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Nikon F5 : The Most Wanted 35mm Film Camera?

Updated on March 18, 2011
Nikon F5 - the ultimate 35mm film camera?
Nikon F5 - the ultimate 35mm film camera?

Living the Dream :

Does the Nikon F5 live up to its reputation of one the best 35mm film camera ever made? They say that some dreams should best stay as dreams. However, with the market prices of film cameras at an all time low, David Lloyd-Jones finally gets the chance to purchase his dream camera for a fraction of its original cost.

Until recently, the closest I ever got to owning my dream camera was simply using a small piece of black insulation tape and covering up the '0' on my Nikon F50. Rather silly I know, but I could never justify the cost of purchasing a brand new Nikon F5. Financial pressures such as an ever hungry family, a crippling mortgage and mounting energy costs meant I was limited to the budget range of SLRs. At that time, Nikon's flagship, the F5, remained just a very distant dream.

Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the budget Nikon F50. It was a great little camera, which has severed me well over the years. It was very capable of producing some wonderful results. And despite putting hundreds of films though the F50 in the past ten years, I haven't ever had a single problem with the camera what so ever.

F5 - Perfect metering for this evening shot of the ferry 'Ben-My-Chree' preparing to leave Douglas harbour on the Isle of Man -  David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010
F5 - Perfect metering for this evening shot of the ferry 'Ben-My-Chree' preparing to leave Douglas harbour on the Isle of Man - David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010

Digital Looses Its Attraction :

However, similar to a lot of photographers recently, I have been tempted, and lured away from traditional film cameras to have a seven year long full blown affair with digital cameras.  I can now report that the affair is now officially over.  The grass is no greener on the other side of fence. In fact it's expensive, and can be very time consuming. I do really like the idea of digital, and they are great camera for learners to master the basics of photography without wasting rolls of film. However, on the flip side, there are numerous drawbacks.  

Time Consuming Digital : 

Apart for the quality of the images are not up to those of film yet.  I am fed up of spending hours and hours glued to my computer trying hard  to make digital images look like film ones.  I am far from lazy, but in the end, I thought why bother, life is far too short to spend all that time stuck indoors manipulating pictures, when you could be out taking pictures instead.  

I recently read an article interviewing a top professional photographer, who hasn't gone digital purely as the cost/time of post production of digital images was too prohibitive. Another point he raised is that a digital image can only be enlarged to the size of A3 without starting to look pixilated, whereas, film can be blown up nearly to the size of double decker bus without any problems.

Burning the Bridges :

Prior to going digital, I had burnt all my bridges, and sold off all my 35mm gear. But, on reflection, it wasn't such a bad idea.  A fresh start sometimes can be a good thing.  I knew I wanted,a Nikon (I am a lifelong Nikon fan), but all I could find new was the Nikon F65 and F80 at almost give away prices. The bottom has really dropped out of the 35mm camera market.  I quite fancied a Nikon F100, and somebody suggested I should look on eBay as people were queuing to sell  them off. 

Silly Prices on eBay :

The rush to go digital has meant that photographers have been selling off the 35mm equipment on mass at silly prices.  I found several Nikon F100s on eBay, but much to my surprise, I also found several examples of Nikon F5s.  Of course, there were a few examples of battle worn ex-pro F5s, that clearly seen tons of action in some far off war torn country. These are quite easy to spot with well-scuffed bodies and the various PC connection caps missing (and possibly the odd bullet hole or two?) 

However on eBay there were also a couple of very nice examples of F5s owned by serious amateurs, which were in excellent condition. And what's more, these F5s were selling at silly prices. My  dream camera was now at a rock bottom affordable price and completely within my limited price range.  There were a couple of more expensive F6s on eBay, but my heart was set on owning a Nikon F5. 

F5 - Winning eBay Bid :

I bid on and won a boxed mint A++ condition Nikon F5 with a Tamron 28 to 200mm superzoom lens for just under £300 including all the postage and packing.  The guy selling had hardly used the camera, which was clearly obvious as there was no marks on the F5 body and lens at all, and all  the buttons where stiff just like a brand new camera. Of course, with a film camera, you cannot tell if its working properly until you have run a few films through it.  One print and slide film later proved that there was nothing wrong with this Nikon F5 at all.     

