Nikon F4 35mm AF SLR Film Camera

Nikon F4 35mm AF SLR Camera

Introduction and Overview

Nikon F4, Front
There's probably not much more that can be written about the professional Nikon F4 35mm AF SLR camera that has not been covered by the likes of Wikipedia and websites like MIR.com, reviews by Ray Larose, Jake Horn Photography, Ken Rockwell, Dante Stella, and other streams of resources.

Released in 1988, the F4 was the choice for professional photographers as Nikon’s first fully supported autofocus camera and comes with focus tracking capability. The camera supports just about every Nikon lens ever produced (though some are with restrictions) and its Matrix metering is capable of supporting just about every Nikon flash unit available.

Nikon F4 - The F Word
Nikon ended up with three F4 models identified by the way their integrated battery packs are attached and were interchangeable between the bodies without modification. Nikon ended up with three F4 models identified by the way their integrated battery packs are attached and were interchangeable between the bodies without modification.


Nikon F4, F4s, and F4e

Nikon F4, Back
The most compact is the F4, which holds 4 AA batteries housed in the grip. The F4s offers the MB-21 motor drive that uses 6 AA batteries and comes with an addition of a vertical shutter release button.

The F4e (1991) incorporates the MB-23 motor drive unit, which features not only 6 AA batteries and a vertical release pack, but also offers options for the Ni-Cd battery and an additional 250 exposure Bulk Film Multi-Control Back MF-24 terminal.

The body itself went through a range of physical refinement throughout its production run, some of which are not obvious to the nondiscerning user. You can check this out at F4 Concise Instructions by Thom Hogan, look towards the bottom of the page at the section named Refinements to the F4.


Build Quality and Handling

Nikon F4, Top with DP-20 Head on its side
Built like a tank, the F4 has an aluminum-alloy body casing, heavy-duty electronics, rubber-cushioned exterior which does it a bit in providing better water resistance. The F4 was the first professional Nikon to utilize a vertical-travel metal-blade shutter with shutter balancer to minimize noise and camera bounce and is one of the three film based Nikon cameras that offers full Matrix metering with AI manual focus lenses.

Nikon F4, Bottom with battery grip open

The fumble-free film loading mechanism of the F4, though not uncommon among advanced SLR systems of the same era, adds to the ease of getting the camera ready, the film is advanced to frame 1 when you close the door. Rewind is either manual or motor-driven by holding down a pair of rewind toggle switches.

Nikon F4, film box

The F4 does not support Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction) system, VR lenses will mount and function, but without image stabilization. The F4 also lacks the electronic aperture control system which will allow for the use of Nikon's G-type lenses, which are without aperture rings. With these lenses, exposure control is limited to program and shutter-priority modes.


Basic Camera Features

Nikon F4, top right knobs and levers
One trait commonly mentioned among the reviews is the transitional nature of the controls of the F4, where the electronics, LCD viewfinder display, autofocus, programmed auto-exposure, and matrix metering is forward-looking, while its dedicated analog dials for shutter speed, lens aperture, metering pattern, and exposure compensation are reminiscent of the pedigree's mechanical beginning.

The Nikon F4 was the first of the F-series cameras that does not come with a manual film advance lever, the camera is based on a motor-driven system which lets you take your shots and advances the film automatically to the next frame. The system is also used to operate the film rewind (you can still rewind the film manually though).

Exposure metering on the F4 is available in 3 modes: Spot, Center-Weighted (80:20) as found on the Nikon F3, and the revolutionary Matrix mode, first seen in the Nikon FA which is a very efficient system for automatic exposure control, remote-control photography and for fill-flash operation.

Nikon F4, Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai-S

It is also worth mentioning that the Matrix metering mode is available on the F4 for all MF (Manual Focus) Nikkor lenses, something which you may not get on later Nikon models.

Shutter speeds are stepless from 30 sec. to 1/8000 sec. in Programmed Mode (PH, P) and Aperture Priority Auto (A) modes, and set from 4 sec. to 1/8000 sec. in Shutter Priority Auto (S) and Manual (M) modes, B, T, and X. Double-exposure is activated by pulling back a small behind the exposure comp dial before you take the shot, which will prevent the camera from advancing the film to the frame after the shutter is released.


Finder and Screen

Nikon F4 DP-20 Head
The standard for the F4 is the DP-20 finder, where all the three metering patterns are available. Alternatives are the AE Action Finder 20, with which you will miss out the Matrix Metering option, and the 6X High Magnification DW-21 and Waist Level Finder DW-20, and miss out on both Matrix and Center-Weighted modes.

