Sunday, February 3, 2013

Finding That Dream SLR

[Spoiler: The camera I got is a Nikon F3HP with Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens]

Just around 3 months ago I was itching for a film camera system with several requirements. First requirement was the components of the system such as camera bodies, lenses, eye cups, batteries, and other common accessories had to be fairly easy to find. By that time I had already learned the consequences of having a system such as a Minolta (MD mount) system that was valued by few (compared to others), which resulted in fewer sellers with great or better condition components as well as lack of variety of components. Accessibility definitely had more value to me this time around especially because what I was after was a film camera that's been axed from production for 20+ years.

Second requirement was the camera had to have a viewfinder that is large and bright. This was a definite must. In fact, this second requirement was what started the itch for a new camera and this second requirement was the biggest factor out of all of them. It sounds silly I know-heck, to some, it probably sounds out right stupid, but photography is a visual art: we see and observe our subjects and keep our eyes on them down to the very last second before pressing the shutter. Of course there are many other aspects of photography, but seeing is undeniably a good chunk of it. To me, that has value in experiencing photography. Viewfinder of a camera is one of the critical tools that can help you get that shot you need or not, as well as shooting with a camera enjoyable or ruin it altogether. I know, I'm a little crazy for viewfinders.

Third and the last requirement was it had to meet a certain level of build quality and toughness. cameras only degrade as time goes on like most things. Since it was a film camera I was after, it needed to be tough enough to survive a few hits (not drops) and being treated like a camera that's used outdoors. Film cameras don't really age like wine, but they sure can age like milk if they aren't properly taken care of. I knew I needed to find one that wouldn't go sour on me so soon. But keeping in mind, it didn't need to be the toughest out there, it just needed to be tough enough.

Nikon F3HP with Nikon 50mm f1.2 AI-S
So after some thought, I purchased a Nikon F3HP. To start with, Nikon F3HP is compatible with not just lenses from the film era, it also works with Nikon lenses for DSLR's. To top it off, Nikon film (AI, AI-S) lenses and their digital (AF-D) lenses are simply too easy to find. You can easily find them in camera shows and even several camera shops- not to mention they're plastered all over the internet for sale.
Nikon F3HP next to a manual
What makes F3HP truly shine is the "HP" part: the viewfinder. And a magnificent viewfinder at that. Standing for High (Eye)Point the F3HP is equipped with DE-3 viewfinder. This bright viewfinder was exactly what I was after, partially because I had already tried out a friend's F3HP a while back. The finder of the F3HP is also generous enough to let me know not just the shutter speed, but also what f-stop I'm using. A tiny red switch can be found on the side of the finder and once pressed, it will brighten the LED in order to help me see which shutter speed is being used in low-light situations. Although, I've hardly needed to use this feature as LED still very visible even in low-light.
Viewfinder Shutter Lever
The viewfinder is also equipped with a shutter lever. When pressed, a curtain blocks any light from entering the finder, which is very useful for long exposures. Did I mention the curtain is also red and that just happens to be my favorite colour? Awesome! Focusing is also made easy due to the large finder. Last thing worth noting is that the F3 can use different viewfinders. Arranging from a waist-level finder to right-angle finder, it is nice to know there are other options. I'm pretty sure my DE-3 finder will be the one I'll use 99% of the time, however.
Nikon DE-3 High-Eyepoint Finder
Underneath the black paint of Nikon F3HP, there lies brass. The camera is built tough. Not exactly a tank, but this has got to be one of the toughest SLR's I've handled. Downside of this is it makes the camera a bit heavy. Seriously, even using it for an hour will tire you out. Granted, most of the weight comes from the 50mm 1.2 AI-S lens, but F3HP is nowhere near light. Despite that, the weight of this camera is easily overlooked considering everything this camera has to offer.
Technically, F3HP can be used like a TLR
So far, the F3HP has impressed me quite well. Everything I've shot with it, it has been a real joy. Quality and features this camera offers has me convinced that this is the best SLR I've used and the closest SLR to being perfect. I mean, it even has a switch for multiple exposures! Nothing ground breaking, but it is a nice bonus. Then again, one should expect this much from a camera considering F3HP was just before Nikon introduced their auto-focus film SLR's. So Nikon by this point had already made many manual focus SLR cameras and refined it every time. That may very well have resulted in F3HP. Nikon F3HP does have some history to itself. It was designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, which is responsible for the red line on the grip of the F3HP. A modified version of the F3HP was even used on the second Indiana Jones movie.
Multiple Exposure - Film + Yashica Electro
Again, shooting with the Nikon F3HP is a real joy. It got me on the first wind, focus, and shutter press. Funny enough, and perhaps silly enough, Nikon F3HP (with 50mm f1.2 AI-S) gave me final little push I needed to make the jump from Canon to Nikon (digital system) as I was on the fence about switching for about a year now.