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The Nikon F2 – Best 35mm Ever?

In doing my research for this review, I ran across quite a few statements calling this the best 35mm camera ever made. I was surprised by that because I have heard the same for many other cameras I have reviewed, but never with as much gushing as I saw for this one. I’m not sure if the F2 is the best 35mm camera ever made, I will leave that up to all you Nikon Fanboys and girls out there to debate, but I will say that in my experience over the years I’ve had this camera, I can see why its so beloved.

As I always do in my reviews, I will share a little history, the bulk of the specs, and then finally my personal experience and thoughts on the Nikon F2. By the end, I hope you will still be with me, you can decide if this is the camera for you and just maybe decide if it is the best. Also, if you prefer, the video review will be posted at the end of this article as well.

The Nikon F2

The Nikon F2 was produced in Japan by Nippon Kogaku Co. from 1971 thru 1980. (Not called Nikon Co. until 1988). Nippon Kogaku started making film cameras after World War 2 and by the 1970s they had several cameras under their belt, including the highly successful Nikon F.

1977 Nikon F2 Ad

A 1977 Nikon F2 Ad

While the F continued to be marketed until 1974, Nikon decided to improve upon it by not replacing it, but creating a competitive partner in the Nikon F2. They wanted to take their success with the F to another level instead of just simply upgrading it and selling it as a new camera. They spent years designing the F2, and it didn’t disappoint.

The F2 offered more automation, higher and lower shutter speeds, a new and impressive self timer, and plastic on the advance lever for better grip. (The plastic was also integrated onto later F’s as well). It can also use the same lenses and accessories as the F making it easy for professionals to upgrade (if only it were that easy today) as well as many other accessories of its own.

The Specs

– All mechanical no battery needed unless for the Photomic meters in which case the battery was loaded into the bottom of the camera body.
– Focal Plane shutter with Titanium curtains
– Hinged back door instead of the removable one on the F
– Speeds from 1 second up to 1/2000th of a second and up to 10 sec with self timer
– Electronic Flash sync at 1/80th of a sec
– Center Weighted meters

– Bulb mode and Time which stays open until you switch the collar back around to the middle
– Shutter Lock “L” on the collar
– There is no hot shoe for flash, you would need to mount a flash using a bracket and connect it through the PC port
– Nikon F Bayonet Lens Mount
– Uses two S76 or A76, or SR44 or LR44 batteries for metered “heads”
Camera Manual for more

The Photomic

There’s two groups of meter heads for the F2 depending on the lens; a group for non-AI lenses and a group for the AI and later ones. Every year Nikon came out with an updated “head” changing the F2 to virtually another camera. With each meter the name of the F2 changes. For example when the body is paired with the DE-1 Prism it is just the Nikon F2, but when paired with the DP-1 metered prism it becomes the Nikon F2 Photomic. The following list is from Emulsive.0rg where you can find even more in depth info on the Photomic’s.

  • Nikon F2 (Body + DE-1 prism – 1971-76)
  • Nikon F2 Photomic (Body + DP-1 metered prism – 1971-76)
  • Nikon F2S Photomic (Body + DP-2 metered prism, 1973-76)
  • Nikon F2SB Photomic (Body + DP-3 metered prism, 1976-77)
  • Nikon F2A Photomic (Body + DP-11 metered prism, 1977-80)
  • Nikon F2AS Photomic (Body + DP-12 metered prism, 1977-80)

I have the Nikon F2S Photomic because I have the DP-2 metered prism. This is one of the Non-AI meters meaning i have to use lenses with the coupling prongs and when I mount it to the body and Photomic I have to twist the aperture ring back and forth to register the highest and lowest f-stop with the meter. With the Non-metered prism you could use any F mount lens.

Nikon F2S Merer DP-2
Nikon F2S Merer DP-2

The serial number on the top plate can give a clue of what year the camera was made. Mine would’ve been around 1974, but of course if it was ever swapped out before I owned it, then this could be wrong.