Modern architecture - Douglas, Isle of Man -  David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010
Modern architecture - Douglas, Isle of Man - David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010

F5 - First impressions - Built Like Two Tiger Tanks :      

The first impression of the Nikon F5 is the quality of build, which feels like it is built like two tanks. The other is the layout and the balance of the camera, which is close to perfection.  I have to admit the armour plated F5 instills a sense of confidence when you take this camera out  and about .

The near bullet-proof design does live up to its reputation of one of the toughest cameras in the business. I have had it out in the pouring rain and storm 10 force winds. It has been dragged through bushes, taken up a mountain in sub-zero conditions and even used to photograph the waves crash over the local promenade close up without a single problem. The Nikon F5 is truly a camera for all seasons.

Batteries Not Included 

My only real concern with the camera was amount of AA batteries (eight in total) that the Nikon F5 could swallow up in its massive battery holder, and how long where they going to last?  The F5 boasts four very high speed motors hiding within its body armour, which must use a lot of juice to power them. Fortunately, power consumption is not too bad at all, and a couple of dozen or so films and one year later, I still haven't had to replace the original batteries.  

Just as well really, as the dedicate Nikon F5 rechargeable battery and charger is definitely not cheap,  even second-hand on e-Bay.  However, I think it is all down to what you take, and how you take it.   Blasting off a whole roll of film in a matter of seconds at some sporting event can and will use the batteries much faster than the slow process of taking landscapes for example. 

Conserving Battery Power :

One thing I do to conserve battery power is one a film has been completely exposed is to simply turn off the camera, and use the manual crank to re-wind the film.  To be honest, it’s convenient to use the electrical re-wind facility if you are shoot at wedding or sporting event where it is essential.  However for landscapes, architecture and railway photography where time is not crucial, then why not use the hand crank?

Nikon F5 - Built for speed, but perfect for landscapes too - Douglas lighthouse, Isle of Man -  David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010
Nikon F5 - Built for speed, but perfect for landscapes too - Douglas lighthouse, Isle of Man - David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010


Was the Nikon F5 still my dream camera or did it turn into a complete nightmare?  Despite having a bit of an age on this camera - the design is over a decade old now, the Nikon F5 still can out-shoot most cameras either digital or film. 

Taking a step back into film wasn't hard as it I first suspected, and all those old skills soon came flooding back.  The learning curve for the F5 was very shallow, thanks most to the fact that today's modern Nikon film and digital cameras have all the controls and buttons more or less in the same place which makes the transition very quick and easy. 

F5 - Results Are Simply Stunning :

The results for the F5 are simply stunning, and getting better with each roll of film as I become more use to getting the best out of this camera.  Do I have any regrets of moving away from digital? At first I wondered if I was doing the right thing and taking a step backwards technology wise, but it turned out I am actually taking my level of photography forward to new level thanks to the versatility of Nikon F5. 

Once I seen the quality of the slides produced by the F5, I knew that digital, for the moment, is definitely not for me. The other factor is the time saved on the PC not having to sort out and adjust hundreds of digital images giving me time to write articles such as this one. 

Would I recommend others to follow in my footprints and return back to film or even try film for  the first time if they have only ever experienced digital?  Defiantly, a big yes.  We have all been swept along by rush to go digital, but are we happy with is new medium?  Without going back and reviewing the film option again can you decided which is the best for you.  

Better Images with Film :

I actually take better images with a film camera as I have to slow down and take my time, as I know I have only a limited number of shots. Unlike digital, where I can take pictures until the cows come home.  And to be brutally honest with myself, a lot of the images I take on the digital camera are utter rubbish, and consigned quickly to the computer's waste bin. Why? Simply I play the numbers game, knowing I can take and waste a lot of images, just to get a couple of decent images. The only problem with this type of photography is the labour intensive time taken trawling through and deleting all the rubbish on the computer afterwards.

