Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

Although many Nikon fans were concerned and worried the potential threat posed by the likes of Canon or Pentax, might take over pro market domination with their seemingly more attractive features, Nikon's solid brand loyalty and the foundation laid for decades has shown its strength, further, smaller players (Only referring to professional camera market arena) didn't have the resources, diversity and pro market penetration that Nippon Kogaku had already developed over the last few decades.

F3T 80mm.jpg (13k) Loading..

Am I degrading the Nikon F3 with rivalling brands ? No. The underlying factor has to be with the camera, and to be more appropriate, the Nikon system as a whole that built around the professional body of F3. I don't infer the Nikon F3 as a camera that has cutting edge technologies - frankly, most were "borrowed, carefully chosen and intelligently blending them with a Nikon flavour" to ensure it would last a tough product cycle of 8-10 years under expected heavy usage. But among the few worthy mentioned technologies "adopted" by Nikon, it actually needs to have a Nikon pro-calibre camera to popularize and benchmarks for others to follow.

Doubting me ? Never mind... important features such as electromagnetic shutter release, one of the main technical highlights of the original professional Contax RTS in 1975 could have given a clue to Nikon how to design the Nikon F3 feather touch electromagnetic shutter release system.

The light touch of the shutter release button to activate metering was tested earlier on the 1979 Nikon EM and also used to activate the Nikon F3 metering system. Auto-exposure control and the use other solutions, such as Quartz shutter control, assure precise shutter timing in manual mode at lower shutter speeds used. (Nikon F3 uses a ceramic oscillating circuit, composed of a chip condenser and chip resistor which in turns will turn on the LCD, the oscillation is 256 Hz and has a sampling pulse of 2 Hz).

The use of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) was perhaps one of the best innovations Nikon used with the F3. The adoption of LCD display and quartz timed shutter speed control have improved its overall quality, performance and ease of use, as well as lead to other new developments. And maybe a better complement is - it has actually helped the camera manufacturing industry to take off by leading others to use LCD over a more popularly used LED (Light Emitting Diodes) display favoured by many of the AE cameras during that era. Nikon explained the advantages of LCD over LED because it only consumes 1/10000th of the power of LED, which makes a lot of sense for an electronic camera which solely depends on battery to power all of its camera operations.

Although generally LED is still considered superior in terms of viewing comfort, it provides a higher and more contrasted display (especially in low light or dim lit environment) while LCD has a shorter life span, which Nikon claimed would last seven to 10 years under heavy usage and the contrast of the panel may deteriorate, (Nikon stated openly) however most Nikon F3 users would think that is an overstatement. As an example, in my case, it is still looking all right after 18 years. (Although I don't shoot 10-20 rolls a weeks...) There is little you have to note or pay attention to in the LCD panel with the F3 as stated earlier, it is a very simple automatic SLR camera and the information required to feed the photographer is equally simple and straight forward, best of all - hardly confusing, even for a novice that has little experience in recognizing digital information displays.

Some general LCD data display on the LCD panel when different settings are set in manual or AUTO mode:

Shutter-Speed dial setting



1/2000 - 1/2 sec

lcdcheck2k.gif lcdcheck2.gif

Correct LCD should appear in accordance with setting(s)

1 sec. - 8 sec.

lcdcheck1.gif lcdcheck8a.gif lcdcheck8b.gif

B, T




lcdcheckauto.gif or any numerals selected by camera's AE circuit

Flash Auto


d'on with any dedicated flash unit or at any user set shutter speed

Manual Flash

X, 1/60 - 8 sec, M

d'oh at "X" setting lcdcheckauto.gif  or at any user set shutter speed


"S" - "0"

When shutter speed is at in Manual d'oh or at Auto d'oh

Frame Number

S to 0

0 to 1

Counter Switch



d'oh User Set Shutter Speed

1/2000 - 1/125

d'oh d'oh to

1/60 - 8 sec

d'oh d'oh

LCD Illus.gif (12k) Loading...

Properties and usage of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

l. At high temperatures (over approx. 60C), the whole surface turns black or purple, which may cause exposure information hard to read. However, this situation will restore to normal when the temperature drops.
2. Avoid storing the camera in excessively hot places, such as in a car parked in direct sunlight or inside the trunk. You may shorten the LCD's life.
3. When the temperature goes below freezing, the response time decreases as the liquid crystal becomes more viscose.
4. Although high quality LCD is used, it may deteriorate in contrast and become difficult to see after six or seven years, some luckier ones experienced double of that prediction. Nikon promised only "nominal amount" will be charged for replacement. Anyway, as a pro level camera, Nikon claims they will ensure maintenance services and parts supply 10 years after official discontinuation of model which may sound comforting to some.

