Nikon F5
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Seldom has a SLR-camera received such an attention by the press at first arrival as the professional Nikon F5. That was back in June 1996 and when it comes to 35mm bodies, the F5 is still tough to beat.
 
An old door. Click for 1024 x 768
An old door (Anno 1733) in the city of Bräunlingen, Germany. August 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 150mm, flash filled with the SB-24 on Fujichrome Velvia.

Introduction

The different sections on this page are

Why an F5 is interesting for amateur use
You don't brake a shoulder
Metal & rubber - the handling in general
The controls - the handling in detail
The command dials
The silly push buttons
The mechanical ones
The LC-Displays

The autofocus
The exposure metering system
Power needs power
Film transportation

Most obviously the F5 is one of the killer SLR 35mm bodies on the market: 8 frames per second while autofocusing in-between letting the mirror dance at such a pace that your eye cannot see the dark pauses, 5 CPU's (3x16bit, 1x8bit and 1x4 bit), 4 coreless motors, a memory (ROM) capacity beating any camera before it, a self-diagnostic shutter designed for at least 150.000 operations all coming in a alluminium-alloy housing with a detachable viewer in titanium.

OK, so much for the general goodies. Now, is this camera really as good as you're supposed to believe if you're listening to what Nikon and all the pro's using it say?

I'm a serious amateur, that is I'm not making a living on photography, but I'm more or less hooked since I was a kid. Probably (and theoretically), I might very well be able to shoot pictures having a similar quality using a 400 dollar body and a prime 50mm, sure, but there are indeed a whole bunch of features on this baby that have made my pic's getting an awful lot better since I started using it.

Ever wondered how the few, the great photographers of "our" time did it without all the nifty technical stuff we have today? Well, buy a used, manual body for 150 dollars, attach a 80 dollar prime 50mm/1.8, nail the window panes shut in that old, second bathroom of yours, throw out the hamburgers in the fridge, stuff it with 2000 rolls of Tri-X and a rich assortment of paper, get into the crowd down town while you're sticking to 1/125 and off you go. It's all in the mind-eye you know (and I'm not talking Canonic-45-Points-Eye-Focusing here). For all of us who don't feel that we could stand this, keep on reading.

In this review, I'll try to point out the pros (and the few cons) using this lovely piece of engineering art coming with the slim model name "F5" - as seen through the eyes of an amateur.

There are several, more or less good, F5 reviews on the net, but they're seldom viewing the camera in respect of amateur use. Sure, it is a professional body, but I really believe that there are a whole lot of people out here that might be thinking of getting an F5, not being pro's, but rather ambitious amateurs. This review is for all of you. As always, if you want to ask something, comment on this review or just leave a note in general, use the page comment link located at the end of the page (thanks to Phil), or send me an e-mail.

Oh, before I forget it: Thanks for stopping by and I enjoy your stay :-)

   
Sign at the Roman Bath Ruins in Hüfingen. Click for 800 x 600
This sign is located at the entrance of the old Roman Bath Ruins which were built approx. 75 A.D.
Hüfingen, Germany. November 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D on Fujichrome Velvia.
 

Why an F5 is interesting for amateur use

I used a fairly simple Nikon F-401 (N-4004) for some 10 years before I bought the F5. That is, I know what slow and jumpy autofocus means. I actually was capable of getting some decent shots with the F-401, but that was seldom. There are some shots done with the F-401 on this site, pictures which I think turned out fairly decent. I dreamt of getting an F4 for several years, but somehow the price tag always kept me away from it, so it stayed at piling brochures. I am now glad that I never bought the F4, since even if I've never used it, I believe that the F5 is so much better in every aspect.

   
 

The major top-ten reasons why an F5 might be of interest for the serious amateur

 

1. You get a point and shot SLR producing marvelous results.

2. You instantly achieve results often beating your earlier pictures - technical wise that is.

3. You get a body that you can use with nearly all of your old Nikkors.

4. You can buy it used in a mint condition for less than 1,500 USD - say thank you to F100 :-) That is, it's tough to get used F100's, but you can get a used F5 with more stuff for roughly the same price as an F100.

5. You might start looking for perfection in your "work", having a tool that you know is close to flawless. This has for example led me to use more expensive, high resolution film, such as the Fujichrome ISO 50 Velvia slide material. OK, if we're talking running costs, this can also be seen as a negative aspect of using an F5 :-(

6. You can slowly upgrade to expensive and fast AF and AF-S Nikkor's to shoot-and-forget about focusing issues.

7. Your friends will start asking you if you want to take shots of them (OK, maybe another negative aspect of having an F5).

8. If you're quality minded, the handling and the feel is a thrill.

9. You sense a pure photographic lust while using it.

10. You start locking your old car again.

   
A lamp post. Click for 1024 x 768
An interesting lamp post. The light conditions were poor and I didn't have any flash with me though one can see how well the RGB metering system worked on this shot under these light conditions. The picture was taken late afternoon, somewhere around 17:00. Schwarzwald, Germany. November 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D handheld at some 130mm on Fujichrome Velvia.
 
  The major top-ten reasons why not an F5 might be of interest for the serious amateur
 

1. You don't like cameras weighting more than 1 Lbs. (The F5 body alone is 1240g = 2.2 Lbs.)

2. You're concerned that your friends might think you're a bragging brat.

3. You don't care about AF since you're "way much faster" with manual and the "modern cameras are full of useless gadgets" anyway.

4. You need a small camera since you're doing street photography and would be ashamed of dragging around with a 80-200 AF attached to the F5 down town.

