The original Df – the F2as aka The Mallet by Huss Hardan

The Mallet

The original Df – the F2as aka The Mallet

Hey Steve.

Thanks for the all the hard work. Previously I had written about my experience with a new to me Nikon FM2n. A sweet and tough manual film camera from the 1980s that I think of as a hammer. A tough little single-minded tool.

My next acquisition went further back, to the 1970s, and a Nikon F2as. This camera I call The Mallet. Big, tough, no-nonsense and rock solid. This camera was thought to be the pinnacle of manual mechanical SLRs. The introduction of the electronic F3 to replace it caused an initial panic, and resulted in the used prices of the F2 series fetching more than new F3s! Once things calmed down it was realized that the F3 was fine in its own right. By the way, the ‘as’ in the F2 name designated the last and most sensitive metering head – the DP12. This incorporated LEDs instead of the match needle metering. High tech for the time! The fusion of science with mechanics…

I found mine in the classifieds, and for just a little bit more than Nikon is asking for the 50mm 1.2 AF lens for the Df. Speaking of the Df, man, if you want retro, just go retro. That way like the Df you can use a huge range of good to great old Nikon glass. And not have to worry about focus issues. Did I mention old Nikon glass is cheap? Yup, for under $500 you can have a full set of prime Nikkor lenses ranging from wide to tele. Not bad, not bad at all!

Anyway, enough of that. Here are some snaps using Kodak Tmax 400 for the B&W (shot at dawn and the later hours), and Fuji Superia 400 to show that color film still rocks. All at Venice Beach, CA.

Peace out.

Intro pic – The Mallet and a mallet. One can only be used to hammer, the other can do that and take pictures..

Pic 1 – Dawn on the Venice Pier. Nikkor 50mm 1.2

Pic 1 Dawn

Pic 2 – Local fisherman – I asked him if it was ok and he was cool (a few days later I came back and gave him a copy and he freaked! Ahh, Venice..) Nikkor 50mm 1.2

Pic 2 Fisherman

Pic 3 – Rugs for sale . Nikkor 50mm 1.2

Pic 3 Color rugs

Pic 4 – Helmet trailer. Nikkor 50mm 1.2

Pic 4 trailer

Pic 5 – Night clown. Nikkor 85mm 2.0

Pic 5 night clown

60 Comments

  1. I had fancied a Nikon F2AS since they came out late 1970s. Have been a Canon F1 man since 1993. Saw one in a camera shop in Cambridge (UK) last May. A black one but heavily worn and brassed.
    Not a bad price at all with a 35mm f2 AI lens and strap. So I bought it. Being used to seeing needles and circles moving at the side of the frame on the F1, took a bit of getting used to seeing – o + in red lit up at the bottom of the screen. In strong light, have difficulty sometimes making them out. So, decided not to bother and just used my judgment. Good results.

  2. Sorry about late reply!
    Today in Toronto, Canada, the day temp was Minus 17C.
    The wind chill a staggering Minus 25C.
    Beach weather!
    I took my mechanical Nikon F and simply shot pix.
    I should have carried it under my coat.
    That’s the difference between these wunderkind Digitals and Film cameras.
    It was sunny, bright albeit somewhat frigid.
    Not a hesitation. No dead batteries.
    The Df is not what i wanted.
    Not the features, certainly not the price.
    Guess the F is going out tomorrow as well.

  3. We always think we are going step by step forwards, no we don’t do. We’re are only following the dictators of industry. The F2 had been a real working horse, no toy. The F3 had been the beginning of a new time, easier to handle, needed no motor drive for normal work – no other camera offered such easy and soft transport. The best conclusion in analog times maybe was realized by KYOCERA with the Contax RX.
    I wish to find such camera today and no toy – maybe the new Sony A7 can take that place. Only LEICA is offering a simple menu – more is not necessary.
    Why is nobody following. And we don’t need complicated machines like computers.

  4. IMHO the Df attempts to mix a little of the Nikons FM/FE, FA, and perhaps the F3 but I don’t see any visual cues of the F2/F2As in it that much all.

