Nikon Nikkorex

Nikon’s first SLR camera was the professional Nikon F which introduced the F mount which is still (in modified form) in use today. In order to tap into the large enthusiast market, Nikon introduced the Nikkorex range. There were three models in the Nikkorex range. The first two models seem to have been modelled on the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex – fixed lens and complex leaf shutter in the lens. This third model in the range, the Nikkorex F, is a standard SLR with a removable lens and a focal plane shutter – this camera uses the same lens mount as the Nikon F and so also the same range of lenses. It dates from 1962. In fact, the Nikkorex F was supplied with the same lens as the Nikon F. (Initially, Nikon was the name of a range of SLR cameras, not the name of the company which was originally Nippon Kogaku.) This Nikkorex model was designed by and made by Mamiya for Nikon. After Nikon dispensed with this model (at the introduction of the Nikkormat range), Mamiya sold the design to Ricoh. I assume that the reason for Nikon choosing the same name – F – as their flagship Nikon F was to instil visions of quality into the customer’s mind.

  • lens: Rikenon
  • focal length: 35 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal leaf
  • speeds: 1/30 or 1/125
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

I shall use my usual method of describing this camera, starting with the top plate. The top plate is made from pressed brass which has been satin chrome plated. On the far right is the film advance lever. This is pressed metal and also satin chrome plated apart from the tip which is bright plated. When not in use, this lever sits over the top plate out of the way. In use, it sits just proud of the top plate making it easier for the user’s thumb to move it.

In front of the film advance lever is the frame counter. This is reset to S (or -3) by opening the camera back. Left of this window is the shutter release button. This is metal and is threaded for a standard Prontor type cable release. Left of this, centrally on the top plate, is the shutter speed dial. This is pretty much as you might expect. The speed range is from one second to 1/1000 second plus B. The dial turns freely between speeds but not between B and 1/1000. As you move the dial to a faster speed you can hear the mechanism wind up. To move from 1/125 to 1/250 and faster requires significantly more effort than between the slower speeds. The speeds from 1 to 1/125 are printed in orange – these are the flash sync speeds. 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000 are printed in green Between B and 1/1000, there is a small metal stud. This is used to connect the optional light meter – more later.

Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. My camera has a large dint on the top which seems to have no adverse effect on its function. The front of the pentaprism hump is an engraved capital ‘F’ which is the model name. The rear of the hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This is circular and has a screw-in ring which can hold vision correction lenses for people who wear glasses.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. Mostly this is a Fresnel lens which gives even illumination over the screen. In the centre of the screen is a disc of plain ground glass to ease focusing (the Fresnel lens part is hard to focus on). Inside this is a smaller circular split-image rangefinder spot. As this camera has no meter, there is no additional information in the viewfinder. Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the very usual small folding crank. This only has the one function of rewinding the film – it doesn’t open the back as with many cranks.

The front of the camera is mostly as you would expect with one surprise – more later. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion. At the top of this is the model name – Nikkorex – in capital letters. On the right of this raised portion (as when looking at the front), there is a small stud on the side in line with the model name. Again, more later. Further down this raised portion is the lens mount. This is Nikon’s F mount as introduced in 1959 – no electrical contacts and no AIS ring around the mount. On the left of the mount, on the side of the raised portion, is a chrome button. Pushing this down closes the lens aperture so you can gauge the depth of field of the image. On the front of the camera to the left of the raised portion is the self-timer lever. This winds about 90º anticlockwise and is activated by pressing the shutter release button.

L shaped bracket for flash

Above the self-timer lever, on the front of the top plate, is the surprise I mentioned previously. This is a vertically mounted but otherwise standard Barnack accessory shoe. Being vertical, it is entirely useless for connecting a normal flash gun. However, that is not its intended function. It is there to attach the optional Nikon light meter. This light meter has three attachment points: 1) the vertical accessory shoe, 2) the stud on the shutter speed dial, 3) the pin on the side of the raised portion mentioned earlier. I do not have this optional flash gun so I can say no more about it. If you do want to connect a normal flash gun, Nikon provided an L shaped bracket which fits into the vertical accessory shoe to provide a horizontal accessory shoe.

The rear of the top plate has, on the right, the legend “Made in Japan” and the serial number – 356786 in the case of my camera. On the left of the rear of the top plate is the maker’s name – “Nippon Kogaku Tokyo” – this is the original name of the company that now calls itself Nikon (this ignores the fact that this camera was made by Mamiya for Nikon).

