Nikon F (1959 – 1973) and FTn Viewfinder

Up to this point, I’ve only ever used one other Nikon film camera, the Nikon EM. After spending a few weeks talking with friends, I decided it was time to get a proper Nikon SLR. Something a little older. A classic Nikon. That’s when I learned that I really didn’t know a lot about Nikon SLR’s. My friend Maurice Greeson suggested I start with the Nikon F. Before I continue, I’m sure a seasoned Nikonian will correct me if I describe something inaccurately. Please do, no offense taken.

Maurice gave me a Nikon FTn viewfinder/exposure meter with a 50mm Nikkor-S f/1.4 lens. All I had to do was find a Nikon F body, which isn’t hard to do. What is slightly hard to do is find one on eBay in acceptable condition. As I was searching, I’d send Maurice an email and ask, “What about this one? Or, this one? This one?” What I didn’t understand is the F was originally sold with a standard prism viewfinder. The eye-level penta-prism can be interchanged with a waist-level viewfinder, as well as the FTn. The FTn is essentially a viewfinder with a built-in light meter. When changing the lens on the camera, the meter coupling pins must be indexed with the lens. To summarize, the FTn needs to know what aperture values are available on the lens you are mounting. This was something entirely new to me, but it makes sense.

The Nikon F was manufactured from March 1959 to October 1973. The F was known in the 1960’s as the camera used by photo journalists, capturing images from Vietnam, the US exploration of Mt. Everest, and the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. There were eight types of viewfinder screens available, as well as interchangeable high capacity backs and motor drives. Originally priced at $186 USD (camera and 50mm f/2 lens), that’s about $498 today, the camera attracted both professional and amateur photographers.

According to the serial number on my Nikon F, it was produced between April – July 1970. This camera is a tank! According to kenrockwell.com, the camera and FTn viewfinder alone weigh 1.92 lbs. When you add the lens, it’s easily over 2 pounds. If I were a photojournalist in Vietnam and found myself in a dangerous situation, I think I would have used this camera as a weapon.

The FTn viewfinder and photographic screen both have 100% coverage, giving the photographer a bright viewing area. The camera has a split-image focal screen and a titanium foil focal-plane shutter. The FTn has an ASA range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds are 1 sec – 1/1000th sec and bulb.

The Nikon F is a classic camera. This camera set the bar for SLR cameras and showed the world that Nikon, and Japanese camera manufactures, were capable of producing exceptional photographic equipment. Special thanks to Maurice Greeson for donating the FTn, lens, and book Nikon F Handbook of Photography (1971 Edition) by Joseph D. Cooper and Joseph C. Abbott.

Camera: Nikon F (with FTn Viewfinder) (1959 – 1984)
Film: Kodak BW400CN
Process: RepliColor SLC
Scanner: Epson Perfection V600 Photo

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About Shaun Nelson

Learning to shoot analog in a digital world. UtahFilmPhotography.com is dedicated to sharing information, sharing experience and sharing knowledge about film photography and vintage cameras. View all posts by Shaun Nelson

8 responses to “Nikon F (1959 – 1973) and FTn Viewfinder

  • Jim Grey

    Nice work with the F! I have an F2 and an F3 and remain curious about the original. Perhaps one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Johnny Martyr

    Nice to see you trying on a “proper” Nikon and lens! 😉 Great photos and nice write up.

    I was curious where your conversion of the $189 cost of the F came from. This was a very expensive pro body so I was surprised to see the low sub $500 conversion.

    According to https://www.saving.org/inflation/inflation.php?amount=189&year=1959 it would be well over $1500 in 2017 dollars.

    Not a big deal but that should certainly change our appreciation for the value of this camera!

    I shoot pretty regularly with an F2sb. I prefer the more standard loading and use an LED metered head that accepts both AI and Pre-AI lenses. The F and F2 are fun, tough and precise. F3 and forward just get overcomplicated in my opinion though I do use an F3hp from time to time as well.

    The pre-AI lenses are a real treat. They have harsher Japanese bokeh but are soft/sharp like earlier Leitz lenses and have gentle in to out of focus separation. I am surprised by your results with Kodak bw400cn, I always found it to be a more contrasty and finely grained film. If it was just processed in C41 chemistry correctly, it looks underexposed and then overcorrected. Something’s strange there but the results are unique and interesting.

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike

      What prism do you have that will let you use ai lens??

      Like

      • Johnny Martyr

        Mike, I was talking about the F2sb. The heads are not compatible with the F. But any head or Nikon body that accepts Pre-AI lenses will accept AI/AIS ones too. Pre AI bodies/heads just cannot use Series E and newer that do not have the prong on the lens. I prefer to use Pre-AI bodies when possible for this reason. AI bodies often cannot use Pre-AI lenses at all and if they can, it’s only without metering.

        Like

  • Johnny Martyr

    For example, the F2as is much more popular than the F2sb because you don’t have to do “the Nikon Shuffle” on it but it cannot meter with Pre-AI lenses.

    Like

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