Nikon F5: A Quick Look & Review

The Nikon F5 is the current flagship of the venerable F line and brings major technological advances in many, if not all, 35mm SLR feature categories.

Key features include:


Nikon strongly supports traditional silver-based photography. While it is reasonable to expect that eventually Nikon will offer some form of a digital back for the F5, it is reassuring to know that this isn't considered a high priority.

Instead, Nikon built a camera from scratch, incorporating new technologies where they made sense and will make the user's life easier. The exposure system is impressive: the first that's sensitive to color as well as contrast and brightness, it recognizes that photographers adjust exposure if there is a strong predominant color. Blue is often underexposed slightly for more saturation, for instance.

I half-jokingly asked a Nikon spokesperson if there is a Black-and-White Override for this feature (after all, this is Black and White World). The serious response was that color sensitive metering will also help black and white photographers. While it may not affect exposure in most cases, it will recognize when, for instance, a dark red filter is used, and compensate accordingly.

Some of the numbers involved with the F5 boggle the mind. 1005 exposure segment metering with each segment taking its own reading is instantly measured against the 30,000 images stored in the camera's on-board database to help the camera's neurologic net determine the best exposure for that particular situation. This can be finely tuned with the infinitely adjustable center-weighted metering (from 1mm to the entire image). And it all happens in the background.

Focusing is fast and very smart. An array of five focus sensors--one in the center, four in a circle surrounding it--covers more off-center subjects than other models, and should be a welcome feature. Focus lock maintaints focus on a subject that moves from one part of the frame to the other without forcing the photographer to center focus and re-compose, as in other AF models.

The F mount was a no-brainer: Nikon knew insisting on backwards compatability would make their engineers' jobs more difficult, "but for many reasons, well worth the effort," according to Richard LoPinto. A little dig at Canon here?

There is only one complaint about the F5: it's heavy. Due to its no-compromise all-metal body and Titanium meter housing construction, the camera weighs in at a hefty 3 pounds! But the camera is solid. The AF is fast and decisive. The shutter lag time is the fastest I've seen on a non-manual camera, and the 8 fps operation is incredibly fast but with very little vibration, thanks to a new mirror movement mechanism and a smooth, quiet motor drive.

Professional photographers will most likely recognize the usefulness of the F5 and embrace it, as will well-heeled serious hobbyists. Nikon says they wanted to create a camera that would make the technique of picture-taking less distracting to the art of capturing the decisive moment. With the F5, they have taken a giant step in this direction.


- MacArthur Gastrock 1999 -

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