Saturday, June 23, 2012

the legendary nikon f4

Please note: this is only for camera aficionados. Specifically, Nikon fans. It goes into way more detail to be of interest to anybody but the most dedicated of photography fanatics.

There's nothing like my reverence for fine products to inspire me to post anew. In this instance, I'm paying homage to the legendary Nikon F4. When this product was introduced in 1988, I could not help but fantasize about one day owning one of these cameras.

My first camera was a Nikkormat (in my case, the Japanese model "Nikomat") FTN. This was a heavy, beautiful camera that by its nature just seemed purposeful. I had made this decision at the last moment switching from my initial impulse to order a Minolta SRT101 (another fine camera which still gives me pause whether I made the right decision or not, but that's fodder for another posting). In any event, the Nikomat naturally influenced my lens purchases as manufacturer's lenses were not portable across other lines (yet, another topic worth discussing since that has changed somewhat today with the micro 4/3rds standard, but I digress). It was only a natural progression to one day migrate to the F4. In the years between my Nikomat and the Nikon F4 I had purchased other Nikons. Notably, the FM and then the 8008S and finally, the F100, an amazing camera in and of itself. (The F100 is easily one of the best cameras I've had the privilege to own and I'm still amazed at the build quality and beauty of the sound of the shutter release each time I shoot with it) 

The Nikon F4 was the flagship model of the Nikon line-up. It boasted 1850 body parts, a communication network with a maximum of 7 CPUs, sophisticated software holding 43 million ways of operating conditions and 4 motors. It was the most advanced camera of its time and represented the largest technological leap from one model to the next EVER. At the time of its introduction, it cost $3600 (in today's currency). It was targeted specifically for the professional market and was therefore built with durability as well as ease-of-use in mind. Production was halted in 1996 when Nikon introduced the F5, an evolutionary model (not revolutionary, mind you). The beauty of the F4 is that it is compatible with every Nikon lens ever made, including those produced AFTER the camera was introduced. This is the only camera (with the exception of Leicas?) that can boast this capability. Canon, Minolta (now Sony), Pentax, all changed their lens mounts somewhere along the line to the annoyance of devotees of these respective manufacturer's product lines.

As you can image, with an 8-year production run, there a number of used Nikon F4s available on the market. With the advent of digital photography, such cameras have rapidly lost re-sale value as film has been relegated to near-obsolescence status. Thus, I have purchased my dream camera, now 24 years later at the cost of $295!  Yes, perhaps it can be viewed as sad that I have been unable to let it go after all of these years and have to satisfy that obsession when a newer technology has emerged. To me it's very fulfilling that after all of these years, I can satisfy that obsession EVEN when a newer technology has emerged. Since the camera was built for longevity, many F4 owners firmly believe they will be able to continue to use it through the rest of their lives. As proof, the F4 was built for a minimally reliable shutter cycle of 150,000. To put this into perspective, shooting the Nikon F4 for 10 years at a rate of 15 rolls (36 exposures per roll) per month, the shutter would have gone through approximately 64,800 cycles, roughly 43% of its rated minimum life. At the same rate it could be utilized reliably for another 13 years. I personally do not think my Nikon has been put through such a pace judging by its condition. So I suspect I will be able to utilize it for many, many years to come, especially since it has undergone inspection and had the requisite cleaning, lubrication and adjustment.

And so, I anxiously await the delivery of this latest purchase (my birthday present). It is on its way to my awaiting hands as I write this, having departed Seattle at midnight, via UPS with a scheduled delivery of Tuesday. It is in remarkable condition having been owned by an amateur rather than a professional, who undoubtedly would have put it through its paces on a daily basis. The high resolution photos of my particular camera  betray just a few minor scuff marks, with the seller describing it as "mint." I'll of course be anxious to inspect it, but I'm hopeful the photos accurately depict its present condition and that there will be no surprises.

Admittedly, I'm shooting again with film in preparation for the opportunity to utilize the F4. I love digital because of its immediacy and "disposable" image ability. By that I mean, I can review my images and erase them with a push of a button, allowing me the freedom to shoot without discrimination. Film is a little more precious to me. I tend to be stingy and perhaps too careful with the images I shoot with a film camera. However, in spite of the resolution advances of digital photography, there is still a quality of film that I believe cannot be reproduced in any other medium. I know there are many "traditional" photographers who would agree. There is a silkiness or smoothness about a film image that is just plain beautiful. Hopefully, one of my next posts will include some images taken with my new-old camera. 

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