The Nikon F5 was Nikon’s flagship camera in 1996, and arguably the most advanced 35mm film camera designed up to that time. It’s big, heavy, and was very expensive brand new. I didn’t get my copy until years later, when I started shooting film again regularly. Thankfully, the cost had significantly lessened.
I’ve used many of the Nikon pro series bodies over the years and the F5 holds its own against all of them. In fact, this was the first of the modern professional bodies, and the same basic styling exists in the most current pro DSLRs. Nikon got this design right and it has held up over time. The Nikon F5’s heft feels right, the grip is deep, yet comfortable, the switches and dials all seem to be in the perfect spot, and the viewfinder is clear and bright. Everything about the F5 just feels good.
Specifications of the Nikon F5
- Type of Camera: Integral motor auto-focus 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera
- Exposure Modes: Programmed Auto, Shutter priority Auto, Aperture Priority Auto and Manual
- Picture Format: 24mm x 36mm (standard 35mm film format)
- Lens Mount: Nikon F Bayonet Mount
- Usable Lenses: All AF-D, AF-G, AF-I, AF-S and AF VR Nikkor lenses provide full AF and metering operation. AI-P lenses provide manual focus w/electronic rangefinder and full metering operation. AI lenses provide manual focus w/electronic rangefinder, aperture priority and manual exposure mode, C/W and Spot Metering operation.
- Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level pentaprism, high eye-point type, built-in diopter adjustment
- Eyepoint: 20.5mm
- Focusing Screen: Nikon advanced EC-B-type screen; interchangeable with 12 other optional screens
- Autofocus: TTL phase detection, Nikon Multi-CAM 1300 autofocus module
- AF Detection Range: Approx. EV -1 to EV +19 (at ISO 100)
- AF Area Mode: Single Area AF, Dynamic AF with Focus-Priority and Continuous Servo AF with Release-Priority
- Metering System: Three built-in exposure meters; 3D Color Matrix II, Center Weighted, EV 2 to EV 20 in Spot
- Metering Range: (at ISO 100 with f/1.4 lens) EV 0 to EV 20 in 3D Color Matrix II and Center-Weighted, EV 2 to EV 20 in Spot
- Exposure Compensation: With exposure compensation button; ± 5 EV range, in 1/3 EV steps
- Auto Exposure Bracketing: Built-in; can shoot two or three different exposures with a variable exposure compensation in steps of .3 EV, .7 EV or 1 EV
- Auto Exposure Lock: By pressing AE-L/AF-L Button
- Film Speed Setting: At DX position, automatically set to ISO speed of DX-coded film used; manual setting possible (ISO 6 to 6400)
- Shutter: Electromagnetically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter
- Flash Synchronization: In Programmed Auto or Aperture-Priority Auto, shutter operates from 1/250 to 1/60 sec. in normal sync. 1/250 to 30 sec. in slow sync; in Shutter-Priority Auto or Manual exposure mode, shutter operates at speed set, or at 1/250 if speed is set between 1/250 and 1/8000 sec. 1/300 TTL High-Speed Sync can be selected using Custom Setting #20 in Shutter-Priority Auto or Manual exposure mode
- Flash Control: Five-segment TTL Multi Sensor used for TTL auto flash control
- Ready Light: Speedlight attached, lights up in red when Nikon dedicated Speedlight is ready to fire, or blinks to warn of insufficient light for correct exposure
- Accessory Shoe: Standard ISO type hot-shoe contact; ready-light contact, TTL flash contact, monitor contact; mount receptacle for SB-27, SB-26, SB-25’s Posi-Mount System provided
- Self Timer: Electronically controlled; 10 second duration
- Film Loading: Film automatically advances to first frame when shutter release button is depressed once
- Film Advance: Automatic advance with built-in motor, three modes available (S: for one frame advance, CL: Continuous low speed shooting, CH: Continuous high-speed shooting, CS: Continuous silent low-speed shooting)
- Film Rewind: Choice of automatic or manual; automatically rewinds when film rewind button and lever are used
- Multiple Exposure: Activated with multiple exposure button
- Power Source: Eight AA-type batteries or optional Ni-MH Battery Unit MN-30
- Weight (without batteries): Approx. 42.7 oz
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 6.2 x 5.9 x 3.1 inches
From the very first load of film it was clear to me that the F5 is a camera made for serious, professional use. It’s meant to be loaded fast, shot fast, and rewound fast. The film leader is pulled from left to right and is loosely placed in the area marked by Nikon’s designers. Once the film back closes, the camera’s automation takes over, and in the blink of an eye the film is spooled and ready to shoot. With the right battery pack and settings it can shoot 8 frames per second and can rewind a roll of 36 exposures in approximately 4 seconds. Staggering numbers for a camera made almost 30 years ago.
When shooting this camera for the first time, I was immediately aware of the focus speed and torque. I have several AF and AF-D lenses that require the F5’s screw mount auto-focus motor to focus. When you half depress the shutter button and activate the focus motor, the torque generated will cause the body to heel over if you don’t have a firm grip. It’s very powerful and focuses screw drive lenses faster than any camera I’ve used in the past.
Auto-focus is not just fast, it’s also accurate. Nikon used a new Multi-Cam 1300 auto-focus system for the F5. It’s basically a 5 point AF system that covers the center area of the cameras viewfinder. It has 3 modes, Manual, AF-Single Servo and AF-Continuous Servo. On top of that you can select one of five auto-focus points individually or all at once in Dynamic AF Mode. Compared to modern DSLR and mirror-less auto-focus systems, this seems rudimentary, but it’s a very competent auto-focus system.
