Nikon F6 – Camera Review

Nikon F6 – Camera Review

1280 720 Josh Solomon

Well, this is it.

I shut the gold box for the last time and laid it into a bigger, blander box, a Priority Mail shipping label from Los Angeles to Boston its only decoration. I headed to the post office and reverently handed the package to a clerk, who unceremoniously stuffed it into a shopping cart and distractedly ordered me to have a nice day. I drove home, the familiar presence of a bulky, black camera sadly absent from my passenger’s seat.

The rest of the day was spent in a silent stupor – the muted shock which occurs when someone or something truly special is taken from us. I shifted between grief and remembrance, and wandered around the house aimlessly as the memory of a truly great camera still lingered in my brain.

It was just a few weeks ago that I discovered a benign looking package sitting on my front porch. Its presence was a little strange, as I hadn’t ordered anything, but I was mostly sure it wasn’t a bomb. When I saw that its origin was CP founder James, I immediately carried it into the house, grabbed some scissors, and sliced through the packaging. What greeted me from inside this innocuous box was another, prettier box. It was gold, and emblazoned with words I thought I’d never see in the flesh – Nikon F6.

I carefully pried open the box, and after sifting through a few bits of paper packaging, the cardboard mold of the F6 revealed itself. I took off the top cover and, somehow, I knew immediately.

Yes, this is it.

Nothing really prepares a person for the truly extraordinary moments in life, and this moment was no exception. I couldn’t believe I was getting the chance to shoot Nikon’s final professional film camera, the swan song of the analog era, and possibly the greatest film SLR ever made, the Nikon F6. But there it was, right in front of me, waiting patiently for its first roll of film.

But before I get to deep into this write-up, and to quell the chorus of readers who are certainly rolling there eyes at my excessively reverential tone, let me explain the reason for my shock and awe. The Nikon F6 is the last in a long, storied line of Nikon’s professional F-series of SLRs. This range of cameras has been the standard bearer in professional-grade SLR cameras for the latter half of the twentieth century. But what’s even more remarkable is that the F6 remains the very last professional 35mm SLR still in production in today’s age of DSLRs and mirror-less marvels (its competitors threw in the towel shortly after its introduction). So in a sense, the F6 is the final expression of 35mm camera technology, and by extension, the last holdout to make a case for 35mm film as a viable medium for real photographers.

But even though the F6 is among the most important cameras ever made, it’s also among the most peculiar. Think about it. It’s a brand new, professional-grade, state-of-the-art camera made for… film. This would have been normal in the past, of course, but at the time of its introduction in 2004 digital photography’s reign was firmly established. By that time, film had abdicated the throne for good.

Thinking of the F6 in this light, as an anomaly in the timeline of photography, makes picking up and using one even more special. One gets the distinct feeling they’re holding something that shouldn’t logically exist, but does anyway. And against all odds, a stray F6 decided to exist in my possession – even if only for a little while.

Being the camera geek I am, I immediately set out to explore any and all features of this remarkable machine. The F6’s spec sheet promises everything any shooter could want, including a 1/8000th of a second maximum shutter speed, a 1/250th of a second flash sync speed, Nikon’s incredible color matrix metering along with spot and classic center-weighted metering, full PASM mode selection, i-TTL wireless flash metering, 100% viewfinder coverage, built-in 5.5 FPS motor drive (8 FPS with the added MB-40 battery pack), 41 slots of custom settings, compatibility with all Nikon AF lenses including full VR capability, backwards compatibility with every Nikon AI lens (extendable to non-AI with a factory modification from Nikon), CF card data storage, AF tracking, and a thousand more functions that’ll somehow justify this ridiculous run-on sentence. Put simply, it’s capable. Really capable. Think, the most capable film camera ever made.

And after ten minutes of fiddling with the camera’s various controls it became exceedingly apparent that attempting to reach the limit of the F6’s capabilities would be a fool’s errand. And in a way, focusing on its long list of capabilities is missing the point. Features mean absolutely nothing without usability, and it was time to see if the F6 could impress beyond its extensive spec sheet.

I’ll be honest; my bias leans heavily toward simple, understated mechanical cameras. I often find the heavily automated cameras of the ‘90s and early ‘00s to be plasticky, unreliable, and needlessly over-complicated, especially when compared to the simple elegance of a Nikon F3 or a Pentax SV. Much to my surprise, the F6 steamrolled over every preconception I’d held about autofocus film SLR’s, and made me a true believer in the segment.

