The Nikon F6 – the last film 35mm SLR remaining in production – has finally been discontinued by Nikon.
The writing was already on the wall; in October, it was announced the F6 had already been discontinued in some territories, such as Europe, though it was still listed for sale in Japan and by some US dealers.
But according to reports first circulated by Nikon Rumors on Wednesday (2 December), the plug has finally been pulled – the Nikon F6 is no longer in production.
First introduced in 2004, the F6 was the pinnacle of 35mm SLR design. It boasted shutter speeds from 30s to 1/8000, colour matrix metering, ISO up to 6400, 11-point autofocus – even an internal memory system that could remember the exposure details of up to 50 rolls of film. It could also shoot with any Nikon 35mm lens made since 1977.
It was, as EMULSIVE pointed out in a piece written on Friday, the culmination of “everything Nikon knew about making robust, reliable, and supremely usable cameras”. Replacing the heavyweight F5, the camera that had stolen a march on Canon’s market share of pro-level 35mm SLRS, the F6 was tough and rugged without tipping over into brutalist design.
Some may have been surprised that Nikon – a camera maker that looks to be edging away from DSLRs in favour of mirrorless – would have kept a film model in its inventory this long. But while consumer models were quickly supplanted by digital cameras, the professional end of the market still kept some makers in the game well into the 2010s. Canon only brought production of its EOS-1V SLR – the F6’s main rival – to an end in 2018.
Even as a digital SRS became more capable and reliable, a very small pool of professional photographers still wanted to shoot film. Now, those photographers are going to have to eye the secondhand market (along with any other photographer who had an itch only the F6 would scratch).
The end of the Nikon F6 bring with it the end of the classic Nikon F mount, which celebrated its 60th birthday last year. The mount lives on with Nikon DSLRs, but the most modern digital lenses can only be used on the last generations of film SLRs.
While Nikon kept the F6 going until this year, its film camera outfit was a sideshow compared to its DSLR (and latterly mirrorless) research and production. The F line was part of Nikon heritage, but that heritage appealed to a small niche of its customers.
The F6 and EOS-1V partly stayed in production so long because they were high-ticket items; in this piece last year for Petapixel, Johnny Martyr interviewed an Austrian photographer who had just bought a brand new F6; the camera cost him $2,549, and that’s without a lens.
There has, of course, been an undeniable resurgence in film photography over the last five years, spearheaded by a new generation too young to have shot film the first time around. Few of these will buy an F6 as their first film camera. Do you really need the F6’s matrix metering and burst-mode if you’re starting out with your first roll of Kodak ColorPlus? Not really. There’s no shortage of Olympus Trip 35s and OM-10s, Pentax K1000s and Praktica MTL 5Bs, Canon AE-1s and Nikon FE2s, all much better suited to those finding their feet with film and all still available for a fraction of the cost.
And while cameras get old and worn, and their electronics (if they have them) fizzle out, the pool of available cameras is still enormous. It is entirely possible to find a working starter film camera for the cost of a decent memory card. Even with prices of popular models such as the Canon AE-1 and the Olympus OM-2 rising with demand, the cameras are still much cheaper (weighted for inflation) than they were when they were released years ago. Any new film SLR is not going to be able to compete with them on price, and that price tag will have to account for all the R&D and infrastructure needed to be able to produce it.
It would be great if Nikon were to release a new F-mount film camera – something like their evergreen FM2 – but its rivals are not going to be other new-build film cameras. It’s going to go into a price war against secondhand cameras that are considerably cheaper. That’s not a battle it can win.
Yes, film cameras are still being made, notably high-end film rangefinder made by Leica and Lomography’s range of viewfinder cameras evolved from the LC-A compact. But SLRs? In recent years, two SLR projects have been announced, and neither has brought a camera to market. The Ihagee Elbaflex was a “new SLR” announced in 2017, by Net SE, the team who had been bringing Meyer-Optik lenses back to market. The $1,500 Elbaflex was in fact a Ukrainian Kiev-19M SLR from the 1980s given a wooden hand grip; its Kickstarter was a failure and the company behind it later filed for bankruptcy after failing to fulfil several Kickstarter campaigns.
The Reflex project was more ambitious, launching a modular SLR with different lens mounts and film backs. Their Kickstarter price of £350 for a basic camera was much more enticing, and the campaign managed to raise more than £130,000 in late 2017. But the project has been beset with problems, notably over their attempts to try and create the camera’s shutter in house. As of this October, the project is still live and seeking further funding, according to the most recent update from the creators. Whether the camera ever sees the light of day, however, is another story.
Amid the photography industry’s year of crises – thanks, largely, to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – the phasing out of one solitary camera model may seem of little importance. But with the F6’s passing, the era of the film SLR has come to a close. For now, at the very least.