My father was a sort of gadget freak back in the ‘60’s when gadgets weren’t even a thing. He was always getting us gadgets for birthday gifts. For example, on my 25th birthday he gave me a personal electronic label maker. Wow. He would also buy himself gadgets. I remember he had a Rolleiflex TLR and a subminiature Minox; but he was not much of a photographer and definitely not a spy. So they both just sat around the house for me to play with. Ultimately mother threw away my dad’s cameras, along with my label maker.
Unavoidably, I caught the gadget bug from my dad and when I was on my own in the ‘70’s, I bought a Nikon F3 and used it to shoot on the streets, at fairs and parks, and got pretty good at it after a while. As time went on, I packed away my Nikon moved on to digital as it evolved. I ended up as a professional filmmaker and producer, where it’s been my business to use and understand the constantly changing landscape of digital imaging. That’s how I get my gadget fix.
I used to shoot mostly on a digital Leica Ms, and rangefinders have become second nature to me now. For nostalgic reasons, or maybe artistic ones, I have rediscovered film. I now often use a Leica M-A and have experienced first-hand how shooting film really helps me hone my photographic instincts. And film is fun—instead of 1’s and 0’s, you can actually hold it in your hands. And you can do things with film that you can only mimic in photoshop, like using unique film stocks or creating controlled light leaks.
Recently, I came across a box in my basement with my old Nikon F3 and a couple of Nikkor AIS lenses—all in surprisingly great shape. I was excited to start shooting with it again and wanted to see how this once legendary camera worked with the style I have developed using a rangefinder all these years. So I took it out for a spin around Chicago’s Loop.
The results are shown here. Everything was shot on Portra 400, except the light leak, which was shot on Ektar 100. Overall, I would say it was a great experience and a lot more fun than I first expected. Sure the F3 more obtrusive, but I don’t really need to be “stealthy” with street photography. I often make eye contact with people first, rather than sneak their photo, and most are happy to oblige.
I found the F3 a bit more work than I’m used to. With my M bodies, my focus and settings all seem to be at my fingertips, and I never need to take my eye off the viewfinder. The SLR experience for me requires more work in focusing, changing settings, etc.
On the other hand, I really liked the way the Nikkor lenses rendered. They had a raw, real look to them, which is different than the glowy 3D look of my Leica lenses. And although the F3 is bigger, it operated smoothly and felt substantial and balanced in my hands. And maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but after a few shots, it came back to me just how much fun the F3 is to shoot with.
I’ll still use my Leica; lord knows I have a lot of time and money tied up there! But I wouldn’t hesitate to grab my F3 if the look I wanted warrants it.
I really hope you all get the chance to rediscover the joys of your photographic roots, as I did with the F3. It’s definitely broadened my perspective as a photographer and brought back some wonderful memories in the process.
Thanks for reading and I hope you like my shots.
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6 thoughts on “5 Frames with the Nikon F3 and Portra 400 – By John Fromstein”
That sure is a beautiful camera. I just shot the 28/2.8 on my D 850 last week. It is an excellent lens and focuses remarkably close for a wide angle. I agree, rangefinder / Leica M is a different mindset. When use Nikon SLR’s I often let the camera do the work since the metering system is so darned good. The beauty of Leica and Nikon is the ability to interchange legacy lenses between film and digital. I like the G lenses, but am much more comfortable with an aperture ring. Enjoy and keep up the good work. Louis.
thanks for the comment Louis. That 28 has always been my go-to lens for that camera. I agree it has great range and a great look!
Enjoyed the writeup, thanks John! And you got some nice shots there.
Thank You Martin!
The F3 sure is an awesome camera; lovely large and bright viewfinder, and I loved how instantaneous the shutter release was, and that loud, precise slap of the mirror. Not a stealthy camera indeed, but it felt like a predator ready to attack.
Ultimately I do prefer the FM/FM2 for lower weight and full mechanical operation, but still sometimes miss that immediate-ness of the F3.
Thanks for the comment, Wouter! I often feel that stealthiness is overrated. I think I get more interest and intrigue from people on the street when I shoot with this camera. It definitely breaks the ice. My subject usually walks away with a smile on their face and I walk away with a more engaging shot!