5. You rather spend money alone on classy Nikkors and the budget doesn't allow you to spend it on a classy body and on the Nikkors.

6. You think that the F100 is the body you need, since it is smaller and comes with 80% of the F5 features.

7. You think you need the eye control focus of the Canon EOS-3.

8. You think you need redeye reduction coming with a built-in flash which can sync with a remote flash.

9. You have ten Minolta lenses in the wardrobe.

10. You have five Canon lenses in your unlocked car.

OK, so much for being silly. Now, let's see what's really in and about the F5.


The voluntary fire brigade of Rottweil. Click for 1024 x 768
The voluntary fire brigade of the city of Rottweil, southern Germany August 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 80mm on Fuji Velvia, flash filled with the SB-24.

You don't break a shoulder

One of the most popular issues raised against buying an F5 has been the weight of this camera. There are three important issues which you should think through before this becomes an issue for you too:

1. All included. At some 1200g (2.2 Lbs), this is not a featherweight champion, true, but it comes with the batteries and a 8 fps high speed motor drive included. If you add that to e.g. an F100 you're talking approx. the same weight.

2. Balance. It's very well balanced, having the center of mass fairly low. With smaller lenses (up to 135mm), it most definitely doesn't dip the nose when worn in a shoulder strap. It's actually even possible to carry it that way with a 1300g 80-200 AF zoom, though with a clear nose-dipping tendency. Whenever I have that combo on the shoulder, I wear the lens pointing downwards as not to bang it against something. Due to the "serious" weight and great balance of the F5, you can even shoot handheld in really low light situations using fairly slow film (let's say ISO 200 or 400).

3. Don't forget the lens. If you're into glass, i.e. you want/need fast lenses in the tele area, these lenses are fairly heavy, typically resulting in that smaller bodies cannot keep the set stay horizontal while worn in a single strap, nor is the balance as good as with the F5 whenever handheld using such bodies.

I never have had any problems with the weight of the F5. Granted, I too thought it would maybe cause me physical problems, but I have been walking around for more than six hours straight (no pun intended) having the F5 & 80-200 attached to a shoulder strap without any negative side effects. No, at 170 Lbs./6'2" I'm not an athlete ;-)

Several people have mentioned that using an elastic shoulder strap, such as the ones manufactured by OP/TECH makes them feel uncomfortable whenever attached to a combo as mentioned above - safety wise that is. I use such a strap the whole time, and, the polyprene stuff is really good. Maybe that's even the reason why I don't think the weight is an issue at all.

OK, let's have a look at the general handling of the F5.


Anette kicking a rubber boot. Click for 1024 x 768
Annette kicking a rubber boot. A game invented by bored soldiers in the 30-year old war. Somewhere in Switzerland, end of July 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at 200mm on Fujichrome Velvia.

Metal & Rubber - the handling in general

The handling of the F5 is a thrill. That's the short version. You don't loose the grip of this baby, all coated with a heavy-duty rubber. If you have sweaty hands on a warm day, don't panic - the body is in a firm grip.

Most of the buttons are located where you expect them to be and close to everything is locked; either mechanically or electronically. You have two shutter release buttons: one for horizontal and one for vertical use. The grip of the body is designed so that you can hold the camera in a single (right) hand for both horizontal or vertical shots.

Twist the camera 90 deg CCW and place your hand so that the massive, protruding right side "handle" now rests on your long finger with the palm of your hand covering the tripod socket. The little and ring finger having a nice grip further down, the index finger on the vertical release button while your left hand is typically either on the lens barrel or just supporting the body short (low) side. This is really a steady version of a vertical hold.

The vertical release button needs an additional comment. This button has a lock lever which can theoretically be operated by single a finger, where the lock lever rotates around the release button. The energy needed to rotate the lock lever is though pretty high, and I typically must remove the face from the camera to be able to lock/unlock the button. You probably want to have this button locked since fat hands (read: larger hands), likely might trigger the button in horizontal mode with the cushion below the little finger gently pressing against the push button.

I use the vertical-shutter-release-button-lock-lever (what a word) 50:50. That is, half of all the time I don't have the vertical shutter release button locked since it's so easy and fast to twist the camera and press for a vertical shot. It has though happened that I have by mistake shot off a picture by the palm of the hand that way. Not a major annoyance, but worth to be mentioned.

The horizontal (main) shutter release button is located where probably all shutter release buttons are located: on the right top side of the camera (the main control area). It's easy to operate, has a very distinctive feeling (just as it's cousin on lower right hand side) and is indirectly locked by - yes, you guessed it - a rotating (some 80deg) switch. This is the main power/illumination switch. You can easily operate both this switch and the shutter release button without removing your big nose from the body. According to Nikon, you operate the main power/illumination switch and the shutter release button with two fingers: the long finger for the power switch and the index finger for the shutter release button. I do this too, but sometimes it's just easier to use the index finger for both operations - I guess it comes down to how long fingered you are :-)


Butterfly bush: Click for 1024 x 768

A "Butterfly bush" (Sorry Carl v. Linné - don't have the Latin name at hand).
August 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 80mm on Fujichrome Velvia.


The controls - the handling in detail

The F5 has quite a number of controls. Counting all the switches, buttons and dials I end up with some 34 controls in all. Several of these may be reprogrammed using the Custom Settings. On top of that you have two external, backlit LCD's, one internal, two external and twelve internal LED's. Three connectors give the F5 the chance to communicate with peripheral equipment, such as flashes and a PC/Mac.

