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My Nikon F4

Choices: Me deciding which F4 to get.

The F4 camera, in my opinion, is one of the best looking Nikon cameras ever. I discovered the F4 on another website and subsequently I lusted after them. This is possibly the highest level of film camera I’ll ever own. Newer cameras, such as the F5 and F6, are too similar to my digital SLRs and I don’t see how they offer much more over the F4. If I really need faster autofocus, or more precise metering, then I’ll just use my DSLRs. I try to take my time using film.

I’m also shooting film not just because I desire to have the look of film, but because I enjoy using older equipment. All the more reason to seek out cameras that are less similar to my digital workhorses. At this point, future film cameras will probably be Russian rangefinders or a Rollei 35.

To get my F4, I headed down to the photography market and asked for F4’s at every used camera shop. I really wanted an F4s, which is the F4 model with an MB-21 battery pack. This battery pack allows a slightly faster shooting rate (not that important), a vertical shooting shutter release (someone important) and a much bigger heft and look (very important.) There were quite a few F4s’s but this is a professional camera, and many were pretty beat up. Also, some of these bodies are more than 20 years old, so I desired a late serial number, and a body in good condition. This was hard to find.

LEFT: A photo of Susan shot with "Lucky 100," a fairly low speed black and white film that is largely sold in the Chinese market. I think it has lower contrast compared to my prefered Ilford Pan 400 (also mainly available in non-US markets) but I use it now and then when I don't need faster film. RIGHT: A photo of Katherine and me on the Zhong Da University campus. Unfortunately, I do not seem to have saved any information related to the film type or developing methods.

Chipped paint would not be a problem, except that the rubber moldings were coming off of many bodies, and some were even missing parts. But I found a near perfect specimen in the last place I looked. Wrapped in shrink wrap was a late model, nearly mint condition F4. The only catch was that it didn’t have the extra battery grip attached. Instead, it was equipped with the smaller MB-20 battery pack option. This wasn’t all bad as it was a much smaller camera without the vertical grip. I figured I could add the grip later, as the shop wanted a heck of a lot of money for one of their grips, probably because they’d have to take it off a camera and it would be even less likely to sell then.

Anyway, so far I’ve run through probably around 10 rolls of film through my F4. It doesn’t really compare to my DSLR’s, aside from being quite different. However, compared to my other Nikon film cameras:

F80/N80 I currently have an N80 that I purchased last summer. The N80 ranks pretty low on the cool to use scale. The control scheme is about the same as any of my digital cameras so no points there. The camera does have auto bracketing, but to some extent, I can quickly shoot three photos or more with the F4 using the exposure compensation dial. One area the N80 does trump the F4 is weight. It is a much lighter (and smaller) camera. I however dislike the fact that the N80 does not leave the film leader out after rewinding, which makes loading the B/W film into the developing reels a bit more difficult. I tried to have the Guangzhou Nikon service center reprogram the N80 to leave the leader out but they did not seem to be able to do it. I don’t find the autofocus to be that much different than the F4, though the N80 does have more focus points to choose from.

A shot of Susan pushing Katherine down a path towards the river. This was shot with ILFORD Pan 400, pushed 1 stop. I found the results quite pleasing and would try pushing Ilford 1 stop again. I tried pushing it 2 stops, but I think I did not develop it long enough.

FM2 I do not actually have this camera with me in China at the moment, so I’m going off of memory. I wanted a manual film camera a while back, so I bought the FM2 in 2008. It has been a nice little camera, but of course, it is all manual. It is a bit difficult to compare to the F4, but. . . .  I tend to manually focus the F4 at night anyway, so the FM2 actually has the benefit of a better focusing screen. Film advance speed of the FM2 (manual crank) is not too slow, but of course, it is quite a bit slower than the F4. I might end up adding a motor winder to my FM2 in the future, since it is not too expensive. The biggest benefits of the FM2 over the F4 are slightly smaller size while still retaining the rugged construction, and the fact that the FM2 requires no batteries to operate. The F4 has no battery meter and relies on AA batteries, which could theoretically fail at any time. I can get replacement AA’s pretty easily, but it would be really cool to have the FM2 as a backup/second body.  I’d rather have the FM2 than the N80 right now.

Another night shot of Susan and Katherine shot with ILFORD Pan 400 pushed 1 stop.

The F4 is part of a larger system, and there are many accessories and add-ons for it. The hard part is finding these accessories, since they are no longer manufactured by Nikon.

Addons that I have:

Focusing Screen Type K:  This is the “classic” manual focusing screen with the split prism rangefinder. I originally thought it would assist in focusing the camera at nighttime but it appears that the split prism and all that is a bit hard to see at night. I’ve got some Series E manual lenses so the screen might come in more handy in the future. It was one of those “vanity” accessories that I really wanted. The AF system still works of course, but the one drawback is that it can be a bit hard to aim the AF sensor without the marking on the screen.  Changing screens is very easy and simple and requires no tools. Additionally the K screen requires no exposure compensation unlike some of the others.

A shot of Katherine shot with my Nikon F4 and Nikon 35mm F2.8D. This is one of my most commonly used lenses. Shot with ILFORD Pan 400. I bought 40 boxes of it so I just about shoot with it entirely aside from trying a box of every film type I could find.

B Screen: This is the “standard”  focusing screen that came with every F4 and is pretty simple. The advantage over the K screen is that you can see the single  AF point marking. The downside of this screen is that it is utterly boring and looks like the screen off of virtually any DSLR.

What I hope to attain.

G2 Screen: Extremely rare but is another manual focusing screen for the F4. This one would cover a 35mm to 50 mm and just has the microprism ring in the middle, albeit a very large one. It looks pretty cool but it fairly low on my list of things that I want.

*MB-21 Battery grip. Already mentioned what it is.

*MF-23 Data back. This is a replacement film compartment door that does quite a few things. It can imprint the EXIF data, such as shutter speed and aperture value on the film or in between frames.  It really can do lots and lots so it is something I really really want.

DW-20 Prism finder:  The viewfinder on this camera can be removed and replaced. The DW-20 is a waist level finder used for various purposes. Imight use it for stealth shooting as I could just look down at the camera, aim using the waist level finder and shoot without people realizing that I’m taking their photo.  There is a store here in China that has numerous DW-20’s but most are garbage. The one mint unit is quite expensive but I think I might get it

So far my F4 is my first choice whenever I shoot film. It has been a great camera so far and a lot of fun.



One Response to “My Nikon F4”

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