1.19.2012

On Politically and Legal Safe Ground. My review of the Nikon F...

The Nikon F.  Image by Kirk Tuck ©2012 Kirk Tuck.  This image has been post processed.

We were ready to be impressed by this one from Nikon.  It had gotten such good previous press.  And there are things we like about it but let's get the less positive stuff out of the way first.  This camera is not digital.  It only takes physical film but it does operate in a semi-open system architecture.  You can use any brand of spooled, perforated 35mm film, available from a wide (but ever diminishing) circle of suppliers.

We were horrified to find that instead of a bad, dim, dark rear LCD screen that requires the viewer to keep his or her eye centered behind it to see it properly, Nikon have left the screen off altogether.  We'll presume that this was an attempt to keep manufacturing costs down but...we at VSL feel like that's just one step too far.  Of course, LCD's may not have been available at the time of design but surely they could have put a little cathode ray tube back there, just to, you know, preview stuff.

Which brings us to our next criticism.  No Menus.  None? Nope.  Astounding.  I fiddled with the damn thing for nearly an hour, trying to find a way to auto bracket or to fine tune exposure.  I couldn't even find a color space setting.  Now that's primitive.  In frustration I sent the camera to our fully equipped and space age lab for further analysis.  Within days they had researched, poked and prodded and found the source of the design defect.  In a word: battery.  The camera maker had forgotten to include a battery in the package.  Or a place to put a battery.  It was all so mysterious.

We did some more research and consulted with a very, very old photographer (over 40!!!!) and he let us know that this Nikon F body was actually designed that way.  He showed us how to read a meter that lives outside the camera (but be careful, you'll have to choose a film first) and how to set the few controls available. And we were off and running.  Kinda.  

We stepped outdoors, put a slight pressure on the shutter button and ..... nada.  No focusing.  Defective lens?  Not according to our consultant.  The lenses were meant to be focused by hand, like the Zeiss lenses currently on the market.  We tried turning the lens barrel, as instructed, and were rewarded with improved focus.  But even though we looked everywhere we were unable to find the diopter.  With our eyes and that old screen we'd be lucky to get 50% of the stuff we shoot in focus, and that's outside in good light!

The buffer in the camera is pitiful.  No matter how much time we waited between shots the camera would always stop at 36 frames and not budge.  At one point we even left it "on" overnight to see if the buffer would clear but, no.  And it's apparently WORM  (write once, read many) technology because once you've hit the buffer you actually have to introduce new memory.  And that's not cheap.

The top shutter speed is a dismal 1/1000th of a second and the shortest timed exposure is 1 second.  

Here's our executive summary:

While we were anxious to buy into the hype surrounding this camera we knew at the outset that we'd been sold a "pig in a poke."  When attempting to first load "film" memory in the camera the entire bottom fell off.  Right onto the ground.  The camera lacks even the barest degree of customization ability and it shoots only as quickly as you can push a lever 120 degrees with your thumb.

On the other hand, the non-battery lasted forever and the lens was fast, sharp and well corrected.  Our recommendation?  If you're into fast shooting, extreme sports, quick work, total control or.... just about any metric you can imagine then this camera is definitely not for you.  So, how are they positioning it in the market?  Would you believe they are trying to position it for professionals?  Our prediction?  They'll need a lot of marketing (and just the right kind) if they are going to make any head way with this one.

See our gallery of 4x6 inch prints on the refrigerator....



Here are the specs:

Big.
Heavy.
Slow.
Construction:  Metal on metal and more metal.  With metal.  Everywhere.

Positives:  We were unable to destroy it in any fashion.  We even used it to chock  the wheels of a large school bus on a perilous incline.  We liked the noise it makes when we push the button.

Stayed tuned. Next month we'll be reviewing the Canonet QL17.  Camera, Icon or Ruse?


38 comments:

Peter F. said...

I love it. Can't wait for your next review. A rangefinder would be great. I like the non-battery spec. Did you have to keep an extra with you on the 'ol Nikon F?

Peter F. said...

Just pulled out my dad's old Kodak Retina IIIC with its Schnieder lens. Made in Germany, he bought it there in 1955. It runs on a non-battery, too. And miraculously the non-battery runs the internal light meter! How 'bout that!

Frank Grygier said...

Thanks for making me smile. This post shows you at your best.

Anonymous said...

At least when used after years of non use, it still works

kirk tuck said...

s'all good. Long as that mirror flaps.

Mike Shwarts said...

I'd like to see a review on the OM-1. While not as diminutive as a point and shoot, I hear it will fit into a coat pocket. :)

Ed Lara said...

Love it, Kirk! Hopefully not too many readers missed the irony! :)

Look forward to the QL17 review! Kidding aside, while I sometimes wish I gave my older son more insight and instruction regarding "real" photography, when he takes his QL17 out on shoots more than his Oly E-410, I guess I didn't do too bad.....

kirk tuck said...

ARRRRg. Mike. Again with the coat pocket... :-)

Scott Price said...

You won't believe this, but this review sounds like it could have been written for my Pentax Spotmatic too! Oh, wait...

Michael Ferron said...

Wow a 36 shot buffer. I only get 24 with my FE. I know there is a modification I can make that would bring me to 36 but I hang my films on the horizontal and 36 is too damn long.

Akex said...

Aahh, sweet memories! And we actually made pictures with these. Started out with my father`s Zeiss Ikon Contaflex (build-in meter and no battery), then Nikon F (found out that I dont need a bulky meter-finder) and the Rollei 35 (no focus, you had to guess the distance), not to mention nights spnd in the darroom. Have to dig out one of these old monsters and play with it again.

Josef said...

You forgot to mention that there is no "face recognition"....... now how is anyone supposed to use this camera in real-life shooting with people?

Unknown said...

