Semi-Frequent Questions about the Nikon F2

You could do a better job? Probably. I'll do as best as I can, though. The first part of this document is lifted (with some editing) from an email conversation that I had with Dave Nunn, who graciously allowed me to use it to help start this document.

Whoo! The F2 is hot, as people all over the world seem to be rediscovering this 1970's beauty. The oldest F2's are now 27 years old, and many of them are still quite useable (and probably just as many others have given up the ghost after many long years of front-line press service). As is so often stated, many people believe that the F2 was the last hand-built Nikon; it certainly exudes an air of quality.

What flash system is most suited to the F2?
What is an approximate second-hand value for the F2 in first class condition?
How do you lock up the mirror on a F2?
How do you open the F2?
Why does the F2 have numbers engraved on the self-timer lever?
How do I meter long time exposures with the DP-2, -3, or -12 meters?
What were the standard prisms used with the F2?
What is the difference between the F2xx's?
What does the collar around the shutter release do?
What can I do about a jumpy meter needle?
What do I do about a shutter hole?
What do all of the dials and levers on the back of the MD-2 do?
What's an MF-3?
How come the MD-3 is cheaper than the MD-2?
What is the significance of a serial number?
How do I get exposure information from non-prong lenses to the DP-1, -2, or -3 finders?
How do I know where the film plane is?
What is the appropriate sync speed with flashbulbs?
What are the different incarnations of the 55f/3.5 Micro?
How can you tell what a xx-x accessory is?

What Flash system is most suited to the F2?

Any flash that has a PC-socket will connect to this camera. Nikon made a series of flashes (SB-2 and SB-7E) that connect directly onto the hotshoe of the F2 (it surrounds the rewind knob). The main advantage of buying Nikon flashes would be to have the "flash-ready" light activate in the finder when the flash is fully charged. Personally, I use a Metz 45-series flash, and find it's more than adequate in automatic mode. You can also use any ISO-foot (e.g. Vivitar 283, etc.) flash if you purchase the AS-1 flash adapter (appox. $20-40 US, secondhand), which slips around the nonstandard F2 flash shoe and provides you with an ISO connection. I believe that the AS-5 adapts F3-footed flashes to the F/F2 shoe. The F2 does not have TTL flash metering or indeed any control of the flash other than firing it. I have heard that the reason for the nonstandard location of the flash shoe is because of the interchangeable prisms -- adding a flash to the top of the camera could conceivably produce enough torque to rip the finder off the body.

According to Nikon, flashbulbs may also be used, as with the F, but without the fiddly flash-sync selector business of the F. I haven't tried using bulbs on either camera.

By the way, rumors of the fabled Vivtar-TTL ISO hotshoe adapter for the F3 are false, unless it is used with a specific flash, or unless you buy a special flash adapter (Metz SCA 344, Sunpak NE-3D). The F3 has a unique implementation of TTL; convential TTL flash metering has the sequence:

  1. flash fires
  2. camera meter measures light output, through the lens
  3. camera sends signal to quench flash
  4. flash turns off

The F3, on the other hand, has no special circuitry inside the camera for flash, except the one pin that it reads on the hotshoe telling it to turn to sync speed (or slower, if selected) and turn off the ambient metering. That's why you need a special adapter for the F3 with non-Nikon flashes. Its TTL flash sequence is:

  1. flash fires
  2. F3's photocell sends light reading to flash
  3. flash decides when to quench, based on above reading
  4. flash turns off

What is an approximate second-hand value for the F2 in first class condition, (including wide angle lens), in 1996?

The camera itself will run about $100-$300 US, with finders (see the reply to the question below) ranging from $150 (DP-1) to $400 (DP-12). However, there are special variants of the F2, including a titanium body that goes for about $3 000 US. The lens prices depend on which lens you'd like, whether a 35f2.8 ($150), to a 28f3.5 PC ($1 000), to a 24f2.8 ($250), all the way to a 13f5.6 ($10 000 US). I'd say that you could pick up a pristine F2 with eyelevel (no meter) finder and a 24f2.8 for about $600-700 US, which honestly isn't too bad for a camera that would probably cost appox. $3 000+ to make today (the F2 was the last of the hand-assembled Nikons). If you are planning to motorise the camera, try to get one with a later serial number (73xxxxx) or later, as some of the earlier ones had a small problem with "kickback" in the film take-up spool -- apparently, it can cause ghost images to form on the film as it is fed through the camera.

