Nikon film SLR recomendation for remote wildlife photography

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by kyle_declerck|1, May 9, 2016.

  1. Hello all,
    I'm in need of a film SLR for some remote wildlife photography. For work, I'm typically in the field for 4-6 weeks at a time. A lot of my work lately has been in the Northern Rockies and Northern Pacific coast of British Columbia and up into Alaska. So rather remote locations that are demanding on gear. I'm going be using long lenses, 300-600mm, for the most part all ED AI glass, nothing super new. I typically prefer cameras that are mechanical as they have always been most reliable given the conditions I put them through. But I also realize Nikon makes a pretty damn durable camera, especially their film cameras so I'm not necessarily opposed to an electronic shutter and auto focus.
    What I've been looking at so far is the Nikon F2/F2as, F3, F4/F5 and the F100. I'm completely open to any and all suggestions based on personal experience. I use long lenses with manual focus quite often, so auto focus is not a huge deal. I'm much more interested in having a very durable reliable body with a good light meter and bright clear finder. I can't stress durability and reliability enough.
    Thank you all greatly for your time and input, it's very much appreciated!
    - Kyle
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I think you would be hard put to beat an F2 if you can get a clean one and have a CLA / overhaul. Get the right screens and you are in business. Workhorse.
  3. Thank you Sandy! The F2's definitely look like a great choice. Do you by chance have a repair person you would recommend for an F2 CLA?
  4. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, he does a great job, but can sometimes take a while. Been a several months, but here is the address I have on file.
    Rick J Riggins
    2585 E. Pikes Peak Ave. T101
    Colorado Springs, CO 80909
    (719) 219-6884
    Good luck! Sandy
  5. Two FM2n bodies. They work well, are very tough, and two of them will weigh maybe half a pound more than one of the F2 or F3 bodies. That would be my approach to reliability.
  6. I'm personally a big fan of the F and F2. For more recent ones, the F100 would seem good.
    I've not shot the post F2 and pre N2020 Nikon film cameras however, soo for what it's worth...
  7. SCL


    Personally, I prefer the F5. The one feature it has over the F100, which is a newer but slightly less robust camera, sharing many features, is the wide interchangeability of screens and finders...which may be important if you are working with slower lenses. It is a workhorse and weighs about as much, but it is a terrific camera.
  8. A D100 goes through batteries like corn through a goose. I have an F3, and it's one of my favorites - classic styling and function. Although it uses a battery, the battery is very small and lasts a long time. Only the shutter regulation and meter require power. The film/shutter winder is mechanical, and extremely smooth - similar to a Leica.
    I can't say much about the F4. I skipped from F3 to F100 to F5 before going digital. The F5 goes through batteries even faster than the F100, only 8 at a time instead of 4. It's a solid beast, though. Given a choice between an F5 and a .44 Magnum in bear country, I'd have to give it some thought ;)
    If it weren't for the battery issue, I would recommend the F5 without question. It is solid, weather resistant (the F, F2, F3 are not), and fast. Film is advanced with the sprocket, not the takeup spool like the F100. which must be released to rewind. Rewinding a 36 exposure roll takes about 8 seconds, or can be done with a crank to save power. The focus spots are grey on grey in the finder - very hard to see.
  9. I guess it's fair to say: you cannot really go wrong with the Fx Nikons. They're build for hard use.

