Starting out with photography when l was in grammar school with just a lowly Zenit (passed down to me by my dad), for the longest time l felt the need to upgrade. However, as fate would have it, l stopped taking photos altogether the same year l started going to college and then for a long time after.
Then, the summer of 2017 was particularly stressful. l had managed to fail some exams and had to prepare for six of them in about a month and a half. Somewhere between the long study sessions and procrastination, l managed to dig out that Zenit, some of my old photos and an unopened FujiColor 100 which had expired way back in 2011. It was at that moment that l decided to dive right back to where l left off six years before. Right after l passed my finals, that is.
A dream come true
As a “reward” for being a good boy and passing all of my exams, my girlfriend gifted me a Nikon F90X, and just like that, sparked my love for Nikon. I’ve always admired journalists and sports photographers for having the privilege of using only the best tools available. After a nose dive into the history of Nikon l decided to start saving up money for the professional photographer’s go-to camera, the Nikon F5.
However, they aren’t really abundant where l live, and even when a wild F5 would appear in the classifieds, the price was really steep for a college student living off a tight budget. So, l had to be patient and keep saving up. Finally, after selling a couple of film cameras that l hadn’t really been using l managed to save enough money for the Five. A fellow photographer sent me a message in October if 2019, asking me if l wanted to buy his minty looking F5, after seeing my WTB post in one of the Facebook groups for film photographers. Two days later, l was holding the F5 in my hands. I couldn’t believe it: my dream had finally come true.
Shooting the Nikon F5
Since then, l’ve been shooting the Nikon F5 almost exclusively. I’d carry it with me through the streets of Belgrade for hours on end, shooting roll after roll. I couldn’t get enough of that feeling and the sound of the shutter, that made me feel like a true photographer (even though my photos rarely reflect that *cough*). The F5 is one heavy camera alright, but the rounded edges and the soft rubber that covers the cast aluminum body skillfully hide the weight so it’s not as apparent. If anything, it instills confidence.
“Imported from the future” was the official slogan for the camera, and judging by its capabilities it truly is! A piece of engineering perfection that managed to get a seat in the NASA space program aboard the Discovery space shuttle, it truly feels like it’s out of this world. The F5 served as a basis for every future Nikon film and digital SLR camera, since the dual thumbwheel control layout and a display on the top right side of the camera has been present on every Nikon SLR camera since then. In addition, the body is made of cast aluminum whereas the removable prism with its unique 1005 pixel RGB light meter sensor was encased in a titanium shell, giving the camera that “built like a tank” feel.
The Nikon F5 Body and brains
Autofocusing is fast and precise, both with AFS and screw-driven AF lenses. The camera spins the 50mm 1.8D with ease, making for an instant focusing even in low light situations. An added benefit is that the camera also supports the VR function, which can really be handy when shooting with longer exposures, especially if you have ’em shaky hands.
Many users have criticized the custom functions, of which there were 24, that allowed the user to fine tune various functions regarding the use of flash, self timer, LCD illumination, thumbwheel control direction, bracketing… Setting the custom functions wasn’t really straightforward: you needed a cheat sheet that was in the manual in order to set them all. However once this was done, it was all set, and there was rarely the need to change any of them.
Loading film is done in a matter of seconds, as with any SLR with automatic film transport, as well as rewinding which is a big improvement over the sluggish rewind on the F4. You can also rewind the film manually if you feel like sparing the life of your batteries. There are four exposure modes, and the exposure can be tuned to a 1/3 of a stop which in combination with the cutting edge light meter sensor makes this camera ideal for shooting slide film.
The Nikon F5 can use all autofocus lenses (except the most recent E type with electronic diaphragm control) as well as Ai and AiS lenses. Manual focus lenses can only be used with average or spot metering. Unfortunately, Non Ai lenses cannot be mounted on the F5 unless the meter coupling tab around the mount was modified by Nikon, which was an option during the time the camera was manufactured.
The logic behind all of this was that the autofocus lenses were widely available, so there was no need for professionals to use Non Ai lenses on such a cutting edge body.
Do my needs as a casual photographer demand a camera such as the F5? I don’t think so. Would l buy another one if l had the chance? Probably yes. The Nikon F5 is one of those cameras that the more you read about, the more you look at, the more you fall in love with. Yes it’s heavy, and yes it can eat through a pack of 8 AA batteries as if it were a snack, but there is so much more to the camera than the mere specifications and numbers.
It’s sleek design with that signature red line carved in the grip by Giorgeto Giugiaro, the finest Japanese craftsmanship, the feeling you get when you look through one of the nicest viewfinders out there, the sense of confidence this camera instills, make all of the downsides disappear never to be spoken of again.
A photographer has to focus solely on composition. The Nikon F5 takes care of everything else.