35mm Photography and the Nikon F3

The Nikon F3 is one of my favorite cameras ever made. To me it is the perfect camera. There are no computer screens to deal with, no hidden parameters. Every function is either a dial or a button on the actual camera body. It feels like a camera – not a computer. The main attraction of the Nikon F3 was the aperture priority / center weighted metering design. It couldn’t me easier to use. Set the shutter speed dial to auto and then exposure is then controlled my turning the aperture ring on the lens. That’s it! You can also shoot in full manual mode by simply setting the shutter speed to an actual speed (take it out of auto mode).

The Nikon F3 is built like a tank, is extremely comfortable to shoot with, has a huge bright viewfinder so you can actually focus with it. Its ergonomic and easy to use. Its inexpensive and you can find a sea of accessories that were made for the camera over its 20 year production run. Oh and the batteries last years, not hours.

There are a ton of cameras similar to this in the 35mm world still available today. Also highly recommended:
Nikon FE2
Canon A1
Canon AE
Pentax K1000

The above 4 models are similar to the F3 in terms of design and handling. There’s been literally hundreds of other models produced by various manufacturers over the years. This is just a good starting point. Explore and have fun – that’s the important thing!


  1. says

    Hi Ted,
    Thanks for a good episode. I really like to learn about old analog cameras. They don’t build hardware like that today (perhaps Leica, but who can afford one of those?).

    But a comment: You say, that the Nikon F3 can be bought for next to nothing. Well, I don’t know how much you make, but checking prices on ebay, a F3 goes for $300 and up, depending on there condition, and the amount of additional equipment supplied. So in my book, that is a quite large “nothing” :) – So you are not the only one thinking, that this is a very nice camera :)

    Jens Rohde

    • Ted Forbes says

      Thanks Jens

      You can get better prices than ebay if you look around. I’ve seen them go for as low as $80 in rough condition to $200 in good condition.

      Compared to what a digital camera costs – even the ebay prices are pretty cheap. When these cameras came out they were well over $1000 (with inflation).

  2. says

    I just posed a comment on your latest podcast on the Nikon F3, but I’d like to elaborate a little more than I can with only 400 words (yes, I know that conciseness is a virtue but…). I got started in photography back in 1967 when I was in my first year in college and somehow ended up doing photography for the school’s newspaper. I was issued an old Leica camera, one of the old rangefinders with the telescoping lens. Of course, the viewfinder on those old relics was horrible, to say the least. But, I somehow managed to get some nice photos with it. Afterwards, I went through several other cameras, eventually ending up with a pair of F3’s, four of five lenses, motor drives and the works. I eventually traded them in on a pair of Nikon 8008’s but that is another story… The F3 was, like you said, a watershed camera… but in terms of metering it was a dead end for Nikon. It has a very highly center weighted metering zone (75/25) due to a small semi-silvered small metering zone in the middle of the mirror (the metering cell was behind the mirror). The F4 and later cameras from Nikon went back to a more traditional centerweighting arrangement.

    Now, while I did some nice black and white photography with the Leica, later on almost all of my photography with 35mm was done using “chrome” film, since it didn’t require a darkroom to print and I was very unhappy with the look of 35mm black and white. Now I neglected to mention above that one of the other cameras I had access to while I was on the paper staff was an old Speed Graphic 4×5, which taught me what black and white should be. I would also be remiss if I fail to mention that I also became a fan of the Ansel Adams school, and noticeable grain was not part of my mindset (and it still isn’t…). I eventually purchased and used a Linhof Super V Technika for almost 20 years, shooting both black and white and transparency film.

    Eventually, in the mid 1990’s I lost interest in photography, and sold off all of my film cameras. About 10 years later I got back into it using digital (first a Nikon D80 and now it’s supplemented by a new Nikon D600). Earlier this year I attended a workshop and met Frederick Van Johnson who glanced over my portfolio and suggested that one of the shots would make a good black and white image. So, I desaturated it in my post processing software (I use DxO instead of Lightroom and Photoshop… for reasons you may well appreciate.) That led me to acquiring the DxO Film Pack 4 plug in (which not only has presets to emulate various black and white film emulsions, but also transparency and color negative films, as well as separate “grain” emulator presets. I began to use it, not only on the original image that Frederick suggested, but on a whole lot of other images. And, I, for one am quite impressed with what I’ve been able to accomplish. (Check out my website for some of my current black and white images)

    Maybe I will go over to that local camera store and pick up an F3 body… they aren’t all that expensive these days, and I did manage to keep my tanks and reels (old Nikor stainless steel tanks, another left-over from those long-ago newspaper photographer days) so I can still process film if the mood strikes.

    Bill Daniels

    • Ted Forbes says

      Thanks for sharing that Bill. Great story! I think you need to get that F3 and rekindle the interest some more ;-)