Nikon F Controls


Film Transport Controls

These comprise the film advance lever (on the top deck of the camera, on the right edge), shutter release (on the top deck, between the advance and shutter speed selector), A/R (Advance/Rewind) collar (coaxial with the shutter release), rewind knob (on the top deck, left edge), and the back opening control (on the bottom deck, directly under the rewind knob). Useful indicators include current frame (front window on film advance lever hub), a reminder of the total number of exposures for this roll of film (manually set, back window of the same hub), and film speed (ISO) reminder (on the bottom plate, under the advance lever, and also manually set -- newer backs have red and black arrows indicating color or B&W film, respectively).

You may wind the camera with either a series of short, inching strokes (if you are a Leica M3 refugee ... or want to keep your motions inconspicuous) or a continuous 135 degree stroke (if you enjoy getting fingers caught in your shoulder strap). The film advance lever also incorporates a 15 degree standoff, so that you can enjoy poking yourself in the eye (left-eyed folks) or slip your thumb in for easier access. Unlike the F2, the standoff does not automatically activate the meter -- you still need to fiddle with separate buttons or extinction covers. Incidentally, there are two useful checks to make sure that your film is advancing properly -- one is when you take out the slack in the film, the rewind knob should rotate when you wind the camera on. The more subtle one is the little window in the middle of the shutter speed selector, where a little dot (as well as the red dot on the shutter release) will make one complete revolution for each frame advanced. This is useful for exact registration of multiple exposures (in fact, I think that this is the only way to make ME's). If you have a Photomic finder, you will need to dismount it before being able to see this window.

The shutter release is active only when the A/R collar is set to A and the shutter has been cocked by a full advance of the advance lever. Note that the design of this entire cluster -- shutter speed selector, wind-on lever, and shutter release -- is a direct descendant of the rangefinder control design. Having the release on the back edge of the top plate needs some getting used to, but proves to be fairly comfortable and quite rapid to use. The A/R collar sets the transport mechanism to either advance or rewind the film (it declutches the take-up spool as well as the engaging sprockets to rewind). The shutter release is surrounded by a threaded insert, which provides the mounting for the appropriate F/F2-type cable release.

The rewind knob is also simple to use. With the A/R collar at "R", unfold the tiny lever out of the knob and wind in the direction of the arrow to rewind the film. If you want to leave the leader out, stop rewinding as soon as the resistance to rewinding loosens. If you've developed your F rewinding technique to such a point that your fingers never slip while gripping the weensy knob at the end of the lever, please let me know your secrets -- three years of shooting with the F and still I can't rewind effectively.

Nikon really sweated the details on the back locking mechanism, although I suppose that they had better than ten years' experience with their rangefinders (and nearly thirty years of Contax experience before that ... but that's another story). Flip open the small lever with a fingernail and turn the arrow to point to "open" and slip the camera back off. I really appreciate the fact that you can't put the lever back into its recess while the back is not locked -- it's saved me, I'm sure, from many dumb errors (now, if only I could remember to take the darkslide out of my Koni-Omega every time ...). Loading film is easy, too:

  1. pull enough leader out of the canister to reach from the left (cartridge) well to the take-up spool
  2. insert the tip into one of the slots, making sure that one sprocket is engaged by a tooth on the take-up spool
  3. give the take-up spool a couple of quick turns, right to left (clockwise, if you are looking down from the top plate) to wind the film onto the spool

The manually-set indicators are entirely optional and can be safely ignored, especially if you run film through the camera in one sitting. Otherwise, it might be useful to remind yourself what you've got in the camera at any one time by setting the film speed (rotate the dial on the bottom) and number of exposures (move the indicator with the silver pin).

Shutter Controls

The shutter speed selector is on the top deck of the camera close to the prism. The shutter release is on the back edge of the top deck, between the advance lever and the shutter speed selector.

