Infrequent Questions about the Nikon F
Why infrequent? You can do a count of the number of questions
asked about the F on usenet -- everyone wants to know everything about the F5 or
the EOS-1n or the N90s/F90x or the Maxxum/Dynax 9000 (ok, so no one wants to know
much about the Maxxum, more's the pity), but no one wants to know anything about
Caveat: This question-and-answer business assumes that you
know basic operating details and quirks of the F. All of these are explained on other
pages; I would recommend that you at least feel comfortable with your F before proceeding.
What's a Nikon F worth?
How do you remove the prism?
How do you remove the screen?
What prisms are available?
What metering options do I have with the
What screens are available?
What's a Nikon F Red Dot?
How do you work the mirror lock-up on
How come my F has plastic tips on the
How do you use flashbulbs on the F?
What should I look for in a used F?
What size are the forbidden mercury cells?
What's the significance of "Nippon
How would I use my Photomic on non-prong
How do I motorise my F?
How do I mount the 21f/4?
How do I take multiple exposures?
Where do I take my F to get fixed?
What's a Nikon F worth?
- Very roughly speaking, as of October 1996, you can probably
find a Nikon F body in decent shape without any sort of prism for about $100-150
or so. Special models, like the Red Dot or others go for a premium of up to maybe
$1000 depending on rarity and condition, of course. I'm not sure how many different
models there are, but maybe the most collectible model (good luck!) would be one
of the F's built for NASA during the Apollo moon missions.
- How do you remove the prism?
- On almost all bodies, it's enough to just push the button
on the back of the camera (near the rewind knob) in with a thin object (pencil erasers
are much better than thumbs at this, unless you have one of the late-model F's with
the "groove" cut out of the surrounding ring or immensely strong nails).
On the FTn prism, I think that you have to push a lever towards the prism at the
same time, but I have no personal experience.
- How do you remove the screen?
- After you take off the prism, keep the little silver button
pushed in and turn the camera upside down over some soft surface. Be very careful
with the convex side -- it's made out of plastic and scratches very easily.
- What prisms are available?
- There are four metering prisms (next question), an "action
finder" -- think of it as a super-HP finder, a waist-level finder, the eyelevel
prism, of course, and a 6x magnifying finder. Note that if you take the "Nikon"
nameplate off of the front of the camera, you can use any of the F2 prisms, except
for the metering prisms (F2 metering prisms use the camera body batteries, while
F meter prisms use batteries in the prism itself). Plus, you get the added cachet
of not having the theft-tempting "Nikon" nameplate on the front of your
camera. On the other hand, I'm not sure that thieves nowadays would really go after
an F (distinctive, yes, but not expensive-looking).
- What metering options do I have with the F?
- You can use a handheld meter, three clip-on (non-TTL) meters,
a non-TTL meter prism, an averaging TTL meter prism, a centerweighted TTL meter prism,
or a centerweighted semiautomatic-indexing TTL meter prism. Respectively, they are
the meter-of-your-choice, Model III (and I and II, probably), Photomic, T, Tn, and
- Hey! You lied; I thought these were supposed to be difficult
- Eh, so sue me. I think that the true test comes later, when
the questions get slightly more difficult and my answers less intelligible (but I
am trying to re-edit this document).
- What screens are available?
- You can use the F and F2 screens interchangeably. Basically,
all of Nikon's screens are available, including the standard Type A, the etched-grid
Type E, and various others, including some plain Fresnel lenses, ground glasses,
split-image rangefinders, microprisms, and various combinations thereof. Yes, the
Type A was standard issue on the F; the F2 came with a Type K, which added a nice
little microprism donut around the split-image rangefinder (the RF always goes dark,
anyways -- nice to have something to focus with).
- What's a Nikon F Red Dot?
- The quick answer is that it's a Nikon F body that originally
came with an eyelevel prism when the Photomic T was just introduced. The dot was
an indication that the top plate casting had been revised so that the slightly larger
Photomic T could fit without modification.
- How do you work the mirror lock-up (MLU) on a F?
- As a preliminary response, let me say that the lock-up on
an F is very kludge-y compared to that on an F2 or even a Nikkormat. That aside,
it's fairly easy to do, as long as you're not in a hurry or didn't follow instructions
well in grade school -- I know that I didn't. The way that I've used the lockup is
- Wind the F, thus "priming" the shutter for release.
- Focus and compose your picture (unless you're using one of
the mirror lock-up lenses, when you'd be using an external finder, anyway). Your
F is on a tripod, isn't it?
