Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

The left hand portion of the top deck of the camera relates to exposure control, film rewind and a special F3 accessory shoe for flash photography. Flash photography with F3 can be split into a stand alone site with its resourceful TTL flash exposure control applications and wide variety of choices. All those past, present and current AF Nikon flash units may require an entirely separate section to address the compatibility issue with the not so standard accessory shoe design found on the Nikon F3. Click Here to go to Flash section in this site. As with any conventional manual focus SLR cameras, the rewind knob is where you pull up the rewind crank for loading and unloading a film roll. Unlike modern SLRs that have Auto DX indexing and film loading /rewinding - you have to setup the camera properly first before taking pictures. There is no way you can confirm whether the film take up spool has securely wound  the film leader into place. Usually a seasoned user would use the film rewind crank 's tension to determine whether it is in place.


It is also used for manual film rewind. Lift the film rewind crank and turn it in the direction of the arrow. When you feel the tension lessen, continue winding one or two more turns until the film leader is rewound completely back into the cartridge.

Unlike the F2, Nikon F3 has a newer double lock mechanism to enable faster and more efficient film changing. Slide rewind knob lock (As shown in red) anti clockwise, lift up the film rewind crank and the film back should pop open for loading or removal of the roll inside.

Note: In the case of the F3/MD-4 outfit, the motor drive will provide auto rewinding in less than 4.5 sec with NiCd cell, in extremely cold weather, Nikon suggests using manual film rewind film being breaking off in mid of operations.

As quoted earlier, there is no auto DX film indexing in the F3 (The first Pro F-series model to offer such feature was Nikon F4 in 1988). The film rewind knob is the area where you can pre-adjust exposure either through setting the ASA correctly or intentionally to fool the camera's AE circuit for exposure compensation - a method commonly used in older days with mechanical cameras.

dxcodef5.jpg (8k) Loading..

A typical view of a DX equipped SLR camera. A Nikon F5 was used here to illustrated. To cater for high performance multi-command back, it has a row of gold plated electrical contact for communication with the film back (B).

The DX indexing sensors inside the Nikon F5 (A) are generously given gold plating to ensure the highest conductivity and accuracy of transmission of data, a Nikon design trademark to ensure a high level of reliability in the face of high volume users and long lasting trouble free operations. The Nikon F3 was introduced almost half a decade earlier than the F301 which was the first Nikon to go DX Film code indexing.

Set the ASA/ISO film speed can be one of the most important procedures in setting up the camera to work properly especially if you use or mix a lot of film types with varying film speed. Because if you have set the ASA/ISO film speed incorrectly, ALL exposures taken with the camera will essentially be captured with exposure compensation activated. You must set the film speed in accordance with the film roll's indicated speed to avoid disappointment after processing.


To adjust the ASA/ISO film speed, first, lift up the ASA/ISO film speed dial and rotate it in either direction until the white dot is opposite the ASA/ISO film speed in use. Also make sure that the exposure compensation index is set to the red "0" - which indicate a neutral value, no compensation is set. This programs the camera's exposure meter so that it may provide a proper exposure for the type of film being used.

Film Speed Bar.gif (4k) Loading...


One area that I am not too happy about is the ring for adjusting exposure compensation and ASA/ISO film speed setting. Perhaps Nikon underestimated the frequent usage of these settings, the tiny jagged edges of the ring can be worn off over the years. I did a check again, it can also be attributed to frequent mount and removal of flash units. Mine has comfortable hold for changes now, I should check whether the cost of replacement will be an arm and a leg.... ;)

For those who frequently use flash in their work, the ring is closely associated with exposure compensation, if you suspect the ring has loosen, change it or send it back to Nikon to replace it. I am not so sure how many of you realize the weak design of the flash (Frequent mount and removal to change films) could be a killer when you turn the flash mounting foot - the ring may cause the exposure compensation dial to shift as well ! So it is a good practise to always spend a second to check if the value has been moved when you mount a flash - troublesome, but could save you with some embarrassment later with all those underexposed images ... my advice is, buy an AS-7 flash coupler if you want to retain TTL flash function or AS-4 if you don't own any TTL flash.

There are a few ways other than adjusting film speed to compensation which will work both in AUTO and manual exposure. One common way is to adjust or fine tune exposure by using Exposure compensation dial for such purpose.



