Nikon F100 Review – The Ultimate 35mm Film SLR Value

Nikon F100 Review – The Ultimate 35mm Film SLR Value

2000 1125 Jeb Inge

It was one year ago, while preparing to move to Germany, that I purchased my Nikon F100. I bought it in the hope that it would be all the camera I would ever need — a do-it-all, unflappable photographic companion.

When I’d first considered buying the F100, I had no real lens collection and I wasn’t married to any camera system. But even with dozens of cameras to pick from, I ended up back where my gut had been pointing all along, with the F100. It checked all the boxes. It had every capability I needed and more, gave me access to a wide range of Nikon glass and (most importantly) had an unbelievable, shockingly low price tag. I found one I liked and snapped it up, along with some AF-D lenses.

Over the next year I carried my F100 through Rocky Mountain blizzards, breathtaking canyons and deserts, rides on the Rhine and to North America’s highest sand dunes. It’s been baked on hundred-plus-degree days and frozen on zero-degree days. No other camera I’ve owned has been so thoroughly tested and stressed.

After all of that, it’s time to come to decide – Is the F100 truly a forever camera? And is it the kind of camera to recommend to most photographers?

What is the Nikon F100

There will be a lot of links to our reviews in this next paragraph. I’d click on every single one and allow them to cascade into new, delicious tabs full of wordy goodness, if I were you.

For decades, Nikon had a habit of bridging their professional single lens reflex camera releases with a lower-spec, enthusiast-level SLR camera. The N8008 bridged the gap between the Nikon F3 and F4, the N90 the gap between the F4 and F5, and in 1999 the Nikon F100 would link the F5 (released three years earlier) to the upcoming Nikon F6. Nikon’s bridge cameras often offered customers the opportunity to try the latest camera technology before it made it into a flagship for professionals. With the N8008 it was autofocusing and with the N90 it was a button interface replacing analog controls. 

But the groundbreaking technology of the late nineties had nothing to do with film photography. The newest Nikon advancement would arrive on shelves that year in the form of Nikon’s first pro digital SLR, the D1. But that doesn’t mean the F100 wasn’t also a new direction for Nikon’s film cameras. 

Specs and Features

With its integrated grip and eight AA batteries, the earlier F5 is legendary for its husky-jean wearing size and weight. Nikon would take a more refined approach with the F100, creating a camera boasting most of the professional features of the F5 without that camera’s wrist-snapping heft. The F100 is technically a high-end prosumer camera. But don’t let the designation fool you; this is a 100 percent professional ready body.

Do you want flexibility with shooting modes? The F100 has the full PASM smattering. Worried about accurate exposure? With the F100 you can use its ten-sensor 3D matrix meter, center-weighted metering with seventy-five percent emphasis on the viewfinder’s center circle, or its selectable five-zone spot metering. 

Are you shooting sports or action and worried about missing focus? You won’t have to worry with a cross-ranged, five area autofocus system and choice of dynamic, close-subject priority, and single area autofocus modes. The high-speed focus tracking of the F100 is a perfect compliment to its 4.5 frames-per-second drive (which is upgradable to 5 fps with the MB-15 grip).

Do you like to shoot high-speed film with wide-open apertures at high noon? The F100’s metal shutter has a range from thirty seconds to 1/8000th of a second – just what’s needed to shoot Portra 800 at f/2 in the snow.

The F100 has an answer to nearly every question. Nikon packed in as many bells and whistles as they could into the F100. Bracketing shots in whole, 1/2 and 1/3 stops, multiple exposure capability, depth-of-field preview, red-eye reduction, timer with four settings, twenty-four built-in custom settings, and more.

All of this is housed in an almost entirely magnesium alloy body that is smaller in size and nearly half the weight of the Nikon F5. But even with less weight, the F100 feels mostly tight and well-built. It’s not weather proof, but weather resistant and it can handle most environments photographers will use it in. Button placement was well thought out, and auto-focus and metering point controls on the film door don’t get in the way of normal operation. Anyone familiar with modern Nikon DSLRs will feel right at home after picking up an F100. Its ergonomics are excellent.

Buyer’s Guide

So the camera has nearly every control and capability the modern photographer could possibly need all packaged in a tough, lightweight housing. In every way the F100 sounds like it should be an expensive camera. Fortunately for any prospective buyers, the opposite is true. On any given day, an F100 from Asia can be found for less than $200, and those from America and Europe are often available for less than $300. I bought mine for $145 in what must be the greatest deal on a piece of photographic equipment I’ve ever stumbled into.

