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:
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?