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Nikon billboard on the Sunset Strip, Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, Christmas 1990
My Not So Objective User Nikon Film SLR Buying Guide
Mechanical SLRs - Electronic Manual Focus SLRs - Nikon MAF SLRs Best Used Manual Focus - Nikon Dogs - Nikon Best MAF SLRs Ranked in Order
SLR Ranking are subjective, for the various reasons explained. They are ranked as a starting point to help you determine your own rankings.
Mechanical Nikon SLRs Ranked in Order
#1 Nikon F2 It is Nikon's most rugged and versatile mechanical professional camera. Made from 1971 to 1980, it's an improved F---with all the F features and then some. A lot of people believe the F2 to be the ultimate mechanical camera. Like the F, the F2 is referred to by the finder mounted on it. Put a F2AS finder on a F2 body, and it's called a F2AS. Put a Photomic finder on that same F2 body, and it's called a F2 Photomic.
The F2's sell for more than the F. This makes the F a better buy if you don't need the extras of the F2. The original F2 Photomic, Photomic S and Photomic SB Meter heads mate to Nikon's earlier prong type lenses. The LEDs in the Photomic S have a reputations for eating batteries. The later Photomic A and AS finder mate to the AI lenses, but will also meter with NON-AI lenses in stop down mode. Three motors were made for the F2. The MD-1 and MD-2 differ in only minor features and are all metal with a high speed of 5 fps. The MD-1 is more reliable, however, because of a plastic gear in the MD-2 which ages and breaks over time, and is difficult to replace. The MD-3 is a low end economy plastic version. The hard to find AA battery inserts are the preferred MD-1 or MD-2 power source since original nicads are dead by now and need rebuilding. Forget the shutter speed priority attachment for the Photomic S, SB, and AS. Compared to later cameras, the F2's AE automation is primitive, bulky and a waste of time. F & F2 Finders and screens are covered under a separate profile. The F2 250 back is much less expensive than the F3 or F4 250 back.
#2 FM3A This new "classic" camera was introduced in February 2001. The FM3A is a time traveler: a real metal bodied manual focus SLR from the 1970's made in the 21st Century. It amounts to a hybrid of the classic FM2n and FE-2 with a NEW electronic/mechanical shutter. The FM3A promises to be a landmark Nikon design, combining the mechanical shutter of the FM2n with the aperture AE of the sorely missed FE-2. That's right, a FM2 / FE-2 body with AE AND mechanical back up at all speeds. No other Nikon has ever had AE with manual speed backup at all speeds. The FM3A also takes interchangeable focusing screens and the MD-11 and MD12 motors. Selling new for about twice the price of a used FE-2, it offers mechanical shutter speeds if the batteries die AND easily available repair parts -- important features that the beloved FE-2 does not. The exposure lock is on the back plate of the camera, where it can easily be worked with or without the detachable motors. This is a great classic camera you can get right off the shelf, BUY it. Get it in chrome, as the chrome finish looks better than the black anodized finish, and will likely be worth more in the long run. Alas, it does have one unexpected problem. Nikon dealers are telling me sales are very SLOOWWWW. This is more a result of the uninformed buyers than the camera design. Buy it before Nikon discontinues it due to poor sales and prices go UP -- like the badly designed Nikonos RS. While you are at it, buy the new GN lens introduced with the FM3A.
#3 FM-2n This camera proved itself very rugged with an excellent rugged metering system. It and the FM are also the smallest metal bodied mechanical shuttered Nikon SLR. It will take the MD-11 or MD-12 motors. No TTL Flash. The FM-2 remains in production as Nikon's only mechanical camera.. The FM-2 has the highest shutter speed of any mechanical SLR, 1/4000th, along with a flash sync speed of 1/250. They also have great easy to use depth of field lever. Originally the FM-2 had a 1/200th flash sync. This was replaced with the FM-2n with a 1/250th flash sync. Ranked ahead of the Nikon F due to easy parts availability and unique features like the high flash sync and high shutter speed. If both were in current production, the F would be #2. Unfortunately the Titanium FM-2n was discontinued in May of 1997, only four years after introduction.
