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. The Nikon FE looked like a likely choice – Ken Rockwell gave it a positive review and it looked like patience on eBay could eventually reward me with a body for under $100. I figured a lens would add another $50.
I mentioned my FE desires in this post. I have a few readers who never comment, but instead occasionally e-mail me their thoughts. John Smith 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? The camera that I didn’t think I could touch for less than $250?
Yep. John 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 welcomed it gladly into the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
I went lens shopping and bought a 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor. My experience has been that f/2 prime lenses are great bargains. Everybody wants the sub-f/2 lenses (e.g., f/1.4), and so they command premium prices. The f/2 lenses are almost always great performers but cost significantly less. If I had been patient, I could have found one for less than the $57 (shipped) that I paid. But I wanted to get shooting!
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.
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.
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 my State Road 46 tour a few weeks ago, and shot it extensively when we reached Nashville, 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.
I’m also very pleased with the color this lens returned on this film. I shoot Fujicolor 200 all the time and know it very well. These images possess a delightful warm, rich color quality that other lenses just haven’t delivered on this film.
I finished the roll in my front yard. I like the way the light plays through these little leaves.
John said that “many are called, but few are chosen” to make the F2 their primary camera. I’m not sure yet whether I’m chosen; I will need to shoot many more rolls of film first. But I can certainly tell you that I’m looking very much forward to that journey.
See more photos in my Nikon F2A gallery.
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