It’s easy to assume that the F6’s functions will be hidden beneath a mountain of annoying menus, like its DSLR brethren, because let’s face it, it looks like a DSLR. But despite its looks and extremely deep feature set, the F6 manages to present every function in a way that’s immediately understandable and comfortable to use. Every dial, button, and mode selector falls perfectly under the fingers. All essential functions (shutter speed, aperture, program mode selector, AE/AF lock, exposure compensation) revolve around one of the best feeling handgrips on any film or digital camera I’ve ever used. Additional functions, like bracketing, self-timer, multiple exposure, and mirror lockup, can easily be found on the left hand side of the camera, with ISO selection, custom settings, AF point selection, and general preferences being customizable through a simple menu on the back. At no point while shooting the F6 did I have to search for any function; they were all there with a push of a single, easy to reach button.

Another thing that typically bothers me when shooting autofocus SLRs is that they’re bulky, heavy, and unwieldy. The F6 is certainly bulky and heavy (2.15 lbs sans lens, to be exact), but the F6’s design is anything but unwieldy. The molded handgrip of the F6 does a great job of making sure that the camera never feels too heavy or uncomfortable in the hands.

This heft brought to mind the hallmark of every F-series camera – reliability. It’s a wonderful thing to never worry about your camera faltering mid-shoot, and with the F6, the thought simply never crossed my mind. The F6’s heavy, weather-sealed magnesium alloy body does a good job of housing the expensive and fragile electronics that makes it tick. And for the truly paranoid consumers among us who refuse to buy used, the F6 is still available new from Nikon, complete with a three-year factory warranty.

My final gripe with most autofocus SLR’s is that they just don’t have the special feel of a really vintage camera. They’re too clinical, too precise, and feel almost digital. This is true for the F6. But the thing about that is, it shoots better than any vintage camera I’ve ever used. It’s like cheat codes for photography.

Shooting situations that would be difficult and convoluted on older cameras become non-issues with the F6. The matrix meter handled every awkwardly lit scene, I could choose AF points without having to contort my fingers to reach the selector, and the viewfinder made sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. The F6’s AF speed may be the quickest and most silent among autofocus film SLR’s, ensuring worry-free, unobtrusive focus with every single shot. The shutter fires with close to zero shutter lag and with no vibration, ensuring that the blurred, low shutter-speed images common to many SLRs are completely nonexistent. Try that with your old Pentax K1000.

But even with all this functionality and technical ability, the F6 has something few cameras made in the present day possess – character. Yes, underneath all the complicated engineering, we find a lovable, trustworthy camera which immediately endears itself to its shooter. While I shot with the F6, I got the distinct feeling that I could approach the art of photography without fear, that everything was indeed possible. I got the feeling that wherever I went the F6 would never stop shooting, and that it would never stop giving me incredible images. In fact, while shooting it, I really did feel I came across the holy grail, the perfect camera.

And right when I realized this, my heart sank.

I knew that in a couple of days I had to return the F6 and say my final goodbyes to a machine I had come to love. And in a way, it’s almost inevitable that we all must say goodbye to the F6, and by extension, manufacturers’ support of 35mm. Let’s face it, not too many working photographers these days demand a completely new, professional-grade 35mm film camera. The F6 is a niche camera after all, no matter how beautiful and easy to shoot it is. It will be gone one day, along with the many other cameras that have gone before it.

There’s also the price to consider. The F6 retails on B&H for a whopping $2,449 brand new, a steep price for a camera that uses a largely outmoded format. This places it out of reach for many of the hobbyists who prefer film, and presents a still significant investment for professional photographers who, in 2016, are more likely to prefer digital sensors. And after posting pictures of the F6 around on social media, many of our readers reminded us that Nikon’s advanced-amateur F100 offers much the same shooting experience as the F6 at a much lower price point. This is true, but there is something to be said for obtaining a manufacturer’s top-of-the-line product. While the F100 certainly can hold its own against an F6 functionally, it falls short in reliability, support, and, if we’re honest (and a little bit petty), prestige. Is that worth a $2000 price difference? That’s up to the shooter to decide.

But if you’re in the market for a truly professional film camera and already have a collection of Nikon AF-S lenses, please, please do yourself a favor and get an F6. Owning one means owning one of the last great machines of the analog era and almost certainly the greatest of the autofocus era. We will probably never see a camera quite like this again, nor will we see a new professional 35mm SLR being manufactured again. It’s a camera that never should have been, but thankfully is.

My F6 is long gone now, but as I sit here and contemplate its position in film photography history and its place among all the cameras I’ve ever used, I can only think of one phrase – Yeah, that was it.

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Buy it from B&H Photo

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
  • I am genuinely surprised I wasn’t aware Nikon still manufactured this brand new, that’s commitment.

  • I didn’t know that either! Another Nikon autofocus camera to consider is the N90s. They’re incredibly cheap now. A photographer I worked for in the 1990’s had 2 of them as backups for his F5. I bought one in 2000 and it still works well.

