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

      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.


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