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Nikon F4 Camera Review – Thirty Years Old This Month

Nikon F4 Camera Review – Thirty Years Old This Month

The Nikon F4 is the right digital camera for me, however it took some time to get there. Like most photograph geeks, I lengthy suffered from Gear Acquisition Syndrome, a illness that makes us assume that our images will leap to the subsequent degree if we solely had that new, costly lens, or a unique digital camera physique. We’ve written about this phenomenon earlier than, and if social media is any indicator it’s an affliction with which loads of individuals are acquainted.

For me, GAS introduced as a seek for the right digital camera. I spent numerous hours researching for a digital camera that would do all the things I wanted a digital camera to do, within the type I needed it achieved. Three years and quite a few misfires later (with my checking account begging for mercy) I began to marvel if the right digital camera even existed.

Then, a number of months in the past I lastly discovered it. 

After years of ogling and on-line stalking, I lastly pulled the set off on a Nikon F4. The corporate’s fourth flagship SLR appeared to verify off all of the bins on my record. It’s robust and sturdy, boasts a wide selection of artistic controls and metering modes, and was constructed to outline reliability. Even earlier than operating the primary roll by means of it, the F4 was already feeling just like the one. I used to be discovering myself getting up from my desk and strolling throughout the room simply to carry it.


Throughout travels by means of Central Europe over the subsequent month, I used to be capable of put the F4 by means of its paces in quite a few difficult environments and wildly differing mild circumstances. Photographer error apart, this beast of a digital camera delivered on each single picture. It additionally appeared to be pulling me out of the photographic malaise that had been haunting me for months. My curiosity concerning the digital camera shortly modified to amazement. It actually was nearly as good as I’d hoped. Analysis after that reality impressed me additional, as I discovered simply how a lot effort went into making the F4.

What Makes an F4

Consider it or not, there was a time that producers would put almost a decade of labor into the creation of a brand new digital camera. When Nikon debuted the F2 in 1971, engineers instantly started engaged on its alternative (the F3 didn’t launch till 1980). The F3 was Nikon’s first flagship to supply digital management and automated operation. It will grow to be considered one of Nikon’s most revered cameras (and one which Josh positioned among the many biggest cameras ever made.) The market agreed; the F3’s reputation would maintain it on cabinets for an astounding twenty years!

However earlier than that success story had an opportunity to put in writing itself, Nikon went about their enterprise. As quickly because the F3 went into manufacturing, work started on its successor. However improvement of latest photographic applied sciences accelerated to breakneck tempo within the 1980s, and Nikon shortly realized that it must strategy improvement of the F3’s successor in a different way. Till the F3, every iteration of the F collection had advanced and improved on its predecessor. However with the event of improved digital mild metering, ever extra important automation, and the model new know-how of autofocus, Nikon must construct the fourth F from scratch.

With the F4, Nikon hoped to incorporate 4 key options; multi-pattern metering, a high-speed shutter, quicker flash sync, and automated focusing. The F4 would come to have all of those elements, however none of them have been distinctive to it. Excessive-speed shutters have been launched within the FM2 and N8008, a better flash sync within the FE2 and Nikon’s Matrix Metering was first launched within the FA. Minolta’s Maxxum 7000 was the primary by way of the door with true autofocusing whereas Canon rebuilt its complete enterprise round autofocus beginning with its EOS 620/650 cameras. Nikon adopted go well with with the F-501 and the N8008. 

Nikon wouldn’t be pioneering any of these capabilities with the F4, however they might be the primary to collect all of them in a single digital camera physique. Additionally, they would come with a model new (and far brighter) finder display, scale back shutter sound, and enhance climate resistance. Nikon would get even additional within the weeds to enhance on its distance measurement know-how and different primary efficiency points that the corporate admitted it had ignored whereas specializing in automated operation know-how. The brand new F wouldn’t simply have all the newest options, but in addition improved primary elements.

And the Nikon F4 has loads of elements; it’s manufactured from 1,850 complete physique half numbers, has 4 CPUs, and runs software program holding 43 million several types of working circumstances. That will not examine with the electronics of at present’s skilled cameras, however in 1988 it was unprecedented and groundbreaking. As was the F4’s spec sheet. 



