Nikon F3: a Modular Platform for 35mm


The Nikon F3 is a highly customizable 35mm platform that changes to suit the user's needs. This is possibly the most invested camera I own and with good reasons. Maybe you'll be interested, too.

Nikon F3 w/ MD-4 and Pistol Grip

In 2011 I returned from a trip to Scotland. I took a digital camera and my Nikon N65 – an AF camera with the cheap G series kit lenses 70-300mm and 28-80mm. A great camera for running around but it came with pros and cons. So, once back in the states I began shopping for a new camera. I wanted a manual focus camera that would have parts of other cameras I liked and could handle the conditions I would shoot in.

Edinburgh, Summer 2011 w/ Nikon N65

Already I had a number of older Nikon Nikkormats and Nikon F mount lenses. I like the manual lenses but the Nikkormats were unreliable and difficult. I have a wonderful book I consult with and I lovingly refer to it as my “Nikon Bible” (Peter Braczko – The Complete Nikon System) the book (at the time of publication) details all of Nikon’s line of camera and all of their accessories. A fantastic reference. I quickly came to the conclusion that the Nikon F3 was the camera of my choice.

Nikon FT2, Nikon FT
Peter Braczko – The Complete Nikon System

The sell point for me was simple. The Nikon F3 would take all my F mount lenses: Nikkor, Lensbaby, bellows, converters, adapters and off-brand lenses. Metering was also important. Instead of having a needle, the F3 has a small built in LCD you can see in the finder. Also the F3 has a multiple exposure switch on it that you van flick after the first exposure. On paper the Nikon F3 had everything I was looking for.

Nikon F3 w/ Mertz Flash

Now I find these cameras reasonably priced (Ebay) unless you’re looking at a different model of the F3.
- First Purchase 09/04/11 $247.00 (Body only; with DW-3)
- Second 11/16/11 $125.00 (Body only; with DE-3)
- Third 12/09/12 $110.00 (Body only; with DE-3 & MD-4)

With the Nikon F3, it’s easy to get carried away with the extra equipment but that’s why I own multiple bodies to help me with the photographic process.

Nikon F3 w/ telephoto and Pistol Grips

Nikon DW-3: the reason I bought the Nikon F3 in the first place. Really known for being the “High Eye Point” camera the DW-3 is a waist level finder with a pop up magnifier and the exposures are visible in the finder. Great for hip shots, macro, above the head and being generally sneaky. What drove me to have this accessory was an old Miranda Sensomat that had an interchangeable finder and I was always in love with taking the prism off and looking at the focusing screen.

Nikon DW-3 views

Nikon DA-2: This is a great sports finder; it’s like looking at a small LCD screen. I find it great for a number of applications; one of them is getting my face away from the camera when shooting macro. Only thing I don’t have for the DA-2 is the rubber cup for the finder; but there are very few of them from the research that I’ve done.

Nikon DA-2 views

Nikon DE-3: Here is the High Eyepoint. This will be the most common finder with the Nikon F3. The DE-3 has a nice shutter in the eye piece to block any extra light from entering the eye piece; for long or sensitive exposures. The eye piece is threaded and is of common size; so I can attach different eye cups.

Nikon DE-3 views

Nikon Dw-4: this is a recent purchase and one that I’ve wanted for a long time. It blows up your image for critical focusing and has a very nice eyecup. Working with extreme telephoto lenses and macro bellows, focusing is critical.

Nikon DW-4 views

Nikon MD-4: The dedicated motor drive for the Nikon F3. I keep this on one of two Nikon F3 bodies; I find there isn’t a point in taking it on and off all the time. It takes about 8 x AA batteries; that’s a lot considering it normally runs off two small button batteries. The motor is powerful despite the age. There is a control knob (Lock, Single and Continuous) and a release built into the grip. Aside from the MR-3 and the Pistol grip, I don’t have other controls for the motor drive at this time. There’s a few things to consider about the MD-4; the tripod socket is off set and you’ll want the AH-3 plate adapter if you with to seriously mount it. Make sure you turn the motor drive to the Lock position when you aren’t shooting. The shutter buttons (and the MR-3) have a hair trigger.

Nikon MD-4 views and the MR-3

Nikon Pistol Grip Model 2: There are only so many points of contact with a camera and it helps to add a pistol grip to move your hand away from the body. There are no electronic parts in the grip but with a dedicated coiled cable you can release the shutter by pulling on the trigger, this works only with the motor drive.

Pistol Grip Views

Flash: as you’ll see from the top, this camera doesn’t have a traditional hot shoe. So there is some extra equipment you’ll need.

Nikon F3 top view

Nikon AS-4: there are many adapters and I happen to own this one. It’s a hot shoe that slides over the rewind knob and the ISO dial; then it twist to locks. That’s about it when you have a hot shoe instead of having to use the dedicated flash units.

Nikon AS-4

Flash & Nikon F3: The first option I used when I purchased the F3 was a L bracket and a Vivitar 151 via a built-in PC sync cord rather than purchases adapters.

PC Sync

This has only been a brief rundown of some of the dedicated equipment I use with the Nikon F3. Honestly, the ability of this camera is endless when used with the correct gear; but it’s great on its own with just the standard equipment. If you have any questions please get in touch with me; I’m always glad to help out other Lomographers.

Nikon F3

written by clownshoes on 2014-02-12 in #reviews


  1. rbruce63
    rbruce63 ·

    Outstanding article and pictures too! The Nikon F3 has been my dream camera for a long time. I veered into autofocus, now I am back into my beloved, albeit, cheap fixed lens rangefinders and finally I am now considering a used preferably a year 2000 F3 with a 24 mm or 35 mm prime.

  2. clownshoes
    clownshoes ·

    @rbruce63 Thanks! Yes, the F3 is my preferred MF camera! But I do wish I had a cool rangefinder sometimes.

  3. rbruce63
    rbruce63 ·

    @clownshoes which came first, the F3 HP or the FM2N-FM3? How do they compare? Do I need to get the book on Nikon's?

  4. clownshoes
    clownshoes ·

    @rbruce63 The F3 was produced first (1980) and the FM2 models came out a few years after that. I don't know how they would compare personally; I own FTs other than my F3s and AF backs. But on paper the shutter range is better on the FM2, it has an actual hotshoe. But the FM2 models are Eye Level cameras; the Nikon F3 has interchangeable prism. That makes the F3 much more comfortable in macro, extreme telephoto, and action with the motor drive. The F3 is a special camera like other 'F' series cameras; they are meant to go beyond what a normal cameras at the time did. Great we are looking back on a very long timeline here; the book I have helps. But, it's also super dated; it doesn't even go up the Nikon F6.

  5. rbruce63
    rbruce63 ·

    @clownshoes thanks for your expert advise! I decided to purchase the book from Abe's and I am looking forward to it. I don't know if I will buy the F3 or even perhaps the FM3a which is newer than the F3, however the F3 comes with AE which solves a lot of guessing.

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