In the middle of the back is a circular memo. This allows the user to set the speed of the film in use – ASA only – and the length of the film. The options here are either 20 or 36 exposures and in either red or black (i.e. colour or monochrome).

The base plate of the camera is also made of brass which is satin chrome plated. In the middle of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is the tripod socket. This has the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread – the international standard later changed to UNC threads but not in 1962. Also on the base is the rewind button.

On the left hand edge of the top plate are two PC connectors for flash. The front connector is marked with a green M and is for use with flash bulbs. The rear connector is marked with a red X and is for use with electronic flash. Below these two PC connectors is the sliding catch for the back.

Inside, the camera is just as you would expect. In the middle of the back is a nice large pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Inside the body, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. – no DX contacts at this age. In the middle is the film gate which has a large surround to match the pressure plate.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. For those readers new to film, this sprocket shaft counts the holes on the edges of the film and stops the film advance after eight holes have passed over the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has one slot to take the film leader – the slot is outlined in yellow to make it easier to find.

The camera came with a Nikkor-S lens. This has a maximum aperture of ƒ/2 and a minimum aperture of ƒ/16. Its focal length is 5cm – an old-fashioned designation for the 1960s, I would expect it to be 50mm which is the same size but consistent with industry standards. The lens bezel has the maker as Nippon Kogaku – the same as the camera. The focus range is from just short of two feet (about 500mm) to infinity. The “S” in the designation “Nikkor-S” stands for Septum which is Latin for seven. This indicates that the lens is made from seven glass elements. This is the same lens as was provided with Nikon’s flagship model Nikon F so this lens is no slouch.

As with all Nikkor lenses from before 1977 (that is, F mount lenses; the rangefinder S mount lenses were also called Nikkor), the lens has a pair of ‘rabbit ears’ protruding from the aperture ring at ƒ/5.6. These link to the light meter system to tell the electronics which aperture has been set. As this camera has no light meter, the rabbit ears do nothing. If you fit the optional light meter mentioned earlier, that meter has a prong which will engage with these rabbit ears.

At some point, the shutter on this camera has failed. It is clear from the state of the screws holding the base plate on, and the screws under the base plate, that someone has been inside the camera, presumably to repair the shutter. As the shutter is 60 years old, I doubt that it was ever going to be repairable. I am not going to be able to use this camera so I cannot comment on how well it works.


Nikon EM

This is my sixth Nikon camera – I already have two ‘modern’ Nikons: the F301 and the even newer F601, two Nikkormats: the FTn and the later EL and the magnificent F2 Photomic. Historically, this Nikon EM sits between the Nikkormats and the F301 and F601.

This is a fairly small camera, reminiscent of the Pentax ME range. It is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than my F2 or either of my Nikkormats. It was intended for women’s use hence the small size and lack of manual controls. All the photographs of people using the camera in the manual are of a pretty blonde to underline this idea. Back when this camera was introduced, it was good marketing to assume that women are useless, apparently.

  • lens: Kiron sold as Vivitar
  • focal length: 70-150 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.8 – ƒ/22
  • focus range: 0.9 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E metal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: Hot shoe
  • film size: 35 mm

The camera was brought to market in 1979 and was made until 1982 (and offered for sale new until 1984). So, my camera is now (2021) forty years old, give or take a single year. Early camera electronics are notorious for not lasting for decades, not that they were intended to. The automatic exposure system is still working even if I have yet to ascertain how accurately. I can tell this by pointing the camera at different parts of the room and firing the shutter. Listening to the significant differences in the time the shutter takes to open and close indicates the varying shutter speeds.

There are a couple of things that do not work on my camera. One is the battery check system. I press the check button and the LED should light. I do know that the batteries are good because they are new and are controlling the shutter. The other failed system is the meter needle in the viewfinder which does not move regardless of the light, ASA setting or aperture setting. This clearly does not affect the metering system (I suspect that the meter needle has become mechanically jammed through extended unuse) but that does mean that the photographer has no idea as to the shutter speed being used.

A third fault is the AI ring on the lens mount which is supposed to return to its designated rest position when the lens is removed. If you set the lens aperture to ƒ/22, the AI ring moves accordingly. If you then set the lens aperture to ƒ/3.5, the AI ring stays at the ƒ/22 position. I am hoping that this is a spring becoming unattached which might be an easy fix. Or it might be a broken spring which will not be fixable – spare parts for this camera have not been available for decades.

