Nikon F2 – Ultimate Legend

Nikon F2 Photomic

The Nikon F2 is considered by many photographers as the ultimate legend of the camera world.  It is the camera which established Nikon as the photographer’s camera.  This is not meant to mistake the F2 as a complex camera.  Using a Nikon F2 is akin to tackling photography with a blunt instrument which through a refined design produces intricate and exquisite results.

During the 1970’s, the period the F2 was on the market, photojournalism was thriving.  Photojournalists required a camera which was reliable, tough and produced quality results.  While there was quality competition from other manufacturers, none captured the market the way Nikon did.  This was helped by the variants offered, driven by the metered prism finders, introduced during the nine year production showing Nikon wasn’t just sitting on its laurels.

Ancient Waves, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Ancient Waves, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100

Holding the F2 in your hands, you can understand why it was so popular with photographers.  While nowhere near a light camera, it has the unmistakable feel of a professional tool. As a systems camera, based around a standard and well built body, the options for what it can be used for are endless.

The camera was built on the back of a camera which changed the photographic landscape, the original Nikon F.  While the Nikon F and the F2 look a little similar, especially without the metered prism, the F2 is a significant refinement.  It continued to establish a standard which can still be seen in cameras made today.  With such a legendary camera in my hands, over a period of a number of years, how does it feel and perform?  Let’s find out a bit more about it first.

Matt, Nikon F2, Kodak T-Max 100
Matt, Nikon F2, Kodak T-Max 100

History

The history of Nikon will forever be ingrained in the history of photography.  This is to be expected by a company that has been around for just over one hundred years. Early on, it was a purely optical company with the name of Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki Kaisha (Japan Optical Company). It was formed through the dissolution of three other companies and in its early years was focused on supplying the Japanese Navy optical products.

Rather than include the whole history, up to the introduction of their SLR in the late 1950s, there is a great and detailed article on Mike Eckman’s fantastic site here – The Rotoloni Report 3, This is War!

April 1959 is where this specific back story really starts.  Nikon introduced the Nikon F, a robust SLR with a lens compliment to cover all occasions.  This set the reputation of Nikon as a leader in camera manufacturing and disrupted the thinking behind cameras for photojournalism since then.  But like all good things, they get superseded.  By the late 1960’s the F was showing its age and in 1965 Nikon had already started work on its replacement.

Balmain East, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Balmain East, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100

The F2 was introduced in 1971 and was sold alongside the F until 1973 when the F was discontinued.  The Nikon F2 continued until 1980, with a nine year production cycle. It was a well needed refinement to the F by that point.  While similar in looks, there are a few key differences which slingshots the F2 to stardom. 

Firstly, loading film became much easier.  The bottom loading was replaced with a swinging hinged back.  This sped up film loading considerably.  Also, for ease of use and ergonomics, the camera had some slight design changes.  It became a little less boxy and put some frequently used functions in easier reach.  For instance, the shutter release was moved forward as better placement for the right index finger.  The strap lugs became angled front facing increasing the balance of the camera hanging around the photographer’s neck.

Harbour watching, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Harbour watching, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400

Another key change is that the top shutter speed was increased from 1/1000thto 1/2000thsecond.  This was enabled by a redesign of the shutter itself with a horizontal titanium-foil shutter.  It also has a variable shutter speed from 1/90thsecond to 1/2000thsecond.  

When introduced, the F2 came with two prism finder options, the DE-1 meter-less prism and the DP-1 which is a battery operated prism finder.  A F2 with a DP-1 finder is known as the Nikon F2 Photomic. This is the model reviewed in this article. During its nine year production cycle, a number of new prisms were introduced, which also changed the model designation.  For example, with the DP-2 prism a F2 is designated as a Nikon F2S Photomic.  These are the models with appropriate prisms and dates produced:

  • Nikon F2 which has the DE-1, 1971-1976
  • Nikon F2 Photomic which has the DP-1, 1971-1976
  • Nikon F2S Photomic which as the DP-2, 1973-1976
  • Nikon F2SB Photomic which has the DP-3, 1976-1977
  • Nikon F2SB Photomic which has the DP-11, 1977-1980
  • Nikon F2AS Photomic which has the DP-12, 1977-1980

They vary in look and feel, with some models using the match needle for exposure and others with LED lights.  The sensitivity of the metering also is different between models.

Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100

One other significant change came in 1977 when the mount, and associated prism, were updated for the new Ai mount.  This made attaching a lens easier and the “Nikon twist” was no longer required.  In the pre-Ai models and lenses, you have to position the lens “rabbit ears” to f/8 or lower and make sure they grab hold of the little latch hanging from the prism. You then have to twist from open aperture to the smallest to ensure the camera can identify the aperture range of the lens.

The camera has access to a wide range of accessories, including motor drives, focus screens and even a 250 frame back.

In 1980, when the F2 was discontinued, there was a large outcry from professional photographers.  While in time the F3, which superseded the F2, became a cult classic on its own, photographers were nervous moving to camera which relied on batteries to operate.  This give you an idea on how well this camera was and is considered.

Camera Specifics

The Nikon F2 is a 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera.  The specific model being reviewed here is the Nikon F2 Photomic as is has the metered DP-1 prism finder.  Based on the serial number it dates to 1975.  It operates without batteries, as the camera is fully mechanical.  If being used to meter the exposure through any of the prism finders, it takes two LR44 (A76) batteries.  SR44 batteries are even better.

Nikon F2 Photomic

The F2 has a titanium-foil horizontal shutter. The shutter speed is variable between 1/90thsecond through to 1/2000thsecond.  There is a marker on the shutter speed selector in red at 1/90thwith the numbers 125 through to 2000 marked in green to highlight this.  Shutter speeds from 1 second through 1/60thare fully stepped.  Bulb is also available.

A unique feature is that the F2 also has a self timer which allows the photographer to set shutter speeds ranging from 2 to 10 seconds.  To enable this, set the camera to the “T” position by rotating the collar around the shutter release.  Then using the self timer, set it the appropriate length of time.  Without doing this the self timer works like other regular timers.  Flash X-sync speed is at 1/90thsecond.

On the top plate, is the shutter release with a tripod fitting, but in the old Leica style.  Remote cords for this style are a little harder to find in 2019.  Also, on top is the film advance lever, which has a plastic cover on it, and the frame counter.  On the other side is the rewind crank, which is beautifully machined metal. The flash hot slot is around the rewind but can be easily converted into a hot shoe with adapters found online.

Nikon F2 Photomic

The DP-1 prism finder is easily removed and attached through a small indented button on the back of the camera on the left and the lever on the right of the finder itself.  On top of the DP-1 is the exposure index selector, which sits right on top of the shutter speed selector.  The range available for metering has a range from ASA 6 through to 6400.  Right on top of the finder is also a meter window (great feature).

On the front of the finder is a battery check button and a maximum aperture window.  This shows the maximum aperture when a lens is mounted after the “Nikon twist”. Inside the finder all the information you would need is easily seen at the bottom.  Starting from the left, there is the aperture window, the exposure match needle meter and the shutter speed.  The meter is activated by slightly pulling out the film advance.

The face of the camera has a depth of focus preview button, the self timer and the lens release.  The flash sync plug is on the left of the camera.  There are two forward angled facing strap lugs, which is one of the improvements in design over the original F.  On the back of the camera, apart from the view finder is a slot to insert a film reminder.

Under the camera is a tripod collar, the battery insert, the rewind button which is recessed and a twisting key which opens the back the back of the camera to load film.

The lens the F2 has been pictured in this article is the Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, a very well regarded lens.  This review is focused on the camera, a lens review might be posted in the future.

Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100

The Experience

I’ve had the Nikon F2 Photomic for a few years now. It has become one of my favourite cameras.  Originally, I thought I would not like it due to the size of the DP-1 prism, but after a few uses I found it became very comfortable.  I can see why photographers from that era and even now get very attached the F2.  

It is a really solid machine yet works with a very comfortable precision.  When I wind the film on, the gears feel really good for a SLR.  During the last 3-4 years I have put many rolls of film through it, it has captured a lot of personal memories for me.  Every time it has worked perfectly, it has never let me down.

Balmain East, Nikon F2, Nikkor 80-200 f/4.5 N Ai, Kodak Ektar 100
Balmain East, Nikon F2, Nikkor 80-200 f/4.5 N Ai, Kodak Ektar 100

The meter has been phenomenal, just what you would expect from a pro-level camera.  Rarely will it not expose correctly, but I have not run slide film through it.  While the Nikon matrix metering had not been invented yet, the centre weighted F2 metering has worked wonderfully.  Obviously, you don’t point it to a lot of sky to avoid overexposure, but most backlit situations have been handled well.  