It may seem strange that the DE-1 will often cost twice as much as a DP-1, but the DE-1 is at once elegant, compact, light, and there are no ring resistors to fail in it.

How do you lock up the mirror on an F2?

Push in the depth-of-field button and rotate the surrounding collar until the two dots line up to lock up the mirror. You can actually see the mirror moving up, if you take off the lens.

How do you open the F2?

Unfold the O/C key on the bottom, and turn to O. Fingernails help, and sometimes a strong constitution, too, since the F2 occasionally doesn't like opening up its back. Be sure (ok, I've done it myself) that you don't put your fingers over the back so that you're holding it shut as you try to open it (old F habit).

Why does the F2 have numbers engraved on its self-timer lever?

These are the long shutter speeds, including a ten-second time that you can't get on an F3 (on the other hand, you can get TTL flash metering with an F3 ...). This is how you work them:
  1. Cock the shutter with the wind lever
  2. Turn the T/L collar around the shutter release to "T"
  3. Set the shutter speed dial to "B"
  4. Set the self-timer to the desired shutter speed
  5. Trip the shutter with the shutter release button, not the self-timer release

On the other hand, you can use these as variable times for the self-timer countdown with any shutter speed -- leave the T/L collar to its regular shooting position (in the middle), set the self-timer to the appropriate delay, and trip the timer with its separate release button (revealed when the self-timer lever is moved aside).

How do I meter these long shutter speeds?

Well, first of all, you need to have the appropriate prism (DP-2, -3, or -12) and know how to set long speeds. You'll notice on your physical shutter speed indicator (outside the viewfinder view) that there is a separate ring above it with additional 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10s (but 10s is indicated with a dot) speeds. When the main shutter speed control is set to "B", press down on the small silver button and turn the shutter speed dial; the separate ring will now turn to the selected speed. Once you set the self-timer lever, you're ready to expose.

One small note of caution to DP-2 (F2S) owners: if you suddenly switch from a fairly bright to a dim metering situation, you will need to let your meter adjust to the low levels, for about a minute or two. The DP-3 and -12 do not have this "feature", since they use silicon blue photodiodes, rather than the CdS photoresistor in the DP-2.

Hey conservative freak, tell me why I should get excited about a camera with slow flash sync, finger-breaking MLU, and fiddly long time exposures.

Coffee, anyone? Rationally, there is no reason. If you want a fully-mechanical body, the Nikkormat EL, FT2, and later all work quite nicely today (and offer MLU); the Nikon FM is compatible with non-AI lenses; you'll never find a DA-1 affordably, and besides, it doesn't have a meter in it; heck, you can buy a new FM10 for the same money that you'd spend on a decent F2; the F3 offers virtually the same features (minus fully-mechanical operation) for a modest increase in outlay (buying a used F3 with DE-2, not the DE-3 HP prism). So, really, why?

Sometimes, buying a camera isn't all about what the mind tells you is correct. The prevailing view of camera-as-tool is quite practical, and would advise one to get the F3 or FM10; with the F2, the idea becomes tool-is-beautiful. Yes, I know that taking pictures with the F2 is inconvenient compared to today's modern cameras and that, rationally, the only people buying F2's should be collectors; on the other hand, the F2 seems to be experiencing a resurgence among camera users of all kinds -- both first-time tyros and old-hand pros. I do not consider myself a collector, and treat my F2 accordingly -- slinging it around, over my shoulder, in the bag, letting the dog trample it every so often; the beauty of the F2 (and F) for me, is not in saying, "Gee, look at these nice pictures I've taken with this camera, whose limitations I've struggled mightily to overcome," but rather in having something at hand that I am familiar with and presents no distractions in extracting a final shot from the picture at-hand. That's what a useful tool is, to me.

What were the standard prisms used with the F2?

The F2 came, over its lifetime, with five different "standard" prisms. You probably also want to go check out my semi-exciting (ok, no pics) prisms page. The prisms were the eyelevel DE-1 (somewhat rare) and metered prisms DP-1 (common), DP-2 (uncommon), DP-3 (rare), DP-11 (uncommon), and DP-12 (uncommon), using Atari 2600 cartridge rarity ratings.