#4 Nikon F This old workhorse is still an excellent choice. Dependable, versatile, and inexpensive in common serial number blocks. Advantages include incredible dependability and professional features. All F's will take the dependable F36 motor, BUT you will need a "motor plate" or "Q plate" on the bottom of your F body to connect to the F36. You can buy the plate and install it yourself without too much trouble, but it may need adjustment to the F36 motor -- something left for repairman. If you need a 250 exposure back, there is no better buy in 35mm photography. Nikon F 250 backs sell very cheaply compared to the later F2/F3/F4 backs and even include a built in motor. The F offers true 100% finder area if you need very precise framing. A very wide selection of Focusing screens are available for any specialized purpose. The F and F2 screens are completely interchangeable. F action finders and waist level finders will also fit the F2. The reverse is also true, if you remove the F's front nameplate. If you need a motor, the F2 is a better choice with an improved motor. No data backs or TTL flash are available on the F.
Seven different F finders are available: the standard prism, a waist level, an large relief action finder, and four different Photomic metering heads. The latest Photomic FTN head is the best, but often a problem to repair. I have just (4/99) started offering a FTN meter repair service. Another choice is having a F2 meter head converted to your F. The F2 Photomic head (any version) will fit nicely on the F body after you take off the F nameplate (two screws). The problem is supplying power--it takes two D76 cells. Your local repairman should be able to add a battery compartment to the outside of your F2 Photomic head, and you will be on your way. F & F2 Finders and screens are covered under a separate profile.
#5 FM-10 Some will be surprised by this Cosina made camera's high ranking. The key word to this guide is USER. If collectibility or craftsmanship were the criteria, it would rank near the bottom. Most of the cameras ranked below this, especially the FM and FT-3 are better cameras. Yet, this is a USER guide, and you can get parts and repairs easily for the FM-10 -- and so the ranking. A camera with LED metering, 1/2000th shutter speed, 1/125th sync, its specs are better than many of Nikon's older manual focus cameras although the quality of finish is not. The key to its high ranking is easy reparability. Generally meter parts and electronic circuit boards are no longer available for the lower rated cameras. By a slight margin, it is Nikon's smallest mechanical SLR. I know all that on an intellectual level at least. On an emotional level, however, I confess I would rate the FM-10 lower than the FM and FT-3. hmm. right brain, left brain, right brain.....
SLRs below this line are frequently are hard to repair due to lack of parts. This does not mean they can't be repaired. If one of these is your favorite, stick with it.
#6 FM The FM is a fine camera, but repair parts for the meter are a problem. If you have both AI and NAI lenses, however, this could be one of your better choices. The FM can mount and meter NON-AI lenses in stop down mode, the FM-2 can not. The FM is the threshold of a modern user. Cameras ranked below the FM are noticeably not as convenient to use, though of course they can all be fine picture takers.
#7 Nikkormat FT-3 This is the last and the best of the Nikkormats. Rugged, but basic. It is set up for AI lenses, but will use NON-AI lenses in stop down mode.
#8 Nikkormat FT-2 Last of the "prong" NAI metering Nikkormats, with a better finder than the FTN. Not a bad choice for NAI lenses.
#9 Nikkormat FTN the first Nikkormat with shutter speeds visible in the finder. Basic, but a solid camera. For prong NAI lenses. See Separate Profile
ALL Mechanical Nikkormats Share Copal's excellent metal shutter with a 1/125th flash sync.
IMHO Forget the other Mechanical SLRs: The remaining mechanical shuttered Nikons are the Nikkormat FT, FS, and the Nikkorex F. They share three things which I don't like: very hard to get parts, heavy bodies, and relatively dim viewfinders. Of course they are also dependable picture takers. All share no motor drive capability, no TTL flash, no data backs, no interchangeable focusing screens AND all metal bodies which work WITHOUT batteries. These are good cameras in the picture taking sense. Nevertheless, the F/F2/FM's are FAR better buys for your money. These comments are made from a retail price standpoint. If the Nikkormat FT has been a valued family friend for years and it has finally been handed down to you, don't hesitate to take it.
