Nikon F4s – The Brick

Nikon F4 – Nikons’ Best Ever?

If you have ever used a Nikon F4 (still my camera of choice), you’ll know it’s still considered one of Nikons’ greatest achievements. And greatest weapons of choice in a less than friendly environment.

The F4, F4E & most popular Nikon F4s  is not just probably the best laid out of all cameras, (Sorry Canon), but even, dare I say, perfect.  Although the digital era Nikon D3, D4 and D5 are based on an F5, the F4 is a very good setup for people who like dials rather than thumb wheel controlled LCD’s. Some critics say it was Nikons’ “transition” camera as all Nikon cameras became electronic. Neither here or there. But it became my favorite because there is almost no old or new flash you cannot use. The “s” , like the “e”, were just high speed versions. But you could use an MB-20 grip to make it much lighter. Something I did a couple of years ago. With the MB-20 grip, it drops down to 4FPS. Plenty fast for me. But it’s nice you can change battery packs at any time. The F4s and F4e are very heavy cameras. If you are coming from an FE2 or maybe a Leica, you’ll assume the users of this camera are ‘insane’. We are.

Every single backward and forward compatible lens & flash work, (almost), even surpassing the revered F5 in that respect. And the motor drive on the base of the ‘s’ is almost an unnoticeable appendage that melds into the body like no other motor drive/winder. (it’s actually a battery pack, not a motor drive)

 

Nikon F4s
Nikon F4 Top Deck

 

The Viewfinder

The finder is the brightest and clearest in the biz. Forget the add-ons,…not needed. The standard DP-20 finder with B screen is the brightest AF screen ever made, and even  brighter, (and 100%}, than many of Nikons’ manual focus models. No wonder Ellen von Unwerth liked using the manual focus 50mm f/1.2 on both her F4 and F5. That’s a lot of light! Of course it has a great range adjustable diopter, and if you can’t get it adjusted to your vision,…..uhhh,…you’re blind. If you’re using AF lenses, it’s fast and accurate. Although I did insert a J screen, which does a better job when manually focusing.

 

Nikon F4s

 

Also, great eye relief. No HP (high point finder), needed here. Some people say in daylight the finder LCD is hard to read, but I don’t find that to be true. Another internet myth. The meter is superb, and scary accurate. You have Spot, Center Weighted, and what was fairly new then, Matrix Metering.

 

Nikon F4s

 

On the ‘s’ model, there are 3 AA batteries in grip and 4 AA in motor drive for a total of 7! However, battery life is stupendous considering the era. I find that Enloops eliminate the need to be concerned in heavy shooting situations.

 

Nikon F4s

 

Unlimited Options

Of course you get manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, program modes. But just with AF lenses. With AI and AIs lenses, (yes, you can use almost all Nikon lenses), you get manual and aperture-priority. I don’t bother with pre-AI because of lack of electronic metering, but they are usable.

 

Nikon F4s Viewfinder
Nikon F4 Viewfinder

 

Flash systems go back to Nikons’ original TTL, but D-TTL and iTTL work fine. In fact, Nikons’ oldest thyristor flashes work well in A mode. Sometimes I think things have gotten overly complicated over the years.

 

Nikon F4s
Nikon F4s with 50mm f/1.8 and Tri-X

 

Nikon F4s Sample
Nikon F4s and 35mm f/2 © Federico Mastrianni

 

The Nikon F4 was, and probably still is, the most modern and innovative film camera Nikon ever produced. I know, I know,…Nikon F100, F5 and F6 had some really cool additions. But for a camera produced from 1988 to 1996, it’s still the only Nikon that maintained all the manual knobs, maximum compatibility,….and was useful in a gang brawl! Later models have the hot shoe locking pinhole, and say “Ni-Cd” in the lower left back. Those are the ones that fixed all minor little issues. Serial Numbers 251xxxxx and above seem to be the latest batch, and are preferred if you’re considering purchasing.

 

Nikon F4 Manual

 

 

 

 

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. ne ho “ancora” due (2), e ne ho possedute un tot.
    dai, siamo seri, pesa l’IRA di Dio, ma forse è proprio per questo che sta in mano che è un piacere!! l’f4 mi fa impazzire, è troppo forte!

  2. I love it too! 🙂

  3. I have owned and used just about every Nikon ever produced, including digitals such as D2x D2xs D3 D3s D3x and every the much berated DF which I found fine to use. My now favourite two cameras to use above all others are F2AS and the F4s. I think the F4s for me in my own humble opinion is the best Nikon ever made !!!!

  4. NJC,

    I agree. While I do like the F5, and even the F3, there are little annoyances about both that always returns me to the F4s. And if market value is any indication, it’s still Nikon’s best value pro camera. Go figure. 🤔

    Federico

  5. Excellent article, I’m glad I found it. And your pronouncement of this camera’s admirers being ‘insane’ is spot on. I shot with an F4s as a newspaper photog a few decades ago and slogged that beast around for years. Additionally, my bag also held a backup body (F3HP w/ MD-4, later swapped out for an 8008s), and 24, 35, 85, 80-200, and 300 glass. I’m now in my 50s and have back problems, but no matter… I loved that camera for all of the reasons you mentioned, and more. Photography was not simply a means of income, but was — and still is — an opportunity to explore and to experience new things… to appreciate triumphs and failures and simplicity and chaos and solitude. And that F4 shared many of those experiences with me.

    So as the digital age bullied its way into the present times and 35mm film production started dropping off like the 1929 stock market, I held out as long as I could, but the writing was on the wall: film is less productive, film is expensive, film is bad for the environment, film is dead. My DSLRs were now getting all of the action. So I bought a table at a local camera show and parted ways with my F, FM, FM2, FE2, N90s, 8008s, and my beloved F4. I paid close to $2,000 US for it and sold it for less than a tenth of that. I was saddened, but believed it was practical and necessary. Before the week was out I began to regret that decision, and even more so upon the later realization that film didn’t die after all.

    As fate would have it, however, a friend was clearing out old photo gear recently and gave me an F4s that had been sitting unused for years. I took it home, mounted a 24mm lens, and the instant I put that camera up to my eye, all of the experiences came surging back. What a marvelous feeling — like hearing a song from years ago that stirs your insides around, or being transported back to grandma’s house when the smell of freshly baked cinnamon bread wafts into your nose. Six batteries and a roll of XP2 later, I was out of the house and making images with it. I don’t know if I’m trying to recapture my past or if I’m trying to live in it, or if I even have anything more original to say photographically. None of that matters. It feels like an old friend is out exploring with me again, and that’s good enough.

  6. Weirdly,…I can’t explain it in words. There is just something about that camera. Maybe because it was capable of fending off a Pit Bull on Mott St. in NYC. (true) I had a Nikon D810, but scaled back to a D4. (16.2 MP) Mostly because it is closer to the “feeling” of an F4s-F5. Probably should have gotten a Nikon Df. Oh, well. 😊
    Federico

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