nikon f4 vs leica m3 review

Nikon F4 vs Leica M3: Photo Test

Last year I bought myself a Nikon F4 SLR so shoot alongside my Leica M3 double stroke and various other film cameras. I thought it might be quite nice to compare the 35mm Nikon SLR to the 35mm Leica rangefinder. For each camera I chose my go to lenses (at the time) and loaded both cameras with 35mm Ilford Delta 100 film. It was a bright day so I shot both lenses at f5.6 for the shoot. Harriet was modelling for me and kindly offered to be the subject for this short series of shots.

Leica M3 + Summicron 50 DR


  • Nikon F4 SLR + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S lens
  • Leica M3 double stroke + Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR lens

Film developing:

I developed both rolls of film together in the same tank using 1:3 Xtol developer solution at about 20 degrees (I guessed as no thermometer to hand) for 11 mins and once dry the photos were scanned with an Epson v800 flatbed scanner.

35mm Ilford Delta 100 Film Test:

Nikon F4 SLR + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S

Nikkor 50mm f1.2
Nikon F4 + 50mm f1.2
Nikon F4 + Ilford Delta 100
Nikon F4 + Delta 100
Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 :)
Nikon F4 vs Leica M3

Leica M3 double stroke + Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR

Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 (II)
Leica M3 + Delta 100
Leica M3 + Delta 100
35mm Ilford Delta 100

35mm Ilford Pan F 50 Film:

On a separate occasion I was again shooting with Harriet and the Nikon F4 + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S lens but this time the F4 was loaded with Ilford Pan F 50 film. Here are a couple of Pan F 50 images to compare to the Ilford Delta 100 film scans. I am a huge fan of both of these film stocks.

Nikon F4 + 50mm f1.2
F4 + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-S

Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 – Thoughts

Unlike digital photography film cameras of varying price ranges from my low cost Nikon FM or Olympus 35RC film cameras to the more expensive Leica M6 and Leica M3s can all produce similar quality results with decent film loaded.  I would not say that is the case with digital.  I think with digital, to an extent you get what you pay for.  For example I would expect significantly better results from a £30k medium format digital Hasselblad vs a Leica M240 or Nikon D800 and the same with the M240 or D800 vs an entry level camera.  I recently tested my Hasselblad 501C medium format film camera against my 35mm Leica M6 film camera. The 6×6 film negatives did hold more detail but the gap between the two cameras is less noticeable to my eyes.  This may also be the case for the photos from the aforementioned digital equivalent cameras but I would generally expect better results the more I paid with digital (to an extent)(some brands are perhaps over priced such as Leica!) 🙂

Nikon or Leica!?

The Nikon F4 SLR is much bulkier and heavier than the Leica M3 so if I am travelling light I tend to chose a Leica. For film photography when I am using lenses shot wide open at say f1.4 I would always chose the Leica as I feel the results are better at the maximum apertures. If I am stopping the lenses down to f5.6-f8 I could use either film camera happily. For close subjects I prefer the close focusing Nikon F4. For a subject more than a few meters away I prefer the Leica rangefinder focusing. The Nikon accepts autofocus lenses for fast action and has various other advantages being around 30yrs newer (approx) than the 1954 Leica M3.  The M3 accepts some of the smallest lenses I own such as the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 collapsible  and Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 so both cameras have their pros and cons. I normally select my camera to use based on size and weight restrictions for that particular shoot if overseas.  In the UK and more so if in my studio I tend to rotate all the various film cameras to keep things interesting!

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7 thoughts on “SLR vs Rangefinder (Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 Photos)”

  1. Lovely pictures!

    Just thinking about plumping for a Leica M3 and wondering if using my Nikon 50mm f1.2 on the Leica (via an adapter) is a stupid idea?

    1. Thanks Brett. You can’t use a Nikon mount lens on a Leica film camera to my knowledge as you wont be able to focus it accurately. You can on a Leica M 240 as it has live view. On the M3 you need a rangefinde coupled lens or focus by hyperfocal distance and stop the lens down for a better chance of a sharp image. my knowledge.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Yes, embarrassingly, it took a bit too long for me to realise how this wouldn’t work at all 🙂
        I was trying to ease into M3 ownership for my wallet’s sake. Would have been nice to make use of the body before buying a genuine Leica lens.

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  3. Matt, loving the articles but I hate (I know it’s a strong word) cliched and quite frankly, completely irritating over-used phrases like; “my go to” (third line, first paragraph). There are a few phrases that have been doing the rounds on photography related articles, comments on the net and in print over the past couple or more years. “my go to” is one of the most annoying of them.
    The following is a list of other known offending phrases:
    1. “my weapon of choice”
    2. “put it through it’s paces”
    3. “his favourite left foot” (Oh hang on, that’s a football cliche)
    But I hope you get the picture. I once over-heard a smart arse journalist who was very pleased with himself saying, “show me a photographer and I’ll show you a cliche”. Let’s not add credibility to that comment.

    1. Hi Des, thanks.. I may have been brainwashed by YouTube and picked up commonly used phrases without realising. You are the first person to spot it or report it anyway. I will try to be more original in future posts!  Cheers Matt

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