The F4 comes with an advanced B-type BriteView screen as the standard and a range of 12 other optional types.


Viewfinder Info

Nikon F4, Viewfinder info
With the DP-20 finder, the display is a plethora of picture taking information organized within a horizontal display each above and below the s lining above and below the 100% field coverage screen.

The top display bar sports a couple of LCD screens to the left of the display for Exposure Compensation Value and (Additive) Frame Counter, Aperture Direct Readout (ADR) window in the middle, and LED displays for Focus, Exposure Compensation, and Flash Ready Light indicators on the right.

The lower LCD bar displays the exposure readout which includes Metering, Shutter Speed, AE Lock, and Aperture settings.

LCD Bleed - A ailment commonly mentioned is the tendency of the LCD units to bleed, something which you might want to look into or inquire about units that are on for sale. The camera will still work, nevertheless.


Film Advance Modes

Film advance mode is controlled by a dial integrated with the shutter button. Turning the dial form its Lock position to any of the selection available requires a small knob adjacent to the dial to be pressed before the dial can be turned. The self-timer selection is part of the dial:
  • L (Lock) - Immobilizes the camera.
  • S (Single Frame) - Single frame shot for each exposure.
  • CH (Continuous High Speed) - Continuous, at 4 to 5.7 fps, depending upon battery pack used.
  • CL (Continuous Low Speed) - Continuous, at 3 to 3.4 fps, depending upon battery pack used.
  • CS (Continuous Silent) - Continuous, at 0.8 to 1 fps, depending upon battery pack used.
  • Self Timer - 10-second delay, self-timer activates autofocus and light meter operation.


Focus Modes

The focus mode selector, located on the front panel of the camera body, located just below the lens release knob, enables the following selection:
  • S (Single Servo AF) - Uses focus-priority (shutter cannot be released until focus is achieved).
  • C (Continuous Servo AF) - Uses release priority (shutter can be released whether or not focus is achieved). Image focusing is continuously updated unless AF-L button is held down (which will lock focus).
  • M (Manual Focus) - Electronic confirmation symbols appear in the viewfinder.


Shooting Modes

The shooting mode selector, located on the top of the camera slightly back from the shutter dial, is the PASM center of the F4, and comes with the addition of a PH selection::
  • PH (High-Speed Program) - Camera sets both the shutter speed and aperture with an emphasis on faster shutter speeds; requires AF or AI-P lens.
  • P (Program) - Camera sets both the shutter speed and aperture; requires an AF or AI-P lens.
  • S (Shutter-Priority) - You set the shutter speed, the camera sets the aperture; requires an AF or AI-P lens.
  • A (Aperture-Priority) - You set the aperture, the camera sets the shutter speed.
  • M (Manual) - You choose both the aperture and the shutter speed.


Using The Camera

Beefy as it is, the ergonomics of the F4 is reassuringly comfortable in your hands, with that a rock solid feeling that nothing can go wrong. The shutter button is right it should be, the Film Advance Mode dial, though not as easy as using the Shooting Mode dial, might be slightly awkward to adjust with your thumb and index finger.

Nikon F4, Front

The AF and AE Locks are two separate buttons, placed on the front panel of the camera body, are an easy reach with your fingertips.

Film loading is a quick drop and pop, needing you only to extend the film lead and align it with the red square etched on the film box frame before closing the film back. Unloading is just as quick, just hold the two rewind levers down and the film will roll itself back into the canister in a few seconds.

Besides using an AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D with the F4, which makes shooting almost a point-and-shoot experience, I have also used the F4 with a Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai-S. This adds a bit more weight to the body, shooting is now a full two-handed operation, but hold and behold, I found my self a new best friend, the electronic rangefinder system.


EndNote

In retrospect, the Nikon F4, with its ease of use of mechanical buttons, dials, and levers, is still of the old school, distinct from digital buttons and menu selection styles of, say, the Nikon F90x/N90S which I also wrote about. It is an exciting end to an era, one which will remain steadfastly one of the best of the breed, and an equally outstanding example of the AF analog systems.

Nikon F4, AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D

While I am still on the lookout for other Nikon AF bodies to add to my collection for the Introduction and Overviews sessions, I am sure you will find the F4 still as exciting to own and use as did the professionals before you.



Resource Links:
Nikon F4 - Wikipedia
Nikon F4 Series SLR camera models - Main Index Page

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