Not everyone loves the Nikon F5

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by straw_man, Jul 18, 2015.

  1. The following quote is from Thom Hogan. I wish Thom had given more specific details on why Galen disliked the camera. I have a Nikon
    4 and it does have some neat attributes. It can use just about all Nikon F mount lenses. It uses dials and knobs rather than cryptic
    menus. It has autofocus, but not state of the art. I believe Thom once characterized the F4 as the best manual film SLR ever built by
    Nikon. I have an F4s also, but the F4 is much easier to handle. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this camera.

    "Galen Rowell bought a Nikon F5 and flew off to Fiji to do a commercial shoot. I also remember his [expletive deleted] comments about
    the F5 when he got back. From batteries to lens support to controls and configuration, Galen had a long litany of things he didn't like
    about the F5. He immediately went back to using his F4. A few years later he got his F100. I was with him hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail
    with his new F100: it had the early rewind problem that plagued a few early samples. Galen was so upset he was going to abandon the
    hike and go back to Emeryville to get his F4, so I lent him my (working correctly) F100 and mostly just used my Olympus XA compact.

    Those two experiences put Galen off of "modern" film bodies for quite some time, especially the F5, which he never really used again.
    Eventually he came to grips with the F100 and some of the low-end consumer bodies he used on his runs and climbs, but he never fell
    out of love with his F4. He's not the only one. It was the epitome of Nikon's traditional film SLR designs. Post F4, things got more
    electronic, more feature-laden, and more like what eventually became the DSLR."
  2. SCL


