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Nikon F100
by VividLight Staff
Price Comparison
N90s  $700
F100  $1,000
F5  $1,950

For many photographers the question won't be whether or not to buy an F100, but how the F100 stacks up against it's close cousins the N90 (F90 outside the U.S.) and F5.

Versus Big Brother F5
It's easy to think of the F100 as a mini F5, and that's not a bad context to put it in.  The F100 possesses almost all of the F5's features, yet it's 37% smaller, 34% lighter and half the price.

So what are you giving up to get those benefits?  For most photographers the answer is surprisingly little. 

The F100 shoots at 4.5 frames per second (fps) compared to the F5's blazing 8 frames per second1.  But realistically there will be few times that only a few photographers will need that kind of blazing speed.  To put it into context - that's a roll of film in 4.5 seconds.  A little more speed can be had from the F100 by using the optional battery pack and vertical grip, the MB-15, which gives you a vertical shutter release and 5 fps.

The F5 has a built-in color meter and is the only production camera to have this feature.  While the F5s color metering system is arguably the best in-camera meter on the market today we found that for the majority of shooting situations the F100's meter is extremely accurate.  The F100 uses a new 10 zone 3D matrix meter that features a database of 30,000 actual scenes to evaluate the scene before the camera.  It takes into consideration brightness, contrast, the selected focus area, and the camera-to-subject distance (if using a compatible D-lens).

Both cameras feature Nikon's excellent multi-sensor balanced fill flash. Both are fully compatible with studio flash systems and both support wireless TTL flash (with an optional SU-4 unit).

While the F100 has numerous gaskets and O-rings to seal it against mother nature and magnesium top and bottom plates to make it rugged, it's not the tank that the F5 is. So, while it will take pro level abuse, it may not fare as well in really extreme conditions as it's big brother.

Versus An Aging N90s
The demise of the N90s has been widely rumored, but it appears  there's enough demand for the camera that Nikon will do another production run.  Photographers who own this camera really love it. 

The reason for this is simple, the N90s is a great pro camera body.  It's lighter weight and smaller size (compared to the F5) make it an attractive package.  It has a high quality matrix meter, focus tracking with lock-on and multi-sensor balanced fill flash.  And at a savings of $300 compared to the F100, it will be tempting to some.   

But don't be tempted.  The $300 you save today will exclude you from Nikon's new series of VR (vibration reduction) lenses, the first of which is the 80-400mm VR.  With it's new focusing system, and improved metering system, the F100 simply gives you more options. 

In the Field
Pick this camera up and you know it's a Nikon pro body.  It has a solid sure feel, the controls are easily accessed, and the camera is well balanced.  The rubberized coating on the camera body gives it a secure grip.

If you're a current Nikon user (as most F100 buyers will likely be) you can get started without looking at the manual - with one very annoying exception. Every Nikon user knows that you set the aperture on your camera using the aperture ring on the lens.  The F100 defaults to using the command dial on the body for this function (as is done on other brands of cameras and on entry level Nikons such as the N65).  Nikon wants to move in the same direction so they can see a slight savings in production costs (AKA the G series lenses).  That's why other lens manufactures eliminated the aperture ring.  The problem is that the aperture ring makes sense to experienced Nikon users and using a command dial to set aperture feels clumsy.  

Thankfully there is a custom function that allows you to override this mistake and use the aperture ring to set your f-stop.  Out to the woodshed with whoever is pushing this change at Nikon.

So once you set the camera up to select f-stops in the proper way, (custom function 22) you're ready to go.  Actually we found that some of the F100's controls are easier to access than the F5's.  The manual rewind lever found on the F5 is absent from the F100, and Nikon's designers used this space to locate the buttons for setting flash, bracketing, and ISO override.  Press any of these buttons and rotate the command dial to choose it's function.

The viewfinder provides 96% coverage and the standard BriteView B focusing screen provides bright sharp images.  A built in diopter adjustment allows you to adjust the viewfinder for the condition of your eyes.  Simply auto focus the camera in bright conditions, then tweak the diopter knob until the image becomes sharp in the viewfinder.

A control rocker on the back of the camera allows you to choose which of the five focus area selectors you want to use.  This feature is becoming more common on SLRs and it means that you don't have to focus using a center focus selector and then recompose you image while holding the shutter button down.  If you haven't used one of these systems before you can't appreciate how much you'll like it and use it. 

As we noted above, the F100's Multi-CAM 1300 10 zone 3D matrix meter proved to be extremely accurate during our time with the camera.  The F100 focuses quite fast, and focusing was accurate with a wide range of lenses (both older and current) that we used during testing.

The F100 features Nikon's "focus tracking with lock on", that is capable of tracking a moving subject even it a stationary object temporarily comes between the camera and the subject.  The target is automatically handed off from sensor to sensor during tracking if you are unable to keep the subject in the center of the viewfinder (such as when tracking flying birds).  You choose between manual, single, and continuous focus via a switch on the front of the camera.

Exposure compensation is available in both one-third and one-half stop increments and there is tremendous flexibility in setting up how the camera brackets via custom function.  Multiple exposure is also supported via a command dial located under the flash/ISO on the top of the camera.

As noted above the F100 is fully compatible with Nikon's excellent flash system.  In program and aperture priority modes the flash sync speed is set to 1/60 - 1/250 of a second.  In manual and shutter priority modes the flash sync can be set to between 1/250 - 30 seconds.  When teamed with an SB-28, Nikon's current flagship flash, the F100 can sync at any speed up to 1/4000 of a second!

Normally the F100 takes 4 AA batteries in the grip.  An option that serious shooters might want to consider is the MB-15 Multi-power grip.  It allows you to load six AA batteries or an MN-15 rechargeable battery pack that fully charges in around 70 minutes and should give you power for 50 to 60 rolls of film.  More importantly for some it provides a vertical shutter release.  Another option that will be attractive to some is the MS-13 battery holder that allows you to run your F100 with CR123's instead of AA's.  Important if you have several cameras and want to carry as few battery types as possible.

Probably the most important feature is how the camera handles.  The camera felt comfortable almost immediately.  We rarely had to look back at the manual except for the custom function settings for which Nikon kindly provided a wallet sized cheat sheet.  This camera has a solid, balanced, competent feel.  It just quietly instills confidence.

That adds up a package that quickly disappears from your consciousness.   Before long the camera fades to the background and you're just focused on creating images.  And this is the highest compliment you can pay to any camera.

1 The F5s 8fps advance speed quoted is using the MN-30 NiMH rechargable battery pack.

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