Turns out they got it right in 1959 (Nikon F)

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by philosomatographer, Dec 5, 2011.

  1. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Dear APUG'ers -

    For years I smugly looked down upon the grand daddy of modern SLRs - the Nikon F - as a large and noisy beast which could not possibly compare with the finesse that I was used to with my Olympus OM cameras. From a humble beginnings with an OM-1n, I eventually worked my way up to an OM-3Ti, and a vast armada of Zuiko f/2.0 lenses ranging from 21mm to 250mm. Life was good.

    Curiosity got the better of me, and a couple of months ago I acquired a late-model, mint Nikon F "Apollo" body with plain prism, and period Nikkor-H.C 50mm f/2.0 and a (very early) Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5. It sat there waiting for months, but this week relieved work pressures finally allowed me to shoot my first roll of film in this beauty. I say "beauty", because it really is. Smooth, solid, confidence-inspiring, and a viewfinder that - though dimmer than an OM - seems much more accurate at selecting the point of focus with critical accuracy. Shooting a roll of Kodak T-MAX 400, using no lightmeter (who needs one with B&W film, really!) I set out, fully expecting to be underwhelmed by 1950s optics. I shot the lenses wide open more than half the time, probably trying to "over-do" what I was expecting to be a softer, low-contrast look. The rangefinder fanboys (I use my Leica M3 frequently, by the way) will have us believe that only Leica could design lenses worth anything in the 1950s. Boy, was I mistaken.

    Now, I really know my Zuikos. I know their capabilities and rendering very well, having printed images from them in the darkroom for quite some time. I also know my OM bodies, having used at least three of them. Quite simply put, as a precision photographic instrument, the Nikon F yielded higher-quality output on all accounts. I can't explain it, but there it is. There is a biting acutance, and an absolute level of resolution into the corners, that I have only before seen on a Leica M3 (for 35mm cameras, I also produce a lot of MF and LF work). How can it be that such old optics, and such an old camera, with a replaceable viewfinder prism etc, can be so good?

    I'm going to litter this thread with a couple of the images from this first and only roll so far, to share with you what I am seeing. Sorry for the heavy bandwidth, but if our excuse for "broadband" here in South Africa can take it, I am sure yours can too :smile: Of course, it's difficult to judge image quality at these small sizes, but the spirit of what I am seeing is surely conveyed...

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/4.0)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-P 105mm at f/2.5)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    And here come the verticals:

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-P 105mm at f/2.5)

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    This 50mm lens is extraordinary to my eyes. A larger image below, to give an impression of the resolving power. Yes, most 50mms are good, but somehow, the F lays this detail down right into the corners, whereas my OMs always seem to struggle in the last couple of millimeters (same on OM-1, OM-2 and OM-3). It probably doesn't really matter, but it's there:

    [​IMG]
    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/5.6)

    I also find the ancient, single-coated 105mm wonderful. On the negatives, there is nothing to choose from between my $800+ Zuiko 90mm f/2.0 Macro, and the $80 Nikkor-P 105mm. Accurate focus means so much more than technical resolving power in real-world photography, and the F finder was definitely better at focusing a lens with such insanely shallow DOF at close quarters.

    It's been a while since I've produced so many pictures on a roll of 35mm film that I not only like, but are technically of an above-average (for me) quality for 35mm. Except for my Leica M, I always struggle to produce consistently high quality with a manual-focus 35mm SLR - it's always hit or miss. All my images were perfectly focused, composition is 100% accurate, and I could not fault the lenses - or any aspect of the system - even once. As a long-time denizen of the church of Maitani (the visionary behind the Olympus OM system), I have gained new-found respect for the visionaries at Nikon in the 1950s, who produced such marvelous quality tools. To be honest, I'd take a bit of extra weight and size any time, if the results are so worth it...
     
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    There are a couple of Nikon Fs in my father's collection. I haven't put a film through either of them yet but just looking through them, the image in the viewfinder looks almost three dimensional and makes focusing very easy.


    Steve.
     
  3. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    The pics look very good. I suppose the only way for the rest of us to also appreciate the difference in the two systems would be to see the same neg/print taken with the Olympus.

    Glad you've discovered the delights of the Nikon. The cat's whiskers look very sharp

    pentaxuser
     
  4. cramej

    cramej Subscriber

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    I do like Nikons, and I shoot with Nikon, but the OOF areas on that 50 f/2 are really jittery - not my cup 'o tea. Over the years, I've found that I prefer my Minolta glass to my Nikon. I've never used an F, but I use an FA and I would agree that the ease of use on the Nikon bodies is quite nice.
     
  5. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    I'm not into wasting film to do comparative tests. Make no mistake, the Olympus OM gear is exceptionally good (two random examples below) - I just didn't expect 20-30 years older Nikkor technology to match it, that's all.


