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Nikon F5 : The Most Wanted 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.
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.
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?
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 : Pros & Cons
Built like two tanks.
It still out-shoots most other cameras.
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.
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