Nikon F3

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Nikon F3
Nikon F3HP with 85mm f2.jpg
Type: Professional 35mm - single lens reflex camera
Production period: 1980-2001
Lens connection : Nikon F bayonet (Ai)
Film format : 35 mm (small picture)
Recording format : 24 mm × 36 mm
Viewfinder : SLR with changeable viewfinder
Viewfinder field: 100%
Finder Ads: Time, aperture, flash readiness
Operating modes: Manual, automatic timing
Film transport: Manual (motor MD-4)
Frame rate : 5.5 (with MD-4)
Exposure metering : Center weighted 80:20
Measuring range: LW 1-18
Correction : +/- 2
Closure : Titanium roller blind
Shutter speed : 1/2000 to 8 s, B, T
Control: electronically
Flash control: TTL
Lightning connection : X, F3 type
Synchronization : 1/80 s
Power supply: Button cell
Casing: Copper alloy
Dimensions: 96.5 x 148.0 x 69.0
Weight: 700 g / 745 g
Additions: Viewfinders Lights, eyepiece , mirror lock , depth- , self-timer , cable release port

The Nikon F3 is designed for professional use small picture - SLR from Nikon and the third camera of the Nikon F series . It was on the market from 1980 to 2002, making it one of the longest-running professional cameras ever.

The camera

The predecessor of the electronically controlled F3 was the Nikon F2 , which - like its predecessor, the Nikon F  - is still controlled purely mechanically. The F3 directly replaced the F2 in 1980, so there was no transition period in which both models were produced.

The F3 was designed by the Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro . He gave the camera the characteristic bead grip with the red decorative stripe, which from then on would become Nikon's trademark. All important functions are intuitively accessible, and various safety levers protect against operating errors.

The F3 has an electronically controlled focal plane shutter made of titanium with an automatic aperture setting based on aperture preselection, in addition to the usual manual exposure setting. Like the film transport system, the shutter is ball-bearing and designed for at least 150,000 releases.

Even without batteries or in the event of an electronics failure, 1/60 s is still available as an emergency closing time via its own mechanical trigger. The electronically generated shutter speeds range from 8 s to 1/2000 s, the flash sync time was maintained at 1/80 s compared to the F2. The fact that the shorter flash sync times of contemporary amateur cameras were not achieved is due to the transverse shutter. It is the first Nikon camera to have TTL flash control with measurement of the flash light after reflection on the film and switching off the flash unit when the exposure is sufficient.

The exposure metering works with strong center emphasis (80:20 on the center circle marked in the viewfinder). The measuring cell is no longer located in the viewfinder as in the F and F2, but on the bottom of the camera. In the center of the oscillating mirror of the F3 there is a perforated, partially transparent area which redirects around 8% of the light to the measuring cell via a small auxiliary mirror.

The adjustable exposure index range is from ISO 12 to 6400. Exposure corrections are possible in 1/3 f-stops .

The housing is made of a corrosion-resistant copper - silumin alloy. The wall is 1.4 to 2 millimeters thick and the housing caps are made of brass , as can be seen from more used specimens when the black paint has rubbed off.

The viewfinder display consists of the following information:

  • The manually set or automatically determined exposure time is displayed on an illuminated LC display, the first in a Nikon.
  • The aperture value is reflected in the aperture ring of the lens.
  • Flash readiness is displayed for suitably equipped flash units.

Specialty of the Nikon F models are the interchangeable viewfinder , interchangeable focusing screens , a 100% -Sucherbild and a manual mirror lock in the raised position for absolutely vibration-free shots from the tripod and faster continuous shooting.

In contrast to almost all other SLR cameras (with the exception of the Nikon F3P, F3 Limited and F3H) it does not have a hot shoe with a center contact, but a special flash connection on the rewind crank. This means that ordinary flash units can only be used with an adapter, but Nikon had two special flash units for the F3 in their range. The advantage of this solution was the mechanical transmission of the set ISO film speed to the flash unit via a cam.

F3 HP with AIS-Nikkor 2.0 / 85 mm

The Nikon F3 has imported 1977 AI lens mount ( a perture i ndex - the difference between the open and working aperture was in this case mechanically transmitted via a drive ring to the camera), the AI-Nikkor (and later versions) aperture metering possible. Previously designed lenses can be used for working aperture measurement after folding away the AI ​​driver lever.