The 1962 Nikkorex F had some interesting firsts: first attempt to build a lower price Nikon SLR, first use of the then very new Copal shutter, first Nikon with a vertically traveling shutter, first Nikon with a 1/125th flash sync, first Nikon to be manufactured by another company (Mamiya), and the only Nikon SLR to be marketed under another name (Ricoh Singlex, complete with Nikon F mount). See Separate Profile
Benchmarks of Mechanical Nikon SLR `Design
ALL offer mechanical dials, levers and rings to control the camera. I LIKE that. I find this method of camera control is easier and quicker than a lot of switches and LED readouts. This is important. Electronic AF SLRs with their multitude of features are often confusing. Simpler can mean you will get the picture instead of losing it.
Best Metering, the easy to see and rugged LED setups of the F2AS, FM, FM2, FM2n, FM-10, all AI metering systems. The F2SB LED metering wins for NAI metering. Note silicon cells were used instead of CDS cells with "light memory" for the F2SB, F2AS. Gallium photo cells were used in the FM, Silicon cells in the FM2.
Pro Designs for heavy use, the Nikon F and F2 with their various prism/meter combinations. F, F Photomic, Photomic T, Photomic TN, FTN, F2, F2 Photomic, F2 S, F2 SB, F2A, F2AS. Though not designated a "Pro" camera, the FM and FM2 have proved themselves with pros time and time again.
Interchangeable finders: the F and F2. If you need a waist level finder or an action finder, this is it.
Interchangeable 250 exposure backs, the F and F2. The F and F2 250 exposures backs sell for very little compared to the same thing for a F3, F4, or F5. IF you need that extra film capacity, save yourself the kid's college fund and buy the F or F2 version.
Interchangeable focusing screens, the F and F2, and to a limited extent the FM2 and FM2n. You can have the focusing screens of the other mechanicals changed by your repairman, but the labor cost will be so high you are better off just buying a 2nd body that already has the feature.
Motor Drive Capability, the F at 3.5 fps, F2 up to 5 fps, the FM, FM2 and FM2n at 3.5 fps
Easy Multiple Exposures: F2, FM, FM2, FM2n. Not so easy multiple exposures, the other mechanical Nikons by futzing around with the rewind knob and hoping you don't rewind too far.
Mirror Lockup: most have lockup, the exceptions are the Nikkormat FS and the Nikkorex F. With the F, you lose a frame each time you lock up the mirror.
PC flash Connection: All
Hot Shoe: The F and F2 have a clumsy to use hot shoe built over the rewind knob. You need a special connector to use it. Most photogs find it far easier to attach the flash with a bracket and use the PC connector. Most of them have a hot shoe. No hot shoe, the Nikkorex F, Nikkormat FT, FS, and FTN.
Depth of Field Preview: All
Mechanical cable release: All
Designed for AI Metering: F2A, F2AS, FM, FM2/n, FM-10. The first three will also meter NAI lenses in stop down mode, the FM2/n will not.
Shutter speeds higher than 1/1000th, The F2 and FM-10 at 1/2000th, the FM2/n at 1/4000th.
Viewfinder info with both f/stops and shutter speeds visible in finder: All metered F2's, the FM and FM2.
Databacks: the best Databack for the mechanical Nikons is the current production MF16 for the FM2/n. Due to changing technologies, databacks for the earlier mechanicals are either not available, or the cost of a used car due to collector's value (F2 Data). The way around this is, of all things, Chinon. That's right, it's not a typo. Chinon. made a wonderful self contained print what your want databack for the Chinon Memotron (two versions, 15 or 30 characters). A good repairman can adapt the Chinon back to the mechanical Nikons.
All mechanical Nikons except the new FM-10 share metal bodies, metal top covers, real chrome or black enamel finishes (not plastic). Any of them in near new condition is a collectible, though obviously many of these still sell for modest prices. See other separate profiles on the Nikon F and rare Nikon F variations.
