Well, the long Thanksgiving weekend is finally over and the Holiday Season is on. I hope you all had a good time with friends and family. They are the most important things in life and we should never forget that. Sorry I am a little late with this week's article, it was a busy weekend here too. But cameras can wait, family can't :-)
That said, I am still trying to fine tune this blogging thing. I'm trying to decide whether to push the "Camera Of The Week" section to the beginning or end of the week. Anyway, while I work this out, I present to you this week's "Camera Of The Week." And it is...
The Nikon F4
When I shoot digital these days, it's mostly with Canon DSLR's. I have to admit, while I love cameras like the 5D or 5D Mark II, I don't actually get a feeling of inspiration when using them. I love the Canons for other reasons, but that's a topic for another day. Let's just say I use them because they get the job done.
When I want or need inspiration, I always go to one of the old school bodies of yore and one camera body that never fails to inspire me to shoot is the Nikon F4.
The Nikon F4 was introduced in 1988 and was Nikon's first professionally designated model to truly utilize autofocus. Yes, Nikon did have an F3AF prior to the F4, but that camera really seemed more like an experiment in autofocus with its two or three motorized lenses, and slow AF.
It is helpful to remember that back in 1988, autofocus SLRs had been on the market for just a few short years. The Minolta Maxxum 7000 of 1985 was the camera that revolutionized AF and changed the game forever. The fact that Nikon was confident enough to introduce an pro AF model in the F4 shows just how far the technology had come in just a few years.
The F4's list of features are lengthy, and I really don't feel like writing a book on it. Plus there is so much info on the F4 on the web that you don't really need me to tell you about it. All the technical information is there for you within a few short strokes of the search button. I'll give you some impressions of why I like it though.
Handling, Look, and Feel
My particular F4 is actually the F4s, which is just an F4 with an MB-21 battery pack that takes six AA batteries. You can make the camera a bit smaller by getting the MB-20 which takes four AA batteries.
But there's no getting around the fact that this is a big, hefty camera. That's part of the beauty of the F4, in my opinion. It's a brute, but a big, beautiful brute!
The camera was designed by Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, and to me, it's the perfect blend of old school looks and new school feel. It looks classic, yet doesn't look ancient like an F or F2. It looks modern, yet doesn't look as futuristic as the EOS-1 did when it first came out.
The camera is reassuringly solid, with beautiful knobs and dials, just the way I like it. It is a masterpiece of camera engineering, maybe even over-engineered in my opinion, with safety locks and double steps for certain functions. Still, you can operate most of the essentials without resorting to the manual, and that's always a sign of a good camera in my book.
But the F4 is also very advanced and you'll probably want to get a manual to take advantage of all it has to offer. Just off hand, you can do multiple exposures, control the camera remotely, add an intervalometer, lock up the mirror, etc. The camera is as simple or as advanced as you want it to be.
The shutter speed range is 4-1/8000 plus X, T, and B settings which are for flash, Time, and Bulb, respectively. In that good old school Nikon tradition, you can also change the viewfinders. The standard one for the F4 is the DP20. Through the viewfinder, all the vitals are there...aperture, and lcd readouts for shutter speed, metering, and even focus confirmation that works for AF and manual focus. When you think of how old the F4 is, and what you get for your money in today's used market, only one word comes to mind...Awesome.
The F4 is motor driven and winds the film automatically. It is capable of 5.7 frames per second with the MB-21 battery pack. It will also rewind the film itself if you set the designated rewind levers. However, you can choose to manually rewind the camera if you'd like, and this is a feature I use quite often since I will sometimes use half the film in one camera, and the other half in another, and also because it's easier for me to have the film leader out if I am going to develop it.
Autofocus and Metering
The F4's "antiquated" one area AF is quite refreshing to use, especially in a world of the gazillion AF zones! Just point, focus, recompose and you're done!
Yes, the AF tracking may not be the greatest, but you're probably not going to shoot the Olympics with a 1988 F4 are you? That said, the F4 was used for thousands of sports and news shots in the late 80's and early 90's so it certainly can be done.
In bright daylight, the AF is very fast and snappy, if somewhat noisy, depending on the lens. Believe it or not, this old school King will AF with even today's AF-S and G lenses! However, its usefullness with these lenses is limited due to a lack of electronic controls for the aperture settings. I tried the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens on my F4s and it works, although the aperture stayed at f/2.4, but the AF was fast and silent.
In dim conditions, it may hunt a bit depending on just how dark it is. My experience is that if you got good room light, it's fine. If your subject is in that dim, far corner of the room, it will hunt a little. Try to find a good contrasting edge and you should achieve focus. If not, switch to manual focus.
The F4 offers a choice of center-weighted, Matrix, and spot metering. I usually keep it on Matrix and rarely get a bad exposure.
The F4 is truly a classic Nikon. It is the grandfather of all the big AF Nikons we know and love such as the D3X/D3s, the D2X/D2H, D1X/D1H, the F6, and F5. It has enough analog controls to satisfy the old school camera lover, yet enough electronic sophistication to satisfy those who want some modern comforts such as AF and auto wind.
I have friends who just started photography and are using cameras like the Nikon D40, D5000, and D3100 DSLRs. When I ask them why they chose Nikon, they said it was because of the Nikon name, the Nikon reputation. Yet most of them don't really know how Nikon earned its name or rep, they just know it's a good brand. I then let them hold my F4s and immediately, they smile, sigh, and then they know.
Summary: Nikon F4/F4s
Value: $90-300 Used prices, in today's market, depending on condition, accessories, luck. Average is around $150.
+ Superb build quality.
+ Knobs and dials. No need for menus.
+ Manual rewind option
+ Fast AF in good light.
+ Full Matrix metering with manual AI/AIS lenses
+ Expandability. Prisms, backs, accessories.
+ Cheap prices in today's market. A lot of camera for your money
- Heavy and bulky.
- More overlocks than necessary, ie, for on/off and rewind buttons
- AF hunts in dim light or low contrast situations
- Reported motor problems. Many F4's were used quite heavily by pros. Check carefully before buying.
Overall: The quintessential "big" Nikon that offers everything you need and nothing you don't, for an inspired shooting experience.