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.
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.