The Nikon F3 weighs 700 g (HP version 745 g) and was only offered in black paint (with two exceptions, e.g. a variant of the F3 / T, see below).

Although many professional photographers considered electronic camera controls to be less reliable than purely mechanical systems when it was first launched, the Nikon F3 soon developed into the standard in professional 35mm photography. It remained in the range even after the successor model Nikon F4 was introduced and even survived it. Even after the Nikon F5 was released, the F3 continued to be produced due to continued demand. Production was not stopped until 2001. This makes it the Nikon camera with the longest production period and, with over 750,000 units, has become extremely popular for professional cameras.

Variants of the Nikon F3

During the long market presence, numerous special models appeared, which essentially correspond to the basic model described above. The basic version of the Nikon F3 was delivered with the DE-2 viewfinder. Although it was offered to the last, it was soon overshadowed by the F3 HP and was only rarely sold.

Nikon F3 HP


The Nikon F3 HP was available from March 1982. In terms of the camera housing, it is a normal F3, but it was delivered with the DE-3 high-eyepoint viewfinder, which is also available separately. This enables the viewfinder image and the displays to be viewed from a distance of 25 mm (instead of 17-18 mm for the DE-2 viewfinder) and is therefore particularly suitable for people who wear glasses. The name "HP" is only on the viewfinder. The more expensive Nikon F3 HP actually developed into the standard model of the series. It is 8.5 mm higher and weighs 45 g more than the normal F3.

Nikon F3 / T

Nikon F3T with Nikkor AIP 2.8 / 45mm lens

The F3 / T was a particularly robust special version of the F3 HP, with the top cap, viewfinder, base plate and back wall made of titanium . Unlike the standard versions of the F3, it initially had no black paint, but rather ivory-colored (metallic-silver shiny) housing parts. This first variant of the F3 / T was later replaced by a black painted titanium version. The housing of the F3 / T can be distinguished from that of the normal F3 by the corresponding lettering, which makes it easier to differentiate, especially with the black version. The HP viewfinder of the F3 / T has the type designation DE-4 and was also available in black.

Nikon F3 P

Nikon F3P with MotorDrive MD4 and Nikkor AIS 2.0 / 35mm lens

The Nikon F3 P did not go on sale, from 1983 it was only sold on presentation of a valid press ID. It is a modified version of the F3 HP (identical in dimensions and weight), which has been specially adapted to the needs of press photographers and has a self-timer lever and LED, cable release connection, eyepiece lock, rear panel release lever and multiple exposure lever for better housing sealing and to avoid unwanted actuation have been omitted. The main switch has been given a modified design for better usability.

For the F3 P there was a standard rear panel MF-6B (also available for the normal F3), with which the film tongue was not drawn into the cartridge when the film was rewound.

The DE-5 viewfinder, which is also standard, has a titanium housing with a center contact for normal flash units and an additional contact for flash readiness notification (no TTL measurement!). Instead of the finder screen K, the F3 P was delivered with the finder screen B as standard (without microprismatic ring and cross-sectional view indicator).

The shutter speed dial and the shutter release are built higher for ease of use, as a mechanical lock has been integrated to prevent unintentional release. To improve rain resistance, the release is provided with a silicone rubber cover and therefore does not have a cable release connection. With additional housing seals, the splash protection has been improved overall, so that the F3 P can be used in continuous rain. The camera bayonet is made of stainless steel.

The type designation differs from the normal F3, the "P" is in front of the serial number and the F3 P has its own numbering according to the scheme P 900xxxx.

Nikon F3 Limited

The Nikon F3 Limited corresponds to the Nikon F3 P, but has a corresponding type designation and was freely sold, but only in Japan.

Nikon F3 H

The last special model appeared in 1996, the high-speed variant F3 H. It is a special version of the F3 P with a fixed, partially transparent mirror. It is intended for use with the special motor MD-4H and enables continuous shooting at a speed of 13 frames per second.