The body is made from a die-cast aluminium alloy and so is quite heavy. The top and bottom plates are made from some sort of plastic and the back is made from pressed steel. The camera body measures 135 by 86 by 52 mm and weighs 460 g. Most of the body is covered in black leatherette and the rest is painted satin black. As an automatic exposure camera with no manual options, there are few controls. In fact, there are only two controls on the camera body. Starting on the top on the right: first is the window to the frame counter. Only even numbers are shown, odd frames being represented by dots. The highest number is 36 – the camera will keep advancing the film but the frame counter will not move beyond 36. The frame counter is reset by opening the back in time-honoured manner. The frame counter resets to S which is actually -3.

Next to the frame counter is the film advance lever. This has a design that I have never seen before – the lever has a hinge halfway along. I am not sure what this achieves that more usual lever designs do not. The lever moves through 144º to advance the film one frame. This is on a ratchet so a frame can be advanced with one stroke or several short ones. Around this lever is a rotating switch – this offers the options of Auto, M90 and B.

The camera is intended to be used on Auto but this relies on good batteries so M90 is provided as the sole mechanical speed which is 1/90 seconds. M90 is also used with flash as this is the sync speed for this shutter. There is a rumour on the Interweb that the shutter will fire at 1/1000 seconds if you remove the batteries and fire on Auto. I cannot verify this but when I tried it, the shutter speed appeared to be much faster than 1/90 seconds. I shall try this with my test film. B is the Bulb setting where the shutter remains open while the shutter release is pressed.

Inside the fulcrum of the advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Partially pressing this switches on the camera electronics and starts the automatic exposure system working. On the left of the film advance lever is a soft blue button and a small red LED. This is the battery check – press the blue button and the red LED should light.

In the middle of the top is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe which is an ISO standard hot shoe with two additional contacts for use with Nikon’s Speedlite flash guns. On the back of the hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 12 by 8 mm. The image is plenty bright enough. In the centre of the focus screen is a circle of micro-prisms as a focus aid and in the centre of these is a split-image focus aid. Both of these are clear and easy to use. Around the micro-prism circle is a second, larger, circle. At first glance, this has no function but it delineates the area that the centre-weighted exposure system uses.

On the left of the focus screen is a vertical list of shutter speeds – these range from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds. There is an indication at 1/90 seconds as this is both the only available mechanical sped and also the flash sync speed. My camera has a fault as the needle that should point to the shutter speed in use is stuck above 1/1000 seconds and will not move at all. However, it is clear that the exposure system is changing the shutter speed by listening to the length of the noise by the shutter.

The front of the pentaprism hump has the legends “EM” and “Nikon” on it in off-white.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Pulling up on this crank unlatches the camera back. Around the crank is the film speed scale which is in ASA only (ASA is functionally the same as ISO film speeds). The film speed is set by lifting and turning the outer ring – there is a white index mark to indicate the selected film speed. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA (or 25 ISO) seems ridiculously slow today but in 1980 25 ASA film was still commonly available.

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is the AI version of the F mount introduced in 1959 – AI means that the lenses do not need the “rabbit ears” indexing prong. Instead, there is an indexing tab on the lens’ aperture ring which pushes a spring loaded index ring around as the set aperture is changed. This is basically what the “rabbit ears” did but the real difference is what happens inside the camera – by changing the linkage, Nikon prevented people mixing and matching the new system and the old system and getting spurious results. This index ring is faulty on my camera, as mentioned earlier. The ring needs to be spring loaded to return to its rest position when the aperture is set to its maximum but either this spring has become detached or the spring is broken so now the lens is incapable of communicating the set aperture to the automatic exposure system. At this date, there is no “screwdriver” autofocus linkage nor any electrical contacts on the mount.

On the right side of the mount (right as when looking at the mount) near the top of the body, is a small blue button. Pressing this and holding it in gives +2 times exposure compensation which is the only user input into the exposure system.

On the left side of the lens mount is the self-timer. This works by being would up (it is clockwork) by turning the lever anti-clockwise through 90º. It is activated by pressing the shutter release button. The delay is eight seconds with my camera.

On either top corner of the front of the camera there is a strap lug for a neck strap.

