Modern Classic SLRs Series :
Nikon F5 Series SLR models - Reliability Issues

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Many may wonder since exposure is just a matter of a simple equation in choosing the right aperture & shutter speed to match the right ISO-film type. Why would anyone invest so much money in a top grade SLR camera like the F5? If automation plays a great role in the buying decision of modern day photography, then what is the logic for not purchasing an entry level Nikon F50, which in comparison is a lot more compact and lighter than the damn bloody expensive & cumbersome Nikon F5. Still this camera has a tremendous magnetic personality that some photographers can not resist. The simple reasons are its features & reliability. For half a century, the Nikon single-digit F series bodies have developed a unique market segment in the 35mm SLR market. This has dictated that the flagship model, originally used to target hard working professional photographers be built with uncompromising quality. This includes its features and higher level of reliability and the abilility to resist obsolescence over a long duration.

Body Construction Designed and built to take demanding assignments. The chassis, top shoulders, bottom and the front hand grip covers are constructed of a tough aluminum alloy and the viewfinder's top cover for the standard DP-30 metered Prism is actually made of an even tougher grade of metal, Titanium.

Take the Nikon F lens mount. for example - it is a design that has served just about every Nikon photographer for years and will continue to do so into - errrr .... hopefully the next century. Then there's the Nikon System as a whole, an array of system accessories and attachments that is unmatched in variety, compatibility and performance.

F5x5bodeistopview.JPG   with the Nikon F in 1959, followed fly the Nikon F2 in 1971, the Nikon F3 in 1980 and] the Nikon F4 in 1988. All these legends came into their own right of being top notch units. Each model contained the best of prevailing materials in their basic body structure. Further, each of these top-of-line Nikons into their respective generation usually incorporated the finest elements in applied science which sometimes, even surpassing its predecessors while offering some of the latest advances in technology and design to meet increasingly diversified needs of the professional users.

However regardless of the respect I have for the guys at Nikon for the development of this camera, I don't consider the F5 a ground breaker. But without a doubt I have to admit this is a top class unit, which offers everything that professionals expect to find in a top of the line film-based SLR camera. It has all the essential elements of durability, speed, versatility and backward system compatibility. It is packaged in a rigid Alurninium alloy chassis and all of the important electronic components within are shielded and protected from potential penetration of foreign particles including moisture. There is no doubt this camera has been manufactured to perform in harshest environments and survive.

diecastF2.jpg diecastF3.jpg diecastF4.jpg
4 stages of development inside a Nikon F.

The F5 has been manufactured with some unique features such as the world's first 3D Colour Matrix Metering System, an innovative Mirror-Balancer & Shutter Monitor to improve efficiency during exposures. It has floating mechanism design to protect its internal components along with a film advance speed 8 frames per seconds. Along with the above mentioned it is also equipped with focus tracking ability, an autofocus system that has 5 separate detection sensors. Then there is the very versatile auto exposure system. But best of all the modular design concepts inherited from previous F models. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the full foreward/backward compatibility with the Nikon System of lenses and accessories.

The major elements that have made the camera is such reliable state can be outlined as follow:

red-dot.gif   Solid and durable body with major components crafted from durable metals where drop-tested, vibration -tested and put through extremes of temperature
red-dot.gif   Self-diagnostic double-bladed shutter Tested to 150,000 cycles, a standard where all professional Nikon F-bodies are judged.
red-dot.gif   A Shutter Monitor that designed for monitoring constant shutter release performance in any situations
red-dot.gif   A floating mechanism for silent operation. Motors and gears are attached to the camera body indirectly via a rubber "shock absorber" construction in order gears and coreless motors within minimizes internally induced vibration
red-dot.gif   Coreless motors Four coreless motors assure powerful and secure camera operation
red-dot.gif   Powerful computer network Large computer network system with five Central Processing Units (CPU) including three 16-bit CPUs

1) Solid and durable body construction The F5 is extremely strong and built to take the toughest of punishments. The chassis, top shoulders and the bottom covers are made of tough aluminum diecast and the front-grip cover is aluminum alloy, giving them the rigidity and strength needed to maintain precise alignment. The viewfinder's top cover is made of titanium for extra resistance to impact.

handgriptop.jpg f5handlegrip.jpg
Selected areas and the grip are covered with textured rubber surfaces for a more secure hold. The dials and buttons are designed to resist intrusion by moisture and dust.

<<<--- Picture of this rubberized stripped down hand grip cover was taken at Nikon Service Centre Never know it is so easy to detach from the body, until I saw how it was done...

Rubberized surfaces cover selected areas of this structure and are textured for secure holding and to provide a buffer against the environment and any impacts. The F5's design has been rigorously tested to assure reliable performance under demanding professional conditions. It is tested to resist moisture and dust. It is drop-tested, vibration-tested and put through extremes of temperature. Nikon's engineers envisioned how you will use it, then put it to real-life testing to ensure its high reliability in actual use.

