F5 User's Guide
The Nikon F5 is very fast, simple and fun to shoot.
I'll skip most of the basics of how to shoot that apply to every camera, and cover what's necessary to make the best of the Nikon F5.
First let me show the control layout:
Nikon F5 conventional switches.
Nikon F5 Exposure Control Buttons (hold, then turn control dials).
Loading and Unloading
Rotate the lock on the rewind crank (it has a small arrow in white, just above the rewind crank in the photo above), and then you can lift the crank to pop open the back.
Pop in film, and pull the leader all the way to the red mark on the left.
Close the back, press the shutter to advance to frame 1, and shoot. (Set CFn 8 to let the F5 advance by itself when you close the back.)
Rear Controls (behind flap). bigger.
ISO is set by pressing the rear ISO button (under the rear door to the left of the rear LCD) and turning the rear dial.
If you've left the ISO setting in DX, the ISO shows on the rear LCD when film is in the F5, and it's blank with no film.
If you set ISO manually (press ISO and turn a dial), the rear LCD shows that setting regardless of if you have any film.
"DX" shows on the rear LCD if you've selected the DX position.
Nikon F5 Rewind Controls. bigger.
When the roll is done, the top LCD and the finder blinks "END," and a red light lights by the rewind crank.
The counter will show one frame more than you just shot; in other words, the counter will advance to the next frame even if the film doesn't. Most rolls give 37 shots, and the counter shows 38 when you hit the end of the roll.
If you turn the camera off and on again without changing the film, "END" blinks in the finder, the red LED lights near the rewind crank, but END shows steady on the top LCD.
The meter will not work until you rewind the film.
Rewind never starts automatically. To rewind, first release the advance by lifting the cover and pressing button #1 on the bottom right side of the back of the F5.
Once the advance is released by pressing button #1, press lever #2's unlock button on the top left of the back of the F5, lift lever #2, and in a few seconds, the roll is rewound by motor.
If you prefer manual rewind (useful in temperatures cold enough to make the film brittle), instead of lifting lever #2, simply use the crank after pressing the #1 release button.
The frame counter counts down during rewind, in both motorized and manual crank modes. It counts down to 1, then 0, then E.
If the power is off during manual rewind, it won't count back and stays at whatever count it had when the power went off. If the power is off and you start rewinding manually, and then turn on the power, the count starts counting backwards again, but from the incorrect (larger) number it was indicating during power off. In other words, if you're looking at the frame counter to try to rewind with the leader out, be sure to leave the power on the whole time.
After you've rewound, the meter will work, even with a dead roll left in the F5.
Metering and AF Sensors
The Matrix and Spot meters are sensitive to the selected AF sensor. Matrix uses different weightings, while the spot meter is sensitive only to the selected sensor.
AF is easy to set. On the front switch by the lens mount, M is manual, S is single, and C is continuous.
In AF-S (single), focus locks, and only after it locks, you can take a picture. The F5 won't fire before the focus locks, which is called Focus Priority. (You can allow the F5 to shoot out-of-focus pictures with CFn 2.)
Once AF locks, green dot stays on even if something moves. If it locks and you grab the manual focus ring with better AF-S lenses, the dots revert to live manual focus assist ( > o < ).
In AF-S, the F5 stops to refocus for each shot, which often slows things down in the Ch and CL advance modes. If speed is important, use AF-C, although you may get out-of-focus frames.
In AF-C (continuous), the focus continuously tracks, and the F5 fires whenever you press the button, whether anything is in focus or not. This is called Release Priority. (You can force the F5 only to shoot in-focus pictures with CFn 1.)
The reason Nikon defaults the F5 to shoot even if its not in focus in AF-C is so that it runs faster. If you set CFn 1 to force the F5 only to shoot in-focus photos, the speed drops way down if the subject is moving.
Nikon F5. bigger.
AF Sensor Selection
Use the big rear thumb control in the middle of the back cover to select among AF sensors.
