F4 Concise Instructions

The following information is transcribed from Thom Hogan's Nikon Field Guide, no longer in print (Copyright 2000 Thom Hogan). Copies sometimes are still available used on eBay.

F4 Model Nomenclature

The F4 is available in three models:

  • F4 The basic body with the MB-20 battery pack, which holds four AA batteries in the right hand grip.
  • F4s The basic body with the MB-21 battery pack, which holds six AA batteries; three in the right hand grip and three in the grip extension on the bottom of the camera body. This is the version of the camera that was sold in the U.S.
  • F4E The basic body with the MB-23 battery pack, which holds six AA alkaline batteries. The MB-23 can also take the MN-20 NiCad battery pack.

F4 Viewfinder Error Messages 

  • Red X appears — Autofocus is not possible; focus manually.
  • < symbol appears — Subject is not in focus or is located closer than the lens’ minimum focusing distance.
  • > symbol appears — Subject is not in focus or lens is not set on infinity when TC-16A is being used.
  • HI — Current settings will overexpose shot (P, PH, S, and A exposure modes only).
  • LO — Current settings will underexpose shot (P, PH, S, and A exposure modes only).
  • FEE appears — Lens is not set to smallest aperture.
  • Red light near rewind knob illuminates — Film is not loaded correctly, reload film; or, end of roll has been reached, rewind film.
  • Red light near rewind knob blinks rapidly — Non-DX coded film was detected or DX code not interpreted; set ISO manually.
  • A appears (in P or S mode) — Lens has no CPU to support program (P) or shutter-priority (S) exposure mode, camera defaults to aperture-priority (A) mode.
  • flash symbol blinks — Flash may not have been sufficient to provide correct exposure.

F4 Instructions

Turning the Camera On and Off

To turn the camera on, simultaneously press the lock release button next to the film advance mode selector and rotate the selector to one of the film advance settings (S, CH, CL, CS, or self-timer). 

To turn the camera off, perform step 1, but rotate the selector to the L (lock) position.

Note: Pressing the shutter release halfway turns on the exposure meter, viewfinder illumination (if the viewfinder illuminator switch is on), and, when appropriate, auto-focusing. The meter remains active for 16 seconds with fresh batteries. 

Setting the Film Advance Mode

Hold down the lock release button (next to the film advance  mode selector) and rotate the film advance mode selector (surrounding the shutter release) to the desired setting:

  • S Single Frame—Press the shutter release once for each exposure.
  • CS Continuous Silent—0.8 to 1 fps, depending upon battery pack used.
  • CL Continuous Low Speed—3 to 3.4 fps, depending upon battery pack used.
  • CH Continuous High Speed—4 to 5.7 fps, depending upon battery pack used.

The shooting speeds for continuous advance modes apply to shutter speeds of 1/250 second or faster using manual exposure mode and manual focus. The lower values are typically for the 

MB-20 battery pack, the higher values are achieved with the MB-21 or MB-23 battery packs.

Setting the ISO Manually

Hold down the ISO dial lock button on the top left of the camera and rotate the ISO dial to set the film speed. Each dot represents a 1/3-stop intermediary value.

Setting the ISO Automatically with DX Encoding

Hold down the ISO button on the top left of the camera, and rotate the ISO dial to the DX setting.

Note: If the red light to the right of the ISO dial blinks rapidly after loading film in the camera, the camera was unable to set the ISO value via DX encoding. Set the film speed manually (see above).

Loading Film

  1. Set the ISO manually or set DX encoding.
  2. Push the release lever surrounding the rewind crank in the direction of the arrow. Then lift the rewind knob to open the camera’s back.
  3. Insert a film cartridge into the left-hand compartment so the film leader extends to the right.
  4. Pull the film leader across to the red index mark near the take-up area.
  5. Using the rewind crank, remove slack from the film so that it lies flat.
  6. Close the camera back. 
  7. Depress the shutter release; the camera will automatically advance the film to the first frame. 

Rewinding Film

  1. While holding down the button in the middle of rewind lever 1 (labeled R1 on the upper right-hand side of the camera’s back), pull the lever out.
  2. While holding down the lock button next to rewind lever 2 (labeled R2 on the left side of the camera’s back, below the ISO dial), push down rewind lever 2.


  1. While holding down the button in the middle of rewind lever 1, pull the lever out.
  2. Lift the rewind crank and turn it in the direction of the arrow until the film is rewound into the cartridge (you’ll feel the tension on the handle release).

