Nikon F4S serial number, just curious

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by Rick Helmke, Jan 25, 2020.

  1. Evening everyone. I just received a F4S via the auction site, I probably mentioned here recently. It’s very clean, doesn’t look like it’s been used much. The last F4 I got on auction basically had to be rebuilt and looks like it was used as a hammer. There’s one more in the bag with fewer than 100 rolls through it. The two I already had have serial numbers in the 24xxxxx and 25xxxxx range. The most recent one goes back to 21xxxx. Were there any problems common to any particular production runs? I don’t recall hearing about any and have never had a problem with one, just curious. I wonder how many F4 or F4S bodies were made. So far it’s the only one I like as well as the F2.

    Rick H.
  2. Rick,

    Unfortunately, I can't answer your questions directly other than to say that one of the common issues seems to be the viewfinder LCD. One of mine has a couple of bleeds-nothing to make it unusable, but they're there.

    As for your liking of them-this seems to be a more polarizing camera than any other pro body Nikon had made. I'm also an F2 and F4 guy who never really fell in love with the F3 and considers the F5 too big, power hungry, and unwieldy(I love the F to collect and fondle, but not shoot). To me, the F4 is a great crossing point of having a lot of modern conveniences(AE with lenses AI to G, matrix with "real" AI lenses, AF with everything but AF-P) but also a dedicated dial, switch, or button for every function. Just don't try to use a data back, as it's like your worst memory of trying to program an 80s VCR but with fewer buttons and less room to display information(the first roll I shot with one, I ended up with dates in the frame despite triple checking that I had that turned off but exposure between frames on).

    There are people, though, who hate the F4, and people who I trust report stories of it completely dying.
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  3. As Ben mentions, the LCD bleed in the viewfinder will eventually render those functions unusable. However, that aside, I've read a couple of articles in the past that the F4 was the greatest manual focus SLR ever invented, with auto-focus crammed in to boot.

    I have one, along with a spare finder, and neither has any hint of bleed, although I expect it to occur someday. It's used a lot with my "D" lenses, and I've always gotten great results. I've always kept in mind just where the F4 fell in Nikon's history, and I never try to exceed those parameters.

    Yes, the A/F module is not the fastest, and it lacks refinements to the metering system that came with the F5. However, for brute camera power, it's an outstanding piece of hardware. I own the F's all the way through the F5 (I did own a F6 before trading it for a Hassy 500 C/M), and it shines in its own way.
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  4. As with many vintage cameras, overall condition should be your first priority, then you can look for subtle variations between batches. A compromise approach to shopping the F4 is recommended: you probably don't want to get a beater professional discard F4 just because it has a late serial number, OTOH you don't want to overpay for a first-batch F4 just because its pristine. Approx 600,000 bodies were sold during the F4 market lifespan of 1988-1996.

    As a very rough rule of thumb, F4 bodies with serial numbers above 23xxxxx are preferable to lower numbers because they definitely include the most critical design update: more secure prism latches. Unless sent in for a retrofit by their original owners, serial numbers below 23xxxxx can have issues with the meter prism coming off more abruptly than expected when changing finders or screens, causing the camera body to drop to the floor etc. Granted, most people are unlikely to change finders or screens from shoulder height in the field, but it was enough of an issue that Nikon felt compelled to modify the latch system.

    Other modifications are less critical: nice to have, but usually not dealbreakers. The lowest recommended serial number range is 2147000 and above: these have improved, more durable shutter dial, meter mode switches, back springs and low-battery alert circuit. Serial # above 25xxxxx adds a few more niceties like slightly stronger body shell, more secure connection to Nikon flashes, etc.