Nikon F3 AF


The second DSLR camera with autofocus (after the Pentax ME-F ) was the Nikon F3 AF, released in April 1983. It was shipped with the DX-1 autofocus viewfinder. The use of this viewfinder, which is also available separately, enables electronic focus control. Two special lenses with a focus motor were offered for the Nikon F3 AF , the AF-Nikkor 2.8 80 mm and the AF-Nikkor 3.5 200 mm. With these lenses, the Nikon F3AF can focus automatically. In addition, the TC-16 teleconverter was offered, with which numerous ordinary lenses with autofocus can be used. The camera itself only contains the necessary cabling for the control and power supply of the lenses and has no other special features other than the type designation.

The autofocus lenses that were released later do not allow autofocus operation with the Nikon F3 AF; the Nikon F3 AF is a self-contained, early autofocus system. The lenses of the F3 AF can be used on the Nikon F4 and Nikon F-501 in autofocus mode, but not on the subsequent models. These lenses must not be used on today's auto focus cameras as they can damage the camera.


An extensive professional accessory system was available for the Nikon F3.


In addition to the standard finders DE-2 (for F3), the HP finders DE-3 (F3 HP), DE-4 (F3 / T) and DE-5 (F3P), the autofocus finder DX-1 (F3 AF) , the light shaft finder DW-3, the magnifying glass or magnifying viewfinder DW-4 and the sports viewfinder DA-2.

These viewfinders only fit the F3, which is also incompatible with the viewfinders of the predecessor and successor models. In contrast to the viewfinders of the F / F2, they have two sliding levers on the side, making them easier to change with one hand.

To change the focusing screen (see below), the viewfinder must always be removed first. The F3 is fully functional even without the viewfinder attached.

Standard seeker

The standard viewfinders are normal prism viewfinders with the right-sided viewfinder image parallel to the image and object plane. In contrast to the Nikon F and F2 , the exposure measurement takes place inside the housing, which is why a special viewfinder is no longer required. This means that no data is electronically transmitted between the housing and the standard viewfinder (only optical aperture and time via window) and no power supply is required. As mentioned above, the HP viewfinders offer a larger viewing distance of 25 mm, which is particularly suitable for glasses wearers who keep their glasses on while taking photos and still want to see the entire viewfinder image.

The viewfinder has a mechanical lever lock to avoid false light in long-term exposures. The lever for this is located to the left of the eyepiece. It is hardly required in practice, as the measuring cell of the F3 is placed on the bottom of the housing under the mirror and not in the viewfinder. Thus it is largely insensitive to stray light through the viewfinder. If the eyepiece lock is unfolded, the photographer recognizes this by a continuously red area in the viewfinder eyepiece.

Like all prism viewfinders of the Nikon professional models, the standard viewfinders of the F3 have a screw thread connection for attaching additional accessories ( eyecups , corrective lenses , DG-2 viewfinder , DR-3 angle viewfinder ).

Light shaft finder

The light shaft finder of the F3 has the type designation DW-3. It enables the screen image to be viewed from above, protected from stray light . Naturally, the viewfinder image is mirror-inverted here, which takes some getting used to. In addition, the DW-3 offers a 5x magnifying glass for better focusing. When folded, the shaft viewfinder fits into the design line of the F3 with a normal viewfinder.

If the magnifying glass is not required and the stray light protection can be improvised by hand, the light shaft viewfinder is superfluous, as the F3 also works without the viewfinder attached. Even the automatically selected shutter speed can be seen with the naked eye on the small LC display. Of course, this type of “improvised light shaft finder” does not replace the protection that the DW-3 offers from dust on the screen, especially when it is folded up.

The previous model on the F2 is called the DW-1, the successor model on the F4 is the DW-20.

Magnifying glass viewfinder

The magnifying glass viewfinder of the F3 has the type designation DW-4. It enables the viewfinder image to be magnified 6 times. As with the light shaft finder, the mirror-inverted image is viewed from above. While the viewfinder magnifier of the light shaft finder only enlarges the middle part of the viewfinder image, the magnifier viewfinder provides an overview of the entire viewfinder image. The eye lies directly on the eyepiece and is protected from stray light by an eyecup .

The magnifying glass viewfinder is particularly suitable for macro photography and repro photography , where precise focusing is required.

The predecessor model on the F2 is called the DW-2, the successor model on the F4 is the DW-21.

