A Nikon F4s and 50mm f/1.2 AI-s. Not all that radical. Or is it? First, there may or may not be people out there who ascribe to a similar workflow. That’s not to suggest they are “warped”. Although in my case, some find that questionable. Nevertheless, using a manual focus lens with an AF camera is not all that unusual. In fact, I can point to very famous photographers who do. (see image of Ellen Von Unwerth and her F5 and Ai-s 50mm) Not that an AF of the same focal length wouldn’t be fine. It usually is. Especially if you shoot everything above f/5.6. While different lenses “draw” differently, once you go above a certain f stop, the differences become almost inconsequential. Particularly at the shorter focal lengths.
Nikon F4s Autofocus Vs. Manual Focus
Although giving a nod to those who may disagree, I think everyone would agree that once you “open up” a lens, both faults and advantages are amplified tenfold. Uhhh,…maybe not tenfold, but you get the idea. The reason I shoot with a manual lens on a specific camera, (Nikon F4), is simple. I slowly compose images, I sometimes want to “feel” movement in images, I love this particular lens, (Nikon 50mm Ai-s 1.2), and the amount of light it lets in, (both for the images/bokeh and just the visceral feel of it) and that camera has Nikon’s most wide ranging lens compatibility. (and has a variable diopter)
So, now you know the basis. Some of it may have stupid reasoning to certain people. But all are valid reasons to me. If you shoot sports or kids at play, you could certainly find better AF Nikkor choices. But, I don’t shoot sports. Plus, I’d be using a longer lens.
Set to ‘M’!
Of course, the first thing is to set the mode selector to ‘M’. You can use a flash set to TTL, but the IR focus assist is moot. And only works in ‘S’ mode, anyway. (if you’re using an AF lens, it also only works in ‘S’,…not ‘C’!) Some think that’s a dumb thing done by Nikon, because the firing mode at the shutter release button redundantly reflects the mode. Whatever. Once I have my 50mm 1.2 on, I’m not changing it anyway. There are three focus modes available through a focus mode selector provided on the camera body. Each mode corresponds the type of lens and selection of either AF or MF operation.
If anything you do requires using focus tracking, (‘C’…Continuous), you should use an AF lens, as the Nikon F4s has a computer-assisted focus tracking module which calculates the anticipated moves of the subject matter. All very cool,…but remember, photographers have been taking sharp images from way before AF was invented. Is AF easier? Sure. And my iPhone is also easier. Easier is not always better.
A Very Bright Lens
Manual focusing is great with the Nikon F4s for 2 reasons; One, the variety of focus screens available is fantastic, and two, you have a backup focus verification built in with the electronic rangefinder. When focused, that little green light comes on in the viewfinder, and works whether using an AF Nikkor lens or an ancient MF Nikkor. So, you can use the standard BriteView B screen, which is a clear matte screen or interchangeable focusing screens. Not a couple of focusing screens. Ten of them. Not counting the ‘Beattie Intenscreens’. With a range of screens such as microprisms, gridded and split-image screens. They are sensitive down to EV-1. Which means even in a dark nightclub setting you can clearly see all. And though that is pretty dark, any questionable focus and the in-focus indicator LED can be relied upon. Of course, the faster the lens, the better it works.
But the reason I love this combination is I’m always sure of focus. Yeah, yeah, I know modern camers have 10 zillion focusing points. But, why? AF, whether a Nikon D810 or F5 have problems with metallic surfaces, strong backlighting and certain filters. So, you ask, why not just use an F3 or FM? Two reasons. Matrix metering with almost every lens, and I like motor drives. And cameras with variable diopters. While the F4s is no lightweight, have you ever felt an F3 with MD-4 motordrive? Might as well use a Mamiya RB67! Plus you can lighten the F4s up quite a bit while still retaining motordrive capabilities by changing out the battery pack from an MB-21 to MB-20. The last reason is a very personal preference,… I like knobs.
F5 & Manual Lenses – No Matrix Metering
So why not the F5? Ellen is using that same lens with an F5. Yes, she is. And I’m sure using a handheld meter. (or her assitants are) But I don’t always use one, especially on unexpected “grab” shots. And only the Nikon F4s Matrix meters with manual focus lenses. And Nikon’s Matrix metering is very, very good. (although manual lenses do Matrix meter on an F6) Lastly, I don’t “hate” autofocus. In fact, I have a Contax G camera with autofocus that I would never attempt to manual focus, even though it’s (supposedly) possible. Plus I have a totally manual focus Rollei 6000 series.
I included a PDF download link to the Nikon F4s manual, and Nikon’s link to the 50mm f/1.2. (Yes, they still sell it)