Reconnecting with an old friend – the Nikon F4

Without a doubt, when contemplating my favourite camera (of those I currently own), my immediate response is usually: F4… the Nikon F4… without hesitation, but with plenty of repetition… definitely the F4.

My first SLR was a Praktica BCA, which taught me the fundamentals of the exposure triangle. As all photographers know, Gear Acquisition Syndrome soon finds a toehold and I began looking at all the lovely things in the back pages of Amateur Photographer magazine. A brief flirtation with the thought of an F3 ensued but of course, I couldn’t afford one… so I sated my desires with the entry level Nikon of the time, the F301 (manual focus… what can I say, I thought I was a purist) and very content I was with it too. But GAS is never far from a photographer’s mind, and I was soon to be struck by the rugged beauty of the F4.
It took plenty of scrimping and saving, but eventually, after maybe a couple of years with the redoubtable F301, I found a very tidy used example at a long since closed camera shop in Uckfield in the 2nd hand listings. A 140 mile round trip… worth every minute.
I have owned that very camera for something like 25 years now, and I still adore it. The F5 and F6 passed me by completely, and I barely noticed them. I had an F4, and it was all the camera I’d ever need.
All the camera I’d ever need… but of course, not necessarily all the camera I’d ever want… I continued to acquire additional cameras of various sizes and different formats… I have a deep fondness and appreciation for them all, but the F4 retains its favoured status.

It’s a weighty object… (true story – the F4 was once responsible for toppling a baby buggy backwards due to the weight over the handle… a real life buckaroo moment and to protect the innocent, I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a baby in the buggy at the time), but nicely balanced, even with the MB21 grip attached. For all the love I have for the F4, I’d be the first to admit, it has its faults… autofocussing is pedestrian by today’s standards, but it does everything I need it to, and it does what it does entirely competently… big, solid and dependable… instils confidence in the user… you could bang a nail in with it to put up a hammock… If caught out by a blizzard, you could probably pull out its guts and hunker down inside… it’s tough… you wouldn’t want it to punch you in the face, but it won’t do that to you ‘cos it’s your hefty friend and it will see you right…

So why, then, when I reach for a camera to accompany me, does the F4 not immediately leap to hand? Well, it can’t leap… it’s too heavy… things that make me love it – big, heavy, solid – are what stop me from taking it out. I’m more likely to pick up the svelte and lightweight Olympus OM4, or the pocketable XA, or the folding 6×6 Isolette, or even a digital compact… the qualities that make the F4 so right in my mind, are the qualities that often (in my mind) stop me from taking it out… yet when I do haul it onto my shoulder for an outing, I bloody love it, and am never disappointed… so the fault lies squarely in my mind.

It’s time to change my thinking and reconnect with my hefty old friend. Spend some time together and burn some film like the old days…

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