Introduced in 1996, the Nikon F5 made it's triumphant debut at the Atlanta Olympic Games. After much pleading from sports photographers, Nikon decided to release this pro camera with an integrated vertical battery grip. They later went back to the usual removable grip for the F6. But this form factor has lived on in the now digital pro cameras (D1-D5).
Gone are the tactile knobs from the Nikon F4. You are now given a control scheme that Nikon has stuck with to this day. You have a control wheel on the front and one on the back for shutter speed and aperture adjustments. it also employs the 'push a button and spin the wheel' method of adjusting modes and compensation values. While the control wheels are quick in practice, I find that knobs are better for normal operation. Having settings tied to an LCD screen is a detriment since you have to push a button to check it's current condition (or look in the viewfinder). If you have a simple adjustment dial for exposure compensation, you can glance at the top of the body and see if you're settings are correct. This superior style of visual management has not been duplicated on camera screens.
Yes it is big, yes it's heavy, but this body is so comfortable to hold. When I first picked up the F5, I was shocked how well it gloved my hands. When you read about this camera and see pictures online, you get this impression that it's unnecessarily large. But I understand now why pros would want the integrated grip for use all day. The smaller bodies, like the F3 below, are great for travel, but hold it in your hand all day and tell me your fingers don't start cramping up.
The weight of this Nikon can be overwhelming at times. I've taken it out hiking in a chest pack, but I never use it with a neck strap. Instead, I mount a wrist strap and hand grip combo. Carrying it is much more comfortable than slinging its 1337 grams around your shoulder. In an effort to get the body as light as possible, I use Energizer Lithium batteries which saves 64 grams per set of eight (over conventional cells).
I do have to take a moment to bitch about Nikon cameras from the 90's. For people that own a F80 or F5, you may have had the unpleasant moment when you pick up your camera one day and the grip feels tacky. No amount of cleaning will eliminate this stickiness. This is a common problem from these early rubber grips, where over time, the oils from you hands begin to break down the material. My only recourse was to get a new grip cover. Though, this solution will soon be difficult, or near impossible, due to future scarcity.
The F5 is a truly remarkable film camera and remains a pro-body dream today. It's extremely durable and weather resistant. Whenever I am faced with a shooting location that has a high probability of bad weather, this body makes the trip. It also shares a unique feature with the F6 where it digitally stores shooting data. This data can later be extracted for use in digital file metadata. For anybody interested in this process, I wrote a short article about it here...META35. This is one of Nikon's highest values in used cameras. People now a days are looking for the brilliant F6, or an older manual focus SLRs. So for anyone wanting a near pinnacle in 35mm film photography, look no further than the 5th generation pro Nikon.