    [​IMG]
    (OM-3Ti, Zuiko 135mm)

    [​IMG]
    (OM-3Ti, Zuiko 35mm)

    P.S. Look at the (subtle, but visible in large prints) "smearing" effect in the last couple of millimeters in the top corners of the above print. All my Zuiko 50mm and wider lenses tend to do this. The Nikkor H.C 50mm, printed on the same paper through the same enlarging lens, does not seem to do so. Anyway, it's minor - I don't want to make too big an issue out of it :smile:
     
  6. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Why is it that these days, people seem to care more about the out-of-focus ares in an image than the in-focus areas? Strange trend started by internet forums... I wish the word "bokeh" had never been uttered. I used to care about this too, but I have resolved to not obsess about it so much anymore - it really is the subject matter that counts...

    Of course, I agree - the 50/2.0 seems to sometimes have incredibly harsh out of focus rendering. But so what! On the other hand, the 105/2.5 seems absolutely delightful in all circumstances in this respect.
     
  7. Ralph Javins

    Ralph Javins Member

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    Good morning;

    Well, I am not sure that I will credit the Nikon F with being the "grand daddy" of modern SLR cameras in 35mm film format. For one thing, Minolta came out with their SR-2 in September of 1958; six months before Nippon Kogaku K. K. brought out the Nikon F. And, we need to credit EPOI (Ehrenreich Photo Optical Industries) with their masterful marketing coup in getting the Nikon F into the hands of the major photojournalists whose reaction to this excellent camera produced the wave that started the Nikon movement. If we look at the history of 35mm camera development, the features of the Nikon F are found in other cameras from many different makers over the years, but Nippon Kogaku K. K. must be credited with collecting all of them together with their own production precision to produce a camera that even earned a place in popular music by being included in the 1973 song "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon.

    The NIKKOR 2.5/100mm lens has been known for years to be a remarkable performing lens. Also, please note that the original price was much more in 1960s dollars than the $80 price that you mentioned. My paycheck for two weeks work in my first job after leaving school in that time period was $93.50.

    Precision in framing and composition in your images? Give some credit to that 100% viewfinder image in the Nikon F.
     
  8. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    I will say that I had all but given up on 35mm a few years ago--except for good ol' Kodachrome. Then I was at a camera swap meet and picked up a Nikon F. That thing is amazing. The ultimate for me was matching up the F body with the f2.5 105mm and a few rolls of Kodachrome. That lens is amazing and I personally love the way the F works/feels. I don't know if it is better/different/all in my head, but the Nikon F is the ultimate system for me personally.
     
  9. guitstik

    guitstik Member

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    I have been a devout Minolta shooter from the 70's and never thought that I would shoot Nikon because I thought they were over rated. I had shot other makes and even own/shoot Olympus gear but never did shoot Nikon until I ran across a deal for a Nikon S3 kit that included an F and since I am a RF freak I had to buy it. I can't personally say that the Nikon glass is any better or worse than my Minolta glass but it is fun to shoot and the 1:1 viewfinder is nice for composition.
     
  10. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    Render unto Caesar . . . and looking back there is no doubt that Nikon was Rome even before the Nikon F was released. The obvious casualty of it's release was the very short lived Canonflex. However, prior to that Nikon and Canon were strictly rangefinder makers. No the proper "Grand Daddy" title would have to be given to the original Asahi Pentax. You only have to look at the features it incorporated at the time of it's release in 1957 to see that all SLR's thereafter was fashioned after it starting with the most important SLR feature - no black out instant return mirror. This singular feature had to be overcome in order for SLR's to take full advantage of through the lens accuracy as opposed to the rangefinder way.

    BTW, great pics!
     
  11. j-dogg

    j-dogg Subscriber

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    my Nikkormat has been my go to manual walkaround for years. Damn thing is a beast, I want to step into an F
     
  12. Mark Crabtree

    Mark Crabtree Member

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    I've been trying to stay away from my F's, but they just have some sort of magnetic power. I think I do better pictures with a Leica or Rollei for some reason, but just can't let go of the F's. No other SLR feels as good to me. And the simplicity of a prism F is right up there with the Leica M2.

    I think a lot of the old photojournalists had it right when they carried a Leica for 50mm and shorter, and an F with a 105 (and often 200mm in reserve).
     
  13. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Subscriber

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    Op kickin it.

    OP kicking some photographic arse!

    Good job.
     
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  15. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Thanks for the replies so far, all. Just to be clear, I know about the pre-F SLR history, but the fact of the matter is, no camera before the F could match it in terms of features, and it really was the first successful SLR. Even the title of first "SLR system camera" has to go to Exakta Varex, who in 1950 already had a removable viewfinder prism, a full range of macro gear, etc. Still, they were slow and complex to operate by comparison, and did not fit the "mould" of modern, quick cameras.

