The Nikon F – The 35mm Photographic Legend

Nikon F Photomic Ftn, From 1970

Nikon F Photomic Ftn, From 1970

The Nikon F is the camera that set the photographic world upside down, and changed all the rules. Back in 1959, a camera that had an automatic diaphragm, which stopped down instantly to the chosen aperture, then returning back to its fully wide open state, was almost unheard of. This camera was the first true 35mm SYSTEM , with easily mounted interchangeable lenses, and a catalog of accessories, available right at introduction, and available to pros and home enthusiasts. To say the camera is built like a tank is an understatement. It saved lives of photojournalists in Vietnam, by deflecting bullets. It was submersed, with exposed film, only to be recovered out of water, and have the film be able to be developed, and be dried out, to be used again. Other firsts-

  • 100% viewfinder coverage- the 1st 35mm camera to have it.
  • Titanium shutter, with a 100,000 exposure MTBF rating, but lasting much longer. Not many dead ones on the market.
  • A high-speed motor drive option.
  • Polaroid back options (known as Speed Magny)
  • 1st high-end camera from Japan to change world perception of Japanese quality.
  • Lightning fast, instant return mirror. Taken for granted today, but truly groundbreaking in 1959.
  • Accurate center-weighted metering starting with the Photomic finder series.
  • 1st Japanese SLR with mirror lock-up.
  • 1st with interchangeable focusing screens.

While I would never say this was the “best” 35mm SLR camera ever produced, it was clearly the most influential, with so many innovations and features that we take for granted today. Nice little touches, such as indicators to show if the shutter is cocked, one that you can program to tell if you have a 36 exposure of 20 (24) exposure cassette. One to remind you of the ISO/ASA, and if you have B&W or color film loaded, even programmable to remind you that the camera is empty. A smooth, beautiful stainless steel winder. While not the 1st SLR, it was easily the most accessible, and the one that got everyone talking about this system, and Nikon. Even in the US, where “Made In Japan” once was a placard that made consumers run away. Now they ran to their local camera shops.

Yes, this is all mechanical, completely manual exposure. The shutter sound is magnificent. The results? So far, after a roll of color, and a roll of B&W, I could not be happier.

From My First Roll Shot In The Nikon F, 50mm f/1.4 Ai, Expired Kodak Max 400 Film

From My First Roll Shot In The Nikon F, 50mm f/1.4 Ai, Expired Kodak Max 400 Film

The camera continued to receive improvements over the years, eventually phased out/retired by the F2, with enhancements and refinements. The model I opted for, a 1970 vintage Photomic Ftn, with TTL center-weighted metering that is still accurate and viable today. While mercury batteries for the finder no longer available, mine runs on Wein Cells, the mercury free zinc air replacements . Make sure you have a small hole in the battery compartment door- these batteries need air to breathe, and to fuel the zinc air fuel mix.

Do these “old” cameras work well? Like a charm- even today. Quirks? Yes. Charm? In large amounts. A guaranteed conversation starter? Yes. Anywhere you go with it. This is the 35mm camera I wanted all my life. Nikon only made about 850,000 of these instruments in total. Get one.


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