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A Tale of 3 Cameras II


Introduction - How do you control a computerized camera.

    Back in 1988 Nikon introduced two new cameras. One was the new top of the line F4 and the other was the second in line N8008. They represented two completely different thoughts in user interface design.

View of the right hand side of the top of the Nikon F4. There is no LCD and uses dedicated single purpose controls.

    The F4 was a camera combining conventional controls with the latest in technology. The only LCD displays were in the viewfinder and every function had its own control. There were large shutter speed and exposure correction knobs on the top deck with a collar around the shutter release button controlling the built in motor drive. Another knob on the prism housing controlled the metering mode. Separate buttons on the front controlled AE lock, AF lock and depth of field preview. On the other side near the lens mount was the switch controlling the auto-focus. The camera was designed for the working professional.

The top of the Nikon 8008. Most operations are performed by pressing a button and turning the Control Dial on the right side while viewing the setting in the LCD.

    The 8008 was the new whiz-bang camera. It featured numerous buttons and a single rotary knob on the top right side with no markings. The basic philosophy was to select a function by holding a button depressed and turning the knob. This philosophy was first introduce three years earlier (but minus the knob) in Minolta’s first auto-focus camera the Maxum 7000. Minolta used two push buttons instead of the knob but the idea of using a top mounted LCD to display the setting started there.

    Operation of the 8008 was simple once you got used to it. The control knob did nothing in aperture priority mode, and changed the shutter speed in shutter priority or manual mode. In program mode it would shift the program to use a different shutter speed – aperture combination. Press the Mode button and you could select the desired exposure mode. Press the drive button to set the built in motor drive operation. Other buttons on the left side would control the ISO film speed, self timer duration, multiple exposure count, and metering mode. On the right side a button allowed setting an exposure compensation value.

    The 8008 had all sorts of features some of them a little quirky. For instance you could dial in a number of multiple exposures and the camera would not advance the film until the count was completed. The self timer delay could be set to the number of seconds desired as well as having a second shot mode. The metering button might have been better served with its own switch since there were only two settings – matrix and center weighted though when the 8008s introduced spot metering it was easy to add this selection.

    The human interface of the 8008 was developed further with cameras that followed the 8008. The 6006 added a shift button to increase the functions available with the existing buttons. The N90 added more buttons while the N50 tried to make operations simpler. Finally the N70 tried a whole new design of the LCD panel and controls that wasn’t well liked at all.


A new Design - The F5 Arrives

Front view of the Nikon F5.It's large size is due to the large battery compartment in the base.

    This brings us to 1996 when Nikon introduced the F5. The F5 is a big camera – Mamiya used to run adds showing a camera the looked a lot like an F5 compared to their medium format rangefinder Mamiya 7 and also show the difference in negative size. The top mounted control wheel was gone, replaced by two control wheels one on the front of the grip and one on the back behind it. The rear one was the main control dial and was meant to be operated by the users thumb. And the front one was called the sub control dial and would be operated by the right index finger. There were still plenty of buttons to push, some clustered around the large top LCD on the right hand side both on top and immediately below it. A small LCD display and a control panel with a drop down cover were located on the rear near the bottom. A knob around the rewind knob set the drive operation mode.

Rear View of the F5. The auxiliary LCD is controlled by buttons behind a panel to the left of it. Notice the four way control on the back. The F5 has 5 auto-focus sensors and this control selects the sensor to use.

    On the film back is a four way control all by itself . This needed because the F5 has a feature not found on previous Nikons. Instead of having just one centrally located auto-focus sensor the F5 has five located with a center one and four more in a diamond pattern around it. The four way control was added to support the multiple sensors. A button above the top LCD marked [+] selects between a fixed sensor mode and an auto tracking mode that will follow the subject between sensors.

The main control dial on the right rear of the F5.

    The rear control wheel without buttons pressed is used to select the shutter speed in shutter priority mode and manual mode or select program shift in program mode. The front control wheel selects the aperture in aperture priority mode or manual mode. The F5 controls the lens aperture electrically. You set the lens to minimum aperture and leave it there. The depth of field preview button is accurate in all exposure modes unlike all the previous Nikons which used a simple manual system that only worked in aperture priority or manual exposure modes.

The sub command dial is at the very front of the grip extension. The On/Off switch and the shutter release button are right above it

    The F5 has a metering mode selector on right side of the prism housing just like the F4. It has a center button that locks the position of the switch and must be pressed to change the metering mode. My F4 does not have this but I have read it was added to later production models. The meter prism also has a diopter adjustment and a eyepiece blind as the F4 does and is removable with the usual options of a sports finder, a waist level finder, and high magnification finder being available. Removing the finder allows changing of the focusing screen.

