What’s so special about the Nikon F2?

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Nikon F2 was king of professional cameras in the 1970s. It seemed to me that almost every professional photographer used, or wanted to use, a Nikon F2.

Why was the F2 so popular? I believe it hit a sweet spot for what pro photographers wanted. It had the Nikon system of lenses and accessories, it (although being very heavy) was easy to carry, especially for journalists, and it didn’t have any unnecessary bells and whistles. It allowed the photographer to focus on their job, while providing everything needed to capture images in almost any environment. Although I never like to test the durability of a camera, the Nikon F2 could obviously take whatever you could dish out, and still work when needed. When I look for used cameras, the Nikon F2 bodies I find out there are amazing – they can have dents and dings all over and still work. In fact, finding one without dents and dings is hard to do.

I have an older F2 from about 1974, and a newer one, from 1978. The 1974 body needs some cleaning because the slower shutter speeds aren’t consistent. The 1978 body is a Photomic A, with a DP-11 finder that’s made to work with AI and AI-S lenses. Non-AI lenses will still work in stopped down metering mode. With a spare DP-1 finder attached to my F2A, I can use older non-AI lenses the old way. With the DP-11 finder, the newer AI and AI-S lenses couple correctly.

The bodies for all the various models are basically the same – only the finders change. However, if you are looking at F2 bodies, be sure to check Ken Rockwell’s Nikon F2 page, and the Nikon F2 Serial Numbers and Production Dates site, to verify the model being advertised against the serial numbers and production dates. If a camera and finder combo is being advertised as an F2AS (for example), but the serial number on the body shows that it was produced in 1972, you know that isn’t accurate. It’s a older F2 body with a DP-12 finder to make it appear to be an F2AS. In my book, that’s not the same, because it doesn’t match a body and finder that would have been purchased in 1980. As a collector, I like to find cameras that are as close as possible to the original. It’s really nice that we have the serial numbers and production dates available for reference – so you know approximately how old the F2 you’re buying is.

Here’s some photos from my newer F2 with a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AIS lens on Ilford HP5 film.

My F2 has a type A focusing screen, which has no microprism collar around the split image center, so I had a little trouble focusing. I have a diopter adjustment lens for the eyepiece, so I should be able to focus better, and the lens I was using is in very good shape. I’ll be anxious to get a type K screen to see if it helps me focus a bit easier. That’s another review for another day.

I like the bokeh with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, but I actually like the look from my Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens better. It’s personal preference. The Nikkor lens produces some very nice images, though.

One thing that I’m impressed with is the exposure. This camera is 41 years old and the meter works great. Now, the finder may not be that old, but it should be close because the F2A came out in 1977, but mine (per the serial number) was built in 1978. The finder on the F2A also came out in 1977. So if my finder isn’t the original finder that came on my body, the most it could be is a year older, but it could have been as new as 1980 (when they stopped making the F2A). So, it must be at least 38 years old. For being that old, I’m just impressed that it functions as well as it does. I know the newer cameras with matrix, or evaluative metering, are more precise, and can compensate for more variance in scenes and lighting, but this meter is pretty good. The metering in the Nikon F2 (like the Canon F-1) is more heavily center weighted than normal meters – so if you’re used to other cameras (like the Nikon FE or FM) the meter might not respond like you expect. This is what I’ve read anyway. It seems this way to me, but I don’t work for Nikon, so I can’t say for sure how the meter was balanced.

I hope you enjoy the images. If you have comments, or thoughts about the F2, I’d love to hear them. The only negative I have is that it’s a little large/bulky (especially with the photomic finder) to carry around. I’d much rather carry my Nikon FE or my Olympus OM-1 when I’m traveling.

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