Special Nikon F Models


I definitely don't know all of them, as there are literally hundreds of variations, one-offs, and custom modifications to the F floating around out there. These are a few of the more famous ones. A much nicer source of information is at Stephen Gandy's Cameraquest.

Red Dot

This is probably the most misrepresented special model, thanks to some inadvertent misinformation in Peterson's Nikon System Handbook. Red Dot models may be identified by a red dot next to the serial number; the appropriate serial numbers are 659xxxx and 660xxxx. When the Photomic T finder was introduced in 1965, the top plate of the camera body was slightly revised; the eyepiece of the T finder was slightly larger than on previous finders, to accomodate the relay prism and lenses which allowed for through-the-lens (reflected, continuous) light metering. Previous meters had a direct path to the source of light via either a light-gathering window ("Model x" meters) or a lens (Photomic prism). Thus, the red dot indicated those bodies shipped from the factory which originally had the eyelevel prism mounted, but which would take the Photomic T finder without modification. Previous serial number-model F's will require (or have had) modification to accept the T and later Photomic finders (Tn, FTn); this modification consists of grinding out the top plate slightly to accomodate the extra eyepiece size.

Red Dots are neither rare nor specialised enough to warrant their rarefied prices. They are slightly more exceptional than your run-of-the-mill F, but all later bodies (67xxxxx +) incorporate their "refinement" and a lot of earlier bodies have been modified to the Red Dot spec. Personally, if I had $1 000 US to invest in a collectible F (I'd look for an interesting lens, first off, but that's a topic for later discussion ...), I'd rather get one of the early (6400xxx) models to trace the evolution of the F; heck, for $1 000 US, I could almost afford an SP. One word of warning: for those of you shopping on eBay, virtually anything that is collectible will have an inflated price, whether calculators or cameras. It's nice to have whatever you want right at your fingertips, but remember that you're dealing with "experts", real and self-styled, who have plenty of money to throw at these auctions. Watch out for "shill" bidders; though eBay tries to control them, I have heard they're still operating.

High Speed

There are two extremely rare F high speeds, 1971 and 1976 models. It is a testament to Nikon's fundamentally sound professional-body design that they are able to regularly offer slightly modified bodies and motors which far outperform their peers (and even some modern counterparts). However, it seems likely that, unless we see a Cine-Nikon in the future, the F3-H represents the pinnacle (14fps) of manual focus high-speed design; the performance of the F5 (8fps with AF tracking) is honestly not too far behind and, compared with the F3-H, seems a relative bargain (it's really strange to say "F5" and "bargain" in the same sentence ...).

The 1971 F High Speed delivers 7fps with the mirror locked up (regular F/F36 combinations offer 4fps with MLU). I am still sketchy on the details of this model, but it apparently ran off a (cordless?) pack containing sixteen "AA" cells (although 24V may seem like a lot of potential, the later F2 H-MD would use four MN-1 packs, for 30V of potential).

The 1976 F High Speed delivered 9fps for photographers at the Montreal Winter Games. Although similar to the previous 1971 model, the 1976 model reputedly came in a 250-exposure subvariant, although very few of them were produced. Whenever collectible F's are mentioned, and especially F High Speeds, I continue to hear the name of the late Jose Wu Chang; perhaps one of you out there would be so kind to shed some light on his collection. These cameras had a pellicle mirror.

Apollo

Apollo is the nickname given to the F's in the last year(s) of production, 1972-74, and refers to the use of plastic-tipped winding and self-timer levers. Although it's useful to know that such F's incorporate all of the lessons Nikon learned from its devoted corps of photojournalists and users, and are fairly refined, it again seems to be a source of overinflated prices. The plastic tips are a bit nicer on your fingers and thumb, but for similar or lower prices, both the F2 and F3 offer the same refinement as well as shorter winding strokes and smoother overall operation. Then again, if you're assembling a collection of F's ...

NASA

You can pick up one of the rarest Nikon F's in existence for free; the only catch is that it's on the moon ... Hasselblad advertised something similar a few years ago, but the Nikon F's that the Apollo astronauts brought there were just as rare and rugged as those 'blads. The later professional bodies were also featured on space missions, and I've seen pictures of the space shuttle version of the F3: very purposeful and massive; probably easy to operate with gloves on.

NATO

I don't know much about these other than that they were produced in either white or olive and distributed for NATO use. It is possible that their specifications were similar to those made for the US military (KS-8xA series).

White Leather

These are the rarest F's that I know of: total production of two. They were built on request for John Faber Mountain Lakes, New Jersey in 1963, serial numbers 6507770 and 6507771. The production count was later confirmed by Nippon Kogaku in 1982.

Navy KS-80A

This F came with an F36, the pistol grip, and a 43-86f/3.5. It was built mainly for the US military as a "grab shot" kind of camera -- i.e., with one hand driving/flying/whatever, you could use the other to take pictures with it. Actually, I think that it was used mainly for aerial photography, with the 43-86 sporting an infinity lock of some kind (it would make sense, too, that you wouldn't want to take both hands off of the airplane's controls).

Stephen Gandy knows a lot more about the KS-8xA series (apparently, different models were built by a single person, to fulfill a contract that EPOI had taken out with the military), and his much better page dealing with these cameras is the best reference that I know of.

Early/Prototypes

Early Nikon F's have a hollow winding lever, a squarely-shaped and cross-hatched (knurled) self-timer lever (rather than the usual "stripes" along the lever's length), "Nippon Kogaku" engraving inside the eyelevel prism, a fairly coarse Fresnel pattern on the screen, which should be notched on both the left and right sides (sot that you can insert it in either orientation), and some patent numbers engraved inside the slip-off back. See also Cover III (inside back cover) of the September 1969 Modern Photography. Some of the very earliest F's have cloth shutters, instead of titanium foil.

Of all the collectible Nikon F's, I would most want this one (of all the collectible Nikon products, I'd most like a 300f/2.8 Preset Nikkor-H ED, but that's not happening any time soon). I feel that, along with the KS-8xA's and High Speeds, these are the most mechanically distinctive and, as such, deserve the highish prices I'm beginning to see for them.

Specially Numbered

Similar to Leica's issuing the MP to famous Leica users, such as Eisenstaedt, Nikon gave the 500 000th F to the American photographer who perhaps most aided the ascendance of Nikon: David Douglas Duncan. I believe that there was no mechanical or functional distinction of this camera, unlike the MP.


With a lot of help from my friends:


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