The base of the camera is designed to take a motor drive. This consists of a locating hole, a metal clutch connected to the film advance mechanism and two electrical contacts. In addition to the motor drive elements, there are three more usual items, There is a battery compartment which holds two off LR44 batteries to power the exposure system and electronic shutter. In line with the lens there is a tripod socket. This will be an ISO socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread – which was established in 1977. The final item is the button to disengage the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound.

The back is unlatched by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back itself is plain inside with just a pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. The edges of the back form a flange which fits into a groove on the camera body. This groove has a foam light seal in it which has degraded over the last 40 years and needs replacing. On the outside of the back is a black painted brass memo holder to take the end of the film carton as a reminder as to the type of film in use.

Inside the back of the camera, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. At this age (1980ish)there are no contacts for a DX system – it would be a few years until Kodak designed the DX system (introduced in 1983). The film gate is in the centre giving onto the vertical travel focal lane shutter. This was made by Seiko and is electronically controlled. This shutter is a Seiko MFC-E shutter – M=Metal, F=focal plane, C=compact and E=electronic – needed to help reduce both size and weight of the camera. This is the shutter that Pentax used on the slightly earlier Pentax ME camera and aan improved version on the Pentax ME super and Pentax Program A cameras. This shutter, being electronic, needs battery power to work, apart from the 1/90 second speed which is entirely mechanical.

Nikon F601

This is my second Nikon - I already have a Nikon F301. This camera is one model on Nikon's road to automation. The main elements of modern DSLR controls are in place but not quite as we would expect them today. This is my second Nikon - I already have a Nikon F301. This camera is one model on Nikon's road to automation. The main elements of modern DSLR controls are in place but not quite as we would expect them today.

nikon 8
  • lens: not supplied
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: metal vertical focal plane
  • speeds: 30 seconds to 1/2000 seconds
  • flash: pop-up fast plus ISO hot shoe
  • film size: 35mm

The first thing you notice with this camera is the weight. The chassis is metal but the fascias etc are plastic. The camera measures 155 by 100 by 66 mm (including the grip but only 54 mm to the lens mount flange). It weighs xg.

NikonAs this is an automatic camera, there is no film advance lever. The far right of the top plate has a strap lug. Just to the left of this is a large (20 mm diameter) selector dial. This dial is horizontal and very slightly protrudes behind the back of the topple to give a grip for the user’s thumb. To the left of this selector dial is a LCD screen. This contains a whole host of information which I shall discuss shortly.

In front of the screen are three items. On the right is the on/off slider. To the left is an exposure compensation button which is used in conjunction with the selector dial. This can add up to 5 stops compensation – either plus or minus. To the far left is a ‘shift’ button for use in conjunction with other buttons. On its own, it acts as a flash exposure compensation button.

nikon 6

There is a grip on the right hand front of the body which houses the shutter release button. This is 12 mm diameter and is nearly flush with the top the grip. It is threaded for a standard cable release. On the back of the top plate is a slider which can be used to lock either the auto-exposure system or both the auto-exposure and auto-focus systems. This slider is easily moved by the user’s thumb while pressing the shutter release button with their fore-finger.

Almost centrally on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. This incorporates a pop-up flash so is much larger than with earlier SLR cameras. The flash is activated by pressing two small buttons on either side of the front of the pentaprism hump and lifting the flash. On top of the hump is the accessory shoe. This is an ISO hot shoe with a large central contact. There are also three subsidiary contacts which are not a part of the ISO standard (ISO 518:2006 if you are interested) and are dedicated for Nikon flash guns.

nikon 3Behind the hump is the viewfinder eye piece. This measures 16 by 12 mm.This has engraved upon it two circles. The larger circle is the area used for centre weighted metering and the smaller circle is the area used for spot metering. Inside the smaller circle are two square brackets – these eliminate the area used by the autofocus system – just the one area, right in the middle of the image.

Below the focus screen in the viewfinder is a small LCD screen with some basic information. On the left are two arrows with a spot between. These are the focus indicators – the area behind the focus brackets is in focus when the spot is lit. If focus tracking is set, both arrows and spot are lit when the subject is in focus and the shutter cannot be fired if they are not lit – this will not apply if the camera is set to manual focus.

Next along is the shooting mode – PSA or M. As I do not have an AI-P lens, only A and M are available (AI-P lenses have a processor in the lens which gives the camera information about the lens settings). Next is the shutter speed which can be from 30 seconds to 1/2000 seconds. In P art A modes, the camera can set the shutter speed anywhere in this range but in S and M modes shutter speeds can only be set in 1EV steps.