Top view of the right hand side of the camera showing the power switch and the shutter release. The +/- button controls exposure compensation, the Mode button controls exposure mode (P S A M), the [+] button controls the auto-focus mode and the button with the two rectangles is the multiple exposure button. The metering mode is controlled by the switch on the finder and the small knob on the finder is the eyepiece correction knob.

    The secondary LCD and control panel on the back of the camera offers some new functions as well as some old ones. The ISO button allows setting film speed and also has a DX position for automatically reading film speed from the film cartridge. The BKT (for bracketing) allows the bracketing feature (which usually required a multifunction control back) to be performed in the camera. A lightning bolt symbol on the flash sync mode button allows Slow Sync and Rear curtain Sync to be selected. The L or Lock button allow the shutter speed, aperture and/or auto focus area selected to be locked from changes.

The rear control panel door is folded down showing the five rear buttons.

    The final button on the rear control panel is the CSM button which allows setting custom functions. The custom functions allow the user to customize some of the camera operations and controls. There are 23 configurable settings and two sets of setting may be stored and selected between. This allows some degree of softness in the camera design. For example custom setting 22 allows you control the aperture with the lens aperture ring instead of the sub command dial. The list below documents the various custom settings.

Number Function Your option LCD panel
0 Selecting Custom Setting Custom setting  A
Custom setting B
1 Continuous Servo AF Release-Priority
2 Single Servo AF Focus-Priority
3 Bracketing order 0, –, +
-, 0, +
4 Auto-focus activated when shutter
   release button is lightly pressed
5 AE Lock Detected value
Controlled value
6 Direction of Command Dial rotation Default
7 AE Lock when shutter release
   button is lightly pressed
8 Auto film loading when camera
   back is closed
Enabled (when power is on)
9 Film advance speed in CH Default (8 fps)
8 fps, 6 fps
, CH6
10 Film advance speed in CL default (3 fps)
5 fps, 4 fps, 3 fps
, CL4, CL3
11 Alert LED in bulb
Does not blink
12 Auto film stop Disabled
35 frame, 36 frame, Disabled
, E36, --
13 Multiple exposure Canceled after release
Remains after release
14 Center-Weighted Metering Default (75% concentration in 12mm dia. area)
(75% concentration in ) 8mm dia.,12mm dia.,
15mm dia., 20 mm dia., Average, Custom (by PC)
C 8
, C12
, C20, A, PC
15 Time delay for
    auto meter-switch-off
Default (8 sec.)
4, 8, 16, 32 sec.
 L 4, L 8, L16, L32
16 Self-timer duration Default (10 sec.)
2 to 60 sec.
L 2
, L 3, L 4 ... L60
17 Bracketing in Manual
    exposure mode
Default (shifts shutter speed)
Shifts shutter speed/aperture combination
shutter speed, aperture, flash output level
, 10A,
01A, 00A
18 Focusing screen
–2.0 to +2.0 in 0.5EV steps
 -2.0, -1.5, -1.0 ... 2.0
19 Prolonged shutter speed Disabled
20 TTL flash sync speed Default (1/250)
1/300, 1/250, 1/200, 1/160,
1/125, 1/100, 1/80, 1/60
, 25o, 2oo, 16o,
, 1oo, 8o, 6o
21 AE-L/AF-L button Default (Double lock)
AE Lock, AF Lock, Double lock
, AFL, L-L
22 Aperture setting via
 Sub-Command Dial
23 > and < focus indicators Displayed
Not Displayed
24 Auto Exposure/Flash
Exposure Bracketing
Default (Auto Exposure/Flash Exposure Bracketing)
Auto Exposure Bracketing,
Flash Exposure Bracketing,
Auto Exposure/Flash Exposure Bracketing

    As you can see the custom functions add flexibility to the camera use. There are some additional configuration settings that can be performed with a connector cord to a computer and the right software. Further settings are available from a Nikon service center.

The left side of the camera from the rear showing the rewind knob with the motor drive mode control below it. The lever and button control power rewind. The small lever on the finder is the eyepiece shutter and button below it is the finder release.

    The big changes in camera user interface can be summed up below.

Multiple auto-focus zones and the capability to switch between them

Electronic control of lens aperture and a second command dial to control it.

Custom functions to allow the user to customize the camera to his or her preferences.


The Second String - The F100

Front view of the Nikon F100. The batteries are housed in the grip allowing for a more compact camera than the F5.