My Experience with the Nikon F2

If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know I am a HUGE Nikon F fan. I think I would dare to say the F is my favorite 35mm camera and the only one I own more than one copy of. That was why the Nikon F2 appealed to me for my next purchase. It improves upon the F and more.

Tire under a tree
Tire under a tree

First The Cons

I have only had two cons to mention from my years spent with the Nikon F2S. First would be the weight of the camera. Weight is something that is very important to me because I deal with chronic pain in my neck and back. It made it difficult for me to hold the camera up to my eye for a long shooting period. This was helped out by the grip I purchased from my good friend Wayne Yung, but again that just adds to the weight. Then add on the weight of a lens, especially a zoom lens, it makes it a system you just don’t want to carry along if you tend to carry anything besides your F2.

Foggy morning

Secondly, my other gripe would be with the meter head. As I mentioned I have the DP-2, and it works great, but something I have run into is not being able to see the meter arrows or shutter speed numbers on the bottom while looking through the viewfinder. I don’t know if this is because I wear glasses or why this is such an issue for me, but it has been a problem so many times when I have shot with this camera. It has been especially difficult while trying to take quick shots from the car.

The Pros

Now to the good stuff. The meter is unbelievably reliable, the diverse shutter speeds available came in handy for me for the low light still life photos I always shoot, to the fast shooting from the car. It is an unbelievable tool.

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Nikon F2 
Kodak Portra 800
Christmas Wreath

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Last winter Kelsey and I went to the town square to walk with Alaina in the cool weather, and of course to take photos. I also shot with my Rolleiflex Original for a future review as well as an expired roll of Kodak Tri-X Pan 4oo that day. As I mentioned though, the Nikon F2 is a heavy camera, so I didn’t carry both at the same time.

It was a beautiful day, and Alaina got to see her first sunset. Although I don’t think that she really appreciated it, but at least I recorded it for her.

I paired the F2 with the Voigtlander Ultra 40mm f2 because it does something wonderful with color. The main thing I remember from that day was just shooting one frame after the next and what a pleasure the F2 was. It kept up with me and my excitement.

Nikon F2
Sunset Nikon F2
Alaina seeing her first sunset

Final Thoughts on the Nikon F2

What can I say, the Nikon F2 takes my favorite camera, the Nikon F, and adds reliable metering and more. It is a great system camera that I am glad to have in my collection. I always love the results I get with it, and that is not something I can say about every camera I have used. It can handle anything you throw at it and that is why, I think, it is often called the best.

What do you think? Do you have an F2? Do you want one? Is it in fact the best camera ever made? Personally, I believe that the best camera is going to be different for each shooter depending on your specific needs.Let me know in the comments. I’m curious to know if you think this is the best camera ever made and why.

Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

More Reviews on the Nikon F2:
Alex Luyckx
Mike Eckman
Theo Panagopoulos
Jim Grey

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14 thoughts on “The Nikon F2 – Best 35mm Ever?

  1. I have several mechanical SLRs… the Nikon F2, Pentax Spotmatic, Olympus OM-1, Minolta SRT 102, Topcon RE Super. I could never grasp the hype of the F2. Everyone loves it. I could never find a single unpopular opinion on it. Its a great camera, don’t get me wrong. I just never reach for it. I much prefer the body of the Olympus OM-1. The Spotmatic’s native lenses, “Super Takumar,” are my favorite lenses to use. If I feel like taking out a bigger bulkier camera, I grab the Topcon RE Super which is the most beautifully designed SLR. The Minolta I care least about so I use it in higher risk scenarios. Where does the F2 fit in? It can take great pictures but I just don’t use it much.

      1. I owned and worked with 4 f2 photomics back in the day. Loved them. I did the so called progress and moved up in cameras. I still miss them. I am giving thought to buying a used photomic just to have. Yup, I think the f2 was at least the best ever manual camera, and the f4s the best auto camera.

