USER REPORT: Downshifting with the Nikon F5 by Mark Hutchens


Downshifting with the Nikon F5

By Mark Hutchens

I was in the south of France recently on holiday and a close friend who lives there loaned me a small BMW with a very big engine in it. If you accept that nearly the entire world has speed limits hindering our enjoyment of such power, it could easily be judged as overkill. However, the sensation of driving that car was incredible. The handling, the torque, the fit and finish, all combined together to make driving an engaging experience. And then the rare bit of straight road allowed for that brief and exhilarating (law breaking) jaunt. Then at the end, a quick downshift, release of clutch and enter the curve at a sane and legal speed. There are qualitative differences in the driving experience, even if it is just getting from point A to B.

This sensation came to me again as I held for the first time an unused Nikon F5 won on eBay from a pawn shop at an embarrassingly low price. For less that $200 I had a mint example of what was the top professional SLR from Nikon for years. It felt like the BMW in my hands, and as I burned through my first rolls of Tri-X and Portra, I relished in a sort of guilty pleasure that I was taking snapshots with a weapon. The finder is the biggest and brightest I’ve ever owned from Nikon. Even my old man eyesight can manually focus with my old AIs lenses. In autofocus, the assuredness and speed of operation is unknown in my medium format rig, even if the negatives are tiny. This camera focuses my nifty fifty like a paper shredder does tissue. An AF-S lens? It’s as if it is tracking my eyeball to focus. The fit and finish is extraordinary, its lightning fast film advance felt like the BMW’s torque.

A friend with a D800 called me a Luddite and winced as if in pain when I handed it to him. It is heavy. I suggested we drop both from waist height and see which one still worked afterwards. He declined. Why on earth would I buy such a big, heavy antique? Isn’t it overkill just for a 35mm negative? I suppose it is, in the same way that BMW is, if all you want to do is move without having fun along the way and not appreciate the nuance in the technology that got you there. Am I using the F5 for its’ intended purpose as a professional sports camera? Nope. Do I need 8 frames per second with 35mm film? Do I really want to chew through a 36 exposure roll of film in 4.5 seconds? Not anymore than I want that speeding ticket, but you never know. There might be a straight road somewhere and my daughters’ real smile may come at any second.

I usually don’t participate in the on line realm because I see too many “purist” folk who think photography is only for art and not for process, as if there are that many artists out there to begin with. I value the process and I accept that my snaps aren’t always artistic. Part of that process is feeling the nuance and capability in the technology that gets me from point A to B, even if it is only a snapshot at the end. I suspect that I will expose rolls of film in my F5 I will never develop, but I will revel in the process itself.

A mint condition F5 costs half the price of the EVF on your most recent camera. Go get one, and don’t let the purist police write you a ticket for enjoying your equipment for its own sake.



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  1. Hi,, I recently started shooting film and I am loving it, I bought 2 new unused 50th anivirsary F5s from a broker in Tokyo ,and a mint regular F5 also a Mint F100 just cause I wanted one, there is such quality in those cameras I love to handle them and such a solid sound when the shutter trips, I have 50mm 1.4D, 85mm1.4D , 85mmG .35mm1.4G 14×24 2.8, 24×70 2.8 , 70×200 2.8 all G lenses I am useing all my lenses on the F5 and F100 , my D800E and D810 are really feeling neglected , I have been printing all my keeper photos on hahnemuehle papers useing a epson 3880 , it grieves me that I’m 60 years old , there is so much to learn and so many new tech things to learn , years ago I left alcoholism and picked up a camera again , it was a thing I was drawn to little by little through life , and then it hit me and I was hooked and now film life is great ,ps the weight of a F5 has never concerned me at all

  2. Wow Renee those are some awesome shots with the nikon F5 and the Mamiya RZ67.
    I have a f5 coming my way but my two main cameras now are the f100 and the mamiya 645. If I was down in your area I would just pay you to job shadow for a day. Great shots. Nothing beats film.

  3. Thank you for the great article. I have a Nikon F6 but could not resist buying used Nikon F5’s recently from B&H. My Nikon F6 with MD-40 is heavier and a bit bigger than a Nikon F5 with 8 AA batteries but the F5 is more ergonomic to hold than my heavier F6. Since the price of the F5 went down considerably, I bought 2 used Nikon F5’s as Murugasu and Paul Hagan. I haven’t developed yet any images from the Nikon F5 but I am hoping they would be great as the F5 are built like tanks.

