In April, 1959 Nikon introduced their first Single Lens Reflex (SLR) system camera; known simply as “the Nikon”. Nikon incorporated a host of improvements over the outgoing range-finders, such as interchangeable view finders, focusing screens and a motor driven film advance. The original F would have been fitted with a no frills, non-metered eye level finder; despite being the cheapest to buy when new, are now among the more expensive and hardest to find. Nonetheless, a Nikon F with eye level prism is one of the most elegant and stylish cameras ever made – a true icon of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies! In fact, 862,600 Nikon F’s were made from 1959 to 1974 proving that Japan was the new leader in camera designs.

Despite my efforts to find a Nikon Eye Level Finder in good condition (and one that I can afford) to match my early F (S/N 6410855), I have managed to find a Photomic Finder (S/N 895055) from 1962, as a stand in until one comes along.

The Photomic finder was introduced by Nikon in April 1962. It was Nikon’s first metered finder for the F. Its main distinguishing figure is the round opaque window on the prism’s front, where incoming light is gathered onto a CdS photo-resistor. These Photomic Finders were discontinued in 1966.

Early F Collector Facts:

  • Early F’s are especially collectible, the earlier the serial, the better
  • The first 100 F’s had Cloth Shutter Curtains
  • The Self Timer has Slanted Serrations
  • The Advance Lever has two hollow cavities on the underside
  • Black #64 F’s are rarer than Chrome #64 F’s

Early F’s had “Nippon Kogaku Tokyo” stamped on the top plate of the camera, but later F’s (1965-onwards) had Nikon.

Well! I did it, it may have taken me 25 years, but I’ve finally got myself a Nikon F3.

Since I took up photography back in 1986 I had my sights set on owning an F3. Back then it was Nikon’s flagship model, state of the art – top of the range and way out of my price range. Besides, what was a poor novice photographer like me going to do with professional SLR? I needed to keep things in perspective and so I purchased a Nikon EM instead!

A bit of a come down maybe, but at least it was a start! And we all had to start somewhere.

The F3 was Nikons third generation of the professional classic. Introduced in 1980 it was the successor to the original F (1959) and the hugely popular; some might say, “Best Ever Mechanical Camera”, Nikon F2 (1973). Despite some early misgivings from the pro’s regarding the F3’s dependence on batteries it went on to sell 750,000 units over the 21 years it remained in production.

I purchased my F3 (two in fact) from my local camera fair. Well, more of a punt than a purchase! The first one I picked up was missing a few parts, but I was told it did work. I paid £30 for the body, DE-3 (standard finder), MF-6b back (quite rare) and a 43-86mm Nikkor lens. The main missing item was a simple battery cover.

My second purchase was for a dead F3, with AS-4 (flash coupler) and an MD-4 motor drive. I paid just £20! I figured the flash coupler was worth that.

Back at base I proceeded to dissect the dead F3, carefully removing all its body parts after which an autopsy was performed on the MD-4. Although the MD-4 appeared to be dead it was only pretending! I made a make-shift repair to a broken terminal pin and cleaned the battery contacts, the MD-4 was back in business. With two new LR44’s in the rejuvenated body, just like the man said it would, that too came to life. Over the next couple of days I replaced the light seals along with the wind-on and re-wind levers and the MD-4 received a new lick of paint. Job well done!

Here we see 3 out of the 6 “F” models produced. Missing (at the moment) is an F2, F5 and F6, all of which I hope to add to my collection in the future.