I got serious about photography about 3 years ago after a trip to Europe with
a point and shoot camera. There were so many great things there to photograph,
and the P&S did such a bad job capturing them, I decided to get a good
I bought a Nikon N6006, which I still have, mostly because my father has about
10 Nikkor lenses that I can borrow. After about a year of photographing as much
as possible and reading books by people like John Shaw, I decided I wanted
another body. One with depth of field preview, mirror lock up, and batteries that
didn't cost a fortune and die after 15 rolls, so an F3 it was. I also got a
killer deal on a DA-2 Action finder at a used photo show, so I was forced to buy
an F3 to stick under it.
My F3/T is actually my second F3. I found it in my local Want-Ads for $600 a
couple of months ago and decided I had to have it.
Why a manual focus body?
One of the nicest things about the Nikon system is that one can use manual
focus bodies with all the current lenses. The preferred MF bodies are the F3HP,
FM2, FE2, or F2. All these bodies have mirror lock-up, depth-of-field preview and
are very rugged. They are also great when it's cold and need no batteries for
long exposures (the FM2 and F2 need no batteries at all). I think an N90s and one
of these is an ideal combo.
As mentioned, I have the titanium version of the F3. While the regular F3HP is
very, very rugged, the F3/T is undentable as far as I can tell. The top and
bottom plates, prism housing and back are all titanium. On most camera you can
push the back in a bit with thumb pressure. On the newer poly-carb bodies, you
could probably break the back if you grunted hard enough. If you push on the back
of the F3/T there is no flex whatsoever. The camera feels like a solid block of
metal, yet it is lighter than the regular F3.
If you need to shoot in extreme cold, get the FM2 or F2. Both are completely
mechanical and legend has it that they will never give out in the cold. That
said, I've used my F3 while skiing at Sunday River in Maine on a day when they
closed the mountain early due to the cold. No problem despite the -20F
temperature (without wind-chill). Whichever one you get, if you don't like it you
can probably sell it for what you paid and get the other.
It's a Nikon F camera
Nikon F series cameras have a well-deserved reputation for quality. They are
all extremely well made and have shutters that will last forever (150,000 cycle
MTBF). All have DOF preview, MLU, 100% finders, and interchangeable prisms and
screens. The F3HP also has the "high eyepoint" finder which, for eyeglass
wearers, is indispensable.
Speaking of finders, I also own the DA-2 Action Finder. If you've never seen
one, it's a huge prism with a 1.5" diagonal opening that gives about 1.5" of
eye-relief. It's like watching one of those hand-held LCD tv's. The DA-2 is very
helpful in certain situations like macro work where you don't want to disturb the
camera. The one downside with it is side-lighting can make seeing into the finder
difficult. It almost needs a focusing hood but overall the DA-2 is a lot of
As for screens, I like one with a grid. If you decide you need a brighter
screen, the F4 screens will fit but I find them harder to focus. The F4 and F3
screens are exactly the same size but the frames are somewhat different. The F4
screen's frame will fit in the F3, but it will be more solid if you put the F4's
screen in an F3 frame.
They could have done better
The downsides to the F3 are few but the one that stands out is the slow flash
sync shutter speed of 1/80 sec. This can made outdoor fill flash difficult.
Speaking of flash, the oddball hotshoe means the F3 is incompatible for TTL flash
with flashes designed for other Nikon cameras. (Note: the FE-2 and FM-2 sync at
1/250 sec; the highest of any mechanical focal plane shutter.)
Another inconvenience is the lack of exposure lock while the mirror is locked
up. If you lock the mirror up in Aperture Priority mode, light will stop falling
on the meter cell and therefore the camera sets an inappropriately long shutter
speed (close to its maximum of 30 seconds).
I'd also like to see manually settable shutter speeds to 30 seconds in 1/2 or
1/3 stop increments (instead of 8 seconds in full stop increments), a spot meter,
and low-light metering capabilities like the Pentax LX.
Buy it used
A new F3HP is about $1200 at B&H Photo while the F3/T is about $1600, but
since it's a Nikon, the used market is huge. An F3HP in mint shape can be found
used market for about $750 while one in used but decent
shape can be had for about $550. F3/Ts are both rare and expensive but
occasionally one turns up at a good price. Avoid ones with dents, huge amounts of
brassing, finger nail marks in the shutter and general bad appearance. I'd also
avoid any camera that may have been used by a photojounalist. You don't know
where it's been.
I don't own one but the MD-4 motor drive sells for $200 to $250 used depending
on condition. The MD-4 can also help handling while hand-holding lenses like an
80-200/2.8. You'll also start bulking up if you use this combo enough.
The F3T is quiet, rugged, light and compact (without the motor drive), and a
serious professional tool.
Construction: Cast Aluminum with brass top, bottom and prism (Titanium for /T
Shutter: Titanium, speeds from 8sec. to 1/2000 + T and B, 1/80 flash
Meter: 80/20 center weighted, EV1-19, ISO 25-6400 (sort of like a big spot
meter); metered-manual or aperture-priority autoexposure
Available finders: Action finder, Waist Level, 6x Magnifying and standard HP
Motor Drive: MD-4 with speeds up to 6fps with Nicad battery pack.
Features: MLU, DOF preview, multi-exposure, many interchangeable screens
Batteries: two 1.55v silver oxide batteries. Shutter works at 1/60 and in T
mode when battery is dead via mechanical backup release on camera front. With the
MD-4, the camera gets all battery power from the drive.
Accessories: wireless remotes, 250-exposure backs, databacks and too many
others to list. Get a full line Nikon brochure.
Physical: with DE-3 HP finder, camera is 148.5mm(W)x101.5mm(H)x69mm(D) and
weight is 760g