A few notes on the Nikon F100 camera

This is not a review in the usual sense, but rather a few notes that I derived from my experience with the camera and do not seem to have read elsewhere. I am not writing a full review because, first, there already are a lot of reviews of the F100 on the Internet and, second, I reckon most people who would consider buying a camera of this calibre have already gone digital.

If you are reading this article you might also want to peruse my review of the Nikon F6. You might also be interested in visiting The Nikon F100 Web site, too.

The mirror slap myth

As you most likely know, the Nikon F5 has several useful features that the F100 does not. I, however, have never felt I needed the blistering 8fps, interchangeable viewfinders, or additional custom settings; I also seem to get along without the supposedly–superior colour matrix metering and have never had any problems with the plastic back of the F100. The only issue that bothered me and could make me switch to the F5 was the lack of mirror lockup: it is said that without this feature a camera is incapable of producing sharp images at certain shutter speeds. As far as the F100 is concerned, its mirror slap is supposed to be at its worst at 1/8 seconds and, as some sources indicate, the camera is pretty much useless from 1/30 through 1 seconds. Some reviewers went as far as suggesting that Nikon did this on purpose so as to make us spend the money and buy the more expensive F5. But then I thought, just how bad can it be? And so took I a couple of test images to check it for myself.

Nikon F100 mirror slap test photo

Nikon F100 camera, AF Zoom–Nikkor ED 80–200mm f/2.8D lens at 85mm and Gitzo tripod;
the part of the image marked in red was scanned at 2820dpi and is presented below

Nikon F100 mirror slap test photo Nikon F100 mirror slap test photo Nikon F100 mirror slap test photo Nikon F100 mirror slap test photo

1/15, f/6.7

1/8, f/9.5

1/4, f/13

1", f/22

If there is an impact of mirror slap, we should see vertical blurring in horizontal shots and horizontal blurring in vertical shots. See any in the above images? I do not, neither in the scans, nor when examining the original slides with a 10X loupe. Moreover, the above picture is as sharp as any other taken with this lens at fast shutter speeds. You may think that this is a heavy lens that might have dampened mirror slap effect with its weight. However, I got the same results when testing the AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D, which is one of the lightest lenses. So, maybe after all Nikon did not incorporate the mirror lockup feature in the F100 simply because... it was not necessary? Do not take anything for granted—check it out for yourself!

P.S. Michael Weber tested Gitzo carbon tripods using F5 and F100 bodies attached to long telephoto lenses. His results indirectly support what I have written above. In particular, he has written, "I can forget MLU with my 300mm lenses and shorter as these Gitzos absorb vibration so effectively that I could detect no difference between photos with and without MLU!". He has also written, "At 1/15s my F100 is situated exactly between F5 plus MLU activated and F5 without MLU (cable release)". This indicates that F5 appears to have a worse mirror mechanism, and yet its mirror slap with lenses shorter than 300mm is insignificant. The only difference is that Michael suggests that the mirror slap vibrations are absorbed by the carbon tripods. Well, I used a classic aluminum Gitzo G1220 tripod with a Gitzo G1376M ball head and for all intents and purposes consider the F100 mirror slap free (as long as I do not use lenses longer than 300mm).

Lack of mode indication

There is no indication either in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen if you are using self–timer, multiple exposure, or continuous drive mode. In theory, it should not pose any problems as you can see what mode you are using by simply looking at the camera; in real life, however, it is not so, and I have wasted film when using both self–timer and continuous drive mode. What usually happens is that you use one of the infrequently used modes and forget to turn it off when you are finished. The next time you use the camera you presume it is set to the mode you use most often (single exposure mode in my case), press the shutter release button, and either you shoot three to four frames (if last time you used the continuous mode), or nothing happens (if you used the self–timer mode). In case of the latter you try to figure out what is going on, and while you are scratching your head the shutter suddenly goes off. And it is even worse if you used the multiple exposure mode and did not turn it off: you will continue exposing the same frame until you start getting the feeling that you should be approaching the end of the roll but somehow you are still on frame 5. Beware!

Custom function no. 17—very useful

Custom function no. 17 allows to turn on the light of the LCD screen each time you half–press the shutter release button, and I find it very useful when shooting in the dark. I found it especially handy when arriving at the location of sunrise photography in complete darkness. We usually read about all custom functions once or twice, set them as we intend to use the camera most of the time, and then forget about them. Function no. 17, however, is one I remember at all times.

Update: Nikon F6 does not have this feature.

Custom function no. 1—do NOT turn it on

At first it seems like a good idea for your camera to automatically rewind film when it reaches the end, so I turned the function on. However, several times I had a very strange experience when film was rewinded while still in the middle of the roll. This appears to happen when batteries are nearly depleted. Do NOT turn this feature on.

Battery life indication—an alternative approach

As you might read elsewhere, battery life indication on the LCD screen is pretty useless: when it starts indicating that the batteries are half–depleted it pretty much means that they are already used up and will not last long. Interestingly enough, I discovered that it is possible to hear how much battery life you still have: listen to film forwarding sound/speed when the batteries are fresh and when they are almost depleted, and you will know what I mean. With time I learned to hear when it is about the time to change batteries and, usually, the LCD indicator would start showing half–depleted batteries soon after I detect that the sound of film advancing gets longer. I know this might sound strange, but I am sure you will discover the same if you pay attention to it.

The rubber coating problem

I read in several reviews that rubber coating of the Nikon F5 starts coming off at some point. I hoped this would not be an issue with the Nikon F100, but after three years of relatively heavy use my camera has started showing the same problem. During a recent trip to Hangzhou I met a pro from Hangzhou Morning Post who was using a Nikon D1H; surprisingly, rubber coating of the vertical grip of his camera had come off really badly. This seems to be a major problem with all Nikon pro–calibre cameras if they are used heavily enough.