Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

Some of the system accessories that were developed around the Nikon F3 camera have also contributed to its popularity. Top of the list is MD-4 motor drive , seems more like an inseparable system component for the camera - has such matching and solid look with the camera when mounted. It comes with a blistering speed of 6 fps (Frames per second), the highest achievable automatic film advancing speed among any regular production commercial model. But the most practical features other than its speed is, it will also power the Nikon F3's electronic circuit once coupled with the F3. When used with an optional single block high performance rechargeable NiCd cell MN-2 , the Nikon F3/MD-4 combination will ensure the camera remains operative even down to - 20 degrees Celsius. More amazingly, with just a set of 8  AA Alkaline cells, the MD-4 can power up the camera to roll through 140 rolls of 36 exposure film rolls, giving the MD-4 motor drive the best power efficiency among all motor drives designed by any camera manufacturers.

Nikon F3/MD-4 Motor Drive

New Canon F-1/ Motor Drive FN

Pentax LX/Motor Drive/Winder

Power Source

Max. Speed (fps)

Capacity (normal temperature, 36 ex roll)

Film Rewind (sec)

Power Source

Max. Speed (fps)

Capacity (normal temperature, 36 ex roll)

Film Rewind (sec)

Power Source

Max. Speed (fps)

Capacity (normal temperature, 36 ex roll)

Film Rewind (sec)

NiCd - MN-2

6(5.5)*

70

4.5

NiCd FN

4.5

30

10

NiCd Pack

5

20

8

8 x AA alkaline

4 (3.8)

140

8

12 x AA alkaline FN

5

50

10

12 x AA alkaline

5

30

8 - 10

8 x AA Zinc Carbon

4 (3.8)

100

8

Hi-Pwr NiCd FN

5

50

10

Winder LX

MA-4

5 (5.5)

-

5

Winder FN

2

4 x AA alkaline

-

4 x AA alkaline

2

25

15

* Mirror in up position and with shutter speed of 1/125 sec and above. Figures in brackets indicate speed at normal mirror angle. Canon has three shutter releases (Camera's regular shutter release button, two at motor drive; Nikon has one each at the camera and MD-4, but possible via optional accessories such as MK-1 variable speed adaptor or use MR.-3 Motor Terminal release that can plug into the remote socket of the MD-4 to facilitate vertical shooting. The MK-1 also provides variable film advance speed of 1, 2 & 3 fps.


The distinctive superiority evidenced by the performance figures posted by the F3/MD-4, rivals or exceeds Nikon's earlier high performance drive MD-2 in many areas, and is well ahead of the moderately spec'd MD-3 and MD-1. The MD-4 was so well designed that Nikon thought there was no necessity for a second Motor Drive for F3, other than the modified MD-4H of 1996/7, that was specifically designed for the 13.5 fps F3 High Speed Motor Drive camera.

There are a couple of areas other than the basic design that were considerate enough, well, although that is not totally original, it also indicates Nikon studied other manufacturers and picked up a couple of good features from them. Most of you would have noticed that in order to mount the Motor Drive, it requires you to remove the motor drive coupling cover, what and where should you keep the cover for the motor drive coupling ? Some situations may demand you to travel light again without the drive attached so you have to cover the exposed bottom of that opening. Nikon probably noticed some clues in the design of the innovative Motor drive MA set of Canon as they designed a tiny slot with spring loaded 'keeper' in both the MS-3 AA battery holder and the MN-2 NiCd pack to hold the motor drive coupling cover. I thought that was a nice touch...

Sideview.jpg (9) Loading.

Another positive thing to note with the MD-4 is the style and shape of the drive is angled so that a cantilever is formed when connected to F3, which is intended to provide balance with a short or medium lens attached (Good up to a 105mm f2.5, that I tried) so the unit will sit upright on a flat level surface. The last point is that with the camera's well positioned multiple exposures lever, that is just next to the film advance lever, works very well with MD-4, easily enabling creative multiple exposure photography. I have not seen many good images lately by using that feature. You can just press the lever and fire away freely (May require slight exposure compensation to avoid over exposures) transforming simple and uninteresting scenes into very interesting images or possibly creating a visual nightmare depending on your artistic acumen.

Other less prominent features, but equally useful to some, are the frame number countdown setting, battery condition LED checker and the all metal construction anodized within and further given a heavy duty black paint coating on the exterior. The magazine back terminal permits you to use in the MD-4 with the all new 250 exposure bulk film back MF-4 , the regular or innovative and stylish Bulk Film data back version MF-17, which can even allow hand written notes to be imprinted onto film !

nikonmd2mdm.gif

There are two versions of Auto Film-Stop Back in the line up, one is normal film back version MF-6B which was made to be the standard film back of the special edition model Nikon F3P and F3 H, while another one is a data back version, for the data back MF-14 called MF-18.

<<<---- It is hard to use the best made Nikon Motor Drive MD-2 for the Nikon F2s as a yardstick to measure the MD-4. But over all, the MD-4 exceeds the earlier drive in performance and in reliability.

