Yes, battery concern is such an insignificant issue with the F3HP that I regularly just leave it in the on position all the time.
Something of more concern though would be what you're used to metering wise. The FM3A (and I believe all FMs), like the FE-series, uses a match-stick indicator (needle style). The F3HP uses a backlit LCD (with a very lame backlit button that you'll never use). If you regularly use it in manual mode and rely on the meter indicator as a form of feedback loop, the meter display in the F3HP will just piss you off as it's an absolute measurement without a reference point. I mostly use it in a-prio mode when I can't be concerned with doing manual metering.
Nikon F3HP! I have an F5 but I use the F3 much more often.
If the battery is a concern - such as in cold weather, you could always use one 3V Lithium battery CR1/3N instead of the two 1.5V cels as it has a much wider temperature tolerance as well as much longer shelf life.
Originally Posted by clayne
The FM3A inherited the match needle metering system from the FE2 as the FM2 and FM both use LEDs for it's meter.
I agree that the F3's backlit button does leave something to be desired.
You can't go wrong with an F3hp.
The meter batteries will last 9-12+ months, depending on use. I have never had the batteries in my F3hp crap out in any less than 12 months. If battery failure is a concern, carry an extra pair of SR44 batts, or change batts every 9 months or so. Problem solved.
The only drawback to the F3 is its weight - it is not a light camera like the FM2n is. Yet it the tank-like build that makes the F3 so relentlessly durable and reliable. It is damn near indestructible. It is a system camera, with interchangeable focusing screens, viewfinder assemblies, etc. It has a motor drive unit as an optional add-on that will give you 4 fps with AA alkaline batts or 6 fps with the MN-2
Ni-Cd Battery Unit. The F3 also has mirror lock up and depth of field preview. It also has an eyepiece shutter for blocking out stray light during long exposures; it is a workhorse pro camera that is loaded with features.
I've stopped worrying about the weight of basically any 35mm camera. None are heavy enough to really fret about (although that Canon F1 is a brick). It's the medium format cameras that start adding significant weight to the bag.
My primary F3HP (I have two) received its last set of batteries in early 2010. Some 30-40 rolls later they are still going strong and I've used the camera in harsh conditions - from -30 to 110 degrees.
The F3HP does need batteries to run but it definitely doesn't remind you of that fact very often.
Most everything you're saying tells me 'FM3a'. Trying to read the terrible F3 v'finder display in low-light is frustrating as heck...if you can routinely find that tiny button. One of the worst oversights in Nikon pro-line of SLR's...ever. 3a has a nice Exposure Lock feature (use it) for contrasty light so meter-reading may not be as critical in low-light. Not much light in the 3a finder for low-light reading, as in none, but no frustration either. Match/needle is much more precise than -0+, esp important if burning much transparency. Forget cost - in a year or two from now, it won't matter. I like the smaller and lighter 3a for carrying, however much or far. When logging miles on the bike or hoof, I'm sporting one of the smaller bodies; FE2, FM, 2n or 3a. The FM family has habitually held-up very well.
3a is a much newer camera. Buy an old F3...hiccup...and you have a repair bill or replacement decision. Some people 'oooh' and 'ahhh' the F3 film advance. As smooth as it is, I'm more practical. That AS-17 flash adapter for TTL (upthread photo) costs half as much as the camera. Not into super-expensive accessories when the same feature is integral to the body a la 3a. You get 2 shttr spds if the F3 batt dies; 1/60th and whatever you can manage with turning the speed dial while not vibrating the camera from the 'T' setting. F3 is dead w/out a batttery. But don't fret about battery life unless you're philosophically oppposed to carrying a spare, in which case...? The Ap Priority and all-manual-without-a-battery 3a fits me to a 'T'.
I own a couple F3 and several 3a's...and other Nikons out my ears. F3 has somewhat fallen out of favor. Still honeymooning with the 3a after many years. Spend a couple years with a 3a and then grab an F2SB or F2AS...let me tell you about those for a beefy, manual camera!
Love my F3HP, it's built for the long haul. I'm the third owner. That being said, there's no flash shoe (well, there's a slide on gadget), the mirror is fairly noisy and it's probably slightly heavier and bigger than an FM3a, but it's still smaller and lighter than my D700. I still love the camera, though, and have never had a problem with it. It does everything I need a film camera to do. Aperture priority mode works well, and I don't have a problem with the LCD display. Battery life is not an issue, the SR44 cells seem to last forever.
KEH BGN grade F3HP bodies are in the $120 range right now, and that would be a great deal. Add $10 for one of Jon Goodman's seal kits and you're ready to start shooting.
I have the F, F2, and F3. I had an FM3A, but I never bonded with it. I prefer the bigger "pro" bodies. All of mine have seen decades of use with no repairs or service required.
I have to agree on the Canon F-1 weight comment. I have one and really, really like it, but is it a camera that I want to grab and head out the door with? No, it's just really too heavy. A good strap helps though.
You have to weigh a number of factors in your decision here. I too love older, simpler cameras. Not as much to go wrong, better build quality. But often the cameras have shutters that aren't as capable as they used to be. One stop slow on most speeds is all too common, and at higher speeds it can be quite a bit more. The last F2a I had was only able to get 1/400 at 1/2000. For me that was a deal killer because I like to shoot Tri-X wide open w/ fast lenses. Yes, I could have gotten a CLA on it, but I've had pretty spotty results w/ camera repairs, and even after a CLA I'd still have an old camera.
My solution was to keep my Nikkormat FT2 when I want a nice, solid (and heavy, but not like the Canon F-1 thank goodness) camera for out-and-about shooting. With an H 50 or Q 135 lens on it, it makes a surprisingly light package. For times when I want to shoot wide open I bought an old N8008s for $20. It has a 1/8000 top shutter speed, and the electronically controlled shutter is reliable and accurate. I hate exposures that are all over the place, so having a camera w/ an electronic shutter, which ever one you buy, is a good idea.