Autopsy of the Nikon F6

This time last year, photographer Thomas Eisl and I set out to dispel myths and to remind the world that we could still buy the world’s last newly made 35mm SLR, the Nikon F6, brand new.

Sadly, nearly exactly one year later, Nikon has officially announced that this important camera is being discontinued after a bold 16 year run.

Thomas and I battled claims and statements throughout the comments sections on Petapixel, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter that the F6 cost was unwarranted and that it was no better than [provide example here] used cameras.

We heard that our little article may have actually caused a small uptick in new Nikon F6 sales. But in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if the arguments against the ideology of buying new film cameras from the film community itself, influenced Nikon’s decision to halt production of our last 35mm SLR.

Admittedly, I probably come off as a bit of a cheerleader at times; encouraging people to buy $2,600 35mm SLR’s and new lenses and accessories from Nikon instead of used versions from eBay. But look, I don’t think that film photographers get it. We are a niche market. Each of us have the potential to be big fish in a little pond. What we say on social media and what we choose to spend our money on makes a difference. Manufacturers are watching and listening and basing decisions on what resources they are able and willing to provide for us from what we say and do.

And if you think I’m just an elitist blogger who gets kick-backs from retailers and is out of touch with real-world expenses, I just want to share with you that I have made exactly $15.74 in ad revenue from this blog this year. I myself do not have enough money in my checking account at this moment to buy a Nikon FM from eBay much less a Nikon F6 from B&H. So I get it. Lack of money is a hard line.

Please don’t think I’m talking down to anyone when I say that we need to consider the bigger picture when we post discouraging remarks about the few manufacturers who provide our finite resources. Consider that if we cannot contribute money to our cause, we can contribute verbal support or, at the very least, withhold influential counterproductive comments.

Today, you may own twenty Nikon 35mm SLR’s that work fine and you might not see one scrap of reason to buy a new F6, or new anything, that costs as much as those cameras combined. But I encourage you to think about what condition your camera collection will be in twenty years from now. And I encourage you to think about why you cannot buy a new 35mm camera of reasonable quality construction for anywhere near the cost of antique ones.

How many decades will pass before film photography is reduced to hundreds of dusty cameras sitting behind glass as abstract history decorations whose brand names, much less instructions for use, are recalled only by aged nerds?

And I for one, will forestall this sad future with every frame I shoot. How about you?

We can coast along with crossed fingers, riding on pure hope that our vintage mechanics and electronics last as long as our ambitions. Or we can actively progress, maintain and even fortify our and our community’s pool of resources to ensure that film photography doesn’t die as a result of our own lack of foresight and care.

Because it’s not Nikon’s fault that they had to kill the F6. It’s ours.

We may be able to glean some wisdom from the death of the Nikon F6, perform an autopsy if you will.

The death of the F6 appears to tell us that the average film photographer cannot afford or does not want to pay $2600 for a professional camera. Maybe it tells us that the average film photographer does not place a high value on automation. Maybe it tells us that there no more professional film photographers.

But let’s bring in the autopsy of the second to last 35mm SLR, for context. Up until just three years ago, the Nikon FM10 was also available new, for about $300 with lens, at it’s peak cost. So that seems to rule out opposition of automation and professional cameras. The bipolar opposite to the F6 didn’t sell either!

So let’s bring in the only competition to the last of the 35mm SLR’s; 35mm rangefinders.

Cosina (who were quietly building the FM10 for Nikon) discontinued the Voigtlander Bessa series five years ago. And Leica. Leica, for all intents and purposes invented the 35mm camera and are now the last to still build them new. They sell two in fact. The MP and M-A. These last new 35mm cameras cost an eye-watering $5,000+ dollars each. Without a lens.

From all this, we might deduce that film photographers don’t use SLR’s anymore, only rangefinders, and that they prefer Leica and fully manual cameras over any cheaper options, automated or manual. This doesn’t seem accurate. You like SLR’s, right? I certainly do. And I also certainly appreciate brands other than Leica. In fact, in many forums, film photographers will berate Leica shooters as rich idiots with no common sense. Yet their budget brands aren’t there to support film photographers anymore.

Because this is what we’ve told the market.