Just a note on the custom settings (CS) - more follows further below in the review.
The CS are used for adjusting the default behavior of the F5. This mainly relates to the visible controls on the body. There are a total of 24 different functions in the CS which can be modified directly on the camera. An additional 17 CS functions can be modified using a PC program called "Nikon Photo Secretary for F5". I won't discuss these additional 17 functions for now. The 24 standard functions are numbered 1...24 (#1...#24). There are two sets of identical custom settings, i.e. two "memory banks" or "register banks". Of course only one bank is the active one and you can easily switch back and forth between the two. Below I refer to several of the custom settings as "CS". A custom setting with the menu number 6 would simply be referred to as CS #6.

The number of controls may look scary at a first glance, but it's not that bad. In fact, you will likely not use all of them and nearly all are logically located.

First, let's have short overview of the controls:

   
  Right hand side
 

On the front:
1. Sub-command dial (SCD)
2. Mirror lockup lever
3. Depth-of-field preview push button

On the top:
1. Rotating power- and illumination switch
2. Shutter release button
3. AF area mode push button [+]
4. Exposure mode push button [mode]
5. Exposure compensation button [+/-]
6. Multiple exposure button
7. Top (main) LCD panel

On the standard finder DP-30:
1. Metering system selector (3D/Center/Spot)
2. Diopter adjustment knob (-3...+1 dpt)

On the short side:
1. Vertical-shooting shutter release button
2. Lock lever for vertical shutter release button

 

 

Big bird. Click for 1024 x 768
A Black Heron taking off from a branch. This bird visits us every winter, fishing in the river behind the house. I believe it is pretty old, maybe this is why it has a great, white spot on one wing. November 1999. Nikon F5 using Ch film transport speed and dynamic AF. Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at 200mm on Fujichrome Velvia.

Left hand side
 

On the front:
1. Focus mode selector [S/C/M]
2. Lens release button
3. Sync terminal
4. Red colored self-timer indicator LED

On the top:
1. Film advance mode selector lock release
2. Film advance mode/self-timer selector [S/Cl/Ch/Cs/Timer]
3. Camera back lock release
4. Manual film rewind knob and crank
5. Red colored alert LED (also viewable from behind)

 

 

  On the back
  1. Rewind lever [2<<] and rewind button [1<<]
2. Five small push buttons hidden behind a vertical magnetic-lock door:
[ISO] Film speed, Flash sync, [BKT] Bracketing, [L] Lock and [CSM] Custom Setting Menu.
3. Rear LCD panel
4. Auto exposure/Autofocus lock button [AE-L AF-L]
5. Two Autofocus On buttons [AF-ON], one for horizontal and one for vertical use
6. Main-command dial (MCD)
7. Focus area selector (left/right/up/down). A round push button with four small arrows on it.
8. 10-pole female connector for PC/Mac (aka Mini-DIN)

A knight in stone. Click for 1024 x 768

A knight in stone. The city of Rottweil, Germany August 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 150mm filled with the SB-24
on Fujichrome Velvia


The command dials

Let's start with the command dials. There are two command dials on the F5, both located at the right side; one on the front side and one at the back. The two command dials have very distinct positions with clicks that you can hear and feel. A dial travels 16 positions upon one complete revolution.

The dials are the two most important controls on the camera. The form of the dials allows you to operate them even with gloves on.

The one on the front is referred to as "Sub-Command Dial" (SCD) and the one at the back as the "Main-Command Dial" (MCD) You typically operate the MCD with your thumb and the SCD with the index finger. I'm mainly an Aperture priority guy, so most of the time I use the SCD way more than the MCD; the SCD is used for selecting the aperture in Aperture (A) priority and Manual (M) exposure mode.

   
  The SCD is used for three things
 

You manipulate the following three settings with the SCD:

1. Aperture. Setting the aperture in A and M mode. You must have the aperture ring on the (CPU) lens locked at the minimum aperture to be able to use the SCD for aperture value selection.

2. Bracketing. Setting the number of exposures and exposure compensation steps if you're using bracketing. (I never use bracketing - there's is no need to since the F5 exposure metering is always dead right on). This is done in combination with pressing a small button marked BKT hidden behind a small door at the lower left back.

3. Custom Setting item select. Selecting a value in one of the Custom Setting Menus. This is done in combination with pressing a small button marked CSM hidden behind a small door at the lower left back. For example: you simply press the CSM button and dial the SCD to switch between one of the two CS register banks, or you go to CS #16 (self-timer duration setting) by pressing the CSM button and dial the MCD until "16-AValueSomething" shows up in the rear LCD, then selecting one of the possible items (in this case the duration of the self-timer, 2...60 seconds) by rotating the SCD.

The default behavior is that the SCD decrease a value when you rotate it CCW while it increase the value being rotated in CW direction, for example the aperture value. If you for some strange reason want to invert this behavior, you can activate CS #6. Activating this CS, both the SCD and the MCD operate completely in the opposite direction.

If you want to disable the aperture selection via the SCD, you activate CS #22. If you disable the CSD aperture selection, you must set the aperture directly via the aperture ring on the lens.

You can lock a selected aperture in A or M mode by pressing the [L] Lock button (you remember? That's the button hidden by the small "door" at the bottom left back of the camera) while dialing the CSD one step. One more step removes the aperture lock.

 
Rottweil. Click for 1024 x 768

This is Germany. The main street in the old city of Rottweil with all the decorative stuff. This city is worth a visit should you ever come to southern Germany. August 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 100mm on Fujichrome Velvia.

 
  The MCD is allegedly the most important control of the F5 manipulating at least ten different settings
 

"Important" in this case means that it can be used for selecting and setting a whole bunch of different functions and not necessarily that you rotate it on a minute-basis :-)

Let's see what you can do with the MCD. The most important aspect of the MCD is likely to change the shutter speed in Shutter (S) Priority and Manual (M) exposure mode.