The finder never makes it very clear which sensor you're using, and there is no easy way to default back to the center sensor other than the two-green-button reset, which also resets all your CFns.
Locking your choice of AF Sensor
To lock or unlock your choice of sensors, hold the rear "L" button and tap the AF zone selector.
You probably won't do this unless you want it locked into the center.
If locked, the top LCD will show LOCK above the AF Sensor Display.
Nikon F5 AF Area-Mode Controls.
Dynamic and Static AF Area-Mode Selections
This control selects how the F5 uses the five AF sensors together with each other.
To change this, hold the button shown above and move the rear dial.
As shown above, this is the Static position. This is shown with just one AF sensor shown on the LCD. In this position, the sensor you pick is the sensor that's used. All you see on the top LCD is one sensor highlighted inside the brackets like this: [ o ].
If you want the F5 to reselect different AF Sensors automatically as a subject moves around the frame, this is called Dynamic selection. To choose this, hold the AF Area-Mode Control and turn the rear dial until the top LCD shows the same thing, but adds five pips inside those brackets, which looks sort of like [ : x : ]. You'll see the five pips, as well as whichever sensor you've selected.
When you select Dynamic Sensor Selection mode, the F5 first focuses with the sensor you've chosen, and then automatically selects different sensors all by itself as the subject moves. This is extremely useful for photographing sports and moving things.
The F5 does an amazingly good job in Dynamic Sensor Selection mode, but the F5 does not show which sensor it's actually using. The F5 only shows the sensor you've chosen, which is where it starts to focus again when you release the shutter button and press it again. As the F5 selects other sensors, the F5 doesn't show you which sensor it's using at any instant; only your first sensor stays indicated.
In other words, in Dynamic mode [ : o : ], AF tracks to various zones, but only first zone stays lit.
For Still Subjects
For still subjects, I shoot with the front switch set to AF-S, the S, or single autofocus, position. In this setting, the F5 focuses and locks.
When locked, a green dot shows in the finder, and you may then take the picture. If the F5 can't focus and lock, the green dot won't light, and the F5 won't take the picture when you press the shutter.
I leave the [ o ] setting (the button above the top LCD) in the static position, meaning that the top LCD does not show the little pips, and shows only one AF sensor at a time. In this setting, the F5 uses only the sensor you've selected with the rear thumb controller.
For sports, action and things in motion, I set the front switch to AF-C, the C, or continuous autofocus position. In this position, the F5 changes focus continuously to track whatever's moving. In this position, the green dot lights when the F5 thinks it's in focus, but you can take the picture at any time, in focus or not.
I change the [ o ] setting (the button above the top LCD) to the dynamic position, meaning that the top LCD shows five little pips in addition to the selected AF sensor box. In this setting, the F5 first focuses with the sensor you've selected with the rear thumb controller, and then will shift sensors automatically if the subject moves in the finder.
AF tracking really works in AF-C, and the dynamic [ : x : ] mode really does track subjects. The finder won't show you the sensors shift. If you've selected the left sensor and the subject moves to the right and the F5 is using the right sensor, the left one is still the one that's shown.
In this setting, select the sensor you need first to acquire the target, and the F5 will grab it and stay focused even as it moves all over the frame. If a car comes from the left and moves to the right, select the left sensor. The F5 will focus, and magically select the other sensors (but not show its automatic selection in the finder) as the car moves to the right.
Auto Exposure Lock (AEL) top
The AEL button has to be held to hold the reading. Since you have to use your right thumb to hold a locked reading, you'd need a second right thumb if you wanted to shift the program using the rear dial at the same time.
There is no conformation in the finder, other than the exposure readings not changing as you move the F5.
I refer to set my AEL button only to lock exposure, with CFn 21. By default, it also locks focus.
Nikon F5 Rear Controls. more.
Bracketing is easy to figure out.
Hold the BKT button, spin the rear dial, and look at the rear LCD.