What is the difference between the F2xx's?

The various (official) name combinations are:

                 Official Name =  Combination  = Shorthand

                   F2 Eyelevel = F2 with DE-1  = F2
                   F2 Photomic = F2 with DP-1  = F2 (Photomic)
                 F2 Photomic S = F2 with DP-2  = F2S
                F2 Photomic SB = F2 with DP-3  = F2SB
                 F2 Photomic A = F2 with DP-11 = F2A
                F2 Photomic AS = F2 with DP-12 = F2AS

How come the collar around the shutter release has three click-stops, a T, a L, and an unmarked one in the middle?

Going from right to left, you have "L"ock, normal, and "T"ime shutter release setting. When the collar is on L, the shutter will not fire (unless you have a motordrive hooked up -- its setting overrides those on the collar, but you can still use the manual shutter release if you want). In the middle position, you can fire away as you please. To use the T setting, you need to turn the shutter speed dial to "B" and the collar to T. If you want a shutter speed of 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 seconds, take note of the above question on long shutter speeds. If you want even longer speeds:
  1. Wind the camera, thus priming the shutter
  2. Take off the lenscap
  3. Put your hat or hand or something in front of the lens
  4. Release the shutter with the top-deck shutter release (usually via self-timer or cable)
  5. Once the vibrations have gone away, pull the obscuring object of choice away from the front of the lens and start counting seconds (or minutes/hours)
  6. Obscure the lens again
  7. Close the shutter (by turning the collar away from T or by winding the film on)

This feature is designed mostly for those who don't have locking cable releases and don't want to stand around squeezing a cable release for up to hours on end (I know that there's some star-trail photographers out there ...).

My meter needle is jumpy. What can I do?

The quick solution is to jump around yourself as you take pictures, so that you don't notice it jumping. Probably the more rational solution is to break open that piggy bank, forget about the nice 180f/2.8 that you had your eye on, and find a DP-12 (Del's usually has one or two of them in stock). The meter needle is jumpy because somehow, your ring resistor has gotten scratched whether by dirt or misadventure. The ring resistor is the part that we all revile (all together now: boo!) because it is the part most likely to fail after the F2 ceased being a new camera in 1980. Almost immediately, Nikon stopped making it, no fools they. If you really wanted to get your ring resistor fixed, you'd have to get a DP-1, DP-2, or DP-11 (with an intact ring resistor) and swap them -- the whole surgery would probably cost you as much as a DP-12. Besides which, if you got the extra finder, you might as well use it ...

Granted, you can live with the jumpiness, but it's only a matter of time before it fails (right as you see Bigfoot ... now, let's see, it's sunny-16, and right now it's patchily cloudy, and I want to expose the fur [hair/claws/fangs/horrible gaping mouth coming at you] correctly so that would be ... dang). If you don't want to spend the bucks on a DP-12, you could get a nice handheld meter, and have implements dangling from your neck all day (I did it once; not too fun).

More specifically, if you are having trouble with your ring resistor, you might want to try:

Cleaning the Ring Resistor
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.

Why does my camera weigh so much?

Perhaps some joker has attached a lead brick to the bottom of your camera -- er, no, that's just the MD-2. I dunno. F2's are heavy. They are reputedly the last of the hand-assembled Nikons, so you might want to think about that before you use yours as a paperweight, doorstop, or hammer. However, it's easy to get caught up in the whole notion of weight = quality; what it really means is that Nikon's designers felt that those materials were the best to use in the F2 at the time. Two important questions to note:
Have materials advanced since 1971?
Are quality materials available for lighter weight?
If you don't believe me, or are a diehard metal fan, tell me that it's as easy to dent an F3/T as it is to dent a regular F3. One more:
Is plastic crap?
Used in the places that camera designers feel fit, it's likely to last as long as a comparable metal part while delivering tremendous weight savings. I'm not saying that I'm a huge fan of plastic (please, fiber-reinforced polycarbonate), just that I'm no longer a metal fanatic. If you want to really argue about it, just post something like "(material of your choice here) rules and (alternative material) is crap" on the Usenet.