Setting the Metering Method

Turn the metering system selector on the right side of the prism to the desired setting:

  • Matrix: Five-segment evaluative metering is used. Requires AF- or AI-type lenses.
  • Center-Weighted: 60% of the meter’s sensitivity is concentrated in the 12mm circle in the viewfinder. 
  • Spot: 100% of the meter’s sensitivity is concentrated on a 5mm circle in viewfinder. 

Setting the Focus Mode

Move the focus mode selector on the left front of the camera to:

  • S Single Servo AF—Uses focus-priority (shutter cannot be released until focus is achieved).

    Viewfinder symbols:
    • > or < Focus is in progress.
    • Focus is locked; you need to refocus if the subject moves.
    • X Focus cannot be achieved; shutter is locked.
  • C Continuous Servo AF—Uses release priority (shutter can be released whether or not focus is achieved). Focus is continuously updated unless AF-L button is held down (which will lock focus). 

    Viewfinder symbols:
    • > or < Focus is being sought.
    • Focus is achieved.
    • Focus tracking is activated only if C mode is used with CL shooting mode. (With focus tracking, the camera’s focus not only follows the motion of a subject but also predicts its position at the time the shutter is actually fired.)
  • M Manual Focus—Electronic confirmation symbols appear in the viewfinder.

    Viewfinder symbols:
    • < The subject is not in focus; rotate the lens’ focus ring to the left.
    • > The subject is not in focus; rotate the lens’ focus ring to the right.
    • The subject is in focus.

Setting the Exposure Mode

Move the exposure mode selector (on the top of the camera, on the right) to the desired selection:

  • P Program—Camera sets both the shutter speed and aperture; requires an AF or AI-P lens.
  • PH High-Speed Program—Camera sets both the shutter speed and aperture with an emphasis on faster shutter speeds; requires AF or AI-P lens.
  • S Shutter-Priority—You set the shutter speed, the camera sets the aperture; requires an AF or AI-P lens.
  • A Aperture-Priority—You set the aperture, the camera sets the shutter speed.
  • M Manual—You choose both the aperture and the shutter speed.

Note: If you select P, PH, or S mode, the lens must be set to its smallest aperture.

Setting Exposure Manually

  1. Set the camera to manual (M) exposure mode (see “Setting the Exposure Mode,” above).
  2. Select the aperture on the lens; select the shutter speed using the shutter speed dial. 

An exposure scale is located at the bottom of the viewfinder display. A dot below the center line indicates correct exposure. Each dot in the scale indicates 1/3-stop over- or underexposure, progressing from left (+) to right (–); a dash under the + or – symbol indicates more than 2 stops over- or underexposure.

Setting the Aperture

Rotate the aperture ring on the lens. 

Note: Setting the aperture is possible only in A and M exposure modes. In P, PH, and S modes, changing the aperture results in [EE appearing in the viewfinder. 

Setting the Shutter Speed

Rotate the shutter speed dial on the top of the camera to the desired setting. Shutter speeds are listed from 4 seconds to 1/8000 second. B stands for bulb, T for time exposure, and X for maximum flash sync.

Note: Setting a precise shutter speed is possible only in M and S exposure modes. In P, PH, and A modes, the camera sets the shutter speed steplessly and ignores your input unless you select time exposure (T).

Locking the Exposure Settings

  1. Set the metering system selector on the right side of the prism to center-weighted or spot metering and point the focus brackets at an appropriate area. Note: Although you can lock exposure settings using any metering mode, this function is most useful for metering on a very specific area. Center-weighted or spot metering modes offer the most control.
  2. Lightly press the shutter release.
  3. Lock the exposure by pressing the AE-L button on the front of the camera.
  4. Recompose the frame and press the shutter release fully.

Exposure Compensation

Press the lock on the exposure compensation dial and turn the dial to the desired amount of compensation. 

Compensation is indicated in 1/3 EV stops (each dot is 1/3 EV) ranging from +/– 2 EV). A + value overexposes, a – value underexposes.

Example: Meter white snow and compensate by adding 2 stops of exposure. Without compensation, the meter sets exposure as though every subject were neutral gray.  (A white subject is 2 stops brighter than neutral gray, therefore the exposure needs to be adjusted accordingly.)

Exposure compensation remains set until it is cancelled by you by performing this step again and setting compensation to 0.

Setting the Self-Timer

  1. Hold down the film advance lever lock release button while rotating the film advance mode selector (surrounding the shutter release) to the self-timer indicator o.
  2. Close the eyepiece shutter to prevent stray light from entering (only necessary in A, S, P, or PH exposure modes).
  3. Press the shutter release.
  4. The LED on the front of the camera blinks slowly until 2 seconds prior to exposure, at which time it blinks faster.

