Nikon F6 User Report
I wish…I wish I still shot film when I have the F6 in my hands! It's what a film camera should be, versatile, beefy, fast, sexy and simple to use while dealing with complex shooting. It's one hell of a camera! It takes only seconds with the F6 in your hands to know why there is an F6. In this day and age of digital and with the legacy of the F5, why would Nikon introduce the F6? The truth of the matter is there are still LOTS of film shooters out there who have been left out of the technological revolution. The F5, which was introduced in 1995, is now a decade technologically behind. The F6 brings film shooters up to par with functions and features that digital shooters have been enjoying for quite some time. In a nutshell, there's a ton of reasons for the F6, all of them fun and exciting!
Where to start? I had to start literally from the beginning, buying film! It has been over five years since there was any film in our office. That was truly the biggest hurdle for me, shooting with the F6. That's because the F6 is laid out in the very familiar Nikon style. In fact, if you own a DSLR, setting up and shooting with the F6 doesn't require an instruction book. Everything is rather intuitive to the experienced Nikon SLR shooter. So for me, the biggest challenge to getting out shooting with the F6 was finding out what was the best film, which I determined for me would be Fuji Velvia 100. And with that, I went out shooting. Here's what I learned about the F6 and its new features that I think are its real stand outs!
The F6 Size
By this point, you should already be completely impressed with the F6's new features. The really impressive thing is that these features plus a whole lot more fit in a much smaller package! The F100 weighs in at 27.7oz, the F5 at 42.7oz and the F6 at 34.4oz (F6 w/MB40 is 40.8oz). The F6 delivers a maximum 5.5fps and 8fps with MB-40 attached. The F6 is powered by two, CR123A batteries. With the MB-40 attached, it has a number of power options, the best being the Nikon EN-EL4 batteries. While we're on the topic of film advance and power, it seems a natural place to talk about film rewind.
The F6 rewinds the film just as fast as it advances it, lickety-split! What the F6 does that no other Nikon film camera has ever offered are a number of options on film loading and rewinding. You can have the F6 advance to frame 1 when you close the back or when you depress the shutter release. The F6 rewinds automatically or not, at the end of the roll or frame 35 or 36. You can have the F6 suck in the film leader or leave it out. Or any combination you prefer. And of course, you can rewind the film manually if you desire. Now ain't that sweet? And it only gets better!
The F6 can imprint shooting data in between frames, in frames, on the first frame and even download that data to a CF card (via MV-1)! There are a number of data fields you can imprint, date, time, User index number, frame count, sequential number and basically any combination of those. All of this is in this small package where the controls you've come to know and expect from Nikon are all in their very familiar places. Just too way cool!!!
The F6 Autofocus
The F6 is the ONLY SLR with 11 AF sensors! Did I mention its ELEVEN-Area High-Speed Autofocus System? A feature up to now only available in the D2H/X is now available in the F6. Incorporating the Mulit-CAM2000 AF motor, the F6 delivers ultra fast AF focusing. Nikon didn't stop there because the F6, like the D2H, has the complete host of AF options found in the custom settings menu.
The F6 has an LCD panel on the film back that permits you to dial in custom settings (what we have all become accustomed to with digital cameras). There are many to select from, AF options are no different. In conjunction with the AF Area Mode Selector on the film back, these options give you incredible control and customization of the AF features on the F6. AF-C & AF-S Priority and Group Dynamic AF with Patterns with Closest Subject options are available. Once customized to meet your preferences, you have the now very familiar AF Thumbpad to change AF sensors as required. There is no other film camera that provides this type of ability, customization or speed!
The F6 3D Matrix Metering II
When the press release for the F6 came out, this was the first thing that grabbed my attention. Nikon's Matrix metering has changed very little in the last decade. Just what is Matrix II?
The 3D Matrix Metering is still powered by the same 1005 pixel RGB sensor. It still compares all those things, brightness, contrast and color just as before. The big difference in the Matrix II is what it's comparing all the gathered info against. The original Matrix was said to have a database of 30,000 scene/exposure combos to compare against. I was informed that the Matrix II might have as many as 300,000 scene/exposure combos to compare against! What does this translate to you the photographer?
We first need to understand that advance metering is for those times when the light is beyond the 3 stop range our film requires for capturing all detail in the highlights and shadows. When the light is outside of this range, that's when coming up with the perfect exposure for the subject (knowing we are sacrificing detail somewhere else) is the challenge. The Matrix II helps in those moments. A good example is shooting up at a bird in a tree that is against an overcast sky. This is a no-win situation that normally results in an all black bird with a gray sky. The F6 with its increased database of exposure took this scenario and opened up the exposure by 1 stop. That was enough to see a little detail in the bird without totally blowing out the sky. The bottom line, when the exposure is a no-win situation, the F6 gives you the edge by squeezing out the best exposure possible from the situation.
