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The Nikon F3 – Greatest Legendary Classic

As I researched the Nikon F3, right away titles with words like the greatest SLR ever made, Legendary, and Classic all jumped out at me. This was interesting to me because I’d come across similar titles when researching the F2. In my view these two cameras are very different. So I asked myself how could they both be getting the same rave reviews? Let’s find out what is so great about the Nikon F3.

Just a reminder as with all of my reviews, if you prefer, you can watch my video review instead located at the end of this article.

After the successful launch of the F2, Nippon Kogaku went to work designing their next best thing. The Nikon F3 was released in March 1980 as the flagship electronically controlled SLR camera almost simultaneously as it was being produced for NASA’s future space shuttle the Columbia in April 1981. That is quite the undertaking. The F3 commanded this spot of significance in Nikons pro Lineup for almost 21 years.

The F3 was designed by Italian automotive and industrial designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, which explains the sports car cherry red stripe that makes this camera so recognizable. He was also the designer of the well known DeLorean featured in Back to the Future. By bringing in a designer like Giugiaro, its apparent Nikon must have been trying to go for something big and futuristic.

The design philosophy consisted of implementing three objectives, 1) high quality and high reliability, 2) ease of operation and versatility, and 3) automatic operation, on the basis of the inherited philosophy of F2. In addition, electronically control capabilities and energy saving facilities were included

Direct Quote from Nikon’s Website

The Specs

Not unlike its predecessors the Nikon F and then F2, it is an all manual system type film SLR, but that is where the similarities stop. Unlike the other two, the F3 was the first to have an electronic shutter. It is also aesthetically and ergonomically very different. Nikon was gambling on the hope that professional photographers who were untrusting of electronic cameras would eventually fall in love with the F3 as long as they made it reliable. They succeeded. The Nikon F3 quickly became the choice for pro’s going into the 80’s and 90’s.

Under the Hood of the Nikon F3

  • Titanium Focal Plane shutter with T, B, X, 8 – 1/2000 seconds, and 1/60 default without battery
  • Back up mechanical release lever to trip the shutter when no batteries are installed
  • When in Aperture Priority speeds are 8 – 1/2000
  • the Meter is Silicon Photo Diode Center Weighted TTL Meter with an LCD screen
  • Relies on (2) 1.5v SR44/LR44 Silver Oxide Batteries
  • ISO/ASA range of 12-6,400
  • Accessory shoe mount for attachment of speed light for Flash and X sync speed of 1/80 through port
  • Shutter lock lever
  • DOF preview
  • Multiple Exposure lever
  • Mirror lock up
  • Viewfinder blind to prevent light leaking in
  • Viewfinder illuminator button
  • Nikon F Bayonet Mount Compatible with AI, AIS lenses and Pre-AI in stop down

See the manual here

My Experience with the Nikon F3

I picked up a Nikon F3HP on the advice of Bill Smith of the Classic Camera Revival podcast. He is basically my Nikon camera enabler if you haven’t noticed yet. He recommended the HP (high point) because I had been having a hard time seeing through the F2’s viewfinder. The big viewfinder of the F3HP was perfect for my glasses.

Nikon F3
A Hotel in Florida

I’ll admit though, I was initially very resistant to the F3. I wasn’t sure if it would be like it because it is electronic. Also, just being so ergonomically different than the Nikon F, which I love. The smooth film advance, fast shutter speeds, and advanced meter, were all great new innovations after the F and F2. Strangely enough, they were turning me off.

Nikon F3
the Boathouse

However, my deterrence didn’t last long. Once I stopped my prejudices and reluctance to have an open mind, I suddenly couldn’t put this camera down. In fact I had to stop myself because film is way too expensive to be shooting as much as I was. The Nikon F3 just makes it so easy and effortless to shoot.

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Ergonomically, the F3 is not exactly a light camera, but it’s easier on my neck than my beloved Nikon F. The built in grip helps, and everything is located in easy to reach positions for shooting and changing exposures quickly.

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The fast shutter and smooth advance made taking pictures of my – on the move – baby daughter a breeze. Once I had several rolls exposed I had to actually stop myself from loading more. That’s not something I can say for many other cameras in my collection.

Final Notes on the Nikon F3

This camera is either very much loved, or very much unliked in the community. Maybe it’s for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Some take to these features and some don’t. The Nikon F3, for me, has been the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover. While the more modern advances may have initially turned off a part of me that wanted to stick with the vintage mechanical style cameras, it ended up appealing to the part of me that just needed to pick up a camera and shoot.

Nikon F3
Sunset on Kodak Portra 400

This camera will be in my collection until it dies, and in my rotation until I do. Hopefully if you are looking for a reliable SLR or specifically wanted to know about the Nikon F3, this has been of some help to you. Let me know down in the comments, will you be picking up an F3, do you have one? I love hearing from you!

Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

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7 thoughts on “The Nikon F3 – Greatest Legendary Classic

  1. I have the Nikon F3 and absolutely love it though I don’t use it as often now. See my reply under your article about the Nikon F2.

    Steve B

  2. I grew up in a Canon household so I am so curious about Nikon cameras. It’s hard to justify buying another SLR when I already have one that functions perfectly but I think I would really like to try a Nikon and get some Nikon glass. Maybe I’ll look into the F3. Electronic shutters don’t bother me, my A-1 and A2 both already have them lol.

    1. I was too. My dad always had canons so when I got into photography I stuck with canons. It wasn’t until I saw the Nikon F and loved it that I changed my mind.
      I’d love to hear your thoughts if you do get a Nikon.

  3. Some cameras just bond with you – others don’t. I like the OM film cameras, the Nikons FMs, and varying folders and TLRs. This camera did your skills justice – many nice photos – and a good review. Like you, weighty cameras are a challenge, so finding one lighter in weight and with a good grip can make a lot of difference.

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