    I had a F3, F4, F5 and F100 at various times. Each had their strengths and weaknesses. The F5 was a heavy beast which IMHO was its primary drawback...additionally it wouldn't work with pre-AI lenses without modification...but it was a marvelous body. The F4 (my 2nd one) is my favorite of the lot...everything just works well. The F3 for several years was my go-to Nikon and a very versatile camera; I had the F3HP version - it was a joy to use, but for me its drawbacks were a lack of built in diopter correction, and the goofy flash connector. The F100, to me, was a slight disappointment...too much to learn, the focusing screen definitely not designed for use with manual focus lenses, couldn't takepre-AI lenses, and it just looked sort of "puffy", not the distinct linearity of a traditional SLR.
  3. I had all the Nikons from the F to the F5, exempt the F4 and the F100. Happy user of my F3 bodies then jumped to the F5. Never had a problem using all of my AI lenses and the new AF lenses. It was heavy, but, I liked this way, specially when I used longer lenses. I needed the stability, shooting hand held. In the main time, the FM-2 and FE-2's was with me and used all the time. And I still use them.
  4. I had an F5 for a awhile. A short while. Thing weighed a ton and felt clumsy. I replaced it with an F100 which felt light and fast in my hands. My favorite film camera (Nikon) is definitely the F3/T. It just feels "right"!
    Kent in SD
  5. I was a big fan of the F4's dial- and knob-based controls. The viewfinder was also great - good eye point, and great displays. However, ergonomically, it wasn't a match for either the F5 or the F3/MD4. The F4 handgrip was just too fat, and the right hand strap lug was placed just right to dig into your hand. I wanted to love the F4, but in the end, I was just impressed by it, and reached for my F3/MD4
  6. Not knowing the exact timetable for Galen's Fiji trip, maybe he didn't have enough time to develop a "feel" for the camera and he asked too much from it in too short a time. After having used extensively F4S and D200, D700, when I bought an F5 I went out of my way to buy an original owners manual in order to grasp the full functionality of the camera - rather than putting film and batteries in it and shooting everything in "P" mode. I bought mine primarily to use film with "G" type lens (at all F-stops unlike my F4). I have not used my F4S since I bought the F5 ...... for film I use my F5 and F2 cameras when I am using Nikons...
  7. I've also used most of the product line except the F6. The F2 and F4S are easily my favorites and the similarities in their control layouts are probably why. I've never cared for the menu system that came after the F4 and while I've adapted to it because I had to, it has never been as intuitive to me as the older layouts of the F2/4. None of my digital equipment is as natural for me to use. As I've found myself going back to film for a lot of things I'm picking up either an N90S or an F2 or F4S. With all three of these I quit thinking about the camera and concentrate on the photograph. That's my definition of good design.
    Rick H.
  8. Back in the days, I preferred the F4 (with the small MB-20 battery grip) - but I wasn't using AF then. When I finally did - the F5 became the only option; I never used the AF on the F4. Admittedly, an F100 would have served me just as well - and be cheaper and lighter.
  9. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    When I bought my F5 in 1997, I was coming from an F4s and N8008/F801. Since I was already familiar with the N8008 controls, it didn't take me long to get used to the F5 and after a few months, I realized that I couldn't/didn't want to use the F4 any more.
    Concerning Galen Rowell, he was primarily a landscape photographer, and the F5's strengths: fast AF (in its time) and high frame rate, aren't exactly that useful for landscape photography. Worse yet, Rowell was very well known for his rock climbing. A heavy camera would be hindering such activities.
  10. I had/have all of them. I prefer my F5 by far. It has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with me with no problems. I love the layout and the way it feeels. Weight was not a problem. I could never warm up really to the F100. It just wasn't an F5. I bought a base for every Nikon that had one because I like the feel.
    In digital, I prefer the FX body but in truth, I just like film.
  11. I'd quite like to own an F4 just for the experience of a different shooting style, but, coming from DSLRs, I've no doubt my F5 is easier to adapt to. While I've nothing against designs that use the left hand to control aperture via the ring on the lens, I don't believe it's a practical system for hand-holding long lenses - the left hand needs to be too far forward, and the two-dial system used on the F5 and later cameras (and body-based aperture control) is much better. As a sports camera, I've no doubt that the F5 is the superior body. Lithium batteries help substantially with the weight problem (I wish it was that easy for me...) - but I'm not going to claim they make an F5 as convenient as an F4. I'm basing my F4 handling comments below from trying other cameras, and from the (fully manual) Bessa R I own.
    As Shun says, the F5 is not an obvious body for mountain climbing, despite its ruggedness. It does have a more advanced meter than the F4, but otherwise you'd be better off with almost anything else. Shoot it with a small lens (I seem to remember Thom also reporting that Galen was fond of the 20mm f/4) and the F5 is ergonomically horrible. Stick a 400mm f/2.8 on it and I'd take it over the F4 any day.
    The "Cryptic menu" thing is a complaint often made against DSLRs by people who've never used one - and the F5 handles like a high-end DSLR. The F5 does have a cryptic custom function menu - but only for things that the F4 can't do at all (with the possible exception of trap focus instigation, which requires a digital back on the F4). There are things that don't have a separate dial on the F5 which do on the F4 - exposure mode and exposure compensation, particularly. But they're not in menus - you can set them with your eye to the finder and with your hands on the grip (as opposed to taking your eye and hand away, as on the F4). I believe anything you can do with controls on an F4 you can do without menu use on fhe F5. Certainly I've checked my menu options once, then left them alone forever more.
    If you have a small lens, if you like a light(er) camera, and if you like the style of setting the camera's controls while it hangs from the strap, then raising it to your eye only for the minimum amount of time, the F4 mechanism works better than the control position on the F5 (and peering at its LCD) - the same is true for a Df compared with most DSLRs. If you like to keep the camera to your eye, ready to shoot, especially with your left hand busy holding a lens, then the F5 - and most cameras since - make changing settings faster and less intrusive. For street shooting, I'd likely take the F4 (or use the F5's waist-level finder). For sports and wildlife, I'd take the F5. For landscapes, it would be a toss-up: I'd want to meter with correct framing, with my eye to the finder, but then I'm not typically hanging off a mountain when shooting.
  12. I like the F5 because its controls are consistent and logical (as compared to the F4 or any before it). All settings involved exposure are 1/3 EV steps for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and display. Controls are also very logical, primary controls like aperture, shutter speed and focusing involve turning a dial or ring. Secondary controls (yes the EC is secondary) would require pressing a button and turn the dial. Except for very few settings like metering mode and AF mode all settings are memory based that is the setting is in camera memory and to find out what the settings are one would have to look at a display. It has good spot metering. Interchangeable viewfinder and true mirror lock up (these features are available on older cameras but not on any newer cameras).
    But I don't like to use it much because as Shun said it was designed for speed but for me it's very slow to operate and the matrix metering system doesn't work for color negative film which is my primary type of film. Weight and size never bother me I want to think I pay for the camera by the pounds. Heavier means more camera for my money. I do think Nikon cheated me on the Df as it's too light and yet too big. Probably lots of empty space inside?
  13. I`m not in love with the F5, but I like it. Anyway, I always prefered the F100. But if there is a "F" which I never liked is the F4. To me, it has the worst of two worlds, so even though I was excited when I bought it at its time, I think it was the first Nikon I got rid of it, with no regret.
  14. I too, didn't love the F4 and got rid of it right away. I also hated the N90 but liked the N90s OK but nothing makes my heart beat as fast as the F5.
  15. To Galen, the equipment meant very little.
    To Thom, the equipment means everything.
  16. BeBu: It's true that the F5 has settings in memory, but - with the exception of manually setting the film ISO - I maintain that they're almost entirely things that you couldn't set at all on the F4 - you lived with Nikon's choices. I didn't know anyone made a habit of changing the F5's settings in the field, so it's a bit unfair to criticise it for that. The F6 is less cryptic, of course. I hadn't particularly noticed the matrix not working on slide film, but I probably don't use it enough to be a world's expert. And I'm not sure about empty space - the Df certainly has a lot of plastic if you were expecting something to feel like a D800. C'est la vie - unless you want weight, that doesn't necessarily make it worse, but it's not the all-metal camera the top plate may have made people expect. I'm interested that you find it slow to operate - can you elaborate on that?
    Dan: Harsh. Thom has plenty of articles on technique, but armchair photographers like myself read up on equipment, so it's in his interests to review equipment. Besides, while I admire Galen's photos, I always thought of him as a climber first and a photographer second - be somewhere with an amazing view and it's easier to take an amazing photograph (though he clearly had more photographic talent in his little finger than I do as well). It helps that the camera never makes much difference to the quality of a 35mm film shot (did equipment "mean everything" to Ansel because he used a 10x8?) and his typical subject matter didn't need autofocus. Thom's known as a wildlife shooter who does digital post-processing - he absolutely needs reliable autofocus and good sensor performance to do that, and so he has reason to pay attention to his kit. I'm sure Galen would have found a use for the D810's dynamic range if he'd had the chance, and the camera had survived his conditions. If you want constant assertions that equipment doesn't matter in slightly dubious equipment reviews, there's always KR.

