Nikon F6
SLRs

Nikon F6 Review – Never borrow a camera from a friend – by Marc Wick

October 6, 2020

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.

Nikon F6 85mm 1.8

First impressions

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.

Nikon F6 back

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.

Nikon F6 top

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:

Close up

Sharpness on the eyes, wide open with 1.8 (maybe the right eye is not perfectly sharp, but I like it as it is)

Strong contrasts with the Art Imago 320 (no external light meter)

Sunlight on parts of the face and deep shadows

Frontal light through a window

Wide open with the Fuji  Acros 100

Most of the time I use the Ilford Delta 400 and it also was a joy to use it with the F6

Frontal light, wide open

Again wide open

Sitting in front of the light

light/shadows

Side view

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.

Conclusion

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

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Brian Dolzani
    October 6, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Marc, truly beautiful photos. I too love and prefer my Leica film bodies + lenses, and have been considering a digital body. However I tell myself I’d have to sell my rather large Nikon collection, which contains an F100 (which the F6 reminds me of, and I also have the 85 1.8D…), and I haven’t quite been able to do it. I haven’t used it in a couple years since Leica found me, but maybe that should change, and this is quite and inspiration. I’ll give you a follow on IG. Cheers- Brian

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 7, 2020 at 6:18 am

      Thank you very much for your kind words Brian. From time to time I also get a GAS for a brand new digital camera which makes your life for sure much easier but also too boring. Keep your Nikon equipment, the F100 is a great camera.

  • Reply
    Peter
    October 6, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    “I have it now in my hands, Nikon’s famous F6 – the final professional film camera which is still available brand new today.”

    Actually today marks the day that Nikon officially discontinued the Nikon F6. Perfect timing for the review 🙂

  • Reply
    Chris
    October 6, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    Today, the Nikon F6 is listed as discontinued, according to the Nikonrumors site.

    https://nikonrumors.com/2020/10/05/nikon-f6-d5-several-nikkor-ai-s-and-af-s-dx-lenses-now-listed-as-discontinued.aspx/

    Apart from possibly the Cosina built Nikon FM10, which is reported to be out of stock almost everywhere, then that’s it for the production of the 35mm film single lens reflex. There’s still the Leica rangefinder hanging on (first in, last out).

    I’m a bit saddened to hear that the legendary Nikon F series is finally over and with it also the last of the metal manual-focus Nikkors, but then as they say, as one door closes another door shuts.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 7, 2020 at 6:23 am

      I agree, it is really sad. The F6 is really a perfect analog camera. But in different times like now for the camera market, they saw that they earned too less money with this camera. I am happy that at least Leica produces analog cameras.

  • Reply
    Scott Edwards
    October 6, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Gosh – thank you for sharing! What WONDERFUL images that can only render like that via film. Lovely shooting, lovely young lady. I have an F100 (purchased used) and three Minoltas. Sadly, they are at the back of a 10×10 storage unit crammed w furniture and boxes. I tried recently to retrieve it but realized it was hopeless. The idea of temporary storage sort of has been flawed by reality. One day, I shall hopefully retrieve that camera and shoot film again. I had just picked up a used Tokina 100mm (repaired by Tokina) and signs were promising in the first roll… a friend’s G 85 1.8 was used to capture some strong portraits. Meanwhile, you’e confirmed the D85 as a solid tool. Thanks again, beautiful shooting.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 7, 2020 at 6:24 am

      Thank you very much Scott! Good luck with your analog project!

  • Reply
    Scott Edwards
    October 6, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    FABulous!!! Great camera, shooting and young lady. I have an F100 in storage (crammed in back of a 10×10 stuffed w boxes and furniture) and this makes me want to shoot film b/c you’ve shown how amazing film renders when in the right hands. Bravo!!

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    October 6, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Mark,
    My M4-P camera bag buddy is a eye-level prism Nikon F2. Contrary to popular practice, the F2 is fitted with a 28mm AiS f/2.8 Nikkor, not a tele or a zoom. I can’t use anything wider than a 35mm lens on the Leica. I just need to actually see the image field & distortion.
    The Leica has a 35mm Summarit-m. A good combo.
    I bought the 85 f/1.8 when I used the 8008s. The lens is beautiful and has a pleasant rendering of the subject. The F6 is the epitome of taking a design to it’s logical conclusion. Just too heavy for me. BTW, I’ve heard that Nikon USA is not repairing non-USA F6’s. They are not even supplying parts for independent repair facilities. Not nice.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 7, 2020 at 6:27 am

      Hi Daniel, you have the perfect combo! I am also a fan of the summarit lenses, very compact and great performance. And the 1.8/85 is really a great lens!

