The F3, Nikon’s Greatest Achievement?

What do you think of the Nikon F3?

It’s probably Nikon’s most popular and certainly longest running professional grade camera body.  They built these things from 1980 all the way to 2001, even while Nikon were simultaneously selling F4’s and F5’s.  Apparently they made so many, that they lost count after nearly 800,000!

Pretty incredible.

Unlike previous F’s, the F3’s electronically timed shutter features aperture priority.  The F3 straddles two worlds because it is also Nikon’s last professional manual focus camera.  Its dense body sits so firmly in the hands with smooth, rounded edges and a sense of authority and gestalt with which no other Nikon camera has ever been bestowed.  Install the MD-4 motordrive and every shot may as well have been fired from an Armalite.

Then there’s that simple yet dashing red line….

But I can’t fucking stand the F3.

I bought an F3hp and MD-4 nearly a decade ago, purely on its reputation.  I didn’t realise how stupid a camera this thing is.  And I still have no clue why it sold and was as popular for as long as it was.  What a dumb camera.  Probably the stupidest camera I’ve ever used.  At least a Kodak Brownie is just a Kodak Brownie.  An Agfa Click is just something to sit beside an Agfa Clack.  But the F3 is a woefully useless camera disguised as the savior of photography.

And here it is, the one problem that kills the whole, otherwise fine piece of machinery;

The light meter display.

It’s goddamn abysmal.

Sure the light meter itself can measure up to 6400 ISO.  And it’s probably quite precise.  But good luck actually SEEING the meter display in situations darker than 800 ISO.

In an effort to conserve battery power and be futuristic nincompoops, Nikon slapped a shitty little, and I’m not exaggerating with use of either of those adjectives, LCD meter display in the finder of the F3.  Gone was the simple, bright LED display or stepless swing needle that MADE SENSE, and hey, they didn’t really take THAT MUCH power.  Replaced with a squinty, diminutive, ugly, grey-on-olive digital Liquid Crystal Display of shutter speeds and microscopic + and – symbols on a panel that’s about a sixteenth of the size of my anus.

Nikon, what the fuck were you thinking?

Do you want me to look at the scene I’m photographing or to stare in agitation at this piece of shit display until my eyeball bleeds out?

If you’re one of those shooters who can’t stand the porthole viewfinders of early Barnack Leica’s, treat yourself to an even sillier form of optical torture.

And how does Nikon show mercy for their ridiculous mistake?  They add another mistake.

If you would like to see your little light meter, all you have to do is crush a blunt red Lego button into the side of the finder to summon a dusty old attic light bulb that is dimmer than a broken headlight in an old 6 volt Volkswagen Beetle.  This.  THIS!  This under-powered, piss-yellow light bulb will give your straining eye a false glimmer of hope at reading those diminutive digits so that you have a slight chance of getting the exposure set correctly on your, oh-so-professional Nikon camera.

Fuck that noise.  You’re telling me that if I want to use the built-in meter instead of a handheld, I need to pause to turn on a light?  WHY NOT JUST HAVE AN LED METER DISPLAY OPTION FOR THOSE OF US WHO LOVE OUR KODAK TMAX P3200 AND DON’T TAKE ALL OF OUR PHOTOS IN BRIGHT SUN WITH OUR SHUTTERS SET TO LAZY?!  Afterall, with this long a production run, you’d think they could have released a better viewfinder head at some point.  The F and F2 had more head options, for Chrissake!

Needless to say, I sold the F3hp, bought an F2sb and never looked back.  Except to scratch my head in complete and total confusion which still lingers to this day.

Who uses this STUPID camera?!  And HOW?!  I get irritated even THINKING about how STUPID and DISAPPOINTING the F3 was.  Jesus!

Before I sold it, I managed to fire off a few decent shots though.  Here they stand as a dirge of my interest in working with this stupid fucking camera.

Thanks for reading!

Nikon F3hp | Nikkor 105mm 1.8 AIS | Kodak Portra 400
Nikon F3hp | Nikkor 105mm 1.8 AIS | Kodak Portra 400
Nikon F3hp | Nikkor 85mm 1.8 AI’d| Ilford XP2
Nikon F3hp | Nikkor 135mm 2.8 AI | Fuji Pro 160S

Good Riddance, F3!  But thanks for the fun while it lasted 😉

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17 thoughts on “The F3, Nikon’s Greatest Achievement?

    1. So you berate the greatest 35mm camera ever built because YOU can’t see the exposure display in low light. Well for shame Nikon for not asking for your imput during the design of the F3. You yourself listed the very reason it doesn’t matter how visible the exposure display is in low light – the meter of the F3 is probably the most accurate ever put into a camera, and I am including all the current cameras on the market. Set the F3 on A and you were rewarded with truly stunning exposures, especially when using slide film. Nikon didn’t add aperture priority as an afterthought. They added it when they were convinced that it would be the only setting you would need.


      1. “So you berate the greatest 35mm camera ever built because YOU can’t see the exposure display in low light.”