Even the battery use is great, while I do remove the batteries between significant use, I believe it is still on the first set since I got the camera.

Holding the camera to the eye is very natural, it has everything you need within reach.  The shutter speed selector is nice and high and can be found without moving the eye from the camera.  The film advance winds on without interrupting you, but I suspect left eye users may find this a little harder.  The advance may also be bothersome as it needs to be protruding to have the meter working.

Christmas tree Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Tri-X 400
Christmas tree Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Tri-X 400

I love this viewfinder.  People may laugh and say there are a lot fancier displays, but this to me is the ultimate.  It has all the information at the bottom in the same space, no searching around wasting time.  The match needle is very easy to read and has absolutely no issues in bright light.  In darker environs it can be hard to see, but usually by that time I am either metering handheld or using intuition.

The F2 has been a companion with me for bushwalking, city walking (aka street), family events and even part of a project I have documenting my local neighbourhood during its modernisation.  I have used a variety of film in it, and while the camera itself has little to do with the images on the film, being able to use such highly regarded lenses makes this a very versatile camera.  

Ford ute at the Rocks, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Ford ute at the Rocks, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400

If there is something which I did not quite like, it is the Nikon twist.  I found it a little annoying mounting lenses, as I was not used to it. It became faster, but it still feels clunky.  If that is the only thing I have to complain about, it shows what I think of the camera. Of-course this would not be an issue with a post 1977 model and Ai lenses.

One thing that I still enjoy is that the F2 does attract attention.  At one point I was in conversation with a Genius Bar genius (I guess that what you call them), and she was telling me how she loved the camera and her colleague was shooting film.  Sure enough, the colleague came over and I had a nice conversation with her about film photography as they worked on my phone.

Ford 100, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Ford 100, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100

The Nikon F2 came to me with a massive reputation.  It is a camera which I felt I needed to use for a longer period before I would write about it.  In the process it has taken me on a great photographic journey.  If this is the camera which coined the term “photographer’s camera”, it is very well suited.  It is a camera which will work and work, without getting in your way.  If you have an opportunity to shoot with one, please make sure you take advantage of it.  You will never regret it.

Christmas at Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Tri-X 400
Christmas at Maroubra Beach, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Tri-X 400
Lifeb oy, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Lifeb oy, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Apple stairs, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Apple stairs, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Mechanic, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Mechanic, Nikon F2, Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto, Kodak Ektar 100
Harbour wedding, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Harbour wedding, Nikon F2, Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto, Kentmere 400
Bombo, Nikon F2, Fujifilm Neopan 400
Bombo, Nikon F2, Fujifilm Neopan 400

Related Links

Alex Luyckx of Classic Camera Review Podcast and the note provider for the Film Photography Podcast fame has a great blog which I like to follow.  Here you can find a review of the Nikon F2 Photomic which he showed how good they are in all weather conditions including rain. Nikon F2 Photomic.

Casual Photophile is a staple for reading if you are a film photographer.  They have a great article on why the Nikon F2 is the finest 35mm SLR around.  Nikon F2 Camera Review – Nikon’s Pro SLR Evolves.

While not the same model, Jim Grey writes about his Nikon F2, which is the F2AS variety.  A good read on how he uses and adapts to using one of the superseding models of the Photmomic.  Nikon F2AS.

Another good article on the Nikon F2 is on EMULSIVE.  A lot of good information about the camera, including most models.  The Nikon F2: an everyday camera for the 21st Century.

3 Comments

  • beowulf222 April 21, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    I have heard a lot about the F2. Isn’t it still in production or was at least until a few years ago?

    Reply
    • Theo April 21, 2019 at 3:39 pm

      It was discontinued in 1980 when the F3 really took off. The F2 is really well regarded as it was the last professional mechanical SLR by Nikon and it is an unstoppable camera. They did continue with the FM2 but that was always aimed at the prosumer market.

      Reply
      • beowulf222 April 21, 2019 at 4:29 pm

        Ah, FM2. Mixed them up. Yes, Nikon was the gear of choice for photo journalists.

        Reply

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