We’ve told the market that we don’t want anything new. Lomo only makes toys and Nikon and Leica charge too much for the quality that we demand. We’re content with cameras as cheap as we can get them on eBay and if there’s anything wrong with them, we can just tinker around with them, potentially endangering photo shoots with them until we get them to work well enough for our temporary purposes. We’re telling the market that we don’t need new cameras or professional service and warranties. We’re telling the market that we don’t need development of film camera technology. We’re telling the market that film photography is just a nostalgic, gear-head tinkerer hobby, not the occupation of serious artists and storytellers who require reliable equipment, or care if the next generation has access to it.

We’re telling the market that we care about collecting antiques more than taking pictures.

It makes you wonder who besides Nikon is listening to us. What critical film resource will be the next to die because a products own demographic won’t support its manufacture? And what critical film resources will be left in the clumsy, incapable hands of an ad hoc used market?

It’s as if we’ve voted, with our wallets, against Nikon and for eBay. Do you think that the next new 35mm camera will be made by eBay?

EBay doesn’t care about film photography. Yet we’ve given eBay our money and withheld it from the people who gave us the Nikon F.

I have not included any photos in this blog to represent the lack of film photography that we ourselves are pushing the world towards.

Thanks for reading, happy shooting.

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Insult, Contact Johnny Martyr 

     

 

21 thoughts on “Autopsy of the Nikon F6

  1. well written, eBay won’t make a new film camera and it’s good to say it out loud. To me personally it always feels like I’m cheating the system, that somehow I will get better photos with a $100 Zuiko 85mm f2 or a similarly priced Super Ikonta. Beside buying film, I think it’s important to know how to repair this machines as well, like the great work Chris Sherlock is doing on Youtube. Thank you for the article and the message.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally understand. I’ve certainly given eBay more of my money than the companies who actually built the cameras that I depend on. That is largely just the situation that we’re in as film photographers given the state of what we do. And you’re right, repair is important as we gear up for taking care of our own equipment as professionals are less available to do so. But we can still do things such as just consider where our money is going. Is it going to someone who doesn’t care about what we do, such as eBay? Or is it going to the struggling local camera repair shop? Is it going to a retailer that inspects and warranties what they sell? Do we really need 50 vintage 35mm rangefinders or should we maybe save for that new Leica? Everyone will have different answers to these questions based on their personal interests, finances and other factors, but I think it’s important that we at least ask them of ourselves. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Johnny, the article does come off as “snobby” and condescending. I do not and probably never will have thousands of dollar to spend on film camera gear. I just do not. But I do still have some fun shooting a roll of two in a used 1980s 35mm film camera.

        Like

    2. “Johnny, the article does come off as “snobby” and condescending. I do not and probably never will have thousands of dollar to spend on film camera gear. I just do not. But I do still have some fun shooting a roll of two in a used 1980s 35mm film camera.”

      I guess I’m unsure how I can be a snob for recommending a change in narration over something that I myself am also guilty of due to pragmatics. If you’ll note, I’ve backlinked to a previous blog listing currently made Nikon accessories and lenses for our vintage film cameras. On that blog, people also pushed back regarding the value of buying new despite some of the items costing less than $30. I’ve also stated that my comment is not just about the money but also about how we converse.

      Lack of money is lack of money. But lack of support is something else. Many film photographers own enough cameras that, if they sold them all, they could afford a new camera, or at least new accessories/lenses. But that doesn’t appear to be most peoples’ goal. And not only that, but they are doggedly against the idea.

