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User Collectible Camera: Nikon's Formidable F100
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User Collectible Camera: Nikon's Formidable F100

A pro tool that's still cutting edge--and a great deal


If you've ever wanted to own a pro-caliber 35mm Nikon SLR with the ultra-solid construction, unsurpassed features, stellar performance, and sheer presence of, say, a Nikon F5 or F6 but were put off by the hefty price, here's your chance to do so for a fraction of the cost: The Nikon F100.

Photos courtesy George Eastman House

"F5 Lite"?

Indeed, the Nikon F100, known in professional circles as "F5 Lite," has all these features in a smaller, lighter, simpler package. It's one of the most ergonomic, elegant, and durable SLRs ever created, and it's built on a classy, mostly magnesium chassis that's remarkably light and incredibly strong.

Still cutting edge

Though it debuted in the U.S. in early '99, this fine machine's specs are still cutting-edge, with five selectable AF zones (three with cross-field sensors), dynamic autofocus , and a 10-segment 3D Matrix metering system that also offers narrow-angle spot and center-weighted patterns, and shutter speeds from 30-1/8000 sec.

Since its original street price was $1,400, getting a camera like this in fine condition for 500 bucks is one sweet deal. In my judgment, the F100 not only has above average upside collector potential (translation: it will hold its value far better than most 35mm SLRs), but it's also a terrific user camera capable of outstanding results.

The details

Let's take a closer look at the F100 to see what makes it so special.

If you place the F100 side-by-side with a Nikon F5, the resemblance is striking. The body contours are quite similar and the major controls are in the same places. However, the F100, which is powered by four AA cells in the hefty metal-based handgrip is 1.5 inches shorter than the massive F5, and its body weighs nearly a pound less.

Also missing on the F100 are the F5's annoying locks on the main on-off switch, mid-roll rewind control, and ISO dial, and custom functions hidden under a little door on the back. The F100's controls are all out in the open, and the AF-on and AE/AF lock buttons and focus-area selector were improved for easier operation. While the F100 can't match the F5s 8fps motor drive, it delivers 4.5 fps with alkaline AAs and 5fps with the optional High Speed Battery Pack??ast enough for most people, including sports shooters.


Perhaps the nicest thing about the F100 is its handling. It literally fits your hands like a glove. With its comfortably contoured, t handgrip, excellent heft and balance, and perfectly positioned angled shutter release, there are few SLRs that can match its ergonomics and none that surpass it.

With your index finger in shooting position, you can change settings by turning the main command dial with your thumb, and the sub-command dial with your middle finger. Changing metering modes is equally fast and simple??ust move your index finger back a quarter of an inch, and hold in the mode or compensation button while turning the main command dial. The system is the same one used in the F5, but is actually slightly better executed on the F100!

Cool features

One of the coolest and most useful features of the F100 is the big AF-zone selector on the back. This four-way thumb control has a conveniently placed hand lock to prevent your from accidentally selecting the wrong zone. There's also an AF-area mode selector that give you the choice of selecting a single AF zone or a primary AF area. When using this latter setting in Dynamic AF mode, the camera can identify and lock onto a moving subject and pass is from one AF zone to another! The F5 can do this too, but the F100 illuminates your selected AF zone with a flash of bright red, which is far easier to see.

Also commendable are the F100's excellent full finder readouts, which are still among the best to be found in any SLR, and the fact that you have a choice of true narrow-angle (4%-area) spot metering and "fat spot," Nikon's classic center-weighted metering concentrated in a central 12mm circle in the finder. Conclusion: One of the best?

With its 22 built-in custom functions, simultaneous activation of AE and flash bracketing, ability to switch command dial settings, high speed and silent motor settings, nearly full info LCD, superb performance, robust construction and excellent record of durability, the F100 can even stand comparison with Nikon's current world-class F6, perhaps the finest 35mm SLR ever made. That's why we picked it to kick off the User-Collectible of the Month.


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