Most mechanical Nikons, except the F2A, F2AS, FM, FM2 and FM2n, were designed to use the older "prong" Non-AI lenses. Yet all will still work the later AI or AIS lenses, providing the lens has the metering prong. If it doesn't, you can either have the prong added, or use the lens with stopped down metering. This means you use the depth of field button to stop down the lens to shooting aperture, and take the meter reading then -- but don't forget to set the metering prong on the camera to the f/5.6 position. On Nikon F or F2 Photomics, this is the middle position. On Nikkormats, it is the far right position as the camera faces you. This will also work with most of the AF Nikkors. Again, you can also have the metering prong added to AF lenses in order to get full aperture meter readings from the new lenses. Nikon really is committed to giving customers the best long term value by not obsolescing the photog's investment whenever possible.
2001 saw the introduction of the FM3A, an electronic camera with full mechanical back up at all speeds -- quite a useful feature. Wait till you miss that Pullet Surprise winning pic because your batteries died...ouch.
Note that NO Mechanical Nikon SLR has:
- AF Focusing
- Aperture Priority (with the exception of the hybrid FM3A), Shutter Priority, or Programmed Exposure modes built into the body - with the exception of the new electronic/mechanical FM3A with aperture priority
- TTL Flash -- with the exception of the new electronic/mechanical FM3A
- Matrix metering
- Spot Metering
- Shutter speeds higher than 1/4000th, or slower than 10 seconds
- High-eye-point finder
- Motorized film advance OR film rewind built into the body
- Only one offers 1/250th flash sync, the FM-2n
- Plastic bodies (with the exception of the FM-10)
On the other hand, 100 years from now, when ALL our modern plastic wonder cameras are broken and buried in landfills due to lack of circuit boards and chips, these old mechanical cameras will still be clicking away so long as there are repairmen who like to tinker on old fashioned technology. Hmm. A design which defies obsolescence. I wonder, are these mechanical knights really old fashioned, or the wave of the future?
Electronic Manual Focus SLRs Ranked in Order
Except for the occasional single speed backup, all of these die when the battery dies.
#1 Nikon FE-2 The FE-2 is one of Nikon's best ever designs and very popular in the used market. Too bad it's discontinued. The FE-2 has a fast 1/4000 shutter with a high 1/250th sync, a 1/250th dead battery speed, all in a compact body with TTL flash and interchangeable screens. The screens on the FE-2 and FM-2 are improved and about 1/2 stop brighter than the earlier FM and FE. For a mirror lock, use the self timer which puts up the mirror before the shutter opens. The depth of field preview lever is very large and easy to use. This camera is a winner and a real pleasure to use. The motors (MD 11 or 12), feel very convenient in your hand but are lot of weight compared to later, faster motors like those built into the N70 or N90. Though simpler in features than later cameras like the computerized all everything N90s or F5, the FE-2 is also faster and easier to operate due to simpler controls. Though not as versatile or rugged as the F3, I just like the overall design of the FE-2 more, and so the higher ranking.
#2 Nikon F3 This is a fine professional caliber camera. The F3 marked a turning point in Nikon design since it was the first electronic, and therefore battery dependent, F series camera. Yet most controls are very traditional. The F3's long life means real bargains in the used market compared to new. Contrary to popular belief, the original non HP finder is probably a better choice if you don't wear glasses since it gives you a larger image size. The F3 can mount NON-AI lenses in stop down mode.
Nikon started discontinuing the F3 HP and F3/T in 1998. The F3 with non HP finder continued, but the last run is scheduled for the winter of 2000. Sales have been low, with Nikon losing money on every F3 sold over the last few years or so. The F3's long 20 year production run makes it the longest lived F camera, indeed the longest lived Nikon camera. The original F lasted 13 years, from 59 to 72. I interpret the F3's longevity to photogs who want pro features in a smaller package than either the F4 or F5. One strange thing, though. I would think the F3's basic centerweighted metering could have been updated to include spot and matrix. I suppose Nikon doesn't want to update it, fearing it would eat into the sales of the newer cameras.