      If you think it’s snobby and condescending of me to look for reasons why nobody makes 35mm SLR’s anymore and to self-criticize, I certainly can’t change your opinion but it’s my belief that in at least one generation, we may potentially look back and this period of time and wonder why nobody did more to keep film alive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always said I’d keep shooting slides until 4K projectors dropped below $1000. Well, folks, we’re almost there. And yet… I have a Stereo Realist which I shoot Kodak Ultramax, Ektar, and Portra in, for making 3D stereographs, and I recently started developing my own B&W film. It’s far less difficult than I thought it would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting and conclusive (unfortunately damming) view of the film photography landscape I think. I was trying to think of another similar sector that was comparable in how it has been changed by the advances/changes in technology where a subsection of enthusiasts kept the old technology alive and brought it through to a new and thriving industry but I can’t think of one. Initially I thought about music and vinyl but the comparison isn’t the same as the records are (more or less) perpetual and unless people actively destroy them they will be around without investment by manufacturers so as long as they survive it is just the machines to play them that needs investment; and the technology there is physically simpler and has always had a lot of (let’s call it) home made production. We with film photography are battling two fronts, the profitable production and use of a consumable media plus the equipment to use it which is fundamentally less easy to home build.
    In some ways the classic car scene is the closest but they haven’t hit the wall yet because fuel in the form of petroleum spirit is still readily available as most new cars still use it (albeit slightly modified and less beneficial to older engines) but with changes in government policy and advances in the development of alternative propulsion systems it is only the vast profits of oil production that will keep it alive and when that is hit (perhaps by a significant reduction in car travel as a result of say a pandemic) then maybe they will have a similar demise?
    We have, it seems, been caught in the excitement of being able to afford the devices which we perhaps couldn’t when they were new without thinking of where and who was perpetuating the supply.
    Film photography is clearly dying; slowly perhaps and with many potential resurges and grasps at new life but as you say unless we enthusiast leap to support those resurges and new developments instead of maligning them as poor substitutes for older equipment (which we know and love) then all we will be left with is a more and more restrictive supply of the film (which we can help) and a dwindling community of people to keep our cameras alive. There is little to be done it seems to change the path it is on without some significant step change in demand and investment by ourselves in new film equipment.
    What we can do (to extend it’s life) is to support those who are keeping the cameras that are out there in good order and rather than buying (or betting on) cameras that may or may not work through organizations such as eBay instead pay more for fully serviced and renewed equipment from the likes of https://camerarescue.org/ and others.
    (sorry that went on far more than I thought it would)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yeah I’ve seen a lot of comments online from people that would never consider buying a camera new for $2500 and would rather give their money to ebay. And I’ll admit that I never really thought seriously about buying the F6 either. Perhaps one day I would have if I needed motor drive, autofocus, etc, but I’ve heard that the focusing screen wasn’t precise enough for critical focus. Actually the new film camera I was really excited about and willing to buy over any other was the Kodak Super 8 camera announced about 3 years ago, sadly there hasn’t been an update for a long time there and most people shooting super 8 will only do it if they can pick up something on the ‘bay for $50. I’ve had the same problems trying to convince people that now is the time to support our own country’s manufacturing and buy Made in USA whenever possible. Sadly people would rather buy everything for the cheapest price, at the greatest convenience. It also reminds me of a certain Terry Pratchett quote regarding the price of shoes…

    The F6 was the culmination of technological progression, automatic features, high-technology. Now, while Leica does still make film cameras (and from the articles I’ve read the demand is outstripping supply), their culmination of technological progression was discontinued a couple years ago (the M7) in favor of simpler, all-mechanical throwbacks. We’re to the point where most of the market isn’t looking for the fanciest high-tech innovations but a dependable all-mechanical camera. And not a plasticky cheap one, with all due respect to Cosina’s FM10.

    So maybe Leica was a bit ahead of the curve with chucking out the M7 in favor of what they have now, and sadly I don’t know if Nikon will be looking to go the same route because I doubt they have that kind of manufacturing capability anymore…I don’t know where Mito Nikon is at in all this but if the resources involved in making the F6 were diverted to bringing back the FM3a I’d say that that was a step forward. It would show that Nikon as a company were willing to take a cue from Leica and listen to what the market wants, and do their part to keep film photography alive. Also remember my suggestion for the F2 limited as they once did with the S3 and SP. I’d love for them to bring back the F2! It would cost a hell of a lot but it’s something that I’d be willing to save for, and I’m much more likely to put down money for a brand new all-mechanical Nikon SLR than I am for a Leica. However that is probably just a pipe dream sadly.

    The OTHER option though, is that Nikon did in fact stop making the F6 years ago and have just been selling off their stock, and your article had a hand in making their stock run out all that much quicker! To bring up a point from your article last year, all we really know is that the internal battery was brand new. I personally think that Nikon’s attitude toward film photography isn’t all-too different from Fujifilm’s, because I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. If Nikon wants to consider making film scanners and all-manual cameras again, and not ban film shots from their photography competition, then that’s different.