- Turn the ridge-y knob on the bottom part of the lensmount's
right side (the same side as the depth-of-field preview button) counterclockwise
until the black dot on the button lines up with the red dot on the ring around the
button (pocket full of posey, ashes, ashes ...).
- Press gently down on the shutter release button, until you
hear the mirror go up. Incidentally, if you push the shutter release slowly when
you haven't lined up the two dots in step 3, the mirror will always fire up before
the shutter is released -- great if you want to get rid of some vibration for long-exposure
hand-held shots (1/4-1/30 sec). This is comparable to obtaining a focus lock with
an AF camera through the shutter release.
- Now that the mirror is locked up, you can either put on one
of the mirror lock-up lenses or you can go ahead and squeeze the button down the
rest of the way to release the shutter.
- If you don't want any more pictures to with the mirror
locked-up, turn the ridge-y knob of step 3 clockwise to line up the two black dots
before winding the film for another shot. If the camera is wound, you'll just
have to live with another shot with the lockup.
As a side note, the hurried technique that results in a frame
being wasted is:
- Turn the ridge-y knob to line up the black and red dots.
- Take a picture (wind and release). The mirror will go up for
the exposure and stay up; this is the "wasted" frame.
- Now (assuming that you composed carefully for the previous
picture and had the camera on a tripod so that you didn't move it significantly)
take as many pictures as you'd like with the MLU.
- Forget to turn the knob back to line up the two black dots
and wind the film ahead anyway. Curse the design, turn the ridge-y knob, take a picture.
This time, the mirror comes back down after the exposure. I guess that this, too,
is a "wasted" frame.
Compare this to the F2 procedure for MLU:
- Push in the depth-of-field preview button and turn the little
collar around it clockwise. The mirror will go up, regardless of whether you wound
the camera or not, and you don't have to carefully half-squeeze the shutter release.
- Turn the collar back counterclockwise. The mirror will go
down, regardless of whether the shutter is "primed" or not.
- How come my F has (lacks) plastic tips on the wind and self-timer
- The plastic tips are mainly cosmetic introductions in the
last years of F production, when the F2 had been introduced. On a sheer comfort level,
I'd have to say that the F2's plastic-tipped winding lever is a lot more comfortable
than that of my F (scratches my glasses less -- I'm left-eyed, but part of the comfort
is the much better smoothness in the F2's wind and the shorter stroke), but the all-metal
levers are nice in that they're reminiscent of the S-series rangefinders. Besides,
the all-metal levers are gracefully curved to fit around the shutter release button,
while the plastic-tipped ones aren't. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Sorry; I couldn't resist.
- Why don't you organize this page any better?
- I'm lazy. I have research (sleeping in the library) to do,
- How do you use flashbulbs on the F?
- The first thing to know is that you can use flashbulbs, given
one of the BC-series of flashguns. The second thing to know is how to set the delay
on firing the PC-socket. This delay is set by lifting up on the outer ring of the
shutter-speed dial and turning so that different symbols and letters show up in the
window just in "front" of the shutter speed dial. Note that you need to
take off any Photomic metering head (or the Model meters) before doing so, in order
to access the shutter speed dial. Some flashbulbs will let you take pictures that
"sync" at 1/1000 of a second, because their flash duration is typically
longer than 1/1000. Personally, if you need a "sync" that high, you might
be better off with an electronic flash (durations typically from 1/700 - 1/30 000),
but I'll admit that there's some benefit to being able to fire at such a high shutter
speed -- that way, you get to make sure that nothing in the background is too blurry,
or have a nice fill effect on sunny days. Plus, although flashbulbs are single-use
devices, their light output is exceeded only by the very largest of electronic flashes.
| 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 |
#1 = green dot #4 = red F, red X
#2 = red dot #5 = white dot, red F
#3 = red dot, red F % = unuseable (no symbol)
According to the Nikon-Nikkormat Handbook (J.D. Cooper),
the socket of the BC-7 is designed to accept three types of miniature bulbs: S.C.
bayonet base, minature base, and AG-1; the bulbs specifically recommended are FP
6, FP 26, M3, and AG-1 (in that order), along with the blue-coated versions of them
(e.g. they have a "B" suffix: FP 6B, FP 26B, etc.). The blue-coated bulbs
are required for daylight-balanced film, as the uncoated bulbs are tungsten bulbs
(and therefore require either black and white or tungsten-balanced film).