A great deal, yes. But the F100 is not a perfect camera and you should know a few of its quirks before you pull the trigger on buying your own. 

To start, the F100 is not an F5. It’s more of a Diet F5, and some of the characteristics that define the F5 are absent here. The most important of which is the matrix meter. The F100 has a ten-sensor matrix meter instead of the F5’s 1005-element meter. The F100 can only shoot five frames per second rather than the F5’s eight fps. The F100 lacks mirror lock-up and an eyepiece shutter, and its prism isn’t removable.

While the build quality of the camera is generally very high, it slacks a bit around the film door. One reader on a previously published story around my F100 noted that the plastic door latch is susceptible to breaking with rough use. 

Lens compatibility is something else to consider. While the F4 and F6 offer almost complete compatibility with all of Nikon’s F-mount lenses – including matrix metering with manual focus lenses – the F100 does not. Matrix metering is possible with Nikon’s D- and G-series lenses only. And while the F5 could be modified to accept pre-Ai lenses, no such modification is possible on the F100. There were also issues with bodies made early in production suffering from a low-grade plastic rewind fork with a tendency to break. 

I’m calling these shortcomings of the F100, but it also feels like I’m reaching for something bad to say about an otherwise exemplary camera. But is it exemplary enough to warrant buying one over an F5 or F6? With the F5 you’ll enjoy slightly better features, but with double the weight and double the batteries. With the F6 you’ll likely have the best 35mm film SLR ever made, but you’ll be paying ten times the cost of the F100. 

It’s a testament to the F100 that it’s almost universally compared to Nikon’s other professional-grade cameras even though it’s technically not a professional camera. Nikon’s other sub-pro cameras, like the N90 and the N8008, can’t be compared to the professional SLRs that they were built around. But the F100 can and does hang with the best of them.

The F100 seems a perfect companion for almost every photographer. Working photographers looking to add film to their workflow wouldn’t encounter a learning curve with the modern F100. Beginners would be welcomed by the camera’s automated modes, and more learned shooters would be able to take advantage of its more advanced capabilities. It’s tough and advanced enough to provide years of memorable photos and at a price tag that doesn’t break anyone’s bank. 

Final Thoughts

In all the time I’ve spent using my F100, it’s never let me down. Spanning thousands of miles, multiple countries, mountains, beaches, droughts and snowstorms, it has consistently delivered memorable, accurate images. 

It still blows my mind that it comes so cheap on the marketplace. I’ve even remarked to my fellow CP writers that this much camera for that little money should be illegal. It’s downright disrespectful for a camera like the F100 to fetch less money than some overhyped point-and-shoots.

So we return to the big question; is the F100 a forever camera? 

Obviously every photographer is different, and different shooters demand different things from their tools. But the F100 covers more bases than most other cameras and at a laughably low price point. Even if it doesn’t last forever, what’s another couple hundred dollars for a replacement?

Want to try the Nikon F100?

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge
32 comments
  • Great piece on an often overlooked camera. I own lots of bodies and lenses from many different manufacturers. It seems whenever I travel and only have space for one camera, it’s the Nikon F100 I pack.

  • Pretty damn good.

  • I’ve owned three and can confirm that the F100 was indeed up to professional use. These workhorses had a retail price of $1000 from B&H in 1999-2001.

    As a busy wedding/portrait shooter at the turn of the millennium, I utilized them for both color and more importantly b&w film work. They were also my backup cameras to the original Nikon D1 and subsequent Nikon pro digital bodies.

    To clarify, Matrix metering is available with AF-D, AF-S and Nikon G series lenses.

  • Jeremy H. Greenberg February 11, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Good Review! I have two of these and they have been flawless. The “D” Series lenses are reasonably priced and a terrific match with the F100. The larger zooms work well too but get a bit nose heavy.

  • I had an f100 that I used for a while. I bought it sorta in between my f3 dying and buying an f2as when I missed the mechanicalness. I took it to Costa Rica and got some amazing photos but I believe the lenses were the reason really as I never had an autofocus lens with this camera. One thing I absolutely hated was the film back. it always felt like it was about to break. one feature I feel it should have had that the f5 and f4 has is the manual film rewind crank. I have had film stuck in my f100 because of batteries being drained. the battery grip also was kinda cheep. all that aside this was one of my favorite cameras. I remember when bhphotovideo still had these new too. I have since sold this camera for a Nikon f5 that I rarely use but I do feel is more durable. ( I am a Nikon nut) I took one of my favorite photos taken in the past few years with this camera and a 105 1.8 ais. https://www.flickr.com/photos/147703403@N04/33068428201/in/album-72157677094662223/

    • Awesome shots, Robert. Do you still like the F5? In the 1985-2000 era it’s the only one I haven’t tried out.