Sports seeker

If the viewing distance of 25 mm with the HP prism viewfinder is not enough, you can use the DA-2 sports viewfinder. Similar to modern digital cameras with their monitors on the back, the viewfinder image can be viewed without having the camera to the eye. The intended viewing distance is 6–8 cm. This enables faster reaction times in sports photography and use with protective goggles or helmet on. Even underwater photography with a special housing (third-party) is thus possible.

The predecessor model on the F2 is called the DA-1, the successor model on the F4 is the DA-20.

Autofocus finder

The DX-1 autofocus finder was a special feature of the F3. The successor model Nikon F4 (and following) had all AF functions built into the housing.

The DX-1 enables AF operation together with the F3 AF and the first two AF Nikkor lenses. The viewfinder was also available separately and worked on the normal F3 as a focusing aid with an optical display (as is still the case today with AF cameras in manual mode). The DX-1 has a built-in focusing screen and an autonomous power supply for the AF electronics. Additional control contacts transmit the measurement data to the F3 AF and the special AF Nikkor.

Adjusting washers

There were various setting screens for the F3. The standard setting screen was type K with a microprismatic ring and cross- section indicator . The focusing screens can easily be changed from above when the viewfinder is removed. The DX-1 AF viewfinder was the only one with a built-in focusing screen that could not be changed. The discs that are required more frequently in practice are marked in bold.

  • Type A is a Fresnel lens with a sectional image indicator. It is basically the first focusing screen on the old Nikon F.
  • Type B (standard on the F3P) does not have any focusing aids. Only a circle indicates the measuring range of the center-weighted exposure metering. It is the standard focusing screen of later AF cameras (from F4).
  • Type C creates an aerial photo and has a crosshair in the middle . This special disc is intended for astrophotography and microphotography.
  • Type D is a pure full matt disc similar to type B, but without any markings.
  • Type E corresponds to type B, but also has a grid pattern for architectural photography and other tasks where the exact camera alignment is important. In general photography, too, it facilitates image composition. This is why the “lattice disk” is one of the most frequently required interchangeable disks. Many photographers use them as the standard lens instead of Type B.
  • Type G is a very bright, clear lens that cannot be used to focus. There is also a micro prism field in the middle. A depth of field control is not possible with this lens. This type is divided into
    • G1 for fisheye lenses
    • G2 for focal lengths between 24 and 200 mm
    • G3 for 200–600 mm
    • G4 from 600 mm
  • Type H is similar to type G, but has the microprism field over the entire surface. This disc is almost only useful in sports photography.
  • Type J, like Type A, is one of the first focusing screens from Nikon. Instead of the sectional image indicator, there is a microprism field here.
  • Type K is the standard adjusting disk of the F3. It is a mixture of types A and J in that it offers both a sectional image indicator and a microprism ring for safe focusing in the center of the image.
  • Type L corresponds to type A, whereby the dividing line of the marker is not horizontal but diagonal.
  • Type M is a Fresnel screen with a clear center and crosshairs over the entire viewfinder image with millimeter graduation. It is particularly bright and especially suitable for macro photography from a scale of 1: 1.
  • Type P corresponds to type K, whereby the dividing line of the marker does not run horizontally, but diagonally (analogous to type L).
  • Type R was only available for the F3. It is a mixture of type A and type E, i.e. a disc with a sectional view indicator and a grid.
  • Type S corresponds to type A, but has an additional marking on the edge of the image for data imprinting with the rear panels MF-17 or MF-18.
  • Type T was only available for the F3. It is a type A with additional marking for the aspect ratio of the TV screen and crossed lines.
  • Finally, type U is a type B especially for use with telephoto focal lengths from 135 mm.

Motor drive

The F3 was the last Nikon professional camera that did not have a built-in motor drive. This makes the basic housing lighter and more compact and the film transport with the winding lever is particularly quiet.

The MD-4 motor was available as an accessory. It is screwed onto the tripod thread of the F3. When using the MN-2 battery pack, it enables a series of up to 5.5 images per second (6 images per second when the mirror is up). There were other accessories for him such as the frame rate selector MK-1 and the remote control MC-12A or the data back wall MF-18 (with adjustable film stop and data exposure on the film bridge).


