You can purchase the Nikon F100 used on and Amazon.
The landscape of 35mm photography has changed rapidly over the past ten years. Back in 2006, the last round of professional 35mm cameras were making their debut, pockets of consumers still held on to their film cameras, and 1-hour photo development was as close as the nearest Walgreens.
Now in 2016, the reign of 35mm has at last fallen. Consumers have left the format completely behind, no new 35mm pro cameras have been released, and 1-hour development at Costco and Walgreens has shut down. Even movies have gone digital, and 35mm film products are regularly put on the chopping block at Kodak and Fuji.
So what’s the upside to all this? 35mm is now the realm of the artist and photography enthusiast. There’s no reason to use film if you want the clearest, easiest, highest resolution photo possible. Now, instead of judging films, cameras, and lenses on how well they hide the flaws of film, we can finally embrace them.
This means that we’re approaching 35mm equipment in a different way than we were even a decade ago. Lomography has carved out an entire industry of embracing the flaws inherent in film, creating cameras that are intentionally non-optimized and strange.
It’s no longer about finding the ‘best’ 35mm camera and lenses. It’s more about what kind of tool is it, and what purposes it can serve. It’s the perspective I try to use for all my Polaroid and instant camera reviews, and now I’m going to apply it to the world of 35mm.
The first 35mm camera I have up on the docket is my favorite, the tested and true Nikon F100. Historically this was part of the last generation of Nikon film cameras, and was slotted just underneath the top of the line Nikon F6. In fact, the Nikon F6 is the only remaining Nikon film SLR still on sale new as of 2016, the F100 now having faded off into the sunset.
Performance, Image Quality, and Exposure
Unlike what we’ve gotten used to with digital cameras, film cameras don’t have sensors that dramatically impact picture quality. The sensor of the Nikon F100 is the film inside of it, meaning it can look just as good or bad as any other 35mm camera (assuming their using the same lens, that is).
That said, exposure is generally spot-on. The Nikon F100 gives you all the modern exposure types (program, aperture, shutter, etc), as well as full ‘matrix’ metering in addition to spot and other modes. I generally leave it on program with matrix metering and it works great. In studio shoots where exposure is critical, I switch over to manual and use a DSLR or smartphone as a light meter.
There are only five focus points (middle, then one above, below, left, and right), but they do the job. Focus accuracy is great, and I’ve found that autofocus often behaves better on my F100 than on digital. Perhaps this is because digital is for less forgiving of even the most minute of focus issues, but either way, you don’t have to worry.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
This camera feels great to hold and use. Loading film is fast, easy, and you can be confident that it’s winding through without a problem. There’s a window that lets you see what film you’ve loaded, which is massive help. On older cameras like the F3, there’s no way of knowing if there’s film in the camera without opening it up (and ruining the film inside). You can also read the kind of film and ISO through the window, which is helpful if the camera has been spending any significant time in a drawer or closet.
The Nikon F100 will automatically read the ISO of the film that’s loaded in the camera. Some exotic films or self wound films might not have the code for the F100 to read, but I’ve never had that problem. Just make sure ISO is set to DX and you’re good to go.
Speaking of setting things, the Nikon F100 has an insane custom settings menu system. Digital interfaces have come leaps and bounds in the past ten years, but the digital interface on the F100 feels like trying to set the time on an old VCR. You have to carry a card that serves as a key to all the coded menu items in order to get everything set. Luckily once you do get everything set you don’t have to worry about it. However, don’t expect this thing to be nearly as friendly as a modern DSLR.
The F100 is extremely tough, and mine has survived falls, water, and mud. I finally managed to destroy my first F100 by dropping it onto concrete, but after repairs it worked just fine. My focus selector button has started giving me trouble, but I’ve simply locked it in the middle and haven’t worried about it since.
This is a tough camera that can take a lot of abuse. It’s not Nikon F5 or F3 tough, but pretty damn close for a lot less weight and (generally) money.
The Nikon F100 has fantastic lens compatibility. You can use it with pretty much all the same lenses you use with a full frame DSLR like the Nikon D610, D750, or D810. G lenses work fine and autofocus works fine. Older lenses work great. I’m not really sure if VR works or not, but it doesn’t hurt anything to have it on.
As of 2016, Nikon has just started introducing a few lenses that are not fully compatible with older DSLRs, much less any Nikon film cameras. These are the ‘electronic diaphragm’ lenses and are still fairly rare. I haven’t run into any, and many of them aren’t full frame anyway.
This guy uses four AA batteries in the grip, but they last a surprisingly long amount of time. I was worried about this when I initially read about the camera and prepared myself for an SLR that would be constantly dying on me. However, with semi-frequent usage I probably change the batteries once a year or so. It’s not a bad idea to have an extra set of batteries back in the car, but you don’t need to stress that the camera is going to die on you while out for the day.
Other 35mm cameras like the Nikon F3 will exist for a seeming eternity on little more than a watch battery, which makes them great options if you’re going to be off the grid for an extended period of time. You’ll lose autofocus, but the prisms inside the viewfinders of pre-autofocus SLRs make it a breeze to do everything manually.
The camera does have a battery life indicator, but it only has two modes: full or half. Treat the halfway mark more as a warning and replace the batteries as soon as you can.
Summary and Deployment
The Nikon F100 is a great combination of value and modern SLR convenience. It’s new enough that it works great with the vast majority of Nikon lenses, and it’s also cheap enough that you can get one for a hundred or so bucks these days. It’s also fun to use, which is always critically important. If you don’t enjoy using a camera, you’re not going to shoot with it. The Nikon F6 is even better, but is still to this day extremely expensive.
When I’m out shooting, I typically take a Nikon F100 and D600 with me and share lenses between the two. It’s a workhorse that is a blast to shoot and one of my personal favorite cameras.
You can find the Nikon F100 used on and Amazon. Using these links if you want to purchase your own F100 help me keep this site up without annoying banner ads. Thanks!