In the '30s, '40s and midway into the 1950s, press photographers used the reliable 4" x 5" Speed Graphic camera for all types of assignments and produced great pictures. They never had to wonder which lens to use; they were very selective in composing.

Today we have several bodies, many lenses, and now Nikon is coming out with a replacement for the old F2 -- the F3.

When the big switch from the 4" x 5" to the 35mm came during the mid-'50s, press photographers welcomed the change. The Nikon F camera, being the first to offer the single lens reflex system, turned the world of photography around. It was accepted because it offered interchangeable lenses ranging from wide-angle to telephoto.

Nikon has been manufacturing lenses since 1932. Before that, they spent decades learning glassmaking and optical design. In 1948 came the Nikon I camera; in 1950, the Nikon M; and in 1951, the Nikon S, a popular rangefinder 35.

Photographers assigned to cover the Korean war found that their cameras were wearing out and breaking down under the severe conditions of combat photography. Then when Nikon was discovered by the pros, the 35mm began its rise.

The year 1957 was the beginning for the new F series, Nikon's SLR, for which the new F3 now will serve as a flagship. In 1961 the Nikon F Photomic was introduced with a light metering system built into the pentaprism head. The F series paved the way for other makers of systems cameras.

After that, with refinements in metering and design, variations of the Photomic F followed: the F2, f2AS and the high-speed F2H.

Now, with the F3, the F-series developments are combined. The F3's metering system operates completely through the lens and is built within the camera body. No matter which of the four viewfinders you use with the F3, the camera retains full metering accuracy, without compensation.

With the F3, Nikon has designed a new motor drive with increased firepower to complement the new capacities of the camera -- the MD4 motor drive. To attach it you remove the F3 motor drive coupling cover and slip the MD4 into place. A few turns of the knurled thumb-wheel locks the systems together. The coupling cover is stored in a special slot in the MD4.

The MD4 produces the fastest frames-per-second ratings of any 35mm motor-drive camera. With the mirror in full reflex mode, it fires 5.5 frames per second. With the mirror locked, it fires six frames per second. The motor drive has an easy-access battery chamber takes either quick-charge Nicad batteries or eight AA alkaline batteries.

The F3 gives exposure automation with all Nikon lenses. A sealed system, it's impervious to dust and humidity, and accurate even in extreme heat and cold because of a special temperature compensation circuit.

Of course, these advances in camera technology are only tools to help record the picture better. The finest photographs are still in the eyes of the photographer.