      • I do really like my f5 still I even thought about getting a second body because they are sooo cheep for what they are now too. The size is the same as the f100 with the battery grip. They are heavy but not unwieldy. it is built better than the f100. my f100 developed bubbling in the metal like you see in the Leica m6 top plates some times. My biggest complaint with the f5 is it takes 8 aa battery and its your only option now days. you do get a bunch of rolls per battery pack. I think I went all summer without replacing mine. my F5 does this thing where when its running low the depth of field preview lever stops functioning. back in the day you could get a rechargeable battery pack. The meter is better on the f5. I would say the f100 meter is similar to the f4 meter. but honestly the meters are useful but gimmicks. I use my m3 and f2 meter less all the time with color slide too and get good results. the biggest reason to get an f5 is the durability in an electronic camera. The f5 puts the f4 to shame in terms build. the f4 has too many cheep plastic parts in my opinion.

  • If it weren’t for that dodgy door, I’d consider it a forever type camera. But instead, I forked over the cash for a minty F6 from Japan with mega low mileage. I’m blown away by this beast. Preparing to sell my F4s & F5 to replenish some of the wallet damage incurred.

    • If you have access to an F6, that’s a no brainer. It pains me to hear of someone selling their F4, but I understand the pain of a depleted wallet!

  • Dammit I just bought an f3 and now this is the 3rd extremely positive review about the f100. Making me wanting to buy this too!

  • The thing about the film back is the latch snaps/shatters with old age, not rough treatment. It just become brittle over time and to replace/fix it you need to source an unbroken film back. It’s why there are so many F100s for sale missing the film back.
    I’ve known a guy who’s latch broke by him just closing the back normally, as one would with any camera.
    The way to lessen this happening is by holding the catch up as you close the back, minimizing stress on the latch. I just don’t understand why Nikon made their EM etc (i.e. cheapest cameras) with a metal latch, but the F100 with a plastic one.

    This is really a great camera, I actually found it gave better exposures than my F6 even though the F6 had a much more sophisticated metering system. The only bummer is that if you use AE lock, it clears it after every shot. The F6 holds it (if you set it this way) until you actively clear it.

  • I’m a giant fan of the N90s as the best bang for the used-Nikon buck — because you can get them fully working for $30 all the time.

    But the F100 is def. on my must-own-someday list.

    • I still have the N90s I reviewed for the site a while back. It’s definitely cheaper than the F100, but in my mind the F100 is that much better for not much more money. But I agree, it’s a no brainer to grab an N90 at prices that low.

  • I’ve owned at least three F100s over the past 20 years. My only complaints are the wonky film door, as others have pointed out. Also, the textured rubber-like covering on the film door (and elsewhere on the F100 body and other Nikons of this vintage) tends to get very sticky over time. If you do a search, you will find many possible solutions to this problem but few if any seem to work permanently. That’s a shame, because the F100 overall is stellar. When shopping for an F100 body, be sure to ask the seller if the camera has developed this stickiness. If so, avoid. There are non-sticky examples out there to be found.

  • wow this is the 4th review about the f100 that makes me want to get one. I just bought a mint f3 but now debating whether the f100 would have been a better choice haha.

    • I’ve never talked to a single F3 owner that regretted buying it. It’s really apples and oranges between the two. What’s wrong with having them both?!

  • I’ve had my F100 for many years. It’s one of those cameras that I don’t really use often (I think because it’s the closest to a dslr feel), but when I do, the photos just look amazing. I’m still trying to figure out why. I use the same lenses on my F4 for example.. It just looks different. Maybe it’s the matrix meter? Dunno..

    Mine has had a broken film door a few years back. It broke for no reason, I wasn’t rough with it. I replaced it myself with a little work. (the replacement didn’t have the pressure plate or anything)

    Unfortunately, now it’s giving me some other issues. I’ve had two rolls stop halfway through with an error and the last one wouldn’t rewind. Also the directional button on the back broke off completely. I think i’m giving up on this one. I might replace it with an F5.. or save money and just get another F100. They are cheap after all..

