The Savvy Consumer’s Guide To Pre-Owned, Collectible, And Vintage Cameras; The Legendary Nikon F: What Makes It The Camera Of The Century? Page 2

Nikon F Collector's And Buyer's Guide
The Nikon F is a user-collectible classic par excellence, but it can also be a great investment if you happen to snag a rare early model. As many Nikon aficionados know, the first 1000 or so Fs had cloth shutter curtains before titanium curtains became available, and these are worth at least a few grand even in this era of bargain-basement 35mm SLRs. Other early F identifiers include a self-timer with slanted serrations and sharp edges, a machined film-wind lever with two hollow cavities on its underside, a prism engraved (not silk screened) "Nippon Kogaku," six patent numbers listed on the back, and "Made In Japan" on the back-closing lock, not on the baseplate near the tripod socket. Other rare Fs to look for are early black bodies with serial numbers beginning with "64." Models with non-original parts (such as back, prism, focusing screen, and lens) are worth much less, and so are early Fs that have been modified to accept the FTN finder.

What about serial numbers? Beware! Many believe that the first two digits of a Nikon F serial number indicate the year of production, but this isn't quite true. The serial number of the first F in '59 was 6400001, so serial numbers and years certainly don't match for early Fs. From '67 to the end of production in May '74, the first two numbers did, by pure coincidence, happen to match for at least part of the year, but it was certainly not a precise match. For the record, 862,000 Nikon Fs were made, and the last serial number was 7451052. Sic transit gloria mundi.

How To Play "The Price Is Right!"
Checking the "completed listings" auction prices on eBay and snooping around at leading photo retailers reveals a wide variation in Nikon F prices. Amazingly, you can snag a reasonably clean, functional Nikon FT or FTN with a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor for around $250-$275 at many stores, but expect to pay about $100-$150 more for a guaranteed model in E+ condition. If you're willing to take a gamble it's possible to score a Nikon F, FT, or FTN with a 50mm f/1.4 on eBay for as little as $150-$200, but as the saying goes, any savings is commensurate with the increased risk, and repairs ain't cheap.

Black Fs generally fetch premium prices--an early vintage F recently sold for $899 on eBay and run-of the-mill black FTNs in clean shape go for about half that amount and fetch $500-$600 in stores. Early Fs with serial numbers beginning with "64" also fetch fancy prices, and a truly mint, unmodified, original F of '59 is still a collector's prize that's likely to set you back $1500-$2000.

Verdict: Nikon F prices have risen somewhat from their staggering lows of 1-2 years ago, but they still represent a great value. You probably won't make a killing by buying one as an investment, but you're unlikely to lose your shirt either.