#3 Nikon FE-10, made by Cosina, current production. Even if not the best design or with the most features compared to its predecessors, there is something to be said for a new camera you can get repaired, Vs an old camera you can't get parts for. Similar to a FE, but without the motor drive or double exposure or metal covers. hmm. I know all that on an intellectual level at least. On an emotional level, however, I confess I would rate the FE-10 lower than the EM, FG, FE and 6000. hmm. right brain, left brain, right brain.....
SLRs below this line, with the exception of the 6000, are frequently are hard to repair due to lack of parts. This does not mean they can't be repaired. If one of these is your favorite, stick with it.
#4 Nikon EM The EM's high rating is due to its very small size and very low cost. Parts are a big problem, if it breaks, you are better off just buying another one. EM's are elegantly designed, very inexpensive and under-rated on the used market. They also occupy a place of honor in Nikondom as the smallest and lightest Nikon 35mm SLR ever made. In short, a best buy and I love em. While they offer AE exposure only, you can easily control the exposure by adjusting the ASA dial. Manual exposure w/o metering is also possible using the EM's 1/90 battery backup shutter speed. EM's might be the best choice as a take anywhere not afraid to lose it professional caliber results Nikon camera. If it breaks, don't worry. Put it in the drawer for future parts and buy another--that will probably be cheaper than fixing it!
The EM is an aperture priority camera, you set the F/stop and the EM sets the shutter speed indicated in the finder. Nice features include the center-weighted Silicon metering cell, instead of a CDS that you might expect in an inexpensive camera. By using the self timer, you will also get the mirror locked up ahead of the exposure. The EM also has a manual shutter speed 1/90th backup in case the batteries fail--something the F5 does not. Hmm, should this be the backup for your F5? The blue button near the rewind increases exposure about two stops for backlight compensation. The blue button near the advance is the battery test. The EM has a hot shoe, but no PC connection or TTL metering. The SBE flash is just too small to be useful. A SB-24/25/26/28 will be very happy aboard your EM, just set in non TTL flash mode. I don't like the MDE motordrive. The added bulk goes completely against the small size that the EM is about.
#5 Nikon FE The FE is a fine design but overshadowed by its kid sister , the FE-2. The FE/FE-2/FM/FM-2 all take the same 3 1/2 frame MD-11 or MD-12 motors. The FE's finder can be brightened up a bit by using the brighter focusing screens of the FE-2 and then compensating for the increased brightness on the ASA dial. The FE is one of the few cameras which can mount NON-AI lenses in stop down mode. It has a very large depth of field preview lever. To be fair to the FE, though, it does seem to have a lot of fans. The "FRE" resistor is the most troublesome electronic part, with no replacements available from Nikon.
#6 Nikon FG/ FG-20 Imagine the EM with TTL flash, manual shutter speeds, program, and a 3.2 motor availability with the rather rare MD-14. That the FG. The FG is the most camera in the smallest body ever for Nikon. The FG-20 takes away the program and the TTL flash, but keeps manual metering. Strangely they are not too popular on the used market, but they should be for photogs who value a small light size. The black ones have a beautiful elegant look to them, while the chrome ones look like cheap plastic, oh well. To me motors make no sense on these cameras as they rob them of their most important feature--small size and light weight. Like the FM/FE/FM-2/FE-2/FG/FG-20/EM, the self timer serves as a pseudo mirror lock since it use flips up the mirror at the start of self timer operation. I like these camera a lot, but their Achilles heel is the lack of repair parts -- especially circuit boards which are no longer available.
#7 Nikon 6000, this is a manual focus version of the 6006. Relatively hard to find, at least in the US, but a fine manual focus camera laden with features like built in exposure bracketing and high eyepoint finder. But still, why bother looking for one when all you need to do is use the easy to find 6006 with manual focus cameras?