    The front dial between the grip and lens mount reminds me of the Topcon RE Super, which makes this the second camera to draw visual cues from the vintage Topcon, the other being the faux pentaprism housing of the Sony A7/R. What’s up with that?

    Two vastly different brand new cameras that coincidentally looking vaguely like a totally unconnected vintage brand! Yet both cameras so unlike each other.

  5. At first I thought Nikon had lost their minds. But the sensor one the camera is the same as the D4. A lot of Pros own that camera. It is $6K. Now DXO labs rates this sensor at 89. That is very high for 16MP sensor. It’s low light is the best, period. Maybe Nikon has something here. The bottom line is how the images look. The images from the D4 and the Df look great. The more MP the merryer is not that fully true. This may have place with photographers that just shoot and the camera cannot get in the way.
    BUT $2800.00 and that you must buy the 50mm F1.8 is something Nikon should work on.

    • But the DxOMark sensor score is exactly the sticking point. DxO scores are resolution-independent (search the Luminous Landscape for a great in-depth article on how to read the scores). The fact that the D4 sensor scores 89 and that of the D800E scores 96 means it makes absolutely no sense to use the D4 sensor in a camera like the Df (or in any camera that doesn’t offer the frame rate of the D4, for that matter). IMO, Nikon should have used the 36MP D800E sensor. You can always down-res your hi-ISO images to get rid of noise, but you can’t up-res a 16MP image taken on a sunny day with a splendid piece of glass…

      • There is a yes and no to what you say. Lowering the ISO well help, but it is the pitch, ratio of pic size to MP. The D4 is a work horse. The sensor in it is again the God of low light. I understand your need for MP. But they come with a cost. Even a D800/E at ISO 800 has visible noise.
        If you take a photo at 20MP then 36MP, I will bet unless go to some great degree of blow up, the will look the same. Cannon’s top of the line camera is 22.5MP. It gives fine looking images.
        The point is a D4, or like camera will take a picture anywhere, anytime with speed. If you want max MP, well you lose some of that. There is no free lunch, you cannot have it all. No camera will do it all.
        Nikon’s 16MP sensor is fine piece of work.

        • I print large (24×36″ and panos wider than that), and anything under 20MP simply won’t do for this purpose, at least for me. With the Df’s frame rate of 5.5, your speed argument isn’t valid, in my view. And for the kind of deliberate photography Nikon pitches the Df for, frame rate is largely irrelevant. Hence, a higher-res sensor would have made perfect sense, IMO. Your argument regarding noise/IQ is refuted by the DxOMark scores. That’s exactly what the score compares: image quality at a standard resolution, and the D800/E come out on top. If you down-res a D800/E image taken at ISO 800 to 16 MP, and visible noise is gone – guaranteed. I wonder if the sensor choice of the Df was dictated by the somewhat anemic battery. I believe the 16MP sensor was chosen for the D4 for the following reasons: 1 – press photographers don’t need any higher resolution. 2 – press photographers require a high frame rate, and the imaging pipeline of the D4 simply can’t push around more than 16MP @ 10 fps. It was a good design choice – back then, at the beginning of 2012.

  6. My first camera was a Polaroid 95b (circa 1959), and my second was a Yashica single 8mm movie camera. After that Exacta’s, Mamiya’s, Contax’s, Leica’s etc., etc. You get the idea, right? All this waxing nostalgic and re-discovery for and of film. The good old days, so to speak. I remember when Nikon “loaned” cameras to LIfe magazine for the staff photographers getting the word out that Japanese cameras could be just as good as Leicas, and making inroads into the U.S. market. Smart move – you could have given the LIfe staff oatmeal boxes, and popsicle sticks, and they would have made great images.