In S or M mode, you can lock the shutter speed by pressing the [L] Lock button while dialing the MCD one step. One more step removes the shutter time lock.

Most often, you'll use the MCD in combination with one of the three, tiny buttons on top of the camera, namely:
1. The AF area mode push button [+]
2. The exposure mode push button [mode]
3. The exposure compensation button [+/-]

All three of these tiny buttons are really hard to press down - I think. I have no idea how high the exact force is that I must apply to operate them, but it's definitely pretty high and I guess I will never be able to wear down these push buttons. As soon as you have a bit of nail on that index finger, they're really tough to operate. The ideal F5 push button finger is either very bony with a "high pressure point", or soft without a nail... Except for the [mode] button, I seldom use these buttons.

In combination with a press on another button, the MCD can be used for the following settings:

1. Exposure mode selection. The exposure modes are Programmed (P), Shutter (S) Priority, Aperture (A) Priority, or Manual (M) mode. You select the exposure mode by pressing the exposure mode [mode] button and dial the MCD. There is no end to the selection cycle, i.e. you'll for example see P...S...A...M...P...S if you would dial the MCD CCW in the top (main) LC-Display (if you haven't changed the dial direction with CS #6).

2. Flexible program adjust. The MCD shifts the shutter speed-aperture value pairs in P mode. If you adjust the default pair by rotating the MCD in this mode, you will see a small star (*) to the right of the P in the top LC-Display. Nikon calls this the "Flexible Program". The flexible program stays in effect until:

a) the metering system turns off (after a couple of seconds. The metering system on-time can be set to 4, 8, 16 or 32 seconds via CS #15. I like to save power, so I have it set at 4 seconds while 16 seconds is the default)
b) you change exposure mode
c) you turn off the camera
d) you reset the camera (by pressing the BKT and CSM buttons simultaneously for at least two seconds)

3. Exposure compensation. Press the [+/-] push button while you dial the MCD. The compensation can be applied in 1/3 steps, from -5EV to +5EV. The compensation, for example +0.3, is visible in both the top LCD and in the viewfinder. The compensation stays in effect even if the camera is turned off. You must manually reset the compensation.

4. Multiple exposure. Is this feature really needed? OK, you press the Multiple exposure push button on top of the camera (symbol looks like two frames with a slight offset on top of each other), shoot one picture and then take another picture. The multiple exposure is automatically disabled after two exposures and the film will advance one frame.

5. Dynamic AF on/off. Press the AF area mode [+] push button and dial one step.

6. Bracketing on/off. Press the bracketing [BKT] button and dial one step. Yeah, really an overused function - not.

7. Select a custom setting menu. Press the [CSM] button and dial until the desired CS number is displayed in the rear LC-Display. You use the SCD to select one of the available items in the selected menu.

8. Select film speed. (DX override). Press the [ISO] button and dial until the desired film speed is displayed in the rear LC-Display. A force change of film speed (DX-override) stays in effect even if you change the film. You must press the [ISO] button and rotate the MCD until the DX symbol dial in rear LC-Display lights up to leave the override mode.

9. Select flash sync mode. Press the flash sync button and dial the MCD. The cycle is: Front-Curtain Sync, Slow Sync and Rear-Curtain Sync. There's no end to the selection cycle. The selected flash sync mode is displayed in the rear LC-Display.

10. Camera back settings. Using an optional camera back, such as the MF-28 or MF-27, you use the MCD for a whole bunch of additional settings. Since I don't have such a back, the possible settings won't be discussed in this review.

OK, so much for the "most important control" on the F5. As you can see, if you're shooting a lot of pictures in Aperture (A) exposure mode (the most useful exposure mode on the F5) you won't flip around on this dial the whole time.

   
Addictions. Click for 1024 x 768
"Addictions". December 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at 80mm on Fujichrome Provia 100F. Manfrotto Carbon #1 tripod, Novoflex MagicBall, some six different light sources plus SB-24 Speedlight beating down on a white office desk. Glow added in Photoshop.
 

The silly push buttons

As already mentioned earlier, the three main push buttons on the top right side of the F5 are pretty tough to operate. Happily enough, most of the time I only need to use the exposure mode [mode] button, so it's not that much of a pain.

If you're into wildlife or sports photography, you'll likely have the F5 in the dynamic AF mode the whole time, so you won't need to press around on the AF area mode [+] button too much.

If you're as lazy as I am when it comes to switching exposure modes, you'll likely stick with the Aperture (A) exposure mode some 80% of the time, so you don't need to press on the exposure mode button too much either. Btw, this mode is likely the most useful of all the exposure modes you get with the F5.

And at last, if you feel the need for exposure compensation, yes this can be very handy in dull weather or in really strong light situations, you must press down the exposure compensation [+/-] button.

In all, the buttons are OK, but I somehow wish they would be at least a bit bigger.

 

An apple tree. Click for 1024 x 768
An apple tree. Germany. November 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D handheld at some 180mm on Fujichrome Velvia.

The mechanical ones

There are several levers and purely mechanical acting switches on the F5. These are for all:

1. Mirror lockup lever
2. Lens release button
3. Camera back lock release
4. Diopter adjustment knob
5. Film advance mode selector lock release
6. Film rewind lever lock release
7. Battery holder release knob

The mirror lockup lever
This fella is a true minus. You must be Tarzan to operate this one. I seldom use it, but every now and then I must. You have to press the lever some 90 degrees downwards and it really feels way too small as you do. The first 3/4 of the way it's sort of easy to operate, but when it goes into the "lock area", it starts to get troublesome and you have to apply a lot of force. It's like trying to bend up a 30 ton Scania with a tooth pick. At some point the lever is down and the mirror locks. This one is a PITA, but I am happy that it exists.

