Going Back to Film: Nikon F4

On October 31, 2008, in Photography, by Josh Hallett

Shot with B&W Film: Nikon F4

“I’ve never shot with film” That statement caused the salesclerk at B&H Photo in Manhattan to almost fall out of his chair. Especially since I had a Nikon D3 slung across my shoulder.

It’s half-true though. I remember using a few film cameras growing up, but nothing significant. When I became serious about taking photos I purchased my D80. From there I went to the D300, then the D3…obviously the logical next step was a used Nikon F4 from the late 80′s.

Why? Well as bad as this sounds, I wanted to see what it was like in the old days. I also played a bit with Derek Miller’s F4 at Gnomedex and was intrigued.

Nikon F4

I purchased the camera and a few rolls of black & white film and set off to the streets of New York to learn. The Nikon F4 features dials for every setting (ISO, Aperture, Shutterspeed, etc) there are no LCD screens. The camera is build like a rock and heavy, but that’s good in my book.

Shot with B&W Film: Nikon F4

Shot with B&W Film: Nikon F4

Chrysler Building - Shot with B&W Film: Nikon F4

I wanted to see if shooting on film would make me a better photographer. Of course there is no preview or LCD to review your photo. There is also no cropping on processing you can do in Lightroom. What you shoot is what you get.

Suddenly I found myself thinking much more about composition and the settings. To cheat a bit I would shoot something with my digital camera and look at the final settings, then attempt to dial in something similar on the F4. But once again with no way to look at the photos I didn’t know if any of them were turning out.

The F4 has the same lens mount as the D3, so I am able to use all my lenses. I primarily shot with the 50mm f/1.4 but did shoot a soccer game with my 70-200mm f/2.8. The F4s has the extra battery grip mounted and the speed at which I was able to shoot was just fine.

Soccer Photos in B&W

Over the next few weeks I shot two rolls of 36-exposure black & white film. With the instant gratification of the LCD preview gone I constantly wondered if I had gotten the shots I wanted. Now it was time to develop the film, which was an adventure in itself.

In my neck of the woods there are very few film labs left. Calling around to a few friends one suggested Sam’s Club or Costco since they still developed film on-site. Heading to Sam’s I was told they don’t process black & white film on site, it’s sent to Tennessee and has a turnaround of 3-4 weeks. Ouch.

Luckily there is a great camera store in Orlando called Colonial Film & Hobby which has a lab on site and can develop black & white film. I had the rolls developed and the negatives scanned to CD.

Shot with B&W Film: Nikon F4

Looking over the photos I was actually quite surprised that I was able to get some good shots. Yes the exposure was off a bit in some, but overall I liked what I shot. The black & white is a bit of a crutch since it will mask many of the off-tone color if I had shot normal film.

I’ve uploaded all the shots to a group and will continue to play with the film camera. The only bad thing is now I’m carrying a number of cameras with me.


11 Responses to Going Back to Film: Nikon F4

  1. Watty says:

    Love the shots. I remember my first camera was the Le Clic disc camera in like the 5th grade (does that show my age? Gaaah) Film is fun. Storing all the negatives is a hassle though, but you don’t lose them if your pc crashes (like mine did last month! Gaaahhh! ):

  2. I’m glad I inspired you to get one of these beasties. I quite enjoy using mine, especially with B&W as you have. If you get more, I recommend either Ilford XP2 or Kodak BW400CN — both are B&W films that process C41 like colour prints, and work very nicely at ISO 400, so Costco and others can scan and print them for you cheaply and fast. I’ve used both and have been quite happy with them — here’s XP2 and BW400CN:

  3. Amber Rhea says:

    My mom has had a manual Nikon camera (don’t know the model number) since the early 1970s. It has always been a great camera that can take all kinds of great shots, esp. w/ the wide angle lens. Good luck w/ your foray into film!

  4. Kevin Dugan says:

    admittedly, some of my best pics are my mistakes. but most of my best pics are on film. love some of your b&w shots.

  5. David Parmet says:

    Funny, you are going in the opposite direction that I did. I started shooting, developing and printing black and white – both in 35mm and 120. Now I’m exclusively digital.
    Kodak and others have been discontinuing most of their classic b/w films and papers faster than you can say shareholder value, but you can still work with TriX – one of the best b/w films ever. Even though it’s nominally a 400 film, you should shoot it at 200 to get its full dynamic range.
    And learn how to develop your own film. It’s not as hard as it sounds. All you need is running water and some way to get the film on the spools in perfect darkness. You can always scan the film but having control over the development is the most important part. As Adams said – the negative is the score, the print is the performance.
    Good luck!

  6. Allan says:

    Those are some gorgeous photos. B&W photos are wonderful.

  7. Toby says:

    josh – i’m a huge fan of b&w photography. i Love your shots. please put me down for an autographed copy of your next coffee table book! seriously, when are you publishing that book?

  8. george says:

    Is there a digital back for the F4 ?
    I love the camera but things have changed, I interested to know If someone has made one and where can I get one.
    Let me know thanks.
    Your work is very nice.

  9. martintoy says:

    Nice pics, I just got my “new” F4s (which makes me ver excited) Im waiting for the weekend to make some shots with, its quite heavy and it was a real bargain.

  10. Josh – stunning photos. As a long time photographer “that hasn’t taken too many pictures for far too long” this post got me.
    Some of the newer SLR style digital cameras can take amazing pictures. I haven’t tested side by side with a great film camera like the f4.
    But would be very interested to see two shots with the same content – one with digital and one with film – or hear if you’ve done this and what the result was?
    Again, thanks for the inspiring pics – especially the city shot.

  11. Since you are in Orlando, you can also have your film developed at Harmon Photo. It’s located on Lake Ivanhoe at the intersection of Orange and Virginia. Their website is http://www.harmonphoto.com.

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