As 35mm SLRs transitioned to autofocus, it took a few iterations before manufacturers settled on the controls we all know. The Nikon F-801s is an early camera in that transition. Also known as the N8008s, and manufactured from 1991 to 1995, it supplanted the F-801/N8008, but added only improved autofocus and a spot-metering mode to the earlier camera. (Read my N8008 review here.)
This camera represents Nikon’s second iteration of autofocus cameras. The first was the F-501/N2020, which had a much more square body. The F-801s generation of cameras introduced The Blob as the dominant SLR shape.
The F-801s was in Nikon’s semi-professional range, sitting just below the F3 and F4 in the pecking order. As such, it was a robustly built camera, solid and heavy. It also offered a ton of features, including depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure, a two-shot self-timer, matrix or center-weighted metering, programmed autoexposure, and film setting by DX code with manual override from ISO 6 to 6,400. The F-801s’s shutter operates from 30 to 1/8000 second. Finally, three focusing screens are available, including the standard matte Type B screen, as well as a gridded Type E screen and a microprism Type J screen.
The F-801s loads the film for you when you insert the cartridge, pull the leader across to the red mark, close the door, and fire the shutter. It winds the film for you, but it doesn’t rewind automatically. If you’re not paying attention to the frame counter, you won’t find out you’re at the end of the roll until you press the shutter button and nothing happens. To rewind, press both buttons atop the camera marked with the red rewind symbol.
The controls were an evolutionary step toward the now-standard mode dial. Press the Mode button and turn the dial to cycle through the modes, which appear in the LCD. There are two program modes, normal (P) and high (PH), which chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. You can also choose dual mode (PD) that chooses normal for focal lengths less than 135mm, and high otherwise. There are also aperture-priority (A), shutter-priority (S), and full manual (M) modes.
If you like auto-everything Nikons, I’ve reviewed several, starting with the similar N8008 (F-801). Also check out the N90s, the N50, the N60, and the N65. You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
I loaded four AA batteries into this Nikon F-801s, without which the camera is inert. I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Ultrafine eXtreme 400, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. This was my first go with this film. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because when I don’t like the way the images look, I can’t tell whether it’s the film or the camera. I wasn’t thrilled with these images. A few that I shot on a walk around the strip mall near my home turned out best.
I knew I was going to enjoy using the F-801s because I enjoyed using the N8008 (F-801) I used to own. This is just a solid, competent performer. The autofocus is dog slow by modern standards, but that never bothers me. I almost never photograph things in motion. I have the time to wait.
But something’s wrong with the autofocus on this F-801s. At infinity, it hunts like mad and half the time won’t focus. When it does, the camera usually won’t let you make a photo. An X appears in the viewfinder LCD rather than the solid circle that means everything’s hunky dory. At closer range, the camera often focuses just behind your intended subject.
I finished the roll around the house. Trying to figure out what was up with the autofocus, I trained the camera on a drawing my brother made for me many years ago. He’s a talented illustrator; his favorite genre is comic-style art. It’s too bad he doesn’t draw anymore.
Our granddaughter was over for a visit that day. She likes it when we make a bowl of soapy water for her so she can play in it. Notice how the F-801 focused just behind our granddaughter’s head.
Disappointed in, but not daunted by, the F-801s’s focusing woes, I decided to try a different lens in case something had gone wrong with my 50/1.8. I thought the lens was unlikely to be at fault, but what the heck. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Sadly, the camera continued to whiff focus in just the same ways.
I nosed around the photo forums for tips on what might be wrong. A few others reported this problem, and one fellow said he repaired his by blowing dust off the AF sensor. It’s behind the lens, under the mirror. I tried it, but it didn’t help. Perhaps the AF sensor has just gone bad.
I finished the roll with autofocus turned off. The focusing screen offered no focusing help such as a split image, so I just twisted the focus ring until things looked sharp enough and hoped for the best. It worked out fine.
I took the F-801s on a walk around Lions Park in Zionsville. This is where the Little League plays.
The 28-80mm lens was a fine choice for this walk and it delivered good sharpness. As for the sign in this photo, Zionsville is a wealthy suburb, and families here have high expectations of their experiences around town.
Except for its autofocus woes, the F-801s performed well. Its large grip makes it a little awkward in the hand; the F50 I shot recently felt far more balanced.
See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F-801s gallery.
This Nikon F-801s was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but if you want one, they go for peanuts on eBay all the time. My F-801s’s autofocus problems notwithstanding, these are generally reliable cameras and are a good value in easy SLR shooting. I prefer my Nikon N90s, which replaced the F-801/F-801s and evolved the 35mm SLR’s controls even further toward the configuration that everybody uses today. It feels more luxurious in my hand, and it focuses faster.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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