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Nikon F3
(1980-2001)
© 2009 KenRockwell.com

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

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Nikon F3

Nikon F3 HP. enlarge. This F3 came from Adorama. You also can get them through Amazon and of course eBay. Of course they only come used today, but it's easy to find them still in their boxes. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these direct search links to get yours, thanks! Ken.

Great for: Inexpensive, tough professional manual-focus, auto- and manual-exposure Nikon for use with manual and most AF lenses. Great for long automatic night exposures many minutes long. The F3 works with many bizarre finders and focus screens, if you'e a whacko.

Not for: Autofocus, not convenient for use with most flashes and not if you need a small camera.

 

May 2012, July 2009       More Nikon Reviews     Shooting the F3 Digitally

en Francais

 

So easy a 5-year old can do it (videos):

Ryan Rewinding

Ryan Loading

Ryan Loading

Ryan Shooting

 

Introduction      top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

adorama

 
B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

The Nikon F3 has always been one of Nikon's best pro cameras. There are still plenty of people using them today. Nikon continued to make the F3 even after it introduced the F4 and the F5.

The F3 is manual focus.

The F3 works fine with every manual focus lens made since 1959, and works with all autofocus AI-P, AF, AF-I, AF-D and AF-S lenses so long as they aren't gelded (G). "Works with" means metering and focus works great, but of course you'll need to focus all of these by hand.

AF lenses work find in manual mode, so long as they're not G. (more at Nikon Lens Compatibility.)

You'll most often see the slightly newer F3HP version. The HP, or High Eyepoint version, has a slightly larger eyepiece with slightly less magnification so you can hold your eye slightly farther away.

Exposure is match-dot manual, or aperture-preferred auto. Metering is Nikon's perfect and classic heavily center-weighted pattern.

Personally I prefer the smaller size of the similarly-featured FE, but if you need interchangeable finders and screens, the F3 is Nikon's finest manual focus camera ever.

Watch my precise wording: the F3 is Nikon's finest manual-focus camera, but Nikon's best camera for use with manual-focus lenses is today's F6, which has better manual focusing and better metering when used with manual lenses. Nikon's most advanced manual-focus camera is the Nikon FA, which adds Matrix Metering and Shutter-priority and Program exposure to the FE.

I prefer the analog meter needle of the FE over the digital LCD meter of the F3. Specifically, I find it far faster and intuitive to set an exposure while watching the needle move as I survey a contrasty scene than to have to read, digest and calculate from the digital LCD of the F3.

The F3 has TTL flash, but it requires the use of bizarre adapters; heck, the F3 doesn't even have a flash shoe! Even if you use the dedicated SB-whatever-teen flash, the TTL feature is for shooting with flash only, not for calculating fill flash.

 

History

1980: F3 (DE-2 finder) introduced.

F3HP (DE-3 finder) introduced a couple of years later. It has more eye relief, but a little less magnification.

1982: F3T (titanium covers). The F3T was champagne from 1982-1985, then black.

1983: F2AF. The F3AF was Nikon's first AF SLR. It's a dead system that used a couple of dedicated lenses.

F3H: Pellicle mirror.

F3P: Militarized.

2001: End of production. I've been told that the reason that Nikon made the F3 for 21 years is because not only was it always popular because it's a great camera, that it was practical to keep making it for so long because some of it's components were also used in some other instruments that Nikon had in production for this period as well.

 

Specifications      top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Top, Nikon F3 HP

Top, Nikon F3 HP. enlarge.

 

Styling and Industrial Design

Giorgetto Giugiaro.

 

Finder

Removable prism and screens.

HP, High Eyepoint, finder shown here.

Nikon F3 finder

Actual photo through Nikon F3HP's finder.

Shutter speed, either manually or automatically set, is shown on the LCD at the top left. THis LCD is backlit thotugh a frosted window facing the subject, so its alwasy lit. In the dark, a dim bulb can be turned on to help.

Aperture is shown thogh the ADR (Aperture Direct Readout) window top center.

 

Shutter

Horizontal focal plane, titanium foil.

1/80 flash sync.

1/,2000 max.

8 seconds maximum manually-set speed.

Unlimited metered, timed long exposures at least several minutes long in AUTO mode.

Bulb and Time manual modes, too.

 

Weight

26.882 oz. (762.1 g), measured, with alkaline LR44 batteries and strap lugs, but without strap, without lens and without body cap.

 

Power

Two common A76, S76, LR44 or a DL1/3N.

If you leave the power switch left on all the time, no problem: the meter only wakes up when the shutter is tapped.

 

Price

$440 new in the early 1980s. ($1,000 with inflation in 2012).

(Personally, when I bought my first Nikon in 1983, I prefered to pay more, $500, for a used F2AS because I didn't trust girly-man "electronic" cameras.)

As of 2012, about $150 used; as much as $400 if really nice.