Note: The use of Titanium in the Eye-level finder (DP-30) is not unusual. During my frequent visit to Nikon Service Centre in days past, the one of the phenomenon I noticed was the number of dented viewfinders that had been sent in by photographers for the Nikon F3 and Nikon F4. The Nikon F3's dual side locks looked the most vulnerable but proved it is still very stable as most of those heavily damaged prisms seemed only localized and never affected the body when remounted with a new finder. The Nikon F4's improved dual rails system was retained in the Nikon F5. But admittedly, those friendly guys one weakness is the viewfinder, which possibly has the best chance suffering an accidental drop. So, the decision of using an even tougher material of Titanium for the Prism is understandable, possible it was the result of two generations of numerous feedback accumulated from the all Nikon service centres worldwide. Note: Nikon DP-30A for the F5 50th Anniversary Model uses same specification.

2) Double-bladed shutter with Shutter Monitor The F5's shutter blades are made using two different materials. Six of the blades are made using a special epoxy which has carbon fiber reinforcement. The two other blades are made with aluminum alloy. To ensure the Nikon F5 to have a mirror lockup, and to ensure that there is virtually no chance of light leaks. Nikon designed a unique shutter with a dual curtain system, similar in principle to the Nikon F4.

Unlike ordinary vertical focal-plane shutters, the F5's rear shutter curtain is closed until the shutter release. In other words, the F5 uses both front and rear curtains to avoid the possibility of light leaking past the edges of the shutter blade. While most cameras use only a front curtain. Further the F5 also has an unique Shutter Monitor to maintain consistently accurate shutter performance.
The Shutter Monitor checks the shutter every time it releases. If speeds begin to shift from the factory's default calibrated speed, the camera automatically compensates to maintain an accurate exposure. If in an extreme instance the shutter fails to operate, the F5 will even alert you via blinking signals for such possible happenings.




Well, as compared to the method used in the Nikon F4, design of the current F5 is even more interesting - it adds a layer of self-monitoring systems with the deployment of a built-in self diagnostic Shutter Monitor which is located just next to the shutter blades to check the shutter every time it releases. If the speeds begin to shift from a calibrated shutter speed by factory's default standard, the camera will automatically compensate to maintain an accurate exposure, great huh ? That is not all - Nikon also designed a Mirror Balancer in the F5 to minimize mirror bounce to reduce the time required to bring the mirror down to ensure a faster and more accurate AF operations.
  Shutter Monitor A monitor unit located near the shutter blades checks the shutter every time it's released. If speeds begin to shift from the calibrated speed, the camera automatically compensates to maintain an accurate exposure.


  The shutter assembly as well as its performance is definitely one of the highlight of the Nikon F5, it provides such precision in all its shutter speeds - from low of 30 sec to its peak speed of 1/8000 sec. - even shooting at a top film advance speed of 8 fps with focusing tracking - it used to be the top performer in its class during 1996-2001. Picture below was shot when during a visit to the Nikon Service Centre. For those who are interested in the shutter sequence, both camera employs a vertical shutter design, the principle in the sequence is almost the same.


3) Mirror balancer As the name suggests, the function of mirror balance mechanism is to minimize mirror bounce, thus reducing the time required to bring the mirror down. The immediate benefit for this is results in a more smoother AF detection and also contributes to the F5's fast and accurate Focus Tracking and 8-frames per-second film advance speed.

Illustration at left: The theory of the mirror Balancer can be explained by the swing Of the pendulum. When the pendulum P swings down to impact the pendulum P1 the pendulum P1 swings up from B to B1 If the mass of P equals that of P1, the pendulum P instantly stops at position A. The same relationship exists between the reflex mirror and mirror Balancer in the F5 camera body.
balancertheory.jpg   mirror.jpg
Began from the Nikon F4, Nikon seemed to put plenty of effort in improvement on the Mirror/Shutter section. The F4 uses a tungsten-alloy shutter Balancer which has a high specific gravity of approx. 18.5. The Balancer rises slightly when the shutter curtains operate. The anti-directional movement of the Balancer absorbs vibration due to the shutter curtain travel. The balance is designed for high density and minimum drive, so it does not need much power to control. Additionally, an efficient shutter braking system protects against shutter bounce.
  Nikon improved this section via a newly developed MIRROR BALANCER. On he other hand, recent announced Nikon F6 uses a new material for its shutter blades, Dupont's KEVLAR & a special Aluminum alloy as well as a revised Mirror balance mechanism. The main purpose is to stabilize the shutter speed, in particular for the lower speed settings and/or long time exposure.

4) Floating mechanism designed for silent operation The interior of the F5 is designed to provide quick, precise, whisper-quiet movement. The mirror balance, for example, helps reduce noise and vibration Nikon actually created a newer, faster moving mirror for the Nikon F5, so it can keep up with other high-speed operations, like the motor's eight frames per second framing rate and the autofocus speed that keeps pace with the motor. Much attributed to the floating-type design, the coreless motors and gears are quieter, too. With their shock-absorber-like rubber-armoured construction, they minimize internally induced vibration. In the Continuous Silent film advance mode, you get quiet film advance -not just quiet, but also with a quality of sound that isn't metallic or shrill.