Without batteries, the MD-4 weighs 480 g. With 8 AA batteries of 20 g each, that equates to 640 g. The combination of F3HP and MD-4 weighs a total of 1225 g without and 1405 g with batteries.

When screwed on, the motor increases the F3 by 57 mm. The overall height of the MD-4, however, is 115 mm, as it has an integrated handle that ergonomically hugs the front of the F3. The center of gravity of the F3 with motor is pleasantly low and contributes significantly to the stability of the camera position (minimization of the risk of camera shake). The engine also blends in optically with the design of the F3.

The stable metal housing is angled slightly to the front, which means that the base of the combination is more favorable. This makes it possible, for example, to place the camera on a flat surface with the lens attached (not too long) and, if necessary, to replace a table tripod.


Unlike the motors of the Nikon F and F2, the motor of the F3 is electronically controlled. This is ensured by six contacts that are arranged around the rewind axis. The motor can only be activated when the camera reports the end of the locking process. This solves the mechanical problems of the predecessors.

The drive axle of the motor rotates three times faster than on the F2 and is therefore not only quieter, but also puts less strain on the camera mechanics.

The MD-4 is self-powered and can pull 60-140 films through it. The standard battery holder MS-3 takes 8 standard mignon cells . Alternatively, the MN-2 battery block (MH-2 charger) and the MA-2 and MA-4 power packs can be used. Once attached to the F3, the batteries of the MD-4 take over its complete power supply, so that the normal battery is conserved. This also increases the functional reliability of the F3 electronics at particularly low temperatures.

On top of the handle there is an ergonomically conveniently arranged trigger that also switches on the camera's exposure metering when you tap it. The on-off switch is arranged around the shutter release, with which you can also select the series or single image functions.

In addition to the connections for the MA-4 power supply unit and the MC-12A remote control, the motor also has a socket for controlling the long film magazine MF-4 or the synchronous release of a second F3 with motor via the MC-17 cable.

Motorized film rewind

When the film is pulled through, a red LED lights up on the back. The MD-4 motor can rewind the film within 4.5–8 seconds. There is an extra switch on the back for this, which is additionally secured with a release lever to prevent accidental rewinding. The rewind must be activated manually and does not happen automatically. The photographer can choose whether he wants the quiet form of manual rewinding using the crank on the camera or motorized rewinding at a later point in time.

The special rear wall MF-6B (standard on the F3 P) stops the film during motorized rewinding so that the end of the film hangs out and simplifies film development during self-processing.

Frame rate selector

If the 5.5 images per second in series mode are too fast, you can use the MK-1 frame rate selector. This accessory is screwed to the bottom of the engine. The MK-1 enables the series frame rate to be throttled to 3, 2 or 1 frame per second.

The MK-1 has an additional shutter release button on the front, which makes it much easier to operate the camera in portrait format . It is practically the forerunner of today's high format handgrips of high quality cameras.

The MK-1 is also useful for tripod recordings with a motor, as the tripod thread on its underside is again in the optical axis of the camera. On the motor itself, it is on the far left under the rewind axis, because the large battery compartment left no other choice.

Feature film magazine

The MF-4 long film magazine for 250 exposures was available for the F3. There are special cartridges for this, which hold 10 meters of film, which is sold by the meter.

The long film magazine is only used in conjunction with the MD-4 motor, from which it is controlled via a connecting cable. The MF-17 data backplane is available for the MF-4 (see below).

Feature film magazines were useful for surveillance tasks, for example, when the camera is operated remotely. In today's age of digital photography, they no longer play a role, as DSLRs can solve these tasks much better and cheaper.

Data back panels

There were three different data backs for the Nikon F3 that could be attached instead of the normal back. Naturally, the rear wall may only be changed if no film has been inserted. The types MF-14, MF-18 and MF-18B are designed for film speeds from ISO 25 to 400 (also corresponds to the range of TTL flash exposure control of the F3).

The MF-14 data backplane was the first modern data backplane for a professional Nikon camera. It was connected to the camera via special contacts, so that the cable connection via the flash synchronization socket was not necessary (as with the previous models and with other manufacturers). In addition to year, month, day, hour and minute, the MF-14 can imprint a consecutive four-digit number. The MF-14 even has a built-in alarm clock.

