Nikon F Viewfinders

Action Prism

The basic concept of this finder was so sound that it spawned a couple of copies (the notably innovative Canon Speedfinder and the Pentax FK-1 LX finder) and has produced its own progeny (DA-1 for F2, DA-2 for F3, DA-20 for F4, and now DA-30 for the F5, to say nothing of the Nikonos RS, which is basically a N4004 [F401] with an action prism and a massively sealed casing) in the Nikon line. It provides less magnification (0.6x versus 0.8x) than the standard finders, but allows the user to hold the camera up to about an inch and a half (40mm) from the eyepiece and still view the entire screen. So who needs one? They are extremely popular for use in underwater housings, when you have to deal with the additional bulk of the mask and housing between you and your camera. It provides an upright, unreversed view: think of it as a super-HP finder, and you won't be far off. I have heard that they are occasionally difficult to view in bright (side) light, as the image may be washed out without your head to act as a shade for the eyepiece.

Some numbers for you gearheads out there: the prism stands 41mm above the top plate (when mounted); the front sticks out 20mm beyond the "Nikon" plate, the total depth is 72mm, and width is 48mm. It weighs 10.5 oz. The entire field is visible when the eye is up to 60mm behind (axially) the eyepiece; when the eye is 20mm behind, you may move up to 16mm vertically and 24mm horizontally and still see the entire field. The eyepiece is rectangular, 32 by 26mm.

Eyelevel Prism

No frills. No relaxed eyepoint (yes, left-eyed glasses wearers, scratch your right lens on the rewind lever like me); no hotshoe on top. There isn't even the exciting eyepiece LED that the DE-1, the F2's eyelevel finder, offers. Who wants it? Imagine looking through the viewfinder and seeing your picture floating on top of an undistracting black background: no flashing lights, no exposure readouts, no focus confirmation, no dancing needles, nothing at all to keep you from concentrating on getting the composition that you want. Yes, it forces you to use a more deliberate style and actually consider what your picture, but it is wonderfully simple and unintrusive. Nikon F's that come with the eyelevel prism, despite being the cheapest to buy when new, are now among the more expensive. This is partly due to the rate of failure of the metering mechanisms (which often work great as finders, still, although with the added distraction of having the somnolent meter needle and some exposure information). If you are buying a prism finder, remember that the vast majority were sold to photojournalists, who used hand-held meters, and so may not be in great cosmetic condition: you want to check that there is no physical damage to the prism inside, i.e. desilvering, prism separation, etc.

The Nikon F with an eyelevel prism is one of the most crisply designed, cleanly styled cameras ever made. It is at once distinctive and elegant, and for those of you who have seen nothing prettier than the slightly lumpy (for my tastes) EOS or Nx00x series, you owe it to yourself to gaze upon the forerunner of modern 35mm SLRs at least once a day.

Waistlevel Finder

These came in two versions, an earlier 3-sided (and more common) version, and a 4-sided (after the F2's introduction) version. Both are conventional waist-level finders, with lids that flip open to view the screen and a 3x magnifier (which may be moved aside) to allow for better focussing. They are the cheapest and probably least capable of the F's viewfinders, probably because whenever most people need a waist-level finder (WLF), they employ the poor man's (sorry, could just as easily be poor woman's) trick: remove the finder currently in place and voila! your own WLF, although without the hood (helps screen contrast on bright days) or magnifier. Either way, whether you use the Nikon WLF or "make your own", the image is laterally reversed and erect (i.e. as you view the world except that left and right are swapped -- it has to do with the mirror's position relative to the lens -- the lens reverses and inverts the image, and the mirror corrects the inversion, but you need a roof prism to correct the lateral reverse-ness). Thanks to Randy Holst for education on the machinations of light in a camera and through a finder.

6x Magnifying Finder

Conventional wisdom has it that Nikon never offered the 6x finder for the F separately. However, if you ever have the need, the F2's DW-2 fits perfectly, if you remove the front plate which says "Nikon" (or "Nikkor", if you are so lucky). Although this finder allows you to view the entire frame without moving your eye and provides and reversed but erect image (just as the regular waistlevel finder), it is really best suited for precision work (i.e. macrophotography, aerial shots with the type M screen, perhaps some wide-angle landscape work, although most landscapes are taken with panoramic medium format beasts, like the Fuji GX617, or with monorails). A nice bonus is the built-in diopter correction, which can be adjusted from -5 to +3.

F Index | F2 Index | Next: Finders: Metering Prisms