    • F5s aren’t too expensive themselves. I have an F4 as well, and while i haven’t compared similar shots side by side, I imagine there’s a slightly different look. The matrix meter on the F4 isn’t as sophisticated (or 3D) as the one in the F100. Having said all that, I still use the F4 much more often. They’re both awesome cameras. Sorry to hear about your F100 issues!

  • The F100 is a really good camera, but I’d argue that an F80 is Even better value for money. It does the majority of things the F100 does, is considerably lighter and theyre really cheep.

  • At some point, I would like to get myself an F100. As a digital and film shooter, I wanted to get a film body that I could use my Nikon G lenses with. Because this photography thing is only a hobby for me, I decided to go for a lower spec Nikon F80 for $45 instead of an F100. If my thorough enjoyment of my F80 with Nikon AF glass is any indication, I will absolutely love using my modern lenses with an F100.

    • If you’re casually shooting, I’d recommend grabbing an N90s, which is better made than the F80 but can still be grabbed for almost nothing. I reviewed it a while ago and had very few complaints.

  • While I’ve had Nikon f100 in the past, I think I prefer the Canon 1n instead. This is more an issue of lenses than body features themselves. I just prefer the quieter af of the Canon lenses.
    A little 40mm f2.8 pancake sum sits on mine. While the 28mm D and 50mm D were fine on the f100, I think the G series lenses are much better but less affordable. Canon offers affordable and quiet at the same time. Plus Nikon lenses are a bit of a mess when it comes to does it or doesn’t it work (E-series).

    The f100 works pretty well with an fm3 K screen if you file off the tab, which will give MF purists split prism precision while retaining AF capabilities.

  • Jeb how do you feel the the next tier down Nikon models like the F75 measure up ? More plastic but cheaper with nearly as good features

    • I had an n75 in high school was great then. now I have a ton of ais manual focus lenses that do not meter on that camera.(still pretty good even with all the plastic) those lenses will meter on the f100.

    • Hi Alan,

      I used to have an F75 (N75 because I was in the US) and it always took decent pictures. I guess in a purely technical sense IT may be the best deal in film right now, because it’s worth almost nothing and has most of the features anyone would need. But durability wish they can’t come close to the F100 or flagship F cameras. I didn’t like the size and construction. I’m pretty sure the only metal on the camera was the lens mount. I sold it and the buyer was a high school teacher who had a student that wanted to learn film. That seemed like a perfect use for it.

      TL;DR, I think they would be great cameras for someone who can overlook their cheap feel and lower durability.

  • Have been using it for a while, great camera, all the features I need are there, really easy to shoot and get great results with.

    It’s a little loud for shooting the streets and when discretion is desired. I find that sometimes it hunts for focus in low light. I don’t know if it’s the camera, G lens or the combination of the two. I try to be very gentle with the back door, no problems there for now.

    Matrix metering has only 10 segments, so I gravitate toward center-weighted and lock exposure and re-compose when shooting high contrast subjects, when there’s big chunk of sky in the photo etc.

    I suspect that F6 is even better (but also a bit bigger and almost 200gr heavier) but that comes with the price tag. Maybe I’ll get it one day, but for now I’m very satisfied with the F100.

    • From all accounts, the F6 is absolutely superb. And for 10-15 times the cost of an F100, it sure better be.

      • Hm, I don’t think price difference is that big. F6 bodies go for 600-800e on E-bay, F100 for 150-250e. Both can be bought cheaper locally, of course.

        It’s a similar relation as other Nikon pairing, FE2 and FM3a. In both cases one camera is clearly better, just not 4-5 times better.

  • The F100 is a great camera. I would also very much recommend the F5. The F5 looks huge on the screen but in the hand it’s actually not that big. The ergonomics are incredible. All the top level SLR’s like the F5 or D3 or 1v et c. They do have next level build quality that makes a difference in the pleasure of using the camera. The F5 is in my opinion the best built out of all of them. The D3 is similar in feel but I prefer the rubber of the F5. I love Leica too but the F5 is fully comparable in feel and probably a lot more solid than a Leica.

    The F5 is often overlooked because of its size but its the best film SLR of all time as far as I’m concerned. And if you think the F100 is sold at a shamefully low price then consider the F5 which can be had for 350$ which is total madness. I remember when it cost 3000$.

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has also worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge