There I was, happily making photographs with the Nikon F2 that was generously donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, when the same donor e-mailed me asking: Would I like a Nikon F3 that he didn’t use anymore?

Does a wino want a case of Thunderbird?


I can’t add anything to the F3 story that the Internet hasn’t already catalogued. Camera-wiki tells the tale well enough. The sketch: introduced in 1980 to succeed the venerable F2, the F3 required batteries to operate (two LR44 or SR44 button cells), which initially alienated most photographers, who trusted all-manual cameras. Then Nikon went on to manufacture the F3 for a whopping 21 years. Clearly, photographers got over it.

Nikon F3HP

The HP in this F3’s name stands for High Eyepoint, which is that big round viewfinder. Glasses-wearing photographers are supposed to have an easier time seeing into a High Eyepoint viewfinder. I wouldn’t know; I wear contacts. If you look on eBay, you’ll find more F3HPs than regular F3s.

Nikon F3HP

The F3 finally brought aperture-priority autoexposure to Nikon’s flagship camera. (See the A on the shutter-speed dial?) I love aperture-priority shooting, but after shooting the F2 all year I’ve adapted surprisingly well to setting both aperture and shutter speed. I could happily keep shooting the F2 as my only camera forever. But I admit, I enjoyed setting aperture and letting the F3 figure out the shutter speed. It displays both in the viewfinder: the aperture directly off the lens barrel, and shutter speed in a little LED panel. Some people complain that the LED panel is too small and dim, but it was fine for my purposes. The shutter operates steplessly from 8 sec to 1/2000 sec, although the display shows the nearest standard speed.\

By the way, if you groove on the F3 then also check out my reviews of the F2A (here) and F2AS (here). I’ve also reviewed the FA (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), N60 (here), and N65 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

Otherwise, using the F3 feels mighty familiar after shooting the F2 all year. I clipped on my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, dropped in two button cells, loaded some Arista Premium 400, and got shooting.

The F3 accompanied me on a trip to Columbus, Ohio. I stopped for coffee in the Short North neighborhood. I crouched low to photograph the counter.

Counter at Cup 'o Joe

If you like galleries and shops, you’ll like the Short North. One out-of-the-way gallery featured an artist who paints with egg tempera. You can lose yourself in the detail and color in her work. We got to meet the artist, but only after these well-behaved little dogs cleared the way.

Well-behaved dogs at the art gallery

When we stepped into the Big Fun store, we entered a world of 1970s and 1980s pop culture and kitsch. Old lunchboxes lined one wall of the store, but I couldn’t find a replacement for the Big Jim lunch box I had in first grade. Darnit.

Big Fun

On another outing I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 and shot this trestle in St. Charles, Illinois, still with the 50/2 AI Nikkor.


Yet I seem to lean on black-and-white film in the F3 most of the time. I came upon some expired but always cold stored Kodak Plus-X and made this image under the bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


The F3 handles easily, far more easily than you’d expect given its bulk. The controls all feel velvety smooth yet built to last.

My heart is blocked

Fomapan 200 and that 50/2 lens are a winning combination. By this roll I’d learned the F3’s ways and it disappeared in my hands when I went on this photowalk.

Meridian St.

I made the photo above from the Indiana War Memorial; below is a detail from the Memorial itself.

Imposing Doors

This whatever-it-is was new in the cemetery near my home. I love the tones I got in this photo, and the detail in the sky.


Finally, someone gifted me some Fujifilm Superia 100, so I clipped on my 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor and moved in close for this photo.

North of 80 degrees

If you’d like to see more photos from this F3HP, check out my Nikon F3 Gallery.

I really enjoyed using the F3. It’s well made and very nice to use. I like my F2 a lot, but I think I like this F3 just a little bit more.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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26 responses to “Nikon F3”

  1. josephdecker0 Avatar

    Unfair, I say! Such generosity should not go unpunished! Beautiful work with that old monster, btw.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not sure why I’m so fortunate, but I’m not complaining. Thanks for the compliment on my work!

  2. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Good old Columbus! I wish you’d taken more pictures there, I’m feeling a bit homesick now…


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here, check the whole F3 gallery: a few more Columbus shots await. Sorry to contribute to your homesickness this morning!

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Oh wow, nice, thanks! :)

  3. Mike Avatar

    You gave that F3 a good workout. A great lens and a bright viewfinder are 90% of the game, I think.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ll favor the lens over the viewfinder, but yeah, you’re right.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    These days, it seems Nikon introduces a new DSLR about every 12 minutes. Amazing they cranked out this camera for two decades.

  5. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Great photos Jim, looks a really nice camera I have the F4s which I really like using it’s a bit heaver than the
    F3 but feels really solid.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The F4 looks like a beast! Bigger than the F3 even.

  6. Ani Trone Avatar

    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog this morning. We have a lot of similar tastes in camera’s…the F2 and the F3 are huge favorites of mine. Thanks for sharing such great images and information about the camera’s as well. Going back to abuse the “like” button :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much! My two F2s and my F3 were donations from a reader. Donations that blew my mind, I must say.

  7. Jack Avatar

    Beautiful camera! I recently got one myself. I’ve a question though:

    what is that eyepiece and where can I get one?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Got me – my camera came with it. Check eBay?

      1. Jack Avatar

        Thanks Jim! I noticed my F3 doesn’t seem to meter very accurately without depressing the DOF preview button. Once I hold it down, metering seems more accurate. Is this a battery issue or a meter issue?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Feels more like a problem with the camera than the battery — but the easiest, fastest way to check is to put in a fresh battery. If the problem persists, it’s the camera.

  8. Mike Avatar

    I have an F3, I shoot my F3, when I try other cameras I always end up going back to the F3. It’s by far the perfect camera for me. I have shot a lot of it’s contemperaries from Canon, Olympus and Pentax. Nothing compares to the feel of the F3 in my hand. It just works and it works well. I have the great Nikon 50mm F/1.8 AIS a 28mm 2.8 and my walking around lens of a Nikon 35-105mm zoom lens. It’s a great combo to always have in my bag with me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There are cameras I like more, but not by much, and none of them are as robustly built as my F3. I expect my F3 will still be working long after I don’t anymore.

  9. Brendan norris Avatar
    Brendan norris

    Love the shots Jim, well done . I have yet to own a Nikon but your article is convincing me that I should…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      An F3 in good nick won’t be cheap, but you’ll get a lot of good use out of it!

  10. […] reviewers! – Emulsive – Satisfying a 37-year dream…My First Nikon F3 – Down the Road – Nikon F3HP Review – Casual Photophile – Nikon F3 […]

  11. […] Jim Grey has reviewed the Nikon F3 on his blog, Down the Road: Nikon F3 […]

  12. Lyn Whiston Avatar
    Lyn Whiston

    I had a F3 for several years. Sold it and I wish I hadn’t. Just bought an F2 and that’s a nice substitute except for the F3’s aperture preferred capability.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love my F3, so much so that I invested in a repair and CLA when it started misbehaving last year. If I could keep only one camera, it would be the F3.

  13. Lyn Whiston Avatar
    Lyn Whiston

    There are so many great Nikons that I’ have great difficulty choosing just one. I have two F, one F2, three FE/FE2, an 8008, and a N90s. If forced to choose, I would take an FE because I like the control of match-needle metering, with the option of automatic exposure.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good point about the FE. I don’t own one; maybe I should buy one.

      I have an N90s as well. I love it. I had an N8008 and didn’t love it — too clumsy.

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