F5 - Breath of Fresh Air :

So going back to film, and using the Nikon F5 has been a real breath of fresh air for me -  literally.  No more sitting for hours in front of the dreaded computer, twisting, cropping, adjusting and shaping pictures for me. 

F5 - Just perfect for capturing steam in action - Isle of Man Railway, Douglas, IoM -  David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010
F5 - Just perfect for capturing steam in action - Isle of Man Railway, Douglas, IoM - David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010

F5 : Pros & Cons

Pros :

Built like two tanks.
It still out-shoots most other cameras.
Superb metering.
Blisteringly fast auto-focus - still the F1 car of auto focus.
People think you have the new Nikon Digital D3, apart from the screen on the rear, they look almost identical.

Cons :

Only very minor niggles:

The annoying lock release buttons you have to press in addition as the shutter release button or the film advance mode selection buttons.
The daft safety buttons you have to press to rewind the film.
Not enough focus points to select - the F5 only five. Modern Nikons have a least double of this.

© David Lloyd-Jones - Copyright 2010

Film or Digital?

Do you prefer Film or Digital Cameras

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    • peri1991 profile image

      Peri Abdurrahman 

      4 years ago from Indonesia

      There are more options for to get a good and professional video especially for film. I think it's a good advice ever,,,,

    • Brian Pangilinan profile image

      Brian Pangilinan 

      5 years ago

      I too have struggled with the digital age. I am 36 years old and have shot film since I was 11. I sold my film gear back in 2004, a friend of mine bought a Nikon D50 and I taught her photography. I fell for the attraction of digital in a bad way. I started caring about things I didn't care about before. The best computers to run software, the best bag to hold my camera, the best hard drives, the best strap, the best lights, etc etc. I was a canon CPS gold member, on my way to nikon FPS, I had the best cameras on the market, Nikon D3s, Nkon d700, canon 7d, canon 5 d, all the L lenses, hasselblad digital, leica digital, etc, I broke up with digital last year. I put away the thousands of photos I took while shooting digital, invested in two film cameras, a leica mp and nikon fe2 i own 3 lenses, one bag and plenty of film. I built a darkroom and for the first time in years, I remembered what it was like to be a photographer again. That might bruise egos but I think digital photography, while still photography, is on a whole other place. so much so that companies have to use "retro" or "pure" in front of photography to explain the feeling of being in the process. I know someone started in digital when they cannot understand the full meaning of slow down. its much more profound than the idea of speed. Something only film guys understand. I again think that will bruise egos.

    • Photoshark317 profile image

      Leroy Brown 

      7 years ago from Lafayette Orgon

    • Photoshark317 profile image

      Leroy Brown 

      7 years ago from Lafayette Orgon

      D80 was a better camera than the D100

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      The D80 was a great camera, but never tried the D100. Think I am aiming for the D800 as its better for my needs, and I cannot really justify the price of D4 to be honest. More images on - take a look and perhaps vote for a few - thank you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Yes I'm still shooting with a D300. Next years goal is the D800. If I'm lucky the D4. If I'm not mistaken the D80 ws a superior camera to the D100

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Hi - I started out with a Nikon D80 just to try out digital, and quickly moved on to a D300, which must be about five years old but delivers some stunning material. Also looking to replace the D300 next year too as the poor old girl will be a bit tired then. Again the D800 has caught my eye. My recent work is here on my brand new website (be careful the paint is still a bit wet in places)

      Looks like its going to be a nice summers days tomorrow on the Isle of Man in the UK where I live, and I think the F5 will get an outing to fire off a roll or too - just for my amusement

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Yeah I felt the same way about digital HDR. And then I discovered everyone is doing it and if I want to satay competitive I went with the flow. Fortunately for me I've got a business partner so it keeps the cost of software down. You never specified what digital camera you were using. Like I said I first bought the Nikon D100 and two years later I started realizing it didn't have the same texture as film.That being said the D300 still blows me away sometimes. I'm considering upgrading next year probably to a D800 and a D4

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Thank you for the comments - most interesting. I have to admit, that since writing this feature the gap between and film in terms of quality has got a lot closer especially with the Nikon D800. I still take film. Just for my amusement only though, but all my customers want digital, so digital it is. Sad really, but technology matches on, and us with it...

