Nikon F2 Camera Review
The Nikon F2 has been my constant travel companion for the last 3 years and it is always in my travel bag. I shoot 90% of all my film shots with this camera and it has put a lot of joy back into photography for me. It is safe to say that this is my favorite film camera of all time. Writing a review for this camera is something that I have avoided for a long time, trying to quantify why this camera is so special to me will be a very daunting task as it is not a perfect camera but it is the perfect camera for me.
My first steps in film photography with Nikon began on a Nikon FM, I was already heavily invested in Nikon glass because of work and I really missed shoot film so I bought a Nikon FM to take with me to Hong Kong. I ended up mostly shooting film during my trip in Hong Kong and the Nikon FM turned out to be a fine little camera but it has some small things that drove me crazy. So I decided to by a Nikon F100 and start taking my film camera with me to work which lead me to shooting a lot of film again but the Nikon F100 did not scratch that film shooting itch that I had. It was too similar to my digital work, it was a fine camera but I missed the feeling of shooting with a machinal camera, feeling the gears grind and hearing the mechanical shutter fire. I didn’t crave the shooting experience that the almost digital Nikon F100 provided so I started my search for a film camera that would suit my needs and I experimented with a ton of film cameras but not finding a camera that suited my needs and desires. After a lot of experimenting, I saw a video by Chuck Jines on Youtube, talking about his Nikon F2 and I thought to myself, damn that is a sexy looking camera.
After doing some research, and reading up on the history of Nikon F cameras, I decided that the Nikon F2 suited my needs perfectly, it was a fully manual camera that had a meter in the finder but most importantly, it was a fully mechanical camera that only used a battery for the light meter. The downside for selecting to shoot with a Nikon F2 was that the camera was really old and I was not sure that I would be able to purchase a workable camera here in China. The climate in China is very hostile to cameras or almost any gear. It is very hot and humid in China and cameras tend to fail very quickly here. A quick search online with China’s biggest online website called Taobao and I found a couple of Nikon F2’s for sale, the price was a little steep at that time but I decided to pull the trigger and purchase what is now my favorite camera of all time.
So let’s take a look and why this camera is so special to me and what makes it is a really great manual film camera.
The Nikon F2 professional camera was introduced in 1971 as the successor to the famous Nikon F, which had established Nikon as the premiere SLR maker for photojournalists in the late ’50s and ’60s. The F2 was produced for nearly 10 years and the well designed, modular camera quickly became the gold standard for photojournalists again as it improved on many of the aspects of the original Nikon F and refined the design to make what is one of the best mechanical 35mm film cameras to ever be produced.
The Nikon F2 is unique in many ways as the camera body remained basically unchanged during the 10-year production run but the finders were consistently updated and each finder and Nikon F2 body combination had a different name. The naming structure goes like this :
- 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)
The DE-1 finder is the smallest finder and only has a pentaprism built into it. There is no meter in the DE-1 finder but the DP-1, DP2, DP3, DP11, and DP12 all have pentaprisms and meters built into the finder. The great part about this finder system that the Nikon F2 employed is that you can buy a new finder for the camera at any time and change the way it works. If you want a smaller package, get the DE-1 finder, or get one of the larger finders if you want a light meter. The choice is yours to make. My camera has the DP-12 finder and I love using it.
The body of the Nikon F2 body was made of die-cast aluminum with the top cover, bottom cover and the removable back being made out of brass, giving the camera considerable heft when you picked it up. The camera is a solid, well-constructed machine that should last for many years, and because most of the camera was designed to be very modular, the camera could easily be repaired with replacement parts.
The camera’s metal body was finished off with either brushed silver chrome or black enamel paint and the gripping surfaces got an extremely durable synthetic leather cover. Both finishes for the Nikon F2 are extremely durable and getting a nice patina on a Nikon F2 is not easy. If you see a copy of a Nikon F2 that has a lot of patina, then it is either a photojournalist camera that has worked very very hard during its life or someone took sandpaper to it, trying to make it more sexy for the buyer of the camera.
