I now own one of the finest 35mm SLRs of all time and I’m dying to tell you about it. I’m going to try really hard not to gush.
A classic Nikon SLR has been on my want list for a long time, but they’re mighty expensive. I could see that to own one, I’d have to go well beyond my usual $50 limit. I thought perhaps I could get a Nikon FE and a prime lens for thrice that, if I were patient. I mentioned my FE desires in this post.
I have a few readers who never comment, but instead occasionally e-mail me their thoughts. JR is one of those readers. When he read about my Nikon FE dreams, he wrote me and said, “If you want a truly mechanical Nikon SLR to shoot rather than a mostly mechanical Nikon SLR, I might have an F2 that I could be coaxed into donating.”
An F2? You mean the legendary professional SLR? The true system camera, with interchangeable focusing screens and viewfinder heads? A camera I never even considered because good examples go for so much more than my budget allows?
Yep. He shipped me a Nikon F2 body with its DP-11 Photomic viewfinder head, which features a coupled light meter. Nikon called this combination the F2A.
I bought the 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor on eBay. I find that 50/2 lenses are great bargains, performing beautifully at prices far less than their faster (e.g., f/1.4) cousins.
This is where I would normally tell the Nikon F2 story and explain how it works. But the F2 is arguably the most documented and discussed camera on the Internet. I have no new information to add, and no new angle from which to examine it. And it works pretty much like any other match-needle 35mm SLR, except that to activate the meter you pull the wind lever out a little bit.
But comparing the F2 to other SLRs feels like an injustice. The F2 is incredibly well built for pros who shoot constantly, year in and year out. The F2’s reliability is legendary. Also, it’s a true system camera. You start with the F2 body and add one of many viewfinder heads (see a list here) and focusing screens (see a list here). Then you choose from among several motor drives and flash systems, if you need them. You can even customize this camera for you. For example, are you a little farsighted? No problem; slip on an eyepiece with whatever level of correction you need.
By the way, if you’re a Nikon SLR fan, you might also enjoy my review of the F2AS (here), the N90s (here), the N2000 (here), the N60 (here), and the F3 (here). Or just have a look at all of my camera reviews here.
My F2 arrived with the gridded type-E focusing screen and the DP-11 viewfinder head. John warned me that the meter in the DP-11 was fussy, and he was right; I couldn’t ever get it to perfectly center, even with two fresh LR44 batteries. Thank goodness for the wide exposure latitude of Fujicolor 200, my go-to film for testing cameras. It made up for most of the meter’s sins, and Photoshop made up for the rest.
This isn’t the best shot I took, but it does show how blade-sharp this lens is. You can almost count the straws of hay in these rolls.
This isn’t a very exciting composition, either – but just look at that great bokeh. It reminds me of an impressionistic painting.
This is my favorite shot from my test roll. I took the F2A along on a trip to Nashville, Indiana, a touristy town full of shops. I hung the heavy F2A around my neck. I was very aware of it all the time. But when I raised the camera to shoot, it seemed to disappear. It was simply an extension of my eye. Bliss!
I took this available-light shot while my friend Dawn and I waited in line to get some ice cream. I’m really pleased with the warmth and detail this lens captured. You can almost feel the rough cut of the wooden walls.
Dawn lives on a farm; this is her neighbor’s horse.
The next time I shot the F2A I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100. Here’s my parents’ dog, Abigail.
It was Christmastime. I made this selfie of sorts in a bowlful of glass bulb ornaments.
This is the Palace Theater, aka the Morris Performing Arts Center, in my hometown of South Bend.
See more photos in my Nikon F2A gallery.
There was one fault with this particular F2: the meter is jumpy. The needle never quite settles in the viewfinder, leaving me to guess a little as to whether I’ve got aperture and shutter speed right. As you can see I got good exposures, thanks to the exposure latitude of the films I used. But I should send this camera off for a CLA and a repair of the meter.
John said that “many are called, but few are chosen” to make the F2 their primary camera. I appear to be chosen; I loved using this camera.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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