    I'm not in love with the F5 either, but I do think I understand what the designers were trying to do. Perhaps the issue for the F5 is that the things that camera was designed to do - rip through a lot of frames with automation and with your eye to the finder - are what DSLRs are good at. An F4 was a technological marvel like the FA, but not as refined for this style of shooting. As such, it has a legacy control system that makes it better when that's the control system you want. But if you did want that, why not use a smaller F body, or a Leica? These days, that style of shooting is better provided by the likes of Fuji, especially with the old X-1 or the X100 series. Which doesn't make it any less valid.
  17. Galen's book "The Art of Adventure Photography" has him holding a full-on F4s on a rock face in Yosemite. Maybe he hauled it up there with the cover shot in mind.
    I bought an F4s in 2003 for $700 and love it. I don't find the AF bad at all, but I don't shoot action or sports.
    I bought an F5 in 2004 for $1,000. I really didn't think film camera prices would tank so bad or I'd have waited! I owned an F100 prior to buying an F5 (bought my F100 in 2000) and found the F5 a bit more cryptic, if that's the right word.
  18. The F5 is an exceptional camera. Weight is about the same as the D4, why should it be compared to an F100, or anything similar?
    The bulk and weight is needed to use any of the professional zooms without a tripod. Certainly it is possible to attach a 24-70 to an F100, but it becomes quite a balancing act. It allows to shoot a 300mm F4 hand-held.
    It has a lot of features quite advanced 20 years ago, including a sophisticated mirror dampening system. Some ergonomics could, and were improved, such as the AF buttons on the back and the commands on the vertical grip. But it definitely was a major breakthrough in respect to the F4: fixed vertical grip, wheels instead of dials, custom settings, etc.
    It's limited success was due to the fact that pros were the target, and pros very quickly moved on to digital when it became available.
    It's a very good camera, allowing a lot of control over settings, with different options.
    If 2,7 lbs or 1250g is too much, probably a different type of camera is needed.
    It's perfect for certain types of photography and if you want to change your sensor every 36 shots.
    I do not know whether I love it, but I definitely love to use it for certain types of photography.
  19. All the F4's I have seen on the used market are shiny and slippery like a bar of soap. They were not like that when new but they certainly wear very quickly. I have never seen a 'mint' one yet.
  20. No Andrews. The controls on the F5 is not confusing it's actually very logical (more so than the F4 ) but slow to operate. I expect the Df to weigh in at least the same weight as the F3 but it's lighter although bigger.
  21. Thanks, BeBu. I believe you that the Df is lighter (the frame is plastic at the front, albeit metal at the back, whereas - googling for "Nikon F3 skeleton" - I believe the F3 is relatively solid metal, and possibly heavier metal at that). Many wanted this, of course. I wouldn't mind the F5 being somewhat lighter, but the weight of the D810 doesn't bother me. I'd really not appreciated that the F4 was roughly as heavy, because it's smaller without the grip. That said, I've held 5x4 field cameras that are lighter than the F5 (with batteries).

