Nikon F Metered Prism Reliability

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by snegron, Jun 15, 2006.

  1. snegron

    snegron Member

    Messages:
    808
    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Location:
    Hot, Muggy,
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I am thinking about purchasing a Nikon F body with a working meter (FTN). How reliable are these metered prisms compared to earlier models? Do the cells have a certain life span that will expire at some time?

    Not to long ago I purchased an F2A with working metered prism. I absolutely love this camera and I was hoping to add an older F model to my collection. I try to purchase older cameras in near mint condition in order to actually use them as well. I am debating whether I would be better off just getting another F2A instead of an FTN. Any suggestions? Anyone have any comments on the FTN? (Reason I am thinking about the FTN is because it was the last production F before the F2, so I am assuming the meter and mechanical parts are hopefully in better condition than older F models).
     
  2. Dave Swinnard

    Dave Swinnard Subscriber

    Messages:
    263
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2002
    Location:
    Parksville,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I don't know about the life time of the meter cells, but I believe there are issues with the variable resistor element in the ASA/shutter speed dial.

    IIRC the meter takes mercury cells which are essentially unavailable. (though there are a few options like zinc-air cells with their short life and DIY teeny-tiny voltage regulator chips that some folks have added to their meters using lower-voltage mercury cells)

    My FTN sits in the cupboard along side my F2AS. I use my F3.
    (my current FTN was a replacement for my first one - my very first Nikon back in 1972. It now resides on an unnamed Arctic island, inadvertantly left behind by my helicopter flying little brother...)

    I might not use the older ones much, but I did in the past and they served me well. The F3 is much-travelled and still keeps ticking along. It will be going on a road-trip again Monday as we're off to South Dakota and the Black Hills ('cause they're there)
     
  3. resummerfield

    resummerfield Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,344
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2005
    Location:
    Alaska
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    There are repair shops that adjust the internals of the FTN meter to work with the Alkaline batteries. The parts for the variable resistor are no longer available, but there are a few shops that will work on them. Pete Smith at Fotocamera Repair 561-433-8434 keeps mine working. Call him for some great advice.
     
  4. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,055
    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2004
    Location:
    Montgomery,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    FTn's were made for about 5 years 68-72/3? the bodies were basically the same since '62. Although it's not 100% accutate the year of manufacture can be estimated by the first two digits of the serial #.
     
  5. snegron

    snegron Member

    Messages:
    808
    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Location:
    Hot, Muggy,
    Shooter:
    35mm

    Sorry to hear about your first FTN! I have thought about getting another F3, but it just doesn't have the overall apeal as the F or F2. I have an F3 somewhere with a bad shutter and bad meter. I worked it to death back in the mid 80's. There is just something about the F and F2 that makes them great to shoot with and awe inspiring to look at!
     
  6. snegron

    snegron Member

    Messages:
    808
    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Location:
    Hot, Muggy,
    Shooter:
    35mm

    Thanks for the info! It is great to know there are people out there who still enjoy fixing the old F!
     
  7. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,125
    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2005
    Location:
    Live Free or
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The Nikon F was famously rugged, and the reputation of the models that followed it has been that they weren't quite as rugged as the original. However many people would argue that the later F's don't deserve the slight. The FTn finder model would be the one to get, unless you are only interested in a collectors item. As I recall, the FTn introduced the center-weighted metering, the earlier FT meter was through-the-lens, and the earliest meter finder had an external cell (I think).
    As noted, the F body was pretty much same through that entire transition of metered prisms. The only difference I remember was the later ones had plastic on the end of the wind lever.
    By all means, it is a worthwhile camera to own and use, if you can obtain one with the meter calibrated for modern batteries, or have it done, so much the better.
    The cameras were also available with non-metered finders, which were cheaper when new, and are good bit more compact than the FTn models. Just get an equally old Weston meter, and you won't have batteries to worry about at all! :smile:
     
  8. Uncle Bill

    Uncle Bill Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,378
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Oakville and
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have both an eyelevel prism F from the early 1960s and late '60s F with the FTN meter head. They are tanks and I have never had an issue with the FTN meter which was calibrated to use modern batteries. I purchased it off my camera tech, Gord at Commercial Camera Repair in North York, Toronto, Canada. Its funny I have had opportunities to buy a F3 but I prefer the F and F2, knowing me I will be looking for a Black F at some point.
     
