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F6: A First Look

Simon Stafford takes a first look at the new ‘flagship’ SLR film camera from Nikon

London, 16th September 2004.

As the technology of digital imaging continues to forge ahead with new camera models introduced by the various manufacturers at what seems to be steadily decreasing intervals of time the announcement, today, from Nikon that they are to launch a new ‘flagship’ film camera SLR in their professional ‘F’ series will certainly raise a few eyebrows!

If nothing else Nikon’s decision to introduce the F6 is certainly a brave one, as it appears to be at odds with all rational thinking. A quick glance at the statistics and current state of the camera market will soon confirm that film camera sales have been in steady decline during the past couple of years across all sectors. Nikon have already announced that they will cease production of compact film camera models during 2004. Amongst the ranks of professional and semi-professional photographers sales of film SLR cameras has been in free fall as many continue to switch to digital models.

The recent news that Ilford, one of the bastions of traditional chemical based black & white photography, have been forced to call in administrators is yet another indicator of how rapidly trends in photography have changed. Now, I am not predicting that film will disappear within a few years but I believe it will, increasingly, become a niche market supported by a dedicated bunch of exponents.

So it is into this dynamic environment that Nikon have pitched the F6. In time I am sure its genesis will make a fascinating tale. According to a trusted source a fully working prototype was seen in Japan as long ago as the spring of 2002. Toward the end of 2003 another reliable contact suggested, in very definite terms, that Nikon had chosen to cancel the F6 project outright. Study the camera’s basic feature set, and it is difficult to determine which came off the drawing board first, the F6, or the D2H. I suspect the former. What does the future hold for the F6? Only time will tell!

Whatever the case many Nikon devotees consider the F5 as representing the pinnacle of film camera design so how does the new camera compare? Well, based on my first impressions, I would suggest it raises the bar even higher, and by a significant amount. To date I have had the privilege of trying out a pre-production camera for a few weeks, which has given me a strong flavour of what the F6 is capable of achieving but even at this late stage in its development Nikon have been tweaking its specification, so the list of features below is not comprehensive. I will, of course, be reviewing a full production model as soon as possible.

Nikon F6 – Principle Features

Click for larger image
The F6 with the PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D
  • 100% viewfinder frame coverage
  • Viewfinder information includes, +/- three-stop analogue exposure/exposure compensation display along right side, focus confirmation, exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, battery level, frame counter, and flash-ready indicator below bottom edge of frame
  • Standard B-type focusing screen with a further seven optional types
  • Fixed viewfinder prism head with built-in viewfinder blind, and viewfinder eyepiece lock to prevent accidental loss (release activated by eyepiece blind lever)
  • Accepts DR-5 Right-angle finder
  • Fast continuous shooting (5.5 fps; 8 fps with MB-40 Battery Pack)
  • Quieter operation
    • Shutter sound reduced to 59dB, and just 48dB in “silent” mode
    • Number of high-frequency components reduced for lower sound levels
  • 37ms shutter lag time (same as D2H) with 80ms viewfinder black out time
  • 11-area (nine cross-type and two line-type) AF sensor pattern with CAM2000 module that provides frame coverage of 18mm (50%) horizontally and 7mm (29%) vertically
  • Large dot matrix LCD screen on rear panel displays, shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO, custom setting bank, AF-sensor pattern, AF mode, and data-back printing location.
  • Data Back Function
  • Interval Timer
  • Data imprint (in-frame, between-frame, #0 frame)
  • User customisable Function button, which can be set to operate FV lock, AE-L/AF-L, bracketing burst, flash off, and metering pattern (Matrix, Centre-Weighted, or Spot).
  • 41 Custom Settings grouped in a similar way to those of the D2H, Group-A auto-focusing, Group-B metering, Group-C timers and lock functions, Group-D shooting and display functions, Group-E flash and exposure bracketing, and Group-F controls (control dials/function button), with four Custom Setting banks for pre-set values.
  • Shooting Data memory that stores up to 13 different settings for each frame for up to 57 rolls of 36-exposure films, or 21 settings for up to 31 rolls of film. The optional MV-1 Data Card Reader is required to download the shooting data to a CompactFlash card. Download from MV-1 to a computer via USB interface. Shooting data can also be read direct from the camera via the rear LCD panel by pressing the INFO button. Information includes, film number, frame number, shutter speed, lens aperture, exposure compensation value, shooting focal length, metering pattern, exposure mode, lens focal and maximum aperture value, day/month/year plus hour/minutes.
  • Electronic depth-of-field preview function
  • 10-pin remote release terminal beneath new style hinged rubber cover
  • 1/250th second flash sync speed (Auto FP High-speed sync available with SB-600 and SB-800 Speedlights)
  • Full compatibility with the i-TTL flash exposure control system with 5-segment flash sensor (same as D2H), includes Auto Aperture mode, and FV-lock functions
  • Standard PC socket beneath new style hinged rubber cover
  • Auto Exposure bracketing in increments of 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, & 1.0 stop, over a range of 3, 5, or 7 frames.
  • Flash exposure bracketing
  • Multiple-exposure function
  • Mirror lock-up function operated by either shutter release button, or remote release (dual action – same as D2H)
    • Set using film advance mode selector (same as D2H)
    • Helps prevent camera shake due to internal vibration
  • Powered-up rewind (9 seconds; 4 seconds with MB-40 Battery Pack)
    • Automatic start-of-film wind-on
    • Automatic end-of-film rewind
    • Film leader position after rewind selectable (in/out)
    • Manual film rewind using film rewind knob
  • Multiple power sources - in addition to two CR123A batteries in MS-41 battery holder, optional battery pack MB-40 accepts eight AA-size batteries or rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL4
  • Reduced power consumption for longer battery life
  • Lightweight magnesium alloy body - 970g without batteries (compared with F5 - 1210g, and F100 – 785g)

Nikon F6 – Gallery

F6 – Overview

F6 – Comparison with F100 & F5

F6 – A closer look

F6 – Accessories

F6 – Flash

All text and pictures © copyright – Simon Stafford
September 2004