    • Good to hear that Edwin has embraced the F5 experience. i have added two further F5’s (Both very late serial numbers in last year of manufacture and both boxed and unused). These will be backups to ensure that I can continue to use F5’s for ss long as I choose in the event repairing my two front line cameras becomes impossible. Although I rather think that the possibility of them failing is remote. However the reason for the post is to flag up the 28-70mm f2.8 AFS D as the lens made for the F5. It is still an expensive used lens but worth the money. It highlights the disturbing Nikon trend of dropping aperture rings on lenses ( G type) – apart from the minor cosr saving maybe someone can offer a convincing reason for this shortsighted move. Up until now Nikon have been remarkably good at retaining backward compatibilty with nearly all pre digital SLR’s.

      • Paul, you might be interested in purchasing Thom Hogan’s Complete Guide to the Nikon F5 which is a downloaded eBook (in PDF format) now available for sale in Thom’s website (Go to his filmbodies page). I just purchased/downloaded Thoms’ Nikon F5 Complete Guide. People who responded to this blog on the Nikon F5 would also like to know how they can obtain Thom Hogan’s Nikon F5 Complete Guide which is no longer available in CD format when it was first published.

        As you stated before, you also have the Nikon F6. Thom’s Nikon F6 Complete Guide is still being revised from Thom’s response to me and will soon be available also for purchase as a downloaded PDF eBook.

        • hi i have one like new near the last made modell was wery less film shooted i replace a zero shoot complete inside so camer it in the original boxes and the large nikon string and i have a full functionally shooter speed what replaced with a new make camera value but i have one to and with these camera and new zeiss milvus it really no word say be resoult i neve want stop shoot nikon f5 wil rest in my every day shooting of soon pelillo

  4. Thankyou for the great article – I had an F5 a few years ago and found it truly stunning ! However I found it very very heavy and being as I would only class myself as a casual film shooter I sold it and replaced it with an F100 which I found far more practical – and oh man , what a replacement !!

  5. Mark,you could not have put it any more eloquently. Well said and well done!
    I have two F5s. Don’t ask me why but I think it’s because we think alike.
    Thank you.

    • Yes I also have two F5’s. They are an absolute joy to use. In fact so persuasive are they that I have just bought a brand new F6 and MD-40. A totally different experience but it adds to my choice when shooting film. OK, the F5 still takes top place but I couldn’t say that if I didn’t regularly use the F6.

  6. I have just run a roll of Tri-X through my F5 this weekend, the first time in a while, and it was awesome! It’s a camera that just makes you want to take photos. With a prime lens attached, it’s so well balanced. I love the lightening fast autofocus! And the ratchet-like sound the shutter makes is so reassuring. You just want to hear it again and again! It’s a heavy beast, but it does make you feel like you’re shooting with one of the best pro cameras ever made, and you are!

  7. Just got one myself. I purchased a Nikon F5 with a 28-70mm 2.8D lens… all for $875. The 28-70mm lens was what I was looking for, but when I saw one with an F5 attached to it, I made an offer that was accepted. Since most of the used 28-70s were going for $850-$1000 by themselves, it was like getting the F5 for free. What surprised me the most was when I received them, I was stunned to find that neither had much wear or scratches to them at all, much less than I was expecting. And they both function great. Needly to say, I’m a very happy camper!

  8. I like others here have been through the complete F line of cameras and the F5 for me is simply the best. It’s meter is s close to perfect as I need and focus speed is better than my D700. I use rechargeables for power and they seem to last me forever. I like the fact that I can take this anywhere and in whatever weather and know that it will be fine. I did a wedding some time ago and gave it to my daughter (18) who’s never used one before, stuck it in aperture auto and gave her a quick aperture lesson. I gave her 10 rolls of tri-x and a film change lesson and asked her to mingle and shoot anything. The result was evenly exposed, perfectly focused negs that gave a different slant to the pictures I and my other 2 shooters got. It’s a camera than can be used as a perfect result point and shoot or a full on pro SLR. I’ve not had an F6. I used one but found the extra body size of the F5 better for 24-70 and 70-200 use. I also like the fact it uses AA’s which you can buy in any corner shop anywhere in the world. Try that with an F6.
    The biggest improvement can be had by adding a DK17-M eyepiece which makes the viewfinder just amazing. I use them on the d700’s with exactly the same result. Big, bright and easy to read the V/F info.
    Yes it’s a big camera but sometimes, not always, biggest is best!