  9. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,220
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW Mis
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I've used Nikon F and Nikkormats for 39 years, but haven't used that monster of a metering prism since mine quit working long ago. The Nikon F, despite the funky mirror lock-up and detachable back, is a fine camera with the unmetered prism. The latest unmetered F prisms, like the metered ones and Nikkormat, accept the focusing magnifier and right-angle adaptor without a little adaptor to slip on the eyepiece.
     
  10. Richard Kelham

    Richard Kelham Member

    Messages:
    250
    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2006
    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    Shooter:
    Multi Format


    Same here. I bought my first F (unmetered) in 1969 and added an FTN in the mid-70s. The meter died some time in the 80s (can't remember exaxctly when as I had stopped using it some time before. Not inaccurate, but definitley clunky. If I were you I'd get an F2 and a good hand meter like a Weston or Sekonic L398 and never have to worry about batteries again!


    Richard
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

    Messages:
    4,913
    Joined:
    May 17, 2006
    Location:
    Northern Aqu
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Same as Jim and Richard. I have 5 Fs, 2 black, 3 chrome, all with plain prisms. Gave up on metered prisms when my last one died, decades ago, and have never missed it.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  12. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hi Folks.

    I also have and use the F and an F2. I would recommend either to anyone serious about film photography. I have a slight preference for my F2, but I readily pick up and load either or both when planning a shoot.

    The meters in both work, but the F has a condition whereby the meter seems to report light when none is present. From what I have read, the CdS cells seem to "leak" a little in near darkness. This is interpreted as brighter light than is really present, and which can cause underexposure by several stops in extremely low light, such as in room lighting at night. In bright daylight this leakage is such a small factor in the equation that the meter reads correctly, as compared to my Sekonic L308B hand meter.

    I use the hand meter anyway, and rarely even care what the inboard meter thinks. If I could find a couple of nice plain prisms, I think I would just take the metering heads off altogether.
     
  13. John Hermanson

    John Hermanson Member

    Messages:
    306
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2005
    Location:
    Huntington,
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Considering that the FTn meter head came out when I was in high school (I graduated the year the Beatles broke up) you are more likely to find meter heads that don't work properly than those that do. The big problem is that all the photomic heads used a resistive strip inside a large ring to control meter position. As the resistive strip wears out, gets old, gets corroded, the meter becomes wildly erratic. It will be very hard to find new VR rings to fix this. Perhaps someone makes aftermarket resistive strips.
     
  14. Mike Kovacs

    Mike Kovacs Member

    Messages:
    274
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have seen desilvering in a great many plain prisms made for the Nikon F. Something to watch out for.

    Seems to be less of a problem with the metered prisms in my experience.
     
  15. resummerfield

    resummerfield Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,344
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2005
    Location:
    Alaska
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I agree. More than half the plain prisms I've seen have desilvering, but I've never seen this on the meter prisms. Wonder why? A repair tech told me once that the meter prism could be modified to fit the plain prism housing. I've never tried this.
     
  16. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    desilvering on plain prism heads

    Guess I have good reason to be thankful for that big clunky metering head now. As I think about it, it works just fine with a good hand meter.

    Thanks,
    Henry :smile:
     
  17. mikebarger

    mikebarger Member

    Messages:
    1,934
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2005
    Location:
    south centra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I just recently sold my last two F's with FTN heads. Never had any trouble with the FTN heads or F-36 motors on either one.

    I had a F2 w/motor, but it just never felt right. I use 35mm very little now and when I do I use a F3HP or EL2.

    Mike