In 1972 Nikon brought out the F2 to replace their groundbreaking F. Like its forerunner, the F2 was designed to be modular which meant that the finder could be exchanged, depending on intended size and function (this continued up to and including the F5 of 1996; in 2004 the F6 was introduced with a fixed prism finder). Without going into a long history, the F2 had various finders available over its production run until 1980, most of which had built-in exposure meters and lens aperture coupling. But there was one finder which had neither meter nor coupling to the lens: the DE-1. The F2 is often referred to as the F2A, F2 Photomic, F2AS, etc., depending on the finder fitted, but with the DE-1 fitted it’s simply a plain old F2. In this form the F2 is at its smallest, since there’s no bulky mechanism around the finder prism to to hold and drive the meter coupling. The price to be paid, of course, is a lack of exposure meter, meaning that an external meter would need to be used if personal experience and maybe the “sunny 16” rule wouldn’t suffice.
These days, DE-1 finders are expensive, since they are relatively rare – especially in very good condition. Some time ago I saw one on ebay marked as cosmetically almost mint (always taken with a handful of salt) but with a damaged prism inside. The damage was described as a “blob” which I questioned with the seller and decided that the prism silver coating had to be damaged. I bought it, because it was reasonably cheap in comparison.
What I received was intriguing. The finder top plate was almost mint – and for me to say that means that it’s almost flawless. I’d say the top plate alone is worth what I paid, so I figured I may as well see if I could service the rest, with nothing to lose; if it turned out to be useless, I could buy a bashed-up one and simply replace the top plate with this one. What I found was a strange mixture of old and new.
After removing the top leatherette to gain access to the four screws which enable removal of the top plate, it was clear that one of these screws was not an original. With the top plate off, the prism itself was loose and rattled slightly. Sure enough, there was silver coating damage – probably just age-related – which had been painted over with back enamel (in conversation at the time with Sover Wong, who repairs and services F2s and whose work I can thoroughly recommend, he suggested it may be the prism from an old F finder, as opposed to an F2 one). All the internal foam had turned to sticky goo and so the whole thing needed to be cleaned. I dismantled everything and carefully cleaned it all, including the eyepiece, before replacing all internal foams, re-seating the prism and replacing the top plate with an additional foam to prevent dust entering the eyepiece.
The underside of the finder was more of a surprise. Early DE-1 finders lacked the rubber gaskets around the base to help prevent dust getting in under the finder. These are fixed into place on later finders with plates and screws. My finder had rubber gaskets which had clearly been cut (crudely) from genuine gaskets and fixed to the insides with glue, since there was no provision to fix them in any other way to what was clearly an older finder made to look like a newer one! The glue wasn’t good so they were starting to come away. What’s more, a piece of the internal base metal had been sawn off, the reason for which I still don’t understand. Had I paid more for this finder I’d have been really annoyed at being fleeced in this way, but decided instead to make the best of what I had considering that perfect top plate. I cleaned-up what was left of the gaskets and stuck them back on with strong double-sided tape. I added foam the underside in a similar way to how pre-gasket finders have protective foam and, finally, the leatherette went back on to the top plate using contact adhesive.
A couple of days ago I noticed that the glue from the double-sided tape had decomposed and the gaskets were coming off again, so I did a better job this time using contact adhesive. I took the opportunity to check inside again and re-stick the leatherette on the top plate. Although it doesn’t stand out, the prism itself is damaged right along the centre of the view and so I may consider eventually replacing it in the unlikely event that I spot a cosmetically rough finder going cheap. What I have now could be an old-style underside, an even older prism, a newer top plate and rubber gaskets ripped from a newer finder and stuck on, to give a “franken” DE-1 which looks pretty good to me!