Nikon F serie

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Nikon F
Type 35 mm SLR camera
Lens mount Nikon F-mount
Focus manual
Exposure manual
Flash non-ISO hot shoe, or PC socket for off-camera flash

The Nikon F camera, introduced in 1959, was Nikon’s first SLR camera. It was one of the most advanced cameras of its day. Although most of its concepts had already been introduced elsewhere, it was the first camera to combine them all in one camera.[1] It was produced until October 1973 and was replaced by the quite similar Nikon F2. Aspects of its design remain in all of Nikon’s subsequent SLR cameras, through the current Nikon F6 film and Nikon D4 digital models (which still share its Nikon F-mount for lenses). The “F” in Nikon F was selected by Nippon Kogaku from the letter F in ‘Reflex.’ That tradition was carried all the way through their top line of Nikon cameras until the introduction of the Nikon D1 (digital) cameras decades later.




The Nikon F became enormously successful and was the camera design that demonstrated the superiority of the SLR and of the Japanese camera manufacturers. This camera was the first SLR system that was adopted and used seriously by the general population of professional photographers, especially by those photographers covering the Vietnam War, and those news photographers utilizing motor-driven Nikon Fs with 250-exposure backs to record the various launches of the space capsules in the MercuryGemini and Apollo space programs, all in the 1960s. After the introduction of the Nikon F, the more expensive rangefinder cameras (those with focal plane shutters) became less attractive. It was originally priced [at US$186 with 50mm f/2 lens...wrong, a Sept 1959 Nikon Inc. NYC ad clearly shows $323 list price]; in 1964 the US price was $323 with a standard prism and f/2 lens.

It was a combination of design elements that made the Nikon F successful. It featured interchangeable prisms and focusing screens; the camera had a depth-of-field preview button; the mirror had lock-up capability; it featured a large bayonet mount and a large lens release button; a single-stroke ratcheted film advance lever; a titanium-foil focal plane shutter; various types of flash synchronization; a rapid rewind lever; a fully removable back. it was a well-made, extremely durable camera, and adhered closely to the then current, successful design scheme of the Nikon rangefinder cameras.

A number of these features were first introduced by other manufacturers:

  • 1925: The first full-frame 35 mm camera, Oskar Barnack’s Leica.
  • 1936: The first 35 mm SLR with bayonet mounted interchangeable lenses, the Kine Exakta.
  • 1949: The first camera with a pentaprism viewfinder, the Contax S.
  • 1950: The first SLR with interchangeable viewfinders and focusing screens, the Exakta Varex.
  • 1954: The first camera with instant-return mirror, the Asahiflex IIb.
  • 1956: The first SLR with an internally activated automatic diaphragm release, the Contax F.

The Nikon F also had interchangeable backs and a viewfinder showing 100% of the image. Motor drives to advance the film, F36 (36 exposure) or F250 (250 exposure), were available, but required the replacement of the underside of the body. The F36 was not too dissimilar from the motor drive which was available for the SP.

The Nikon F evolved from a rangefinder camera, the Nikon SP.[2] “In the trial model, based on the body of the Nikon SP, the mirror box was inserted in the central part. Only the three principal components, mirror box, pentaprism and bayonet mount, were newly developed, and the other components were virtually identical to those in SP/S3.”[3]

Instead of the M42 screw mount used by Pentax and other camera manufacturers, Nikon had introduced the three-claw F-mount bayonet lens mount system, which is still current in a more modified form today. The focal plane shutter had titanium foil blinds and was rated for 100,000 shutter releases. At the time, other SLRs used cloth blinds, which had the disadvantage that it was possible to burn a hole into the cloth of the shutter during mirror lock-up in bright sunlight.

The F was also a modular system camera, in which various assemblies such as the viewfinders, or ‘pentaprisms‘, the focusing screens, the special 35mm roll film 250 exposure film back and the Speed Magny film backs (two models: one using the Polaroid 100 (now 600) type pack films; and another Speed Magny was designed for 4×5 film accessories, including Polaroid’s own 4×5 instant film back). These could be fitted and removed, allowing the camera to adapt to almost any particular task. It was the first 35 mm camera offered with a successful motor drive system as opposed to a film winder. It was capable of firing up to 4 frames per second (mirror locked up) or 3 frames per section with full reflex viewing maintained.

Unlike most 35mm camera systems the Nikon F had a wide range of lenses, covering 21 mm to 1000 mm focal length by 1962. Nikon was among the first to introduce what are known today as ‘mirror lenses’ – lenses with Catadioptric system designs, which allowed the light path to be folded and thus yielded lens designs that were more compact than the standard telephoto designs. Subsequent top-of-the-line Nikon models carried on the F series, which has as of 2005 reached the F6 (although this camera has a fixed pentaprism—the first and the last professional level Nikon SLR to do that). With the introduction and continued improvements being made in digital photography, the Nikon F6 is likely to be the last of the flagship Nikon F-line film SLRs.

The Nikon F revolutionized the photographic market, stealing the thunder of German manufacturers Leica and Zeiss. The F also had a reputation for being extremely resilient to damage or mechanical failure. It became known as “the hockey puck”. Many professional photographers, especially photojournalists, began using the F camera system. In some limited markets the camera was marketed as a “Nikkor F” due to trademark conflicts. In Germany, for example, the well established Zeiss Ikon camera line saw the “Nikon” name as too similar to their own and Nikon was forced to avoid using “Nikon” in that area. (Engraved this way, they have become highly collectable cameras in today’s collector market.)

Nikon’s Photomic FTn camera and finder

The first Nikon F Photomic viewfinder, delivered since 1962,[4] had an independent photocell, then Nikon introduced the Photomic T (superseded by the Photomic Tn), which featured through-the-lens metering. The final metering prism for the Nikon F, the Photomic FTn,[5] introduced in 1968, provided 60% center-weighted TTL which became the standard metering pattern for Nikon cameras for decades afterwards. Additional viewfinders included a waist-level viewer, a 6 power magnifying finder, and an “action finder” with a larger viewable area, and an ability to see the entire frame while wearing goggles and/or a helmet.

Foreground: Nikon F with eyelevel prism; Nikon F with FTn Photomic prism; Nikon F with FTn Photomic prism and F36 motor drive

One possible disadvantage the Nikon F had, compared to other professional cameras, was the fact the entire bottom and rear plate was made in one piece and had to be removed to reload the camera. Even so, the camera was a mainstay of professional news photographers desiring a 35 mm SLR. A specially modified Nikon FTn was also taken on the Apollo 15 mission to the Moon.

The Nikon F was succeeded in 1972 by the Nikon F2 series after a production total of 862,600 bodies. Subsequent “single-digit” F cameras continued as the top of Nikon’s professional line of film SLRs, through the Nikon F6 introduced in 2004. The naming system changed for digital SLRs, beginning with the Nikon D1 in 1999, but Nikon’s DSLRs continue to use the F lens mount introduced in 1959.

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