5) Coreless motors Like the system first used in the Nikon F4, separate coreless motors are used for a) shutter charge, b) film winding, c) rewinding and, d) lens drive. Unlike conventional cored motors, which demand great inertia to rotate, coreless motors require a much smaller degree of inertia to do the same. This results in higher power with a better efficiency in power management, smoother motor rotation, reduced vibration and electric noise, and extremely quick response all ideal features for smooth and quick drive operation.





NOTE: Pictures shown are Nikon F4's Coreless motor designed by Nikon. There are merely used as illustrations to help you understand more relating to motor of this type where the theory of Coreless Motors are the same: " .. Unlike conventional cored motor in which the coiled axis with large inertia rotates,, only the cylindrical coil with smaller inertia rotates with the coreless motor - this has resulting in a quick response for efficient drive. Despite the autofocus motor's compact size, it is powerful enough to drive all the camera functions and even large super-telephoto autofocus lenses..". The picture shown at top right hand side is an actual Coreless Motor used in Nikon F5.

6) Powerful computer network Beneath the camera's rugged protective exterior is a network of powerful computers that take care of the enormous complex computation of data as well as camera's operations.

circuitry.jpg The network is a hybrid circuit construction that includes three 16-bits, one 8-bit and one 4-bit CPUs, all coordinated to process data for focus detection, sequence control, the extremely complex 3D Colour Matrix Metering, Liquid Crystal Display and others. Further, the use of a larger ROM capacity which in fact, more than any other camera before.
The internal electronic components of a Nikon F5 (for that matter, applies to any modern SLRs) is extremely complex and confusing. In fact, it gets a little scary in how the hell can you trust such an advance tool on an important assignment like to a remote spot on the earth. But the F5 does went through rigorous test in many simulated extreme of conditions such as drop, subzero cold test as well as tested against electronic noise and dusty environments, seemingly the advance electronics and circuitry is able to withstand such test of extremes. It may also explain partly why pros wanted such class of a camera-type. Below are a strip-down of some of the internal components, taken during a brief visit to Nikon Service Centre.

f5mirrorbox2.jpg f5motherboard.jpg f5mirrorbox.jpg



Credit: All the nice folks at Nikon service Centre, Nikon Corporation Malaysia

A. Mirror Box section B. One of the circuit board with a coreless motor C. Another view of the mirror box components, rear section of Shutter Assembly, data panel near the rear LCD, base section.

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What makes up a Nikon F5 ? If you are interested,
download an Explosive View ( 487k Jpeg file) of various major components made up the camera: Picture was taken in Nikon's distributor in Thailand, NIKS (Thailand) Co. Ltd.. Well, as the fron office staffs don't allow me to bring the frame down for proper shooting, so, I have to shoot at the wall mounted frame with a digital camera. Not very nice...but at least it is something, if anyone of you have a better picture of this, do send me one to replace mine.

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<<--- Credit: Image courtesy of Mr. Sergio Pessolano®. Sergio's personal portfolio is available at where you can access many of his other creative travel photographic works. Image copyright © 2005. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.

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Recommended links to understand more technical details related to the Nikkor F-mount and production Serial Number: by: my friend, Rick Oleson by: Hansen, Lars Holst

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W A R N I N G: The new G-SERIES Nikkor lenses have removed the conventional aperture ring on the lense barrel, they CANNOT adjust aperture(s) when operating in manual exposure control even with certain earlier MF/AF Nikon SLR camera models. But they are FULLY COMPATIBLE with the Nikon F5 featured here in all usable metering systems and/or exposure modes. Please refer to your local distributor for compatibility issue(s).

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A resource dedicated to my kids, Alvin Foo & Esther Foo- one day, BOTH might need to use all these information for his/her Nikon F5A camera.

Volunteered Maintainer(s) for the Nikon F5 Message Board: Tony Davies-Patrick, UK; Rick Oleson, US; Koh Kho King, Malaysia.

Credit: Mr. Chuck Hester, US for his text re-editing skill for this site; Our staff, HowKiat® who created the 3D-Nikon F5 logo. Mr. Lew Chee Wai of YL camera for lending his F5 for me to take some shots appeared in this site. All those nice folks who have contributed their images, in particular Mr. Mike Long, Edwin leong, Palmi Einarsson, Sergio Pessolano, Fred Kamphues, Harry Eggens, Curtis Forrester, Nick (Natures Moments), Sandra Bartocha; fellow countrymen, Vincent Thian, Koh Kho King, Philip Chong, CY Leow etc. and contributions from a few nice folks from Photo Malaysia Forum. Disclaimers & acknowledgments: Certain content and images appeared in this site were either scanned from official marketing leaflets, brochures published by Nikon and/or contribution from surfers who claimed originality of their own work for public publishing in this website, where majority of the extracted information are used basing on educational merits. The creator of this site will not be responsible for any discrepancies that may arise from any possible dispute except rectifying them after verification from respective source. Neither Nikon or its associates has granted any permission(s) in using their public information nor has any interest in the creation of this site. "Nikon", "Nikkormat", "Nippon Kokagu KK" "Silent Wave", "Focus Tracking Lock-on", "Nikkor" & other applicable technical/business terms are registered trade name(s) of Nikon Corporation Inc., Japan. Site made with an Apple G5 IMac.