Nikon F4

HISTORICAL NOTES

An important piece of the history of modern photography has beencertainly written by SLR cameras produced by Nikon, especially the F series  whose evolution often introduced innovations that would be gradually adopted by all other manufacturers; few models forms the F series, with historical development ranging from 1959 to 2004 regarding film camera bodies and that can be said in part continues with the F mount lenses. These cameras have always been appreciated by professionals for the superb quality lens they coould use and the professional features of bodies, and have been for so long the dream of advanced amateurs; today used F cameras can be bought (apart from the F6) at affordable prices and allow everyone to appreciate the solidity and the myriad of higher level functions.

In the timeline of the F series the Nikon F4 is an important watershed as it was presented in a period of full transition from manual focus to autofocus systems technology; this is also a feature which makes it, as we shall see, a sort of “bridge”: the only camera that can fit almost all Nikkor lenses produced from the beginning until today, albeit with some limitations. It was introduced in 1988 as an evolution of the highly respected F3 (and its derivatives) and remained in production until 1997 to give way to more evolved F5, hitting it now for the special design (by Giugiaro) as well as performances. It was not one of the most popular cameras in the F family, indeed perhaps is less popular nowadays although its universality in accepting optics in every age makes it a (or the) model to aspire to.

HOW DOES IT WORK

Top vision

Top view

The Nikon F4 looks solid and professionally built and definitely could not be otherwise given the metal construction and the generous size; as with all cameras dedicated to professionals, the body is littered with control buttons and commands that make operations quick and with high reactivity. On the top deck you notice the lack of film advance lever as F4 was the first Nikon F family to eliminate manual advance in favor of automatic system.

Even the film rewinding is powered and it is activated by pressing the two levers R1 and R2 on top and on the back; however, it is also possible to use the manual rewind, and is in fact present at the far left of the top cover, the classic ratchet lever.

The Nikon F4 without pentaprism

The Nikon F4 without pentaprism

Aside from commands, it is the master for size the large pentaprism which is removable via a small command seat to his left that unlock the shoe mount exposing the cockpit with its interchangeable focusing screen.

The Nikon F4 turns on using the switchat the far right of the top cover, right above the handle, moving it from the off position L (lock); through this rotary switch, whose movement is allowed only by simultaneously pressing the reset button placed to the right, you can select the various shooting modes between single, silent, continuous slow or fast and self-timer. Near the switch there is also the selection lever of exposure mode: Manual (M), Aperture priority (A), priority time (S), program (P), program high speed (PH).

The controls on the right side

The controls on the right side

The series of commands on the top right is completed by the wheel to set shutter speeds from 1/8000 sec 4 sec besides pose B, T and X,  the command wheel for exposure adjustments from -2 to +2 EV and the switch to activate lighting in viewfinder, placed on the outer ring of the shiutter speed wheel. There is also one of the above mentioned commands for rewinding the film (R1) and multiple exposure lever that locks the film after exposing a frame: this is positioned near the window frame counter.

On the left side of the top cover, in addition to the previously mentioned film rewind pawl, we find the ISO sensitivity (can be set from 6 to 6400 or by automatic DX code between 25 and 5000) selector; concentrically to the pawl there is the back release lever, while in its rearmost position there is the small red led that signals the end of the film.

The controls on the front

The controls on the front

Additional commands are placed on the front of the camera on both sides of the lens mount, where we find (with reference to the image on the right) the lens release button and the focus mode selector (manual, single, continuous) and on the left, starting from the top, the depth-of-field preview button and the lever for lifting the mirror; just below we find the buttons and knobs to lock exposure and focus (activable even together through the appropriate lever drive).

Important mention has to be made for a small button on the outer ring of the bayonet: by pressing it allowsto retract and disengage the light meter coupling lever, allowing backward compatibility with pre-AI Nikkor lenses; This step is very important and must be kept in mind if you want to use these lenses without incurring in damage to the camera body and the lens itself.

