Nikon F
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Nikon F and Kodak Tri-X – By Ian Patton

December 2, 2020

My first SLR was a Konica, but that was back in the dark ages – my dream was always a Nikon F. Back in the 60’s it was the camera, even the fashion guys were using them. One sunny Saturday morning, having just received my first salary cheque from my first proper job, I found myself in upper Tottenham Court Road in central London entering the hallowed ground of the Fox Talbot Nikon store. The F2 had not long been released… so why buy an old model was the store’s advice; thus I never did get that ‘F’ until last year, forty odd years later. Some dreams just have to be realised. The F2 was far more sophisticated and ‘modern’. It performed beautifully, was much admired, but lacked the character of the ‘F’ and has long since been replaced by ever more complexity and sophistication until last year.

The new camera in question is an early, well used black Nippon Kogaku ‘F’ with a 50mm period Nikkor f/1.4 lens; much admired if only for the amount of exposed brass and much dented hood. No meter of course, that was a later addition, just simple and focussed functionality. It is a serious piece of kit and became a game changer in the world of photography.

The ‘F’s acquisition coincided with a trip to the ‘Festival du Chant de Marin’ a bi-annual festival on north coast of Brittany. It is one of those lovely events, a mixture of proper sailing ships, music, dance, moules et frites and general entente cordiale, and oh yes and it goes on for three days.

My five frames are all taken with the standard 50mm lens using trusty Tri-X 400. Given the almost carnival atmosphere of the Festival, the ‘F’ just merged into the background. Was I pleased with the results… mais oui. The camera is built to last and feels indestructible, no meter of course, just gauge the light and set the exposure as Fox Talbot would have done.

Nikon followed in Leica’s footsteps with the ‘F’, not just developing a camera they developed a whole camera system. Which other camera manufacturer offers you the choice of fourteen different focusing screens, together with a bewildering array of lens’, motor drives and all manor of accessories. Over 800,000 ‘F’s were manufactured. Early models had fabric shutter blinds which were quickly replaced by titanium. These early models are hard to find and are real collector items, but later models are abundant and affordable.

If you get the chance, enjoy one of the many French festivals and if you do, take lots of film.

Nikon un jour….. Nikon tourjours

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Gil Aegerter
    December 2, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Lovely appreciation of a real classic. For years after my F2 was lost, I shot with “just” a plain prism F. It went to Africa with me, sailed across the Pacific. It finally gave up the ghost about 10 years ago. Should probably just have had it restored.

  • Reply
    Alex Vye
    December 2, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Beautiful shots. I wish I could develop film as well as this….I perpetually struggle to get nice negatives. Thanks for the article!

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    December 2, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    The Nikon F and F2 have to be the most iconic of all SLR’s. I love the smoothness of the F but the F2 is nicer to use. In either case the plain prism finder is the one to have, though the prism is worth more than the camera body! I love your Breton images

    • Reply
      ian patton
      December 2, 2020 at 11:24 pm

      You are right of course, the F2 is more refined, and the plain prism finder is the one; however there is something special about the F if only the smile on encountering fellow photographers, when they spot the rather battered black bodied F with its worn brass edging and dented hood. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Reply
    Michael Jardine
    December 2, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    I like these photos- including the title frame (assume not taken with another Nikon F!) which shows to great effect the manufacturing finesse especially of the lens. Thanks for sharing them!

  • Reply
    Bill W.
    December 3, 2020 at 12:06 am

    Interesting narrative and beautiful B&W images!

  • Reply
    Bent_Brent
    December 3, 2020 at 1:53 am

    Lovely shots – great composition! I love the really deep contrast too. Thanks for posting.

  • Reply
    ian patton
    December 3, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks to everyone for the kind comment. Tri-X is a very versatile film which never seems to disappoint, combining speed, contrast and depth.

  • Reply
    Greg
    December 3, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    I have an f and an f with fotomic meter. I prefer the stripped down f also. I usually carry it and one of my Leicas (m3 preferred) on my street shoots. I had one in the 60s and managed to get 3 old Nikons over the last two years. It feels like an old friend and I can shoot it with confidence. Tri X is also my go to film. I love your shots.

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