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.
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.
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.