    I'm interested to understand what process you're actually finding slower on the F5. I believe you, I'm just curious! Just the time it takes to turn the dials? They can, of course, be configured to move in different step sizes, which may help. Now I think about it, interesting that I've not seen a DSLR change the step size under acceleration (if you're clearly spinning the dial, move in whole stops). Other than the need to dislocate the thumb to use it, I've always had some envy of Canon's large rear dial, which you can spin continuously.

    Of course, the F5 does have the locks on all the controls. Not slower in my experience, but they do require a particular tendency to tie your fingers into knots just because you're changing a setting. Less an issue on DSLRs, I guess, because you won't accidentally ruin a roll of film in them.
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    In one of Rowell's monthly columns in Outdoor Photographer magazine, he discussed experimenting with a Canon Rebel for rock climbing since it is a much lighter and smaller camera. (I also wouldn't be surprised that Canon was trying to get him to switch camp.) One difference between the F4 and F5 is that the grip on all F4 is removable so that you have the smaller F4 configuration (instead of F4S, which is the default configuration in the US). The F4 is still quite heavy without the grip, but it is not like the F5 whose integrated grip is not at all removable.
    Sadly, Rowell and his wife Barbara were killed in a small plane crash in August 2002: Galen Rowell Killed in Plane Crash. Therefore, his experience was almost entirely in the film era. Reportedly, during their final trip to the Bering Sea, Barbara Rowell was experimenting with a then brand new Nikon D100. That plane crash took place in their final leg home after the Bering Sea trip.
  23. Andrews!
    The first thing is rather me. I always forgot which direction to turn the dials and ended up turning the wrong way. Somehow with a camera like the F3 I never forgot which way to turn for either shutter speed or aperture without looking at them. Having the 1/3 EV increments the F5 has more steps to turn and the wheels have quite poor feel. I tend to overshoot and then having to turn them back. I am speaking of only aperture and shutter speed because I rarely use other controls. When I want to get the camera ready I have to turn the camera on and look at the display and make the settings. With something like the F5 I would do a quick lance at the camera and know where the aperture and shutter speed at I then can make the settings for the new situation with the camera hanging from my neck and not looking at the camera. Of course I can do the same with the Df.
    But if I have the camera on tripod and shoot landscape the F5 is the greatest 35mm camera I ever had. Without every saw and F6 in real life I don't think it's better than the F5.
  24. ... Without every saw and F6 in real life I don't think it's better than the F5.