    • Photoshark317 profile image

      Leroy Brown 

      7 years ago from Lafayette Orgon

      Interesting take. I to stuck with film until 2004. Then I bought a Nikon D100. At first I enjoyed the novelty. But four years later my skill eve was far ahead of the capabilities. And I was nearly ready to go back to film. Especially considering the fact that I still had all my film gear including two medium format cameras. Then at the end of 2007 Nikon cam out with the D# and D300 so I got ad300 for Christmas. At first it was very difficult camera to get good results out of. I read everything I could find about that camera. And what I discovered is that wth tweaks I could get results that did and still can rival film. In some cases it was far superior. And I had plenty of film pictures to make accurate comparisons too. I still shoot film My Bronica is right behind me on the floor where it has been since January the Roelli is out in the work shop and the F100 is.....location unknown. I still shoot film. And the high end digitalis can now compare to film. Look at Photoshark317. It wasn't like learning film. It was like learning photography all over again. And I've been shooting since the late 60's and I won't be focusing on film anymore

    • thoughtfulgirl2 profile image


      7 years ago from East Coast

      I still enjoy film. I have a Pentax K-1000 (film) and a Pentax k10D, for me, I take the digital if I have to shoot a family event, but I take the film elsewhere. I enjoy the quietness of working in film. For me it is more contemplative, and I think the colors are not so harsh. I like the color quality results I get with my film pentax more than the greens on my digital slr. I wonder if other people have come across this. I do agree though, that digital can be a great teacher through the ability of instant feedback.

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Does the Nikon F5 live up to its reputation of one the best 35mm film camera ever made?

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Thank you Jeff

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great review. I traded my Nikon D200 DSLR last spring for an F5 straight across. I love this camera for all the reasons you mention above. I started to move away from digital when I bought a Mamiya 645 Pro TL medium-format film camera three years ago. The F5, despite the smaller negative, almost matches the Mamiya in picture quality. The F5 is lighter and more fun to shoot with.

    • profile image

      Peter Williams 

      7 years ago

      I got into photography last year as I became disabled and badly needed a hobby .

      I couldn't afford a digital camera , so I bought a Nikon F80 which I love .

      My firm then paid me off as I wasn't able to walk any longer let alone work .

      The money bought me a Nikon D7000 , the camera of my dreams , but with that came the problems of having to learn all about digital photography , computers et al .

      It's too early for me to say , but if the D7000 can better my F80 , I'll be a very happy man indeed .

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I had a Nikon f80 and Bronica years ago, and although i went digital. Have returned to film, keeping my F80, Bronica, and have bought an F5. There's nothing quite like film!

    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      8 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Thank you for your comment - I am 50/50 film/digital, but struggling with film as I live on a small island and now have to send the film to the UK for processing as there is nowhere to get them done here on the island...Glad to hear that you are still flying the flag for film...

    • profile image

      david distefano 

      8 years ago

      i to sold most of my film equipment (8x20,8x10,5x7,4x5) and went digital. first betterlight scan back (way too time consuming)and a hasselblad 503 cwd. the hasselblad takes great pictures but something was missing in the images. i still had an old nikon fe and i started to make photographs with it and liked what i saw. i came across an out of box unused nikon f5 for $499 and bought it with the 20mm and 50 mm 1.4 lens. the images have life. the f5 is a joy to work with. i bought an arca-swiss 6x9 with 6x9 roll film holders and an extra 4x5 rear standard. i am now 80-20 film to digital and loving it. i made the same mistake as many people did, i could shoot to my hearts content on digital and not worry because i could delete later but i noticed my keeper percent was dropping like a lead balloon. interestingly, you see the same thing in music. cd sales are dropping and album sales are growing by double digit increases. why? albums on a very good turn table sound much better than digital music. digital is for manufacturers profits.


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