The self-timer is set to fire after 10 seconds.

If the camera is set for single servo AF (S), the self-timer will not start until focus is achieved. If the subject moves after the self-timer has begun counting down, the subject will be out of focus.

The bulb setting cannot be used with the self-timer. If you attempt this, the camera automatically sets the shutter speed to 1/250 second except if you are using a mechanical, remote locking shutter release or the long exposure function of the MF-23 camera back.

To cancel the self-timer, hold down the lock release button and rotate the selector back to S, CS, CL, or CH.

Setting a Bulb or Time Exposure

With bulb (B) exposure, the shutter stays open while the shutter release is pressed. With time (T) exposure, the shutter stays open until it is actively closed by turning the shutter speed dial.

  1. Rotate the exposure mode selector to M for bulb (B), or to any mode for time exposure (T).
  2. Rotate the shutter speed dial to B (bulb) or T (time exposure).
  3. Set the desired aperture (on the lens) if necessary, depending on the mode you have chosen.
  4. For bulb (B) exposure, press and hold the shutter release for the length of the exposure. For a time (T) exposure, press the shutter release once to start the exposure; turn the shutter speed dial to any setting except T to end the exposure. If the exposure was longer than 30 seconds, press the shutter release again (with the lens cap on) to advance the film.

Note: Consider using a remote release (MC-12a , MC-12b, or AR-3) to prevent camera shake. Use T mode to prevent battery depletion.

Mirror Lock-Up

Mirror lock-up is useful in three situations: 1) extreme macro magnifications, when any vibration may have an impact on sharpness; 2) use of long lenses at exposure times near 1/15 second or longer, when “mirror slap” may reduce sharpness; and 3) when using a lens that has a rear element that extends into the camera body. Autoexposure and autofocus modes are not available when the mirror is locked up.

  1. Place the camera on a tripod and frame the subject.
  2. Set the camera to manual (M) exposure mode, set the shutter speed and aperture, and focus.
  3. Press the depth-of-field preview button (on the right front of the camera) and rotate the mirror lock-up lever surrounding it 45° away from the lens until the mirror locks.
  4. Close the eyepiece shutter (there’s nothing to see anyway, and this reminds you that the mirror is locked up).

To release the mirror, push the lever 90° back towards the lens.

Warning: Do not leave mirror locked up with the lens cap off except during exposures. Direct sun entering through the lens may damage the shutter curtain.

Taking Multiple Exposures

  1. Set any necessary exposure compensation (–1 EV for two overlapping exposures).
  2. Pull out the multiple exposure lever (on the top of the camera, next to the exposure compensation dial).
  3. Take your first shot; the film does not advance. If you wish to have more than two exposures on the frame, hold the lever out or pull it out again after each exposure.
  4. Push the lever back in before the final exposure.
  5. Take the final shot. The film advances to the next frame.

Note: If you need to cancel the multiple exposure mode before an exposure has been made, press the multiple exposure lever back to its normal position. If you’ve already taken the first exposure, put the lens cap on before taking the next exposure.

Depth-of-Field (DOF) Preview

  1. Set the desired aperture.
  2. Press the small chrome button on the front of the camera, to the right of the lens.
  3. Look through the viewfinder to judge the approximate depth of field you will get at that aperture.
  4. Repeat the procedure until you have set an aperture that will deliver the desired depth of field.

Note: While DOF preview is active, autofocus is disabled. Metering while DOF preview is active may result in incorrect readings.

Adjusting the Viewfinder’s Diopter Setting

  1. Point the camera at a distant scene and focus the lens at infinity. Or, remove the lens and use the etchings on the focusing screen to judge sharpness.
  2. To adjust focus, pull the knob labeled + – on the right side of the prism outward. Look through the viewfinder and rotate the knob until the central area of the viewfinder appears sharpest (towards – if nearsighted, towards + if farsighted).
  3. Push the knob back in towards the camera to lock the setting. Be careful not to rotate it when pushing it back in.

Note: It should be possible to see the entire frame in the viewfinder, even with glasses on. If you wear glasses while shooting, make sure that the diopter setting is at 0 (so the + and – symbols on the button are parallel to the base of the camera).

