There aren’t many cameras out there that I’ve picked up and loved right off the bat. I could probably count them all on just one hand. Oddly enough they’re all from the Nikon F series. The Nikon F2 came into my toolkit by chance and quickly earned a strong reputation for being a reliable camera in any weather and one that has been on the waiting list for a total CLA when I have the chance to send away. I can use all my manual focus lenses on it, and it doesn’t miss a beat. A constant companion on photo walks and trips, easy to use and easy on the hand. And while my version runs with an original DP-1 finder and starting to get the jumpy-needle problem, I still can’t bear to part with it for too long although I know I must do that soon.
Model: F2 (F2S, F2SB, F2A, F2AS)
Type: 35mm Single Lens Reflex
Lens: Bayonet, Nikon F-mount
Year of Manufacture: 1971-1980
Within a year of the release of the Nikon F, Nikon rode high and moved much of the professional photography world from rangefinders to SLRs, and as awesome as the F was there were plenty of flaws with the system. And even before the end of the decade, they were at the drawing board taking everything that was given in feedback and designing a replacement for the Nikon F. The harsh edges were smoothed out, the more rangefinder aspects of the camera replaced with traditional SLR equipment put in their place. An example being the fully removable back with a traditional side open door. Much of the camera control layout remained the same as did the titanium foil shutter curtain. From the start, the F2 would be accepting metered heads, and the battery compartment moved to the camera body and the half pull on the film advance lever for turning on the camera came into being. The MD-2 became the new and very advanced motor drive and a 250-shot magazine updated as well. The Motor Drive would also be paired with an MB-1 battery pack to power the monster. A faster drive, the MD-100 would also be developed for the F2H (High-Speed) variant. Nikon also released several focusing screens along with with both metered and unmetered prisms. Like the F, Nikon wanted photographers to be able to customise the F2 to their tastes. The unmetered heads were two eye-level finders with the DE-1 and DA-1, along with some waist level finders in the DW-1 and DW-2. The stock metered finder released in 1971 was the DP-1, the F2 Photomic which used as CdS cell for centre-weighted metering and a match-needle. The DP-1 would be succeeded by the DP-2 (F2S) in 1973 which is the same finder buy replaced the match needle with a LED readout. The CdS cell would be replaced with a silicon blue cell in the DP-3 finder in 1976 (F2SB). The DP-3 was short lived and in 1977 Nikon released their AI lenses (Aperture Index) which did away with direct coupling of the lenses to the meter. The lenses did retain the claw for backwards compatibility. The DP-11 finder (F2A) would be released that same year to allow the new lenses to be used on the F2; however, it returned to the match-needle system, the final finder the DP-12 (F2AS) would be released that same year to return to the LED style readout. Nikon did produce a titanium version of the F2, the F2 Titan and a 25th Anniversary F2. Production of the F2 ceased in 1980 with the introduction of the Nikon F3.
The F2 fits in hand. Everything is where it was supposed to be from the shutter speed dial to the shutter release. Weight and hand placement are dead on perfect. The F2 you can tell was designed with photographers in mind. And while there is a certain heft to it, I rather like the weight and balance of it in hand. I don’t know how well I could take the camera with an MD-2/MB-1 attached to the bottom or a 250-shot magazine. But in stock form, the camera is one that fits in all my camera bags and hangs nicely with a backrapid carbine style strap. All-Metal construction means I have taken this camera out in the rain and snow and it hasn’t skipped a beat. My version has a 1976 manufacture date, so the body is fairly new; however, I only have a DP-1 head, and while the shutter speed dial is higher than normal, I don’t find any issue with it being there. The one issue I have is how small the match-needle read out in the finder is, I recently loaned the camera out to my wife at her insistence, and even she noticed this problem, but she also took to the camera interface fairly quickly.
If you want one of the best experiences with a mechanical camera than use a Nikon F2, this is a photographers camera and every time I pick it up after a long time of not using the F2 I’m reminded at how nice the camera is. The shutter makes a wonderful thunk when fired, and despite the weight of the camera, there’s minimal shake when you fire the camera off. The viewfinder is bright, but again you have the small match-needle with the DP-1, but as soon as you get up to a DP-2 or DP-3 meter you have bright LEDs, and the DP-12 is, of course, the ultimate finder in the group and has a display similar to what you see in an FM2n. Despite have a fairly plain focusing screen, I find focusing smooth and pretty accurate even in dull weather and indoors. Personally, my favourite feature is the short film advance throw I mean I can shoot, advance, and be ready for the next frame in a quick manner so much so I wouldn’t need to have a motor drive attached.
The Nikon F2 is a weird camera when it comes to Nikon lenses. When the camera saw release in 1971 the F-Mount was pretty much in the same spot, it was back in 1959 when it was first released. So the early finders (DP-1, DP-2, and DP-3) all relied on direct coupling of the lenses. By the latter part of the decade, the Aperture Indexing lenses were released and no longer required a direct coupling, a small lug allowed for an interface to the DP-11 and DP-12 metering heads. Thankfully these AI, and the AI-S lenses retained their claws so you could still use them with the older finders. I only have AI and AI-S lenses, and they all work wonderfully on my F2 and the DP-1 head. So my lens options for the Nikon F will work with the older F2s, Auto Nikkor-H 50mm f/2, Auto Nikkor-O 35mm f/2, and the Auto Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5. That said if you can get deals on AI and AI-S lenses I do recommend going with the newer options, especially if you get an F2A or F2AS.
If you think the Nikon F is just a touch too old for your tastes than I highly recommend the F2. These are older by a good decade and still very much serviceable by many camera shops such as Sover Wong (who specialises in the F2) or Service Camera Pro. The F2 is a camera that can take you safely through the zombie apocalypse and capture every moment at the same time. These are built to last, endlessly modifiable. That said if you are looking at picking one up, to be careful of what metering head you get. While everyone wants one with an unmetered prism (DE-1) these are rare and surprisingly pricey, your best options are an F2SB or F2AS, and buy a whole body as that is about the same price as the finders just on their own.
Don’t just take my word on the Nikon F2 check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers!
– Emulsive.org – The Nikon F2: An everyday camera for the 21st Century
– Down The Road – Nikon F2AS