Nikon F3 HP Film SLR Review: Why This Beauty Still Matters

Nikon F3 HP Film SLR Review: Why This Beauty Still Matters

Camera Review

Nikon F3 HP Film SLR Review: Why This Beauty Still Matters

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-color-negative-buttons-operation-use-easy-look-how-why-f-mount
Nikon F3 HP with Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f/1.4 SL II

As a longtime rangefinder shooter, the Nikon F3 HP has broken through my preferences and won me over. This 35mm film SLR offers a simple yet highly capable package at a reasonable price, allowing me to experiment with different focal lengths. The key to enjoying the F3 HP is selecting the right focusing screen—I use the Type J screen, which provides a crisp matte surface and microprism for manual focusing. I appreciate how Nikon cameras are intentionally designed to be both dependable and cost-effective when compared to Leica cameras. Despite recognising differences in image quality between the two brands as a long-time Leica user, I ultimately chose Nikon for its sturdy and comfortable ergonomics, as well as its ease of use with telephoto lenses like the 105mm f/2.5 AIS lens. These are the very reasons that initially drew me to Nikon.

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Nikon F3HP, Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong

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High Point (“HP”) Viewfinder

The F3 HP’s viewfinder is what sets it apart from the original F3. The HP has a recessed, high-eyepoint viewfinder that’s easier to see through, especially when those who are wearing glasses. While the standard F3 offers 0.80x magnification, the F3 HP drops that slightly to 0.75x. Counterintuitively, the lower magnification on the F3 HP actually makes the viewfinder easier to use, providing a wider view of the framelines and metre readout at the top. I’ve found no issues seeing the entire bright viewfinder on the F3 HP.

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-color-negative-buttons-operation-use-easy-look-microprism-focusing-screen
Viewfinder with microprism screen

Aesthetics and Design

When it comes to ergonomics and aesthetics, the F3 HP is a work of art. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, this camera simply feels sublime in the hands. Every surface, dial, and button is crafted for tactile bliss. The sculpted grip, balanced weight, and solid dials inspire confidence. The F3 HP’s beauty is matched by its capability—it was one of Nikon’s best professional cameras, with production lasting for years even after the F4 and F5 were released.

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Nikon F3 with databack
nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-color-negative-buttons-operation-use-easy-look-prism
Nikon F3 HP Camera

Features

As a manual-focus 35mm film SLR, the F3 HP works with all Nikon F-mount lenses made since 1959, including autofocus lenses in manual mode. The F3 HP was Nikon’s first pro camera to offer an electronic shutter and aperture-priority auto exposure. The stepless electronic shutter offers speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2000 second. When set to “A” mode, the camera selects the shutter speed automatically. The metering sensitivity primarily focuses on the central 12mm circle, accounting for a significant 80% of the overall exposure calculation, with the peripheral areas contributing just 20%. This configuration essentially gives the F3 a pronounced center-weighted metering average. For full manual mode, the compact exposure metre indicator in the viewfinder shows plus/minus readouts to indicate over- or underexposure. 

It’s worth noting that the metre on this camera doesn’t activate until you advance the film to frame 1, meaning that frames 0 or 00 (which come before frame 1) will lack any metering, whether you’re shooting in manual mode or aperture priority mode.

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ISO dial
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Film door

While the F3 HP offers aperture-priority auto exposure, its manual film advance is a throwback to simpler times. The lever must be wound for each shot, providing a quiet, battery-efficient shooting experience compared to the autowind of Nikon’s later pro cameras like the F4 and F5. The F3 HP can even operate without a battery in a pinch, though at a limited 1/60 second shutter speed. In years of use, I’ve never had the F3 HP’s battery or shutter fail.

The on/off switch for the exposure metre on the F3 is a plastic lever that’s built around the shutter release button. It was a forerunner to a comparable switch on later models like the F4 and other newer Nikons. That said, I personally find the switch on the F3 to be rather stiff and challenging to turn.

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-color-negative-adox-color-mission-200-28mm-f2-ais-wah-fu-street-hk
Nikon F3HP, Adox Color Mission 200, Nikon 28mm f/2 ais, Hong Kong

Using a Flash

Using an electronic flash unit with the Nikon F3, much like its predecessors F and F2, requires mounting an accessory shoe over the rewind knob or attaching a dedicated Nikon F3 flash unit directly onto the camera. Alternatively, a side-bracket flash with a synch terminal cable can be used as well. Interestingly, the maximum flash synchronisation speed on the F3 is slightly slower at 1/80 sec. compared to the F2’s 1/90 sec. However, the F3 boasts a major advancement in the form of TTL automatic flash exposure.

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-ilford-hp5-pushed-1600-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-buildings-hk
Nikon F3HP, Ilford HP5 pushed 1600, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong
nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-ilford-hp5-pushed-1600-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-fishing-hk
Nikon F3HP, Ilford HP5 pushed 1600, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong
nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-kentmere-400-pushed-800-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-2.5-praying-man
Nikon F3HP, Kentmere 400 pushed 800, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong

Lens Compatibility

It’s worth noting that the F3 is compatible with a wide range of lenses, both manual focus and autofocus. Any manual focus lens manufactured since 1959 can be used with this camera, as can autofocus lenses from the AI-P, AF, AF-I, AF-D, and AF-S series, as long as they are not “gelded” (G). This compatibility means that the metering and focusing functions work seamlessly with these lenses, although manual focusing is still required. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that AF lenses function correctly in manual mode, but only if they are not “G” lenses. 

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-ilford-hp5-pushed-800-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-fishing-hk
Nikon F3HP, Ilford HP5 pushed 1600, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong

Conclusion

If I could only keep one film SLR, the Nikon F3 HP would be it. For landscape and street photography work, it offers the perfect blend of manual focus and aperture-priority auto exposure in a compact, reliable package. While the F3HP may lack some of the advanced features of later pro Nikon bodies, its elegance and minimalism are difficult to beat. The F3HP proves that in the right hands, a simple, purpose-built tool can produce images every bit as compelling as the latest technological marvel. For me, the F3 HP’s combination of craft, capability, and restraint is a breakthrough that reaffirms the ongoing relevance of film. It’s not necessary to have an expensive camera to capture great images. If you grab a Nikon F3 HP, then we can start talking!

nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-color-negative-fuji-superia-premium-400-105mm-f2.5-ais-raining-rainbow-hk
Nikon F3HP, Fujifilm Superia Premium 400, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong
nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-kentmere-400-pushed-800-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-2.5-hong-kong-street
Nikon F3HP, Kentmere 400 pushed 800, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong
nikon-f3-f3hp-slr-film-camera-review-analog-photography-aperture-priority-ilford-hp5-pushed-1600-bnw-105mm-f2.5-ais-walking-hk-fan-ho-silhouette
Nikon F3HP, Ilford HP5 pushed 1600, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 ais, Hong Kong
webstore-shop-buy-film-stock-negative-reflx-lab-motion-picture-remjet-removed-c41-process-800t-tungsten-800-iso-5219
Reflx Lab 800
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Reflx Lab 400D
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Reflx Lab 500T (35mm Film)
Leica M2/M3 Quick Loading Spool

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2 Comments

  1. The “80” in the 80/20 center-weighted means that 80% of the meter reading is taken from the 12mm circle in the middle of the frame and 20% from the rest of the frame, not that the meter takes its reading from 80% of the frame.

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