The Cameras: The Nikon F-4

Any camera can take a good image. A small 3.2 megapixel Canon Powershot A550 was responsible for one of the best pictures of a girl I dated once. A Nikon F3HP with a broken shutter was used to take a National Geographic cover. Ansel Adams had cameras that were, frankly, archaic. And I doubt I could figure out how to use them myself. I’ve seen iPhones take pictures that have won cash prizes.

Some cameras are more limited than others. Maybe their lens, like the Lomo Lubitel 2’s, can only handle a few lighting conditions, or get so close to a subject before you can’t focus your image. Maybe it’s a pin hole camera, which takes serious skill to use well.

Other cameras are more flexible. They can take any number of lenses, have a better light meter than others, and just make the photographers task easier. Even these cameras, however, are limited: It’s the photographer that makes the camera. A camera is just a tool. Some are easier or more flexible than others, but it’s you that makes the photos.

That being said, I purchased yet another camera. And if you guessed it’s another 35mm Nikon, then you read the title of this page. Congratulations. The cookies are behind you.

After I decided to get into and stick with photography as a hobby, I figured I should buy another camera. My Nikon EM was going to need some repairs, and I wanted a camera with autofocus and a better light meter. I bought the Nikon N-65 and didn’t quite get what I’d hoped for. So I set about doing my research (for real this time), and stumbled onto this… The Nikon F-4.

The e-bay image of my Nikon F-4

The e-bay image of my Nikon F-4

So what’s so special about the Nikon F-4?

The simple answer is: Everything *evil laugh.*

Being serious this time, the Nikon F-4 is a bit on the unique side. It was designed by Nikon back in the 1980’s as their first professional auto-focus camera. Beyond that, it’s equipped with what is called a Matrix meter. A Matrix meter has nothing to do with Neo, Morpheus or Trinity. It’s a light meter. The Nikon EM and N65 I own also have light meters, but they are called center weight. They only read the light in the very center of the lens. The F-4 evaluates everything you see in the finder, and gives you it’s recommendation. Unless you program the camera for auto mode, then it does everything for you.

Top view of my Nikon F-4. Also one of the e-bay pictures.

Top view of my Nikon F-4. Also one of the e-bay pictures.

The F-4 can be used in a variety of ways. Fully manual, fully automatic, or anything in between. And it’s all controlled by these easy to read buttons. Beyond that, the F-4’s DP-20 finder (that’s the bit that says Nikon on the front) tells you exactly how you have the camera set up. Also, being from the 1980’s, it’s prone to LCD bleed. Which mine suffers from slightly. So in around a year, I’ll need to have her fixed. Yay me.

The F-4 can use any Nikon lens made from the 1950’s, except for Nikons rangefinder lenses. (Now I’m just showing off my really nerdy side.) This works well for me, however, as every lens I own will work flawlessly with the Nikon F-4. Unlike the Nikon N-65, which doesn’t.

I’ve already shot a roll of film with the F-4 to make sure it works well. I have to say I’m pleased with the results, though that has more to do with the lens I chose, type of film I used (oddly just drug store Kodak 400), the lighting I had and the fact that the F-4 is pretty easy to hold, making steady shots easier. It’s twice the size and weight of the Nikon EM and N-65, however, making steady shots harder. (It’s a vicious cycle.)

The one feature that completely threw me about the F-4 was it’s film loading.

Kodachro-oo-oome, it gives us the niiiiiice bright colors... Ahem. e-bay image of my Nikon F-4 and yes, that is a roll of Kodachrome. I was hoping I'd get it with the camera, just to have, but the seller kept it. And they tell you Canadians are nice...

Kodachro-oo-oome, it gives us the niiiiiice bright colors… Ahem. e-bay image of my Nikon F-4 and yes, that is a roll of Kodachrome 64. I was hoping I’d get it with the camera, just to have, but the seller kept it. And they tell you Canadians are nice…

The F-4 auto winds the film when you load it, but not like any other auto loader I’ve dealt with. My N-65 and dad’s Canon Rebel K2 both wind the film as soon as you close the film door. The F-4, doesn’t. Instead, you have to press the shutter button to get the camera to advance the film to shot 1 after loading. This wouldn’t have been hard, had I gotten an owners manual with the camera. But I didn’t, so it was hard. Though to be fair, while all the other F-4 models were selling for $200 dollars on e-bay, I paid $99. I know, right? Winning.

So that’s it. The last 35mm film camera I plan on buying. I mean, really. How many does someone need? I have three, and I feel cluttered. I may buy a medium format camera, and maybe a Nikon DSLR later down the road. But I’m confident I’ve assembled a dream team. One Pro grade Nikon that can do everything, one vintage Nikon that is light, nimble and easy to use quickly, and a modern amateur Nikon, light and equipped with autofocus, ready for spur of the moment shots.