Nikon F4s vs Nikon F5

Nikon F4s or Nikon F5?

First, let me start with full disclosure. I shot with a Nikon F5 mostly from 1997 to about 2000.  (and a Rollei 6008/6006) But I switched back to the F4s for one reason only; I had to have both of my F5’s recovered. While it felt great, (the skin), and felt wonderful when holding, for some reason it would separate from the body and bubble. Probably because I’m a “greasy” Sicilian. 😁 And I’m sure you can get them recovered. However, they were used extensively, and in sometimes less than ideal conditions. That said, everything else is an upgrade in the F5, and I haven’t found anyone else with that issue. Though I have seen it on F5’s on Ebay. But for most shooters, that probably wouldn’t be an issue. That said, I’ve never felt deprived in any way using the F4s.




Nikon F4s or Nikon F5 – A Draw?

The advantage of the Nikon F4s using pre-AI lenses was also not an advantage to me, since I have no pre-AI glass. But it’s good to know you have the option,…I guess. Most photographers who prefer the F4 is because of the ability to use the MB-20 pack, making it much smaller and lighter. Or they just like knobs. The Nikon F4s configuration vs the Nikon F5 are pretty close in size and weight.

  • F4s =169mm x 157mm x 77mm (6.7 x 6.2 x 3.0 in.) 1,280g (45.1 oz.)

  • F5 = 158mm x 149mm x 79 mm (6.2 x 5.9 x 3.1 in.) 1,210g (42.7 oz)

As you can see, they’re so close that I never found much difference in actual use. I think of it this way. If you switch back and forth between an FM or F3 type camera, you’ll probably find the F4 the closest in layout, including dials and knobs. The only difference being that it’s autofocus. Same with the F5. If your other camera is a D3, or even D800, you’ll find the “LCD’ and and “joystick” location/layout pretty damn close. (and F100) Viewfinders? Both 100%, but the F5 is brighter. Since to this day I only use the center focus point then recompose, (even in digital), extra focus points mean nothing to me. If you count on “dynamic” or “continuous” focusing, the F5 is better. I don’t, so it’s a wash.


Nikon F4s
Late Serial Number F4 with locking hole in hotshoe.


Nikon F5


2 Different ‘Matrix Meterings’

While the F4s has Matrix metering, and will even Matrix meter with manual focus lenses, the F5 has “3D Matrix” metering. More sophisticated, and much closer to what’s used in Nikon digital cameras. However,…I haven’t found one to be more accurate than the other. You can’t really impove on “spot on” exposure. Maybe I just haven’t taken enough backlit images,…or whatever. I am a nerd,…but I’m not a dweeb. I’m sure the “3D” and “D” autofocus lenses mean something to somebody, but Nikon never convinced me. You’re either in focus and have proper exposure, or not. So I can’t really say the F5 is better there.


Nikon F4s Nikon F5


In fact, the reason I upgraded to the F5 in 1997, ($2000+), was I saw Ellen von Unwerth using it with a manual focus 50mm f/1.2 lens at Pastis, (the restaurant on 9th Ave near my apartment on Horatio), and like the typical young know-nothing photographer I was, I had to have one. But in retrospect, the F4s did the job just fine. But the F5 did focus noticeably faster. And the F5 did have built in exposure bracketing, the ability to be computer controlled and download info through Nikon’s Photo Secretary. The beginnings of EXIF, I suppose. Did I ever avail myself of these features? No. But then I wasn’t taking images of bullets in mid-flight.

FPS – Important? Eh…

Also, FPS is much faster on the F5. (F4s was 5.7 fps, the F5 8 fps) The coolest thing about the F5 was something you couldn’t see, A self-testing and self-correcting shutter. If your shutter speed erred to the point of affecting exposure, the camera would stop firing. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing,…never happened to me.


Nikon F5 Nikon F4s


Until the F6, the Nikon F5 was the most feature laden film camera in existence. The autofocus system, (CAM 1300), could track fast moving subjects better than any camera of its time. Just as today’s cameras, you could set to single shot, 1 fps, 3 fps and 7.4 fps. You could only do 8 fps by using the optional Ni-MH battery. And autofocus detection worked from EV -1 to EV 19. Not the best in the world, but pretty impressive. The big sales pitch over the F4s was the 3D Color Matrix system. When explained to me by a Nikon rep, the fact that it had a 1005 point CCD, and computed exposure based on “scene color” variables, I was impressed. But I think this mostly applied to out in the field shooters and natural light variables. Because in my day to day user controlled light shooting, I saw no difference. Oh,…and I mostly used a flashmeter anyway. So, while I’m sure this very advanced method of metering probably made a difference between the 2 cameras, I suppose it depends what you’re doing and how you work.

Nikkor “D” Lenses

While I’m not a fan of the “invisible magic” of “D” lenses, they are (mostly) just as good the non-D. I’ve only found one lens where it made a difference. The Nikkor 28mm lens, The “D” is better. And the 28mm f/2.8 AI-s is light years above that. But I don’t know why. Remember,…I’m a nerd, but not a dweeb. I’m sure someone will tell us. The F5 has adjustable Center-Weighted and Spot metering which are dead on accurate. As long as you know what 18% Gray looks like in color. 🙂

Other than loss of the supposed “advantage” of not losing Matrix metering with manual focus lenses on the F4s, the Nikon F5 pretty much wins everywhere else as far as features are concerned. Both have Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes. Although changing to Program Hi on the Nikon F5 is a PIA. But, again, I never use that mode anyway. While the grip is very comfortable and the build is solid, this is a BIG camera. And setting the custom functions is like a “ball of confusion”. Unless you’re a Japanese software engineer. Remember, this was way before Lightroom, etc. So, to most digital guys, the software would appear tedious, and badly designed. And, it was. But once set, you forget about it.

F4s – Naked Beauty

Besides the covering, (the F4 has no faux leather), I like the knobs, and prefer them over the LCD’s. But, I never had LCD bleed, shutter failure and the seals are close to airtight on the F5. But at the price differential in the used market, and the fact that the F5 really sucks power, I still give the F4s the edge. Both are professional cameras, with professional build features. Yeah, the F5 has finer exposure compensation, extended bracketing, and all that other mumbo-jumbo I don’t use. If you do, and like all the thumb wheels, Nintendo joystick and want the closest film camera to your digital Nikon, (except the F6), then the F5 is for you. Oh, one other thing. My 2 F4s cameras are late models. Normally, such things don’t concern me. But the hot shoe has a locking pin hole for the flash. (as do ALL F5’s) Earlier model F4’s are missing that hole, useful for newer Nikon flashes. They both have 1/250 second sync speed. The 1/300 sync speed on the F5 is only for Nikon flashes. Which screams ‘gimmick’ to me. DO NOT use it for your studio strobes! And both have adjustable diopters. (important to me)

If you need a really detailed description of using either camera, try both Moose Peterson and Thom Hogan. (who also sells extended and practical guides for both cameras) Google them.

Find F4s

Find F5





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