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Nick's Classic Corner - No 28 - Nikon F2 Photomic

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Nov 8, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    I've already covered off the first 35mm professional system SLR, which of course wasn't from Nikon, but was the Praktina. However, there's no question that the idea only really came of age with the Nikon F. I won't be writing a specific piece about the F, because I loathed it so much that I sold mine some years ago - for that matter, I tried to sell my F2, but nobody was buying, even at a knock-down price... as a result, though, I've still got it, and will tell some of it's story.
    But we'll start with the F, because so much did. 1959 was the year, and the F was really a transliteration of a Contax-clone rangefinder into a system SLR. Several things are even now a hang-on from the Zeiss designs of the 30s, principally the insane direction of mounting and of focusing lenses. Well, certainly it doesn't work the way my mind does...
    The F had various other tell-tale signs of the rangefinder system, principally the need to remove the back to change films. However, it had also learned lessons from that other great German manufacturer, KW and their Praktinas, and so the camera had lots and lots of system options.
    Wind on to 1971, and the F had been incredibly successful, but was beginning to look very old-fashioned. In came the new, in the shape of the F2. An entirely manual workhorse with shutter speeds to 1/2000, mirror lock, depth of field preview, and interchangeable everything. With the standard bare prism, it's a striking and handsome camera; unfortunately, mine doesn't have the standard bare prism, but the DP-1 Photomic head. It's still not ugly - the F with Photomic head most certainly was - but the classic lines are spoiled. In exchange, you get manual match-needle exposure, with aperture and shutter speed readout in the finder. Nikon being Nikon, though, there are compatability issues - this finder is designed for pre-AI lenses, and needs to mate a prong on the finder with the rabbit ears on the lens. And to do the whole thing correctly, you have to set the lens to f5.6, and once mounted, move the aperture ring to each extreme of the range so that the finder knows what it's dealing with. Compare this to the Canon F-1 of the same era - that has metering built into the body, not some Dr Frankenstein-inspired monster of a prism, and FD lenses index automatically. Still, it works OK, and from the prism of using one of these things for fun, rather than as a really serious tool, the mounting process and look of the bunny ears is all rather quaint and amusing.
    Where it does score over the F-1 (and from memory, the F) is that the base plate does not need to be removed to fit the motordrive - sockets, along with battery compartment, tripod bush, rewind release button and back release key - still harking back to the Contax - are on the base. Which makes changing films if using the motordrive interesting... ;)

    Layout is pretty conventional - there's an adjustable self-timer on the front, another lever for DOF preview (inset press button) and mirror lock-up. On the other side is the lens release button and the flash sync socket. Flash shoe mounting point is around the rewind crank. The (small) shutter speed dial (1-1/2000) is conventionally placed, as is the shutter button, surronded by a locking clollar that also has a T setting to lock the shutter open. Then there's the windon lever and frame counter. With the DP-1 fitted, the shutter speed is actually changed by rotating the film speed dial, which is a finder-mounted extension of the speed dial, and reading it off underneath.

    My example is fitted with a gridded screen with ground glass centre circle - it's actually rather nice in use, particularly with my favourite 50mm f3.5 Micro Nikkor. The metering and exposure settings are displayed underneath, and are small but very clear.

    So what's it like to use? A bit mixed, to be honest. It does everything it should do well enough, but it feels clumsy, perhaps down to the design of the DP-1, and it's not really that smooth, nor does it make a very nice sound - either winding on or shooting. Do these things matter? They do to me. Changing shutter speed isn't all that easy with DP-1 in place, and really takes finger and thumb - which isn't easy to do at eye level. And for me, the wrong direction of lens mounting, and rigmarole just to get a lens on and talking to the finder, means that it's not really a camera for heavy use - ironic, really, as that's what it was supposed to be. It's fun to have a play with occasionally, but it really is above all else a reminder of how far cameras have come, and how much they've improved.
  2. David Traynor

    David Traynor Member

    What about the DP12 (AI) meter?
    The F2 with this or (my preference), the non-metered DE1 prism makes this the best of the professional SLR cameras of the era. -------
    -----or even now??
  3. IvorCamera

    IvorCamera In the Stop Bath

    My Black Nikon F was the most perfect camera that I ever owned, I bought it off a market stall in the seventies and used it most days with the standard 50mm lens, it never let me down it was one of lifes biggest mistakes when I sold it 20 years later....
  4. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    The cover picture on the 1st photography magazine I ever bought (SLR Camera June 1967) featured a Black Nikon F with the plain petaprism and the f1.2 lens. Every so often I think I'll get one like that now I can afford it. Then I sit quietly for a while with a nice cup of tea and the urge passes away.
  5. David Traynor

    David Traynor Member

    You're tempting me.
    Mine is also black (bought it some years ago as part of a "suitcase lot").
    Going on a couple of South Pacific cruises in the near future and will be using both DE-1 and DP-12 prisms.

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