I learned to shoot on a Minolta XGM. I still have that camera, it never fails. My Dad always had Nikons, mostly FE and FE2, I wasn’t much of a friend of the metering. When buying a camera and lenses in 1997 (I was 19) I made a foolish mistake in sticking with Minolta instead of buying a Nikon FM3A for the same price as a fully AF Dynax 505si. Maybe I just didn’t understand the Nikon magic back then. I do now.
Fast forward to 2019 and I have an F3 and F4 and an F100 alongside my trusty Olympus OMD-EM1 MKII and Sony A7RII and Hasselblad 500 C/M. For work I mostly use the Olympus and Sony - but given the fact that I have to fly quite often it’s often the case that I have to prioritise what kit I want to carry. Largely that choice depends on the kind of place I’m going and what I think I’m going to need to do.
I differentiate between work shooting and personal shooting because the requirements of these are very different. For work I need to be able to ensure absolute perfection and a fast turnaround. For my personal work I want to do as little editing as possible and for the shots to have emotion and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. The perfection of digital photos doesn’t really touch me anymore. I get genuinely excited picking up the Hasselblad or any of the film Nikons. For 35mm I really like the look of Kodak Ektar, whereas on Medium Format the colouration and “aesthetic” of Fuji Pro 400H really floats my boat.
Technically speaking the F100 is the best film camera I own. It doesn’t suffer the dreaded battery drain and it was the F100 with a 50mm 1.4D that was my first fix of the Nikon magic. The F4 is a far superior camera to the F3 in technical terms, but it’s a veritable brick and I’m not sure I feel that I always need the features it provides me with. I was out shooting with the F4 this weekend on Portra 800 so I will be interested to see how things came out. Which brings us to the F3. For me the F3 represents sheer mechanical quality. Leica enthusiasts may have other opinions, but I’m talking about professional cameras - you know, the ones people used to earn a living with. The Nikon F3 may well already house a remarkable amount of electronics (it does) but the operation of the single lens reflex is fully manual. I personally prefer to use aperture priority in most situations and focus on composition - the F3 allows me to get on and do this.
The film advance lever is wonderfully smooth, the first time I used an F3 I wondered whether I’d loaded the film properly, such was the effortlessness of the advance. The feel and sound of the shutter are quite ideal, it needn’t be any quieter - the way it’s weighted feels right. As you’ll note i have the HP (High Eyepoint) viewfinder which gives a 100% field of view - and is of course very bright. I’d hazard that mine feels brighter than the F4.
In terms of how the camera feels: it’s just the right weight. For using bigger lenses such as the 180mm 2.8ED the motor drive provides a better balance and grip, but I tend to put the 180 on the beefier cameras anyway. I feel that the F3 is best with the 24mm AI/S 50mm of any flavour and 85mm, perhaps 135mm at a stretch.