  • Reply
    Manu
    October 6, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Yes you re right. I have a Nikon F6 and I lagree it’s the best SLR ever made. It’s just a pleasure to shoot with it. Unfortnatly, I am afraid Nikon stopped production.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 7, 2020 at 6:28 am

      Yes, really a sad decision

  • Reply
    Manu
    October 6, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    I have a NIKON F6 and I can opnly say you are damm right. The F6 is the best SLR camera ever made. Unfortunately, Nikon has just stopped production, according to the its website. I also have a LEICA MP and I can only say It´s a pleasure to take pictures with this one as well.

  • Reply
    Huss
    October 7, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    I have the F6, as well as a bunch of others. I actually prefer the F4 to the F6 – nicer switches, no menus, not a battery hog, no internal clock to lose settings..
    But want a real kick in the chicken tenders? Pick up a Nikon N75/F75 for about $20, put on that 85mm D lens, and shoot it next to your F6. Then compare the images…
    If you want to splurge, cough up another $5 and get an F80 which is more featured and better built than the F75.

    The F6 does feel like a rubber covered chunk o granite though. Which is very nice.

  • Reply
    D Evan Bedford
    October 8, 2020 at 1:07 am

    I bought an F6 last year, and it completely cured me of my GAS affliction.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 8, 2020 at 6:39 am

      Thanks a lot for your comments Huss. Taste is always different. The F6 fits perfect in my hands and to be honest, I have no ideas about the menus, I do not need them. But for sure the F4 is also a stunner. In order not to be disenchated, I will not test the N75/F75/F80 😉😉😉

      • Reply
        Huss
        October 8, 2020 at 7:31 pm

        No kidding about how the F6 fits in the hand. It really does feel perfect. The next closest Nikon I’ve used that feels like that is the D850. My Z7 is miserable in comparison!
        That does make a difference as it encourages you to use it, even if other cameras can use the same lenses. A Bessa R3A I had took the same lenses as my Leicas, but I hated using it (just felt clanky) so it was sold off.

        Anyway… waiting for the F7! Completely get rid of the menus, bring the F4 dials back. Update the AF but keep the incredible manual focus screen. Make it work with the new e-aperture lenses. Give it the same rechargeable battery as the DSLRs.. And don’t change the grip!

        • Reply
          Marc Wick
          October 8, 2020 at 9:31 pm

          A F7 would be great! But I am sure it will never came. There is no place (and money) anymore for a brand new analog camera!Nikon will stop the delivery of analog cameras…

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 8, 2020 at 6:40 am

      Yes Even you are completely right. What else do you want more? But the GAS will always be there. Be careful!!

  • Reply
    Matthias
    October 8, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    Apart from all the Nikon F6 and Leica praise, I just have to say that your photos are absolutely stunning, esp. the Porta images blow my mind. Incredible colors and skin tones and a gorgeous model.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 8, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you very much Matthias! Your kind comments are much appreciated. The Porta 400 is in my opinion the best color film for portraits. The skin tones always look so natural.

  • Reply
    Huss
    October 8, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    p.s. really nice shots!

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 8, 2020 at 9:32 pm

      Glad you like it! Thanks a lot!

  • Reply
    Michael Bresler
    October 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Nice review which makes me want to get back into analog photography. A few weeks ago I dug out my circa 1970 Nikkormat FTN and installed a new battery. Loaned the camera and 50 f/1.4 and 43-86 f/3.5 lenses to my grandson for a project in his graphics art class. Kudos to his instructor!

    Anyway, he shot a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus and will soon head to the classroom lab to develop it and make some prints. This kid has been using a Canon DSLR for 3-4 years now, but really had a great time with the Nikkormat, shooting street scenes in a revitalized small Texas town, and longhorn cattle a few miles from town. Can’t wait to see how the photos turn out. I also have a “modern” Nikon FG that I really like, so I plan to start playing with it.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      October 22, 2020 at 9:30 pm

      What a great idea Michael! Good luck for you and your grandson!! Enjoy film photography!!

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