Metering is another positive for this camera. It incorporates a 3D Color Matrix system which uses a 1005 pixel RGB sensor to measure color, brightness, and contrast within a scene. Using 3 metering modes, Matrix, Center Weighted and Spot, there are plenty of options to meter a scene correctly. Using the camera’s custom function settings, we can change the size of the center weighted area to suit the photo or photographer’s specific needs. It also rotates the spot metering area to match whichever auto-focus point we’ve selected.
The F5 includes the same shutter and shooting mode settings of most Nikon pro bodies. Single Frame, Continuous Low, Continuous High and Continuous Silent are all present. Shooting modes include the acronymic PASM; Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual.
One of the best attributes of the F5 is its F-Mount lens compatibility.
Nikon has maintained general functionality of a single lens mount for their SLR and DSLR cameras since 1959, the ubiquitous F Mount. And the F5 continues this trend. It can mount all AI, AI-S, AI-K, AF-D, AF-G, AF-S and VR F Mount lenses, versatility that’s truly remarkable. We can even mount and use the 24mm, 45mm and 85mm PCE tilt shift lenses. What this means is that F5 users have a massive amount of lenses to choose from, which means it’s possible to find any focal length, any speed, and style lens at an acceptable price point.
Unfortunately it won’t control the current AF-P or newest E lenses.
My Long Term Experiences with the Nikon F5
I briefly mentioned some of the things I love about this camera. The handling is very satisfying and something every film lover should experience at least once in their lives. The buttons and dials seem to be in exactly the right place for all shooting situations. It has two shutter buttons, one on top for normal shooting, and one on the built-in grip for portrait orientation. Each shutter button incorporates locking switches to prevent accidental shutter releases (which happens to the best of us). The shooting modes and auto-focus modes are all easily accessible. The metering switch is very conveniently placed on the viewfinder housing for quick access. And there’s even a built-in viewfinder shade for long exposures. This camera is obviously well-thought-out and it shows.
The camera itself utilizes 8 AA Alkaline or Ni-NH batteries that insert into the grip. Having the ability to use new batteries means we don’t have to fuss with obscure or antiquated rechargeable battery types. Many photographers in the past reported their F5’s consumed batteries quite rapidly, but this has not been my experience. It is rumored that Nikon fixed the battery drain issue early on in the production run, and my model is a later serial number. This perhaps lends some credibility to the anecdote.
My first few rolls were shot using AF-D lenses which focused perfectly. At this point I was very curious to learn how it acted with modern auto-focus lenses. My main concern was focus accuracy on lenses like my 14-24mm G, 70-200mm VRII, 85mm G, etc. I set up a simple test pattern and rotated through my lenses to check for focus accuracy. Inspecting the film afterwards, many of them focused perfectly, even wide open, but some didn’t until after F4-5.6 depending on the lens. Unlike DSLRs, the F5 does not have auto-focus fine tune. You have to do similar tests on your own lenses to ensure focus accuracy so you don’t miss a shot when it counts.
Another advantage of this camera is the accessories. It has a removable viewfinder which can be swapped out for a waist level view finder, a magnification finder, a high point action finder, or the included multi finder. In addition, there’s a series of swap-able focusing screens that can be used. I own the normal type EC-B screen and a type L manual focus split prism screen. The prism screen is really helpful when shooting with manual lenses, or for ensuring focus accuracy with modern autofocus lenses in manual mode. The F5 also uses the same 10 pin connector as many of the modern Nikon DSLR’s and works perfectly with my MC-30 remote cable. There are a great deal of accessories available for this camera.
I’ve owned this camera for years now, and it’s the best film camera that I’ve used to date. It does everything I ask of it and more. It’s very reliable, extremely durable, and just a joy to operate. I’ve shot portraits, candids, landscapes, events and even a wedding with this camera. It’s done a fine job with all of them.
The ability to close the view finder eyepiece and attach my MC-30 cable release is really handy for long exposures. The 1/250th flash sync speed is awesome when shooting studio portraits with strobes, and it works perfectly with my SB-800 speed lights in manual or TTL mode. The custom settings are also very helpful and the camera can be tailored to suit specific needs. Even finer points, like the auto-rewind function when I’ve finished a roll and the exposure adjustment for different focusing screens, are really advantageous. There’s simply a lot to like about this camera.
[Sample shots made with the F5, various lenses and various film. This sort of camera can make any type of image. Good luck!]
Some of the quirks I’ve noticed with the F5 are minor and easy to work around. The first thing I noticed was the camera in matrix metering mode tends to expose a little on the dark side in certain scenes. I find I get better results using center weighted or spot metering to make sure the camera is seeing things more accurately. Another issue I noticed was the camera ignores the AF/M switches on some of my AF-S lenses. I learned this the hard way in MUP mode and wasted a few shots before realizing I had to use the on camera switch to deactivate the auto-focus. Not a big deal to overcome but something to be mindful of.
The final complaint I would have, although minor, is the custom menu settings. There are a lot of numbered settings and the menu can be a little confusing to navigate, especially in the field. As a result, I keep a copy of the custom settings and a complete instruction manual on my phone to use as a reference if needed. The common complaints associated with this camera, weight, size, small auto-focus area, don’t bother me in the slightest. I come to expect those things from older gear.
All in all, this is a great camera. If you’re a Nikon fan, or just a fan of awesome film cameras in general, I recommend getting one. If you already have one and you aren’t using it, dust it off and go out shooting. These cameras were designed to be well-used and I plan on using mine until it dies, hopefully a very long time from now.
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