Lens release button
No problems here at all. Everyone who knows Nikon knows this button. A single press-and-hold and you can switch lens. The bayonet is marvelous and the mechanical tolerances are very small. Even if you mount lenses beyond 2 Lbs., this bayonet is great.

Camera back lock release
No complaints here either. You push a small, mechanical, spring loaded slide switch some 10 degrees CW and then pull up the film rewind knob some 15mm (~3/4").

Diopter adjustment knob
A nice feature not find on all bodies. I don't wear glasses, but adjusted this knob one step for perfect view. The knob is located at the right side (camera seen from behind) of the DP-30 Finder. You pull out the knob some 5mm (~0.2"), turn it and then push it back in again. The "High-Eyepoint-Viewfinder", the DP-30, is great and you can be some 20mm away from the viewfinder seeing all details in the viewfinder. This is of course an important feature for people wearing glasses. If you wear glasses, you likely don't need to play around with the diopter adjustment.

Film advance mode selector lock release
A much too small push button at the very top left corner of the body. You press it down to operate the rotating film advance mode selector. No complaints except that the button is too small and you likely won't do this while having your nose plastered to the body.

Film rewind lever lock release
Located just below the film rewind lever #2. You press it with the thumb and let the thumb move the film rewind lever upwards. Easy to operate. You must push the film rewind button #1 at the lower right back of the camera simultaneously to rewind the film. Since the latter button is hidden behind a spring loaded "door" and because you must keep both the rewind lever and the rewind button pressed, there's no way you would rewind a film by mistake - feels a bit like Fort Knox and might be seen as overcautious engineering. As several readers have noted: You do not need to keep button #1 nor button #2 pressed the whole time to rewind the film: Both buttons and the lever holds by themself when the buttons are depressed completely.

Battery holder release knob
A classy solution on locking the battery compartment. You must pull out and turn the release knob. Then you use it for pulling out the batteries (or the accumulator pack if you have a MN-30 inserted). No complaints here either.

Other purely mechanical controls on the F5 would include the manual film rewind crank and knob. I have never been in a situation where I needed it, but who knows... Btw, as the film rewind crank and knob rotates as the film advance you can actually block the knob with your left hand. This is not a good thing. I believe it's actually possible to rip apart a film this way - or at least block the film advance completely. OK, this has not happened to me, but a couple of times I've accidentally blocked the knob while shooting, hearing the film roll squeak inside.

 

An old tractor. Click for 1024 x 768
A "Lanz Bulldog". Germany. September 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Velvia.

The LC-Displays

Having the EC-B screen mounted on the F5 (which you have if you're using the default stuff which came with the F5 as you bought it), you actually have four LCD's:

1. The main (top) LCD
2. The rear LCD
3. The LCD in the lower portion of the viewfinder
4. The transparent LCD of the EC-B screen

The main and rear LCD's are backlit with the typical bright-blue Nikon color (same color as the speedlight's LCD backlight). The backlight goes on when you force the spring loaded power-on switch beyond the center (ON) position direction a small bulb symbol. It goes off when you do this once more or when the metering system turns off (either after 4, 8, 16 or 32 seconds). Default being 16 seconds, changeable with CS #15.

The main LCD holds a lot of data, and I won't go into all the details here, since a picture of the LCD would be much better - yes, I will place one here soon. Suffice to say that this LCD contains a heck of a lot of information divided upon four rows. The main LCD always shows the number of the next frame, even if the camera is turned off - this is really a good thing. OK, if there is no battery left, you won't see a thing.

The most important information displayed on the main LCD is:
1. Exposure mode (a big P, S, A or M)
2. Aperture
3. Shutter speed
4. Selected focus area
5. Dynamic focus active
6. Current frame number
7. Lock indications for the aperture, shutter speed and focus area
8. Battery status
etc.

The rear LCD is mainly responsible for displaying the film speed, i.e. the ISO value. It also shows the current CSM stuff when you operate the CSM and the current flash sync selection.

The rear LCD displays among others:
1. Film speed
2. Custom settings information
3. Flash sync information
4. Bracketing stuff

The wide, thin LCD at the bottom of the DP-30 finder comes with a yellow backlight and has very good contrast. It shows a multitude of information, lots of the stuff you already see in the main LCD.

The viewfinder LCD displays stuff such as:
1. Aperture
2. Shutter speed
3. Current frame number
4. Activated metering system
5. Exposure compensation
etc.

The transparent LCD of the viewfinder won't be discussed here, since it actually can be seen as a part of the EC-B screen being discussed in several sections of this review (remember the fat squares? That's this LCD).

The main LCD has been hard wired to have a viewing angle tilted backwards, i.e. it's best viewed from slightly behind the camera. This is then the typical position you will have when you view it. The rear LCD has its viewing angle tilted upwards, so it's best viewed from above (and of course from behind). This is also the typical view you will have on it.

In all, the LCD's have high contrast and the backlight is really OK. I don't think there would be any use inventing a control for the viewing angle of the top and rear LCD, since the angles are really well thought through.


Christmas market in Villingen. Click for 1024 x 768

Christmas market in the city of Villingen, southern Germany. December 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Provia
100F. Colors suffered from not using flash fill.