Such simplicity in its operational concept has enabled the F3 to withstand the many rapid changes in the development in SLR cameras, especially as it involves automation. The 'new' battlefield has evolved from the traditional emphasis on mechanical excellence, reliability and features, to a new territorial field of unlimited application of applied digital and electronics. Many great bodies with astonishing designs and features have come and gone, including those closely rivalling bodies by the likes of Canon, Pentax and others. But despite the F3 having the weakest link in some departments, the Nikon F3 is the only Pro-level SLR body that is still left standing proudly on some shopping windows close to two decades since it was introduced in 1980 ! Why ? I would conclude if you think I am right here - The camera by itself was never meant to shine, but rather designed to serve. It is in fact a bare bone basic automatic camera to simplify steps require in an image making process without dictating too much. Basically, It is un-offending and still allows the photographer to command situations rather than overriding

Nikon F4.jpg (12k) Loading...

Embodied within Nikon F4 (Site uploaded in 2005 ) packs features that would satisfy any Nikon users. It was also the best looking Nikon body ever designed - commercially, it was a huge success if you use units sold as a yardstick - at least for the first five years, capitalizing from Canon's early weak standing of the new EF mount EOS SLR bodies. It can do all the things the F3 does with the extra benefits of many other amazing automatic features that one could possibly put on their wish list in the early '80, plus it can autofocus...

Sensibly, it was a better camera in all aspects. But strangely, Nikon F3 has more character than F4 even it is weak in comparison in all departments. Why ? ... If you treat photography as a medium for creative process, sometimes, simplicity triumphs. I have skipped a generation of the F-series model despite having the honour to test a pre-launch Nikon F4, flew in by the distributor for an important photographic event way back in 1988. I have given myself a good excuse and invested into a Nikon F5 when it was introduced in late 1996 primarily because I ought to update myself (rather than the camera) with the new way of inputting commands or altering controls via a new operational method like turning and rotating command dials and wheels for future Nikon bodies (Well, again sorry to highlight here that it is not a Nikon pioneered technology, instead, it was borrowed from the Canon T90 in 1986). It was difficult to accustom myself and took me a few weeks to get used to changing apertures by turning a wheel with your finger tip of the pointer. Further, with autofocus bodies, you have to struggle and train your eyes to follow the AF cursors and adjusting via your thumb on the palm rest command dial. So the biggest reason for buying an AF camera becomes a drawback. So, one morning - my nephew has helped me to make up my mind by offering him my whole Nikon F5 outfit as an award for his excellent results achieved at the high school by scoring 7 distinctions. Joke ? No. Whacking Nikon here ? again, I am not. Instead, I have bought a Nikon F5 50th Anniversary as investment - just to fulfil my unaccomplished desire to owned a Nikon F5 and 'play' around with its controls (I know it sounds funny, but just to let you understand it easier - I am not a Pro.. and I want to enjoy my photography (other than going to health Spa.. hehe). So, I turn back to my old faithful and this time around, after sending it for a throughout service for once, I removed the MD-4, keep it light and carry it when ever possible for my early morning walk and slot-in underneath the car seat as what I have done for the last 15 years with it..


KL Twin Towers (68K)

Why ? Basically, the biggest attraction of Nikon F3 is its simplicity. The basic of elements in photography, shutter speed control and apertures are closely associated within your finger tip control, you tend to pay more attention to what is happening inside the viewfinder rather than fighting with other supposedly helpful but turns obstructive features. Doubt me ? Just think - with an AF camera, do you think you have spend more than 35% of your attention in checking and ensuring the AF sensor(s) is/are in focus or in place locking on to subject when taking a picture, huh ? You have been diverting to a subject that is non-relevant before the advent of auto focusing - photographer were there taking many great and memorable images, right ?

So, it is just like a photographer who has spent many years struggling and fighting but unable to find a right way to express himself truthfully via investment of many lenses with different focal length and varying perspectives but eventually realizing the most truthful way to interpret things could actually be done with a common and uninteresting standard 50mm lens - it can be boring, challenging but strange and contradictory... interesting...

The Nikon F3 is an extremely well made camera and hardly will give anyone any disturbing operational problems. Its strength has grown with years, most people including pros that look for a solidly built camera that can last for hundreds of film rolls per month will be even more appreciative with the simpler automation in provides.


Photographers who initially had negative thoughts toward F3's automation turn from defencive to acceptance. Instead of depending on 'traditional acknowledgement by 'acquiring good and favourable test or reviews from editors, writers of photo magazines and media to promote the products, F3's untiring popularity is more of a result of word of mouth that has made it gain its popularity from strength to strength.

<<< --- Rainbow... (56k)
Copyright 2000.
CYLeow The Star

The initially unnoticed convenience of TTL flash exposure control feature employed also has gained popularity with more choices of Nikon's TTL flash units that has incorporated even more features and capabilities. But those popular midrange line of Nikon SLRs camera bodies such as FE2, FM2(n) and Nikon FA have a higher shutter speeds of 1/4000 sec and 1/250 sec sync speed (1/200 for the original FM2) seemed not affected by the users perception toward the Nikon F3 - '... IF you want features, go FA; but if your priorities are reliability, ruggedness and a trouble-free camera for the next 10 years, buy a F3 ! '.

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Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

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