        Yes I (in all CAPS) cannot easily see the exposure display in low light. Only, it’s not just ME, Nikon was aware enough of the issue that they had to build in a Band-Aid by adding additional illumination, something that was not needed in any other Nikon preceding this one, to cover the problem. It’s factually faster to set the exposure of a late model F2 in 6400 shooting conditions than it is an F3 in manual mode. This is a downgrade. And what value does the LCD read-out provide the photographer? That in bright situations, you can see the aperture and shutter speed? A cheap Nikkormat can do that! But yet I can still see its antique swing needle by moon light. The F3’s meter read-out is a downgrade. Made to look fancy and high-tech but factually less functional than previous ones. And for further proof, this read-out was improved by adding built-in, automatic illumination. The issue simply was never addressed within the F3 line. But it IS an issue.

        “Well for shame Nikon for not asking for your imput during the design of the F3.”

        Yes, it is a shame. It’s a shame that Nikon didn’t consult any photographers who care about what their shutter speed is when shooting in low light in manual mode. What good is a camera that has modes that are unusable?! That is not “professional.”

        “You yourself listed the very reason it doesn’t matter how visible the exposure display is in low light – the meter of the F3 is probably the most accurate ever put into a camera, and I am including all the current cameras on the market.”

        It doesn’t matter if the F3 were endowed with the greatest, most precise meter handed down from God Himself, if it’s setting cannot be read and one MUST change their exposure mode in order to take photos, the camera is completely useless to me and others who shoot like I do.

        “Set the F3 on A and you were rewarded with truly stunning exposures, especially when using slide film.”

        I don’t want to set it to A. My manual exposures are truly stunning! When using ANY film! There is no good reason to be forced by the camera’s shortcomings to change modes. I should be able to enjoy A because I want to, not because I have to.

        “Nikon didn’t add aperture priority as an afterthought. They added it when they were convinced that it would be the only setting you would need.”

        This is the problem with the camera. The meter display is SO BAD that they not only had to add a patch to address it, the F3 forces the photographer to use the camera in a way that would be completely unnecessary had they just used previously existing technology to display the exposure. Can you imagine how wildly unsuccessful the F or the F2 would have been if their meter meters were invisible in 6400 ISO conditions? There’s no A mode to bail those cameras out!

        Of course aperture priority wasn’t an afterthought. They added it later than Canon and if it were the only setting needed, why is there a manual mode? A is not the savior of the world.

        Additionally, there is no way to tell the camera not to drag the shutter. There is no exposure lock for Godsake! So just setting it to A in dark situations can easily result in 1/30th or slower speeds that will result in blurry photos. Truly stunningly exposed though, I’m sure!

        Look, I’m glad you apparently love your F3. It’s awesome to find a camera one gels with. But the F3’s had decades of praise from people who don’t care to know what their shutter speed is or who don’t shoot weddings or concerts with any pace. So please, let’s not deny facts. You can enjoy the F3 on bright, sunny shoots or with flash and still admit that there is nothing factually wrong with any of my criticisms. As you may know, my favorite 35mm camera is the Leica M6 TTL .85. I wrote a love letter to it that inflamed Petapixel readers for at least a month. But even in that article, I noted the camera’s weaknesses. All cameras have them. No camera is perfect for everyone. For every type of shooting. And that’s okay! Happy shooting on your F3! Thanks for your comment.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I dropped my M4 upside down right on the rewind crank which was badly bent and looked terrible, but it was only a $40 repair. Haven’t broken a Nikon yet….

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I bought a new F3HP from Robert Waxman when I lived in Denver years ago and thought the camera was defective because its light meter sometimes wouldn’t activate. I brought it in several times and the Waxman folks took a look and always assured me the meter worked perfectly. I became convinced that my F3HP had some sort of intermittent circuit problem and on my final visit to Waxman suggested this could be the cause. That’s when we figured out that in my zeal to squeeze an extra frame or two out of each Kodachrome roll I hadn’t always wound on to the first eposure indicator. The F3’s meter doesn’t activate until the film counter reaches “1.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh right, that reminds me of something else that’s completely stupid about this camera! It’s often useful to meter before loading and committing to a speed of film. Can’t do that with this miserable POS.


  2. Johnny, dude, you really need to stop holding your feelings in. It’s not good for you! 🙂

    As you may remember from my blog, the F3 is the one camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. I know the meter display is subpar but for the kind of work I do it is almost never an issue. The camera is otherwise everything I want it to be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, sorry Jim. I know it works for some shooters but I’m dumbfounded how it remained a flagship pro body which should be expected to handle any kind of shoot. Glad it works for you though. With an LED metered head and a brighter screen, I could love it too.


  3. 100% agree with you. I had an F3 for a while and really wanted to like it but I couldn’t get past that LCD display and the dim light with tiny button. It seemed like it had been designed by the CEO’s idiot nephew who was interning for the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, the idiot nephew! One more insult I should have used! I was somewhat afraid I’d get a lot of kick back against this blog but it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who had these issues.


  4. Hahahaha why did I only find this rant now. The F3….the Kardashian of the Nikonians. Pretty to look at, got the right curves, but you know the internals and overall package just leaves a lot be desired.


  5. They all work. I prefer my S2, or if I need something other that a 50 prime, my Nikkormat – either the FTn or a beater EL I cleaned and fixed. Everything else 35mm is being sold off. But I keep putting the F3 back on the shelf. Don’t know why. Darn good vacation camera, but what practical advantage does it offer that the EL doesn’t? I’m starting to see the EL as the clear best-bang-for-the-buck in MF Nikons…..


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