Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Handling and Ergonomics of Nikon Film Cameras

  • Nikon FM2 is small; too small for me to hold comfortably. I think adding the MD-12 will improve matters. The shutter speed dial is not easy to manipulate with the camera held to the eye. This is generally true of all the older generation film cameras; the newer command dial approach is easier to manipulate without taking eyes off the viewfinder. The FM2's film winding and shutter operation are very smooth for a mechanical camera; smoother than the F2. The viewfinder magnification is the best amongst all Nikon SLRs; makes manual focusing easier. However, the eyepoint is a mere 14mm which isn't helpful for glass wearers. The exposure, shutter and aperture information are each located on three different sides of the view, which is a nuisance. The exposure LEDs are good, but the shutter speed and aperture are hard to see in the viewfinder.
  • Nikon F2 - I like the F2 better with the hard leather case on, as it provides a better grip on the camera. Haven't tried with the motor drive on, but it seems the combination will be too heavy to be practical. Shutter speeds are harder to change as you have to reach the dial which is at the top of the finder. On both F2A and F2AS the shutter speed, aperture and exposure meter are displayed at the bottom of the screen, which is very nice. The F2AS has LEDs which light up to show exposure, just like the FM2. On the F2AS there is an additional switch to light up the shutter speed as well. The viewfinder magnification isn't bad, and can be made very bright by installing the G1-4 focusing screens. These screens are plain glass with a large central microprism. Makes the view brighter than all the other cameras. The handling is not as smooth as the FM2. Shutter and mirror are louder.
  • Nikon F3 - superb with the MD-4 attached. I had no idea how good this feels; no wonder most F3s were used with motor drives. The combination is visually appealing and a joy to hold, although with 8 AA batteries, it does become heavy. The F3 viewfinder has the shutter speed, meter and aperture displayed at the top of the view, which isn't as good as the F2. The LCD that displays the shutter speed and meter is small and the settings not so easy to see. But the aperture readout is much better than FM2 or F2, as it appears magnified. Viewfinder magnification is fair, and focusing is similar to the F2. The shutter speed dial is harder to reach with the motor drive attached. There is a small button for lighting up the viewfinder LCD, but this is fiddly.
  • Nikon F100 - feels very similar to D300/D700. Ergonomics are better than the manual cameras, generally. The grip is very holdable, and the dials are more easily handled without taking eyes off the viewfinder. Not as good as the F series cameras for manual focusing as there are no screens available with split-image or micro-prism rangefinders. Motor wind is much quieter than the F3/MD-4. 
  • Nikon F5 - I haven't used the F5, but having played with one at a shop, I think the F5 has better handling (subjectively) than the F100 or F6 due to its integrated vertical grip. This makes the camera more stable, and also the grip is better.  The camera feels solid in the hands, and is generally smaller than the other cameras with the motor drives/grips attached.
  • Nikon F6 - The F6 handles very similarly to the F100/D300/D700. The good thing is that there are focusing screens available with additional focusing aids. I think the F6 is too similar to a digital SLR to be really worth the money; why not buy a full frame DSLR instead? But it is tempting from a collector's viewpoint as it is probably the last Nikon F film SLR, and isn't being manufactured in great quantities. And amongst film SLRs it is probably the most refined.

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