Nikon F3 – A professional heavyweight.

I’ve been a Nikon user for over 20 years now, 35mm SLRs, digital SLRs and compacts and even an Advanced Photo System (APS) compact (the tiny Nuvis mini i) have all passed through my hands but I always hankered after one of the ‘single digit’ professional models…

I eventually splashed the cash a couple of years ago when a clean and tidy F3HP turned up on the secondhand shelf at Harrison Cameras in Sheffield for a very reasonable sum.

Nikon F3HPNikon F3HP + Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Introduced in March 1980 the F3 amazingly continued to be produced after it was superseded by the F4 in 1988 and the F5 in 1996 with Nikon finally announcing that production had ceased as late as 2001!

The F3 was the first of a number of Nikon models to be designed by Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro (better known for his many automotive designs including the first Volkswagen Golf and the legendary DeLorean DMC-12) and was also the first to feature the now well-known Nikon signature red stripe on the handgrip…

With interchangeable viewfinders, focusing screens and a wide range of dedicated accessories, including the high-speed MD-4 motor drive, the F3 is still a precision tool capable of handling any photographic situation… So far I’ve managed to resist the battery hungry MD-4 but have added the DW-3 waist level finder and a Type G2 focusing screen to my bag.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to accumulate a number of manual focus Nikkor lenses ranging from the 28mm f/2.8 Series E up to the 200mm f/4 and now the Zoom-Nikkor 80~200 f/4.5 that I picked up at an auction last week. Every single Nikon lens in my collection, even those dating from the 1960s and the more recent autofocus AF-D models can be used with the F3, it really is an incredibly versatile piece of kit!

It’s not all beer and skittles with the F3 though… The viewfinder display is poor, just a tiny LCD to indicate shutter speed and exposure information. In good light the aperture in use is visible in the equally tiny ADR (Aperture Direct Readout) window, in poor light it can be difficult to see any information at all.

Nikon F3HP Viewfinder‘Poor’ viewfinder display

(I fitted the DW-3 waist-level finder in place of the DE-3 high-eyepoint finder to take the above shot with my iPhone… The display is actually much easier to see like this, the DW-3 doesn’t cast a shadow over the aperture ring like the DE-3 does…)

Nikon F3HP Accessory Shoe‘Less than ideal’ accessory shoe

In aperture priority mode, dialing in exposure compensation is a job for two hands and the accessory shoe surrounding the film rewind crank is certainly less than ideal… Overall though, using the F3 is an enjoyable experience and it’s a camera that I can’t ever see me parting company with…

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