Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Elusive Nikon F5

I have given up my quest for a Nikon F5 for the time being. This post requires a little history to explain it thoroughly. My first film SLR was a Pentax ZX-M. It was a very basic manual focus camera body. I used it for several months and during that time I learned a lot about SLR photography and SLR cameras in general. Naturally, I discovered that there was a whole world of other camera bodies with a myriad of features and capabilities available. While searching eBay one evening I came across an auction for a Nikon F100 and two pro-level Sigma lenses. The seller was a film student in Alaska that was selling the kit because he was afraid to damage such a nice set of gear. I won the auction and in a few weeks my new kit arrived. It was a wonderful camera for a new photographer to learn with and I took some great pictures with.

At the time, the F100 was Nikon's most modern semi-pro camera body and the F5 was their flagship camera. The F5 was the holy grail of 35mm photography, especially for Nikon fans. It was the camera that I could not even afford to dream about owning. The F5 had a street price of $2500+ back then (2001). My whole kit consisting of the F100, two lenses, and several accessories cost significantly less than that. It was way out of my reach. So far so that I really didn't even think about it that much. Besides, the F100 was a great camera also.

I converted entirely to digital in 2003 and sold my F100 kit. My first serious digital camera was an advanced Sony point and shoot camera (DSC F717). Before that the only other digital camera I had owned was the first version of the Canon Digital Elph. I used the Sony for a few years before purchasing my first digital SLR (or DSLR), a Nikon D70, in 2005. I upgraded again to a Nikon D200 in 2006, the DSLR I currently use.

I did briefly experiment with large format film photography for a while during 2006 but besides that I was using digital cameras 100% of the time. It was during the fall of 2007 that I came across an article discussing how much the price of older film cameras, such as the F5, had fallen the last few years. I did a search on eBay for the F5 and I was shocked to find that they could be had for about $500 depending on condition, etc. The crown jewel of my film camera dreams was now quite affordable! The reason for the considerable price drop was due to the availability of good, relatively inexpensive DSLRs. Besides the F5, there were bargains to be had (relative to original new street prices) for many of the older film SLRs. This included the F4, the predecessor of the F5 and Nikon's first professional body designed for auto focus lenses from the ground up. Actually, F4's in very good condition were selling at higher prices than F5's of similar condition. And some of the even older cameras in good condition (F3, etc.) were selling for more than the F4 and the F5. In fact, the FM3A sells at almost $1000! I think the premiums on the older cameras are being driven by collectors and people that have the 'they don't make 'em like they used to' attitude. They want to own a piece of history before they are all gone

Now for a history lesson within the history lesson. The F4 was a new camera in 1988 and was made up until the F5 debuted in 1996 (I think). The F4 has a few advantages when compared to the F5. It has a modular design featuring removable battery packs of three different sizes (the MB-20, MB-21, and MB-23). It has analog controls vs. the thumb wheels and LCD readout for control on the F5. It also has better backwards compatibility with older manual focus lenses than the F5. Specifically, its matrix meter will work with more of the older lenses than the F5. The analog controls and the better backwards compatibility make it that much more attractive to old school shooters who want to step up to an auto focus body but still be able to use their collection of older manual focus lenses. In contrast, the F5 has an updated version of the matrix meter (some think the F5's meter is the best on any Nikon, past or present) and was capable of an amazing 8 frames per second (vs. the F4s' 5.7 fps). The F5 is considered by many to be the best camera ever made by any company, film or digital.

I just had to get my hands on an F5. I posted a thread on the "I want to buy" forum on (see my links) asking for those that had either a F5 or a F4 to sale to contact me. One of the first replies I received was from a woman who had a F4s (F4 with the MB-21 battery pack) in mint condition. Hmm... a mint condition F4s. I could just buy that as a collectable and then get an F5 also. Being the perfectionist I am I just could not pass up this mint condition camera. I sent payment to the seller and soon received my wonderful new (to me) F4. This camera is amazing to hold. A photographer is a gear junky like no other can be. You have to be one to understand.

At the same time I was still looking for a F5. I had received several offers on Nikonians but none of them was what I was looking for in the way of condition, included accessories, etc. I continued my search on eBay. A short time later I won a mint condition copy for less than $500 and sent payment to the seller via Paypal. I anxiously awaited my F5... I never heard from the seller again. I never received the camera or any responses to my repeated communication attempts. He didn't even respond when I filled a Paypal claim for not receiving my item. Anybody that uses Paypal understands that you want to respond to a claim as soon as possible. Paypal granted me my claim after 10 days and sent me my money back. As sad as it may be, it appears that the seller may have passed away shortly after the auction ended. That is the only reasonable explanation for his lack of communication especially when faced with a Paypal claim.

Now I was 0 for 1 in acquiring an F5. I continued to watch eBay and the 'I want to sell' forum on Nikonians for several months waiting for the right deal on another mint condition F5. I finally found another a few weeks ago. It was a like-new demo unit being sold by a popular mall camera chain for a very reasonable price as a 'buy it now' item. Since it was a demo unit it was still covered by Nikon's warrantee. I purchased it immediately. What I failed to notice is that the seller did not take Paypal, only credit card, money order, or check. For reasons I will not disclose here, Paypal was the only method I was willing to use to pay. I contacted the seller and explained the situation. We both agreed to mutually withdraw the auction so that the seller could recover the auction fees. Again, no F5. Now I was 0 for 2.

So I decided to give up my hunt (for now) before I strike out. There will be plenty of F5's available for years to come as it is. Also, I really don't need two film cameras. I am going to focus on learning how to use F4 to the best of its capability. It was the best film camera during its time and it is still very capable. I am mainly going to use it for black and white film, a new interest of mine, but I will use it with color film also. I will post images taken with the F4 on my Smugmug site (see my links) when I can get them scanned.

For now at least, the F5 will remain to be the unattainable camera of my dreams.

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