F801 body

Nikon F801 (N8008) Review – A Numbers Game – By Tony Warren

I sold my last film SLR in the late 1990s before my flirtation with digital, which quite quickly lost its appeal and I drifted back to film, continuing with digital mainly as a practical necessity in this modern age. That last film SLR was a Nikon F601 and one of the best cameras I had used up to that time. A few years ago I found a Nikon F801 in a local auction, a model reputed to have been one of the best pro quality models below the later top of the line F90/F100/F4 and so on. Now going from an F601 to an F801 may seem like a step up but is in fact a step backwards. The F601 came later in the time line and incorporated many features from the F801 plus a few improvements of its own. Nikon’s model numbering was somewhat confusing at the time, so bringing the prosumer range back in line with the, still not in date sequence, 301/401/501 numbering probably made sense from a marketing point of view.

Walk around

The Nikon F801 (otherwise also know as the N8008) camera is typically Nikon, finished in black with the distinctive red line alongside the handgrip.

F801 body 01

In the hand the Nikon F801 feels very much the business with a really solid, comfortable grip and the high eye-point finder from Nikon’s F3HP making it great to use. Nikon’s ergonomics and control approach has remained very consistent over the years, developing rather than innovating, so picking up most of their cameras from the 1970s onward can feel quite familiar.

F801 body 02

F801 body 04


F801 body 06

F801 body 08

The big change here though was that the F801 was Nikon’s first camera to move to electronic, push button controls from the traditional wheels, one of the pioneers of the all electronic controls so commonplace now. Only one wheel is provided here which falls conveniently under the right thumb and works in combination with the buttons which select the function whilst the wheel makes any adjustments needed to the function chosen. Altering the film speed, for example to override the preset DX coding on the cassette, requires the ISO button to be held down whilst turning the wheel to bring up the required speed setting. The process applies to all the choice of functions and once familiar is very quick and effective and was used later on the F601 with one or two small changes.

The effect of these adjustments is displayed on a small LCD mounted on the top plate which provides a very comprehensive picture. The display changes as the buttons are pressed from the basic summary to what is being addressed and then, to avoid an overly complex display, exposure information only appears once the release is pressed lightly. A repeater LCD is provided across the bottom of the finder with only the information shown that is needed in a shooting situation.

The grip is substantial and contains the battery pack, accessed via a door in the base, plus the shutter release with a subtle, ridged bulge on the back immediately behind it to give the thumb some purchase. The back is quite smooth but I don’t find that makes it feel insecure in the hand at all though it did receive some criticism. I briefly had an F90 which had a rubbery coating on a similar shaped back but this quickly became tacky and most owners removed it exposing the same smooth back as the F801. Nikon may have applied the coating to answer the criticism of the smooth back, the F90 coming just after the Nikon F801 and sharing the same body design.

The prism housing is topped by a dedicated hot shoe and strap lugs are provided at each end of the body.

Cosmetically, my camera is in quite good condition even though it has clearly been well used to judge by the scratches and wear patches. The screen printing on the most used buttons has partly worn off in places, something that afflicts many later cameras when the usual engraving and enamel fill was abandoned.

In use.

The manual can be seen online and runs to over 80 pages so I will not attempt to cover everything here, just the basics.

F801 body 07

Film loading is very simple, the film being pulled across the gate and the end lined up with a red index mark. Closing the back and pressing the shutter release brings the first frame swiftly into position. Any loading mistake is signalled immediately on the LCD.

As mentioned, the Nikon F801 finder employs the same optical design as the F3HP finder so spectacle wearers or someone needing to wear goggles or eye protection could still see the whole field. The finder can have one of two alternative screens fitted and the small LCD panel across the base repeats most of the information from the top plate LCD plus a flash ready indicator.

F801 body 05

When shooting the Nikon F801, there are the options run from fully auto program to full manual control with various options in between, and with an immediate switch back to fully programmed auto by pressing the mode and drive buttons together for a few seconds. AF lenses are needed for this. All legacy Nikon lenses can be used with varying functional limitations, except for non-AI and some other lenses and accessories. The much later AF lenses with electrical connections designed for digital cameras will not work of course.

Mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and focus confirmation are shown in the finder so adjustments can be made with the camera to the eye. The autofocus, mechanically driven rather than with a linear motor in the lens, is quick and positive but is restricted to a central patch. The focus confirmation can be used as an electronic rangefinder for non-AF lenses. Single, continuous and manual focus are options, the drive connection disconnecting in manual.

The shutter speeds go up to 1/8000sec, a high speed for a mechanical. focal plane shutter even today, and down to 30seconds. The self timer can be set between 2 and 30 seconds and a multiple exposure setting allows up to 9 exposures on one frame. Continuous shooting proceeds at a rather sedate, selectable 2 or 3.3 frames per second.

Nikon’s centre weighted metering is available along with spot and matrix metering options, the last analysing five segments of the frame and setting the exposure based on built in data of various types of scene. I have been using Nikon’s centre weighted method since my Nikkormat days but I have been trying matrix metering recently to see how effective it is. Like all exposure meters, matrix still needs watching in more contrasty situations as it seems to try to achieve the best average result and may not be what is actually envisioned. It really is a stepping stone between earlier hand-held meters, basic TTL and the very sophisticated metering we are so used to with digital today, which can assess the whole screen in much finer detail. I use all these methods with one camera or another so it is an interesting comparison.

Handling the Nikon F801 for shooting uses the left hand to press some of the function buttons and control the lens, for zooming or manual focusing, everything else is done with the right hand The AF locks with first pressure on the shutter release but there is a button on the front plate if needed for the same purpose. AE lock is controlled by a sliding button below the command wheel, convenient for right thumb operation, and exposure compensation is controlled by a button next to the on/off switch used in combination with the command dial and the LCD read-outs.

Rewinding is motorised, needing the rewind and multi exposure buttons to be pressed simultaneously which winds the film fully into the cassette.


The results below are all shot in and around Dunedin, down here in New Zealand. These examples are shot with my one remaining Nikon lens, an Ai’d Nikon 55mm/f3.5 Micro Nikkor, a Tamron 28-200 zoom and a Tamron Adaptall 17mm on Rollei Infra Red film and Ilford FP4+. I process everything in Rodinal, which is super economical and keeps forever. Most Rollei examples were shot as normal panchromatic film with some frames shot with the R72 opaque IR filter in place. Exposures can be with or without the IR filter on the same roll which is a useful option with this film. The Rollei shots are quite contrasty, especially the IR filtered ones and even without a filter blue skies retain good tone and the grain is fine but well defined. The FP4+ example has smoother, still finer grain and good contrast even when taken in rainy weather.

Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
Dunedin Cathedral.
Cathedral in the Octagon, Dunedin.
The Octagon, Dunedin.
In the Octagon, Dunedin
Forsyth-Barr Stadium.
Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
Flying? - Big deal.
Peter Pan bronze, Dunedin Botanic Gardens.
Memorial, Northern Cemetry, Dunedin.
Sad memorial in the Northern Cemetry, Dunedin.
Larnach memorial, Northern Cemetry, Dunedin.
Memorial to an early New Zealand politician and local dignitory

In Conclusion

I am not a Nikon fan to the exclusion of all else. I have used Nikon mainly because I started using the make with Nikkormats and progressed through other models up to the Fujifilm S2Pro digital, based on an early Nikon digital body. Not having to change systems just made sense. I have to say, however, that their products are solid and dependable, and the lenses first class.

Since returning to film, a large number of interesting cameras that I have always admired have passed through my hands when used prices dropped but I seem to have spiralled in to the viewfinder, rangefinder, TLR, SLR and mirrorless models which I use nowadays. They all demonstrate some aspect of developments in camera technology and the Nikon F801 is probably one of the last steps before the digital powerhouses available now.

(Photos of the camera and digitised copies of negatives are produced with a Sony A3000 with 55mm Ai’d Micro Nikkor and adapters processed in Affinity Photo.)

