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...