Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

Film-advance Mechanism

I don't think anyone would disagree with me if I said the Nikon F3 has the smoothest film advance among all manual focus camera bodies (Possibly challenged by the tiny Nikon EM and FG). If you have experience in handling a Canon New F-1, the Pentax LX or even the compact Olympuses of OM-1, 2n 3 or 4 camera body, you will even appreciate it more as most of the time I thought those bodies required lubrication or servicing soon (just kidding..).

Through the use of eleven ball bearings in its shutter and film winding assemblies (most cameras use only one or two) the F3 represents a big advance in smooth 'and quiet operation. And to reduce film winding torque even more, Nikon created a completely new film winding mechanism and interconnecting gear trains for the most efficient transmission of energy. The mechanics and electronics in an F3 are further protected by seals plus solid brass top, bottom and back covers. The F3T, of course, uses even stronger, tough but lightweight titanium metal.


Such silky smooth film-advance mechanism of the F3 is characterized by the one-way clutch and the connecting shaft: the former serves for noise reduction, as well as series of shorter film advancing, the latter simplifies the drive gears train or decreases the torque which the motor-drive needs to fulfil film-advancing. The MD take-up torque is very impressive in the F3 as compared with any other cameras which may attribute to its high speed of 6 fps and extra high power efficiency of safely handing up to 140 rolls of film with just a set of 8 AA alkaline cells:

MD torque: Nikon F3 ....1.0 kg/cm; F2 bodies... 3 - 5.5 kg/cm

The 30 degrees stand off position of the film advance lever does not provide power-on or meter-on as with many of the earlier Nikon bodies. To advance the film, wind the lever to the right all the way until it stops. It automatically returns to the standoff position the moment you take your thumb off it. One complete stroke or a series of shorter ones advances the film by a single frame and simultaneously cocks the shutter. At the end of the film roll, the lever stops working. Do not attempt to wind the lever further, just rewind the film.

The film advance lever, uncharacteristic of conventional Nikon SLR design (Seen only in Nikon EM that introduced a year earlier than F3 in 1979),
coaxial with the shutter release button and is specially contoured to fit the thumb. it has the shutter release button right in the middle of the film advance lever. As seen from the photo of the prototype camera 1977, it was already there (But the design was not shown in the 1974 prototype, which indicates the change of course mid way through the development process). It has triple functions in hosting the film advance lever, power-on switch and shutter release button.

When the camera's power is turn-on by sliding the power on switch outward from the camera body, a red dot will reveal which serves as a visual reminder (However, this need not to be done if the MD-4 is attached, the shutter release button on the shooting mode selector dial on the top of the hand grip of the MD-4
serves the same function; in any case, you can use either to trip the shutter).

Also used for the first time on
Nikon EM in 1979 , F3 also employs a similar energy saving circuit. It differs from other earlier Nikon bodies in how to activate the camera's meter-on operation and hence it has also developed and formed the basis of how to touch and start today's AF SLR cameras by two levels of strokes with your finger tip.

Nikon EM.jpg

This was quite well received and this method was also used in many of the follow-up models after the F3 such as FM-2(n), FE-2, Nikon FG of 1982 and 1983's FA that were introduced in and around the same period.

A light touch of the shutter release button will activate the camera meter after the power switch is turned on. Depress further will force the mechanism inside the camera to release the reflex mirror and followed by the shutter. The energy saver feature is being - if the meter has been activated and left unattended for a period exceeding 16 sec, the camera will stay idle and conserve battery power (Even if power switch is left at switch-on position).

The camera's automatic meter shutoff switch also saves energy, preventing excessive drain on the low, three volt power supply (However, even if the power has been turned off, there is still a small current flow of power to some of the camera's built-in electronic functions) The eletro-magnetic shutter release is threaded in the middle to accept any standard cable release, of which Nikon has designed quite a number, including double cable releases in order to let the F3 work with the extensive line up of Nikon close-up attachments such as Bellow Units.


Locating just next to the film advance lever is the multiple exposure lever. A tiny lever that looks so fragile but so easy to use which I have no confidence it will survive for long. .However, I am wrong. It is still there waiting to serve but other seemingly better made camera parts such as the eyepiece shutter lever was knocked off half of it on mine.

Although most of you who own a Nikon SLR camera after 1980 will find the multiple exposure in your camera fairly easy to use. Not in the case of all those Nikons earlier than the original Nikon FM in 1977 and Nikon FE in 1978. To some extend, multiple exposure operations in a Nikon F and any of the Nikkormat bodies can be a pain and hard to predict registration. The Nikon F2 has improved, but not to the extent of giving you total comfort, or with its relatively primitive and uncertain way of disengaging the film rewind button underneath the camera body. The Nikon F3 has a totally different mechanism, as the multiple exposure lever has been moved to the top deck of the camera body.


It is easy to operate (In fact - too easy to believe it is so effortless...) and permitting even a single hand operation but not as fluent as those in the FE, FM2(n) and FA (The original FM has a separate switch which is different from those find on the above mentioned bodies). Anyway, the multiple exposure lever still does not give me a real confidence and I still need to take a peep at the frame number and memorize it before performing such operations - which is also quite a good habit.