Nikon F3/MD-4 compares with Nikon F2/MD-2/MD-3 Motor Drive combinations

Power Source

Max. Speed (fps)

Capacity (normal temperature, 36 exp. roll)

Film Rewind (sec)

-

MD-4

MD-2

MD-3

MD-4

MD-2

MD-3

MD-4

MD-2

MD-3

MN-2

6(5.5)*

5

-

140

-

-

4.5

-

-

MB-1 for F2 bodies (5 x 2)

-

2.7

2.5

-

10(guaranteed),50 (possible) for zinc carbon), 20 (guaranteed), 80 (possible for alkaline cells.

15 (guaranteed), 100 (possible) for zinc carbon), 30 (guaranteed), 160 (possible for alkaline cells.

-

7-9

-

MB-2 (8 x AA)

-

4

no info

-

5 (guaranteed),15 (possible) for zinc carbon), 10 (guaranteed), 30 (possible for alkaline cells.

no info

-

7

-

NiCd - 2 x MN-1 in MB-1

-

5

4

-

50 (guaranteed), 60 (possible)

80 (guaranteed), 120 (possible)

-

7

-

Note: * refer to the earlier chart above this.

Can you spot  any faults in the MD-4 design ? Nothing is perfect - even the best can find its shortfalls. The shutter release button has only three simple settings in "L" (Lock), "S" (Single frame) and "C" (Continuous". Variable user set firing modes is not possible with the MD-4. Besides, those involved with sports and portraiture photography may find the lack of an extra built-in shutter release button for vertical shooting a little uncomfortable, for extended hours of such photography. Although Nikon has a tiny and cheap accessory called motor remote adaptor 'MR-3" (Earlier versions like MR-2 may also work) which can be connected to the remote connector on the MD-4 for vertical shooting. The battery compartment section of the drive was not designed with a contoured shape so it's hard to get a firm hand grip when shooting vertical. Anyway, Nikon has bought a very useful accessory called 'MK-1' Variable Firing Speed Rate Adaptor, a few more years of usefulness, until they correct such flaws and provide even more features.

microf3200.jpg (10k) Loading..

Why ? Firstly, for those who frequently use F3/MD-4 on a tripod - the most irritating part is the time spent struggling to achieve balance and securing the unit to your satisfaction. This can be mitigated to some degree with a good quality 'quick release' tripod like the Manfrotto professional series. 

Perhaps one may argue, in most cases, Nikkor super telephoto lenses or some specialized lenses such as Micro-Nikkor 200mm f4 ED IF, Fisheye-Nikkor 6mm f2.8 etc. are designed with a built-in removable or non-removable tripod collar on the lens itself.

Note: In any case, It is always advisable to use the lens tripod collar rather than the camera's. Because the tripod socket at the base of the MD-4 is OFF centre position and located at the far end of the drive ! << upper view -- An older version of the famed Micro-Nikkor 200mm f4.0 IF with the tripod collar removed.

F3T front.jpg

Regardless of the lens issues discussed earlier, whatever it is, I think those original decision makers in Nikon could have delivered a better solution and swifter response when it was introduced. They did in a year or two later, first - it was called a tripod adaptor as shown at left, a plain solid piece of metal that can be mount, locked securely and reposition the tripod socket back to the centre. The MK-1 mentioned earlier was a combination of this adaptor plus resolving the vows for a variable speed controller other than a choice of either select and shooting at maximum speed burst in continuous mode or single frame.


With the MK-1 attached, first good point is, you can reposition the tripod socket back to centre as with the earlier accessory, next - you can select either 1, 2 or 3 frames per second firing rate in continuous mode as with the MD-2 for the F2s. Further, there is an additional shutter release button provided and you can make use of it to act as a secondary shutter release when you need to work frequently in vertical position.

MK-1.jpg

Anyway, the MK-1 was only made available around the mid-eighties and most of us could have already bought the earlier simpler version (me too..) and finding myself struggling hard to decide whether to get the MK-1, I didn't

Why ? again, because I am not a pro.. and I don't have a lot of extra money to spend on someone's design decision. In the first place, they could have brought the MK-1 out earlier, huh ? Well, lastly, the innovative and lovely design of the removable shutter release button which also can act as an off body remote control device on MD-2 for Nikon F2 bodies has been omitted. Nikon claimed it was because priority was given to better seals against dust and water at all possible entries. Next is a round shutter release button. I would love to see the removable shutter release button at the top of the hand grip of the MD-2 again, contoured to fit one's finger (It is flat at the shutter release selector mode setting ring on the MD-4) - anyway, for whatever the reasons, Canon spotted its advantage and put it to practicable use on their Motor Drive FN.