Shutter speeds may be selected from B, T, and 1 - 1/1000 sec, with (electronic) flash sync at 1/60th of a second. These are selected by lining up the desired setting with the black (or white, depending if you have a chrome or black body, respectively) dot on the left side of the speed selector (i.e. the prism side). "B" stands for bulb and opens the shutter for as long as your finger depresses the shutter release (use it with a cable release on a tripod), while "T" stands for time and opens the shutter when your finger depresses the release and does not close it again until you wind on to the next frame.

As a side note about electronic flash sync, it is useful to know that this is the fastest speed at which the shutter is completely open. Modern focal-plane shutters use two blinds which travel either horizontally (in the F, F2, and F3) or vertically (almost every other Nikon SLR, including the F4 and F5). At slow speeds, the first curtain has completely uncovered the film plane before the second curtain begins its travel. At the sync speed, the second curtain begins its travel the instant that the first curtain reaches the end of its travel. At faster speeds, the second curtain will begin to move before the first curtain reaches its end, but the curtains will be travelling at the same velocity that they do at the sync speed. The effect is to create a slit of variable width (depending on the speed) travelling at a constant speed across the film plane -- the narrower the slit, the less the effective exposure time (and thus the faster the shutter speed). At least one famous early photograph was made with a vertically-traveling focal plane shutter, that one that implies a racing car's speed by showing the wheels as distorted, forward-bending ovals. Because the shutter was moving vertically as a slit across the film plane, the wheels were exposed at different positions relative to the camera, thus "stretching" them to create a timeless illusion of extreme velocity. Modern focal-plane shutters are now probably too fast to create the same dramatic distortion, at least at the speeds now regularly turned in on the F1 circuit (there probably still is some distortion, but it is so slight as to be undetectable).

Flash Sync Selector

Flash sync is selected through a control coaxial with the shutter speed selector. Flashes may be connected through the Nikon F/F2-type hotshoe surrounding the rewind knob, or to the sync terminal on the left edge of the body.

Why did Nikon make it impossible to rewind the F with a hotshoe-mounted flash (or accessory) attached? There are several reasons, the most attractive of which is that the mechanical stress on the prism would have been too much with a flash mounted on top of it. Should you happen to drop your F or even jar it, probably the flash and prism would come off of your camera, which wouldn't make the F seem as sturdy as it is. Another possible reason is that in most "professional" situations, you'll either have an assistant to help you rewind the film (and several bodies so that you may shoot uninterrupted) or most professional-type flashes would mount via the PC socket on the left edge. Remember that just a few years after the F's introduction, the Honeywell Strobonar, a large potato-masher (side-handle) flash, came to dominate the professional (photojournalist) flash field (its grip was later broken by the far more convenient Vivitar 283 during the 70's and 80's, but by then, photojournalists were using motorised rewind and didn't bother with the rewind crank). At any rate, if you dig up an F-based flash/accessory, you slide it onto the flash shoe, back to front, and then rotate or snap down the locking device (from experience, at least the AS-1, SB-2, and SB-7E are rotating locks). The PC-socket is a standard push-on socket, and no special instructions are necessary, except for setting the flash sync on the camera (not the sync speed, 1/60, but rather the delay between firing off the hotshoe/PC sync and releasing the shutter).

To set the flash sync on the camera, lift up on the milled ring around the shutter speed dial and rotate, left or right. For the 99% of you who are using electronic flash, the appropriate setting (visible in the small window immediately forward of the shutter speed dial) are the red letters "FX", and you may fire the shutter at 1/60th or slower. For the rest of you using flashbulbs, please consult the chart below:

