It’s the rumble in the professional jungle! Yes, I’m pitting the two mid-1990s pro bodies I have in my toolbox against each other in a friendly competition! This contest isn’t to see which is better than the other, I use and work with both cameras often side-by-side. And honestly I consider them both equally amazing cameras in my mind, I mean look at the glowing reviews I’ve given both cameras. For this little contest, I’ve set a few rules. First, this contest saw completion on the same day, shot-for-shot. Also, I set both to matrix/average metering and full Auto Exposure. In both cases, I mounted a 50mm lens on each, a 50mm f/1.4D on the F5 and a 50mm f/1.7 on the Maxxum 9. Yes, the lenses are optically different, but for the sake of this contest are close enough for me. And finally, the same film stock in the contest is Rollei RPX 100 developed in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned through a Nikon Coolscan V ED. I’ll be discussing the cameras in three different categories, ergonomics, image quality, and experience. But before we begin let’s get some specifications out of the way.
It’s easy to see that both cameras are evenly matched in almost all specifications which will make this a fantastic head-to-head event. Each does win out slightly over the other in some categories, but there are no glaring differences. Note for viewing the compared images, the Nikon images will be on the left, the Minolta images on the right.
Ergonomics – Camera Feel
Here is really where the Maxxum 9 wins out, it is a far more ergonomic design than the F5, not that the F5 isn’t comfortable, the Maxxum 9 is just more comfortable with the grips being moulded as opposed to just straight. Also, the vertical grip on the Maxxum 9 putting the shutter release 2/3rds up from the bottom and giving two command dial certainly helps out with functionality. And while most of the main functions of the camera on the Maxxum 9 are all controlled by physical knobs and dials and button pushes and then dials on the F5, both are fairly efficient in ease of use in that sense. But to get into some non-standard settings, the F5 wins out as the little door is not mounted on a spring, like the Maxxum 9 so setting the ISO or even engaging the Rewind on the Maxxum 9 is a two-handed method, whereas on the F5 you can do it with one far easier. And finally the Maxxum 9 has a bigger, brighter viewfinder than the F5, but the in-viewfinder display is much easier to read on the F5 than on the Maxxum 9.
Experience – Out and About
Here’s where the cameras almost equal out, I wore both at the same time each on a PeakDesign Strap carried carbine style. The weight between the two are pretty equal, and I didn’t have any issues lugging both cameras around. Now the Maxxum 9 can be made lighter than the F5 but removing the battery grip a luxury that the F5 does not have. In general, both cameras performed on par with one another. I did notice that the Autofocus on the F5 locked on a little faster and didn’t try to question where to focus, whereas the Maxxum 9 did hunt a little bit more, but if it got a lock, the speed of the focusing is on par with one another. Also of note, I kept the Eye-Start on the Maxxum 9 turned off. I ran both cameras in Program Mode and noticed that the F5 seemed to favour a deeper depth of field whereas the Maxxum 9 goes for faster shutter speed. Only on a few occasions did the exposure reading match on the two cameras. I was only out for under an hour, but it didn’t have any sort of fatigue in either shoulder. Rewind times are about equal. However, the rewind options are different between the two. The F5 does have the option to manually rewind allowing you to leave a tail out of the canister, whereas you only have fully mechanical rewind on the Maxxum 9, but option of two speeds and to keep the tail in or out.
Image Quality – Exposure
All I can say is I’m glad that I took identifier shots at the beginning of each roll because I developed both rolls at the same time, but as I pulled them out of the tank it is hard to tell the difference between each shot! Despite each meter choosing a different exposure setting, there is some difference in how the images were exposed on the film. The Minolta images are a little brighter than the Nikon images, but maybe 1/3rd of a stop, but nothing wildly different. And that’s saying something because there was always the chance of wild differences because I couldn’t easily calculate to see if the two different values were equivalent, nor did I want to stop and do that calculation anyways. Mind you there is also the middling factor of using the same scanner/software/process to digitize each frame. But I also viewed each strip side by each on a light table, each is perfectly exposed. I had no doubt on the camera meters, but I am surprised there are no major differences.
The Final Verdict
As I said at the start, I did not go into this expecting one to win above the other; each has its advantages and disadvantages. And both hold a high spot in my toolkit, each with their specific place and task. For professional work, I’ll be sticking with the Nikon F5 as I have a much wider range of lenses including fast telephoto and ultrawide. But for travel that is the Maxxum 9, again I have a selection of amazing lenses, the reason the Maxxum 9 gets that place is that I can remove the battery grip if I need a smaller profile due to space restrictions. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference in my case I’m a fan of both, so why not run with both!