    Hmmm, I can see that kind of barely suppressed smile on F6 owners after reading this... ;)
  25. ... Without every saw and F6 in real life I don't think it's better than the F5.

    Hmmm, I can see that kind of barely suppressed smile on F6 owners after reading this... ;)
    The F5 is great, the F6 is less bulky and lighter - an F5+ in a more compact F100-like body.
    See a comparison here: Nikon F5 vs Nikon F6.
  26. Of all the Nikon film SLRs, I owned the FM, F3, F4, FE, FE2, FM2, and F5 (and some others that are worse and I never want to use like FG, EM, N90, N60, F8008), I like most the F4, then the FM2, FM, and at last the F5. I never had a chance to see an F or F2 in great condition, especially about their meters; so that's all I can say about them. I, too, consider the F4 as the best manual (film) camera. The F5 has more features but they are auto features that I have no use manually. The F4 has the shutter speed dial which the F5 does not have.
    You may say that the FM, FE and most others also have the shutter speed dial, but they have fewer speeds to choose and I believe the F4 has more accurate speeds than the FM or FE. I like film auto loading, winding, unwinding, better viewfinder,...
  27. I use both an F5 and an F6. Perhaps unnecessarily I tend to choose the F5 when I think the weather or trip is going to be rough. I take full advantage of and download the exposure data stored in these cameras. One thing to note is if you want the date and time of each frame you need an MF-28 Multi-Control Back for the F5. The data/time function is built into the F6 but you must remember to set the data recording level to "Detailed" to record the time.
  28. It is interesting the F4 has come up several times in this thread. Up to this week, I had never seen one in person. Then I bought one on Sunday, as part of a kit (in order to get an AF 180mm). Here is my impression: the F4 has presence. It is a real chunk of a camera and the controls are exquisite. My copy looks like it has hardly been used, so it is still relatively soft and grippy. Most of the knobs are very robust and have locks to prevent inadvertent error. I will probably sell this F4, but it is a really impressive piece of hardware.
  29. I usually forget to make the settings, John.
    I find the F6 more like my digital cameras than to my F5.
    If I set out to do manual work I'm still in love with my FM3a.
  30. I used the current camera of the day whether it was the F, F2 & F3, including the F3P. Then an N90 and I skipped the F4. I bought an F5 when I went to work full-time at a magazine. It was a workhorse camera. And the matrix metering just nailed the exposures. You could put it on "P" with a roll of Kodachrome and clamp on an SB24 and have the largest point and shoot. The transparencies looked great. I added the data back to the F5 so it printed my name between the frames on the roll of film. For photographers who liked to travel light the big pro cameras were a hindrance. Many went for the N90 or the F100. I still have all my film Nikons (with all batteries removed) but never use them. Some day when I get old (actually I AM old) I might try going back to film. THEN I'd like to try the F6. But that's for another day.
  31. There are a lot of negative comments about the F4 but it is my favorite Nikon film camera. Yes it is heavy, but for me that is not a big deal and the ergonomics fit my hands perfectly, a lot better than my F2's with MD-2's. Honestly, I prefer conventional controls over menus and thumbwheels. I got the MB-23 battery pack, which are very difficult to find, and I like it a lot better than the MB-21. You don't need to unscrew anything with the MB-23, it has a tray that slides out just like any DSLR battery pack.

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