  9. I have just bagged a practically unused F5 and in the last 2500 made. It runs with another marginally older F5. Superb experience using an F5. I have F2’s and F3’s and the F5’s are now my first choice film cameras.
    I have just ordered a new F6 – well why not?
    I am using a D700 and will wait until prices drop before I sign up for a D800. Magnificent tools all, but I cannot get the F5’s out of my blood and if you shoot Nikon grab one as their prices defy logic and they are a brilliant platform for your Nikkors.
    Oh and the F5 waistlevel finder is not an experience you get with any D series – or the F6 for that matter.
    But we all know that its the glass that matters and buying an F5 will not seriously delay any top line Nikkor purchases.

  10. @Costa, it is a matter of taste and I can see the purpose of an EVF, but come on, the EVF in the OM-D is horrible compared to the large clean view through the F5 view finder.

    • Well, I agree about tastes, but how can the evf be horrible while it is showing me EXACTLY how the final shoot will be, complete with EV variation, WB, et al? But those are just my 2 cents, as I say I use it for jobs, and the results speaks for themselves… Can’t really figure myself shooting, checking lcd and chimping and shooting and checking and so on and on… 😛

  11. Hi, Mark – try your F5 with the Nikon DK-17M magnifying eyepiece and type “J” (central microprism) focusing screen – that combo will change your life! Cheers!


  12. Cheers Mark, great pictures and writing, the images say all anyone needs to know about why some still choose to shoot with film.With cameras of this quality at silly low prices it makes more sense now than ever to be honest 🙂 I have way too many cameras, film and digital, but if limited to just one my Konica Hexar AF would be the one I would keep every time. Cheers Paul

  13. Recently bought a mint F4 for £100 and completely understand what you say. The viewfinder beats my D800E for everything and the shutter is whisper quiet. Don’t tell everyone…

  14. Thanks to all for the positive comments, it’s refreshing to be a part of such a nice community of folks and kudos to Steve for creating the forum.

  15. Really enjoyed the write up. As someone who loves using Film and 35mm in particular, you’ve summed it all up. it’s the joy of photography and seeing, rather than clean pixel peeping sitting at a computer screen and that

  16. Frank,
    The stories are true not only with F5.
    Years ago in a deserted village in northern Greece, I beated an engry dog attacking me using my F2A held from the strap. The dog left me alone and the camera remained intact of course.
    Nice stories for me to remember. I think I must take my Nikon for a walk.

    • I loved my old Nikon F2’s and just sold my last one (mint F2AS overhauled by Sover Wong) but as good as they are Mike don’t give in and get one over your R8, the R8 is a far superior camera in almost every respect IMHO. Also there is no comparison between say a Nikkor 50mm f1.8/f1.4 and a nice Summicron 50mm. I should never have sold my R8 and regret it to this day.

    • Mike, my wife and me still have three Nikon FM-2’s in our household, and will never give them away. I used one for many years, and I still love it. It was my second camera and I only abandoned it because I went digital and I wanted a good AF system for action shooting (wildlife).

      About two years ago, my wife was for some months in the winter in Siberia. She only took her FM-2 and some lenses with her because she knew that this camera never will fail below -40 °C (your fingers and lungs fail first). No battery draining EVFs, LCD screens, sensors etc. The only electronic feature of the FM-2 that could freeze is its meter fueled by a tiny battery. But my wife knows this camera – fed with Fuji slide films – so well that she even could shoot it without any metering. But the FM-2’s metering system never gave up, it worked perfectly and she returned with wonderful shots (+ some frost bites). But she really knows how to shoot completely analogue + mechanical (and no chimping). The only thing that failed was her old Sigma 24-70/2.8 zoom. It literally broke into pieces when she turned its zoom ring on a particular frosty day.

      Times are changin’ and old times weren’t better. But sometimes I think that those young “EVF & everything digital” users really could profit if they were forced to use such a basic gear for a while (no chimping after the shot, first (many) film rolls for the bin – guaranteed).

  17. I remember seriously sore arms and hands after using F5s for a few hours at a time. That was one heavy camera. There were many tales of photographers beating off angry subjects with them or using them to hammer nails in leaky boats.

