The Nikon F3 for a year

The Nikon F3 is a camera that has probably been reviewed thousands of times, maybe even millions. It’s a camera that needs no introduction because of its legendary predecessors, the Nikon F and F2. The F3 has been a bucket list camera of mine for quite some time, and when I turned 30, I decided that it was the appropriate time to finally purchase one. When I buy film cameras, I do a lot of searching on eBay, KEH, and B&H, among other digital spaces. Generally, I’m looking for something in normal working condition–a few scratches and dings don’t bother me. But, when I began my search for an F3, I sought one in pristine condition because I wanted to handle this Ferrari of a camera, molding it and wearing it down, really making it my own.

In January of 2018 I finally found one on eBay in the right condition. It even came with a few bonuses like the motor drive, waist level finder, and flash coupler. At the same time, I also purchased some accessories for my new toy: a Nikon SB-17 along with a Nikkor 35mm f/2 AIS, both purchased from KEH.

Let me say that all of the wonderful things you read about the Nikon F3 are true. Yes, the camera is a solid built piece of machinery. Yes, the film advance is buttery smooth. Yes, the viewfinder is clear and bright. It’s safe to say that all the pros about this camera definitely outweigh the cons. Based on what other enthusiasts have written about the F3, it seems that the most notable drawbacks include the lack of shutter priority, no match stick needle for manual metering, and the dependency on a battery to operate the shutter. I really don’t mind any of these features, especially when it comes to batteries–they are so small that it’s never an issue to have one in my pocket just in case.

I will confess that when I use digital cameras, I usually stick to Canon and Sony, but when it comes to film cameras, Nikon got it right with the F3. The camera fits well in my hands, and the satin black finish looks sleek and discreet. I must confess, I was a bit uncomfortable carrying a camera with the N-word rather than the C-word, so I stuck some gaffer tape over the Nikon logo. With that nasty word covered up, it’s perfect.

Throughout the course of a year, I’ve taken this camera to multiple cities including Chicago, Memphis, Oxford, and Saint Petersburg. I’ve also carried it to many family occasions: birthdays, Sunday dinners, visits with friends, and weddings.

As a part-time wedding photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to play a little bit with film cameras during downtime. Shooting film during a wedding is such difficult task, especially with manual focus and the inability to preview the images. Film wedding photography is truly a testament of a photographer’s skill and vision to see an image before snapping a shot. You have to not only be able to recognize a specific moment, but be able to capture it at the right time during a fraction of a second. There is no spraying and praying with film.

I am by no means an expert, but it’s plain to see how shooting film can make someone a better photographer. One of my favorite things about film is that its everything digital isn’t. Not being able to see my images as they are taken allows me to savor the moment I’m living in without the distractions of image preview, menus, and buttons.

When I first purchased the F3, I thought for sure I would use the motor drive and the waist lever finder, but over the course of the year, I have only used them maybe once. The main setup is the camera attached to a Nikkor 35mm F/2 AIS with a few rolls of Ilford HP5. Originally, I used a Nikkor 50mm F/2, which is also a great lens, but I needed a wider view. With the reciprocal rule, the 35mm lens allows me to use shutter speeds as low as 1/30th and sometimes 1/15th of a second. Whenever I have a low-light situation, I break out the Nikon SB-17, which, by the way, does not get the credit it deserves. This flash works perfectly for the Nikon F3, and the TTL meters and performs very well. The first time I tried it out, I was very hesitant because I was relying on 30-year-old technology to expose a scene with flash, but the TTL was spot on. Another great feature is the tilting head on the flash used to bounce light; it works so well in low-light scenes and avoids the direct flash look.

Overall, the Nikon F3 has been my trusted film camera this year, and I would recommend one to anyone starting in 35mm film photography. Its functionality, durability, and legacy makes it a great everyday camera.

“It is so choice, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” – Ferris Bueller referring to the 1961 Ferrari 250GT California