    I'm in the small fan club that considers the F4 the only serious competition to the F2 for title of "best overall manual-focus F model". The F3 has irritating design flaws (viewfinder display, shutter release response, metering system weirdness) that make it unusable to an F2 enthusiast, the F5 and F6 are too similar to a DSLR, the legendary original F is less comfortable to handle than the F2 and has less reliable/usable meter prisms. What kneecaps the F4 is the eventual "display bleed" issue in the viewfinder: once the display goes, the camera is noticeably less enjoyable to operate. There can also be issues with the auto-load and motor drive subsystems, which like the display involves replacement parts that are difficult or impossible to find now.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2020
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  5. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to this. This most recent acquisition has a small partial bleed. Oddly enough the prism that came with the abused camera has no such problem. Neither does my better low mileage body. Those are 24xxxx and 25xxx bodies. The F4s fit my hand and I liked it immediately while I never warmed up to the F3. I’ve heard that the F4 somehow offended many pros and they shifted to Canon. For me it’s the last camera that put the controls were they should be. Everything went to menus and command dials and I still have not warmed up to that. It seems unnatural but then I’m an old tired bastard so what can I expect?

    Rick H.
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  6. As the saying goes, history doesn't repeat but it does rhyme.

    The F4 lost steam to Canon in a manner similar to how Canon later beat the crap out of the D3/D700 in the digital era. Nikon management often dithers and keeps product suffocated in committee for so long that by the time it hits the market its already a year too late and on the cusp of being outmoded (i.e. bringing out 12MP bodies to fight a competitor that was imminently updating to 16 and 22MP). The F4 was a brilliant camera in many ways, but its AF was already weak upon debut, so when Canon blew the pro market apart with the clean-sheet EOS1 a year later, the handwriting was on the wall.

    The F4 misread the pulse of where the market was really going. For every older buyer that adored the legacy knob-driven controls, two other younger buyers were wooed by the futuristic Canon. By opting for the established Minolta screw drive AF concept, Nikon boxed itself in once Canon began iterating high-performance in-lens AF motors. Canon's cutting-edge AF speed and innovative super-teles were a magnet for sports and wildlife pros, who considered the F4 fuddy and quaint, the tele Nikkors dated.

    Coming at the F4 from the other end was a massive wave of pent up hostility from long-term Nikon enthusiasts who absolutely loathed (and I do mean LOATHED) the ticky-tacky, plastic-craptastic AF Nikkors. Until the F4 was released many had hoped (vainly) that Nikon would find some way to make a more upscale, pro-feel, manual-focus-compatible line of AF glass. When the F4 arrived with the same tinkertoy, skinny-serrated 50/1.4 AF proudly displayed in all publicity materials, the hatred was palpable. Prices tripled at NYC dealers for leftover new-in-box F2AS bodies, as well as many AIS lenses as panic buyers outstripped supplies of popular manual-focus focal lengths.

    Completely baffled by this customer reaction, and unable to answer Canon's challenge immediately, Nikon did the only thing it could: keep the F3 in production, and ramp production back up on popular manual AIS lenses before the tooling wore out. The wobbly F4 was propped up by the enduring availability of F3, which kept enough pros in the fold to tide Nikon over until hits like the N90 re-established their AF cred. Tho the N90 design and AF performance made the F4 feel like a living antique for six long years until the F5 finally arrived. And Nikon picked up a number of Canon FD enthusiasts who felt burned by the abandonment of FD (EOS was an instant hit with pros, but the enthusiast FD market was non-plussed by the first-gen "amateur" EOS bodies/lenses).

    It wasn't until 2004 or so that popular perception of the F4 changed from "godawful AF embarrassment" to "best manual focus F body ever". As second-hand prices came down within reach, more and more Nikon F/F2 enthusiasts who had despised the F3 for its bonehead usability flaws realized the F4 was the "F3 that should have been". Used with manual lenses, the mediocre AF performance is a non-issue, so what you are left with is a quieter, more refined F3 with far more informative and visible viewfinder displays, more predictable shutter button, more flexible predictable metering, and smaller/lighter motorized body (if you opted for the F4 vs F4S battery grip).

    Unfortunately, time is now biting many F4 bodies with electronic, motor and display woes, so they've become somewhat less attractive as a long-term bet than they were ten years ago. Ironically, the F3 with its older simpler electronics, thumb winding, and dumb-as-a-brick display has proven more durable (even if the F3 viewfinder display ever completely rots, you wouldn't miss anything because its always been useless anyway). C'est la vie: as long as I have my trio of F2AS bodies, I'm good til the end of film.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2020
    leo_tam|1 likes this.
  7. Funny enough, in 2020, even though I have an F4(two of them actually, an F4 with the hard to find 4-cell grip and a 6-cell F4s) and an N90, I still prefer the F4.

    You can see the commonality between the N90 and the N8008, the latter of which was a worthy AF semi-pro/advanced amateur successor to the FM/FE/FA series. I like both the N90 and N8008 and don't see a huge difference other than somewhat less fussy AF in the N90 and also some degree of usability with AF-S/G lenses(IIRC the N90 is the same as the F4 in this regard).

    What I dislike about them is how loud they are. The AF whirs, rattles, and clatters worse than the F4 does(the F5 is louder, but can be forgiven for how quickly it can snap something like an 80-200 f/2.8 or 300mm f/4 into focus). Don't even try to fire the shutter some place where you need to be discreet, as you're rewarded with a sharp "clack" that reverberates off every surface and then is followed by an agonizingly drawn out motor whir. The F4 advance isn't quiet(and the "silent' mode is a gimmick that just makes the camera chatter for a half second rather than get it over with) but the shutter release at least has the smooth, refined, sound that a single digit F should have.

    I also don't know why the N8008 and N90 are so loud. The N70 and N80, which are thoroughly consumer cameras(albeit high end) are smooth and quiet. The F100 is as quiet and refined as anything outside an F6.
    leo_tam|1 and orsetto like this.
  8. The N70 and N80 are much quieter because they were Nikon's furious counter to the Canon EOS Elan, the first integral-motor SLR to promote a true "silent" mode. The Nikons were very smooth, as good as the Elan if not slightly better in features/quietness, but unfortunately afflicted with a very controversial control wheel + LCD system.

    Being one of those long-term Nikon enthusiasts who couldn't stand the first-gen, super-cheesy AF Nikkors, I never migrated to any of the Nikon film AF bodies and didn't pick up any AF lenses until I bought a D700. Since I couldn't stand the haphazard F3, I tried to like the N8008 but couldn't acclimate to its pushbutton control system, ditto the N90. The F4 was fantastic, and I played with it every time I could get to the Nikon House showroom in Rockefeller Center (R.I.P.), but it was way out of my league pricewise during its original run. If I could have made the numbers work, I'd have been thrilled with the F4's beautifully damped half second chatter "silent" mode. So, I went with F2AS instead when they finally became affordable again in 1992, and never looked back. After all this time, the F2 has become a part of my arm and I'm only occasionally tempted by the F4 or F100 (usually when I'm stuck shooting my noisier F2 body that needs its internal shutter sound dampers replaced, a very pricey service job).
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  9. Similar story here. I was at the time a Contax RTSII shooter, but I bought a F body so I could borrow some of my father's "specialty" glass from time to time. Then came a F2S and FE. I'd played with the F4 in a local shop every time I stopped in, but it was way out of my price league. A half dozen years ago now I found a really lovely F4 on ebay for $68 and it has been perfect in every way. I ended up putting a "K" screen in it as i shoot mostly manual focus glass with it.
  10. Rick(the OP) and I have been talking on the phone a lot of the past few weeks, and one of the things he confirmed was something I've thought for a few years-a lot of heavy F2 users seem to dislike the F3(Rick and I are in that category) but seem to take the the F4.

    I can't explain why that is, but I won't ever be without an F2. My favorite in particular is an F2sb, which took me forever to find but when I like for its easy metering with non-AI lenses. For all intents and purposes, with AI/AI-s lenses, which I use it with mostly(including the 35mm f/1.4 AI-s in particular) it's just as seamless as an F2AS except for the small inconvenience of twiddling the aperture ring. I actually somewhat like the in-finder aperture readout on it better, as you don't have to worry about blocking light from the ADR and the little red LED will light both the shutter speed and aperture readout.
  11. The F3 vs F2/F debate has always been polarizing: those who love the F3, love it, those who can't stand it will never bond with it no matter how hard they try. Most of the enmity from F/F2 enthusiasts is traceable to two F3 drawbacks: the absolutely godawful, what were they thinking, utterly useless (often invisible) meter display, and the bizarrely unpredictable shutter release.

    These two things should have been slam-dunk successes for Nikon: fully electronic shutter releases had been perfected eight years earlier by Contax, and the electro-mechanical release of their own Nikon FE was perfectly normal. Ditto the metering display: any number of options were available that would have been better than that atrocious dinky LCD panel they chose. The reasoning behind it was ass-backwards: they were so hell-bent on power savings that they threw usability out the window.

    Instead, they should have realized pros would almost always power the thing via motor drive, and enthusiasts who insisted on buying the "pro" Nikon (sans motor) would quickly learn power conserving habits and/or get used to carrying spare batteries (which would have been easier if Nikon stuck with the larger, one-piece 6v battery used by the Nikkormat EL). The F3 would have been far more usable with the Minolta XKM-style LED shutter scale, or even the Fuji ST901 digital LED shutter speed readout if they insisted on being futuristic. What we got was a fugly tiny dim murky LCD panel with its even more tiny pathetic + - manual exposure indices.

    The F3 was arguably the perfect photojournalist camera: within that niche the quirks melted away. It was much smaller/lighter and more comfortable for all-day holding. Exposure would always be on full auto with no regard to monitoring what exposure was being set, or more likely full manual with an auto-flash. The motor drive release was 10x better than the body shutter release. So if your job was covering the White House or the Red Carpet, the F3 was your dream upgrade over the F/F2. For the rest of us, not so much. We coveted the svelte body, improved screen/finder interchange, and simplified, more reliable motor. But the ghastly meter display and flaky shutter button were dealbreakers, so we held onto our F/2 and maybe supplemented with an FE + MD12.

    When the F4 arrived, it melded the feel of the F2 with the modernity of the F3 and a new meter display that took the F2AS visibility ball and ran with it. Running solely off AA batteries, power was never an issue. There was nothing to really dislike about the F4 other than inability to be used without motor (solved by "silent" mode), the hideous line of plastic AF Nikkor lenses that came along for the ride, and its higher price vs F3. But it had taken too long: eight years after the F3. That was eight more years "luddites" stubbornly clung to their F2, after which there wasn't much point in migrating to the pricey AF F4 unless you wanted the AF.

    Flash forward another 20 years and a digital-induced price drop, and the F4 became far more attractive as an F2 supplement or replacement, esp if you suddenly wanted a motor drive. As impressive and finely-crafted as the F2 motor is, it weighs a ton, makes the ergonomic F2 into an unwieldy brick, has a propensity to cause shutter damage by leaving it cocked, and has failure-prone gearing. For a few years there, you could buy a clean F4S body for the same or less than a pristine MD2 motor drive, so why not take that route and gain AE and AF in the deal? A significant subculture formed, and the F4 gained the luster it deserved (but failed to achieve) in its own era.

    Sadly the supply of good-condition F4 bodies has been slowly eroding as time claims their electronics, motors or finder displays. I sometimes wonder how well the displays of our DSLRs like D700 will age, given the similar F4 tech? Ironically the bedeviled F3 has stood the test of time better: its simple electronics are indeed as bulletproof as Nikon claimed, detachable motor makes less problems, and the crude meter display never seems to die. Gather your F4s and enjoy while ye may, but hang onto thine F2 as well!
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2020
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  12. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Unless it's dark out, I've never had any trouble using the "murky" LCD panel. What do you mean by murky? All of my F3HP displays are crystal clear. I can also see the "tiny" +/- display with no problems.
  13. Coming to NIkon as a Canon FD user, the F3 has always felt like a weak point to me vs. the beautifully executed New F-1 that in my mind is its direct competition.

    The biggest downside of the New F-1 is that you need the slightly clunky AE finder FN to see the shutter speed in aperture priority mode(fun fact-it will work in aperture priority with the dial set to A even without a finder attached-the AE finder just allows you to see what shutter speed the camera is picking). The motor drive is also a bit less elegant, and its provision for powering the camera is so riddled with caveats that I rarely if ever use it, but the motor drive does also add shutter priority if one wants it.

    In exchange, you get a silicon-cell backed match needle meter that's big, easy to read, and conveys more information than the little F3 LCD. When it gets dark out, you twist the little knob on the back to "light" and a bulb lights up the meter display unobtrusively when you tap the shutter button, and keeps it on for several seconds after you release the shutter button. The camera offers you your choice of metering patterns, albeit you have to change focusing screens to do so.

    The New F-1 gives you the same "soft touch" shutter button as the F3, although if the battery dies while you're out shooting, you just pop it out and all of the speeds above the flash sync work correctly(you just have the press the shutter button harder). It's much better to me than the little lever down by the lens mount as an "oh crap" shutter speed.

    Plus, you have a hotshoe, although the flash capabilities are otherwise somewhat limited compared to the F3.

    The New F-1 does give up the silky smooth, effortless F3 advance and is in fact somewhat rough compared event to its immediate predecessor(the original F-1 film advance is a lot like the F2). It also has a durable but rough feeling finish, vs. the more traditional gloss enamel of the F3.
    leo_tam|1 likes this.
  14. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of other photographers agree with you, or the F3 would not have sold as well as it did or remained in production for nearly two decades. Plenty more enjoyed the exact same display in the Nikon FA. But a smaller, significant number of Nikonians did not: they subjectively find this display a dinky, murky, uninformative PITA. One of the key reasons why the F4 "speaks" to F2 enthusiasts who disliked and avoided the F3: the question posed by ben_hutcherson right above my reply.

    In the larger market of camera buyers at the time, the F3 was being compared to many other options and sold very well. In the smaller context of long-term Nikon F and F2 enthusiasts, it was more controversial depending on your metering preferences and especially on which F2 meter head you had grown accustomed to. If you were using a match-needle F or F2 Photomic, didn't shoot much in dim lighting, and weren't particularly invested in the manual exposure workflow, the F3 came as a pleasant surprise: you jumped on the convenient AE feature, perhaps took some time to develop the habit of using the exposure lock often, and were happy.

    Those who adored their F2SB, F2AS, and backup FM faced a tougher decision: for many of them, the F3 was a downgrade in functionality. Instead of maintaining or improving the intuitive, responsive, highly visible five-step manual exposure indicators of those bodies, the F3 took a step backwards to the simplistic binary + - idiot light display of the ancient F2S. Then made it worse by reducing the + and - to tiny vestiges of the AE shutter display. Which in turn became even worse with the lower-magnification, now-ubiquitous F3HP variant (those who need glasses or contacts for certain vision issues, who also shoot primarily in dimmer lighting, have stronger negative reactions to the F3 than the general population). The fact that Nikon didn't trust its users enough to provide a truly usable display light was the final poke in the eye: just having a switch that linked the light to the shutter button would have been a nice concession (those worried about battery drain could leave it turned off).

    IOW, if you live and die by the classic Nikon SB/AS/FM manual exposure workflow, the F3 strikes you as an unusable dog: it is optimized almost completely for AE operation. The position of the display at the top of the screen is also more distracting and subconsciously unpleasant than the bottom display that is still preferred even in modern DSLRs.

    It a fraught, highly subjective personal reaction that can't really be argued: if you hate the F3 display, you just viscerally despise it with a passion. If you like it, or are neutral about it, you are baffled that anyone could possibly dislike it to such a degree they would sacrifice all the other benefits of the F3 to avoid it. There is no middle ground. To a lesser extent, many Nikon enthusiasts who love the Nikkormat EL and FE/FE2 display also find the F3/FA finder readout kind of appalling, but since those people are already AE-oriented they tend to adapt more easily.

    As ben_hutcherson alludes, Canon pros were especially baffled by the popularity of the F3 vs their New F-1, which was a much more logical and less-jarring AE evolution of a manual exposure pro camera. Canon added AE features (albeit with an optional finder gimmick) without reducing existing manual exposure usability one iota, while Nikon threw the baby out with the bath water. Later in the '80s, even Modern Photography or Pop Photo remarked on this once or twice during their annual camera round-up issues, noting if the brands were reversed the "Canon F3" would have been a marketing disaster and the "Nikon New F-1" would have smoothly taken its place beside the F and F2 as a fully beloved evolution of the F, with no blowback. Little did they dream Canon would turn the tables completely with EOS not long after.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2020
    leo_tam|1 likes this.
  15. Hi,

    Actually, the newest Serial Numbers 251xxxxx and above seem to be the latest batch with all the little "tweaks". However,…while the body may have the newer serial number,…remember, the MB-21 that would say “Ni-Cd”, (as opposed to KR-AA on the old ones), and the DP-20, (with or without the flash locking hole), are separate. The Japanese sellers, (usually good guys), are infamous for “mixing and matching” parts. So,…check for the hotshoe locking hole first, and Ni-Cd designation for the MB part when buying And if your viewfinder gets lower LCD bleed, just buy a new DP-20. (the lower LCD's are on the viewfinder, and can be fixed by replacing the viewfinder. The upper LCD's, as well as the LED for focus confirmation, are actually in the body itself) Also, many photographers use AA lithium batteries in their F4. This is not recommended by Nikon because the original voltage of lithium batteries when new are quite high and they have a tendency toward voltage fluctuations (more than 1.5 V). NiMh batteries are also not recommend by the factory, although many have no problem using them. Nikon believes that using either lithium or NiMh batteries can greatly shorten the life of the camera, and damage can occur in long run. I'll just end with, I shot with the F5's for years. While slightly better, the covering on the two I had kept "bubbling". My greasy Sicilian fingers prefer my F4's.
  16. I am one who think the F4 is the worst Nikon F series.
  17. SCL


    I came to the Nikon family via the F100 and as I learned more about the line acquired an F3, which I really loved. That love inspired me to get and F4 and then an F5 at a good price caught my eye. All of a sudden I had too many bodies. The F5 was developing stronger muscles in one arm than the other, so was the 1st to go, although IMHO it was a magnificent camera. The F100 was next, as I really liked the ability to change finders and screens of its predecessors. After a bout in the hospital, I also sold the F3 and F4...but really missed them and decided to come back. At the time I couldn't get a good price on an F3 in excellent condition, so I got another F4, but it didn't have the MB-21 battery pack, and all the ones I could find were waaaaaay overpriced. So it sat for a couple of months. Last week I saw an ubelievable deal on an MB-21 a pro was selling, and snarfed it up. It arrived last Friday and worked great, although it was a little scuffed. Today I'm loading it up with film and (hopefully) heading out with my renewed love-partner!
  18. Thom Hogan in the "The Nikon Field Guide" states there are 12 improvements and any body after 2350000 have all 12 improvements. Most of the improvements are substantial.

    The F4 was an ugly, ungainly beast that does everything with every Nikon lens ever made that no model before or after can do.
  19. I also have an F, F2, F3, F4 and F5. I love the F but to actually use its the F2 or F4 every time and for more serious stuff it would always be the F4. Unfortunately the F4 I bought new stopped working a few years ago in that the red led warning light would blink when I pressed the shutter release and it would simply do nothing. I sent it off for repair and when it came back it did work for a few rolls. When it broke again the same people said it couldn't be mended.
    Recently I brought a very good body and prism for a few hundred pounds so now have two prisms. No bleed on either displays. The F4 is by far the easiest and most user friendly F series camera to use. Everything is in the right place and there are no menus to access to make a button do this, that or the other.
    Both bodies are numbered 25***** and I think they look and feel fantastic. Also, both were/are "s".
  20. Canon is clearly in the lead today as compared to Nikon and to me the F4 was the one responsible for that. The earlier F3 which you can say far lesser than the Canon New F1 yet the Canon couldn't beat it.

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