What do I do when I have a hole in the shutter?

Pray that you find a good repair shop -- I hear good (i.e. miraculous) things about Professional Camera Repair in New York City. Otherwise, you now have that nice paperweight, doorstop, or hammer that you always wanted. Lots of smaller camera repair shops do not have the know-how to replace the horizontally-travelling shutter (which, as far as I know, is currently being made in the F3HP, the Leica M6, and the Olympus OM-3/4, what with the recent demise [sob] of the Pentax LX), not to mention that the only possible new replacement would be an F3's shutter curtains (which can be had new). And yes, you will need to break open that piggy bank (again).

What do all of the dials and levers on the back of the MD-2(1) do?

Going from right to left, you have the two contacts for the MF-3 stop back, the rewind button lever, the countdown timer knob, the firing rate control, the rewind engagement lever and locking button, and the back-opening lever.

You can set the countdown timer knob to count down the appropriate number of frames before it stops shooting pictures, or you can put it in "S" to allow an indefinite amount of pictures to be taken.

To rewind the film, first push up on the rewind button lever (push the silver button in the middle of this lever first), then hold the small button to the left of the rewind engagement lever down and push the engagement lever to the right. To stop the rewind, just push the engagment lever back to the left.

To open the back, flip the opening lever out and push it to the left.

The firing rate control dictates the speed of the motor, as well as the minimum shutter speed required to sustain the speed. Falling below the speed is not catastrophic, as long as you don't do it regularly; however, be advised that the motor will mindlessly advance the film whether or not the exposure has been completed. After all, if you're going to take pictures at about 1/8th or slower, the motordrive doesn't really need to be turned on.

Note that the MD-1 lacks the rewind contacts (for the MF-3) on the back of the drive and has a large, square firing button, rather than the small, round button of the MD-2. Both buttons are detachable, for "remote" (i.e. in-your-pocket) triggering.

Hold on. The MF-3 is a stop back for the F2?

Yep. It provides leader-out rewind like the MF-6(B) does for the F3 and also gives you a neat thumb rest for your right hand. I'm thinking of trying to find one just for the thumb rest, because the F2 with the MD-2 is a large, heavy brick of a camera, and the thumb rest would make it nicer to hold.

So what's the bun, huh?

Bun's not meat nor cheese.

How come the MD-3 is so much cheaper than the MD-2 (or MD-1)?

The MD-3 lacks the power rewind and firing rate converter of the MD-2(1). It also has no provision for leaving the film leader out on rewind. Because it has no converter, you can only use the MD-3 on continuous at sync speed (1/80) and higher; slower than that, and you need to use single-shot mode. Actually, Nikon discontinued parts for the MD-3 only recently, so keeping and running one wouldn't be too expensive (although there is a certain nylon gear in the MD-3 that is notorious for stripping and causing failure -- witness the number of "inoperable" MD-3's for sale today). The MD-3 is nice (because it lacks the power rewind) in that you can take the drive off of the camera in the middle of the roll and not fog the film. It's also nice in that it runs happily (and in fact was designed for) the MB-2 battery pack, which only requires you to sling 8 AA's around your neck (rather than the 10 that the MB-1 demands) -- it will work with the MB-1, though. Predictably, the MD-3 is somewhat slower than the MD-2, although if you're not shooting with NiCads, you probably won't notice the difference.

My serial number is 76xxxxx. What's significant about it?

The Amazing Kreskin (the amazing who?) says ... you have a chrome F2. Amaze your friends! Awe your coworkers! Tell them that if the serial number's second digit is an even number, the camera is chrome; if odd, the camera is black. The legend that the camera was made in the year shown in the first two digits is thus probably false, unless you think that Nikon made only one color per year. The major exceptions to this are the titanium versions of the F2, which begin with serial number 92xxxxx and have a black pebbled finish, much like the F3/T in black finish.

"Moose" Peterson says that early (71xxxxx and 72xxxxx) F2's have a small problem with the take-up spool: these can supposedly cause some frame overlap when using a motordrive (but should be fine if you wind-by-hand).

I've received information in the past weeks that there do exist chrome 73's and black 74's. Apparently Nikon changed the serial numbering scheme with the 75's and later (which should follow the even = chrome / odd = black system).