Warning: the graphic on the rear LCD is backwards, as are the bar graphs in Nikon cameras. + (more exposure) shows with a left-pointing arrow! Pay close attention to the + and - icons, not merely the direction of the arrows.
I haven't tried, but I be live that when set to bracket, the CH shooting mode will fire three shots and stop, even if you keep you finger on the shutter release.
Flash Modes top
To select Normal, SLOW and REAR, hold the BOLT button and spin the rear dial.
Normal shows nothing on the rear LCD, as shown above.
SLOW and REAR show inside a bolt-boxed icon if you select them.
The PC sync terminal is behind a cover on the top right of the front of the F5.
Custom Functions top
The Nikon F5's custom functions are primitive, meaning you have to set them by numbers, not in English in menus. You need a chart in order to decode them.
There are two banks of settings, A and B. You select which bank you're using (and setting) with CFn 0.
All the CFns in the selected bank are reset with the two-green-button reset (holding the two green BKT and CSM buttons (shown above) together for more than a few seconds). When reset with the two green buttons, the other bank is left alone.
To set the CFns, hold the rear CSM button and move the two dials. The rear dial selects which CFn to set, and the front dial sets it.
As you set them, the rear LCD shows in the form "15 - 0," which is the Cfn and its value.
Here are the settings. I'm too lazy to type out all the permutations. "0" is the normal default, and if you change them, "1" means that you've chosen the alternate value, or the rear LCD will show the setting if it's something like "AEL" or the number of seconds for the self timer. It's easier to figure out by doing than trying to explain it.
Nikon F5 Custom Function List
Nikon F5 Custom Functions.
Which CFns I set
Personally, I set CFns 16, 19 and 21.
I set CFn 16, the self-timer delay, to 2 seconds ("L 2"), since I only use the self timer on a tripod when I can't find my screwy MC-36 remote release.
I set CFn 19 to "1," which lets the Nikon F5 set manual shutter speeds from 40 seconds to 30 minutes. These speeds appear between 30s and bulb, right as you'd expect them. Minutes are indicated as 30', while 30 seconds is always shown as 30."
I set CFn 21 to AEL, since I want the AEL button to lock only the exposure. For me, in AF-S mode, a half-press of the shutter locks the focus; I don't want the F5 to lock exposure on whatever I used for focus. To each their own; that's why Nikon lets us change these to suit personal taste.
The default locking both AF and AE (shown as L - L) is useful in AF-C mode, which otherwise never locks focus on anything.
More CFns and Photo Secretary top
There was old piece of computer software called Photo Secretary AC-1ME that ran on Mac OS 7 and used an MC-34 camera cord.
Photo Secretary AC-1WE ran on Windows 95 and used an MC-33 camera cord. You usually can find them at this link to them on eBay
This software lets you set some even sillier CFns, and offered some side-show acts, like letting you see what the color matrix meter was seeing.
The Mac software came on eight 3.5" floppies, and the MC-34 cord attaches to the F5's 10-pin remote and then to a circular connector on your early 1990's Mac. It's not USB and certainly not Firewire, so it won't connect to any modern Mac, although if you can run OS 7 software, you can get 3.5" floppy drives that connect via USB with which to read the disks.
Warning: even if you think you might be able to get the software to run on a modern Mac, and have some way to connect to the MC-34, Nikon's Mac software has always been so buggy that I doubt it ever worked even back in the day.
Reader Rob Finkelman runs the Mac software on an old computer he's been using since the 1990s. I've heard that the Mac version won't run on newer systems.
Nikon Photo Secretary running in Windows 7. (courtesy Anders Hundborg)
The Windows MC-33 cord connects to a 9-pin serial port.
Today, Anders writes that he connects the MC-33 adapter through a Sandberg serial to USB converter to his Windows 7 PC.
He connected the adapter, and the drivers for the USB converter were installed automatically.
He attached the camera and ran Photo Secretary, and it connected to the F5, and it runs just fine.
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