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nikon F3hp        simply outstanding

Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, June 2010

It was in the late seventies when I got serious about photography, just after my father has left to me his Nikon F Photomic FTn and some Nikkor lenses. What a great leap forward from my simple point and shoot camera to a professional Nikon F - solid metal and high grade optical glass instead of plastic. Fascinated by the creative possibilities of such professional single-lens reflex camera and interchangeable lenses my euphoria has rapidly grown. In 1981 it happened that I came across the F3, Nikon's new flagship and finest manual focus camera styled by the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Haptic and perception
After several years experience with my aged Nikon F I was mightily impressed by the modern, masterfully built F3 camera body. Because of my limited budget my father's old Nikon F got to go in exchange of the new F3. Trading off the F against a new F3 wasn't a good deal in financial terms, but I simply could not resist. At that time I had no regrets about trading the F against the F3, but today I would love to see my father's good old Nikon F at home in a display cabinet alongside of other vintage cameras.

Nikon F3HPThe Nikon F3 surpasses the high quality of the previous models F and F2. Tolerances were improved, just enough for smooth operation of the camera and protection against dust inside the body, yet still enabling operation at low temperatures. Nikon has used only the finest mechanical and electronic parts, and has sourced electronic components with a guarantee of 20 years of continued supply. Not only did Nikon utilize ball-bearings to mount the F3's shutter and film transport mechanism, but additional bearings were added to the film advance to make one of the smoothest operating cameras ever built. Indeed, resistance is so low when operating the film advance lever that it is difficult to feel if there is film in the camera. Of course, the state of technology of an F3 was getting on since, in particular modern exposure meters were improved to a high level of perfection compared to the 80/20% center weighted exposure meter of the F3. But still, there is only a few things I would replace in the F3 by today's technology: the center weighted exposure meter of the F3 works reliable but cannot match Nikon's superior color matrix meter introduced with the F5, the 1/80s flash sync speed is a considerable limitation for fill-flash compared to state-of-the-art 1/250s sync speed, and inside the viewfinder I'd love to see the LCD display of the F5 instead of the small LCD of the F3. Side by side with the Nikon F2, the F3 is one of Nikon's most popular manual focus SLR. After all it was in production for 21 years. It is a serious camera fors serious photographers. No other camera could raise my passion for photography that much like the F3 HP did. The F3 is like a natural extension of mind and hands, and that is perhaps the highest praise one can give.

Features & Specifications
When it debuted in 1980, the F3 has incorporated progressive design solutions and advanced electronic - professional photographers have even hesitated about the shutter depending on battery power. In today's terms the Nikon F3 is an unobtrusive, solid professional camera, not crammed with complicated or useless electronic features. It is a manual focus SLR for careful photography with the only automation being the aperture priority exposure control. Nikon F3HPUnless the MD-4 motor drive is attached, taking photographs with the F3 is rather slow and relaxing, it's purely about the scenery, image composition and exposure by using the exceptional optical performance of manual focus Nikkor lenses. With the F3 in hands nothing spoils the act of composing the image.

Its body is rugged like a solid block of metal, and yet, as a modular camera the F3 is highly versatile, most of all due to its Interchangeable viewfinder, which is a pure optical system bare of any electronic circuits and exposure metering sensors. The F3 accepts five different viewfinders and more than a dozen of different focusing screens, which should be enough for any task. It is one of the best features that exchanging the viewfinder does not impose any limitation on the F3's light meter. Advancing the film to the first frame reveals the class of the F3; it works smooth and easy and it advances the film by one complete stroke or by a series of shorter strokes. With the shutter speed dial set to A, the shutter will fire the first blank shoots at 1/80s until the frame counter reaches frame 1. Shutter speeds are electromagnetically controlled, infinitely variable from 8s to 1/2000s in auto aperture priority mode (A), bulb (B) and X. When using time exposure (T) on the shutter speed dial or the backup release lever (1/60s) the shutter speed is mechanically controlled. In aperture priority auto mode (A) the exposure memory lock button is very convenient to meter the important part of the image and electronically lock in the shutter speed, re-compose while keeping the button pressed and then release the shutter. The exposure compensation dial provides +/- 2EV in 1/3 increments. The F3 has a horizontal-travel, titanium focal-plane shutter, and a smooth electromagnetic shutter release button. When the camera is switched on, initial pressure switches on the exposure meter for about 16 seconds, full pressure releases the shutter.