    But you’ve made your point which is essentially “Use it or lose it.” I will definitely commit to buying at least one brand-new AI-s Nikkor lens next year, it’s my New Year’s Resolution. Also I don’t in the least find your arguments to be snobby or condescending, though they do come from the perspective of a professional rather than a casual hobbyist. And sadly the majority of people getting into film photography won’t treat their gear as an investment in the future, nor are they likely to take it more seriously if all they’re interested in is getting the camera featured by the latest hot celebrity. And it’s so frustrating caring about something so much more than other people do…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An F6 gives you lots of choices, as does nearly every film or digital camera made since all auto in the 80s; but, to quote Edina Monsoon, ” I don’t want more choices, I just want nicer things”.

    The economic metric for film photography is film sales, not cameras. I buy lots of film.

    It is not my fault, or the fault of any film photographer, that Nikon chose to make a camera that today maybe a half-dozen professional photographers (with clients who want film) in the world need. It is not the fault of the new film users that no one makes a new film camera they would want (and in the case of the “M”, can afford).

    My goto camera is an 85 year old Barnack. It is 10 years older than me, and in better condition. There is no new replacement for it, except to buy a new M and an ltm adapter, but no reason I can think of to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s exactly our fault – we foster an environment that places more value on casual shooting and camera collecting than shooting important/paid work on reliable equipment.

      I use my 1930 Leica near daily, you’re right even a new M doesn’t quite compare. But when doing paid work, the 1930 takes second fiddle to my M6 TTL. The barrier between me and a new MP is working harder towards higher paying gigs. Not a preoccupation with antiques that overshadows my work as a photographer. Not necessarily saying this is you personally, but I think it’s the general direction of the film community.

      As for the F6, it’s not a camera for me either. But the FM10 was already yanked and this, to me, simply marks the end of the SLR all together.

      Like

      1. It may or may not be the end of the (film) slr era, but it is obvious that Nikon did not have a film slr niche in their corporate plan. Even profitable things can be cancelled if they are not part of that “vision” going forward. Even if everyone who has bought a used F6 had bought I new one, is it likely Nikon would have changed its plan? Obviously, Nikon’s historical association with legendary film slrs did not mean all that much to the company (it is likely that Leitz would continue to produce a film M even if it weren’t profitable due to the M’s reputational value (marketing, pr etc) to Leitz).

        I don’t think there is “fault”. It’s just business.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You make great points and I don’t entirely disagree. I think that for me, I’d rather assign blame to the party that I believe is more capable of enacting a change in culture. And I make it a matter of fault and blame instead of just business because just as I choose to provide film services only in my business, I would like to see more folks put their money where their mouths are in the film community. I just think that we could all be doing more to further our cause as it were. Myself included.

        Like

  6. Personally, I see your tone as more matter-of-fact than snobby. You’re also 100% correct – no company is going to sell film cameras at a loss. The once proud names of Yashica and Minolta are shipping on cut-rate crap. Is this what we want?

    I don’t take pictures for a living, so I can’t relate to the challenges of trying to shoot film in a professional setting, but what I can see in this ascendancy is an outsized representation of the hipster crowd, who clamor for “authenticity”, for whom a F5 is profaning their “art” – as if photos of laundromats and gas stations is somehow cutting edge shit.

    At the end of the day, its a numbers game, right? Maybe a new F100 and FM2n would fill both niches, but that’s just the niche – and a company that’s already bleeding profits isn’t going to jump into a niche market unless they see the potential for future profit. But that means it has to go mainstream and that’s where you lose your SoHo and Brooklyn hipster crowd.

    If we want film and film cameras to survive, we have to active in promoting them. We also need to resurrect the dark arts of camera repair. Only then will camera manufacturers return to the film market – that’s my takeaway from your post.

    Whether or not film photography can regain its former popularity is a big question. Personally, I believe that it will remain a niche market and the money will be in providing repair and parts. Cameramakers in Finland and Camera Center of York in PA, are two great examples. Midwest Camera Repair did the CLA on my Nikon FE and it works like it just came out of the box.

    In the absence of new film cameras, let’s get behind the fixers and makers – that’s what will prevent our cameras from becoming relics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for understanding my perspective, Rob. You’re right, if we can’t get new cameras, we absolutely need to keep sending our FE’s etc to the repair shops and keeping them fueled as well as our cameras going 100%.

      Like

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