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Puzzled about surface finish on Nikon F-801/N8008


NHSN
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Once again I got one of those highly capable but utterly unloved polycarbonate cameras from the 90's - those that sadly only serves as cheap rear lens caps these days.

52341786997_832f858a19_h.jpg

 

The camera is a Nikon F801/N8008 and to my surprise it shows metal under the black surface on the worn edges of the top shell (only the top, not the base or rear film door).

52341787022_91097dceb4_h.jpg

 

I already own an F-801s and was convinced from touch, look and sound that the outer shell was polycarbonate.

 

I know Canon went through a lot of trouble adding a chrome layer to the AE-1 polycarbonate top, but that was it order to make it look like silver metal and hide the fact that it was really plastic underneath.

 

Did Nikon really go through the effort of adding a chrome layer to the black polycarbonate only to give it a final black finish? For what reason?

Or am I wrong, did Nikon actually use metal for the top shell of the F-801?

Niels
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I know Canon went through a lot of trouble adding a chrome layer to the AE-1 polycarbonate top, but that was it order to make it look like silver metal and hide the fact that it was really plastic underneath.

 

Did Nikon really go through the effort of adding a chrome layer to the black polycarbonate only to give it a final black finish? For what reason?

Or am I wrong, did Nikon actually use metal for the top shell of the F-801?

 

The short answer in either case is this was not how it happened. so NO

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Are you saying that neither camera used polycarbonate?

No

 

I'm saying that the motives attributed to the makers for the existing condition are not the case.

 

BTW, there's nothing wrong with "polycarbonate"

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I'll be back, but perhaps it's enough to point to

 

"I know Canon went through a lot of trouble adding a chrome layer to the AE-1 polycarbonate top, but that was it order to make it look like silver metal and hide the fact that it was really plastic underneath."

 

how do you 'know' that?

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I'll be back, but perhaps it's enough to point to

 

"I know Canon went through a lot of trouble adding a chrome layer to the AE-1 polycarbonate top, but that was it order to make it look like silver metal and hide the fact that it was really plastic underneath."

 

how do you 'know' that?

 

I know they went through trouble, because in order to give plastic a durable chrome finish, you have to electroplate the plastic with a copper alloy prior to the chrome treatment (versus just dying the plastic).

 

The AE-1 was a tour-de-force in making an advanced camera at a very attractive price point. In order to accomplish that goal they had to introduce innovative use of materials and technology - one was to substitute the commonly used brass top cover with polycarbonate.

 

In the mid 70's I was young, poor and was spending all my Saturdays in the library drooling over camera ads in photo magazine hoping one day to afford an SLR. I have no recollection of Canon marketing mentioning the use of plastic - I know I would have raised an eyebrow had I encountered that information.

(BTW. I am not against the use of Polycarbonate, but at the time, it would have been an unusual choice of material for an SLR)

 

Further more; in the early 80's I was photographer on a yearbook, most students in the class owned AE-1s and all were very surprised to see plastic under the chrome when one student damaged his camera.

I doubt it was common knowledge, even among the owners, that the AE-1 was made partly from polycarbonate.

 

Canon's target customers were likely people who aspired to own an easy-to-use SLR and were persuaded by the price - a price that was very low in the SLR's market (when comparing with other automatic electronically controlled cameras available at the time).

 

I think it is reasonably safe to assume that customers buying an AE-1 would think it was made the same way as the other chrome cameras on the shelf of the camera store, and to assume that Canon made a deliberate choice in finishing the surface of the camera so that it would not stand out in a way that the average customer could possibly perceive as negative.

 

Yes, there are personal assumptions woven into the above, but I am open to changing my mind if there is a practical explanation.

 

After all, the reason for this post is to understand why Nikon would put a metal layer on, what I assume is, a black polycarbonate top plate, only to paint it over with black.

I have owned a couple of F801's over the years and this is the first time I have seen wear through the top layer.