In the vast majority of cases, F3 should provide quite accurate reading in metering. However, certain situations may require compensation to compensate camera's standard exposure reading.

Using exposure compensation dial to fine tune exposure can be quite tricky. Most of the time, you would need a lot of experience to determine the right proportion of compensation required to bring the scene truthfully to reproduce on film.


If you are using negative film, that is not so bad with the forgiving exposure latitude it provides, but if you are using tight exposure latitude slide film, try to compare exposures taken with AE Lock. If you are in a rush, using AE lock is more convenient and precise.

Warning: It may sound stupid here, but Nikon F3 has not provided an exposure compensation warning in the viewfinder. Just remember to reset to neutral value "0" after use.

For this purpose, F3 features both user set Exposure Compensation Dial and an even more convenient memory lock or more commonly referred as Auto Exposure Lock (AE Lock). This dial adjusts the exposure by increasing or decreasing the automatic selected shutter speed. When the scene is usually light or dark in tone (e.g. a snow scene), exposure compensation must be made to prevent over or under-exposure. Or under normal shooting conditions, you can intentionally over or underexpose the shot to create special "high-key" or "low-key" photographic effects.

To use exposure compensation, push the locking button (As shown above) as you rotate the exposure compensation dial. It is graduated in one-third stop increments: -1 and -2 indicate one and two stops less exposure, whereas +1 and +2 indicate one and two stops additional exposure. At ASA/ISO 6400, the compensation extends to only -1; at ASA/ISO 12, up to +1. After use, make sure to reset the dial to "0".

Note: Because the LCD shows only discrete shutter speeds, a slight adjustment of the exposure compensation dial, such as +1/3, may not be reflected in a change in shutter speed.

Original / Type of Film

Repro Copying & Slide Copying

Photo Macrography

B&W / color photo

Letters or figures on light background

Letters or figures on dark background

Panchromatic Film for general use

No compensation is necessary

+ 1 1/2 Stop

- 1/2 Stop

+ 1 Stop

Another way of making exposure compensation with the F3 on automatic is to use the exposure memory lock button. Memory (Auto Exposure) lock button is for those who wants to do it fast, swift and precise in some tricky and complicated lighting environment or for those have less experience in determine right level of exposure compensation via Exposure Compensation Dial.


When there is a substantial difference in brightness between the main subject and the background, such as a strongly backlit subject, the camera's exposure meter is likely to be fooled, resulting in under- or over exposure.

To compensate for this and if you are not certain what level of compensation is required, just get closer if you can, centre the main subject in the viewfinder or move in close to the subject, depress the memory lock button and hold it; then recompose and shoot . Note: For Nikon F3AF operates in autofocus, you must also depress the focus lock button when recomposing with the subject off-centre to keep it in sharp focus. The same button, has a slide down lever when not in use will flip against the camera lens mount. It is also referred as the lifesaving Backup mechanical lever. The lever will trips shutter at 1/60 (1/55 sec. on technical manual) regardless of shutter speed dial setting (except "T"), used when batteries become weak or exhausted, or none are installed in the camera.

Mechanical.jpg  (7k) Loading..

This lever is provided as an alternative method of tripping the shutter. In some cases, if the camera has 'stuck", try using this lever and it may work. To operate the lever, first use your fingernail to pull it down to the ready position. Then push it down to trip the shutter.The shutter operates at a mechanical speed of approx. 1/55 sec. at any setting on the shutter speed dial except "T." At "T" (Time exposure), the shutter remains open until the dial is turned to another setting like "X" or "B". To conserve battery power, it's recommended to use the backup mechanical release lever to trip the shutter at "T." Turn the power switch off, and make sure the LCD shutter speed is off before tripping the shutter. This prevents battery drain.

Caution: If you advance the film while holding down the backup mechanical release lever, the shutter will fire immediately at the-completion of the film advance stroke, thus wasting a frame. But when used with MD-4, it can achieve a higher frames per second than normal does - however, Nikon warns such operations may not yield proper exposures. Also if you fail to advance the film completely and then use this lever to trip the shutter, the mirror will remain in the "up" position until the film advance lever stroke is completed.