How do I get exposure information from lenses/objects without the coupling prong (or for lenses slower than f/5.6) on the prong-metering finders (DP-1, -2, -3)?

With no lens mounted on the camera, push the coupling prong straight up into the finder body and use stop-down metering.

For the AI finders (DP-11 and -12), press the aperture coupling tab upwards (towards the finder) and to the right (i.e. towards the rewind knob) until it locks into place. To drop it down again, slide the release to the right.

When doing macrophotography, what is the exact film-plane-to-subject distance?

According to Nikon, the film plane is at the top edge of the serial numbers. See, they were concerned enough for you to make it subtle, and not have people stop you in airports with flowers; they might see the line-through-a-circle symbol on other cameras and misinterpret it as a cult-brethren mark.

Hey! I don't want to have to buy an F just to use flashbulbs, so let me know how to set the appropriate sync.

According to the Nikon-Nikkormat Handbook, the F2 automatically adjusts itself to set the appropriate sync, but certain speeds are unuseable with flashbulbs of different types, listed in the table below:
|      |2|1| | | |x| | | | | | | | |
| bulb |0|0|5|2|1| | | | | | | | | |
| type |0|0|0|5|2|8|6|3|1| | | | | |
|      |0|0|0|0|5|0|0|0|5|8|4|2|1|B|
|  FP  | | | | | |%|%| | | | | | | |
|  M   |%|%|%|%| |%|%| | | | | | | |
|  MF  |%|%|%|%|%|%|%| | | | | | | |

"%" -- shutter speed cannot be used
" " -- shutter speed can be used

Yes, it seems strange to me, too, that you can't fire at the "sync" speed of 1/80 with any bulb.

What different models of the 55f/3.5 Micro did Nikon offer, anyways?

Nikon offered three different models: earliest (preset), compensating diaphragm, and TTL metering non-compensating Micro (with different cosmetics, later multicoating).

f=55mm 1:3.5 Micro-Nikkor
This was the preset-diaphragm model, which was offered in a helical mount that focussed continuously to a 1:1 reproduction ratio.

f=55mm 1:3.5 Micro-Nikkor Auto
This is the compensating-diaphragm model which focusses to 1:2. As this lens is focussed closer, the aperture set by the aperture ring changes until, at 1:2, it is one full stop more open than is indicated by the setting. This is to compensate for the bellows/extension exposure factor, which is dependent on reproduction ratio.

f=55mm 1:3.5 Micro-Nikkor-P Auto
This lens does not automatically compensate, and is designed for meters reading through-the-lens (in stop-down mode), which automatically accounts for bellows factor. But then again, if you're metering with a hand-held meter, it's useful to know that bellows factor gives

(effective aperture) = (set aperture)*(1 + [mag ratio])

where [mag ratio] is the magnification ratio in use, i.e.

a picture taken at 1:2 has a [mag ratio] = 0.5
a picture taken at 1:1 has a [mag ratio] = 1.0
a picture taken at 2:1 has a [mag ratio] = 2.0, etc.

When I say X1:X2, I mean that X1 is the feature size on the film, and X2 is the physical feature size, e.g. 1:3 implies that an object that is 30mm long will be reproduced as an image 10mm long on film.

f=55mm 1:3.5 Micro-Nikkor-P.C Auto
This is the same lens as above, but with slightly different cosmetics (diamond-rubber studded focus ring) and multicoating. It focusses to 1:2 and does not compensate.

How can you tell what a xx-x accessory is?

Courtesy of Isaac Chan.

Nikon used a fairly consistent naming system for its line of accessories beginning in the late 60's with its flash units, and eventually spreading across the line. The first two letters let you know what sort of product it is, and the trailing number tells you in what order it was introduced, e.g. a xx-4 will predate a xx-5. Note that in some cases, there may not be a xx-1. Although Nikon never officially gave a product a certain xx-x designation, it still counts as the first product of its class, and Nikon did not reuse the designation.

For example, when Nikon introduced its first bellows unit, it was designated "Bellows 1" and was designed for the S-series rangefinders. The version with the F-mount was designated "Bellows 2" (later Bellows 2a, with a minor modification). When Nikon started using their xx-x naming convention, the next bellows to be introduced was named the PB-3 (a fairly rare and very compact octagonal bellows unit), rather than starting over at PB-1. The AP-2 panorama head is another good example. On the other hand, Nikon did start over at DA-1, DE-1, etc. with the F2 line of finders.

Ax-x -- miscellaneous accessories
AF-x -- gelatin filter holder
AH-x -- tripod adapter (or hand strap)
AN-x -- camera strap
AP-x -- panorama head
AR-x -- cable release
AS-x -- flash couplers
AU-x -- focussing unit
AW-x -- auto winder (for Nikkormat)

Bx-x -- has to do with bulb flashes (or bellows)
BC-x -- bulb flash unit
BD-x -- bulb flash sync cord
BF-x -- body cap (male bayonet)
BR-x -- ring for use on bellows unit

Cx-x -- camera eveready and other cases
CA-x -- filter case
CE-x -- lens case (telephoto)
CF-x -- semi-soft eveready case
CH-x -- hard eveready case
CL-x -- lens case
CP-x -- plastic lens case (bubble case)
CS-x -- soft pouch eveready case
CTx -- hard eveready case
CT-x -- telephoto hard lens case
CU-x -- focussing unit
CZ-x -- lens case

Dx-x -- has to do with finders
DA-x -- action finder
DB-x -- EE aperture battery pack (also cold-weather battery pack)
DE-x -- eyelevel finder
DF-x -- finder for special purpose lenses
DG-x -- eyepiece magnifier
DH-x -- NC charger
DK-x -- eyecup (or miscellaneous eyepiece accessory)
DL-x -- Photomic needle illuminator
DM-x -- connecting cord for DS-x to DB-x
DN-x -- NC battery pack for EE aperture unit
DP-x -- metered Photomic finder
DR-x -- right-angle viewing adapter
DS-x -- EE aperture control
DW-x -- waistlevel finder

Ex-x -- slide copier units (now appropriated for digital camera use)
ES-x -- slide copy unit (also AC charger for E2n)

Fx-x -- compartment cases (gadget bags)
FB-x -- compartment case

Hx-x -- lens hoods
HB-x -- bayonet-mount hood
HE-x -- extension hood for IF-ED "N" telephoto
HK-x -- slip-on hood
HN-x -- metal threaded hood
HR-x -- rubber threaded hood
HS-x -- snap-on hood

Lx-x -- rear caps, power units
LA-x -- AC unit for ring flashes
LD-x -- DC unit for ring flashes
LF-x -- rear lens cap (female bayonet)

Mx-x -- has to do with motor drives, camera backs, or remote controls
MA-x -- AC unit
MB-x -- battery pack
MC-x -- motor connection cord
MD-x -- motor drive
ME-x -- motor sync extension cord
MF-x -- camera back
MH-x -- NC battery charger
MK-x -- firing rate converter
ML-x -- infrared remote set
MN-x -- NC battery clip
MR-x -- motor drive shutter release
MS-x -- alkaline battery clip
MT-x -- intervalometer
MW-x -- wireless radio-wave remote set
MZ-x -- bulk film cassette

Px-x -- has to do with macro/extension items
PB-x -- bellows unit
PC-x -- table clamp
PF-x -- repro-copy outfit
PG-x -- macro focussing stage
PH-x -- camera cradle
PK-x -- meter-coupled, diaphragm-coupled extension ring
PN-x -- meter-coupled, diaphragm-coupled extension ring
PS-x -- slide copier unit for bellows

Sx-x -- has to do with flashes
SA-x -- AC unit
SB-x -- speedlite unit
SC-x -- flash sync cord
SD-x -- flash battery pack
SE-x -- flash extension cord (please, no jokes)
SF-x -- flash readylight adapter
SH-x -- NC battery charger
SK-x -- handlemount flash bracket
SL-x -- mounting ring
SM-x -- ringlight, bayonet mount (reversed lens)
SN-x -- NC battery
SR-x -- ringlight, thread mount
SS-x -- soft case
SU-x -- sensor unit
SW-x -- wideangle adapter

Tx-x -- teleconverters
TC-x -- teleconverter

Ux-x -- adapter rings
UR-x -- filter adapter ring

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