Niels
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Cut and paste from an earlier post:

 

"Of course, I felt the need to set the record straight on the 'plastic' body panels used on the A series cameras. Here are quotes from Popular Photography's stripdown report on the Canon AE-1 published in May 1977:

 

'[T]he top and front outer panels are molded plastic measuring 0.8mm thick with an electroplated overcoating of copper, nickel, and chrome whose combined thickness measures 0.2mm on each side of the plastic. Thus the plastic cover panels have a metal skin on both sides that represents one-third of the total thickness of the panel.

The result is a substantial savings in the cost of making these parts, along with a reduction in weight. At the same time, the precision and function of the parts leave nothing to be desired. In fact, where a sharp blow with a sharp object would noticeably dent a metal cover panel, it would simply leave a bright mark on the plated-plastic one. I tried throwing (not just dropping) the plated-plastic top-cover panel from an AE-1 on a concrete floor. It simply bounced, without a dent left in it. Next I tried to dent it by striking it with a sharp hammer. Still no dents, just bright marks from the burnishing of impact.'

 

Here are extracts from their stripdown report on the Canon A-1 from their April 1979 issue:

 

'In the AE-1's Stripdown Report, I said it was one of the most elaborate mechanical cameras being made. The A-1 is even more elaborate mechanically.'

 

'The ... top and mirror-box front panel are made of the same well-proven plastic used on the AE-1. This is a plastic that's metal-plated, then painted (in the case of the black-finished models). The bottom cover is a substantial brass stamping'

 

So, the plastic body panels on the A-1 are plastic with three layers of metal plating under the black paint."

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Just to note, the Praktica L-series SLRs were using chrome-plated plastic covers even before the Canon AE-1. I had a Praktica LB parts body and you could see the copper coating in spots where the chrome was worn away, and where it was cracked, beige plastic underneath.
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My bad for mentioning the AE-1 and my assumptions.

 

My question and interest was: what is the possible reasons for sandwiching a metal layer between the (I assume) polycarbonate top base and the outer black finish on the Nikon F-801 in 1988?

Niels
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"My question and interest was: what is the possible reasons for sandwiching a metal layer between the (I assume) polycarbonate top base and the outer black finish on the Nikon F-801 in 1988?"

 

Speculations on my part:

 

  • The layer of plating may provide strength, improved opacity and electromagnetic protection to the camera's electronics. It also may protect the plastic from potentially damaging UV rays.
  • Cosmetically, the color and depth of paint looks better than bare plastic. Also, it's aesthetically more pleasing to see shiny metal after the paint has worn away, just as the brassing on "professional" black-bodied cameras was such a status symbol at one time.

Not a knock on Minolta, but when I got a well-used X-700, I was surprised how unattractive the wear looked on the plastic body compared to an equally worn Canon A-1.

 

I'm not a metallurgist, but I believe the reason for the multi-layer plating (copper-nickel-chrome) is because metals don't adhere to other metals equally. Chromium adheres well to nickel which is why hard chrome plating, such as on auto parts, is applied over nickel plating.

Edited by gordon_yee
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Thanks, there are some good reasoning in those speculations.

Thinking about the construction of the F801 top plate, it seems fairly thin compared to the thickness of the film door (which is not chromed).

It could well be that there was a need for strengthening that or improve opacity (although the latter could have been accomplished with less effort on the inside surface I would think).

If it was for cosmetic reasons, I would say that Nikon did a bad job. The F801 looks very plasticky - at least until the chrome coating shines through.

The sheen and wear of black paint over brass is a beauty in itself and I doubt it can be successfully replicated.

 

Regarding plating, It is my understanding that the conventional brass tops also needs a nickel layer prior to the final chrome.

Niels
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"My question and interest was: what is the possible reasons for sandwiching a metal layer between the (I assume) polycarbonate top base and the outer black finish on the Nikon F-801 in 1988?"