Nikon F3 viewfinderNikon's F3 comes with a bright and easy to read pentaprism type viewfinder. In 1983 I have replaced the standard DE-2 viewfinder by the new DE-3 high-eyepoint viewfinder with an eye point of 25mm, which is very comfortable if wearing glasses. It displays the manual and automatic shutter speeds, the aperture through an aperture-direct-readout window, over- and underexposure and a flash-ready LED. Weak points of the F3 viewfinder are the LCD display, which may get gray shades after many years of use, and the tiny viewfinder illumination button which is always quite hard to find whenever needed.
The mechanical depth of field preview button is placed where it should be, at the right side of the lens mount. The reflex viewing mirror incorporates an air damper, and to minimize vibrations it can be locked by turning the mirror lock lever after pressing the depth of field preview button. The F3 uses an ingenious two mirror system to measure the light TTL, consisting of a unique main mirror to allow precisely 8% of the light to pass through, and a secondary "piggyback" mirror. The reason for that is the silicon photo diode that handles both, ambient light metering and TTL OTF during flash exposures, which is housed in the camera body underneath the main mirror. The light (8%) passing the main mirror is reflected off the secondary mirror down to the silicon photo diode located at the bottom of the mirror box. Because the photo diode is in the camera body, not the finder, the photographer enjoys the use of the F3's TTL metering regardless which of the five viewfinders is mounted. Other useful features of the F3 are the multiple exposure function, the eyepiece shutter with an easy-to-operate lever, and the self-timer. Unfortunately the film speed must be manually set, DX coded films are not detected.

Nikon F3HPThe F3 uses TTL flash exposure control, the fastest flash sync speed at 1/80s is however a bit slow for fill-flash during daylight. A specialty of the F3 is the dedicated Nikon-style flash mount, which accepts the Speedlights SB-12, SB-16A and SB-17. One may like it or not, but using other Speedlights requires the AS-17 flash coupler.

The camera back has no film information window. To remember the film type and the number of exposures on the roll in use, clip off the cover of the film carton and slide it into the film memo holder. I always leave a film memo inside the holder as a reminder that I have to manually set the film speed. The F3 operates with one DL 1/3N Lithium battery. Although in a F3 such battery almost lasts forever thanks to its daylight viewfinder illuminator, it's good to know that the Nikon F3 has a mechanically controlled backup shutter, which keeps it operating at a speed of 1/60s should its battery get drained unexpectedly. One of the most exciting accessories for the Nikon F3 is the motor drive MD4. Not only that this streamlined unit makes the F3 firing up to 6 frames per second with a sound as sharp as a razor, once attached it turns the F3 into the sexiest camera on this planet.

Nikon F3 High Eyepoint
Camera type
35mm single-lens reflex camera
Focus control
AF area modes
High-eyepoint pentaprism type DE-3, eye point: 25 mm.
Exposure metering
TTL, center weighted (80/20%) full aperture exposure metering system;
approx. 80% of the meter's sensitivity concentrated on a 12 mm diameter circle.
Exposure modes
Aperture-priority auto control (A), manual exposure control (M).
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 increments.
Auto exposure memory lock
yes (by pressing AEL button at the front of the body)
Horizontal-travel Titanium focal-plane shutter, electromagnetically
controlled with mechanical backup shutter at 1/60s and T.
Shutter speeds
Automatic mode: 8s to 1/2000s (infinitely variable).
Manual mode: 8s to 1/2000s (in whole increments).
B (bulb) and T for long time exposure, X (1/80s) for flash sync..
Film speed range
ISO 12 to ISO 6400
Film speed setting
Manual setting
Film loading
Film advance modes
Manual (optional with motor drive MD4)
Film rewind
Manual (optional with motor drive MD4)
Viewfinder display
LED for flash status
Shutter speed in automatic mode
Shutter speed in manual mode (M)
Overexposure and underexposure indication
Aperture value (direct optical system)
Flash unit connection
Special Nikon F-style accessory shoe
(optional AS-7 and AS-17 ISO-shoe flash coupler)
Flash synchronization
1/80s, below 1/80s in manual exposure mode.
Flash exposure metering TTL metering (center weighted).
Flash sync modes
Synchronization with 1st (front) shutter curtain.
Mirror lock-up
Depth of field preview
Mechanical push button.
Self timer
Electronically quartz-time controlled, 10s
Multiple exposure
1 x DL 1/3N Lithium batteries
Other features
5 interchangeable viewfinders (1 standard, 4 optional),
20 interchangeable focusing screens (optional),
Electromagnetic shutter release,
Viewfinder illuminator,
Eye-piece shutter.

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