William Fleming sells flashbulbs, as does Bill Cress. I have had no dealings with
them in the past, so I can give no recommendations (either for or against), but Mr.
Cress, at least, seems to be a fairly frequent contributor to rec.photo.marketplace. You could probably
ask him more technical questions regarding flashbulbs and flashbulb equipment in
- The battery required is the Eveready 504 (equivalent: Duracell
M504), a 15V dry-cell battery. You can order this through Radio Shack through their special-order
service, Radio Shack Unlimited. The part number is "RSU 10048510" and it
costs $6.19 US. Mr. Cress also sells this battery. Varta sells an alkaline battery
(the V74PX) that fits, although alkalines are specifically not recommended by J.D.
Cooper in the N-N'mat H'book. Many thanks to John Laughlin for his help with batteries.
- What should I look for in a used F?
- It's usually a matter of what you should look out for. As
with all cameras, check to see that the mirror-damping strip isn't too badly degraded
(it's the thin foam bumper on the top of the mirror box that the tip of the mirror
strikes when it fires up). If it is, though, it's a fairly easy fix, but I'd recommend
taking it to a shop, where they'd be in charge of cleaning all of the little foam
bits out of your camera after the deed is done. You also want to make sure that there
are very few scratches in the screen of the F. Although not damaging to its photographic
ability, it certainly is annoying to gaze through various lines as you're trying
to compose. There are enough F's out there that you shouldn't have to settle for
the first one you find. Pop off the prism and look at the screen itself -- the top
side (convex) is made of plastic and scratches rather easily. While you're at it,
you might as well check out the prism and make sure that there aren't any silvering
problems or chips in the glass -- all of these are annoying to deal with when looking
through the camera, but keep in mind that they're not fundamentally damaging to the
picture-taking ability of the camera, just your view.
Next, you'll want to make sure that the mechanics are working
fine: try out all of the shutter speeds, and "time" them by ear to make
sure that they're all at least fairly reasonable (i.e., 1/8th shouldn't sound like
1/125). If the speeds seem to drag a bit, run through each speed about twenty times
to see if it's not just semi-dried lubricants; F's are marvelously tough and often
a slow shutter can be helped by giving it a small workout. Lock the mirror up and
fire off a shot to make sure that the mirror lock works properly. Before you release
the mirror-lock, take off the back and look through the shutter (or try to) when
holding the camera up to a strong light source -- you shouldn't see any pinpoint
holes. Advance the film and check the other shutter curtain carefully for holes.
Nikon F Photomic heads have a fairly poor reputation for reliability,
as they relied upon the universally reviled "ring resistor" to communicate
lens aperture to the meter. Basically, it was a poorly-sealed ceramic plate that
is irreplaceable if it gets dirty (and scratched) or cracked. Actually, I have been
told that there is an outfit (below, in one of the later questions) that is able
to replace this resistor, but I am not sure if it would be economical or not. You
want to make sure that a Photomic head does not have a "jumpy" meter movement
when moving through the aperture ranges, which indicates a dirty ring resistor and
probable eventual failure. Of course, this is assuming that you have a forbidden
(well, at least in the US) mercury battery set in the finder, or a reasonable placebo
for them (Wein makes cells with the proper voltage and size, and you can always get
a repairman to calibrate your finder to run off of alkalines). Wouldn't you really
rather have a hand-held meter and an eyelevel prism and feel like a studly photojournalist
from the mists of the past?
- No. But I was asking the questions, right?
- Right. Sorry. Got carried away.
- So what size are these verboten cells?
- As far as I know, they're PX625 (or equivalent) mercury cells
-- I need to check again, though. You might be able to find the Wein cells, but Phillippe Ducor warns me that they only last about two to three months. In one of the
more recent (11 or 12/96) issues of Popular Photography, they introduced an
adaptor for silver oxide batteries that regulated their voltage to conform to that
of mercury batteries; as I remember, it was slightly pricey, but it just might be
the only game in town for mercury-powered items.
Slightly more recent update on the adapter: try looking at
C.R.I.S. Camera's website, or, more specifically, at the MR-9 Adapter. Current (1998) price
is about $30 US and it lets you use standard MS76 silver cells (pick 'em up at your
local Radio Shack for $2 US). I haven't tried it yet, but am sort of looking to get
a smaller, more bang-e-able camera (a'la Olympus 35RC, Canonet QL17 GIII) that does
take mercury cells. Then again, for about the same price, you could get a repairman
to recalibrate your meter; both are reasonably permanent solutions.