The heavy-duty bayonet lens mount was machined from stainless steel and all F mount Nikon lens can be mounted to the camera, but the lastest G lens is not a good choice to mount on the camera as it cannot meter the lens and the lens will be stopped down to the maximum aperture. You also cannot change the aperture and will be stuck shooting the lens at its maximum aperture which is not great as diffraction will make your images soft. So stick with any lens from pre-AI(If your finder supports them) until the D lens(No auto-focus for obvious reasons). I love the fact that Nikon has so many lenses available for the camera and I have slowly been building a collection of nice primes to use with my Nikon F cameras.
Looking at the controls of the camera, the camera is well laid out and easy to use. The top of the camera consists of four main components, the film advance lever, the shutter button, the shutter speed dial and the film rewind crank on the opposite side of the finder. These four components give you all the control that you need to take any photo you desire.
The film advance lever serves a dual role on the Nikon F2 body. The first role is to advance the film. I love the feeling of the film advance lever. It is smooth, quick and sounds fantastic. Most of the time, I never pay any attention to advancing the film on a camera, it is just something I do automatically but doing it on the Nikon F2 really is impressive. It feels like you are using a mechanical tool for a professional and it is by far the best experience I have had out of all the film cameras that I have used. Nothing has come close to the way that the Nikon F2 feels when advancing the film. The second function of the film advance lever is to activate the meter. You move the lever out of the body to activate the meter in the finder. If you see the red dot showing on the body, after you have pulled the film advance lever away, you know that the light meter will be activated, as long as you have a battery installed on the camera.
The shutter speed dial also has two functions. The first function is to set the shutter speed of the camera and the second is to set the ISO for the film. If you are using the DE-1 prism then this is a little different as there will be no ISO function on the shutter dial. The shutter dial feels solid and gives a really nice audible click when you change the shutter speed. It is not loud but it is perfectly designed to let you know that you have changed the settings. There is just enough friction on the dial so that you would be very unlikely to change the shutter speed by accident. I have never had the shutter speed change on me while carrying the camera. I really love this, as this is one of my main complaints I have had with Fujifilm digital cameras and this has caused me many headaches over the years when I used their cameras. If you are using one of the metered finders for the camera, then you will use the shutter speed dial to change the iso as well. This is very simple to do, as all you do is pull the dial up towards you and twist the dial to change the ISO settings. A very simple setup and one that would never be changed by accident and introduce errors into the finders meter readings. Almost every aspect of this camera has been engineered to help the pro produce better images and take some of the difficulties out of shooting film. The camera gets out of the photographers’ way, allowing him to concentrate on the task of creating images.
The last two aspects on this side of the camera are the film counter window. It will slowly advance as you fire shots and resets when you open the back and load more film into the camera. The shutter button can be really good and really annoying at the same time. The basic configuration is that the shutter button is much lower than the shutter speed dial so you have to physically raise your fingers higher to change the shutter speed when you are shooting and this slows you down a lot if the camera is up to your face. But this is only a problem if you are using one of the metered prisms. With the DE-1 prism, the shutter button and the shutter speed dial are on the same plain of height so it is convenient to shoot but with the metered prism, I highly recommend a soft release shutter button. It raises the shutter button to roughly the same height as the shutter speed dial and makes shooting with the camera much more convenient.
The last aspect about the shutter trigger is that it is not a standard thread mount shutter, so if you plan to use a shutter release cable, you need to buy a special one with the right shutter mount. They are not hard to find but they are much more expensive than a normal manual shutter release cable.
On the opposite side of the camera finder, you will find a film rewind lever which also served a dual purpose with the camera’s design. To rewind the film, you release the film with a button at the bottom of the camera, pull the rewind lever up and rewind the film. The process is smooth and simple. The second function of the film rewind lever is that it is transformed into a cold shoe for a flash with the AS-1, AS-3 or AS-5 adaptor for the Nikon F2. There is no built-in cold shoe for the flash with the Nikon F2 and you need the adaptor to mount a flash. I have never used a flash with the Nikon F2 but the sync speed is 1/80, which was an improvement over the Nikon F system that came before it.
On the front righthand side of the camera, you will find the depth of field preview button which works the same as on any Nikon SLR or DSLR. The second controller is the self-timer controller which has a dual purpose as well. The first is obvious, a self-timer to take photos after a small count down, but the second and more important function is to shoot with slower shutter speeds than 1 second. The shutter speed dial only goes to 1 second and bulb, so if you want to shoot with slower shutter speeds, you need to set them with the self-timer control. This is a little cumbersome but I have used it a few times now.
