Nikon F2 – A Legndary Film Camera, And Why I like It

I’ve been trying several Nikons lately (again) and wanted to talk about one of my favorites, the F2. The F2 was released in 1971 and manufactured in several variations until 1980.

Like the F, the F2 was built as a system camera. Initially, the lenses made for the F worked the same way on the F2. In 1977, Nikon revised the way their lenses linked to the camera body, and the last 2 versions (F2A and F2AS) could not use the older lenses except in stopped down mode – but, of course, that wasn’t too big a deal, and compatibility is a big deal. Stopped down mode is the original way the first TTL meters worked. Basically, as you stopped down the lens, the meter measured the light. The viewfinder also got darker and darker, and it got harder and harder to see and, especially, focus. So, focusing and metering were done in two distinct steps. When the F was released, it allowed metering with the lens fully open, and it only stopped down to the selected f-stop as the photo was being taken. Lenses that worked this way were known as automatic lenses, or lenses with automatic apertures. It indicated that you could focus and set exposure without darkening the lens as you set your aperture. To accomplish this, Nikon chose to add a method to link the lens to the meter in the prism so the camera body would not need to be revised or changed. The way the Nikon F and early F2 prisms worked, there was a small pin on the front that coupled with the lens via a small triangular or semi-circular connector on the outside of the lens with a slit in it to engage the pin on the prism. As you changed the f-stop on the lens, the connector moved the pin on the prism, so it knew which f-stop was selected, while the lens stayed wide open until you took the picture (or pressed the depth-of-field preview button).

Lens Connector on Nikkor Lens
Connector Pin on Nikon F2 Finder (DP-3)

Nikon’s prisms with meters were named Photomic – so the Nikon F or the Nikon F2 with the original metered prism, was referred to as Photomic. The Nikon F2 with the standard eye level prism and no meter (DE-1 finder) was just the Nikon F2. With the metering prism, it was the Nikon F2 Photomic. As new models were released (only the prisms were modified, the body was basically the same for all the years the F2 was made) they dropped the Photomic when referring to each. Instead, they were just F2S, F2SB, F2A, F2AS. All those models had metered prisms, each advancing in technology slightly over the previous. If you see one that’s just an F2 Photomic, it should be an F2 body with the very first metering prism (that prism was model DP-1). My experience is that the older metering prisms, naturally, have more problems. The mechanics of these cameras may work fine regardless of age, but the meters were refined and got better, and the F2AS (DP-12 finder) is probably (in my experience) the least likely to have metering issues.

Now, the Nikon F is a great camera, and I have a very nice one. However, the F2 is slightly more refined, not to mention newer. I really like the layout of the controls on the F2. The back now opened like a door (the way most modern film cameras worked after this point) instead of the whole back sliding off. The shutter release was moved forward, and it feels better in my hand. The sharp corners of the F have been smoothed out so it’s easier to hold, and the viewfinder is a bit better – with vital information visible to the photographer, no less, no more. All without modern electronics!

So, what are the various models of the F2, and what versions are my favorite?

There were 6 distinct versions (based upon the various finders) plus some special models, like the titan (titanium) and some others. I’m not really going to get into the special models, since most of them are rare, and too expensive for me to ever afford…

The first was the basic F2 with standard eye level finder, the DE-1 (I guess the E is for eye level). This version is completely meterless, and if you put batteries in the body, there’s really nothing for them to do. The first Photomic model came with the DP-1 (I guess the P is for Photomic) of which I have one that works and one that doesn’t. I find these finders a bit hit or miss as far as finding one with a good meter. The next version was the S, which used a DP-2 finder. I don’t have one of these, and I honestly never liked the shape of the finder – it seems bigger and a bit different from the others. I really don’t know much about the S. After that came the SB. The SB has LEDs to determine exposure. There is a “+”, a “-“, and a “o”. When “+” is lit by itself, you’re 1 stop overexposing. Likewise, a “-” by itself indicates a full stop under exposed. If the “+” or “-” is lit along with “o” you’re a half stop over or under. If the “o” is lit by itself, you’re right on. Pretty simple. Next, the A model included the DP-11 finder. The DP-11 is basically a revised DP-1, with better light sensors and newer electronics. The AS model included the DP-12 finder. I mention these both at the same time because they both came out in 1977, and the DP-11 was just a lower cost version of the DP-12. The DP-11 had a needle (similar to the original DP-1) and the DP-12 had LEDs, so it was a little more hi-techy. I, personally, like the DP-11, with the needle, but that’s just me. Honestly, the less moving parts the better for longevity. The F2AS is considered by many (so I read) to be the very best F2 – keep in mind though, the body was basically the same thing from 1971 to 1980 – the finders were the only part that changed. That being said, I’m a bit of a perfectionist – like car collectors that like everything stock, as it was from the factory, I like to make sure my F2 bodies match the finders mounted on them. If I find an F2 I like, I check the serial number on the body to be sure the body was made in a year compatible with the finder on it. Here’s a handy link to F2 Serial Numbers. This isn’t a perfect science, since the serial number is stamped on the top plate, anyone could change top plates, and effectively mess all this up… technically speaking. Some things I can’t prevent, so whatever the serial number is, that’s what I’m believing. I have seen F2AS cameras for sale, but the body serial number indicates that it was made in 1972, and it’s called an AS because it has a DP-12 finder. In that case, I know it’s not the original finder that was on the body since the DP-12 didn’t come out until 1977. That might not matter to some people, but I like to have cameras that are just as they were when they were brand new – if possible. Here’s another thing that I like. Lately, I prefer silver bodies to black bodies. I like black bodies, and that’s supposedly what professionals used back in the day. I’ve become a bit skeptical about black bodies though since so many are touched up to make them look better, but they aren’t original. Black bodies with all original paint are very beautiful – and if I find one, in mint condition, that I really feel is original, well I would want it. I’ve seen too many paint chips that are touched up. I don’t really want to own those.

Here’s another, somewhat minor, feature of the F2. The batteries required to power the various finders are common LR44/A76 type 1.5-volt button batteries. The Nikon F Photomic finder uses 1.3-volt mercury batteries – which really can’t be found. There are substitutes that can be used, or modifications that could be made – but I like that the F2 natively uses batteries available today. The Canon F1 and F1n both use the 1.3-volt batteries, as well as the Olympus OM-1. So, the F2 is a nice choice if you want a completely mechanical camera whose meter uses readily available batteries.

Another interesting feature involves the shutter speed selection on the F2. Shutter speeds from 1/125th to 1/2000th (the speeds in green on the dial) of a second are continuously variable. So, as you’re metering, if your shutter speed is set between 1/125th and 1/250th, the shutter speed will be somewhere between those 2 speeds – similar to the way f-stops work (which seems way easier to accomplish). For a mechanical camera I think this is pretty unique (not to mention a nice feature).

That’s some of my thoughts about the F2. Wikipedia actually has a nice summary, with more detail about all the variations and special editions. Camerapedia has some good info too. I love reading about, and playing with, these old cameras. Maybe it makes me feel young again, or maybe it’s the mechanics of how these instruments were made that I’m fascinated with. I’m not sure, but I’m having fun anyway.

Some photos from around town with my F2SB, one of my favorite models.

If you find an F2 in working condition, give it a try and see what you think – and share some of your photos!