The Nikon F3. Step beyond the ordinary.
These words greeted you the moment you turned the cover page of the Nikon F3 advertising brochure of the 80’s. In the background you see a silhouette of a stylish black Nikon camera with the designation F3 and a glimpse of a red line. Almost like a sports car and yes, as everyone in the photo industry knows, it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, a famous Italian car and industrial designer. Enough to make me drool! I had to get my hands on one.
In 1989, I bit the bullet and got one in the used market for A$799. It is a nice camera to hold and to operate. The moment you hold it, it becomes very evident that this is a quality pro-level camera. The film advance level is silky smooth. Even the shutter firing feels smooth. It had all the features for a pro-user. While it employed an electronic horizontal curtain shutter, there was the ability to fire the shutter mechanically at around 1/60th of a second when the batteries are dead or the camera is turned off. On the other hand, my first camera, the Yashica FX-103 Program, also with an electronic shutter, couldn’t fire if the batteries are dead. This was a difference between the pro-level F3 SLR and the consumer-level FX-103 SLR – the pros couldn’t afford to lose a shot because of dead batteries.
One drawback was the lack of a flash hot-shoe on the F3. To mount a flash, you had to use the dedicated Nikon AS-4 flash coupler mounted over the ISO dial of the camera. This made it cumbersome to access the ISO dial and rewind knob. The flash coupler had to be removed before rewinding the film.
Built for professional photographers, the F3 is modular. The prism housing/viewfinder is easily detached from the body and interchangeable with any of the 5 available: DE-2, DE-3, DA-2, Dw-3, DW-4. The DE-3 is also known as the High-Eyepoint (HP) viewfinder.
Coupled with the Nikon MD-4 motordrive, the camera is capable of a 4 frames per second continuous mode which made it a favourite with sports photographers in the 80’s.
In the era of quick digital photography and new digital cameras, the F3 is now more a curiosity for camera collectors or gear acquisition syndrome folks. For a camera that debuted in 1980 with a list price of $1.174.90 (with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4), in 2019, one can purchase a F3 body for about $150 to $200 on eBay.
Put a roll of film in an F3 and take a walk with it – it is still a tactile pleasure for me to crank the smooth film advance lever and press on the button to release the shutter of the F3. I’ve had great times and pictures with the F3.