 

Motor Drive

MD-4.

The MD-4 motor drive also powers the F3, so there's no need for S76 cells with the motor.

With the MD-4 attached, the F3's own shutter release works. If you use the F3's release and hold it, the MD-4 waits to advance the film until you take your finger off the F3's top shutter release.

 

Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

The F3 was a top active pro camera for over 20 years. It works great.

It has all the exposure and mirror locks you need.

 

 

Power

Two A76 watch batteries last forever, and you can buy them anywhere or find them in keychain lights and noise makers.

Even as low as 2.8 Volts, the F3 still works great even though the illuminator is dead.

With low batteries, I hear a slight hissing sound during exposure.

After 28 months sitting in my F3 with almost no shooting, from 08/07 to 12/09, two new Maxell LR44 cells no longer would fire the shutter of the F3. They tested 0 to 10% on the MBT-1 tester.

 

Service and Repair

Nikon still has parts for the F3 (as of August 2007).

I've never seen an LCD go bad. They seem to last forever, unlike Nikon's initial cautions that they would be expected to need replacement every several years.

 

Finders

There are a zillion special purpose finders available, none of which make any sense to me.

DW-4 High Magnification Finder

I bought a DW-4 High-Magnification finder, and returned it. It claims 6x magnification, but that's 6x as in the view you get from 6x magnifier, not 6x bigger than the regular finder. I found the magnification of the 6x DW-4 finder about the same as the regular finder, but the image is reversed!

I find reversed images useless. Inverted images are OK,but not when they are reversed in only one dimension.

Pass on the DW-4

 

Screens

There are about two dozen different screens available.

Since they sell for so little used I've bought quite a few.

Want to know why they sell for so little? Because they are so useless!

Each screen addresses only a very narrow range of applications. If you pop-in a special screen, you'll have to pop it out as soon as you change your lens again.

The standard K screen (rangefinder, microprism and ground glass) is the most useful, and the one you get with most F3s.

 

Usage      top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Ken in Mangia bene Mirror, May 2012

Ken in the mirror. uglier. (50mm f/1.4 NIKKOR-S Auto (1967), Kodak Gold 100 at f/1.4 in AUTO.)

 

Nikon F3 Shutter

Nikon F3 Controls. enlarge.

Rotate the switch around the shutter button to show the red dot. That's the ON position.

I leave my power switch ON all the time. Months later, my batteries are still fine. The F3 only wake up if you tap the shutter button.

The same kind of switch around the shutter-speed dial is the self timer. If you see red next to the shutter dial, you'll get the self timer until you rotate it to cover the red dot.

 

Multiple Exposures

Flip the tiny black lever in the top right of the photo towards the front of the F3.

It will stay that way, and you now can wind the shutter lever with your thumb but the film won't advance.

 

Depth-of-Field Preview

Press and hold the top silver button on the front of the F3.

 

Mirror Lockup

Press the Depth-of-Field Preview button and then rotate the lever around it towards the bottom of the F3.

You are free to use any of the old fisheye lenses that poke into the F3.

 

Finder LCD

The LCD is lit by through the window on the front of the F3, which is one of the reasons that the batteries last forever: there is no backlight.

In the dark, press the tiny red button on the prism with your trigger finger to light the LCD and lens' aperture ring. It doesn't work very well: the light is dim, the button is difficult to press, and the switch is usually dirty so the light flickers more than it lights up the LCD.

 

Power and Batteries

It's OK to leave it on all the time.

The meter only wakes up when you tap the shutter.

 

No Batteries?

If you have no batteries, you can still pop the shutter at the 1/80 sync speed. To do this, rotate the lower front lever down. If you need to do this for a while roll, leave the lever down between shots, otherwise, push it up when you're done.

Time exposures also work without batteries as explained next.

 

Time Exposures

For Time exposures, set T on the shutter dial.

Press the shutter button to start the exposure.

To stop the time exposure, cover the lens with your hand (to eliminate any vibrations) and turn shutter dial to another setting.

If you have no batteries, rotate the lower front lever down to start the exposure, and turn the shutter dial as before to stop the exposure.

 

To Use a G Lens

Don't bother, but as a parlour trick, you can meter and get auto exposure if you:

1.) Press aperture preview button

2.) Meter manually or use exposure lock in auto

3.) Take your picture.

This is a waste of time because you only can shoot at the tiniest aperture. If you don't use these steps to meter with the aperture stopped down, your pictures will be about seven stops underexposed.

 

Recommendations      top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Want one? Get one! They used to cost thousands of dollars new.

Today you can get perfectly functional beater F3s for $100, or ones just like new in their boxes for a few hundred dollars from Adorama, Amazon and eBay.

I prefer the smaller amateur Nikon FE that sells for even less and does the same thing without the interchangeable finders, but for the price of a used F3 in 2009, you cannot go wrong.

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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