Fstoppers Reviews the Nikon F100

Fstoppers Reviews the Nikon F100

There are hundreds of 35mm film camera options out there. Everything from cheap drug-store point and shoots to beautiful, bespoke-feeling Leicas, to the Canon AE-1 hipsters wear around their necks with a guitar strap. The Nikon F100 is, without a doubt, one of the best 135 cameras out there and is, in my opinion, is the absolute best choice for a digital shooter to experiment with 35mm film.*

* For the money.

While there are some very similar models to the F100 from Nikon, Canon, Contax, and Minolta some of which are arguably better (in the case of the Canon EOS 1V and Nikon F6) as far as feature set and bang-for-the-buck goes it's hard to best the F100.

Produced in 1999, the F100 was Nikon's state-of-the-art prosumer / high end 35mm camera, falling just under the professional F5. The F100 was, at the time, one of the best featured cameras ever made and still remains the 135 camera of choice for film enthusiasts, wedding photographers, and many fine artists.

Design:

The body itself is extremely well built and feels sturdy in the hands. Made almost entirely out of magnesium (with the exception of the back film cover) the F100 actually, and this might get me into trouble, feels a little better built than my D800.

Digital shooters will immediately feel at home with the F100 when transitioning from their Nikon or Canon kit. The controls are almost the exact same as Nikon's modern DSLR offerings and are an easy transition from Canon's. You can effort adjust settings by spinning the dials on the grip, if back button focus is your jam that's totally an option, it's easy to switch between AF-S, AF-C, and MF with the front toggle, and the camera supports the standard PASM mode settings found on Nikon pro bodies.

Perhaps the most important feature that sets aside the F100 is its complete compatibility with modern Nikon glass including G lenses that do not have a physical aperture control. It also comes equipped with a surprisingly robust auto-focus system (with five points) that is capable of accurately focusing in low light conditions and with wide-open lenses. My 85 f/1.4G stays virtually glued to this camera.

Ease of Use:

You'll be hard pressed to find an easier camera to use, film or otherwise. Loading is effortless (as seen below), you can take as much or as little control over the camera as you like. Several of my wedding photographer friends carry an F100 with a 50mm on full auto as a film body for capturing alternative versions of images with some Delta 3200.* 

* Bonus pro tip: Shooting Delta 3200 at 1600 and developing normally gives a beautiful, romantic look.

If auto / aperture or shutter priority is your cup of tea, the F100 has a metering system accurate enough to shoot just about any film (black and white / slide film have less tolerance for botched exposure than C41 color negative). 

For more advanced photographers, or those with a little more time between shots, shooting the camera on full manual with a light meter produces beautiful, consistent images.  

Features:

While It feels a little weird to say this about a film camera, the F100's features stack up to those of  Canon and Nikon's current digital offerings — here's what I mean:

  • Build. The F100 feels just as well — perhaps better — built than my D800. It's nearly all magnesium (top, bottom, front, and sides (the back cover is plastic) and is designed to take a beating.
  • 1/8000. Everyone loves shooting Fuji 400H at f/1.4. A 1/8000 shutter speed makes that possible in almost any situation.
  • AF. The 5-point AF system in the F100 is, in truth, more than enough even for wide-open portrait work. Be aware that like modern digital cameras, the F100 is setup to be used in auto focus. If manual focus is your jam you may be interested in switching out the focus screen for something that has a prism or other focus-aid.
  • Glass selection. I love Nikon glass. It’s one of the bigger reasons I moved to Nikon several years ago. The F100 supports all the same glass as any given digital Nikon including auto-focus D and G lenses. You won’t believe how well the camera performs with the 85 1.4G even wide open.
  • 1/250 Sync. The F100's flash sync speed bests the 5DIII (1/200) as well as the D610 (1/200) while matching the D800. Not too shabby.
  • Cost / Availability. You can pick up a pristine (often boxed) F100 for under $200 any day of the week. I’ve seen them dip as low as $125 in fully functioning used condition.

Overall the F100 is a killer camera even in todays standards. It makes shooting film accessible to digital shooters or film buffs who like the idea of a smart, modern system. Perhaps the greatest thing about the F100 is it doesn't get in your way — everything is effortless. The learning curve is virtually nonexistent. For a primarily digital shooter this is huge, everything is right where you'd want it, controls are easily manipulated, glass is familiar and capable, and the auto-focus is accurate and fairly quick. Plus when your film camera is indistinguishable from a DSLR you never have anyone accuse you of being a hipster.

Of course though, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to cameras. No matter how good a camera feels, how easy it is to use, the real test of a cameras worth is the images it produces. Below are a few of the images I've taken on my F100 recently followed by a gallery of submitted F100 scans from other photographers, take a look.