    Now, I'm not sure, so maybe others with experience can chime in: in very cold conditions, batteries do become a bit of an issue, loosing charge easily. But mechanics can similarly run into issues with lubrication, I guess - which would be the more problematic of the two?
    As a gut feeling, I'd tend to the all-mechanical ones; I particularly like the FM2; I also have a F3, but its battery dependence makes it a bit more temperamental (it's heavily used so it probably needs some maintenance). No personal experience with the F2, but somehow I expect that a serviced F2 would be spot on.
  10. I'll definitely add to the recommendation to go with an F2. They're tough and beautifully made, and more importantly they use a horizontally-running shutter. After a heck of a lot of experimentation with various release methods, tripods and heads, I came to the conclusion that horizontal shutter blinds induce far less vibration than vertical ones. Very important with long lenses and any easily transportable tripod.
    BTW. If you're having a used all-mechanical camera like the F2 overhauled, then it's worth enquiring about having it "tropicalised" too. This entails replacing the standard lubrication in vital parts with grease that can withstand extremes of temperature. Although I'm pretty sure the F2 comes as standard with high-quality lubes and bearing materials that are self-lubricating (such as brass on steel). They were the PJ's workhorse for many years. Anything more recent than an F2 is going to be battery reliant or have a crappier shutter mechanism.
  11. Hello, Kyle
    I hope this is not bad form, but I have a new unused F2A. I am retired and will not use it.
    Charlie Lowe
  12. If you can find one, Nikon made an "anti-cold" battery pack, the DB-2. You put it inside your coat to keep the batteries warm, and it connects to the F3's battery chamber via a cable.
  13. Thank you all for your advice! I'm taking all suggestions into consideration. I'd say I'm probably leaning towards an F2 with a cla/overhaul (if need be) at this point. Though, what are your thoughts on the F2 finder and focusing screens compared to some of the other cameras suggested? For example, if I'm shooting during a grey overcast day in the woods will that F2 finder be bright enough for manual focusing of long lenses? Currently I'm using optics varying between f/2.8 and f/4.
    Thank you all again!
    And, Charlie Lowe, I greatly appreciate the offer. If I end up going the F2 route I would love to speak more about your F2A.
  14. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Lots of F 2 screens available for not much money. Easy to change. F, G, and K are all good. Particulars are lengthy, but some G and H come in variations for particular focal lengths.
  15. Kyle, the F2 and F3 focussing screens are optically identical and equally bright. The better eye relief of an F3 HP makes it a better choice for spectacle wearers though.
    I have 2 F2As with type B and K screens, an F3 HP with type K (standard) screen and an F4. There's nothing to choose between the F2 and F3 in screen brightness, and if the F4 screen is brighter I really can't notice it. Besides which the F4 is an overly heavy lump that's only fit for a doorstop IMO. Plus a brighter screen is generally far worse for showing true depth-of-field, and doesn't necessarily snap in and out of focus any more precisely. With a long lens I'd be looking to get a microprism centre spot screen with plain fresnel/ground surround - type J or F. There are also type H(1,2,3,4) and G(1,2,3,4) screens specifically made for low light use, but with no DoF preview ability. Type G4 is designed for a 300mm f/2.8 lens and may not work well with other focal lengths and apertures. It's also a bit of a rarity.
  16. I have four F2 bodies, the oldest purchased in 1976, and they are all still going strong. Battery lasts for a couple of years and is only needed for the meter anyhow. Sover Wong is the F2 guru. He's in England (you can google him) but he's worth the shipping back and forth. He restored one of mine to factory specs a couple of years ago and even included a computer printout of the shutter speeds to prove it. Can't go wrong with an F2.
  17. The F5 was my hands down favorite before stepped up to digital. I used the Energizer Lithiums (disposables) in mine and would get about six months out of a set of eight cells, running 15-25 rolls a month. Yes they're expensive, but they weight less than Alkalines or rechargeables and have very good temperature extreme characteristics. One can pick up a used F5 for about $200.00(US) and they are built like a M1 tank. The matrix metering is 99% accurate and the shutter will last up 300,000 cycles. ( Read about one with over 1,000,000 cycles on it) Also in the custom functions, one can set the camera to run the film out to 38 exposures.
    My only dislike was the vertical grip in my hands never felt full. Also, one needs a cheat sheet for the custom options. It's like Nikon used a obscure form of Bullion mathematics for the custom setting codes.
  18. The Nikon F3 is the finest SLR I have ever had in my hands and I have had a lot. The HP viewfinder for this camera is the icing on the cake;
  19. You probably want the FM2. Much lighter than the F series, fully mechanical shutter and you have that 1/4000 sec if you want it.
  20. FM2's are great and might be a good 2nd camera, but they are not nearly as durable as the F2. F3's rely more on their batteries though it is one of the best cameras they ever made. There's probably no point getting an F5 or F6 if you aren't using AF lenses. Really wouldn't be a bad idea to get an F2 or better 2 of them if you are gong into extreme conditions.
  21. My initial recommendation would be the F3HP for the metering and viewfinder. However, the electronics are starting to age. Much as I love it, I don't know if I'd like to depend on it as my sole body for weeks on end in the field. A CLA'd F2 would be splendid, but they're weighty and the Photomic heads are a little clunky. I think I'd go with a pair of FM2s - you'd have the versatility of multiple bodies. Also, stuff can happen to even the best and most looked-after cameras, but the odds of both of your FMs crapping out is astronomical. The FM family of SLRs never got the memo that they weren't "pro" cameras, because they have gone everywhere that the pros have.
    Lastly, whichever direction you go, try to get a Griptac leatherette cover from Cameraleather (NFI - I thnk they're still in business) - it's a textured rubberized coating that will transform how your camera handles in cold or wet conditions. I covered my F3 and OMs with it - excellent and cheap (<$20/camera, IIRC)
  22. Any F2, I drug an FM for years through the Rockies and the Sierra, it survived a couple tumbles down glaciers, snowfields etc. without so much as a hiccup. An F100, is not a bad choice, 95% of all Nikon lenses can be used with, a little better in the damp conditions, as is the F4. I've used an F100 in and around Banff, the north Central Rockies in Colorado, and all over the Olympic peninsula. The F100 is marginally lighter than the F2, but then again, nothing wrong with an F3, all with manual focus lenses. All these cameras were built to take on the toughest situations, and any of the above listed here, and the previous contributors should do you well.
  23. Pete,
    Are you saying you get 30-35 rolls from a set of batteries? I don't recall getting more than 6-8 rolls before replacing or recharging them. At least now rechargeable batteries have as much or more capacity as alkaline cells, and some have low self-discharge rates.
  24. Thank you all! I really like the idea of two bodies. I think that would be a wise and logical choice given where I'll be working. I'm thinking an F2 and FM will be perfect.
    For the most part I've always been working with Leica M cameras, so never any optics longer than 135mm. Having to result primarily to borrowing and renting long Nikon lenses and varying bodies when I've needed them. So I'm very excited to get a couple of these workhorses to start using telephoto lenses.