The viewfinder of the DP-12 metered prism is fairly bright and easy to use. You can see the shutter speeds and apertures at the bottom of the viewfinder and if the battery is working, then you can see the exposure information and how you need need to change the exposure to get the correct metering.
The information in the finder is easy to read in daylight but much more difficult in the dark. There is a button on top of the DP-12 finder that will activate a red LED so you can see the settings at night. This is very useful when shooting in the dark and I have used it all the time. I love pushing film to iso 1600 and shooting with fast lens at night. This finder makes it so much easier to shoot quickly at night. The Nikon F2 focusing screens can be changed to different types to help you focus, I have never changed mine, but it is a really simple operation to do. Much easier than the digital Nikons that let me change the focusing screens. Focusing fast lens on the viewfinders of the Nikon F2 is really easy. There is a 45 Degree split prism in my finder and nailing shots with the fast lens is much easier than on my digital cameras. I can focus my Nikon 50mm 1.2 lens much quicker and more accurately with the Nikon F2 compare with the Nikon F100. The older Nikon cameras have much better finders for fast glass compared to the newer and more modern bodies produced by Nikon now.
Loading film into the camera is really easy. At the bottom of the camera is a few controls that you need to use to open the camera or to rewind the film. To open the camera, you need to use the control on the bottom right side. Simply move the controller to the O option and the backplate should pop open, revealing the internals of the camera.
Loading film into the camera is relatively easy, pull up the film rewind lever, and pop a film cartridge into the space provided by the camera, drag the film across the shutter plane and feed it into the film takeup spool. But be careful, I have had an instance of the film not loading probably before.
In the picture above, the film is feed into the uptake spool but this is not good enough and the film leader can come out, it has happened to me before. I’ve shot a whole roll of film and after 36 shots, the camera keeps on advancing the film. At 40 shots, I decided to open the camera up in a dark bag and felt that the film had not loaded correctly and I had not taken any shots at all.
When you close the film back and you are advancing the film to the first shot, watch the film rewind lever, make sure it is turning when you are advancing the film. If it doesn’t turn, then the film is not loaded correctly and has come out of the film takeup spool.
The Nikon F2 is a fully mechanic SLR and even if you have no batteries in the camera, the camera will operate perfectly fine. This was Nikon’s last fully manual pro SLR and I absolutely love it for this. The batteries are easily accessed at the bottom of the camera, the battery cover takes a coin to unscrew and the batteries will come out very easily. The Nikon F2 takes two small SR44 batteries or one 3V lithium battery. The battery powers the light meter only and it activates only when the film advance lever is pulled away from the camera body. I am not sure if my camera meter is slightly faulty or if the batteries I am getting in China are bad but I have to replace the batteries fairly often. I mostly shoot in the day time and I can meter with my eye and the sunny 16 rule but I tend to use an external meter when shooting at night. The meter is fairly accurate in the day time. It uses a weighted average when metering the scene but I have found that it can get tripped up when shooting into the sun or if there is a lot of shadows in a scene. The meter is fairly accurate though in a normal scene, I have compared the readings to some of my digital cameras and they are almost exactly the same unless the lighting is tricky.
That covers most of the controls of a camera but as I have said in many reviews in the past, a camera is just a light-tight box, and it does not affect the quality of the photo. The biggest influence on a photo is the film stock and lenses used. What a film camera body can do is make you want to shoot. It can increase your enjoyment or encourage you to go out and shoot. When I was shooting the Nikon F100, I never had the itch to just pick up the camera and go for a walk. It sat in my camera bag and I took it out when I went to work. The Nikon F2 is completely different. It sits on my work desk and I am always playing with it, I take the Nikon F2 with me all the time because I enjoy using the camera. Very few cameras have this effect on me. Some cameras like the Pentak 67 give me fantastic results but I always dread taking the camera out for a long walk as it is so big and difficult to carry.
Most of my friends and people who I work with have gotten very used to seeing me with the Nikon F2 held up, covering my face.