Above: Kodak Portra 160 | 85mm 1.4G at f/3.5

Above: Cinestill 800T | 85mm 1.4G at f/1.6 (lit with a single tungsten bulb)

 

Above: Kodak Portra 400VC (expired '11) | 35mm 1.4G at f/1.8

Above: Fujifilm Pro 400H | 50mm 1.8G around f/2.5

Kodak TMax 100 | 50mm 1.8G at f/2.5

Above: Kodak Portra 400 | 35mm 1.4G around f/4.0

Above: Kodak Portra 160 | 85mm 1.4G at f/2.5

Ilford FP4+ | 60mm 2.8G at f/3.5

Below is work shot by Fstoppers readers on the F100:

You can keep up with the contributors via their various websites and social media accounts as listed below in order of appearance.

Aaron Warthen | Jon Wong | Ryan Tolbert | Donny Tidmore | Chase Castor | Fiona Cone | Garrick Fujii | Joe Thompson | Jonny Edwin Bennett | Matthew Hall | Natalie Seeboth | Bryant Phethmanh | Robert Curl | Lear Miller | Divya Pande

Thank you to all the fabulous photographers who contributed, y'all rock.

If you have any questions about the F100 or any of its competitors or have other film gear you'd like to see reviewed / compared feel free to drop me a line in the comments below.

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48 Comments

I just picked up a Canon EOS 1N for shooting film. It's fairly similar, but the lens mount isn't backwards.

Austin Rogers's picture

The 1N is probably the closest to the F100 on the Canon side (other than the EOS 3 maybe?). Awesome camera, I used it with a buddy's 50 1.2 and it was unreal. :) I can't wait to see your scans man. When the Canon SLR reviews start coming out make sure to drop me a line so I can get your images included in it.

Expected delivery date is Monday, but I leave for Alaska on Saturday, so it's going to sit for a few weeks. I shot with these and the 1V for years, so I don't expect any surprises. I just need a few Pro-packs of Porta 160, and I'm set.

Chase Castor's picture

I have an EOS 3 I use with L Series primes. My favorite film camera is my little point and shoot though.

Austin Rogers's picture

Which one? I loved my Fuji Klasse S. Now I use a Contax G2.

Zero megapixels! It arrived early. Even though I haven't owned one for many years, it feels very familiar.

José Rozón's picture

I own a Nikon F3.
I wish it had a digital sensor.
*or my next camera would look, work, sound and feel just like the F3.

Look at the XT-1. I bought it with no fuji lenses, and it is exactly like shooting an old manual film body (no AF, only light metering).

Adapters are 10USD on ebay and work GREAT with AF D Nikkor. Rent it for a weekend. You'll understand!

David Arthur's picture

where do you get your film developed or are you doing it yourself?

Austin Rogers's picture

Hey David! All my film goes to Indie Film Lab in Montgomery, AL. They do, in my opinion, the best color work in the country.

Igor Butskhrikidze's picture

i love these colors!

Sean Shimmel's picture

Austin, your graceful and downright interest article pulled me right in... even within my recent (disappointing) experiment with film vs digital.

http://lifeascinema.blogspot.com/2014/10/king-kong-vs-godzilla-digital-s...

I just might falter and pick one up.

Austin Rogers's picture

I actually read that a while ago. :)

I'd definitely recommend trying it again. It's not something I shoot for all my work work but it is something I try to use every day. There's a rad soul to 135 film that is hard to mimic in digital. If you're a Nikon digital shooter totally look at picking up a F100, it's a little investment but HUGE in terms of payoff. And if you don't like it I'm sure you'll be able to flip it for as much or more than you bought it for.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Excellent follow up, Austin, and I admire your range of varying, beautiful looks. (My favorite is of the thoughtful model with the Fujifilm Pro 400H)

Having said that, here's an open invitation to the age old question... not whether film or digital "betters" the other, but whether there is an appreciable difference in their looks? I want to believe there is but I'm honestly not yet convinced.

Anyone willing to share images that clearly show something compelling?

Spy Black's picture

You would need to remain in the analog domain to see and understand the differences. Scanning your stuff merely brings it back into the digital domain. You would need to learn how to effectively print your color and B&W work. This is not an overnight sensation, it takes time to learn the craft of fine printing.

Only then would you see the gamut differences, for one. There are colors that are only available in color film/print, just as the reverse is true in digital. You were simply too impatient with your experience to understand and appreciate the differences, because you come from the instant gratification world of digital.

