This is the story of how I discovered the Nikon F6. To begin, I have to admit that I am really a Leica fan. Especially the analog M cameras with the beautiful viewfinder, the excellent feel of the surface and last but not least the legendary quality and size of the lenses made me addicted immediately.
I do a lot of analog portrait shooting with my Leica M4 and a 50 or 90mm lens. I was absolutely happy with this combo, the shots were very relaxed and at the end I liked the results a lot. In light situations with strong contrasts I used a light meter and everything was perfect.
Perfect until the day I talked to a friend of mine who uses the Nikon F6 for his landscape and street photography. We were talking about the pros and cons and the myth of these two well known brands. He proposed that I should use his Nikon F6 for my next portrait shooting with a Nikon D 1.8/85 lens. “Come on, forget this thing about the perfect moment, creating your photo through the viewfinder, focussing, pressing the shuttler“ were his last words when he gave me the camera (and a 188 pages manual). “And leave your light meter at home“.
Of course this is not a real test of a camera with different lenses, measuring distortion, frame rates etc… It is just a very subjective report about my experiences with a Nikon F6 and one 1.8/85 lens during a portrait shoot.
I have it now in my hands, Nikon’s famous F6 – the final professional film camera which is still available brand new today. Some enthusiasts say it is the best film SLR Nikon ever made. The Nikon F6 is the last of the F-series of SLRs and was presented in 2004, full of the latest electronic features, the last man standing against digital photography.
It is bigger than my M4 and looks much more modern with its screen on the backside and all the different buttons. The camera lies very good in my hands, the body is magnesium alloy and weather sealed. It feels heavy, solid, like a brick. I scroll through the manual and I am happy: no need to read it for my needs, the camera is self explaining.
I just read the information about the exposure metering and a new thing which call some people “autofocus“. Looking through the bright finder I notice eleven AF zones which can be placed where I want. Wow! Welcome to the new world!! The Nikon F6 has shutter speeds up to 1/8000, color matrix metering, different ways of metering, 100% viewfinder coverages (you get what you see), many possibilities for customizing the functions, AF-tracking – Sounds difficult, but after all the theory, let’s find out how the F6 will work under real conditions.
The Nikon F6 is waiting now for the first roll of film. Inserting the film is a piece of cake, very easy. The 85mm lens looks solid, but with a lot of plastic, did not feel so good. I hope that the image quality is better than the feel of the surface. But Ken Rockwell praised its optical and mechanical quality.
Now the shooting can start. Ready to rumble. I use an Ilford Delta 400, Ars Imago 320, Fuji Acros 100 and Portra 400 (at ISO 200).
Before I start my portrait session, I talk a while with the model about the shooting, clothes, mood and then we start. I always tell them that it is a more or less slow shooting, it takes time to focus manually and the whole process of taking photos takes a while. I like this way of taking photos, no hurrying at all. Some call it Zen photography.
But a Nikon F6 can change this approach: you look through the finder, set your aperture, move your focus points, click, that’s all. The AF is really so fast and accurate, to be honest, it makes the life of a portrait photographer so easy. After some minutes you feel very comfortable with the camera, almost like taking photos with an old friend. All essential functions are very easy to find. And you shoot much more photos (if you want) because the photo is finished so fast.
But now it is time to come clean: what about the quality of the photos? Unsharp wide open? Ugly colors? Bad results with strong contrasts? Reliable AF? The answers are: excellent, no, no, yes!
Let’s have a look at two samples with the Portra 400: Really beautiful colors, perfect exposure:
Strong contrasts with the Art Imago 320 (no external light meter)
Most of the time I use the Ilford Delta 400 and it also was a joy to use it with the F6
Of course I do not always shoot wide open but to test the AF I used it more than I do normally. To be honest the rate of photos out of the focus was lower as with my M4 and the 90mm Summicron. But sometimes focusing with 90mm on a rangefinder camera can become a challenge.
I always loved (and love) the timeless elegance of a Leica M. To me analog SLRs were ugly, plasticky, full of unnecessary electronic gimmicks (before I tested the Nikon F6).
I have to admit that the Nikon F6 is really a stunner. After one portrait session it is very very difficult to find some shortcomings. I am sure there are some, but I did not find them. It is a joy to use, it works perfect and you can fully concentrate on your photo. It is the best analog camera I have ever used for my purposes. It is almost like digital photography but with a film. It doesn’t feel like an old analog camera at all. The exposures are without any failures. You have a huge range of lenses including the modern G AF-lenses. It worked perfect, but was it too perfect, too boring, no analog feeling? Well this is a personal decision for every photographer and it depends on your needs and preferences. But I made my decision and gave the Nikon F6 back to my friend…
…and bought a used Nikon F6 and a D 1.8/85 in a very good condition on eBay the next day. My M4 will now have a Japanese companion for portrait shootings.
If you want to see more of my portrait photography, would love to see you on Instagram: wick_marc