This is pretty exciting stuff! Why? Wildlife doesn't always stay in the nice light. I'm sure you've experienced being out shooting and you get a great subject teed up in front of you. Then it leaves and for a moment is still in nice light, then goes through a patch of really yucky light. While in that yuck, it does something really cool before returning to normal and nice light again. We normally don't shoot in that yuck because experience has taught us nothing good comes from it. Well with the Matrix II in the F6, you have the ability to squeeze out the best possible exposure from that yuck of that cool behavior. Something we couldn't do a short time ago.
The F6 has an LCD Panel!
Programming features into the F6 is real simple with its LCD panel. While not a color LCD menu system like in the digital cameras, you do have the option to make some of the display larger so you can easily read it. The basic display I have programmed to display on my F6 are things like ISO, AF Sensor selected, custom settings are on, flash sync and AF activation.
Below the LCD is a door that swings down so you can access the Menu, ISO, Flash Sync and Info buttons. Depressing one of these permits you to do various programming on the F6. It's all very intuitive if you have any DSLR Nikon body. It does give the film shooter all the advantages digital shooters have been enjoying the last five years of customizing controls, options and functions to ones shooting needs.
Just what can you program via the LCD on the F6?
The F6 by itself fires off at a steady 5.5fps. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact for most photographers, this speed is just right. But for some, like myself, speed is everything and when the MB-40 is attached to the F6, speed is what you get! The firing rate of the F6 with the MB-40 attached jumps to 8fps. I haven't found a great increase in film rewind speed, but there sure is in advance!
The MB-40 adds 17oz (with batteries) to the weight of the F6. It feels really good in the hand. Unlike some other add on motordrives, when the MB-40 is attached, it's solid as a rock. You can use the Nikon EN-EL4 battery but I'm using PowerEx 2300 AAs and they work great in the F6. When it comes battery consumption, the F6 with the MB-40 performs better then the D2H. I lost count on how many rolls of film I shot before the batter indicator went off full but I do know that the F5 never had such battery staying power!
You don't need the MB-40 for a remote socket, the 10pin socket it built into the F6 body. What the MB-40 does bring in controls is vertical firing controls. You have a thumb dial (lockable), Sub-command dial and AF-On button. Personally, I like the F6 better with the MB-40 attached.
The F6 and the SB-800…WOW!
How many of you have taken advantage of the very cool, new Nikon Creative Lighting System? It is ~very~ cool! This is a system of i-TTL flash photography that permits you to, with just one flash connected to the camera's flash shoe, wirelessly control up to three banks of flashes (each bank can have as many flash units in theory as you'd like). Up until this moment, this was only available with the D2H/X and D70. Having this ability incorporated in the F6 is very hot! The one drawback for some who are not really flash savvy will be making use of all that light without an instant image preview to see if your lighting pattern and exposure is really what you wanted. For the wildlife photographer though, this is a huge asset since you can set your flash units in position and then change their exposure without actually going up to the flash units themselves.
The F6 Viewfinder
Ah…a huge 45” plasma screen viewing platform again! Na, the F6's viewfinder isn't that large but after shooting digital for five years, it sure seems like that when you put the F6 up to your eye! The big, bright viewfinder is a joy to use. The F6 incorporates all that info that we've come to expect in a Nikon. It's interesting that the analog metering scale is now on the right, vertical edge of the viewfinder. It has a three stop range, plus or minus. The analog scale is marked in 1/3 stop increments. While you can change EV Step and Exp Comp EV to be either 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments (CSM b1 & b2), the analog scale doesn't change.
So Much More!
The F6 has a whole lot more to offer the wildlife photographer. This user report is from just one month of shooting with the F6. It was long enough and the results beautiful enough to impress the heck out of me. It makes me wish that the F6 was around when I was shooting film because it would have made capturing images possible that otherwise I missed. That's really the true mark of an excellent piece of gear. A tool that permits you to do what otherwise isn't possible, that doesn't stop your imagination from exploding. Film shooters should be lining up to get their F6, fast! I don't know if the MB-40 is really needed by most. So far, all of my shooting with the F6 has been without the MB-40. I really love all the features this very small package delivers. With so much new, cool, advanced technology in one package, it makes me wonder, is this the last great film camera?
You can download the F6 brochure at: http://www.nikonusa.com/fileuploads/pdfs/F6.pdf
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