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I’m the most “analog” digital guy I know. I drive a modern electric car, but dream of having a classic Corvette or Defender in the garage. I rely on my laptop and smartphone but still take notes and plan my days with paper and pen. I lead teams building high tech products but spent my last sabbatical walking a centuries old pilgrim path with a old Nikon film camera. I just can’t go fully digital no matter what I’m doing.

When I choose a small light SLR for the Camino I picked the Nikon FM2. It wasn’t perfect but the basic features work great and its mechanical shutters can operate at all speeds without a battery if necessary. That first Nikon led to other cameras, though like Goldilocks it just took a while before I found the one “just right” for me.

My photography happy place is with equipment that reflects my blend of analog and digital. I prefer manual focus over autofocus. My favorite film cameras use manual focus like the Leica R6.2, R7 or Contax RX. While they may have modern automated features the controls are right there for you to touch and feel. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure adjustment can be set without having to look at a LCD or press a button. When I first got into photography all that information overwhelmed me, now I’m uncomfortable when I can’t see it all at a glance.

I picked up the Nikon F100 based on the low cost and consistently high reviews. It is a much newer camera with controls similar to the professional F5 or F6 or Nikon’s digital SLRs. You set exposure controls through multi-function dials and LCD screens, not dedicated dials which combine control and visibility. Still no matter what lenses or subject I’d choose, in the end I never really enjoyed shooting with it.

Looking for another Nikon autofocus capable SLR that provided the kind of tactile control and shooting experience I wanted, I sold the F100 and decided to move “back” in capabilities to the Nikon F4.

My Nikon F4 with a Contax Carl Zeiss 50/1.4 lens

Why go backwards? The F4 was Nikon’s first professional autofocus camera released in 1988. The F100, coming out a decade later, has better autofocus, metering and is much lighter than the F4 especially with the vertical grip/battery pack attached. Camera technology advanced a huge amount in that decade with more electronics and intelligence. Despite all those improvements I enjoy the F4 it’s just feels like a better Nikon experience for me.

Whether I’m shooting the F4 with a modern Nikkor AF-D lens or an older manual focus Leica or Contax lens through an adapter, the Nikon F4 has all the features I need in a “modern” camera. Multiple metering options work great while the autofocus is more than good enough for my style of photography.

The physics of light and chemical reactions of film make photography possible, a great image is as much about emotion, about feeling, the heart within the photographer more than the electronics in the camera. The F100 is a great camera that I can highly recommend to anyone that wants a Nikon autofocus camera. Just because I told mine doesn’t mean it’s the wrong camera for you. Instead give me a camera with knobs and dials, like the F4. That will always feel just right for me.

Published by Steve Banfield

Kentucky born, Seattle based. Entrepreneur. Team Builder. Photographer.

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8 Comments

  1. Have you tried the Df? I love mine, and my Fuji X-T3. I love the dials and buttons and the combo of digital and analog. I’m an analog gal. I love my old-time watch with a face and hands, and I still use a planner that I write in. 😀

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    1. I actually have the Df and like it. I thought about including that in the post but let it out for brevity. Same with the Fujifilm cameras. I had the X-T1 and later an X-T2 but decided at the time to focus on just one digital only camera system with my Sony. Also while the Fuji takes great images the APS-C crop factor was always a pain to deal with when I tried to shoot my Leica or Sony lenses through an adapter. If only Fujifilm made an X-T form factor with the full frame sensor.

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      1. I don’t mind that Fuji isn’t doing an X-T full frame. I have two Nikon full frame cameras and am only using my Fuji for wildlife and super telephoto imaging. It means I carry two systems, but I’ve been carrying two Nikons for so long that it doesn’t bother me at all.

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  2. I also heart the Df, and would look to get a second one (the silver model) just so I can fool around with stereoscopic imagery. As for analogue film cameras with plenty of dials, I did too own the Nikon F100, but after a while it fell out of favor with me. I’ve actually gotten plenty of use from (believe it or not) the Nikon EM. I mean, it’s a utilitarian budget camera, but it keeps long bulb exposures for star trail photography, and I did modify one a while back for slitscan “horse race finish line” photography. Fun stuff.
    By the way, I just added you to my personal blogroll. Definitely want to see what your blog has in it. 😀

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    1. Thanks Chuck! I have thought about getting another FM2. There’s something about mechanical cameras that just work no matter what really appeals to me. However I think for now I’ll stick to the F4 and Df so I have the benefit of autofocus when I want the option, though if I was to come across a FM2 bargain in great shape I don’t think I could resist.

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