When shooting the Nikon F2, it feels heavy but it is a solidly built camera and balances well with most lens that I use. Only the large 300mm F4 prime lens feels unbalanced but that would make any camera feel front heavy. Like all old film camera bodies, there is no grip and some people complain that the camera is not comfortable but I have little to no problem using the camera for long periods of time and it works perfectly for me. The Nikon F2 is far more comfortable to use than my Digital Fujifilm XE-3 camera but it cannot compare to the comfort of modern DSLR Nikons which have the best grips out of all modern day cameras.
I mostly shoot black and white film with the Nikon, and I have actually only shot one roll of color film with the camera since I bought it. I got the color film for free when I bought the camera and I used the roll to test for light leaks.
But I seldom shoot color film, those three shots are from the only roll of color film that I put through the camera. Since that one roll, everything else has been black and white. I have used the Nikon to shoot street, landscapes, for exploring and even at work. The camera has never failed me while I was out shooting.
I think that one of the main reasons the Nikon F2 has won such a large place in my heart is its pure reliability. I remember two instants where my digital cameras failed me but the Nikon F2 kept working perfectly. The first was with snow. It snowed in my base town in China and I went to go shoot the snow in the early hours in the morning. My city has a lot of humidity and it gets really cold outside when it snows. I went to shoot the snow with my Nikon D500 and the Nikon F2, after 20 minutes the Nikon D500 died and even changing the batteries did nothing to bring the camera back to life, but the Nikon F2 kept working, no hiccups but changing the film with cold fingers was not easy.
The second instant when the Nikon F2 saved my ass was at work. I was shooting the massive graffiti festival called Meeting for Styles in the Philipines. I was the main photographer at the event so I had to deliver images to my clients. The heat was scorching and the humidity was insane. I had two digital bodies with me. I had my Nikon D3s and a Fuji XT1 at the time. Both cameras overheated and needed to be cooled down in ice boxed for up to 30 minutes before I could use them again but the Nikon F2 kept on working throughout the whole event. I ended up shooting more film than digit at the event. After the meeting of styles event, I knew that the Nikon F2 would be my forever camera. As long as the camera doesn’t break down, I will be using this camera for the rest of my life or until the end of film production. Whichever comes first, but as long as I can find a film, I will be using this camera.
But as much as I love this camera, it is not perfect. It has caught me out a few times with loading film or the film back popping open while I was walking around, but those events did teach me to be more respectful when loading a new roll of film in the camera and since then, nothing like that has happened to me again. I love the viewfinder but there are other film cameras out there that are slightly brighter. I have never shot flash with this camera and it seems over-complex to mount a flash, that is if you can find a working flash for this camera. But I am really nitpicking to find faults with the camera. I am sure that the Nikon F3 is a camera that fixes many of the small faults of the Nikon F2 but I prefer the mechanical nature of the Nikon F2 over the Nikon F3.
My daily camera bag for none workdays is as follows now. I carry my Nikon F2 with a 28mm manual lens and a Nikon DF with a 28mm 1.8 G lens. I use the Nikon F2 during the day time and I only grab my digital camera during golden and blue hours when color becomes much more important. I find that the Nikon F2 and the Nikon DF complement each other beautifully when you are walking around and exploring.
- A solidly built mechanical camera that should last for a lifetime.
- Completely manual, and a battery is only required for the light meter.
- Nice, bright viewfinder which makes it easy to focus fast lens.
- The F mount on Nikon means that you have hundreds of lens to choose form.
- Completely modular in design and broken components can be easily swapped out for works parts.
- It can be a little heavy if you are not used to shooting with film SLR. Nothing compared to shooting with a Pentax 67 or even the large Nikon D3, D4, D5 cameras.
- Film loading needs a little bit more attention than some cameras but it is not too bad once you are used to it.
- If you are using a metered finder, you need the soft trigger to make the camera more comfortable to use.
I love this camera, I will never sell this camera and if I ever retire from a shoot for a living, I would probably sell all my digital cameras and just shoot with the Nikon F2. I guess at the end of this review, it is more of a fanboy’s love letter to a camera but this camera is really just that damn good. It was designed to be used by pros and last forever and I think Nikon really delivered on those goals. I can honestly understand why this became the single most popular camera among photojournalists during the 1970s and its quality is undeniable. Lots of its competitors from that time period are all starting to break down. If you are looking for a film camera that is purely mechanical and is not a rangefinder, then the Nikon F2 must be one of the best options for you.