The autofocus

OK, that was some mechanical stuff - now let's get down and dirty - electronically I mean. The autofocus is one of the F5's really bright sides. The F5's AF is very fast and precise, even in low-light situations and even so without any help of nervously blinking IR LED's on Nikon Speedlights.

The module responsible for the magic is called "CAM1300", where "1300" is roughly the number of CCD-elements used in the module (there are actually over 1,300 CCD elements in the CAM1300). The CAM1300 is split upon three separate chips where all the CCD elements are divided upon five sensors (small printed circuit boards, or PCB's).

Let's have a closer look at how this work.
These five sensors are located in a cross arrangement, where one, the largest sensor is located in the center having four sensors surrounding it. You could probably write a book about how these sensors and the electronics behind work, but let's keep it short.

The sensors cover the central area of the view. This is then approx. the circle you see if you look through the viewfinder using the standard focusing screen EC-B, an area of some 16 x 7,1mm (W x H). There are a total of 13 interchangeable screens available for the F5 . The EC-B screen comes with a transparent LCD, so actually the standard F5 has four LCD's: The main on top, the rear, the one at the bottom of the viewfinder and the transparent one in the screen. There are four small squares located around the middle square on nearly all screens. This is also the case on the EC-B screen. The squares then correspond to the location of the focus areas (the five sensors).

The sensors can be divided into the following three types:

Line sensor. The two sensors responsible for the top and bottom metering areas are of this type.

Small double cross sensor. The left and right metering areas each uses a sensor of this type.

Large double cross sensor. The central metering area uses a single sensor of this type.

The top line sensor is slightly tilted from left to right. The right and left double cross sensors are both tilted inwards.The lower line sensor and the central double cross sensor are not tilted. The sensor tilt was done to improve the measure-accuracy independently of the viewed object's form.

The three double cross sensors are really interesting. Each sensor consists of two overlapping crosses arranged with a slight offset. One cross has thin arms whereas the other cross has wider arms. The "thin cross" is used for rapid focus detection when there's lots of light available, whereas the "wide cross" is used in low light situations. The length of each arm used for detection is also depending on the light conditions, i.e. the utilized number of sensors in the cross arrangement is light dependent. In good light conditions, a bit less than the full cross size is used, whereas in low light conditions more, or all of the sensors in the cross are used. Ignoring some of the sensors available improves autofocus speed. All sensors are used in "Dynamic AF".

This great system provides accurate autofocus detection in the range of EV -1 to EV +19 at ISO 100. This means that it still can focus correctly with no IR help even when your own eyes have a hard time seeing the finer details through the viewfinder.

Combining this smart arrangement of sensors with a fast, coreless DC motor, and you got the AF you've been looking for.

   
The Triberg Waterfalls. Click for 1024 x 768

The greatest (OK, longest) waterfall in Germany: The Triberg Waterfalls.
August 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D at some 130mm on Fujichrome Velvia.

 
  The AF modes
 

There are two basic AF modes in the F5:

1. Single (S) servo AF
2. Continuous (C) servo AF

You select the desired mode using the focus mode selector located at the lower left front. You can of course select manual (M) focus mode using this switch too, but if you have modern AF lenses, I guess you won't use that mode much - if ever.

A small note on using S or C AF modes: You shouldn't try to manually adjust the focus using the focus ring on any lens not being of AF-S type. You can move the focus ring lens in these modes on a non AF-S lens, but I don't think the coreless DC-motor driving the lens will be too happy about it.

There are three LED's in the viewfinder, indicating focus status: two red colored, arrow formed LED's, indicating that the current focus is either in front of or behind the object (i.e. the servo still runs) and a green colored round LED which lights up when the object is in focus. I've found out that I seldom look at these LED's, but rather at the object itself. Since the focusing is so fast, the two red colored LED's are of no interest anyway.

Single servo AF
First of all, in this mode the F5 treats stationary and moving objects differently.

By slightly pressing down the shutter release button, the AF servo is activated and the F5 tries to find the correct focus. You can also start the AF servo by pressing down one of the two AF-ON buttons at the back of the F5. I never use these buttons. You can disable AF start through the shutter release button by activating CS #4. This would then be a real reason for using one of the AF-ON buttons.

If the object is stationary right about the time the F5 tries to achieve the focus lock, the focus is locked and the F5 stays in Single servo AF mode. Keeping the shutter release button pressed and the focus remains unchanged, even if you move the camera. This is then the major difference between Single (S) servo AF and Continuous (C) servo AF mode.

If the object is detected as moving, before the focus lock has been established, the F5 will temporarily switch over to Continuous servo AF mode as long as the object is moving. If the object stops, the focus locks and the C mode is abandoned. You must then let go and repress the shutter release button to start a new focus hunt. This behavior is basically a good thing. There are times though when you might wish the F5 wouldn't do this magic, i.e. temporarily switching over to C mode, and this may be the case if you're using the F5 handheld with a tele lens; rather than letting you get a focus lock and shoot, the F5 is fooled to believe that your slight lens movements equals a moving object and it nervously hunts for a lock.

So, the default behavior in S mode is not to allow you to take a shot as long as the first targeted object is out of focus. This is called Focus-Priority. You can change this with CS #2. Activating this CS and you can shoot no matter if the F5 still tries to detect the focus or not. This is then called Release-Priority. I don't have the CS #2 activated, i.e. I am using the S mode with Focus-Priority.

Continuous servo AF
In this mode, the F5 doesn't lock the focus when you gently push the shutter release button and keep it pressed, but rather it hunts the focus. The focus hunt in C mode is quite delicate: the F5 continuously calculates the estimated distance to the object at the time of an eventual shutter release based upon:

a) The current distance to the object,
b) the direction in which the object is moving and
c) the current speed of the object.