The MF-18 data backplane is based on the MF-14. In contrast to this, the MF-18 can expose on the bridge between the images. So nothing of the actual picture was lost. However, this requires particularly precise film transport, which is why the MF-18 can only be used in conjunction with the MD-4 motor.

The MF-18B is a modified MF-18 which stops the motorized film rewind in time so that a piece of the film can still be seen from the cartridge.

The MF-17 is the data backplane for the long film magazine MF-4. It does not expose on the picture bridge and has no consecutive numbers. For this she can imprint hundredths of a second. The ISO range goes up to 1600.

Flash units

Due to the specific flash connection, Nikon offered the SB-12 ( guide number 25), SB-17 (LZ 25), SB-16A (LZ 32) and the SB-21A (ring flash unit) that can only be used on the F3 .

The compact SB-12 was only intended for TTL operation and did not have a swivel reflector. The SW-4 diffuser was able to illuminate the angle of view of 28 mm wide-angle lenses. The recycle time was given as 8 seconds, and around 160 pictures were possible on one battery charge.

The SB-17, which also had guide number 25, was more professional, but had a swivel reflector for indirect flashing (only upwards) and, in addition to TTL measurement, computer screens and a connection socket for the multi-flash system with several devices.

The SB-16A (a special version of the SB-16 with a normal flash connector) was the largest clip-on flash unit for the F3. It had a reflector that could be swiveled in all directions, guide number 32, a particularly short flash sequence for motor operation (MD position with guide number 8). The zoom reflector covers a range from 28 to 85 mm, and with the SW-7 diffuser even 24 mm. In addition to the main reflector, the SB-16 had a secondary reflector. The only drawback of the SB-16 was its flash recycle time of at least 11 seconds at full power.


Lenses with a Nikon F bayonet fit on the Nikon F3 . Ai-Nikkor and AF-Nikkor, which illuminate the 35 mm image circle and have an aperture ring for manual adjustment on the lens, guarantee unlimited functionality . This also applies to AF Nikkor lenses with the additional designation “D” (from Nikon F90 ). Naturally, these AF lenses can only be focused manually on the F3.

When the F3 was in its “heyday”, there were so many different manual lenses on offer that there were few AF Nikkor lenses without a manual alternative. The range of Ai Nikkor lenses ranged from the 6 mm fisheye with 220 ° angle of view to the 13 mm super wide angle, the 28 mm shift lens, the 58 mm 1: 1.2 night lens, the 105 mm UV lens and the 120 mm medical Nikkor built-in ring flash, the super bright 300 mm 1: 2.0, the 500 mm mirror telephoto up to the 2000 mm mirror tele with a picture angle of 1 ° 10 '.

Modern AF Nikkor cameras with the additional designation " DX " can not be used because of their smaller image circle (applies to all small-format cameras from Nikon). AF Nikkor lenses with the designation “G” after the aperture number cannot be used either, as they no longer have an aperture ring. This also applies analogously to lenses from other manufacturers.

Lenses without Ai (before 1976) allow exposure measurement only with the working aperture. Old non-Ai Nikkor lenses can be converted and then also fit the digital professional models (currently up to D300 and D3).

Special applications

Nikon F3 NASA

Modified Nikon F3s were used in various NASA projects, some with modified motors and feature film magazines.

Kodak DCS 100

The Kodak DCS 100 consists of a Nikon F3 housing without a back wall with a modified viewfinder screen, to which the Kodak digital back parts DC3 (color) or DM3 (monochrome) have been attached. The Kodak DCS 100 was the first digital SLR camera.


  • Rudolf Hillebrand, Hans-Joachim Hausschild: Nikon Compendium. Verlag Photographie, Schaffhausen 1991, ISBN 3-7231-0013-9 .
  • Peter Braczko: Nikon fascination. Wittig Fachbuchverlag, 1992, ISBN 3-88984-047-7 .
  • Peter Braczko: The new big Nikon manual. Cameras, lenses, accessories. Wittig Fachbuchverlag, 1999, ISBN 3-88984-111-2 .
  • Simon Stafford, Rudi Hillebrand, Hans-Joachim Hauschild: The New Nikon Compendium. Lark Books, New York 2003, ISBN 1-57990-592-7 .

Web links

Commons : Nikon F3  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files