At the bottom right hand corner is where the frame counter window is situated. The simple frame counter was given quite a lot of attention in the F3. Replacing the camera back onto the body closes Counter SW inside the circuit until Frame counter advances to start position. It automatically controls the shutter speed delivery as below:

On Auto -
1/80 sec.
On Manual settings faster than 1/125 sec. -
1/80 sec.
On Manual settings slower then 1/60 sec. -
1/80 sec.

Frame Counter.jpg

Frame counter will automatically switch to 1/80 at initial few frames "S" to "1". This works with all Nikon dedicated flash units as well. Previously with other automatic camera model such as Nikon FE or Nikon EL-2, IF a non dedicated flash is mounted, the first few frames can be a nightmare when you have set the shutter speed dial to AUTO mode (It meters the ambient light as a guide and could activate an extra long time exposure if the surrounding is dim or dark) - you will have to turn the shutter speed dial to activate manual speed to release the shutter before reaching frame "0" or "1".


To keep track of the number of exposed frames, the frame counter is graduated from two frames below and up to '40'. Blue numerals appear every 5 frames (0, 5, 10 etc.), with dots in between. White marks at 12, 24 and 36 indicate the number of frames available on most film cartridges. When making blank shots with the shutter speed dial set to "A", the shutter will fire at 1/80 sec. until the frame counter reaches the first frame. In addition, the LCD shows 80 in the finder.

Or, if you set the dial manually between 1/125 sec. and 1/2000 sec., the shutter will still fire at 1/80 sec. In the finder, an M 80 is displayed. However, if the speed is manually set to 1/80 sec. (X) or below, the shutter will fire at the speed set with the LCD indicating that speed. Therefore, to speed up film loading, set the dial to A or 1/125 sec. or above. When the camera back is opened, the frame counter automatically resets to two frames below zero.

Big deal... you might be thinking.
But it only takes a previous owner of the Nikon automatic camera such as Nikkormat EL series bodies or the Nikon FE to appreciate what sorts of convenience it presents. Previous cameras would require a user to remember setting the camera shutter speed setting away from the AUTO setting IF you are not using a Nikon dedicated flash with a body such as the FE, with its dedicated
Nikon SB-10 speedlights. The Nikon FE was the first of such kind in a Nikon, to offer auto sync (Not so lucky for others OR if you are not using a SB-10 - as the weak guide number 25 may not be the right tool even for covering heavy PR photography).

Why does it affect a busy photographer in the midst of an assignment ? Because if you have accidentally set the camera at AUTO position on the shutter speed ring, and in the process of changing film roll, the camera will open the shutter if it senses the dark surrounding and metering circuit and may give a long time exposure. This irritating 'phenomenon occurs in the initial first few frames prior to frame "0" - and those who designed Nikon F3 could have discerned some clues how annoying it could be from the many user feedbacks, and thus it was resolved with such a solution. Well, I don't see why anyone would not welcome the new improvement other than those who frequently tried to squeeze a few extra frames from the standard 36 exp. film roll.

ShutterDialock.jpg (7k) Loading.. autospeedial.gif

The shutter speed dial is simple, well illustrated and easy to understand. The centre button acts as a shutter speed setting lock.

Note: In AUTO mode the metering range may extend further that the 8 sec on its lower scale - although Nikon officially only acknowledges a conservative metering range of EV-1 to EV-18 which translate into 1 sec at f1.4 to 1/2000 sec at f16 at ASA 100.

To unlock from AUTO or "T" position - just simply press it down gently and rotate the shutter speed ring. There are a total of 19 settings - with 2000 being the fastest shutter speed while '8' in orange being the slowest setting in manual mode The numerals in orange are in seconds. The '60' are in red to indicate the highest shutter speed for proper synchronization with an electronic flash. If you want to enjoy precisely at 1/80, you can either: 1) Use a Nikon dedicated flash which will auto set the shutter speed to 1/80 sec. or 2) move the shutter speed ring to "X" position, which also will provide you with a 1/80 sec sync speed. The "B" and "T", although similar in nature by ensuring the shutter remain open for long time exposure, but operate in different manners. The bulb mode ("B") will trip the shutter open by pressing down the shutter release button in a conventional way, it will make the shutter curtain stay open as long as your finger is kept pressing on the shutter release button. In this case, the use of a cable release with a lock feature is always recommended to avoid camera shake which may be picked up by the exposure. On the other hand, "T" stands for time exposure. It is a mechanical setting and thus it is also a battery independent mode which means if excessive time such as hours is required for an exposure, always use this setting to conserve battery power. To activate, move the setting to "T" and press the shutter release button, to close it - it is a little tricky here: You have to press the shutter speed lock button in the centre of the shutter speed ring and rotate the "T" setting away to either "X" or "B" in each direction to end an exposure. You can then rotate the dial freely between any setting except "X" which, like "A," is a locked setting. Shutter speeds from 1/2000 sec. to 1/2 sec. are engraved in white, 1 to 8 seconds in orange, and "B", "T" and "X" in white. 1/60 sec. is in red, indicating the highest manual shutter speed for proper synchronization with electronic flash except "X".