    I worked for Yashica/Kyocera in the mid 1980’s as a tech rep. in San Francisco, and we used to hype the latest and greatest to the old farts with money who could afford a new German made Zeiss lens for their RTS. “What’s the matter with you Jack, still shooting that crappy Nikon F? Get with the program and switch to Contax. It’s all about the glass and we got Zeiss made by German elves. Better yet, let me sell you an M3 double stroke – you’ll shoot just like Eisie” Same crazy stuff as nowadays. Back and forth – same, same.

    I lived and breathed film for almost 42 years, switched to digital around 2001, and have never looked back. No more Dektol stained fingers, or choking on stop bath fumes. No more water leaks in the darkroom. No more of those environment destroying chemicals flowing into the water supply. No more static electricity “lightning bolts” on film rewound too fast in the dry dry winter. No more pushing Tri-X to 800 to shoot “in the dark”. Still, I’m glad everyone is having fun with film. I certainly enjoyed shooting it, in spite of it’s archaic and hopelessly analog nature, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. Give me my EM5, my D7000, my iMac, some good lenses, and a beautiful day – oh boy!

    Pure photography? – about the same level of reality as Farfegnugen. You like Instagram, go for it – Diana your thing, have at it – pinhole cameras turn you on, help yourself. Hell, you might even like finger painting!! Give it a try. In my opinion, photography as an art form and technical experience has never been more exciting than it is right now. So, you young guys keep going – I’ll stand by and continue to learn from you. Now, where was that Kodachrome 25 I left in the freezer? 🙂

    • Hi David, have the same experiences behind me, a little bit longer. I agree with you – but time by time looking backward. With the beginning of last year the digital way became matured – until that time i felt more unhappy than satisfied. Think only about the magic moments when a blank piece of paper started to show first very light, than stronger and darker your picture. This kind of satisfaction I can’t find standing beside the printer. Otherwise I remember well, how long time it needed only to develop your shots. O.K. Let’s not look backwards.

  7. Nice photos but what really impressed me was your character. The fact that you came back to the pier and gave the fisherman a print of himself was just awesome! Being a great a photographer is one thing. Being a great human being is all that needs to be said. Congrats.

  8. Don’t you think that the Df draws its style much more from the FM2 than the F2AS? I still have my F2AS and wish that I could use it as a digital camera.

    • It’s more about functionality than style. The F2as was the first Nikon to combine the fusion of a mechanical body with LEDs. A meeting of the traditional with the modern, which the new Df (digital fusion) is supposed to replicate. But while with the F2as combines a mechanical body with the LED match metering, the Df only mixes knobs with digital, as the entire camera is digital.
      Hence the F2as is the original Nikon fusion camera.

      And that’s the story I am sticking with until Robert Falconer puts me straight. But really, this was written in fun. I was hoping the photo of the camera with a mallet would have given that away!

      Best regards
      Huss

  9. I have to comment on Mike’s comment above about the 35/2 not being all that good; I have owned three copies of the AIS version of this lens (so not the modern one, AF-D); all were very sharp (well, sharp for the film era) and matched the other two lenses very well.

    • @Kitlaugh: maybe I had two bad copies… 😉 they’re alright with Tri-X, not so good with the D800 in my experience.

  10. The word ‘retro’ means “imitative of a style or fashion.” So how is using film and a Nikon F being retro? What is a film camera and film trying to imitate? The DF could be considered retro since it is trying to be imitative of a particular style of camera but using film or a film camera isn’t being retro, it’s being original. 🙂

  11. I had a pair of photomic head Nikons (F2AS) back in the day; I shot dance, theatre, and other ‘available light’ events (dress rehearsals; these babies’ shutters are—well, an authoritative statement!). Best manual cameras I ever used; awesome viewfinders, and simplicity itself in operation. Those bodies and three lenses (35/2, 50/1.4, 85/2) put food on the table for years.

    • Agreed kitlaugh, the simpler the camera, the better the photograph IMHO. Technology has been wonderful and provided us with many photographic gizmos but does it offer better photographs? Nope.

      Strip it down to it’s barest form ala Nikon F2 or any Leica M and it’s all down to you. Win-win in my book.