#8 Nikon FA The FA was Nikon's first attempt at matrix metering, using a five segment AMP (Automatic Multi-pattern). The FA is one of only TWO cameras in the Nikon lineup which offer matrix with AI, or AIS lenses. It also will function with shutter priority with these lenses, but the high program feature will work only with the AIS lenses. Check out page 112 of the October 1983 issue of Modern Photography for details. 1/4000 top speed, 1/250th sync and dead battery speed, interchangeable focusing screen, TTL flash in a larger than FE-2 Body. It has a very large depth of field preview lever. That's all the good news. The bad news is the FA's early matrix metering design may not give the same reading in vertical as it does in horizontal. oh well. This camera is strangely popular on the used market. IF matrix metering for AI lenses is what you want, the F4 is about 100 times the camera.
#9 Nikon 2000 This is a very capable, but very ugly plastic camera. Built in motor to 2.5 frames. Program with AI/AI'd or AIS lenses. One strong point is using easily found AA batteries.
#10 Nikkormat EL, ELW, and Nikon EL-2 These are Nikon's earliest attempt at built in automatic exposure (aperture preferred). While they are nice large, well made bodies, they suffer from 1) severe lack of parts availability 2) a relatively noisy metal shutter 3) a difficult to find battery 4) a useless slow winder on the EL2 and EL-2 which is infamous for quickly breaking. Another potential problem is the odd sized battery inside a hidden battery compartment. OK, I'll let you off the hook. It's UNDER the mirror. They have no TTL flash, no databacks, and no real motor capability, and more importantly -- no replacement electronic parts. On the plus side, the quality of finish is very high.
In other words, for the same money, you can buy better Nikons than these three. Never-the-less, there is one redeeming factor. The EL and ELW are the ONLY way to get full aperture priority auto exposure with Non-AI lenses on a Nikon. Yes there are other ways. If you have a load of unmodified lenses, then their foibles are worth living with. For the benefit of the sharp eyed readers, yes there are other ways to get that automation. Read about in Profiles: the Canon T90 .
MAF SLRs Best Used in Manual Focus
What's a MAF SLR you Ask? Well I should know, I just invented the term. It stands for Manual Auto Focus. You see, most Nikon AF SLRs, unlike most AF SLRs, also use Nikon's older manual focus lenses quite well...try that with an EOS camera and FD lenses!! In fact, the argument can be made that for most photography, any AF SLR is actually a better picture taker if used as a manual focus camera. Come to think of it, I did make that argument, please read Improving your 35mm AF SLR's Images.
Nikon only recently became competitive in Autofocus with the N90s and now the F5. Before that, Canon EOS and Minolta Maxxums were smoking Nikon. With relatively slow AF, the following really make better manual focus cameras IMHO.
F4 The F4's quick demise (May 97) after the intro of the F5 was Nikon's admission that the F4's AF focus speed is too slow for a top Pro SLR. On the other hand, the F4 is arguably the BEST PLATFORM EVER for manual focus Nikon lenses and one of Nikon's best designs.
The F4 is Nikon's ONLY pro camera to offer matrix metering WITH AI and AIS lenses(the F5 doesn't). It's also built to rugged standards with Pro features such as interchangeable focusing screens and finders, a high speed 5.7 fps motor drive, bulk film back capability, and extra seals against dirt and moisture. No other Nikon has comparable features for Nikon's manual focus lenses--and a LOT of photogs prefer manual focus.
F4 used prices have fallen since the introduction of the F5 to their lowest ever, making them very attractive. The first F4's serial number was 2000201. As the end of production neared, Japanese collectors starting buying up the last ones as collector items, hoping that the ending serial number would be pushed over the 3 million range. Guess what, F4 prices have fallen, making them great buys for manual focus lenses.
The F4's high cost of finders and screens have made them slow sellers since day one and they seldom turn up on the used market. Now that the F4 is discontinued, F4 accessories are on their way out too. IF you want an F4 finder or screen, the time to buy is now before they are gone. By far my favorite F4 configuration is the lighter and smaller battery pack MB-20. In the unlikely even I need that extra film advance power, the MB-21 can be quickly added.