  • Nice review Josh. I love my F6 but one flaw with it is that it chews through batteries. Even rechargeable ones, which I now use. And if you store the camera w/o batteries (as one should) it forgets all the menu settings you programmed in quite a short amount of time. The menu diving to reset them is frankly tedious, as it is based in early 2000’s tech.
    It is nice that you can program it to remember uncoded old AI and AIS lenses and I think this is the huge deal with the F6, that makes it far superior to the F100. Forget the much better build, the much better AF, the better metering. The viewfinder and manual focussing ability in the F6 is better than any SLR I have ever used, manual or AF, film or digital. It really is incredible. And it is such a bummer that if Nikon can make the F6 – an AF slr – work so well with manual focus lenses, than why can’t they make a D750, D810 etc work just as well with manual lenses?
    One thing that makes the F6 more pleasant to use is to program the AEL button to hold the setting until you press it again. In the default setting it resets after an exposure.
    I was bummed with the 3D colour matrix metering because it does not work as advertised. It is meant to base exposure on what is in focus, but in actuality behaves like any avg scene meter. Anything with heavy backlighting will be underexposed. You can see this just by focusing on a back lit subject, make a note of the meter reading, then switch it to center weighted and watch the reading change, then to spot and watch it change some more.
    But it is super cool that you can change the weighting of the center weight metering pattern.

    Also, how about that plasticky super light 50 1.8g lens? It’s performance is stupendous! What a deal.

    Best regards

    • Thanks for the thoughts Huss! Glad to hear you’re enjoying your F6. Kind of strange to consider that the F6 is just now starting to show its age. Perhaps an F7 will fix those issues? 😉

      And that 50 f/1.8G lens is one stellar performer!

    • The battery life of the F6 can be improved considerably with a free firmware update from a Nikon service center (for Nikon USA models with serial numbers below 18000 something). Also using the optional MB-40 grip with 6 rechargeable AA batteries givs you even more battery life.

    • Funny, I just ran through three rolls of street photography with most of the best shots backlit, And yes, using a 24mm lens most of those subjects were under exposed while the background high lites were over exposed. Not sure how to compensate for that.

  • p.s. while they are $2400 new, you can buy a mint/perfect condition one for way under $1K used. Make sure it is a USA model (it will have a small gold Nikon seal under the program flap) so Nikon USA does not give you grief if you need it serviced.

  • Just a beautiful review of a beautiful camera. For what is the CF card data storage?

  • I have to agree that AF SLR’s are a really useful set of cameras and give a different experience to shooting. I have Medium Format which is slower and manual so for 35mm I appreciate an additional convenience. Coming from an OM-1 which I learned to shoot (slow and methodical) even trying Kodachrome. That one needs a CLA but on the meantime I got an F80 + 50mm 1.8D for less than $100. If an F80 is 80% of an F100 and an F100 is 80% of an F6… I’m happy. (Amusingly the F80 can accomodate a screw cable release which neither the F100 or F6 can!)
    (Midrange) AF SLRs are the bargain of the time, modern, convenient and can be found cheap. Following Neilson’s comment, I saw a kit with an F90 while looking for the 50mm, and it can be cheaper to look for a body with lens and counting the body as free.
    I got that F80 as a “battle body” even getting it into the sea, no fear, and it helped my photography.

    Doesn’t have the classy feeling or same type of enjoyment as a classic manual camera, granted.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Jordi! AF SLR’s are more capable than almost every vintage camera on the market, but they do lack the sort of pizzazz those old brass cameras have.

      Funny you mention the F80, we might just feature that one on the site pretty soon… 😉

  • You can also set the F6 to print the exposure information on the negative between the frames. Kinda cool. I do that just because, but have not used the info for anything, and am not sure what I would use it for!

  • Fantastic how the camera helped you to grab those moments, those are the kind of shots that in some cases can be just a matter of luck with older cameras and digital ones when the controls and the autofocus can be not reliable. I’d love to have film camera with exif data, for now I am fighting with cell phone apps to get that data. xD

  • Should you be interested, in Italy there’s plenty of lightly used F6 for a good price (ranging from 650 to 950 euros)

  • You are correct in stating that the grip is amazingly comfortable. No other camera has a grip this nice.

  • Hmm…not sure. There is a real come back with film at the moment and I think cameras like this are becoming more desired. Hold on to your hope.

  • I own the F6 it is a wonderful camera shooting with the F6 is an experience so different from digital. It is an inspirational piece of equipment the design concept was to build a camera with “Finesse”, a camera that was a joy to use, that would appeal to the senses of touch, sight and hearing “These three senses can distinguish this camera’s finesse.” One can feel, hear and see the quality of the F6, the human senses can discern when something is made with passion and skill. This is a camera that inspires a desire to produce great photography.

  • I have the same feelings than the author about my Minolta Dynax 9 (maxxum in US) . With the databack and battery grep has the same capabilities than the Nikon F6

  • The F6 is a better camera than the F100 but I would hardly call the F100 unreliable. When I was shooting film professionally the F100 was my was my main 35mm camera and I never had any problems with it including using it in light rain,heat and dust. I still own an F100 today and I love it. The F6 is an excellent camera but I can’t justify the cost.

