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Nikon F5 – 7 Reasons you Want One in your Bag

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7 Reasons You Want a Nikon F5 in Your Bag

Like your Nikon D810 ? Perhaps you have a bunch of quality lenses like the Nikon 14-24 f2.8, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, and a couple of primes like the 50mm f1.4G and 85mm f1.4G for those bokeh-tastic portraits.

You may have left the world of film cameras behind a long time ago, but found yourself salivating at the price of film equipment recently? Have a look on eBay at the used prices of the Nikon F5. The F5 is a pro body, built like a tank which can shoot film at 8 FPS. Yes 8 frames per second. This camera is so fast it can be used to make motion pictures (see below).

The F5 It was released in 1996 and sold until 2004. Sure it may be a 20 year old camera, but I recently sent my F100 back to Nikon to have the autofocus recalibrated, and that’s a lot more than you’ll get out of Fujifilm, Contax, Pentax etc.

When brand new, the Nikon F5 chimed in at a heart stopping $3200, which is about the same price as a D810 nowadays. You can pick up a good clean example of a Nikon F5 for about 1/10th of the original price. It will also take all of the lenses which work on your FX DSLR, so you can get a roll or two of FujiPRO400H, set the F5’s excellent 8 segment 3D colour matrix metering to +2 stops exposure compensation, and shoot away knowing you’re going to get some special results. Weddings, portraits, pictures of the family the young ones and the dog. Those special moments that you want captured on the magic medium, get yourself a film camera and snap away.

The Nikon F5 (click here for Nikon Brochure) was camera of the year in 1997. It was such a prodigious performer that you could even use it to shoot sports with if you wanted to, load up a roll of Ilford HP5+, push it 2–3 and maybe even 4 stops and you’ve got yourself an 800, 1600, 3200 and 6400 speed film. If you want to shoot black and white, you are into the zone system, and you’ll need a spot meter (your camera’s meter will do) or you can use your Sekonic L758D’s spot meter, and a grey card. Nail your metering by having your grey card in the same light as your subject prior to metering. Some people use their hand to meter, and adjust based upon how light their skin is. If you are caucasian, your skin might be Zone 6, or maybe even Zone 7 if you are really creamy. In which case you can meter off your hand and increase your exposure by one stop or two stops respectively (just as if you were metering a too bright scene like snow, you overexpose to stop the camera from taking into account the bright parts and underexposing the image).

Outstanding Things about the Nikon F5 are the headline figures:

  1. A professional body with typical handling of all Pro nikon Bodies. If you can drive a D800, D700, D4 the F5 will feel natural to you to shoot.
  2. Works perfect with all Nikon Lenses – All AF-D, AF-G, AF-I, AF-S and AF VR Nikkor lenses provide full AF and metering operation. Older non AI lenses mean the F5 loses its colour matrix metering capability, but Nikon can tweak the camera so that this works too. Newer lenses work great, and provide plenty sharp images on the negative or slide film of your choice. If you’re not sure, have a look at what’s available.
  3. Weather sealing and solid build quality. It’s a pro-grade body. The F5 feels tough, and it is tough. It’s not light, weighing in at twice the F100, but even though people criticise the F5, those who know still go out and buy it over cheaper alternatives. Jon Canlas recommends the F100 to new film shooters in his book Film Is Not Dead, and yet even he shoots two F5 bodies for his wedding receptions and details.
  4. Metering: the F5 sports the most sophisticated metering system on any film camera. It is an 8 Segment 3D colour metering scene. It’s not infallible, but it’s as good as your film camera metering is going to get, so as long as you understand the conditions under which in-camera metering falls down, youshould get a well metered good shot. The database has over 30,000 scenes of actual shooting data to evaluate colour, brightness, and overall composition.
  5. It’s the only purchase that you make that is likely to go up in price. Your digital gear goes out of date so fast, that your ‘investment’s’ value will drop like a stone. But they’re not making many film cameras anymore. Nikon will still fix it and carry spare parts, not bad for a 20 year old camera. Say what you like about Nikon, but they have been around for a while, and they will hopefully be around for a fair while longer.
  6. It has interchangeable viewfinders. Seriously. Check it out.
  7. Auto focus: 5-Area Cross Array Auto focus system for fluid composition, includes 3 Cross Type AF sensors. Focus Tracking with Lock On to 8 fps regardless of subject direction or movement.