The Nikon F4 boasts the primary electronically managed vertical-traveling focal aircraft shutter able to speeds from 30 seconds to 1/8000 plus bulb and time-set modes. It has a flash sync velocity vary from 1/60 to 1/250 of a second, an ISO vary from 6 to 6400 (DX studying from 25 to 5000) and 5 publicity modes (guide, shutter precedence, aperture precedence, program and high-speed program). It’s able to as much as 5.7 frames per second, has mirror lock up, a a number of publicity perform, and publicity compensation vary of +/- 2 in 1/three cease increments. 

Metering is dealt with via one among three modes – Matrix, center-weighted and spot metering, with an EV vary of Zero-21 at ISO 100. Nikon’s matrix metering was nonetheless in its infancy, and the F4’s model of it used a five-zone system. It’s not as spectacular because the methods discovered within the F5, F6 or F100 however nonetheless the most effective on-board meter in any digital camera made earlier than the nineties. 

Its TTL Part Detection system packed in a single entire focus zone, which was widespread for the day. 

The Nikon F4 got here commonplace with the detachable Multi-Meter Finder DP-20 Pentaprism. The meter mode choice lever is positioned on its aspect, together with diopter management, a scorching shoe, and a further publicity compensation dial for nice tuning when utilizing one of many F4’s ten interchangeable focusing screens. The B-type BriteView display was normal on most F4s and was a lot brighter than the F3’s display.

In designing the housing for this large pile of elements and know-how, Nikon selected Italian designer Giorgetto Guigiaro. Guigiaro’s portfolio consists of dozens of automobiles, bikes, firearms, wristwatches, farming tractors, pc prototypes for Apple and the promenade for the Italian metropolis of Porto Santo Stefano. He even designed Marille pasta, which in Italy elevates you to royalty. Most significantly for Nikon, he had beforehand designed the F3, EM and L35AF cameras.

Guigiaro believed within the mantra “Form follows function,” that each a part of a product should serve a helpful function. That’s a tall order with a digital camera. These machines have to offer complete controls in an typically restrictive type. Towards the chances, he created an ergonomic masterpiece with the Nikon F4.


This is the final of the skilled SLRs with devoted knobs and levers as an alternative of dials and menus. It’s the primary with shutter releases on each the vertical and horizontal grips, and the primary F-series digital camera to lose the movie advance lever. Whereas rewinding is electronically pushed, movie may also be rewound manually to save lots of battery energy. Some features, just like the vertical shutter launch, capturing modes, and the ISO dial have levers to guard unintentional use. Autofocus and publicity lock buttons are millimeters from the fingers that may flick them.

A number of the biggest cameras really feel like they have been designed outward from the photographer’s hand. The F4 is one such digital camera. It feels completely good to carry. Dense is an optimistic descriptor of the F4, with “brick like” being one other. 

There’s no getting across the F4’s weight — which appears to be an actual sticking level with most of the digital camera’s critics. At 1,280 grams, the F4 is greater than 500 grams heavier than the F3 and is 80 grams lighter than the also-beastly F5. And that’s all with out batteries. You’ll have 4 AA batteries if utilizing the MB-20 battery pack, six if utilizing the MB-21 and eight if utilizing the MB-23. (Additionally value noting, the digital camera turns into the F4s with the MB-20 and the F4e with the MB-23.)

The Nikon F4 debuted precisely thirty years in the past this month, in September 1988, and it carried a price ticket of $2,500. That’s a whopping $5,316 in 2018 dollars. That makes the F4 costlier than any digital camera in Nikon’s present lineup besides the D5 (right here once more we should always think about the true worth of movie cameras in 2018). Flagship cameras have all the time carried punishing worth tags, however additionally they include the very best reliability and efficiency. In 1988 no 35mm SLR might even come near competing with the F4. It gained all the most important awards that mattered on the time and proved itself as a masterful imaging machine.







By the daybreak of the 1990s, the F4 wasn’t the grand slam Nikon anticipated it to be. A part of the rationale was Canon’s launch of the EOS 1 in 1989, which was lighter and had a greater autofocusing system than the Nikon F4 regardless that it too had a single focusing zone. Professionals have been all-in on autofocus, and photojournalism and sports activities work demanded the perfect AF system attainable. Canon had guess all the things and altered its complete model path on autofocus. Now it was paying off.