Removing the Prism and Changing the Focusing Screen

  1. Remove the prism by pressing the finder release lever, to the left of the prism and on top of the camera, towards the finder. Pull the prism towards the back of the camera. 
  2. Slip a fingernail under the rear edge of the screen and lift it out. 
  3. Insert the new screen by sliding the front edge into place first, then lower the rear edge.
  4. Replace the prism by sliding it back into position.

Note: Some focusing screens require an exposure compensation factor to be entered into the camera via a small dial on the underside of the prism. See the instructions that come with the new focusing screen for more information.

Tip: The Type E screen features a grid that helps align horizons, reminds you of the rule-of-thirds points, and helps you align verticals and prevent converging lines. It is probably the most useful of the optional screens for general-purpose use.

Illuminating the Viewfinder Display

  1. Move the viewfinder illuminator switch that’s directly beneath the shutter speed dial clockwise, revealing the red dot below it.
  2. Press the shutter release partway.

F4 Programmed Auto (P and PH) Mode Settings 

Exposure Value (P Setting, PH Setting) (at ISO 100)

  • EV0: f/1.4 at 2 seconds, f/1.4 at 2 seconds
  • EV1: f/1.4 at 1 second, f/1.4 at 1 second
  • EV2: f/1.4 at 1/2, f/1.4 at 1/2
  • EV3: f/1.4 at 1/4, f/1.4 at 1/4
  • EV4: f/1.4 at 1/8, f/1.4 at 1/8
  • EV6: f/2 at 1/15, f/1.4 at 1/30
  • EV8: f/2.8 at 1/30, f/1.8 at 1/90
  • EV10: f/4 at 1/60, f/2.4 at 1/180
  • EV12: f/5.6 at 1/125, f/3.5 at 1/375
  • EV14: f/8 at 1/250, f/5 at 1/750
  • EV16: f/11 at 1/500, f/6.8 at 1/1500
  • EV18: f/16 at 1/1000, f/9.5 at 1/3000
  • EV20*: f/16 at 1/4000, f/13 at 1/6000

*Exceeds limit of autofocus capability.

The figures for PH mode, above, are approximations. In short, the PH mode doesn’t begin using smaller apertures until a shutter speed of at least 1/60 second is used, while the P mode begins shifting apertures when the shutter speed exceeds 1/8 second.

Note: If the lens being used has a smaller maximum aperture than shown above, shutter speeds will be longer in order to maintain correct exposure.

Nikkor Lenses That Can’t Be Used with the F4

  • 16mm f/3.5 Serial numbers 272281 to 290000 not compatible
  • 28mm f/3.5 Serial numbers 625611 to 9999999 not compatible
  • 35mm f/1.4 Serial numbers 385001 to 400000 not compatible
  • 35mm f/3.5 PC Not compatible unless viewfinder is removed
  • 55mm f/1.2 Not compatible
  • AF TC-16 Compatible with F4, but will not fit on F4s and F4e. Use TC-16A.

Refinements to the F4

The F4 has undergone many upgrades since its introduction in 1988. Some of these may affect operation. Those with serial numbers from 2350000 include most of these modifications. Your F4 may or may not have the following features:

  1. The metering system selector switch is stiffer and sticks out less to prevent unintentional changes.
  2. The metal body is somewhat stronger, which cannot be detected visually.
  3. The shutter speed numbers on the original F4s rubbed and flaked off, later models don’t exhibit this tendency. 
  4. The standard prism of later models (serial numbers 2200000 and higher) has a two-step security lock to prevent its accidental removal (for instance if a Speedlight is attached, creating additional torque). 
  5. The prism in later models (serial numbers 2500000 and higher) has an extra hole in the hot shoe to accommodate the security pin of the SB-25, SB-26, SB-27, and SB-28 flash units.
  6. The grip has more contour, and a small rubber “tooth” has been added, which sticks out in the grip to support the user’s middle finger. This provides more support and a more secure feeling for your right hand.
  7. Early models have a pin made of metal to detect whether the back is open or not. The pins in later models are made out of white plastic. (Check if purchasing an F4 secondhand; metal pins can stick in humid weather.) 
  8. The battery switch inside later models of the MB-21 grip is labeled “Ni-Cd” instead of “KR-AA.”
  9. The exterior plastic was changed from a semi-gloss to a matte finish for better “gripability.”
  10. Earlier models (serial numbers 2350000 and lower) have a higher battery voltage threshold, shortening the life of most batteries. This can be reprogrammed when serviced.
  11. The exposure compensation dial is stiffer to make it harder to move it accidentally.
  12. AE-L and AF-L lever has a stronger spring catch.

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