Professional handling, solid build quality and professional results for the cost of an off camera flash? It’s hard to say no.

If you have a F5, or you’re interested in more detail about how they work, you can see the Nikon F5 User Manual Here

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nikon f5' Andrew • February 21, 2016

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  • Micah J. Turner

    Will the F5 function without batteries? I have manual lenses and a sekonic light meter, so I’m wondering if I can still take pictures if the batteries die

    • Andrew

      The F5 needs batteries to function, for the motor drive, AE and AF. If you want a manual camera you probably need something like an F2 which is the last fully mechanical camera that Nikon made.

  • Nice article. I’ve just ordered a F5 and await it with interest. I’ve held off for a long time, largely because I already own the F, F2, F3 and F4 and they’ve all done well for me. But I did want a Nikon film body that will support G lenses and VR, and the F5 will do it. I’ll be curious to see how much it weighs in hand but I feel confident I’ll enjoy using it.

    • Andrew

      Cheers Richard. There’s something rather nice about the simplicity of film isn’t there? The only thing you can do is nail your exposure, framing and your focus. There’s no ‘options’ besides the film type you want to shoot. Hope you’re enjoying the beast!

  • Thorsten L.

    I love film photography and always did both, digital and analog. For the first 20 years of my life there was only analog, but I did not shoot. When I started to see photography as a hobby 12 years ago I of course started digital, first Pentax K10D, but with a quick transition to Nikon Full frame with the glorious D700. From there I entered analog with a Nikon FE and – not much long after that – a Hasselblad 501CM, dirt cheap 10 years ago, now quite expensive again.

    Now I still own my Hasselblad and also a 60 year old Rolleiflex 3.5E TLR. I sold the FE and bought an F2A, an F3 and an Olympus OM-1 instead. The Nikons were clearly no-brainers, the OM came after a friend’s father showed me this incredibly beautiful and incredibly small little gem and I had to have one. Less than 150EUR including really good 50mm and 85mm prime lenses, also a no-brained.

    I do love these film beasts and I love taking them out once in a while, even installed a dark room in my house to develop BW images all the way, film to paper. Those who know cameras now know: All these cameras are manual. The FE and the F3 do have time automatic with aperture selection, the other cameras are 100% mechanical, the medium formats do not even have an internal exposure meter.

    What I never considered for a second: A camera like the F4, F5, F6 or F100 or any other fully automated AF film camera. I really like the hassle free shooting of my digital camera – here I left Nikon 4 years ago and use the Sony A7RII nowadays. But with film? No, here I want the manual process. Just like I develop my films manually, expose my papers on the enlarger manually, develop the papers manually, I want to take my pictures manually.

    These old cameras have one thing all modern digital cameras miss: A focusing screen that allows to you properly focus. You see when things are in focus, because the really pop into focus. Digital cameras, even real DSLRs do not do this and even with the sony with edge visualization if feel that manual focusing is difficult. But with my F2? Lovely.

    I would never shoot anything but small light prime lenses on my analog 35mm cameras and I would never consider an F5.

    But hey: If somebody else likes shooting film with AF cameras, just go for it. Every film shooter is good, no matter what he shoots. Keeps the market alive.

    • Igor Silva

      You have focusing screens for F5 identical to those found on F3 and older Nikons, plus 100% viewfinder coverage and the option to use 1.2x magnifier eyepiece that gives you a MF experience like no other older SLR. The F5 is just the most advanced 35mm camera of the 20 century.