  12. Had two that survived everything a photojournalist could subject them to. One copy had the optional motor drive; loaded with batteries, it was the uber-mallet.

  13. If the Nikon Df was inspired by the F2as, let’s hope the Nikon S2 inspires a mirrorless FF Nikon, albeit slightly smaller in body size. After all, I doubt the Df will bleed off any A7 sales.

    • I can’t see how the Df was inspired by the F2. FM3a/F3 yes, but in my eyes a slightly botched attempt. I’m just not liking the looks right now; not sparse enough. But imagine the design requirements and constraints. It can’t have been a simple job, so compliments to Nikon for creating a reasonably compact full frame slr with a lot (too much imo) external controls and a truly wonderful sensor.

      • I still have my FE2 and F3 (and FTn) and there are similarities, no doubt. Have to agree about a “sparse” look being preferable, but at least they got the important wheels in place.

        The S2 would be a great launching pad for a mirrorless DS2; keep it simple, small, modestly priced, little plastic and tough, and Nikon would laugh all the way to the bank.

  14. Yes. It was very soft light as dawn was breaking – you can see the lamps on the pier are still lit. This is where a 1.2 lens comes in handy! It was hand held at about 1/30 second shot wide open.

    Now really is the best time to shoot film. We’ve never had is so good. Used film cameras are crazy cheap, and because we can now get the negatives scanned directly, we can control the work flow. Years ago… I remember getting prints back that were incorrectly exposed, had been cropped weirdly etc and was disappointed because the negatives showed none of that.
    Now, by incorporating the scan into a digital workflow, when I upload my shots for printing, I know exactly where to position the crop if it is going to happen (which is why I like the 8 by 12 format as it matches 35mm exactly). And I also make sure to check the box marked ‘auto correct off’!
    I obviously do the same thing when ordering pure digital prints, but it is so refreshing to finally be able to easily get the film results I have been waiting for all these years.
    Sure, the purest way to shoot film is to print directly from the negative, but for me, this is the most enjoyable way of doing it.

  15. I’m still using my F2as, my first one was bought in 1979 in the Middle East and travelled all over with it till it was stolen in South Africa, replaced it with a very mint one a few years ago with a 55/f2.8 Micro, 28/f2.8, 105/f2.5, 135/f3.5, and 80-210 /f4. I shoot with an M9 mostly but can’t be without my F2as.

  16. Thanks for the comments.
    I forgot to mention all my c41 process film is developed and scanned by Costco in about an hour. I get my negatives and a DVD for less than $5. The resolution is good to about 18 by 12 prints, if you want to print larger then you’ll need a pro high rez scan.
    While I do a lot of tweaking when I shoot digital, i find i do next to nothing with film. I just let it abide.

    Huss

    • Actually saw that very Nikon F up close and in person a few years ago and it was quite an emotional sight. A modern camera would never have stopped a bullet like that, no way.

  17. My F2 was a monster. It bounced around in my climbing daypack for several years. I lusted for a Leica in 1976 but never felt under gunned with my F2, 24 f2.8, 55 f2.8 micro and 105 f2.5.

  18. Thanks for this Huss!

    ‘ve got an F2AS in pristine condition. That thing is a proper tool. It works! And such a pleasure to handle. Light, small? LoL! No modern comforts, although the exposure meter goes down to -4EV IIRC… Not that you would see anything through the finder at that point of course but still, good to know.

    And yes, the 50mm 1.2 AiS and the 85mm 2.0 Ais are also two of my favorites. The 2.8 24 and 28 of that era are great as well, the 35mm 2.0 not so much, sort of average, which is a pity.

  19. I still have my “Nikon F2” , I believe one of the toughest cameras ever built. Also still have my “F3”.
    Even though I’m a “Canon “guy now I still love those two camera bodies. Wish I had one penny for every frame I shot with those two cameras. I would probably be rich today.

  20. One of the truly great cameras. Sold all my Nikon stuff now with my F2AS being the very last to go a couple of months ago …. miss it but it wasn’t getting used so was going to waste on the shelf.