This means that for the short moment when the F5 is blind, i.e. when the mirror is up, the lens is forced to be in focus on a location where the object should be based upon the parameters a, b and c.

The default behavior in C mode is to let you shoot while the F5 hunts the focus. This wouldn't be an F5 if it didn't allow you to change this behavior too. CS #1 does the trick. Activate CS #1 and you won't be able to shoot while being out of focus in C mode. I have this CS activated, i.e. I am using the C mode with Focus-Priority.

I use both the S and C mode a lot. For stationary objects it's the S and for moving objects it's the C mode (pretty smart of me huh?). As I shoot a lot of landscape, it tends to be a lot of S mode right now - landscapes are slow joggers you know.

   
Christmas market in Villingen. Click for 1024 x 768

Christmas market in the city of Villingen, southern Germany. December 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Provia
100F.

 
  Single area AF or dynamic AF mode
 

The F5 can either use a single or all five focus areas for the AF. In single area AF, you have selected one out of the five available areas (sensors), typically the one in the middle, the center area. This is then the active AF area. In dynamic AF mode, you select one primary area which will be used for the first focus hunt, whereas the others will be used if the object moves. The active area in dynamic AF mode will change according to how the F5 sees the object move.

No matter if you use the F5 in single area AF or dynamic AF mode, you might want to select the active/primary focus area.

   
 

Selecting a focus area

 

I don't use this function, but it might be useful, especially in combination with dynamic AF mode. There's a fairly big, round push button, the "focus area selector" located on the back at the right, made for being operated by the thumb. It has four small arrows on it which you can barely feel. This button can be used for selecting one of the five focus areas (remember, there are 5 focus sensors in the F5).

Typically, the center focus area is selected (the primary area being the center area), but you can use this button to select the center, top, bottom, left or right area. The selected area is displayed on the main LCD and on the EC-B screen in the viewfinder. On the main LCD, the selected area is represented by a single small square while in the viewfinder you'll see one of the five squares being a bit darker (actually getting fatter) - the fatter square represents the primary focus area (sensor). Also, one out of five yellow colored arrow LED's will blink once, indicating which sensor is the active one. This ain't much of any use with the EC-B screen, since it tells you directly which sensor is being the active one - the fat square - but with some other screens, such as the type C and type M (which don't have the "fattening focus area squares"), the arrow LED's are the only indication you will get on which sensor is currently being active.

The big focus area selector is easy to change by accident, such as with the thumb or with the palm of your hand. You typically want to have this button locked. To lock it, you simple press the [L] Lock button (you remember? That's the button hidden by the small "door" at the bottom left back of the camera) while you press the focus area selector once. A new press having the [L] Lock button pressed and the lock is removed. Locked focus area is indicated in the main LCD with a small "LOCK" being displayed over the currently active area.

   
Sunrise over the Baar. Click for 1024 x 768

May 1999 - caught the sun rising at 05:30. It had been raining heavily in the night, hence the interesting clouds. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 20mm/2,8D on Fujichrome Velvia. Bilora tripod.

 
  The dynamic AF mode
 

This is a cool one. Basically, the F5 will haunt around for the correct focus using one of the five available autofocus sensors. You select this AF mode by pressing down the AF Area mode [+] push button while dialing the MCD one step. Active dynamic AF mode is indicated by five small plus signs in the main (top) LC-Display and where the primary AF area is represented by a squared plus sign. There is no change in the viewfinder when you have the dynamic AF mode activated and the primary area has the "fat square".

In this mode, all five sensors are active. This mode is made for capturing moving objects and where you have the AF in continuous (C) mode and probably the film advance set to Ch (continuous high speed, 8fps with the MN-30 accumulator pack).

If the object in the viewfinder now moves from the primary area to another focus area, the F5 will automatically adjust the focus. You may not be able to detect that this has happened, except for that the object is still in focus, since the primary area is still marked with the fat square in the viewfinder, even if another area may currently be the active one.

Since the F5 continuously calculates the estimated location of the object in this mode, it will activate a neighboring sensor whenever the object is in the close vicinity of it.

The F5's dynamic AF mode is one of the prides of Nikon. It's about 100% faster than the dynamic AF of the F4 and it is able to track objects having a velocity of up to 20mm/s at the film plane. This equals to an object with a velocity of 300km/h at 20m distance if you're using a 300mm lens!

The F5 is the action photography tool.

   
A small chapel. Click for 1024 x 768

A small chapel in the Black Forest. These small chapels are very common in the Black Forest and close to every larger farm has its own. November 1999 late afternoon. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2.8D on Fujichrome Velvia at some 100mm handheld.


The exposure metering system

The exposure metering system of the F5 is also pretty majestic. It provides you with three different systems:

1. 3D Color Matrix Metering
2. Center-Weighted Metering
3. Spot Metering

3D Color Matrix Metering
If you are like me, i.e. lazy, you will likely use the 3D color matrix metering 99.9% of the time. With D-type AF lenses, the distance information from the lens is included in the metering (true 3D Color Matrix Metering). Using non-D-type lenses, you can still use this mode, but you must live without having the distance parameter being used by the camera (i.e. you would use Color Matrix Metering without the "3D"). Only AF, AF-S and AI-P lenses can be used for the color matrix metering mode.

The F5 uses a RGB chip with 1,005 elements in this mode, using the contrast, brightness and color of the motive and compare it against a "database" to achieve the correct exposure compensation. This "database" is the result of the evaluation of over 30,000 different types of motives in all kinds of surroundings and light situations. This is then a sort of a "knowledge base". The Nikon F90X has a similar system.