+-----------------------------------------+------------------------+
|                Flash Bulb               |      Shutter Speed     |
+-----+-----------------------------------+                        |
|     |               Make                +-+-+-+-+--+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
|     +--------+--------+--------+--------+1| | | |  | | | | | | | |
|Class|  G.E.  |        |        |        |0|5|2|1|  | | | | | | | |
|     |Westing-|Sylvania| Mazda  |  West  |0|0|5|2|  |3|1| | | | | |
|     | house  |        |        |        |0|0|0|5|60|0|5|8|4|2|1|B|
+-----+--------+--------+--------+--------+-+-+-+-+--+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
|  FP |  PH/6  |  Type  |  No.6  |  No.6  |  #1   |#2|     #3      |
|     |        |  FP/26 |  No.6Z |  No.6Z |       |  |             |
+-----+--------+--------+--------+--------+-------+--+-------------+
|     |        |        |   F1   |   SM   |       |  |             |
|  F  |  PH/SM | Type SF|   F3   |   SF   |   %   |#5|     #4      |
|     |        |        |   F5   |   SS   |       |  |             |
+-----+--------+--------+--------+--------+-+-----+--+-------------+
|     |        |        |  Press |   M5   |%| #1  |#2|     #3      |
|     +--------+--------+--------+--------+-+---+-+--+-------------+
|     |  PH/5  |Press 25|  No.3  |  No.3  |     |#|  |             |
|  M  |  AG-1  |  AG-1  |  No.5  |  AG-1  |  %  |1|#2|     #3      |
|     |   M5   |  M25   |   Z5   |Z-Press |     | |  |             |
|     +--------+--------+--------+--------+-----+-+--+-------------+
|     | PH/M2  |Type M2 |  No.0  |  No.0  |    %     |     #3      |
|     |        |        |   2-M  |  MX.0  |          |             |
+-----+--------+--------+--------+--------+-------+--+-------------+
|  X  |      All Electronic Flashes       |   %   |       #4       |
+-----+-----------------------------------+-------+----------------+

                              Key:

     #1  =  green dot              #4  =  red F, red X
     #2  =  red dot                #5  =  white dot, red F
     #3  =  red dot, red F         %   =  unuseable (no symbol)

I have a more detailed explanation of flashbulb usage on my questions page. I think it would be nice to have a bulb flash on hand, personally, so that I didn't have to worry about lack of power or portability issues, but everyone thinks I'm a Luddite already for going manual focus, hand-metered exposure in this era of AF and matrix metering (both technologies sound great, but I have such a heavy investment in AI lenses that I'd have to get an F4 to keep using them effectively) so when I use flash with the F, I am a lazy slob and usually put a Metz 45-series on it in automatic mode. The Metz is usually smarter than me when it comes to flash exposure, anyhow.

Self Timer

The self-timer is the lever on the right front of the camera. Its release is hidden when the self-timer is not engaged.

You charge the self-timer by rotating it clockwise; Nikon has provided marks for an approximately 3, 6, or 10 second delay -- these are the small black tick marks on the ring surrounding the self-timer hub. You can start the countdown by pressing the small silver button that is exposed when you move the self-timer lever out of the way. Remember that it will take a picture only if you have already cocked the shutter by winding the film on. I find that the self-timer is sometimes useful for somewhat vibration-free releases if you've forgotten a cable release, as long as your mirror is locked-up.

Depth of Field Preview

The depth of field (DOF) preview is the button on the same side of the lensmount as the self-timer (right side).

By pressing the DOF preview in towards the camera body, the lens diaphragm stops down to your preselected aperture and you have a rough idea of what will be in focus and what is not. Perhaps the best way to use this DOF preview is to start from wide-open and, with the button held down, slowly stop down one stop at a time until you acheive the desired DOF. Of course, if this works for you, your eyes are better than those of a bat, especially on the somewhat dim F finder.