  • The only 2 F series cameras I don’t have are the original F and the F6. I will be getting the F soon from my friend who owns a camera repair shop, but I am still debating about the F6. I really love the F5 and F4s….hell all if them, but the F6 is still too steep in price. I’ll just wait a little more and see what happens in the near future. Sounds like an excellent camera and good beautiful. Thank you for the write-up sir.

  • The F6 is the finest 35mm film camera I have ever owned. I had two early production models that I purchased second-hand some years back and although totally reliable I have always hankered after a new one. So in May 2018 my ‘heart ruled over my head’ and logic went out of the window, I sold the two s/hand ones to pay for one brand new one, I know … ‘go figure’ ???? It was and still is IMO for me at least the right decision to make. The new one I received had been built at the Sendai plant just one month earlier in April 2018 ! S/no. over 35500 , got a 5 year warranty when I took out a Nikon User Gold subscription with Grays of Westminster. Couldn’t be happier, teamed up with the 28 F1.4 and 85 F1.4 AF-d lenses it makes a formidable package.

  • I’ve been tempted to pull the trigger on a used F6 for a while, but I’m stopped by contemplating the reason I got into shooting film in the first place: It’s a nostalgic thing, an aesthetic experience. I want to use the old cameras that were used to make the images I saw as a kid in the 1970s and 80s in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, etc. Shooting film on a camera that has basically the same functionality as a modern DSLR doesn’t appeal to me. While the F6 may be a great piece of technology and give great results, it’s not for me, film photography-wise. I’ll just grab one of my DSLRs for that and stick with the old SLRs for film. The most modern I’ve gone is the Nikon F4….

  • I waited until retirement before ordering an F6 from B&H. This after nearly 40 years of newspaper photography and another 10 years freelancing. It was to be a combination retirement gift and 70th birthday present. Sadly, my birthday was about a month too late. The F6 I hoped to use has been on back order for over two months and now I read that Nikon has discontinued production. Sad for me, but I have plenty other cameras, including the first F from my first newspaper job. Sad for Nikon and film shooters who might never experience this great camera and a perfectly exposed and focused roll of Tri-X.

  • There are plenty of F6’s available on eBay in like new condition for much less than you’d have paid new. Go check it out.

    • Yep, thanks for the heads up. All I’m finding on EBay so far are shipped from Japan. Nikon says if they’re grey market, they won’t service even at my expense. Just missed one here in the USA over the weekend, my fault on that one. Will keep looking on Ebay and elsewhere.
      Thanks for your help,

  • You’re welcome. FYi, I’ve bought a lot of cameras and lenses from Japanese eBay sellers over the years and everything has been great, no problems. And the stuff arrives in 3-4 days via FedEx or DHL.

  • We are now in 2021 and the F6 has been discontinued. Would love to see a follow-up, maybe together with the Maxxum 9?

  • This is a follow-up to a follow-up.
    I’ve used Nikon since my first newspaper job in 1974. They’ve always treated their professional users very well and I’ve borrowed many an exotic lens or body over the years. I’ve maintained my NPS membership since retiring over 10 years ago more out of sentimentality than any practical reason.
    Last year I contacted the regional Nikon rep in my area asking about an F6 after reading it had been discontinued. He said he’d check around and let me know if any more turned up. I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks and really didn’t expect any more to be out there. In addition, why should Nikon spend time on a retired photographer who had no more need for all their newest and greatest cameras and lenses?
    So I was a bit surprised to get a text message from the Nikon rep asking me if I was still interested in that F6. His boss, the Nikon National Sales Director, had asked him if that guy down in Atlanta (yours truly) was still interested in an F6. Well, hell yeah! It was delivered a couple weeks later and might have even been the last Nikon film camera sold in the USA. I’d be curious to know if that’s the case.
    The whole point of this is to point out the incredible customer service and loyalty, even for an old retired guy, that has always been true of Nikon.
    And this F6 is awesome. My exposures are pretty much always perfect and in focus. I use autofocus and auto exposure about 99.9% of the time.
    Thank you for attending my Ted Talk,

  • I bought my F6 used from Japan Camera Hunter. It was checked and serviced before I received it and I could not be happier. I’m still using my old AF-D lenses however, and while they work perfectly I’m thinking of getting a more modern VR zoom as my old 80-200mm is getting kinda heavy for hand holding.

  • After reading all the rave reviews about the F6, I am interested in getting a used one. I am also considering the F100 but I prefer a camera that is more durable and will last longer. The features of the F6 are also hard to beat.

    • The F100 is a very fine camera. I actually used one back in film days at my newspaper. It held up very well in some tough situations over the years. I’d guess a good F100 might be easier to find than an F6.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon