Nikon F3HP: Worth the hype?

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I'm a college student with four main cameras: Pentax 6x7, Sony A7Rii, Olympus XA, and a Minolta SRT-101.

I'm most likely selling off all but the Olympus to simplify my gear, and picking up a Nikon F3 with a good ecosystem of lenses (wide angle, 50 1.4, and telephoto) plus a truckload of Portra and HP5.

I'm on the fence about doing that, or selling everything and getting a Hassy 500CM. They're different cameras but I'm mainly focused on the F3 in this post.

I'd just like to hear general thoughts on the F3, its various Nikkor lenses, the titanium version, and just the experiences you guys have had with it. I'm looking to simplify my gear down to something that'll accompany me anywhere, and I'm thinking the F3 plus the Olympus XA might do that quite well.
 

Craig

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I think first you need to figure out what sort of photography you do, and then determine what kind of camera meets those needs.

There is nothing in particular about the F3 that makes is special or do things that other 35mm cameras can't. In many regards, it is a fairly primitive camera, in that it has no AF, only one partial automation mode ( aperture priority) and one metering pattern. There are many cameras that are a lot more versatile than can be purchased for much less.

The titanium version has some of the outer body cladding of the F3 made from titanium instead of brass. The functionality of the camera is unchanged. I think it was mainly a marketing thing, as regular F3's were used by photojournalists for a long time with rough use.

Why also would you consider selling the Pentax for a Hasselblad? The Pentax has excellent lenses that cost a lot less than a Hasselblad, and in my experience the Pentax is a more robust camera.
 
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I think first you need to figure out what sort of photography you do, and then determine what kind of camera meets those needs.

There is nothing in particular about the F3 that makes is special or do things that other 35mm cameras can't. In many regards, it is a fairly primitive camera, in that it has no AF, only one partial automation mode ( aperture priority) and one metering pattern. There are many cameras that are a lot more versatile than can be purchased for much less.

The titanium version has some of the outer body cladding of the F3 made from titanium instead of brass. The functionality of the camera is unchanged. I think it was mainly a marketing thing, as regular F3's were used by photojournalists for a long time with rough use.

Why also would you consider selling the Pentax for a Hasselblad? The Pentax has excellent lenses that cost a lot less than a Hasselblad, and in my experience the Pentax is a more robust camera.

The Pentax is a wonderful camera, and like I said, the Hasselblad is a consideration but not my main option. The F3 has everything I want, auto exposure and all. I still want manual focus, the only place I ever look at autofocus is modern mirrorless cameras. For film I prefer to nail focus on my own.

Both the F3 and the Hassy appeal to me because of form factor and superficial looks. My Pentax is too bulky for a lot of things, my desire to sell all my cameras and slim things down to one system is to give myself less choice.
 

Moose22

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I didn't know there was "hype" around an F3.

It's just a solid camera. Useful, durable, plentiful, and there are plenty of lenses for it. It has a heavily centerweighted meter if you like that, but no matrix or spot modes. I use mine a TON. Probably run as many rolls through my F3 as my F6 over the last two years. But it's just a good camera.

I have two BTW. One F3T (which is an F3HP, there's nothing extra) and an F3HP that I swapped out the old finder on as I like that finder better. Neither is better than the other, I actually bought the F3T because it has a P focus screen, not because it was a T.

If you don't mind plastic, there are other great choices in the Nikon non professional lineup. 8008 is a joy to shoot and cheap. N75 is a tiny little consumer camera you can get for $35-45 from Goodwill and it'll do matrix, spot, even run VR on modern Nikon lenses. And other brands, too.

If you're married to manual focus and don't mind the one metering mode, F3s are great. But they are just a good camera, nothing more than that.
 

BrianShaw

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LOL… the hype was in 1980 when it was released. After that… just solid and reliable use by a lot of pros and amateurs. If you want a 1980’s camera, it’s a worthy option. Not without its faults, though.
 
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Steven Lee

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My explanation of the iconic status of all F cameras (not just F3) is because they offer the tactile feel of Leica rangefinders in the SLR form factor. I have never been quite satisfied with 70s era Japanese SLRs. They are all robust but not solid. The unrefined sounds they make, their undifferentiated industrial design... they are basically the same camera. Except the F. These cameras feel like solid bricks of metal wrapped in leather/rubber. They sounds they make are the right sounds.

In terms of lenses, I am not a fan of the build quality of AI-S Nikkors. I've had the 50mm f/1.8 and f/1.4, the 28mm, the 85mm f/2 and 105mm f/2.5. Optically they're great with some softness wide open. In terms of build quality they match the FM/FA cameras, but don't have the solidity of the F-bodies. For that reason I have migrated to the modern F-glass from Zeiss. Unfortunately these are expensive and heavy.

One practical advice is to get the newest specimen of F3 you can find. Their Achilles heel is the LCD in the viewfinder which is often faded on the older F3s.

P.S. Also, why HP? They have a compromised viewfinder with a small view. Great for people with glasses, but I much prefer the regular viewpoint prism with a matching diopter adjustment.
 

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The F3P with a hot shoe on the prism solved The issue of the flash mounted on the rewind knob damaging the circuit board beneath it
 

Paul Howell

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I shot with the F3P, it is weather sealed, the prism has a built in hot shoe, no self timer, prior I had shot with the F and F2. The high point is good if you wear glasses, other wise the built in hot shoe is more functional. It seems that the F3 is holding up, not as many stories about the electronic going south. 90% + of the time I shot with the motor drive. The range of lens is really outstanding, Nikon, Vivitar Series 1 and Zeiss. Depending your needs, a wide, normal, and short tele, I liked the 105 2.8 others the 85. For a longer lens the 180 was a standout. I used a 200 F4, started as a rabbit ear that I had converted by Nikon to AI. If your thinking about a F3 I would also consider a Canon F1new.
 
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I shot with the F3P, it is weather sealed, the prism has a built in hot shoe, no self timer, prior I had shot with the F and F2. The high point is good if you wear glasses, other wise the built in hot shoe is more functional. It seems that the F3 is holding up, not as many stories about the electronic going south. 90% + of the time I shot with the motor drive. The range of lens is really outstanding, Nikon, Vivitar Series 1 and Zeiss. Depending your needs, a wide, normal, and short tele, I liked the 105 2.8 others the 85. For a longer lens the 180 was a standout. I used a 200 F4, started as a rabbit ear that I had converted by Nikon to AI. If your thinking about a F3 I would also consider a Canon F1new.

Haven't really found the F3P anywhere, seems to be that when it was released, you needed to be a photojournalist to get your hands on one? Hotshoe isn't a huge deal breaker but the weather sealing would be cool. My plan is definitely similar to your setup. For those wondering why I'm selling my cameras for arguably a more primitive setup, the film itself is expensive. I'd much rather have a single solid camera and fill my freezer with film so I can shoot without worrying about my supply.

I have considered the F1 New, they're both great cameras but I personally like the Nikon better.
 
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My explanation of the iconic status of all F cameras (not just F3) is because they offer the tactile feel of Leica rangefinders in the SLR form factor. I have never been quite satisfied with 70s era Japanese SLRs. They are all robust but not solid. The unrefined sounds they make, their undifferentiated industrial design... they are basically the same camera. Except the F. These cameras feel like solid bricks of metal wrapped in leather/rubber. They sounds they make are the right sounds.

In terms of lenses, I am not a fan of the build quality of AI-S Nikkors. I've had the 50mm f/1.8 and f/1.4, the 28mm, the 85mm f/2 and 105mm f/2.5. Optically they're great with some softness wide open. In terms of build quality they match the FM/FA cameras, but don't have the solidity of the F-bodies. For that reason I have migrated to the modern F-glass from Zeiss. Unfortunately these are expensive and heavy.

One practical advice is to get the newest specimen of F3 you can find. Their Achilles heel is the LCD in the viewfinder which is often faded on the older F3s.

P.S. Also, why HP? They have a compromised viewfinder with a small view. Great for people with glasses, but I much prefer the regular viewpoint prism with a matching diopter adjustment.

HP, because I have glasses! The Pentax 6x7 viewfinder has been a great source of frustration sometimes since I gotta press my eye up against it. The metal eyepiece has scratched my sunglasses when I was shooting in the street and someone bumped into me. Yes, I took that thing shooting street.

You're gonna anger the Leica M ride-or-dies if you compare Nikon F to their cameras... although I agree. I've handled an M3 D/S, an M6, and an F2, and they all provide that magical mechanical feel. The F3 apparently has a very smooth film advance lever.
 

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At a time when the world was going AF, and I had already bought a Pentax SF-1 and SF-1P, I went retro and bought a Nikon F3HP, along with a number of Nikkor AI and AI-s lenses, along with the MD-4 drive. I have never regretted the decision, even though the F-4 came out right after I bought the F3.

The F3HP was a tank, and since I'm a fan of aperture priority, the metering and shutter were right in my wheelhouse. Yes there were some more advanced 35mm systems out their (8008s among others), but I ran thousands of exposures through that F3 and never got a bad shot that wasn't my fault. I eventually bought an F4, then an F5, F6, and the F100. Later on, when I started to amass a number of older Nikons as a collector, I also bought a couple of F3HP's that worked perfectly.
 

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The P was made in small numbers, I was a working PJ at the time my employer paid for half as long as contracted for another year. The other option is the F4, it is really good with MF lens, the AF was ok but Canon was much better. I bought a F4 on impulse, I still had my Nikon 28, 60 and 105, the focus confermation works rather well. LED bleed is somewhat of a problem. With the F4 you the option of shutter priority, aperture priority, manual or program, matrix and spot metering. It's just a lot heavier than the F3, I have the high speed battery grip which takes 6 AA, I only shoot single shot, if I need to shoot 5 fps I will use my Minolta 9 and AF lens.
 

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The F3 HP is a fine camera, but give me a cheapo N8008s any day. It's a better tool. High point viewfinder for glasses wearers, motorized film advance, AE with AE-Lock, exposure control in 1/3 stops (I think), a true spot meter along w/ center weighted and matrix, takes AA batteries, user replaceable focus screens....it really has all the features one needs to take perfectly exposed shots, even in a hurry.

Yes, they look sorta blobish and not as pretty as an F3, not as "pro", but altogether a very fine tool that will never ever need a CLA. If it dies, get another one for $50-$80.
 

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I have an F, F2 and F3HP. All excellent. But if I were to chose one out of them it would be the F2 with a working prism. I don't have a working prism for the F2 so it's the F3 that gets the most use.

As it is, it's the best manual focus camera in my collection. The Spotmatic II is almost but not quite as nice. I've also noticed that the F series just plain works. Never a hitch. Doesn't complain. As long as the camera is working it works. I know that sounds silly but a good amount of my cameras need a slap or knock once in a while. Not the Nikons.
 

Moose22

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The F3 HP is a fine camera, but give me a cheapo N8008s any day

Well, give ME your cheapo 8008. The price I paid you was an absolute bargain for the quality, and 95% of what it is missing from the "pro" level cameras of the era I seldom, or never, use.

I've run rolls through it and found it to be the same pleasure to use it was when I shot one 30 years ago. It just went to New Orleans with a friend, in fact, and she loved using it.

And that's something special about that era's Nikons, because even though it's a great camera that I want to keep, it's inexpensive enough I'm fine with handing it to a 22 year old girl headed off on an adventure. That and an AF50 1.8 make a dirt cheap, light weight camera for travel that you needn't worry about.
 

Les Sarile

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As pointed out by others, the only difference is the viewfinder magnification. HP stands for high eye point giving more distance for eyeglasses and of course less magnification. The DE-2 (plain) has 0.80X magnification while the HP DE-3 has 0.75X magnification. You can always get the other finder if you change your mind.

Nikon F3 - DE2 & DE3 by Les DMess, on Flickr

I have the Minolta SRT-101 and it's viewfinder magnification is larger than the DE-2. I don't see it listed in the manual so I am guessing it's less than 0.90X to 0.85X. I don't wear glasses so I much prefer larger magnification as it helps me achieve critical focus more easily and quicker.

When Nikon spec'd the LCD in the F3, it wasn't intended to last too long. Wasn't really known much then - months or years? Definitely not many decades. However, 3 Nikon F3s later, and I have not seen a defective LCD yet. For me, there are two nuisance items in the F3. One is the LCD light switch is very hard to activate. The other is that you cannot adjust the shutter speed until the film counter reaches position #1. This overstep also applies to all the Nikon cameras of that period that were aperture priority capable like the FE2, FA, FG and possibly others. But of course when all cameras became autofocus with built-in motors this became the norm anyway. To Nikon's credit, at least they did not add this feature into their final manual camera the FM3A.

BTW, the FM3A has aperture priority as well as full shutter speed control if batteries die while the F3 only has one speed. If you don't need the interchangeable viewfinder of the F3 might be worth the look. It's viewfinder magnification is 0.83X.

FM3A_50MMF1.2 by Les DMess, on Flickr
 
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mshchem

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I would get a super clean, later, F3 High Eyepoint. Get one that's MINT. Find a Nikon tan eveready case, these are leather, use the half case, it's lovely slips on like a glove, no screws, just like a Leica M6 case.
Find a Mint 50 1.4 stick to the fast primes Zooms of the F3 era are plentiful and cheap, I never liked them.

Personally or film SLR it's Nikon F5, hands down. Auto focus is the bomb! Nice F5 bodies are cheap.

Pay extra for really nice examples.
 

4season

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F3 is beautifully made, literally filled with gold (plating of the circuit boards). As for the film transport, it feels like it's gliding on ball bearings, because it is. Manual wind stroke is just a wee bit long for my taste, versus the F2, which is just about perfect. I wonder if that was a calculated move by Nikon to sell more motor drives!

