Film photography has seen a dramatic increase over recent years. The question of what is the best film camera can be answered in so many different ways and it changes with each photographer you ask.
However, I am making it easy for you. If you have never shot film before and you want to give 35mm film a try, buy the Nikon F5…. end of discussion!
Why? Oh, if only it was that easy to explain, but what I will try to explain is why this 90s camera is sometimes overlooked and undervalued in the world of analogue photography, and why I think it is the best 35mm film camera you can buy.
The F5 was introduced in 1996 by Nikon to replace their aged F4 system. Targeted at the professional market at the time, it ran with the tag line "Imported from the future", with the likes of Joe McNally showing you what this new revolutionary product could do for you while sitting in a flamboyant shirt on a speedboat shooting some water skiers at 40 knots. Well, it was the 90s!
Anyway, physically this camera is built like a tank and it was designed to take one hell of a beating, but it's not just toughness which the Nikon F5 has going for it. It was incredibly advanced for the time, equipped with auto DX film speed reading which could read films from ASA 25 all the way up to 5,000 or 6,400 if you entered it in manually.
It featured focus modes such as AF-S, AF-C and Manual, and had a built-in TTL prism, which could be upgraded to a wait-level if you so wished. This camera even offered 3D Matrix metering, Centre-weighted, spot metering, and could shoot up to an astonishing 8 frames of continuous shooting! Now you might not want to fire through frames that quickly today due to film costs, but it just goes to show how advanced this film camera was in 1996.
The Nikon F5 could be seen as the equivalent of the Nikon D6 in today's standards, and that's not a bad comparison to have on a 26 year-old camera. Another amazing factor with the Nikon F5 is that it’s able to communicate with modern Nikon F-mount lenses that feature electronic aperture control and autofocus, meaning you can slap on a brand new Nikon 50mm AF-S f/1.4G, 200mm f/2, 600mm f/4 and everything in between, and the F5 will be able to control focus and aperture with ease.
But, just because it can be used with the new fancy lenses from Nikon, does not mean you have to use them. The F5 can be used with all Nikon F-mount lenses, which there are plenty, with some being incredible value for money when compared to the modern counterparts.
This is all well and good, but what about the electronics of such an old camera? As with many things at 20+ years of age things can go wrong, however I have used and abused mine for over 15 years and have friends who have had them since new and they are still going strong.
Can the same be said for your first digital camera? I know my Nikon D70 died long ago. The best bit about the powering of this camera is that it comes with plain old AA batteries. 8 AA batteries equipped into your F5 will last you a very long time. Mine have been in nearly a year without dying and they are powering the auto film advance, light meter, exposure, auto focus, metering and, when your film is done, auto film rewinding.
The Nikon F5 is that perfect mix of modern technology (in film camera standards) with that wonder era of film which everyone is craving again, and that's why I think the Nikon F5 is the best film camera, and why I think it should be your next one.
You can expect to find a secondhand Nikon F5 body on eBay in good condition for around $300-$350.