Again, the lazy slob in me calls for an easier way, in this case, using the depth-of-field markings stenciled on every barrel of every non-AI Nikkor (please don't say that, having bought an F, you've gone out and bought the whizzy Sigroninatar 30~1000 f/8~22 zoom to go with it; pick up a decent used non-AI 50f/2 Nikkor-HC for about $50 US). Then you can do, manually, what every post-EOS 630 Canon can do, the DOF program:

  1. focus on the furthest point you wish to have in focus
  2. note the indicated distance on the lens barrel
  3. focus on the closest point you wish to have in focus
  4. again, note this indicated distance on the lens barrel
  5. line up the two distances with two lines of identical color on the lens barrel's DOF markings (they will be symmetric with respect to the focus indication line)
  6. now that you are set to the proper hyperfocal distance, set your lens to the aperture whose color matches the two lines you used in the previous step
  7. if you want to be conservative, stop down one more aperture
  8. set a shutter speed based on the aperture in use and take your picture

I guess that automation is much nicer than this, but at least now you know what your friend's Rebel is doing when s/he sets it to the DOF program. On the other hand, you can always use your camera to drive the tent stakes tonight. Generally, this is much more effective for wide-angle lenses, when you want a neat "near-far" effect, and one of the markings will be set at infinity. On second thought, treat yourself to a 24f/2.8 Nikkor-N at around $200 US and make sure you get only what you want in the viewfinder.

Mirror Lock-Up

Mirror lock-up (MLU) is accomplished through a dial on the same side of the lensmount as the self-timer (right side).

On the F, MLU is useful mainly for fitting specialised lenses, such as all circular fisheyes f/5.6 and slower, and the 21f/4 Biogon-type. It is certainly possible to lock up the mirror for critical sharpness, although it really demands a tripod:

  1. cock the shutter by winding the film on
  2. compose your image
  3. turn the MLU dial counterclockwise so that the black dot on the dial points to the red dot on the dial's circular surround
  4. push the shutter release halfway; you should see the image black out in the viewfinder as the mirror flips up
  5. push the release all the way down, releasing the shutter
  6. if you are taking more than one MLU photo, repeat steps 1 and 5 as much as necessary
  7. turn the MLU dial clockwise to line up the dial's black dot with the black dot on the circular surround
  8. wind the film on, which should then drop the mirror lock

Incidentally, should you need to fit a mirror-lock lens, perform steps 1-4 above (well, I guess you don't need to compose again), put the lens on, and continue, taking the lens off after step 6. Some F's are floating around which have been modified (usually by private means) to perform MLU via a lever -- I believe that the Celestron-modified F's are similar. If you find yourself needing to recompose between MLU shots, I would recommend getting a Nikkormat or F2 (if you need a mechanical body) or an F3 (which has the smoothest operation I've tried in quite a while).

Lens Bayonet (Bajonet) Release

The lens bayonet release is the button on the other (left) side of the lens mount.

To release a lens, press the release in towards the body and, grasping the lens firmly by the area between the focussing and aperture rings, rotate 1/6th of a turn (60 degrees) clockwise and then lift the lens straight out of the bayonet throat. To mount a lens, line up the black dot on the lens (usually on the milled ring between the focussing and aperture rings) with the dot on the lensmount, push the lens onto the mount, and rotate 60 degrees counterclockwise until you hear it click into place. Ah, if someone had only told me this, I could have saved myself untold embarassment when I went to the camera shop to pick up my first camera, a Nikon F with eyelevel finder. For those of you with the oddball 21f/4, please see my questions page.

Prism Release

The main prism release is the small silver button on the back of the camera, situated close to the top deck and between the rewind knob and the prism eyepiece.

You, too, can try to injure your finger or fingernail trying to push in this rather stiff button. Unless you have a later F body, which has small cutouts to facilitate finger use, it is easier to use a pencil's eraser to push it in. Once the button is in, the prism will pop up slightly (unless you have a Photomic FTn head) and you can remove it by lifting straight out. If you have the FTn, there is an additional lever that needs to be pushed in (towards the finder) as the prism release is used; this releases the small claws which hold the FTn onto the bottom of the front nameplate. You can put on a finder by pressing it into the well; pushing the release button in is not necessary.

The prism release also acts as a screen release. By holding the button in and turning the camera over, the screen will plop out onto whatever handy soft surface it is over. The release button must be held in when putting the screen back in (you can see the two retractable tabs which hold the screen in place in the left side of the prism well).


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