Basically, the two buttons you can find on the right hand side will provide two functions each (The bottom serves as a AE Lock and Mechanical backup lever); the upper button with lever is the depth of field preview button (1) and also double act as a Mirror Lock up Lever. Conveniently position to allow your middle finger which rests naturally to activate should you require to check depth of field or using stopped down metering with older non-AI lenses or older accessories which do not have a open aperture mechanism.

Mirror lockup lever (1) (2) When using super-telephoto lenses or doing photomicrography, it becomes necessary to reduce camera vibration to the absolute minimum.

Mirror Lockup.jpg  (10k)

To lock the reflex viewing mirror in the "up" position, push in the depth-of-field preview button and rotate the lever counterclockwise until it stops. Warning. There are a few Nikkor lenses require that the mirror be locked up before mounting - Nikon stated only two such lenses in the manual: Older Fisheye Nikkor 6mm f/5.6 and OP Fisheye-Nikkor 10mm f5.6 but there should be more, perhaps may be chances are minimal even get or seeing on in the used market.

8MM fishJohnson.jpg

I don't think Fisheye Nikkor 7.5mm f5.6, Fisheye Nikkor 8mm f8.0 are another two that I can think of - generally, those lenses that has a protruding back would require Mirror Lock up. Caution: With the mirror locked up, you should NOT operate the camera on automatic. Even though the LCD continues to show you the shutter speed automatically selected by the camera, this speed will NOT produce the correct exposure.

Credit: Fisheye Nikkor 8mm f5.6 by Robert Johnson

PC Cord Sync Terminal

A separate sync terminal is also provided. When using flashbulbs or an electronic flash unit without a hot shoe shoe contact, it is necessary to use the camera's sync terminal. It accepts all standard plug-in PC cords, plus it is threaded for use with a Nikon screw-in PC cord.


The X-sync contact allows electronic flash units to be synchronized at a speed of 1/80 sec., (X) or slower. You can also use this socket as one of the terminals for multiple flash setups with non-TTL Auto/Manual flash units.

Both the Sync contacts on the special F3 accessory shoe and PC sync terminal are heavily guarded to protect electrical shocks caused by high voltage if powerful third party handle flash are used. However, Nikon warns only their dedicated handle flash units are recommended, which is quite obvious such warning is out of commercial interest.

Shutter Speed (Sec.)
















X (1/80)







    Cannot be used


Lens Release Button Although the principle is simple, it is effective and secure. The biggest advantage is, you can simply handle lens changing with one hand operation. The Release-pin should protrude 0.7 - 1.2mm above the bayonet surface.

f3righview.jpg illumillus.gif

Viewfinder Illuminator To light up the LCD panel to check data for exposure in dim or dark surrounding. In the electrical circuit, by pressing the illuminator button makes a pressure onto Semiconductor to turn on FPC 3 and then Vcc2 is supplied to light up the illuminator. The button is too tiny, one really has to struggle to find its location. Next is, even a finger tip won't work, you have to use your finger nail !

If a scene or surrounding is bright enough, the illuminator window (Shown Below) will pick up ambient light to illuminate the LCD panel in the viewfinder. The illuminator button illustrated above is only meant for dimly lit situation.

ADR illus.jpg adrillus.jpg

Note: The Aperture Direct Readout (ADR) feature will work with any AI-spec Nikkor lens that has ADR scale on the aperture ring for direct viewfinder display of aperture value in use on the lens.

Shown above is the location of the window where naturally the aperture scale on the aperture ring of your Nikkor lens will rest. Any changes of aperture value by turning the aperture ring will be shown in the viewfinder, so a photographer need not move away from the viewfinder to do a visual check on the lens for aperture in use. It is illustrated above to show the optical path how it is transfer to the viewfinder eyepiece.



<<< --- Underneath of a High Eyepoint viewfinder DE-3 (F3 HP). The top illustration is on camera section. The ready light/LED light will only lit when using the camera at flash, it will light up ONLY when a dedicated Nikon flash unit is used and charged up; flickers when the setting is beyond camera's synch range or mounting foot is insufficiently installed or ASA dial is set at a film speed higher than 400.

  | Previous | NEXT | 5/8
  Back to Index of Nikon F3 Models
About this photographic site
Contributions and Credits
  Home - Photography in Malaysia

Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

Copyright © 1999. leofoo ®. MIR Web Development Team.