Next is aperture. Because my lens has no processor in it, apertures are not reported electronically and this display shows ‘F–‘. This is not a problem because I can see the aperture scale on the lens. On the right is a digital exposure meter display for use in M mode.

This LCD display can also display warnings; if the shutter speed flashes you might need to use a tripod; if ‘HI’ flashes, your picture will be overexposed; if ‘LO’ flashes, your picture will be underexposed; and if ‘FEE’ flashes, the lens is not set correctly for the auto-exposure system (the lens must be set to its smallest aperture).

To the right of this small LCD screen is a red ‘flash ready’ icon which comes on when the flash is ready (!).

What is missing in the viewfinder are any of the usual focus aids – no micro prisms, no split image. Already, Nikon were assuming that no sensible photographer would be manually focusing.

nikon 4

Left of the pentaprism hump are control buttons. There are six of these and each has two functions. To determine which of the two functions is used, you need to press (or not) the shift button on the right of the pentaprism hump. Fortunately, these buttons are used to set uptake camera and so are infrequently used.

There are four large buttons – Mode, ISO, DRIVE and BKT (bracket) – and two small buttons – meter mode and self timer. With the shift button pressed, these become Balanced fill flash (Mode), DX or Manual ISO (ISO), Auto focus lock (DRIVE). With Shift, the meter mode button sets slow flash and other self-timer button sets rear curtain flash.

nikon 7Moving to the front of the camera, the body, as usual, is dominated by the lens mount. This is the Nikon F mount as introduced in 1959 and which is still in use with Nikon digital cameras. It has three modifications over the original F mount. The first is the presence of an AI ring around the lens mount (AI=Aperture Indexed) – this allows the lens to communicate the set aperture to the camera body. Old, non-AI lenses can be used but only with manual exposure. The second modification is the presence of seven electrical contacts inside the throat of the lens mount at the top. Originally, there were no contacts, then five were added, this camera has seven and modern digital Nikons have ten contacts. The third modification is the presence of a ‘screwdriver’ autofocus link. The F mount standard is far from being standard!

As my one and only Nikon lens is an AI-S lens with no electronics the electrical contacts do nothing, and as my lens is strictly manual focus only the autofocus ‘screwdriver’ remains retracted into the lens mount while the camera is set to manual focus. There is one more feature of the mount and that is a lever on the left inside the throat that a engages with a lug on the lens. This lever movers down as the mirror moves up and, in so doing, closes the iris diaphragm in the lens.

On the lower right of the lens mount is a three-way switch. This sets the autofocus mode. The options are M (manual), S (single shot) or CF (continuous focus). For most purposes, you would use S but for moving subjects – sports or wildlife, for example – you would use CF. If, like me, you only have a manual focus lens you will use M.

nikon 2The base of the camera has little on it. In line with the lens is an ISO tripod socket (1/4 inch UNC thread). In the base of the grip is the battery compartment. This takes a CR-P2 battery which are not common but are still available – I found a shop in Lincoln that sells them. Also on the base is the rewind switch. Rewind is motorised and requires two actions to start it. First, slide the slider to the right and while holding it there, press the chrome button. Once rewind starts, you do not need to hold these two in place. My only gripe with this system is that the film is completely rewound into the film cassette which make retrieval for development harder.

nikon 5Loading the film is easy – you merely pull the film leader across the film gate to the orange square, close the back and press the shutter release button until the camera has loaded the film. There are electrical contacts in the cassette recess which read the DX code on the cassette and automatically set the film speed.

In use.

I have not been able to fully test this camera as my only Nikon lens is not compatible with all the camera’s functions. The parts I have tested work well. The camera is light-tight (not a given for old Japanese cameras) and the meter works well. The first picture where shows how the meter deals with a high dynamic range conditions – it copes rather well.

Nikon F601-8
high dynamic range

This second picture was taken with manual exposure but using the built-in exposure meter – again, works well.

Nikon F601-1
manual exposure

The rest of the pictures have a range of lighting conditions all of which were dealt with by the camera competently.

Nikon F601-12
Nikon F601-15
Nikon F601-22

Nikon F-301

Nikon F-301 35mm film camera from Japan. This nis a semi-automatic camera with full manual override.