The viewfinder exposure DP20

The viewfinder DP20

Maybe a bit atypical for some will be the location of the metering control command which is placed on one side of the DP20 viewfinder together with diopter adjustment wheel and aperture compensation scale. The metering can be selected in three different modes namely spot mode, media center-dominated (60% within a circle of diameter 12 mm) and Nikon’s Matrix, well-known its evolutions present in today’s digital SLRs.

Made acquaintance with the myriad of command and loaded the film we just have to start shooting and this definitely is where the Nikon F4 does not disappoint by being  ready and allowing the photographer complete control on all the aspects of the shoot; the bright viewfinder (which as mentioned is also equipped with lighting) shows all the important information: in the upper part the frame counter, exposure compensation, focus indicators (the darts and the green confirming dot still used today), the aperture value is taken directly from a window above the lens ring; in the central part there are the indicators of the focus points and of the areas of exposure measurement (5 mm and 12 mm).

The bottom of the viewfinder is the most informative and the displayed items vary depending on the selected operating mode (P, A, S, M): it shows the selected metering system indicators symbols, the shutter speed, aperture value, AE lock indicator (P and S modes), the classic exposure bar (in M mode).

Once you have learned the layout of the controls and made practice in achieving commonly used commands you can literally shoot with the F4 and never take your eyes away from the viewfinder. The experience that this camera gives is surely to be enjoyable and intuitive eventually coming from other cameras of the same era. The autofocus is accurate even in low light, definitely slow compared to today’s but can support the burst (even if limitecompared to the fps modern DSLR can reach) without losing shots, as well as exposure especially if in matrix mode. Only downfall, but intrinsic to the pro bodies, is the weight which is felt especially if the camera is coupled with bright and pro-built lenses.

Standard grip MB20

Standard grip MB20

Last note is relative to the power source of the camera: the Nikon F4 was sold with three different “handles” or battery grip, which classified the model and secured different burst speed:

  • Nikon F4: MB20 for 4 AA batteries and 4 fps
  • Nikon F4s: MB21 for 6 AA batteries and 5.7 fps
  • Nikon F4e: MB24 for 6 Ni-Cd batteries and 5.7 fps

The user manualcan still be found online on Nikon website.

 

TECHNICAL DATA

Model: SLR autofocus

Format: 35 mm cameras for 135 film.

Lens mount: Nikon F AF

Shutter: focal plane carbon fibre halves; 30 sec (4 sec in M and S) to 1/8000 sec, bulb, T and X

Exposure modes: manual, aperture priority automatic time, priority, bulb

Viewfinder: SLR 100% coverage with LCD information panel and diopter correction. Focusing interchangeable screens

Metering: EV0 – EV21, TTL, Nikon Matrix, spot (EV2-EV21)

Self-timer: Yes, 10 sec delay.

Flash: TTL electronic flash  with dedicated ISO contacts, PC socket. Flash sync speed 1/250sec

Dimensions: length 168 mm; 117.5 mm height; 76.5 mm depth.

Power supply: 4 AA batteries 1, 5V (with MB20 Nikon F4)

Weight: 1090 g.

Pros:

Wealth of commands.
Professional body.
TTL Functionality.
Exposure Matrix.
Optical quality and compatibility.
Autofocus.
Availability of accessories.

Cons:

Substantial weight.
Limited burst (MB20).
Placement of some commands.

AVAILABILITY AND PRICES

In recent years the Nikon F4 can be easily found on the 2nd hand market at prices that have begun to fall given the simultaneous increase in the availability of  F5 or F6 bodies, in many ways preferable. However, if you have a large set of Nikkor lense of all ages and you want to have a professional body although not the latest, the Nikon F4 is definitely a model to be taken in consideration. It should be noted, however, that there are many electronic parts difficult to repair today then it’s better search the specimens in very good condition, possibly used by amateurs and maybe spending a little more. The camera is still a tank and hardly leave you walking. The average price hovers between 200 and 250 EUR depending on the grip mounted and the cosmetics.

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