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