    That aside I know plenty of F5s that went back for servicing multiple times due to random failures. Something about that automatic-sensing shutter controller that just didn’t always prove to be reliable.
    The F5 was one of the first Nikons to have a “shutter monitor” which was supposed to “watch” the shutter blades for “speed fade” and stickiness and compensate.

    I still can’t wax nostalgic over the F5 myself. I preferred the F100 at the time for its smaller size and it’s non colour matrix meter. Many people really wanted what eventually became the F6…too little too late though.

  18. Nice! I had a Nikon F5 for a short time and only recently sold it. I even had the rechargeable battery that still held a nice charge. The only reason I sold it was to get the F6 as I realized how much I enjoyed shooting film again. I’ve tried Leicas, but never could get used to shooting rangefinders. SLRs for me are much more enjoyable and easier to get the photos I want. The Nikon F5 is one hell of a solid camera and was built for the profession when film was still the prime format. The few minor complaints I had with my F5 are non existent with the F6. Much more pricey than the F5, but worth it if you LOVE film.

  19. You just had to post this didn’t you? Sold off most my F’s apart from an F3 & F4 and I still miss my F5 so much, one of the finest SLR’s ever made even if it is a tad too heavy, make that waaaay to heavy! 🙂 Nice article too!

  20. Wish you good shots and joy. Nikon F5 is probaby the most complete and reliable Nikon SLR system. It is accurate, fast, works with all lenses and if you care and can find a Nikon original replacement exposure meter ring (that coupling meter ring around the lens mount) then you can shoot old pre AI lenses as well, stopped down though.
    But F5 has a con. Preserve it with care after every use especially in very humid or very hot environment and keep it in a dry place, as the leather of the camera is prone to go off. The whole leather of the body of the F5 comes as a genuine Nikon spare for the camera and cannot easily be found these days.
    If you take good care of it, it will last in its original condition for years. It is a electromechanical beast with an excellent viewfinder and it almost has all the custom functions of the F6.
    Take care and have fun, abd develop every single roll you shoot. You will be surprised by how much better the film than digital is, and how much more comfortable.
    Dimitris V. Georgopoulos

    P.S: After thirty five years of use and a mileage of over 25 km of film my Nikon F2A is still young.
    Can anybody imagine where the current digital bodies will be in ca. Five years from now?
    My F2A will ovrlive me for sure, probably for my grandchildren, when God First they come.

    • Thank you for the advice. This one was brand new, but I’ll be sure to keep it stored well. I have also an F2A which I had overhauled by Sover Wong last year and love that camera, but as mentioned earlier, like the way the F5 meters for me. I think it is smarter than I am! Can’t say the same for my digital meters…..

  21. Like this, but I got as far as an F3, but then I’ve returned to manual focus. All DSRs are too heavy, the SLR is heavy enough, but the body is more capable of withstanding knocks than a DSLR. I still remember that fantastic feeling having a brief glimpse of the wet films hanging to dry in the cabinet!

    • I actually have an F2AS, F3HP, and F4S … all in like-new condition. It’s hard to go back to shooting film now; digital has converted (read: spoiled) me. But I am kinda curious to one day load some ISO400 film into one of those cameras; take it out with me on a controlled shoot; use my D3s for all the heavy lifting — exposure settings, values, etc. (at the same ISO) — then shoot the film camera at the identical settings, in the identical situation, with the identical glass, and compare the results later.

      This is something you can actually do with Nikon thanks to their long-standing system commitment.

      Could be interesting….

  22. Congrats on your recent trip. I concur completely with your assessment of the venerable F5. I had one and sold it. Worst… mistake… ever.

  23. Scanning? For me to use film again, I’d have to find a skilled printmaker, a true artisan who could make my work seem better than it was. I miss the sense of anticipation and awe that I felt when visting the lab. I’d never leave digital to mess around with a scanner.

    Mark, thank you for posting the photos. I enjoyed viewing them.

    • Hi Jim, Gary and Josh. I develop my own B&W, usually, and have prints made in Chicago by Print Lab They develop and make museum quality prints that are absolutely three dimensional (with a well exposed negative). For color, just post your film to Beautiful developing and they still print from the negative. The reason I still use 35mm is so I can get analog prints of my snaps instead of $%^&*( around with ink jet printer and color space and targets etc. I hate that. I have yet in my life gotten a printer to make a beautiful print from a digital file and I’ve spent tons on ink trying…..there still are good labs out there, but they are not just around the corner anymore.