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19 thoughts on “Nikon F801 (N8008) Review – A Numbers Game – By Tony Warren”

    1. I think I could make arguments for the f100 or even f80 over the f6. No doubting it’s a great camera, but it’s big and heavy, costs a lot of money and doesn’t bring a huge amount more to the table for most users

  1. Great article Tony, about a fantastic camera which doesn’t get a lot of fanfare. I got my first F801 in 1990 and had to get it replaced in about ’95 after the Ikelite underwater housing I used it in leaked due to the hasty and incorrect installation of an o-ring. I replaced it with the F801s version (with spotmeter), which I still have and recently started using again. I shot a lot of film (mostly slide film) through those two cameras before the digital ones took over. Both models are extremely reliable and user friendly and almost never let me down. There was one occasion, while in the Solomon Islands, that the F801 just stopped working. I guessed it was the very high humidity at that particular location, put it in a plastic bag with dessicant overnight and it was fine the next morning. I also dropped the F801s once onto quite hard ground (not concrete) – it landed on its prism but was undamaged and virtually unmarked. The matrix metering always worked really well for me (though I never used it in the snow…). You can use them with the fancy new G-series lenses if you are happy to use manual focus (the focus confirmation dot still works as for other lenses). You can set the camera to Program mode and change your aperture and shutter speed combination with the command wheel. I think you can also use it in S mode too. I remember the battery usage being very efficient too – four alkaline AA batteries tended to last for many rolls of film.

    1. Thanks, much appreciated to receive comments from a much more experienced owner than me. Good point about the later G-series lenses. Not having used one, the manual focus aspect hadn’t occurred to me, though I use the electronic rangefinder all the time with my manual lenses. And the EV-style linking in Program would be useful with these lenses. Nikon are certainly tough. Wasn’t it a Nikon F that took a bullet for Larry Burrows? Thanks again.

  2. I had a F3, and sold it to buy a 8008s & the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. At the time the rumor mill touted the 8008s as the replacement for the F3. It was that advanced and the 85 was sharp as a tack, even wide open. I didn’t like the smooth back, so I applied non-skid tape for a better grip. I held onto it until I got the F100. To back up the 8008s, I added the 6006s (an under appreciated Nikon AF camera.)
    Your post brought back memories of some great times, such as photographing the birth of our daughter. I wish you continued good luck with your camera.

    1. That is very kind, thank you. I think the camera and photography are the best inventions ever outside the health sciences. It is not that a picture is worth a thousand words, it gives so much more than that.

  3. I own both an n6006 (the 601) and the n8008 (801). For me, the N8008 has a number of advantages. The biggest one is that since camera batteries for many older cameras are available, they are often not readily available. This is the case for the 601. It takes a 223 battery. You pretty much have to order them online. IF you find one in a store, it will be stupid expensive. Better buy some spares. The n8008 takes AAs, available cheap almost anywhere. The n8008 has a multiple exposure mode, which I use. Higher shutter speed, which I don’t often, but nice that it’s there. The only thing that I miss is the n6006 has a built-in flash and the n8008 does not.

    1. Thanks Peter. The baby died just a few months after I was born which draws me back to it as a subject. Very sad and a reflection of how hard conditions could be in those days. The kitten is something the cemetery put on particularly significant memorials.

  4. The 801 is one of the biggest bargains in the analogue market at the moment. You can still pick them up for 30$/€. However, I would probably opt for an F90x which is easily available for a little bit more ($40-50) and is more refined in my opinion.

    1. A really good read Tony, and super photographs. That statue of Robert Burns looks just like the one we have in the middle of Dumfries here in SW Scotland.

      Owning an F801, I agree with many of the comments. Tremendous value, robust, excellent battery life and easy to use. (My only gripe is that mine is missing the plastic cover for the flash socket. Anyone know where to source one in the UK?)
      In terms of budget film photography an F801 paired with either a 50mm f1.8 D or 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 D is hard to beat. Indeed whenever I’m shooting film I often tend to pick up this body and one of these lenses first. Indeed other than my Nikon FG, the F801 is probably my favourite film camera.
      I have just acquired a mint MF-21 data back and am looking forward to seeing how this changes the camera’s features and usability once fitted to the body. I’ll give it a go and perhaps produce a short write up with photographs for Hamish’s consideration.

  5. I agree Christif, if you have the choice and the budget the later models are so much more developed. Nevertheless, the SLR experience is what I enjoy with my F801. It takes take pictures and the superb viewfinder and overall handling are very Nikon, because they followed such a consistent path ergonomically. Good advice though to buy the best available.

  6. Thanks Keith. There is strong connection with Scotland in Dunedin, originally established by Scottish immigrants and interesting that there was perhaps an off the shelf trade in statuary at one time.
    Would like to read about yout MF-21. It looks a very capable accessory with some very useful functions. The time lapse would be interesting for star trails.

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