  2. I have a bit different POV, as I’m not anything resembling a newbie. My parents were pros, and I grew up having almost-daily experience with early Nikon SLRs starting with a Nikkorex F in 1963. This was followed by a series of Nikkormats, Nikon Fs, and F2s up through around 1980. We had a full kit by the mid-70s – two F2s, two Nikkormats, eight non-AI lenses – so we never made the leap to AI-era gear.

    I still shoot b/w film with one of the old studio F2s (both with a DE-1 plain prism and DP-1 meter head) and a Nikkormat FTN, using non-AI lenses from a vintage-1961 13.5cm/f3.5 up to vintage-1973 50mm/f1.4 and 200mm/f4. Note that none of these lenses, including a 1966 105mm/2.5, 1968 28mm/f3.5, and a 1969 45mm/f2.8 GN (the closest thing to a non-AI “pancake lens”) that all saw heavy use, have ever required a CLA! That’s some serious professional build quality. (Our only Nikkor lens that ever failed was the 43-86mm/f3.5 zoom… which was a dog anyway, soft at all focal lengths.)

    Pretty much everything about the F2 is true, it was and is a helluva machine. I prefer using mine with the plain prism to keep the weight down, so I either estimate exposure (I learned how in 1967!) or carry a small 50s GE PR-1 selenium meter.

    You know, I love the F2… but I always vastly preferred using the lighter, simpler, just as tough Nikkormats. And with either Nikon body, that GN lens is the smallest/lightest vintage lens – which makes carrying easier. Yeah, it’s still not exactly light, but neither is a modern digital camera with a huge zoom!

    1. I’ve never tried Nikkormats yet but I can attest to the Pre Ai lenses. They’re my favorites. I have a couple Ai-s and idk what it is but they’re just not the same. The Pre Ai lenses paired with a Nikon f or f2 are definitely formidable machines. I’ll have to try a Nikkormat one day! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I own an F3 which is more refined and less industrial feeling than the F2.
    What I can tell you is that we used the F3 at work as an image capturing device on some medical equipment. We had dozens of these working 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for YEARS – shooting thousands and thousands of rolls of film – and they NEVER failed. Absolutely bomb proof reliability! I acquired one for myself and have nothing but praise for it. I can’t say it is the best SLR ever made, because there are a few hundred others I’ve never tried, but I’ve good reason to say I’d be very surprised if anything else could match its ruggedness or reliability!

  4. Coincidence: I loaded film into my F2A yesterday. First time in probably a year.

    The F2 is great in all its guises, but I reach for my F3 more. It’s a little lighter and offers aperture-priority mode which I love.

  5. I love my F2as. It’s not the favorite of my cameras, but when I can only take one camera anywhere it’s my F2.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on which F Mount lenses you use and which you prefer. The Voightlander 40mm you mention comes up fairly often as a great F Mount lens, but it seems to also be one of the more expensive. Do you think it’s worth it? How does it compare, for example, to the 35/f2 or one of the more ubiquitous (and far cheaper) 50/1.8 models?

    1. I prefer my pre ai lenses. They just have a different look and feeling to them. I got the Voigtlander 40 for my fm2 because I don’t really like my ai lenses. The Voigtlander renders such nice colors though. So I’ve found myself using it a lot. Like anything else it’s only worth the money if it’s useful enough to you to think it is. For me it was worth it because like I said I don’t really like and of the ai/ai-s lenses I’ve used. Hope that answers your question

  6. I have to say that I am also a big fan of the Nikon F series. I prefer the FM2n and FM3a, complete opposites on the spectrum. Your review of the F2 is good as it does address its qualities, but like you, I find it sometimes difficult to see the meter because of wearing glasses. The same with the FM2n and FM3a – any meter may be difficult to see – and then Sunny 16 rules the day. Your last picture of the series here, of Alaina, is just lovely!

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