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by Bart Arondson

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I'm planning to buy a film camera. I'm undecided between Nikon F100 and Nikon F5. The major differences that I could figure out from Thom Hogan's review are:

Pro F100:

  • F100 is lighter than the monster F5

Pro F5:

  • F5 has color matrix metering, compared to F100's matrix metering, which according to him is immaculate.
  • F5 has a 100% viewfinder compared to F100's 96%.

Being a DSLR shooter, I'm not able to figure out how important a good color matrix meter would be. On my DSLR I'm mostly on spot meter, but then I've the luxury of reviewing the image on live view and making any necessary adjustments. Also, my DSLR has a 92% viewfinder, but again I've the luxury to crop digital images.

How important are these factors in a film camera?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A 100% viewfinder is really a pro feature on film cameras -- it can actually cause problems if you are shooting for mounted slides or having your film processed at a consumer lab, since part of the image is going to be lost under the slide mount or to slight cropping in automated printers. If you compose to the edges of a 100% finder, you are going to lose something somewhere; the "consumer" viewfinder will at least make sure that you're getting it all in. Cropping still happens; it's just not under your control. If you're shooting for film scans (common for everybody these days, but once upon a time something that only pros shooting for print would do), or printing to the frame edge (which is going to have a bit of a grungy roughness) then the 100% finder makes a lot more sense and can be worth the extra cost.

Colour matrix metering means that the camera can recognize things like skin tones and make allowances for them. If the metering is grey-scale only, then the meter is only looking for grey-scale values; the matrix computer won't be able to say "ooh, this looks like a tight head shot, and that big pinkish blob in the middle is probably meant to be a stop or so above middle grey". If you're letting the camera do most of the work, then the ability of the camera to distinguish colours make a lot of difference. If you're spot metering and placing tones (doing the roll-film version of the Zone System), then it won't make any difference -- the success of the metering job depends on your ability to expose for the tones. (If you're shooting anything that's colour-critical, incident light metering, either with a light meter or with a grey card and your camera's meter, is often the better choice anyway. You can take advantage of the film's latitude and printing/processing to bring the highlights and shadows back into line, but getting the critical stuff bang-on works best in camera, and you don't want to be guessing at subject reflectance.)

So it all comes down to what you're shooting and what happens after the shot. If you're shooting in a journalistic style and need the camera to be a full partner in the exposure so that you can get that never-to-be-repeated shot, then colour matrix metering can help (a slight caveat, though: it doesn't work nearly as well in a world of darker-skinned people as it does with East Asian and European complexions and scene recognition is never perfect -- you need to know enough to perform a quick sanity check on what the camera is telling you). And if you're processing the finished image yourself or scanning it for print, then the ability to compose to the edge in a 100% viewfinder will make a small difference in the sharpness and grain of the final image -- but if you're not, then you may lose elements of the image that were important to the composition.

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