I will start with a physical description before going on to describe the camera in use.

The camera is made from metal (I think aluminium) with a plastic top plate. The camera measures 144 by 93 by 46 mm and weighs xxg with no lens attached or film loaded. The top plate is rather cluttered – this is a function of automated cameras. The first thing to note is that there is no film advance lever – this function being automated. On the far right of the top plate is the frame counter. This resets to ‘S” when the back is opened. Frame numbers are in white with odd numbers as dots. frames 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in red as these were the usual film lengths in 1985.

Just left of the frame counter are two switches. The front one is a combination on/off switch and shutter release button. In the ‘L’ position the shutter button is locked and the electrics are turned off. There are two on positions. “S” is for single shots and the setting that will be used most of the time. “C” is for continuous shooting at 2.5 frames per second – 14 seconds to use up an entire 36 exposure cassette.

The rear switch of the two turns audible beeps on or off. I prefer off. To the left of this second switch is a small button marked “R”. This button releases the film advance mechanism so that you can rewind the completed film. In use, you press this button in and, while depressed, slide the slider behind it to the right. This holds the button in place while you rewind the film. Loading a new film resets this button.

The large dial to the left of the two switches is a combination shooting mode and shutter speed selector dial. There are four shooting modes: Program (P), Program HI (Phi), Aperture priority (A) and Manual. Manual offers shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/2000 seconds. In the manual mode, the shutter speeds are exactly as set but in the three auto modes the shutter speeds are continuously variable and likely to be between the indicated speeds.

In Aperture Priority mode, the camera selects the exact shutter speeds required for a good exposure with your selected aperture.

In P mode, the camera selects both shutter speed and aperture. If the P mode is going to select a low shutter speed there is an audible beep (if beeping is switched on). In this mode, the aperture must be set to its minimum value (i.e. biggest number) or the camera cannot alter the aperture.

Phi mode is much the same as P mode but the camera select as high a shutter speed as possible. This is intended for when you use a long lens or are shooting a moving subject.

You can easily switch between the manual speeds but to switch out of either A, P or Phi modes you must press a chromed release button in front of the mode selector dial.

Next along is the pentaprism hump. This has the viewfinder eyepiece on its rear (9 by 5 mm). The focus screen has a split-image focus aid in the centre surrounded by a ring of micro-prisms. Around this ring of micro-prisms is a second ring of 12 mm diameter – this second ring has nothing to do with focus but indicates the area that the light meter uses to assess exposure.

On the right of the focus screen is a vertical row of red LEDs. The numbers are shutter speeds. In the three auto modes they indicate the selected shutter speed – if two are lit, the actual shutter speed will be between the two. In manual mode, the selected shutter speed is shown steadily lit and the shutter speed that the camera thinks you should use is displayed flashing.

There are also triangles top and bottom. If the bottom triangle is lit flashing, there is insufficient light for a good exposure (the camera will still fire) and if the top triangle is lit flashing there is too much light for a good exposure (the camera will still fire). If both triangles are lit, you are in P mode and the aperture has not been set to its minimum.

On top of the pentaprism hump is an accessory shoe. This has the standard large central contact (so is a hot shoe) which allows any generic flash gun to be used. There are also three additional small contacts which are Nikon specific for their own brand of flash guns.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. This is the standard fold-out crank which also doubles as the catch for the back. Around the rewind crank is a ring with two functions. First, it sets the film speed. This is set by lifting the ring and turning. this camera was the first Nikon to utilise the DX system of encoding film speeds on the cassette. Accordingly you set the film speed to DX and let the camera do the hard work. For films not in DX encoded cassettes you must set the film speed manually. Available speeds are from 12 ASA to 3200 ASA (there are no DIN options). The film speed ring has a second ruction – allowing exposure compensation for awkward light conditions. To set this, you press the chromed release button in front of the ring and turn the ring without lifting. You can adjust this for two stops over or two stops under exposure.

The front of the camera, as always, is dominated by the lens mount. This is the famous Nikon F mount – but with the AI-S modifications. This is a three lug bayonet with no electrical contacts. The modifications of the original F mount are a ring around the mount which is rotated by a lug on the lens. This lug is attached to the aperture ring and tells the camera which aperture has been selected. This is used for aperture priority metering only. There is also a lug on the bottom of the inside of the lens which engages with a slider inside the mount. As far as I can make out, this lug tells the camera what the max aperture of the lens is. There is a second lug on the lens on the side which engages with a slider in the lens mount. This lug is rotated by the camera when the shutter is fired – it closes the lens’ aperture.