- What's the significance of the "Nippon Kogaku Tokyo"
marking on the top plate of the camera?
- Nikon switched the die-stamper on their lines around about
1965-ish (I'm not sure exactly when) from "N.K.T." to "Nikon"
for the top plate. I know for sure that a 674468x has the "N.K.T." on the
top plate, and that a (probably) later 68xxxxx has "Nikon" instead. Basically,
it just means that your camera is older than the general Nikon F, but a better way
to tell would be via the s erial number (which does not correspond to the
actual date of manufacture -- the 640xxxx's were made in 1959 and the 74xxxxxx were
made in 1972.
- How would I use my Photomic/T/Tn/FTn on a bellows (or with
non-prong coupled lenses)?
- You need to slide the prong all the way to the right of the
prism (i.e., towards the lens-mount button, not the DOF button) and employ stop-down
metering. For those of you without FTn's, you also need to set your film ASA to correspond
to the red dot on the ASA/max-aperture indexing ring (that being the red dot that's
to the left of "1.4", not the red dot that indicates that you have one
of the nice bodies that didn't need major surgery to fit a Photomic T). The renowned
Red Dot, by the way, should be next to the serial number.
- When I'm doing TTL flash exposure at a 1:1 macro ratio, do
I need to dial in the two stops of exposure compensation, or will the sensor take
care of that for me?
- Whoa! You must have a F3 (or later), which actually does TTL
flash exposure. If, on the other hand, you have to calculate macro compensations
manually, the simple answer is that your effective aperture becomes (1 + M)*indicated
aperture. So at 1:2, or half of life-size, you need to open up one stop and at 1:1,
you need to open up two stops. (and the answer to the question is no, the TTL sensor
will take care of your exposure, including whatever filtering effects, etc. are in
- So are you some sort of camera Luddite, then? What's the deal
with having an F in the first place, and why do you use such outdated technology?
- Well, for one thing, my investment has been cast, for better
or worse, on an eclectic collection of non-AI and AI lenses (I do own a nifty IF-ED
300f/4.5 AI-S, though). If I were to upgrade to AF tomorrow, I'd have to punt nearly
all of the lenses to realize any sort of benefit from autofocussing. Besides which,
my eyes are sound enough to do manual focus, despite having worn glasses most of
my life. At the time I bought the F, I was a starving student (actually, I still
am, but my money is going to the wrong place -- lenses -- rather than food) and the
F had the critical features I wanted -- fully mechanical, 1 to 1/1000 shutter speeds,
durable, 100% viewfinder -- at a price less than an FM or FM2 (which I was also looking
for). I did not consider Nikkormat, partly out of ignorance and partly because of
the somewhat unusual control layout. I'd rather throw my money at lenses than at
the light-tight box that holds the film. On the other hand, I do miss some features,
such as a built-in light meter and TTL flash metering, but not as much as you might
think. I have gotten enough practice metering with a hand-held meter, mostly incident-averaging,
that I now tend to distrust built-in meters; although it slows me down, it helps
me concentrate on what mood I want to convey as well as the composition required
-- I find photography more of a contemplative art than one best solved by throwing
film at it until you get one you like.
- How do I motorise my F?
- Nikon made two different motorised backs for the F, the F36
and the F250, which, as the names imply, take up to 36 and 250 exposures, respectively.
Both of these motors slip on and off the F just like the regular back, i.e. they're
not things that you screw into the tripod socket, like the MD-2 and MD-4. Both of
these motors require some kind of a power pack and a modification to the F body itself.
As box-stock, the F has no couplings to the motor, like the F2 and F3 do (i.e., no
little swivel-plates and levers and other gizmos); you need to add what's becoming
known as a "F Motor Drive Plate", which replaces the bottom of your camera
(not the back, but the bottom inside the camera casting) with a bottom that has the
added levers and gizmos. There is a chance that the F will not synchronize properly,
even with the added plate, so you'd have to find a technician to get the F to synchronize.
After you've added the plate and the motor, you need to track down either the corded
pack (uses 8 "C" size batteries and works with either the F36 or F250),
the cordless pack (uses 8 "AA" batteries, for the F36 only), or one of
the innumerable cordless packs that were made in the early sixties, before Nikon
finally made the cordless pack. The F36 has a "countdown" timer, which
counts down the number of frames that you can shoot (settable anywhere from 36 to
0), a shutter release on the back of the drive, and a "firing rate converter"
which lets you select the speed of the drive, based on the shutter speed of the camera
-- this is needed so that the drive motors don't try to rip out the shutter-speed
gears every time you try to take, say, 1-second exposures at 4 frames per second.