 

Speculations on my part:

 

  • The layer of plating may provide strength, improved opacity and electromagnetic protection to the camera's electronics. It also may protect the plastic from potentially damaging UV rays.
  • Cosmetically, the color and depth of paint looks better than bare plastic. Also, it's aesthetically more pleasing to see shiny metal after the paint has worn away, just as the brassing on "professional" black-bodied cameras was such a status symbol at one time.

Not a knock on Minolta, but when I got a well-used X-700, I was surprised how unattractive the wear looked on the plastic body compared to an equally worn Canon A-1.

 

I'm not a metallurgist, but I believe the reason for the multi-layer plating (copper-nickel-chrome) is because metals don't adhere to other metals equally. Chromium adheres well to nickel which is why hard chrome plating, such as on auto parts, is applied over nickel plating.

 

Having been thru a series of 're-chroming' for some motorcycle parts, yes you're right: chrome allows oxygen to penetrate, hence the copper plating. It stops oxygen getting to the substrate, I think. And chrome adheres to nickel. Hence the nickel coating. I have a leica IIIc, just post war, when there was a shortage of nickel in Germany, so the chrome is 'peeling off'. As NHSN notes, for chrome to be stable, it needs a nickel substrate. What amazes me is the plating of polycarbonate. How that was done, I don't know. I have a couple of AE-I's - they are memorable cameras. Regards, Arthur (apiarist1).

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  • 3 weeks later...

The F-801/N8008s is not made of polycarbonate. It's actually a magnesium alloy. At least the top-plate is.

 

Nikon announced this when the camera was first introduced. However, I'm not convinced there's any advantage to that. Because my F-801s has a few tiny bubbles of metal 'rot' showing through the black paint, and quite obviously, the finish is indistinguishable from a plastic moulding.

 

OTOH, the F4 that I had does have a plastic top-plate, and for a pro-quality body is a fragile piece of crap. A small crack in the top-plate near to the frame counter prevented the thing from working completely!

 

Meanwhile the F-801s continues to work faultlessly - apart from a glitch that seems to freeze the camera for 5 minutes after a battery change - weird.

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  • 2 weeks later...

>>he F-801/N8008s is not made of polycarbonate. It's actually a magnesium alloy. At least the top-plate is.<<

 

Th Nikon F801(s) has/is a full metal body !

I do not want to post other ppl's pictures here, but just ggl for "nikon f801s cutaway" will show you what it looks like..

 

Edited by c.p.m._van_het_kaar
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Just now, c.p.m._van_het_kaar said:

>>he F-801/N8008s is not made of polycarbonate. It's actually a magnesium alloy. At least the top-plate is.<<

 

Th Nikon F801(s) has/is a full metal body !

As far as I can see, the rear door is clearly polycarbonate, and I am fairly sure the baseplate is as well. The worn camera I am looking at has metal shining through on all friction edges of the top plate but nothing on the base plate - although it looks correspondingly worn. I am sure the inner chassis is metal.

I could be wrong of course - my track record is not the best; when I only owned a mint F-801s, I would have sworn the top plate was polycarbonate - I thought it looked very plasticky.

Niels
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Hmmm. Now I'm puzzled as well. 

The top plate in that video does look like plastic, being all black inside. However I'm almost 100% certain that Nikon's brochure for the F-801, issued at introduction, claimed the top plate was a magnesium alloy. 

Maybe someone in Nikon marketing got confused between the chassis and the body shell? But that doesn't explain the metallic look of NHSN's worn camera corners. I mean; why would you metallically  plate a plastic top, and then proceed to spray it black to look like bare plastic? That hardly makes sense!

I'm not averse to lifting the top plate off my F801s and scratching the inside to see what's revealed. 

I'll see how easy the top comes off, but looking at that video it might mean peeling back the rubber grips, and I'm not prepared to go that far. 

Anyone have an old brochure for the F801/s? I had one, but left it behind in a recent house move. 

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