When looking at the lens mount, there is a pin at 3 o’clock which holds the lens in place. This is retracted by a large chromed button beside the lens mount when you want to remove the lens. Slightly above this locating pin is a second, sprung, pin which engages with a small recess on the lens mount. With an AI-S lens, this sprung pin pops out into the recess and tells the camera that an AI-S lens is attached. Older lenses do not have the recess on the lens mount so the pin cannot pop out – telling the camera that a non-AI-S lens is attached. I said Nikon lenses are confusing!

Still looking at the front of the camera, on the right above the lens release button, is a socket for an electrical cable release. This is 8 mm diameter, threaded and contains two electrical contact. When not in use, there is a screw-in cap.

On there left side of the lens mount is a lever. Pushing this towards the lens mount fixes the camera’s selected exposure settings to allow for when the main subject does not appear in the circle in the viewfinder. Inside this lever is a button to activate the self-timer. This does not work on my camera. To the left of this lever/button is a red LED which indicates that the self-timer is active. Right on the left of the camera is a protruding grip.

The base plate of the camera is removable, under it is a cradle to hold four AAA batteries. One set of batteries should provide the power to take 90 rolls of film according to the manual.

The back of the camera contains a window to enable you to see the film cassette to act as a reminder as to which film type you have loaded. On the right of the back is a small round window with blue and white stripes in it. When the film moves inside the camera, these lines rotate. This has two purposes. First, you can see that the film is advancing properly. Second, you can tell when you have finished rewinding the film. While you cannot see the window while you are actually taking photographs, you can tell that the film is loaded properly as the camera will advance three frames as it loads the film and these lines will be rotating as it does so. If the lines do not rotate, the film has not loaded and you need to attend to it.

Inside is normal for a modern film camera. On the left is the recess for the film cassette. This recess has a row of six electrical contacts. These press against the film cassette and read the DX code. The DX code contains information about film length and film speed. The camera uses this information to set the light meter.

Next to the cassette space is the shutter. This is a vertical travel metal bladed shutter. To the right of the shutter is the sprocket shaft. This is partially covered by a chromed plate which is a part of the film loading system. Right of this is the take-up spool. Below the sprocket shaft are four contacts. These work with the optional data back.

The inside of the back is more complex than is usual. In the middle is the pressure plate – this is nice and large. Left of this is a sprung roller – again, a part of the film loading system; the roller keeps the film against the take-up spool.

Just right of the sprung roller is another roller. This one rotates the blue and white stripes as the film moves within the camera. Being a Japanese camera, the joint between the camera body and back is rendered light tight with plastic foam. In time, this foam deteriorates and ceases to be light tight. On this camera the foam is in excellent condition.

Loading a film is easy. The cassette goes on the left, you pull the film across the film gate and leave the end off the film leader by the orange dot. When you close the back and turn the camera on the film advance activates, winding the film to the first frame. A caveat: I used a fairly old cassette of film and there was a serious kink in the film between the lever and the rolled film in the cassette. This meant that the film did not seat properly over the sprocket shaft and so would not wind onto the take-up spool. I had to remove the film cassette, trim about 50mm off the end of the film and refit into the camera. This time the film loaded correctly. I ended up with 22 shots rather than the 24 I should have got.

In use:

This is an easy camera too use – as the designers intended. As I was trying out the camera I used all the shooting modes at some point but mostly I used A – aperture priority.

I had the film speed selector set to DX and this clearly read the film speed from the cassette. I did not try setting the film speed manually.

Using P and Phi modes worked fine – you need to remember to set the lens to its smallest aperture or nothing will happen. A mode also works fine, the camera selecting the shutter speed to match the aperture the user has set.

Looking at the negatives (courtesy of Snappy Snaps in Lincoln) the negative density is as I would want it to be on all frames. Exposure is uniform indicating that the shutter is moving smoothly without any shutter bounce.

The lens (a Tokina 35-70 mm zoom lens), which is clearly a cheaper lens, performs well most of the time. When I shot into the sun, the image lost a lot of both contrast and saturation (see the first image below) but, when shooting contre-jour was avoided, both contrast and saturation were fine.

Shot into the sun – some flare, but not too much.
Nikon F-301 35mm film camera from Japan.

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