    Time will tell if I ultimately prefer the F system to the OM system (as a user, not a gear fondler) but I wanted to share my initial results and impressions with you guys and girls. The F is indeed a special camera - it has that something a little extra.
     
  16. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    I love the Nikon F (and the 105mm). It's also a great 1960's icon.
    It used to be my absolute favorite, though now, IMHO, there are even better classic cameras with much better viewfinders (and even better lenses than the 105).
    As far as Grandads go, I'd also propose Pentax, though Praktina, with its motor drives and 250 frame backs was, in part, even more innovative.

    About 1950's lenses, I'd say Zeiss was usually better than Leica (and, according to tastes, today is about its equal).
    Other truly excellent lenses were being made by Zeiss Jena, Angenieux, Steinheil, Voigtländer and many others.

    Yes, the Nikon F is definitely something to be happy and get excited about, but some perspective should be kept... :wink:
     
  17. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Dude, my daily cameras are an Olympus OM-3Ti, a Leica M3, a Mamiya RB67, and a Linhof Technika. I have quite a broad perspective I believe...

    They are each a bit better at something than the Nikon F, yet I have never had such a percentage of perfectly focused quickly-made images than with the Nikon F. I am telling you, there is a reason why this camera became the photojournalism standard. They did something very right here.
     
  18. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    I enjoy more using nikon F3 and F with 50 and 105/2.5 than any other cameras I have (including Leica M3 and M6 and bunch of other)... It was hard for me to realize that I spend so much money on Leicas, zeiss, rollei, minolta, yashica, voigtlanders, summicron, you name it ... and on the end nothing beats F/F3 and nikkors in personal joy of using it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 6, 2011
  19. MDR

    MDR Member

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    Why would the Exakta be slower to use ? Is use both systems Exakta Varex IIa and Nikon F and in my opinion they are equally fast. But then again I also somewhat prefer the ergonomics of the Exakta, which many people consider a disaster. Love the Nikon F and it's my main 35mm camera but the Exakta was already a full system including metering prism and up to 12sec exposure time, before the Nikon came to the market.

    Dominik
     
  20. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Look people, I am not trying to start yet another brand war here. Everybody has their favourite cameras. I'm not going to try and construct an argument over why I think the F is faster or better than an Exakta, etc. I, as a long-time Olympus user, am just giving the Nikon F some love, and backing it up with some images. Nothing more! Now all we need is georg16nik to jump in here and turn this into a proper flame war over Leica lenses, etc.

    What I'm seeing, is that the Nikkor-H.C 50mm f/2.0 is as good a 50mm lens as I could ever need (my daily 50mm is the proven highest-performance 50 of them all - the Voigtländer Heliar 50mm f/3.5) and that the F is a magnificently accurate and precise tool to lay that image quality down on film. There are many other good cameras too, of course. I was just surprised at how nice the F is - I never even gave it a second thought.

    I am excited at the prospect of various faster-than-f/2.0 lenses in non-50mm focal lengths. Olympus OM has a bigger f/2.0 range than what anybody has ever had, but they never went faster. If you love Ilford Pan F film like I do, lens speed matters a lot. Precise focusing and film flatness even more!

    Interestingly, I played with the Cosina-made Zeiss ZF lenses at a shop the other day, and they are so mechanically inferiour to the 1950s Nikkors it's scary. They feel like 1970s third-party lenses. Not at all like the ZM (rangefinder) lenses, and definitely nowhere near either of the two beat-up nikkors that I have. The Zeiss 85/1.4 was particularly disappointing with it's stiff focus (I tried two new ones.) The ZF 35/1.4 felt of higher quality, but what a giant lens for what it is! The Makro Planar 100/2.0 again is no patch to the Nikkor 105/2.5 in construction quality.
     
  21. MDR

    MDR Member

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    The Nikon F is a great camera no doubt, as I've stated it's my main 35mm camera, I am astonished that the modern Zeiss lenses are not Nikon 1960's equal, but then very few lenses are.

    Dominik
     
  22. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    As far as build quality alone goes, the nicest lesnes I've seen are Pentax Takumar, the various Schneider & Voigtländer lenses in Bessamatic & Retina Reflex mount, Leica and then Nikon (pre-AF).
    My Zeiss for Rolleiflex lenses are sometimes pretty well built and sometmes pretty shoddy... :confused:
     
  23. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    The pics are very nice. How did you scan them?
     
  24. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Subscriber

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    Thanks! These are scanned 8x10in darkroom prints. Rather quickly done (on resin-coated multigrade paper), many of them could do with some more interesting manipulation.
     
  25. Jerevan

    Jerevan Subscriber

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    I'd love to try an F (have the F2 - my favourite camera) but prices locally are close to ridiculous. I agree on the 105/2.5 (a bit sad about selling my P version) and the 50/2 Nikkor-H is a fantastic everyday lens.
     
  26. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    You were an idiot...and an @$$hole! :wink: Welcome to a real camera. :D