What else ? Err... not to dampen your high spirit as a proud F3/MD-4 owner, back to the goodies. With the MD-4, there are three separate electrical terminals that can enable quite a number of useful accessories, to be coupled with the camera for many specific photographic functions. The magazine back terminal at the base of the hand grip of MD-4 facilitates the use of not less than 4 types of film backs that range from 250 bulk film to multi functional data backs (Specialized film back such as MF-17 can even permits handwritten notes to be imprinted onto film - just as the F2 DATA camera does). There is also an external power socket to enable MA-4 AC/DC Battery unit to be used with the F3 via MC-11 external power cord, providing unlimited and continuous shooting, most notably for indoors and/or studio session photography. The last of the lot is a two pin remote terminal that allows a wide variety of remote control devices to be attached with the F3/MD4 setup. This socket also opens a whole new dimension of possibilities for remote or unmanned photography. Other than using traditional remote trigger cords, such as 10' length MC-12A, MC-10 can be used and shared on many other Nikon bodies. For distance control, you can have wireless radio remote control unit set MW-2 that can provide up to 2,295 ft (700m), you can share among other Nikons (Including the F5, F4, F100, F90(x) etc. or even with the mechanical FM2(n) or older bodies). How ? because it provides three separate (Via MC-18 cord) channels and thus, 3 separate Nikon bodies can be control simultaneously. For closer distance (300 + ft), you can settle for a cheaper Modulite Remote Control Set ML-2, ML-3 which is also more compact in size and uses modulated light to automatically control up to two camera bodies. It can be used on Nikon F3 with MD-4 and current AF bodies such as F5, F4, F100, F90(x) (via MC-25 cord with ML-2 but it has its own dedicated unit - ML-3) etc. or with FM2(n), FA (via MD-15), FE2 or older bodies that has a motor drive like MD-11 or MD-12. The last interesting accessory is the Intervalometer MT-2, for unmanned Time lapse photography with features like sampling, time exposures or delayed exposures. All speed are quartz timed and it can even provide shooting intervals from 0.1 second to 27 hours, with either 2 second or 16 second shutter release delay, which may be useful for refocusing or flash recycling. It can also be shared and used with other remote control devices for many other possible extended applications.

These are options you can add to extend capabilities, when you couple Nikon F3 with its dedicated motor drive.

98f100.jpg (12k) Loading..

But a word of advice, IF you do a lot of remote photography - you should seriously considered getting an autofocus camera. It is not a question of superiority in performance but rather, the rate of success will be higher and more rewarding, especially as it relates to action based photography. On the other hand, the advantage of autofocusing may prove to be more useful in remote or unmanned situations, further higher end AF bodies such as F5, F100, F4, F90(x), F801(s) or equivalent have a really great feature called 'freeze focus' - anything that comes in the way of the prefocus zone will trigger the camera to release the shutter !

Such new capabilities are not comparable, but as I said, if you shoot a lot of action-related pictures, the Nikon F3/MD-4 may show a sign of age when compared. Anyway, as the remote accessories are shared or usable among all bodies, the path for such investment could be minimal and not so 'painful to the wallet. Further, you can even mix among some old manual focus and newer AF bodies for multiple bodies setup - so you don't need not to sell your F3/MD-4 yet. Sounds good huh ? The remote control section can also be regarded as a standalone system within the huge Nikon photographic system, that by the '80, has developed into the largest among all manufacturers. All system components in the remote photography section can be attached to any of the Nikon SLR cameras either directly or by means of secondary accessories such as via cords and cables, couplers etc. . Nikon has updated its entire line of remote control accessories as from the Nikon F2's motor drive units during the Nikon F3 era in the eighties. However, the F3 can still find its way to use one of these earlier designs. These upgrades were primarily taking advantage of newer electronics, such as timing in the intervalometer. It is more precise than ever with good utilization of quartz technologies, they were designed and made sleeker, slimmer, generally more compact in size than earlier versions and also have a modern facelift to 'match' an advanced looking F3.

aicoupling1.jpg aicoupling2.jpg

If you have been a Nikon user over the years, you may have invested a good deal in Nikkor lenses. Well, not expecting all your optics are newer series, and that is where the Nikon F3 could be well worth the investment. We all know Nikon first had their body and lenses introduced way back in 1959 - many of the earlier lenses and close-up accessories were merely auto Nikkor lenses and would require stopped down metering in many of the Nikon SLR bodies introduced during late seventies. The Nikon EM in 1979 was the first batch of Nikon SLRs that does not support non-AI Nikkor lenses and would require modifications done before it can be safely used on such bodies. The Nikon F3, along with the professional F series models in Nikon F4 (Current F5 would need to replace the metering coupling ring) are the few remaining Nikon SLRs that can still accept those older Nikkor optics without any form of modifications. However, since many Nikon metering functions would require AI to work, use of such lenses or accessories are confined to stopped-down metering (Press the depth of field preview and check exposure). To mount such lenses onto the F3, just press and lift up the meter coupling pin and mount the lens.

Warning: For any Nikkor lenses with an AI-spec (Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing), DO NOT attempt to use stopped down metering method, erroneous exposure may result. AFTER USE, return the tab to its original position. Other than Models earlier than F3, F4, F5 (See above), the Nikon FM of 1977, FE of 1978 and the Nikkormat FT-3 and Nikon EL-2 are the non-pro F-series AI-bodies that can accept non-AI Nikkor in stopped-down AE mode.

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Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F3 - History & Background

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