That is one lovely camera, despite its obvious shortcomings!

Anonymous said...

Found two of them hiding under the bed. They were in a funny, metal case. Halliburton...who? Norm V.

Aboud Dweck said...

Sensei, with respect, this camera is absolute technological marvel compared to my Calumet 4X5. Imagine having to look at a dim image upside down and backwards while wearing a shmata, also known as a dark cloth on your head, all while balanced on a pyramid constructed of three wooden legs! This Nikon F high speed monster, capable of about a frame a second, is much better for shooting sports like croquet. I wish I had one!

Great piece, wonderfully written. Kudos!

Wally Brooks said...

It only had external controls for things like shutter, aperture, iso, film advance etc. What happened to this mode of thinking with digital?

Carlo Santin said...

My Nikon FE is still my favourite camera ever and I find shooting with it rather calming. LOVE cranking that great lever.

DR said...

I like the retro design and all metal construction, and count me in for the full frame sensor. It's a bit disturbing, though, that they didn't include an EVF and HD video capability with stereo. Also, why doesn't it look more like a Leica?

Pricewise, I'd expect this to retail for around $1,400 for the body. It's launching with that 50mm prime, right? I'd expect to pay around $500 for that.

Sigfrid Lundberg said...

The first years I had summer jobs I saved money and 1969 at the age of 14 I managed to acquire one of those. It was five years old, built 1964. I still have it and it was my only inter-changeable lens camera until two years ago when I acquired my E-P2. Needless to say is that the first thing I bought was a Nikon F to M4/3 adapter.

Sigfrid

Mike Hessey said...

Great review of an interesting camera - very rugged, but I prefer the Pentax MX ("Just hold a Pentax ..."). Oh, and I have a Canonet too.

Your web site is one of the first I visit each day - always thought-provoking.

The Reluctant Rebel said...

I am only in my mid 20s and would be flattered to even be called a hobbyist. However, the Nikon FM2 is the only camera I posess and it amazes people to see photgraphs on real silver. That makes me happy. As a non-pro all yout looking for is a reaction.

Love this post. Read your blog every day.

Scott Johnson said...

I never owned an F ... my first Nikon was an F2. It was the best camera I ever owned, and its lack of sophisticated automation was, for me, its very best feature. I wish I still had it, but it was pawned by a vindictive ex-wife along with some of my best glass. Starting over with new cameras is harder than starting over with new wives!

cidereye said...

Ah the Nikon F, from the age when men were real men and cameras were real cameras.

Must dig my F2 out to use next week after reading this. Nothing like picking up & using a real camera.

The Boatwriter said...

No video? No stereo mike?

Christian said...

Kirk, I was laughing so hard, I almost fell off my chair! "We liked the noise it makes when we push the button." indeed. :)

Thanks for lightening my day. (So that's what professional photographers do?)

Albano Garcia said...

LOL. I'm a lucky Canonet beta tester, here's a sample image:
http://www.flaneur.com.ar/elpresente/images/20110920015559_110921.jpg
Excellent blog, keep it rolling!

Scott said...

OK, this is too much. Last weekend (seriously, no kidding) I had to empty my camera shelves for some home maintenance. When I picked up my Nikon F (Black, battered, no meter, serial starts with "68"), it sort of spoke to me, so when the work was done, I put some Tri-X in it, set my (hand held) meter to 200, and went downtown.
WOW. I had forgotten. Even with the 50mm f2, the viewfinder is so sharp and bright that you can easily focus on the weave of a piece of cloth. (Sorry that differs from your finding.) It's very heavy, which is its own kind of inertial VR. Everything moves like, well, like greased metal, like a weapon instead of a plastic toy. Everything takes more effort but happens instantly. Not once did I push the button and have the camera say "Maybe later."
Everybody should try it at least once.
I could not get it in my pocket, but I think I got 2, maybe 3, keepers.

mike said...

those were the days

cementhead said...

There's a software hack increasing the buffer to 37 or even 38 shots, but it must be carefully measured and counted with each new memory card. And, BTW, what's up with the light and x-ray sensitive memory card? I wanted a Sandisk, but all could get was Ilford or Fuji. I don't know about this new-fangled technology....

Matt P said...

Oh, the Canonet QL17 - how could those suckers produce a camera that uses batteries that are essentially illegal to make in the US?

Such a terrible, terrible design flaw. One can only hope they aren't dumb enough to use mercury cells in the new 1DX.

Anonymous said...

Please take a picture of your refrigerator for us...

hugo solo said...

Yes Be nice I do and why do you delete my comment?

Dave Jenkins said...

I think retro is shooting a Canon 5D Mk I.

Mb.kinsman said...

I just checked into the cost of replacement memory for the F camera and was astounded to see that it will cost about $160.00 to shoot the typical 360 images taken on a days outing! That's about $640 per month in memory costs!!! What the heck is Nikon thinking?

Dave Jenkins said...

You might do a little editing in your brain before you shoot instead of editing on your proof sheets later. I think that process is one of the most important things we've lost with digital.

noelr said...

Love it! Thanks for sharing Kirk. I've kept my Nikon F series cameras all these years and still take them out for a spin every so often. The love affair continues... Oh, btw, can't wait for your review of the Canon Ql17. I have the QL17 GIII... a black one ;-)

W Dunn said...

Perusing the spec sheet, I found a couple of other appalling deficiencies. There's no USB connector! Not even a lowly low speed. Apparently the memory format is so archaic it needs to be specially processed by a lab, who will then send you a "DVD" with your pictures. I couldn't even figure out how to insert that into my MacBook Air!

Worse, if your memory format is "Tri-X" or something similar, there's no way to recover the color information from the raw files. Bizarre.

Jon M said...

Is there a way to turn off the automatic image review after each shot? Boy, I sure hope so :-)