An SLR camera, made by Nikon (of course), first sold in 1980. It was the third of their top-of-the-line professional camera models. It was the first pro model with an electronic shutter. A testament to its design is that it is still available brand new.

Like the other Nikon F-models, the F3 has a removable prism. The most desirable one for utility is the HP, or High-eyePoint prism, which lets you see the whole frame without having to stick your eye-ball into the viewfinder. This is very nice for eyeglass wearers. Other prisms include the 'normal' one, which is a bit smaller, a 'sportsfinder' designed to make it easy to follow quickly moving subjects, and various high-magnification finders for careful work.

This camera can use all the Nikon F-mount lenses, though meter coupling is available only with AI and later lenses.

There is a separate motor winder for this camera, the Nikon MD-4.

The Nikon F3 is a tough camera, rumoured to be impervious to conventional weapons.

Features of the Nikon F3 include:

  • shutter speeds of 8 seconds to 1/2000
  • mirror lock up
  • flash sync speed of 1/60 with metering, or 1/80 without
  • a fully non-battery powered 1/60 shutter speed for emergencies
  • +/- 2 stops of exposure compensation
  • DOF preview
  • self-timer
  • multiple-exposure capability
  • shutter release threaded for standard shutter cable

Things that are wrong with the F3 are:

  • The flash shoe. It's weird. Because the prism is interchangeable, they didn't put the flash shoe on the prism, but on the rewind knob. And it's non-standard. There are adapters, the latest from Nikon which preserves the TTL flash sync, I believe. (Nikon SU-4)
  • The 1/80 flash sync is a little slow. This is due to the horizontally travelling shutter.
  • It's manual focus (which I'm used to, so...)
  • It's manual winding, without the Nikon MD-4.
  • There's no little window on the back to tell you what film you have in there, or if there's film in there at all...
  • They are still expensive, even after 21 years on the market.

It's a neat little camera.

Like many other cameras that were sold or are still sold long after their initial introduction, the F3 has had a number of variants. Some variants, such as the F3HP, simply refer to the kind of prism that came with the camera, in this case the nice high-eyepoint model described above. Other variants include the F3T, which is the F3 clad in titanium, and the F3P, a especially ruggedized model that only "real" professional photographers were allowed to buy. I believe the F3P came with more weatherproofing seals, larger knobs for use with gloves, and a permanently affixed prism to which a standard flash shoe was attached. Some of the other variants include the F3AF, equipped with a very early attempt by Nikon to do autofocus (and failing...); the F3H high-speed model in which the flip-up mirror is replaced by a fixed pelicle mirror and equipped with the special MD-4H motordrive, capable of shooting 13 frames per second; and the F3 Limited, which is a repackaged F3P produced for (rich) amateur consumption.

Last bit of info from

I love my F3. And I say that in the true sense of the word. I've used a number of other cameras: an elderly Mamiya DSX 1000 35mm SLR in Pentax screw mount, Pentax K-1000, Fujica ST-605 35mm, a Nikon FM-10, Olympus OM-2n. The F3 is the only one that I have truly loved.

I bought it from a business associate, who purchased it in Japan when he worked there some years ago. He mentioned that he had a camera that he wanted to sell. I asked him what it was, and how much he wanted for it. When he told me, I leaped at it. It was in mint condition, not a single mark on it anywhere. I don't believe that it had had more than 1 or 2 rolls through it. It had a Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 on it, also in absolutely perfect condition, and an SB-17 speedlight.

It has a few more marks now. I bought a used MD-4, a Micro-Nikkor 105 1:4, a Tamron 60-300... the list goes on. I love this camera. I love the smooth, utterly precise action of the manual winder. I love the thought that went into the design of the body/motor drive interface. I love the sheer solid precise weight of the beast. But most of all I love how it has become as familiar to me as a part of my own body, how I can adjust shutter speed and aperture in the dark, how the important things are just exactly where they should be. I even love the quirky flash mount, which, once you get used to it, is stronger and more secure than a standard ISO mount.

It's tough, which is a good part of the reason that it has been, and continues to be, a favourite among photojournalists. I dropped mine (not intentionally) from a height of about 5 feet onto concrete. The base of the MD-4 aquired some healthy scratches, and the edge of the battery door was a bit deformed, but that was it.

Bottom line: if you want a tough, reliable, flexible system with a staggering array of viewfinders, accessories and above all top-quality lenses, and you don't need (or want) autofocus, this is the camera for you.

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