As I mentioned elsewhere, it's unfortunately becoming more difficult to effectively make high end color prints. It's also an expensive proposition nowadays, something most won't care to invest in which, living in the modern digital domain, is understandable.

There is also the tangible nature of working with film. I spent over 10 years doing professional darkroom work, performing many of the functions I now do in Photoshop. There is an entirely difference universe of image creation when you're physically handling the mediums that create the final image.

It's something I suppose I can't effective put into words, but I suppose the closest analogy I can muster is the difference between working on a car engine to soup it up versus reprogramming an engine logic circuit to increase performance. Both achieve similar goals, but the end result will probably feel different. ;-)

Sean Shimmel's picture

I admire your thoughtful detail. With that in mind, what is a compelling example within the analog domain other than simply sussing out quality prints within my on work? What are printed photo books that show off a difference? I own Nachtwey's black and white tome Inferno and McCurry's color paragon Portraits. Open to ideas.

Spy Black's picture

Artwork reproduced in halftone photo books aren't going to be able to reproduce the work because the CMYK gamut is very compressed. You need to remain in the medium to get the most out of it.

Sadly, two of the mediums greatest print mediums, dye-tranfers and Cibachrome, are long gone. Both had incredible color gamuts, and also archival properties that are only compared nowadays in lab-based archival projections for modern inkjet paper stocks and inks. There are dye-transfers over 100 years old that have all the color and vibrancy they had from the day they were printed.

I'm not exactly sure what it is you're looking for, but other than spending sufficient time and effort working in the medium, you're not going to able to really get a handle on it, just as it took you time to hone in digital imaging techniques. I suppose it's like the differences between oil and watercolor painting, as an analogy.

As someone who has predominately worked in the digital domain, this may possibly never really make much sense to you, but ultimately that is fine. It's a digital world now. Film is a medium that is past it's prime. I hope it survives as a fine art medium along with oil and watercolor, although it has a much harder time at survival, due to it's manufacturing and processing requirements.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Such a fascinating read. Thank you for sharing your experienced insights.

Ariel Martini's picture

nice read, but as i understood and to summarize: to really admire the difference between digital and film result wise, you have to be able to use long gone or yet unavailable (and probably super expensive) print methods.
so I stick with my digital, thanks.

Spy Black's picture

Not exactly, I said you need to remain in the medium from start to finish, and learn how to use it properly, as you learned how to properly use digital. However it is becoming very expensive to do that properly with color. Yes it's far more straightforward to do it digitally today, although not necessarily simpler to do it right. ;-)

Sean Shimmel's picture

All right... dared and bought one. Thoughts soon on field use.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Trying to better understand this statement. Would you mind fleshing it out a bit more?

* Bonus pro tip: Shooting Delta 3200 at 1600 and developing normally gives a beautiful, romantic look.

I bought this camera when I was in college along side a D100. Great camera but I quickly learned how much I hated waiting for film to be developed and quickly sold it and haven't shot film since. I bet the price of these are on the rise again.

Austin Rogers's picture

They used to be pretty pricy back in the day! You got all the Nikon glass homie, pull the trigger on one and just shoot it for fun.

Stefano Catalani's picture

I have been using it for a while and I love the results I'm getting. I'm thinking of buying an F5 too so I can shoot color and b/w film at the same time.
I'm a Nikon user and having the ability of using my G lenses on a film camera is priceless!

Chris Rogers's picture

DO IT. Haha. I have an F5 And I looove it. I have owned several cameras both digital and film. the F5 is by far my favorite next to the F100. The focus on that sucker is crazy fast. Faster than anything I have tried ever. You gotta be careful about it's continuous high though. It's so fast you can shoot through half a roll in about 2-3 seconds. It does use a lot of batteries but it sips that power. I have had mine with batteries for a while now and it's still at full charge. The F5 is bauss . you should totally get one if you can haha.

Stefano Catalani's picture

My bday is in a couple of weeks :D I'm really tempted....
I'm using 2300mAh batteries in the f100's battery grip and they last forever! And I'm using single shot mode with it, I'm too afraid of wasting film with the continuous mode :D

Chris Rogers's picture

Nice! Mine too! I'm on the 29th! I actually got my F5 for my birthday last year haha. Treat yo self! I have been wondering how eneloops would work in my F5. I may pick some up. How fast can the f100 shoot with the grip? After that roll I wasted I only shoot single shot now as well XD

Stefano Catalani's picture

Cool :D
I have no idea to be honest! I've never tried the high fps with a roll loaded!

Andrew Richardson's picture

Fantastic review, love the table gifs. I've been telling myself to save and hold out for a F6, but maybe I can grab an F100 and be just as happy...

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