    Two years after the F5 was introduced Nikon introduced the F100. Designed as a number 2 product for use by professionals and amateurs alike. The F100 cost less than half the cost of an F5. Gone was the huge battery box with its eight AA batteries. Instead four AA batteries could fit in a holder in the grip. Gone was the second LCD and control panel. The Main LCD had all the necessary indicators and the buttons replaced the rewind knob and the power rewind lever and lock. The metering selector switch was still on the prism housing which was fixed and the eyepiece shutter was replaced by a little plastic piece that was supposed to be clipped to the strap when not in use.

Rear view of the F100 with a Mf-29 data back. The auto-focus sensor selector now has a locking control and the AF mode selector is to the right of it.

    The auto-focus mechanism was virtually the same but the focusing screen would flash the active AF zone in red in the viewfinder making it much easier to se in low light. A separate lock for the auto-focus zone was added concentrically to four way dial. The auto-focus area mode selector was changed to a rotary switch beside the four way control. This freed up the top deck by the LCD so it only had two buttons – one for exposure compensation and the other for exposure mode. The shutter release was the same as was the collar which switched the camera on and or and provided a momentary position to illuminate the LCD, but the locking button for the collar was eliminated. The LCD also added an exposure meter scale for use in manual mode which would also show any exposure compensation dialed in.

Tope right of the F100. The +/- button and the mode button are located close to where they were in the F5.

    Nikon made available as an option an add on battery pack the MB-15 which attached to the bottom of the F100 and made it as tall as the F5. It only used six AA batteries and provided a wider base for the camera. The F5 only provided a AF ON button for the vertical release, the MB-15 provided the F100 user with a second main control dial as well.

The AE-L and AF-On buttons were given a different feel on the F100

    The F100 has 22 custom settings. There is only one bank of settings so the user cannot store two differ sets and switch between them as on the F5. One of the more interesting custom settings is to allow switching the command dials – the Main Command Dial controls lens aperture and the Sub Command dial controls shutter speed. Another custom setting allows the unused command dial to input exposure compensation without pressing the exposure compensation button.

The multiple exposure button was replaced by a position on the motor drive control. The BKT, ISO and flash mode controls are in this cluster.

    The F100 is considered to have improved upon the user interface of the F5. It was easier to use and just felt right.

The other two buttons from the auxiliary control panel of the F5 have been move here. The function of the secondary LCD has been taken over by the main LCD.


  A New Consumer Camera for the new Millennium - the N80

The small light N80 camera.

    At the start of the New Millennium (2000) Nikon introduced the N80. Priced at less than half the cost of the F100 the N80 was meant for someone wanting a capable camera but not having the deep pockets needed for the F5 or F100. When I bought mine after 16 years of using an N2000 and F2s I felt I was getting 90% of an F100 for 40% of the price. The first thing you notice about the N80 is how light it is. It’s a camera that you can hang around your neck all day.

The auto-focus controls were copied from the F100

    The N80 has a built in relatively low power flash. A button on the left side of the mirror box releases the flash and starts the capacitor charging. Because of the flip up flash the metering mode switch was moved to the rear right below the LCD. It is concentric with the AE-AF lock button. And the metering switch is too small to grip easily. The other major complaint I have heard is the location of the exposure compensation button. It is located where the mode button is on the F100 and on the N80 the flash exposure compensation button is located where the exposure compensation button is on the F100. I don’t use exposure compensation, preferring AE lock or manual mode for difficult lighting situation so this has not been a problem for me.

What some people have called the biggest mistake in the N80's design - Putting the flash exposure compensation button on the right and move the exposure compensation button to the left.

    The mode button has been eliminated by the use of a large knob concentric with the film advance mode control on the left top deck. This knob has six positions P S A M for the exposure mode, ISO to set the film speed and CSM for the custom settings. It is easy to see and turn which cannot be said for the film advance mod control below it. A BKT button for bracketing and a lightning bolt for the flash sync mode are located on the rear right below these controls.

The exposure mode knob also has a position for setting film speed and custom settings. The motor drive mode is below it.

    The N80 is powered by two CR123 lithium batteries. These can be hard to find and the camera is relatively small for my hands so I purchased the MB-16 battery pack. It attaches to the bottom of the camera and has a slide in tray that holds four AA batteries. It’s only virtues are the ability to use inexpensive, readily obtainable AA batteries and the extra grip space it provides. The MB-16 has no vertical release or other controls.


Conclusion - Today's cameras are based on the user interface developed in these three cameras

These three cameras are the starting point for a new user interface that has continued too the present day. The F100 and F5 were used as the basis for the D1 and D2 series of cameras. The N80 was used as the basis for the D100 as well as digital cameras from Fuji and Kodak. The D70, D80, D200 cameras are all very similar in their interface.