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  1. #1

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

    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 :-) Of course, it's difficult to judge image quality at these small sizes, but the spirit of what I am seeing is surely conveyed...


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/4.0)


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)


    (F, Nikkor-P 105mm at f/2.5)


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)

    And here come the verticals:


    (F, Nikkor-H.C 50mm at f/2.0)


    (F, Nikkor-P 105mm at f/2.5)


    (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:


    (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. #2
    Steve Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philosomatographer View Post
    and the F finder was definitely better at focusing a lens with such insanely shallow DOF at close quarters.
    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.
    "People who say things won't work are a dime a dozen. People who figure out how to make things work are worth a fortune" - Dave Rat.

  3. #3

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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. #4

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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. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by pentaxuser View Post
    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.
    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.



    (OM-3Ti, Zuiko 135mm)


    (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 :-)

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by cramej View Post
    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.
    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. #7
    Ralph Javins's Avatar
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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.
    Enjoy;

    Ralph Javins, Latte Land, Washington

    When they ask you; "How many Mega Pixels you got in your camera?"
    just tell them; "I use activated silver bromide crystals tor my image storage media."

  8. #8
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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.
    --------------------
    "Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it." -Paul Strand

    www.glasskeyphoto.com

  9. #9
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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.
    Thy heart -- thy heart! -- I wake and sigh,
    And sleep to dream till day
    Of the truth that gold can never buy
    Of the bawbles that it may.

    www.silverhalidephotography.com

  10. #10

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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!

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