    • I sold my F2 recently as well. But still have Leicaflex SL2 as my go to film SRL, when I feel nostalgic. (I think its better camera, with much brighter prism, quieter shutter and perhaps even better meter than DP12)

      I think Nikon is missing the point with this DF model. People are drawn to Fuji, Olympus and Leica not just because they retro, but also because they innovative, small, light and pleasure to use. The only thing Nikon DF has done right is a shape of that prism, the rest is meh…

      • Aye agreed vm, almost everyone else is creating smaller & lighter “functional” cameras yet Canon/Nikon simply just aren’t getting it and still making lard a$$ fat boy cameras that weigh a ton.

        Nikon & Canon *used* to be the innovators at the start of the digital age yet now they don’t even know how to play catch up never mind innovate. Sad really.

  21. Forget in any case this bulky and ugly Df. It’s only a commercial exercise intended for yuppies that have to show their newest toy. For the rest, Nikon has completely forgotten how to design a ‘lean and mean’ camera that can last forever, to fit the purpose and nothing more, just after they released the FM3A. Likely the best camera ever. Some people will put their D600 now already far away on the shelf (or on eBay) to go with a D610, I’m sure. Nothing is nowadays made to last more than a few years, it would kill the shareholders believe in a company.

  22. You nailed it (you need a mallet for that ;)! The F2AS was the first SLR I owned, purchased second hand in the early 90s. It survived being soaked in salt water in Tonga (it was a near-death experience, though, and resulted in a rather expensive repair – good thing it was insured). I’ll never let go of this masterpiece of precision engineering!

    As to the Df, I’m underwhelmed. I quite like the looks (the first SLR I used was my dad’s FM2, and I later owned an F3HP), but the price is simply too high considering the specs. In this price bracket, Nikon should IMO have used the D600/D610 sensor, better yet that of the D800E (which I own and love).

    Interesting times, though. I’m seriously considering the A7R. More bang for the buck, and good bit smaller to boot…

    Ron

  23. What I really don’t understand is that if you are looking for pure Photography, you should do as Leica and keep it simple, just speed,aperture dials, that’s all!, well ok, maybe also ISO…but man, this is wayyy to many buttons!!!

    • Yes! Speed, aperture, mode (P,M,A,T). Why is ISO even a dial?! It used to be a dial back in the day when you had to tell the camera what kind of film was inside, but most people just want ISO as low as possible, so leaving it on auto is fine.

      Leica has done this perfectly. Fuji has copied Leica well. Nikon’s execution is horrible!

      And no focusing screen?! How are manual lenses supposed to be any better on this than they would have been on the D600?

    • Sergio, I hope that at some point you get a chance to shoot with an F2as, because they did things mechanically that nothing else could do, and actually do things nothing else can do now. They are amazing tools, and bomb proof.

  24. A great camera indeed the Nikon F2 although sadly I only had access to one at work. In fact I was very tempted to go out and buy my own as I had the money sitting in the bank. Fortunately, I made the more rational decision and used my savings as a deposit for my first house. The fact is cameras of this class were very expensive back in the 1970’s.

  25. Yes sir! If you want “retro” get your hands on one of the greats either a Nikon F or an F2. And for fun, remember what your Panatomic X, Tri X, or the later TMax 100 (exposed at ASA 50) can do BEAUTIFULLY.. Of course you’re going to be really “retro” so you can shoot WITHOUT a light meter because you understand the Fred Archer/Ansel Adams Zone System -lucidly explained by Norman Saunders’ Photographic Tone Control. What on Earth does this Df iteration by Nikon have to do with “retro” let alone actual involvement in the photographic process?

    • I owned an F2 in the ’70s. Sold it for an F4, another fine camera. Sold it to go digital. Wish I had either or both of those cameras now. Sigh… Thanks for your post!

    • Darn, now I miss my beautiful F3HP that I sold this year. It was an awesome camera, but got replaced with my D600. Still have other Leica Film cameras tu use for film.

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