Nikon F3

Nikon F3 The F3 is Nikon’s top professional camera from the 1980s. I picked one up on ebay recently, mainly because of how absurdly inexpensive they’ve gotten. It was only a couple of years ago that they routinely sold for $500. But despite a resurgent interest in 35mm film equipment from some quarters, I was able to get this one for $130. A perfect little 50mm f/1.8 will set you back another $50 or so, or you can go the way I’m doing, and get top of the line lenses for completely absurd prices (this 180mm f/2.8 cost $127; similarly performing modern lenses cost ten times that).

On the minus side you’re going to be spending money buying and developing film. This runs about a dollar per every three or four shots. (Drop your film at any drugstore, and they’ll develop it and burn you a CD in an hour, which you can then load into your computer just like any digital camera.) Then there’s the matter of focusing, which if a big deal to adjust to if you’ve been shooting with digital cameras.

But as in the year with a Leica, this way of making pictures is revelatory. The F3 has aperture-priority automatic exposure, which means that you set the aperture on the lens, and the camera comes up with a shutter speed (of course you can also shoot in manual mode, where the shutter speed is just a recommendation). In other words, you have hands-on control of the basic elements of what the camera is doing. Same difference as driving a car with manual transmitting — it may not be easier, but it is better, in a way.

The other big benefit is the pleasure of using something that is the best of its kind. You can see that my F3 is pretty well beat up, yet it works more solidly then any of my digital cameras. Then there’s the magical quality of film images. Even scanned and seen on screen, there is something unmistakeably analog and delicious about them.

9 thoughts on “Nikon F3

  1. I still have my FM-10, which as far as I know is still required equipment for NYU photography students. FM stands for Fully Manual. Nothing is automatic, you have to set everything.

    But once you understand how to use the built-in meter and DOF viewer, it’s pretty easy.

    I can use a 70-300mm 4/5.6 ED-AF lens on my film and my D50 digital SLR. Of course, it won’t autofocus.

    And while I could use that AI 108mm 2.8 prime lens, the AF lenses that followed it are not much more as owners upgrade to AF-S and AF-S VR lenses.

  2. Yeah… I’d intended to use the F3 in full manual, but it uses a little LCD in the display which is harder to use then the needle.

    Of course the viewfinder on the F3HP is super deluxe, and there’s a waist-level finder which is lots of TLR-style fun.

    I also just ordered an adapter that’ll let me use all these nikon MF lenses on my Canons!

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more. Just read an article in SilverShotz magazine, comparing film to digital and FILM WON hands down!!! It also says that film is NOT analog. There is analog and digital sound, but film is a completely different medium. The article is worth reading. Good justification for all us film users. I would post a link to the article, but couldn’t find it online.

  4. Right right right… film is composed of larger or smaller particles of color, but the edges between them are hard-edged, hence not analog.

    When you look at digital images from the 90s, they have nasty and very obvious artifacts. Over the years, digital camera manufacturers have made their images less harsh, and they’ve come closer and closer to the film look. But as of 2009, not cigar just yet.

    I’d say that for the ultimate film experience, it’d be B&W, with home processing and a home lab. My parents did it in the old country in the old days, and those funky old photos are awesome.

  5. I still have, love and used my F3 last week. I shot a roll of slide film [E6] The only challange was finding a South Florida Lab that would process it. I eventually had to mail it Color Edge in New York.

    This camera is a work horse.

    Digital cameras have their place, but Film is still the gold standard.

    Entire generations of family history is being lost to the pixel. Good luck viewing those jpegs of your new born baby in twenty five or thirty years.

  6. You shooting print or slides? I’d imagine it would be worth looking into home processing (you really don’t need much if you are not doing prints) and a good film scanner. My experience is that drugstore processing is crap.

  7. That’s the thing… i haven’t figured out the film workflow yet. So far it’s just off-the-shelf kodak 800. Against my better judgment I’m thinking about B&W.

    Is slide film easier to develop at home? I dunno.. I’m thinking sticking with film because of the exposure latitude.

  8. From what I remember (too lazy to google) slide (E6) is harder only in the sense that there are more baths, but the advantage is that if you are going to scan it anyway, you can just put the strips on a lightbox and pick which one of the frames you want. It’s next to impossible to judge color or exposure on a negative. And of course you are not doing prints, which is what takes 90% of the space.

    BTW, we used to shoot color film, then scan it as b/w.

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