than the other two cameras. It's said to be stronger built, and is instantly recognized by the hot shoe on top which the standard ones lacks.
The prism is of the easily detachable type, like they always used to be on the old F series of cameras. I think that option went away with the introduction of the F5 or maybe it was as late as the F6. Removable prism is a nice thing to have in some situations, but probably a lot more useful to the pros than it is to me.
Something I could use which Nikon decided not to put into this camera would be the option to snap the film from the very beginning. They used to do this on a few of the old automatic cameras, and I don't like it very much. You see, when you load the film the way I do I usually fasten the film end, carefully lead the sprocket holes into the film transport thing, and close the lid as soon as upper and lower side of the film are into grip before I wind a full frame forward which I then just waste, as it will be pinch black anyway. Next frame will then just lack a few millimeters on the right side, but usually it's good to go if something interesting showing up.
The F3 don't like you to do this, as the exposure meter refuse to take any measuring until the frame counter has reached the first original frame on the film. That means a couple of frames spoiled on each film. The "P" version seems to have everything made the right way, but the standard version has the crippled type of light meter. Strange, since they used to call it a professional camera. You can snap it in manual mode though, but you can still not get shutter times faster than 1/80s.
Another strange idea Nikon had with the F3 would be the special flash shoe they decided to put under the film rewind crank. Could it be for balance? To get the flash out of the way? To get it further away from the lens to avoid certain trouble connected to that? I don't know.
Mirror lock-up and both Bulb and Time exposure is present and fully possible on this camera. The Bulb setting will fire the shutter electronically, while the Time exposure is fully mechanical and should therefore not drain your batteries in any way when used correctly. To stop a Time exposure you seem to have only one option, which is to change the exposure time wheel to a different setting. A bit awkward and maybe not the best way to do it, but on a long enough exposure it should not call for any big issues I would think. I don't know, as very long exposures is something I have not tried at all with this camera. I might give it a shot some night soon just to see that it works as intended. The F3 is even equipped with an internal blind-off curtain for the viewfinder (not built into the "P" version) to avoid light seeping through during long exposures. Normally you would need to bring some tape or something to avoid that to happen. I know there are dedicated covers for a lot of cameras available, but in my experience that would be the first thing you drop somewhere and never again will see.
A bit more useful to most of us would be the exposure lock button which you will find in the front of the mechanical shutter lever. Take any exposure reading, press the locking button and recompose while keeping the button pressed all the time until the snap has been taken. Easy enough. You may also use the dedicated exposure adjustment on the left hand side of the camera to under-/over expose up to 2 stops if that's something you want to do to a few frames in a row. Keep in mind to put it back where it belongs when you are done, it's easy to forget this tiny thing.
The overall build quality is as good as it probably gets. My three cameras seem to have been given a considerable amount of bashing and beating up through the years, but everything seems to be working fine anyway. At least if you look away from the slightly annoying covering up of the LCD on my "P" camera. The weather seals is not of the very best, but some extra efforts has been put into the Press version where rubberized shutter release and a few other extra precautions seems to have been put in place. The camera feels compact, the light tightness and seals are of very good Nikon quality and everything is located just where you want them to be. Except maybe the exposure lock button. I like the way the on/off breaker is quite well hidden but still very much available, and I also like that they went away from the easy to use but still a bit annoying breaker integrated in the film advance lever like on the FM series of cameras. That thing comes a bit in the way when composing a snap, making the F3 solution way better in my opinion.
Adjusting film speed is easy enough, but the numbers are tiny and nothing for someone soon to be 50 years old with eyes starting to show blurry images at close range.
Film transport is smooth and accurate, and rewind crank and mechanism is heavy duty and built for some use and abuse. To finally lift the rewind crank to get the camera open you will have to push the tiny lock button to the side to be able to release the opening latch. This locking button is non existent on the "P" version where you simply just lift the crank at any time to open the back cover of the thing. Easy and handy enough, but it's nice to be aware that you have to know what you're doing when playing with this thing.
The F3 handles like a dream, and mechanically it's a brilliant and rigid construction. The design is a pleasure to the eye, and function really follows form in this camera.
What else is there to say? Nothing much, I think.
Overall the F3 is to be considered a quite handy and very good camera, maybe even one of the better manual focus cameras Nikon, or any other company, ever built. I mean it even got roller bearings in the film advance lever mechanics. You don't see that too often.
I don't know much about the successors to the F3, as the F4, F5 and finally F6 is a bit on the side to what I would like to have lingering inside my bag. They are a bit on the heavy side compared to the F3, they are autofocus cameras and therefore not exactly my cup of tea. They are probably good cameras though, and it would be a nice enough pleasure to try one or three of them. They are a bit on the expensive end of the scale though, if there's not somebody out there having a spare one in need of a good home.
As a sidenote I will probably use one of my F3s (one of the small ones, as the "P" is a bit bulky) for my upcoming project where I'm going to wear this camera for a full year. Wear it and use it, of course.
The goal is to take at least one snap each day on film through 2017 with one camera only. The films will be developed as they are finished and when I got the time and possibility to do so. This means it will take some time between snapping and posting, but that's just something we have to live through. I will post every frame on every film, no matter if they are all black or all white or something in between. I think I will use one single type of film for this project, probably either Ilford HP5 or maybe even the older Ilford Pan 400. I do not know if the project will see the use of only one lens, or if that's going to be something I can adjust as I please.