Metering is classic Nikon centerweighted averaging and works decently well, but you still need to do some thinking about situations where it can be fooled, and I never cared much for it's fiddly exposure compensation control. For this reason, I mostly used it as a manual-exposure camera.

Don't overlook the FA or F4, especially with smaller 4X AA battery pack which reduces size and weight while delivering a more leisurely but still decent wind speed. F4's autofocus was nothing to write home about even then, but it works great as a manual focus camera. F4 was the first SLR which really turned me on to auto exposure, thanks to very good matrix metering.
 

Mick Fagan

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The F3HP is a brilliant camera, essentially you can configure it to do virtually anything. From microscopic stuff, street photography, astronomical photography through to set timed interval mains powered remote photography with a 250 frame back.

Coupled with the waist level viewfinder, (WLF) with it's inbuilt 6x centre magnifier, you can operate the camera with it's back to the wall, or hold it upside down and firing with extended arms in a crowd using the WLF. Done that more times than I can remember and it almost always works very well. I travel with the WLF always, makes tight interior photography a breeze and shooting at ground level outside as well.

Add the MD4 drive and action photography is very good, does burn through film though if you let it get away.

The 50mm 1.8 is a very good lens and super small and quite cheap, it is what I have and love.

The viewfinder has around 20 optional screens, the one I have in all of my Nikon cameras is the one with the grid and a clear focusing screen.

Make sure that you have the rubber on the eyepiece, otherwise you'll scratch you glasses in a few seconds.

Carry a body cap and use it when the camera is in one pocket with a lens in the other pocket; best way to carry it in bad weather or when you are just not using the camera.

Once you understand exactly how the metering system works, it is really good at getting exposure spot on.

As for the lenses, the world is your oyster; as they say.
 

NB23

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All you need is a Rolleiflex. You live amd die with a Rolleiflex. Ask Kerouac.

Oh.., nikon F3? Yes, excellent camera.
 

M-88

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I'm thinking the F3 plus the Olympus XA might do that quite well.
F3 is a good camera, as others have commented already. Personally never needed all the bells and whistles of pro camera, so always resorted to cheaper alternatives like FM and FE (still got FM). But I don't exactly see an argument against owning F3, especially since OP wears glasses. I don't think it's hyped currently. AE-1/AE-1P, K1000, X-700 are hyped alright. Along with Mju and of course XA series.

By the way, if OP intends to have XA (as something super compact, I presume), I'd strongly recommend to buy a second one. And a third one too. Because these aren't pro cameras, aren't rugged, aren't built to last and aren't exactly worth paying repair cost. Usually once they die, they die. Heh. I even had a little cemetery of XAs at some point.
 

250swb

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There is no hype with the F3 in either standard or HP versions, it's just a very good camera. I have both prisms for mine and the HP one is the way to go for glasses wearers so long as you get a rubber eyepiece for it.

It's a very versatile camera, you can use it in the typical 35mm way, or mounted on a tripod with Adox CMS20 II film it has all the attributes needed as a perfect landscape camera with easy mirror lock-up and a blind for the eyepiece. You can get close to medium format quality that way and that's the way I mostly use mine.

Nikon make some fine lenses that go for not too much money even for the better ones and it's worth doing the research and tracking them down.
 

destroya

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I have an F3 and use it every once in a while. it is very dense, in a good way. you can feel how solid it is. and the winder, wow, just love the smooth action of it. the metering pattern is different from most nikon center weighted at 80/20 vs 60/40 normal. but I use my fe-2 or fm3a a lot more as I prefer match needle readout over the LCD. but they all take great pictures, so dont get paralysis from analysis.

john
 

Arthurwg

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All you need is a Rolleiflex. You live amd die with a Rolleiflex. Ask Kerouac.

OK, so what did Kerouac say about a Rolleiflex? BTW, I met him once but he was passed out with his head on the bar.
 
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I would get a super clean, later, F3 High Eyepoint. Get one that's MINT. Find a Nikon tan eveready case, these are leather, use the half case, it's lovely slips on like a glove, no screws, just like a Leica M6 case.
Find a Mint 50 1.4 stick to the fast primes Zooms of the F3 era are plentiful and cheap, I never liked them.

Personally or film SLR it's Nikon F5, hands down. Auto focus is the bomb! Nice F5 bodies are cheap.

Pay extra for really nice examples.

The thing about the F5 is that it looks more like a DSLR than most DSLRs. The LCD menu stuff on the F5 is also a little off putting.

I like the fact that most Nikkor AI lenses the F3 uses are relatively cheap and plentiful, there are many many mint examples out there and plenty of good glass. The other side of having a Nikon ecosystem is that I can easily adapt them all to my Sony A7Rii.

I'll be buying from KEH when the time comes, since my account on here is far too new to browse classifieds.
 
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