  24. I liked film and my F6 until Costco in surrey BC shopped processing and now everything else is either terrible or mail order —

  25. Next stop an F6? Smaller, lighter and I believe a brighter viewfinder but all at a cost. Your F5 was a great buy – well done.

  26. I like the idea and feel the sentiment. But …. i could never go back to FILM, CHEMICALS, SCANNING. I’ve owned an F thru F5, and D1 thru D3s. My fav film camera? Leica M6. Today, I own neither. Fuji X-Pro1 replaces the need for the leica. and i’ve gone m43rds to replace the HEAVY NIKON slr world…

    • I too have gone Fuji. But I still have my M7. I would say that if I were young, I would also like to have an F5 or 6 with a few lens. SLR have their place and can do things RF and mirrorless can not do.

    • Hi BB, I use a CanoScan 9000 with VueScan software. I have also recently gotten both 35mm and MF ANR glass from Better Scanning and highly recommend them if you are going to do flat bed scanning with Canon or Epson. These negatives were scanned before I got them, but now I could get even sharper scans with the ANR glass.

  27. Great story Mark! I especially liked the challenge offered of dropping both the F5 and the D800 (onto a concrete floor I would hope) and see which one would survive best (I think…. my D800 would still function, as would the D700 I had before)! That F5 is a beast.

    I’m not a big fan of the F4, F5, F6 line; too “organic” in form for my old-fashioned taste. I stopped at the F3 (wonderful thing, but the F2 is even more of a tool). A big and bright viewfinder; something we can only hope for in many “modern” cameras. Even the D800’s viewfinder is lacking in many ways, but certainly miles better than any EVF.

    Great images too; they show what you can do with film, a good camera and, more importantly, a good eye!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree. The F3 was the best of the Nikon pro film line. Though for backpacking the FE2 was my personal favorite. My daughter still uses mine.

      The F100 was Nikon’s semi-modern answer to the FE2, though it was nearly twice as big. Mine is in a drawer because it too is only worth a few hundred bucks.

      I shot the F5 in the guise of a Kodak DCS 460. That camera was a beast. And priced like a 3 series BMW at that time (1995-1996).

      • Hi Mike and Tom, I spent a lot of time with an F2, and love the camera also, but having spent time manually metering in 35mm and medium format, there are now times when it’s just nice to have the camera make some decisions. By and large, the F5 makes very consistent metering decisions and for whatever reason I get more keepers from it than any previous 35mm camera. But boy is it heavy compared to an M6!!

    • “Even the D800′s viewfinder is lacking in many ways, but certainly miles better than any EVF.”
      I suggest you NOT trying the evf of the last Sony NEX and Olympus OM-D mirrorless, because you’ll be painfully aware of the sillyness of Canikon not wanting using a better option for their DSLR… 😉

      • Andrea, my main gripe is the ground glass, which is not ideal for manual focusing. The viewfinder certainly is big and bright.

      • Sorry Andrea, I totally disagree. I know the latest NEX EVFs and they are absolutely no contest for the Nikon F-series viewfinders!

        The EVF image looks totally artificial, has motion blur in low light amd lags horribly in direct comparsion to Nikon F-series viewfinders.

        For manual focusing, the only useful EVF feature ist focus peaking. But with that, the camera decides what is sharp and what isn’t, not your eye.

        To compete with Nikon F-series viewfinders, the OVF development has still a long way to go.

        • With the OM-D evf, the motion blur is an issue only in light so low that a dslr cn’t use AF effectively.The image don’t look artificial, but on the contrary it is EXACTLY how the shot will come out (with ovf you can only compose and do guesswork). And with my manual lenses, I use magnification so I will decide what will be in focus and what not. I still shoot with slr, rf and med format cameras for my enjoyement, but for my projects and paid work in no way I’ll go back to the ovf, I’m sorry… 🙂

        • I agree with you both, I adore the focus peaking feature on my NEX camera which is modified for IR photography. I have historically gotten the sharpest results ever with manual focus lenses on Sony cameras with focus peaking. However, if you’re not in a hurry, it is still nicer to look through ground glass in my opinion, even at the expense of that last bit of cutting sharpness….I’m glad there are both!

  28. Nice story, and yes it is fun to play with the great machines of the recent past. You also don’t lose money on them when you go to sell, unlike digital.

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