*Note: When operating in automatic exposure 'A' mode, All shutter speeds used are stepless - meaning even if the LCD panel is showing a speed of '125' (1/125 sec) or '30' (1/30 sec), the actually speed could be 1/108 sec. or 1/26 sec. In this case, all speeds are governed by a highly precise 256 Hz quartz oscillator.

Just by pressing the shutter speed ring locking button and turning it away from "A" setting, you are in manual mode.
For precision, each manual shutter speed setting from 8 to 1/2000 second on Nikon F3's are quartz controlled. And so is the "X" (1/80 sec.) flash synch which locks in place to prevent errors.


The quartz oscillator, pulsing at 32,768 beats-per-second, electronically times each speed for consistent accuracy without wide deviation and little power consumption. This degree of accuracy is simply impossible by mechanical means (Usually the slower speed settings are the most erratic in timing accuracy). And it's unaffected by temperature, humidity or vibrations.

This operating perfection, along with the 80/20 centre-weighted metering reference area, lets you target your manual exposure to the zone you choose.


When the camera is on manual, an "M" appears to the left of the liquid crystal shutter speed display inside the viewfinder. In addition, above the "M," the following symbols appear: '-', '+' and '- +' indicating underexposure, overexposure and correct exposure, respectively. To obtain correct exposure, simply turn the shutter speed dial and/or aperture ring until the "- + " symbol appears.


When the sputter-speed dial is set to "B" and "T", the following display should appear respectively. B : M-; T : M-;

Dial_T.jpg (4k)
The F3 has two separate settings for time exposures. On "B," the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter release button is depressed. On "T," the shutter stays open until the dial is rotated to another setting, making it ideal for really long time exposures. Being a mechanical setting, "T" will not cause battery drain regardless of how long the shutter remains open.

: Among all settings available on the shutter speed dial, the ONLY mechanical setting is 'T' (Time exposure). It doesn't draw battery power from the camera and thus it is a perfect setting for extended time exposure photography. The shutter curtain will remain open until you move the setting away to either direction of 'X' or 'B'. However, even if this is a mechanical setting, in the case of battery failure or situation where without any battery(ies) installed in the camera, you would still required to use the Backup Mechanical Shutter Release lever to activate the operation.

Dial_X.jpg (4k)

"X" provides a shutter speed setting of 1/80 sec. It is used to provide proper synchronization with electronic flash units other than those designed by Nikon, dedicated flash units for F3 such as SB-12, SB-16A or SB-17 etc. The maximum permissible sync shutter speed remains the same at 1/80 sec.

Note: If you have a third party flash such as Metz, Vivitar or Sunpak, other than if you really wanted to make use of the maximum 1/80 sec sync speed the F3 provides, you can physically turn away from this setting to 1/60 sec or below.


At the base of the shutter speed ring is a hidden lever (In red circle) for self-timer operation. First, you have to turn the power switch on (The lever will unveil the red dot as shown - but this is not necessary if you are commanding through the MD-4 motor drive.

There are a few things that are closely associate with the self timer operation. Gone were the mechanical sizzling sound when it is being activated, to replace it, Nikon has designed a LED light in front of the camera body to provide visual confirmation that it is in operation.


Naturally, the quartz timed shutter speed accuracy is put to work in the self timer. A total of 10 seconds operation is governed by the quartz oscillation as indicated by an illustration at left. In the case of Self Timer SW is turned off during LED is glowing, LED stops to work at once and setting of Self Timer operation will be cancelled

Note: NOT all Nikon F3 models have the self timer feature. The 1983's F3P (Press), the F3 Limited for Japanese market and 1996/7's F3 High Speed camera were the few F3 that have removed the feature from the basic spec (well, strange to understand why - but now I know press photographers or photojournalists don't use self timer and cable release ...oh yeah ?).

F3H topview.jpg 915k) Loading..

<<< ---- F3 High Speed Motor Drive camera is based largely on the earlier F3 Press camera body. It looks identical from the top - with round frame counter, raised shutter speed ring and release knob. Modified power-on switch and no threaded socket for cable release.

Also omitted are self timer and multiple exposures lever and extra pins are provide on prism housing for DE-4 prism. Both have extra sealing against dust and water penetration. What is residing in the F3H is a fixed Pellicle Mirror that allows the camera to go as fast as 13.5 fps in continuous mode !


Next, since there could be a possibility when one operates in AUTO mode, of stray light from behind finding its way through the viewfinder eyepiece, therefore affecting exposure accuracy - an eyepiece shutter is provided to counter such issues.

Although this hardly can be claimed as Nikon's original idea (I remember it was first used on a Minolta multimode XD-7 (XD-11 in North American Market) - which also holds the honour as the world first SLR that provides both shutter and aperture priority AE within the same body).

Note: Although not all viewfinder prisms were designed with a built-in eyepiece shutter, the F3 AF's DX-1 Finder was one of the few since the specialized viewfinder has AF sensors inside the big and odd looking finder which also can be used on most Nikon F3 models as Electronic Rangefinder to provide visual focusing aid.

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Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

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