The Nikon F4 was launched in 1988 as the third improved version of the original Nikon F which was introduced in 1959. It was replaced in 1996 by the Nikon F5. Some twenty years after its introduction it is still considered by many to be one of the most capable, tough and ergonomically brilliant professional 35mm SLR cameras ever made. It is the last Nikon to accept the early Nikon F lenses without modification. This feature is a small steel tab on the aperture-coupling ring just behind the lens mount that can be folded away, released by pushing a chromed button next to it. Forgetting to engage the aperture coupling will either cause an "A" or an "FEE" indication in the finder using AI- and AF lenses, unless in manual mode.
The F4 operates with any lens ever made for the F-mount within the functional limitations associated with the lens put on the camera. The auto-focus works as focus-assist on most manual lenses. Using pre-AI lenses, the stop down metering will apply. AI lenses may be used in Aperture-priority automatic exposure mode, while AF lenses can be used in Shutter-priority and Program-modes as well.
The F4 is lager and heavier than it predecessors, and is closely integrated with its accessories, especially its range of finders, backs and battery packs, to better adapt it to the task at hand. It weighs 1,5 kilogram (3.3 lbs) in its basic form ready to shoot with a standard F1.4 lens, while changing to MB21 adds 0.2 kilogram (0.44 lbs). The F4 is almost completely battery dependent, only film rewind may be performed manually, but it uses the universally available standard AA batteries, which should be fresh for trouble-free operation using the MB-20.
The F4 camera body was available with three alternative battery packs, differentiated by adding a suffix to the basic model name. Choice of battery pack determines number of batteries used, film drive speed, and the grip combination:
- F4 includes the MB-20 battery pack. It holds 4 × AA batteries. No vertical grip. 4fps film advance.
- F4S includes the MB-21 battery pack. It holds 6 × AA batteries. Vertical grip/shutter release. 5.7fps film advance.
- F4E includes the MB-23 battery pack. It holds 6 × AA batteries, but it can also use the high-capacity MN-20 battery pack. The vertical grip/shutter release is bulkier than the MB-21. 5.7fps film advance.
There are three continuous drive modes on the F4: Ch, Cl and Cs for High, Low and Quiet modes. The speed of the film advance is driven by the battery pack attached. The F4 also features manual or automatic film rewind, optional viewfinder information illumination, and fingertip control buttons for metering, focus and aperture lock.
Available metering modes are determined by the model of viewfinder attached. The standard model finder (DP-20) features spot, centre-weighted and matrix metering. The range of finders available includes a waist-level finder, high-magnification finder and a large-format viewfinder for using the camera in situations where you cannot bring your eye to the viewfinder.