Nikon F3HP with Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AI-S

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by craigd, Aug 5, 2012.

  1. A few weeks ago, I finally broke down and ordered an F3HP from KEH (in EX condition), having been curious for years about the "high-eyepoint" viewfinder that supposedly makes life easier for people who, like me, wear glasses. I was also interested in picking up a Nikon zoom lens; although I mostly shoot with primes, zoom lenses are undeniably convenient as long as they aren't too big and their limitations (small maximum apertures, geometric distortion, etc.) don't get in the way. KEH's "camera outfits" section, where you can buy a camera with a lens for less than what you'd pay for the two separately, offered me the choice of either the Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5, the Zoom-Nikkor 35-135mm f/3.5-4.5, or the Zoom-Nikkor 35-200mm f/3.5-4.5 with the F3HP. All three lenses offer macro modes. I chose between them based primarily on knowing that I mostly shoot at wider focal lengths; it might have been nice once in a while to reach 200mm, but I wouldn't use it often enough to make it worth the extra size and weight. Also, I tend to be suspicious of zooms with more than 3x difference between shortest and longest focal lengths (especially older ones). Lastly, the 35-105mm takes 52mm filters, like nearly all my other Nikon lenses; the other two take 62mm filters, of which I have none. So I went with the 35-105mm.
    I don't suppose many people around here really need an introduction to the F3HP. Suffice it to say that when it appeared in 1980, the industry was in the midst of the transition from mechanical to electronic cameras, and Nikon, which tended to favor rock-solid reliability over technological innovation, was starting to look just a little old-fashioned. Minolta had introduced the XK, an electronic system camera with aperture-priority auto-exposure, in 1972. The XK competed directly against Nikon's F2 in features and build quality; it might have had a better chance at dominating the market if Minolta had not inexplicably neglected to offer a motor drive for it until 1976. Other manufacturers also introduced aperture- or shutter-priority SLRs during the 1970s. By the decade's end, the leading edge of technology was represented by the Canon A-1, the first camera to offer a full set of AE modes (aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and program). Against all this, Nikon had only the FE, an excellent mid-range SLR with aperture-priority AE. The F2, a purely mechanical manual camera that needed a battery only to power its light meter, was still a perfectly good camera, but it could no longer compete on features.
    The electronic F3, with its aperture-priority mode, was Nikon's answer to the advances other companies had made during the 1970s. It proved so successful that it remained in production for 21 years, the longest run of any of Nikon's F-mount cameras. It even outlasted its own successor, the F4, by five years. My F3 was made about 1986, judging by its serial number (177xxxx).
    1. Nikon F3HP with Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AI-S
    (Camera photographed with an Olympus E-P2 and an OM 24mm f/2.8)
    The DE-3 high-eyepoint viewfinder (which is what makes an F3 an F3HP) was introduced a couple of years after the F3 and is perhaps the most common F3 finder. It offers a larger window and slightly lower magnification than most other Nikon SLR viewfinders in order to allow the eye to view the full image from farther away -- specifically, from behind glasses. I find that it works well.
    The Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AI-S turns out to be a very acceptable zoom lens. Not only does it produce very nice images, it isn't uncomfortably large or heavy and doesn't throw the camera off balance. The macro mode goes to about 1/4 life size and is sharper than I expected. The level of geometrical distortion is not unreasonable for a lens of this type and age.
    2. Macro Flower
    My initial inspection of my F3 suggested that its meter was about a stop off, so for my first roll of Provia 100F, I set the camera's ISO to 200. This proved to be a mistake; the lab gave me a box of slides that were clearly underexposed. This camera clearly knows better than I do when it comes to exposures. This next image is from that first roll. I will have to take this picture again sometime with proper settings, because I rather like it.
    3. Church at Sunrise
    This next shot shows a little pincushion distortion. I'm not sure what the exact focal length was, but it was definitely toward the long end.
    3. Benches
    I don't eat at Taxi's (I may have been there once, years ago. but I must not have been impressed; we have no shortage of good burger joints around here), but on a recent morning walk I noticed for the first time that they actually have a vintage taxi cab parked in their lot.
    4. Taxi at Taxi's
    We'll end today's presentation with a rousing patriotic finale...
    5. Flag
    So, in the end, what do I think of the F3HP? It's a great camera. I like it even more than I had expected to. Everything seems to work just right, every control is just where it should be, and it's build very solidly. I have two minor cavils: (1) the meter doesn't turn on until the frame counter reaches 1, so you can't squeeze in an extra frame or two as I usually do with other non-motorized film cameras; (2) I'm not wild about the LCD that displays shutter speed in the viewfinder, because reading numbers (in the ugly seven-segment type face that was once regarded as the essence of high tech) is less convenient (and harder to do out of the corner of your eye) than looking at the position of a needle, as in the Nikon FE, or a column of LED dots, as in the Minolta X-700. Neither of these are even close to being deal-breakers for me, though.
  2. Nice write up, Craig. You got a clean looking example and the 35-105mm is a good walk-a-bout lens. The F3HP was the camera I earned my living with for many years. I still have a pair and they both still work perfectly (one of mine is a Titanium version). One of the smoothest film advance gearing I ever felt. I have packed away much of my 35mm SLR film gear but the F3HP-T and a handful of lenses remain active.
    Now you must steel yourself for the inevitable Nikkor lens GAS that will surely follow.
  3. I enjoyed shutter-priority AE with my F2S when I got it in 1975, of course using the EE aperture control unit.
  4. I'm glad to see someone else enjoying that lens. I have one as well, and it doesn't have the best reputation, but apparently samples vary. Mine turned out to be good and sharp, and a nice carry around lens, although I have never cared for the ergonomics, or the fact that it is really "varifocal" rather than zoom, since it does not hold focus.
  5. Interesting, Jay! I hadn't heard of the aperture control unit before. I can't imagine that such an unwieldy device was very popular. Its existence argues that Nikon was well aware of the importance of AE as a feature, even if it took them a few more years to actually integrate it into a professional-level body.
    Louis, Nikkor GAS hit me a long time ago. I own more than 25 Nikkor primes, all manual focus, divided roughly equally between pre-AI and AI/AI-S models. (I've just never had an F-mount zoom before this one.) I have a particular fascination with the very early period when F-mount Nikkors had their focal lengths marked in centimeters rather than millimeters and the distance scale was marked only in feet (or in meters, depending what market the lens was made for) rather than both feet and meters; I own seven of those, including a 1960 Nikkor-P 10.5cm f/2.5 and a 1962 Nikkor-S 3.5cm f/2.8.
    Matthew, my 35-105mm is a true zoom; it doesn't behave anything like my Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5 VMC, which is varifocal rather than a zoom. I've never heard that there were any varifocal Nikkors in the AI/AI-S period. Is it possible that there is something wrong with yours?
  6. Put plenty of miles on my F3HP. Purchased it in about 1986 when there was a currency exchange that favored US dollars....I think I paid less than 400. for the body.....a great deal that did not last tooo long. Nikor zooms are OK and they were designed for convienence, not to compete with the primes. My favorite lens was a 35mm f2.8. It seemed to be the perfect match for 8x10 prints I made in my darkroom. Enjoy your new "Old" camera. They were built to last forever.
  7. Back in those days, motor drive is a hot item and the Minolta XK didn't have one and the XK motor had an integral motor so it failed to attract buyers. Nikon decided to make the F3 electronic but it was not well received when it was introduced. Many would pay more for the F2 than the F3 in 1980.
    The EE unit isn't a popular item because it was more expensive than the F2 body. I paid $550 for the F2AS but the EE unit to go with it was about $800 so I didn't get it. The motor drive set for the F2 was also around $800 and that was why I bought the F3HP and the MD-4 for $700.
  8. Good write-up Craig. You got a clean outfit. F3 is my top favorite and I mostly use it with a 50mm lens. Suggest you get the motor drive (MD4) also. Enjoy your F3HP.
  9. Nice post, Craig. I love the F3HP for all the reasons listed above and the silky smooth action when you wind it. Mine is my backup camera for when I visit my sister in london. I learned to trust the meter the hard way too. Thanks for sharing it.
  10. It's possible that my example of the 35-105 is atypical, but I don't think it's broken. It works well and is sharp throughout its range, but it certainly is not parfocal, varying by about two feet from 35-105 at 12 to 14 feet. There's no sign of damage or impact, though it has a loose zoom like many. I checked with magnification and a plain screen to make sure it was not an oddity of the focus aids in the screen, and it's definitely off. It would be no problem except for the loose zoom, which makes focusing precisely in macro a bit difficult, since one must always hold it.
    I guess I'll have to do some more research to see if other samples are different.
  11. Matthew: Interesting information about your copy of the 35-105mm. Mine is not loose at all, nor is it overly tight as some lenses become when their internal lubricants dry out. I imagine it feels much as it did when it was new: easy to focus and zoom, but with no play and no tendency to drift on its own.
    Few zoom lenses are really perfectly parfocal, but the difference between a a varifocal lens and an imperfectly-parfocal zoom is not subtle. The Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5 VMC that I mentioned earlier is a good example of a lens that doesn't even try to maintain focus as the focal length changes. The focus change I see with my Nikkor 35-105mm, on the other hand, is only noticeable due to the camera's split-image rangefinder showing just a tiny bit of misalignment after zooming all the way from 35mm to 105mm. Only a very slight twist of the focus/zoom ring is needed to bring it back into perfect focus.
  12. The F3 metering pattern is 80% inside the 12mm circle and 20% outside it so itwas a semi spot; this might account for the small metering difference compared to your hand held. My F3 just feel nekkid without its MD-4.
  13. Congrats on the F3HP. I found one on Craigslist a few years ago, when I was actively buying/selling 35mm stuff on Fleabay. This was the first time I had ever picked one up (a 'HP with an MD-4 and an 85/2.0, in this case), and I was amazed by it's solidity and gravitas. I sold that one, but vowed to keep looking for a really nice example to keep. Found one a few months later (also an '86 #177xxxx) - a lab camera, having spent it's time on a stand, so it was pretty much mint. I replaced the seals and replaced the leatherette with black Griptac from Since then, I have succumbed to a mild case of "F3AAS" (F3 Accessory Acquisition Syndrome) - MD-4, MK-1 Fire Rate Controller, a bunch of finders, flash mounts, etc. My all time favorite SLR.
  14. Regarding accessories: I will probably buy an AS-17 hot shoe adapter, but I'm not into data backs or motor drives. Sorry.
    Also, one interesting thing about my F3HP that I neglected to mention: To my surprise, it came with a type P focusing screen installed. This is the one that has the split-image rangefinder tilted at a 45 degree angle, and also has a cross-hair so you feel like you're about to "shoot" somebody in a different sense of the word. I rather like it. The angled rangefinder works nicely with either vertical or horizontal lines regardless of whether the camera is in landscape or portrait orientation, and the cross-hair is helpful for getting compositions aligned just right. This is the first type P screen I've used; my other Nikons mostly have either the usual horizontally-split rangefinder or none at all.
  15. If you're not looking for TTL flash exposure, Vivitar makes a semi-hot adapter that works pretty well. B&H had it last I saw. It is hot for ordinary flashes, and also has dedicated terminals for some Vivitar flash whose existence is dubious, but it also has the third terminal that sets shutter speed and runs the flash ready light, and this works with many dedicated flashes in Manual and Flash-Auto modes. For some reason most Minolta flashes malfunction with this, but Nikon and a few others, including some vivitars made for other systems, work fine. I use mine in non-TTL mode with either a Nikon SB-17 or a Vivitar Series 1 flash that was supposed to be dedicated to Canons, and both set the shutter speed and ready light correctly.

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