Nikon F4

After writing the post about the designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, I did end up getting one of the cameras in the post. I did a bit of wheeling and dealing on Kijiji (which has killed Craigslist in Canada), and got a Nikon F4S from a nice guy who used to do wedding photography in the ’80s and ’90s.

I mentioned in the earlier post that there are two main versions of this: The F4S takes 6 AA batteries and is a fair bit taller than the F4, which takes 4 AAs. Interestingly, Nikon sold these two versions of the camera, but apart from the removable grip on each, they’re the same camera. I was lucky enough to get both grips for my copy, so I can save some weight by switching to the smaller grip, as I’ve done in this photo:


The camera still weighs a lot either way, but it’s fine for me. This thing is so solid, and it just oozes quality. It’s so well designed, and so well made, you can tell when you hold it that it was very high end when it was released.

The F4 was extremely high-tech when it was released (1988), and honestly, the technology still holds up. Despite being a 35mm film camera, it contains seven CPUs, that control the autofocus, metering, etc. It will work with any Nikon lens, from 1959 until present day (some very old and very new lenses won’t work in all modes, but they’ll work in some).

The feature that makes this feel the most deluxe to me is the motor drive. When you take a shot, the film instantly advances to the next shot, instead of needing you to advance it manually. It may not make a huge practical difference, but it feels and sounds amazing. Because of this, the F4S can actually take 5.7 photos per second (the F4 will do 4 per second). That’s absolutely bananas, and I doubt that with the price of film/developing these days many people will be using that feature too hard — you can whip through an entire roll of film in 6 seconds that way.

God, seven CPUs in 1988, think about that! It’s amazing that you can get these now for like $150-$300. I think the modern equivalent digital is the Nikon D810, which has obvious advantages, but costs $2500. You can buy and develop a heck of a lot of 35mm film for that price difference.

Another cool thing I only found out today is that NASA actually sent three of these things up on Space Shuttle Orbiters. They altered them to be digital cameras, with a square format and 1MP resolution — basically these were powerful enough to take Instagram-ready photos, in 1991.