    I figure I should probably start another thread, but as it were, I'm also looking to buy a 300mm to use with this F2 and FM. I'm looking at the Nikkor 300mm f/4 ED-IF AF and the 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF AI-s. Obviously the auto focus is not of importance. From what I can find online reviewing these lenses, it seems both are decent. Those of you that have used them, how would you say they compare optically? Really, I'm looking for the highest quality glass under $500.
    Thank you all again for your advice and the invaluable information.
  25. This is a question I have asked myself often since I started shooting digital. My suggestion would a pair of F2 AS bodies or a pair of F4S bodies, by far my favorites and I have literally put miles of film through them. The F4s is a battery driven camera but AA alkalines are easy enough to carry. I also reccomend an N90S, another effective camera. I have two of each of these and as I become ever more bored with digital I am going back to them. As for lenses since size and weight are considerations I'd look around for manual focus, an 80-200/4.5 and a 300/4, again lenses I carry everywhere. Other options have been pointed out here but this is the choice I made. Just for fun you can add a Nikkormat body, an FT2 or FT3 for very little cost. They are super cameras, tough as nails and they just keep running.
    Rick H.
  26. Edward Ingold; with Energizer Lithium disposables, I would get 15-25, 36 exp. rolls of Kodak NC160 a month for six months in my F5's. That would be between 90-150 rolls of film. As far as rechargeables, I was using Energizer rechargeable NiMh cells at the time. Lithium's if available would probably last longer, but they weren't around back then ten years ago.
    Sorry that I responded so late but I have been working 12- 15 hour days as of late.
  27. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Back in 1998, I took my F5 to Antarctica, during the Antarctic summer. Temperature was around freezing (0 Celsius, 32F); it was not that cold. I used 8 Lithium AAs, and they lasted around 30 rolls or so. In warmer climates, 8 Li AA would last 50 rolls.
  28. Shun; I would keep logs of the batteries life as matter of my shooting log. I also would set the camera's meter on time at the shortest duration and very seldom use the LCD backlight and rewind the film manually. Maybe I got two F5's that were perfect in their assembly and parts. As a side note, I made a cold weather remote battery pack by taking a MS-30 battery tray and soldered a five foot two conductor power cord to it and the other end to a eight AA cell battery holder that I would keep in my coat. I don't have that battery tray/pack any more, but if you're interested I can get it to send you a picture of it. I also made a heated coat for the camera out of battery powered heated socks. Got that idea from NASA.
  29. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Pete, to me, it is a moot point now. While I still own the F5, I haven't put a roll of film through it in a decade.
  30. I stand corrected. I bought my F5 shortly before getting a used D1x, and never used the F5 for travel or huge events. Out of abundant caution, I recharged or replaced the batteries before each use. Part of that was from my experience with an F100 on a tour of Europe with an orchestra. It took 4 AA cells, which would die after 4-5 rolls.
    The F5 was Moose Peterson's favorite, and he traveled to the ends of the earth with them.
  31. Just for fun you can add a Nikkormat body, an FT2 or FT3 for very little cost. They are super cameras, tough as nails and they just keep running.​

    The FT3 is AI, the FT2 isn't, so I would go for the FT3. A little harder to find, but not all that expensive when you do.

    As well as I know it, the FT3 is the predecessors to the FM, and the EL2 the predecessor to the FE. Similar in many ways, but heavier. I have both FT3 and EL2 that I got from Goodwill, and both seem to work fine, no CLA. At the prices I pay for old cameras, it doesn't make sense to CLA them.
  32. Honestly you can't go wrong with an F2. One of, if not the most reliable and rugged all mechanical 35mm SLR ever built. I still have one I got in 1974 and I will bet I have put a mile of film through it in the last 40 years. And it has been to the shop TWICE, for routine CLA's. That's it.

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