You select the metering mode with the "metering system selector", located at the right hand side of the DP-30 finder. You must press in a button in the center of the selector to be able to move it. It's close to impossible to change the metering mode without leaving your eyes from the viewfinder.

The selected metering mode is displayed in the viewfinder with a small symbol. The DP-30 is the only finder for the F5 supporting the 3D color matrix metering mode.

Center-Weighted Metering
In this mode, approx. 75% of the meter's sensitivity is in use within the 12mm circle which you can see in the viewfinder. The other 25% are used outside of the circle. The 75% sensitivity can be located to be used within a 8, 15 or 20mm diameter circle too. You would then use the CS #14 to change this. As I never have been using this mode, I won't review it.

Spot Metering
Close to 100% of the meter's sensitivity is located to a small circle having a diameter of 4mm in this mode (about 1.5% of the entire frame) using the EC-B screen. Using another screen than the standard one, and the spot metering uses a circle with a 6mm diameter (about 3.3% of the entire frame). As I never have been using this mode, I won't review it either.

I am totally happy with the 3D color matrix metering of the F5. So far, the only pictures I have taken which has not been correctly exposed, are the ones when I have been using Fujichrome Velvia on a very bright day, not having a UV-filter on the 20mm/2.8 AF-D lens. I blame this on the UV rays. And yes, very sloppy of me, but I only had a "skylight 1B" filter on the lens :-(

So, I won't play around much with the other metering modes I guess - there seems to be no reason to.

 
Martin on motorbike: Click for 1024 x 768

Martin posing on a motorbike.
August 1999. Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 80-200/2,8D at some 135mm on the consumer grade Fuji Superia 100


Power needs power

The F5 is fast, no matter if we talk film advance or autofocus speed here. The speed comes from four coreless DC-motors. These motors are indeed very power hungry. You can only achieve maximum film speed with the MN-30 accumulator pack. This is from the mystuff page, also located on this site:

"August 1st 1999. Got the Ni-Metal-Hydride accumulator pack (MN-30) plus the charger MH-30 from scandinavian photo today. My first impressions:

1. Having a rough idea what's needed to produce a charger like this, I think the small, dual accumulator charger at some DM 580,- is well overpriced.

2. The power supply connector on the MN-30 pack is located "on the wrong side", i.e. on the short end of the pack which is inside the camera when you've inserted it. This means that you cannot charge the pack while it's in the camera, not speaking of "misusing" the charger as a power supply. I think this is a minus, never mind the some DM 200,- Nikon charges for each accumulator. Of course, the tiny cables of the charger wouldn't be much of any use for a real power supply anyway. Nikon sells a separate "dummy pack" with a power supply for this purpose...

All in all, if you have a F5, I guess you also really want to have the charger and some MN-30's, no matter the hefty price tag: Only in combination with the MN-30 you'll reach the top film speed and rewinding time - and you don't have to bother about having enough batteries in your pockets either."


Let's race. Click for 1024 x 768

Let's race. Tractor exhibition in a small village, southern Germany September 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Velvia.


Film transportation

As already mentioned, the film advance is fast, really fast. It's not too loud and if you use the Cs ('s' for silent), it's indeed really quiet. Please note that I write the second letter of the film advance mode in lowercase. The second letter is actually printed in capital letters on the "film advance mode selector", but it is lowered some.

By pressing the "film advance mode selector lock release" (the small button at the very top left) and rotating the "film advance mode/self-timer selector" ring, you can select between the following film advance options:

1. S. The film advance a single frame after exposure.
2. Cl. Low speed: The film advance with approx. 3 fps as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed.
3. Ch. High speed: The film advance with approx. 8 fps as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed.
4. Cs. Silent mode: The film advance with approx. 1 fps as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed.
5. Self-timer. Not really a film advance option. After the shutter release button has been pressed down, the self-timer LED on the front starts to blink and the F5 takes a single shot after 10 seconds. You may change this time from 2 to 60 seconds in 1 second steps using CS #16. The self-timer LED blinks for the N-2 seconds (where N is the total self-timer time). The last two seconds it lights steady. If you are working in Single Servo AF mode having the Focus-Priority activated (default), you can only use the self-timer if you have a correct focus lock (the round, green colored LED in the viewfinder is lit).

The maximum film advance speed of 8 fps can only be achieved using a shutter speed of 1/250 or shorter using the Ni-MH battery unit MN-30. With normal AA-type alkaline batteries at room temperature, the maximum film advance speed is approx. 7.4 fps.

You can change the film advance speed for Ch mode to 6 fps using CS #9. You can use the CS #10 to slow down the Cl to 4 or 3 fps.

There is one thing which I don't like with the film transportation of the F5: loading. Successfully loading a film is really not that easy, and it often happens that the F5 is unhappy with the way I have loaded the film, angrily blinking with the red "alert" LED and showing an "ERR" in the top LCD. It's actually way more picky with how the film is loaded than my former F-401. But, to rewind 36 frames takes about 4 seconds, so I guess the time consumed with fumbling with the load isn't that critical after all :-)

 

Bad combination. Click for 1024 x 768
"Bad combination". December 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Provia 100F. Manfrotto Carbon #1 tripod, Novoflex MagicBall, some six different light sources plus SB-24 Speedlight beating down on a white office desk. Glow added in Photoshop.

If you want to read more about the F5 and some experiences
collected using it, why don't you try the my stuff page.

Click here to read more about my stuff >>


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