The F4, Thirty Years Later

However it’s not 1988. The query is whether or not or not the F4 is a digital camera suited to 2018. Thirty years after its launch, the Nikon F4 is extra beneficial than ever. The most important purpose is lens compatibility. The F4 can shoot each lens (guide focus and autofocus) made by Nikon since 1959. It even offers Matrix Metering with manual-focus AI and AI-s lenses. There are some caveats to that, nevertheless. With out on-board aperture management, G-series lenses have for use in shutter precedence mode. The one factor really misplaced on the F4 is vibration discount, which hadn’t but been developed.

This sort of compatibility provides Nikon shooters carte blanche to select from almost each Nikon lens ever made. This is a real present contemplating the model’s legendary line of latest and previous lenses. That pure compatibility and matrix metering help gained’t be as straightforward for F3 or F5 shooters. Canon customers have it even worse; Canon followers should select between EF and FD mount methods.

As I set out on my Central European F4 journey, I remembered the digital camera’s purported weaknesses. These are its autofocusing velocity and accuracy, and its extreme weight. I used to be anxious to see whether or not these failings so generally squawked about on the web would show true or false.

It’s true that the autofocus is loud and may take its time in low mild. However life actually isn’t that onerous with a single focus level, as anybody who’s used a manual-focus digital camera can attest. If AF is struggling, simply change the F4’s focus dial to M and you’ve got an extremely superior guide focus digital camera with Matrix Metering.

What can I actually say concerning the weight? Yeah, the Nikon F4 is a reasonably heavy digital camera. In case your day by day shooter is one thing just like the Olympus XA, utilizing the F4 will probably be a surprising expertise. And even with the light-by-comparison MB-20 and D-series lenses the Nikon F4 will nonetheless be a handful. However what ought to we anticipate from a digital camera manufactured from 1,850 elements? It’s received 4 coreless motors, and 4 late-eighties CPUs. All that is packed right into a die-cast aluminum chassis constructed to deal with the worst punishment. Reduce the factor some slack!

Okay, when you don’t like heavy issues, you in all probability gained’t just like the Nikon F4. When you’re a masochist like me and like heavy cameras with out digital camera straps, welcome to the intersection of images and private health.

Like bokeh, styling is a totally subjective idea. However some designs are extra polarizing than others, and someway the F4 appears to slot in that camp. Sure, it’s the late-eighties and Don Johnson continues to be driving a Ferrari Testarossa on Miami Vice. The F4 sports activities comparable styling on the aspect of the pentaprism, however apart from that, aesthetically there’s not a lot to complain about.

As a result of the F4 sits on the epicenter of an enormous shift in common images, it’s regularly overshadowed by the flagships that bookend it. That’s unlucky, because it has options that make it a greater machine than both the F3 or F5.

The F3 is smaller, lighter and has undeniably nice development. However the F4’s spec sheet blows it out of the water. The F5 has an improved autofocus and 3D Matrix Meter, nevertheless it’s in any other case largely just like the F4 however with out the F4’s groundbreaking pedigree, analog controls, and interchangeability. The F4 succeeds as a digital camera for the very purpose it’s overshadowed by others; as a digital camera between two eras, it has the most effective DNA strands from every. It’s a big, highly effective digital camera able to almost something, with deep roots in an period when particular person cameras had their very own id.





It’s an understatement to say that I liked capturing the F4. There’s nothing I didn’t like about it. Its viewfinder is what I want my eyes made me see. It’s shutter feels like the right mixture of a paintbrush and a haymaker. It’s thirty years previous, appears 5, and appears prepared for 50 extra. Its ridiculous weight makes me snigger the identical means I do once I see Rocky Balboa minimize the Russian for the primary time in Rocky IV. Identical to the Italian Stallion, my F4 can take punch after punch and nonetheless ship outcomes.

It was these outcomes that made what felt like infatuation flip into one thing else. It doesn’t matter what I threw at its meter, the F4 gave me precisely what I needed. Outcomes have been even higher once I wasn’t going out of my method to trick it. Right here, lastly, was a digital camera that was giving me in print the composition I noticed in my head.

Now, for the primary time since shopping for my very first digital camera, I not really feel that pang for extra and higher gear. As an alternative, I’m so content material with what I’ve that the cameras on the shelf are sweating in worry. They’ve trigger to be involved — I can truthfully say that every part else might be bought off so long as I hold my Nikon F4. I do know that it will possibly’t be the digital camera for everybody, nevertheless it’s the right digital camera for me.

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