The cord and cordless packs both add another firing button, along with a L/S/C collar
which sets the firing mode of the drive to lock/single/continuous shot. I think that
there's a L/S/C collar on the back of the F36 as well, but I'm not sure. The neat
thing about the cordless pack is that you can still use your self-timer lever --
something that's impossible with the MD-2 mounted on an F2. Unfortunately, that's
about the only advantage that the F36/cordless has on an MD-2/MB-1: all F2's are
synchronized for a motor, and the absolute worst surgery that needs to be done (when
mounting an MD-1 or -2) is the removal of the O/C key on the bottom of the F2 (which
can be done with a dime in half a minute or so). The MD-3 requires no surgery at
all, since it (and the F36) lacks a power rewind.
- How do I mount that #%@$ 21f/4?
- The 21f/4 is one of those oddball mirror lock-up lenses. In
addition, the rear element is not completely circular -- it started off being round,
but then Nikon decided that they had to take a sliver back, so that they could clear
the back of the mirror as you put the lens on. Of course, if you can't take the rear
cap off, all this is moot. Because of the un-round rear element, the lens has an
additional prong to make sure that the lens is oriented in the right direction. Because
of the prong, which happens to overlap one of the three bayonet "teeth",
you can't just flick the rear cap on and off as is usual. Assuming that your lens
has been stored at infinity focus, you need to turn the lens itself so that the focus
mark is not at the infinity focus mark -- I'm not sure where it ends up (maybe around
3 feet or so?), but you need to do this so that the additional prong lines up with
one of the bayonet teeth -- then you can lock up the mirror, put the lens on, and
shoot away with great delight. By the way, as far as I know, the F and F2 are the
only Nikon bayonets that will take the 21f/4, as their mounts contain the proper
tab to engage the extra prong -- other cameras, including the F3, do not have it.
So, should you decide to spend $1000 US on an obsolete (singlecoated but superb,
small, and symmetric) wideangle, plan on budgeting another $100-300 for a nice F
- How would I take a multiple exposure with the F?
- The F doesn't have as nice of a multiple exposure (ME) facility
as does the F3, or even the F2, but taking ME's is not as big of a chore as mirror lock-up can
be. The as-yet untested answer is to
- take the first picture normally
- wind the film as usual
- turn the A/R collar around the shutter release to "R"
(for rewind) -- note that the mirror will flip up at this point, so don't panic into
thinking that the camera is taking pictures on its own
- rewind the film carefully back a frame by watching the motion
of the little line in the middle of the shutter speed dial -- it makes one complete
rotation for every frame
- turn the shutter release back to "A" and take the
second exposure (and repeat steps 2-5 as often as desired)
What about exposure? My rule-of-thumb is for a multiple exposure
incorporating N exposures, decrease each exposure from properly-exposed by N-1 stops
(i.e., for a double-exposed frame, decrease the exposure of each shot by one stop).
It's best to experiment and bracket, though.
- Where do I get my F repaired?
- Generally, I don't like to give out specific recommendations,
but I've received input from several sources on this, so I'll just leave with the
disclaimer that I have not used any of the following shops and that you do so at
your own risk (but other people have had good experiences with them, so you should
feel reasonably comfortable). Probably a better source to consult would be the Alpa Resources Page (and if you know anything about the jewel-like Alpas, anyone able to
fix an Alpa should be able to fix just about any camera out there ...).
For general problems, such as shutter or wind mechanism repair,
etc., you will want to try (from the Camera Repair Resource Guide, (c)1994-1997
by R. Lee Hawkins):
- Professional Camera Repair Service
- 37 W. 47th Street #902
- New York, NY 10036
- Essex Camera Service, Inc.
- 100 Amor Avenue
- Carlstadt, NJ 07072
- Essex Website
- Photography on Bald Mountain
- 113 Bald Mountain
- (or P.O. Box 113)
- Davenport, CA 95017
More specifically, if you have a problem with your ring resistor,
you might want to try:
- Cleaning the Ring
- Southeast Camera Repair
- 6300 Jimmy Carter Blvd
- Norcross, GA 30071
- Many thanks to Tyler Knapp, who has used this repair
shop and wanted to share it with everyone.
I deeply appreciate Hayao Tanabe's efforts in correcting my
rumors about the Red Dot model. Dave Hoag helped me pin down the N.K.T.
marking to a few serial numbers.
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