I like the F4's controls: knobs, dials and levers, which quickly tell the photog how the camera is set up without even turning it on. These controls also allow the camera to be learned and mastered much faster than the computerized F5 and N series. The F4 is the logical continuation and improvement of the F/F2/F3 series. Added technology, but very similar controls. The LED focus confirmation lights can be easily seen in any light, and the built in finder illumination make sure the readouts can always be seen.
8008 The 8008 was hot when it was new, but still focused noticeably slower than the EOS. The best things about the 8008 include the large High Point finder, high shutter speed and sync speed, Matrix metering, and a new level of superlative flash with the SB-24. The entire point of autofocus is quickness, and this camera doesn't have it. As a manual focus camera it's still quite good even though it offers center weighted but NOT matrix metering with manual focus AI lenses. If AF is what you want, the 6006 or 8008s would be a better choice.
2020 This was Nikon's first attempt at AF, not counting the unsuccessful F3 AF. It's basically a 2000 with auto-focus. Even when introduced the 2002's painfully slow AF was an embarrassment, especially put side-by-side to a Canon EOS. If you want to have a bad day, try using this thing as an auto-focus camera. On the other hand, it becomes tolerable but still ugly used as a manual focus camera.
Nikon's Dogs-- Ruff Ruff
Well folks, lets get it done quickly. I hate the N4004, N4004s and the N5005 because they all share three fatal flaws:
Slow Auto Focus
They offer no metering linkage to manual lenses. AI'd lenses can not be used on them without risking meter damage.
They are UGLY. Surely these aesthetic disasters were made by committee.
I usually see two type of people carrying these cameras 1) rank beginners 2) people desperate to sell them. I will certainly admit they can take fine pictures and that they succeed in the beginner's market for which they were aimed. For the money, however, you can choose far better. So why buy these dogs in the used market? On the other hand, if one of these happens to be your favorite, buy it a doggie snack and keep on taking pics.
Nikon's Best MAF SLRs (ranked in order)
With most Nikon Autofocus SLRs, the term "Autofocus" is kind of misleading because it leaves out "manual focus." Unlike most AF cameras, most AF Nikons take most of the older manual focus lenses. Want an up-to-date body for your old manual focus lenses? No prob, just use them on an "Autofocus" Nikon!!!
#1 F5 is one of the best professional AF SLRs. Until the Canon 1v was introduced, it was obviously the best. Now there is some room for debate. Features include 8 FPS auto focus, and AF tracking. At 8 frames per second on follow focus, it's twice as fast as the EOS1n. The F5 clearly has the most sophisticated metering system ever built in to a camera, with over a thousand metering points and even color correction. Alas, while Nikon's flash system with D lens technology is superb, I have to admit that Nikon is now behind both Canon and Minolta by not offering a full function wireless flash system.
So it the F5 has the most advanced features, but early F5's had a few problems. Some users reported only 5 to 6 rolls per set of AA batteries! This was an internal problem which was easily repaired. Still, average use on AA seems to be in the 15-20 roll range, decidedly fewer than photogs are used to. The fix is an expensive one, Nikon's $500 super Nicad set. Other early problems are the focusing screens. Users have reported "fungus" or "delaminating." Whether this is really one and the same problem, I am not sure, but you might want to watch for it.
This adds up to making your Best F5 Buy a new one under warranty, to make sure that if you do encounter problems, you are not the one paying for the repairs.
But not everything is perfect in the world of F5, at least not from where I am sitting. I miss the dials, knobs and levers of previous F's. I find they offer superior and faster control compared to LED screens that I have to turn on just to find out how the camera is set up. The finder is a step backwards in terms of easy removal, not nearly as easy as on the F4 or F3. I also wish Nikon had followed in the steps of the F4 in making the high speed motor removable. This would have resulted in a smaller F5 that would have appealed to a lot of users. Another thing that bugs me is the slightly lower finder magnification compared to the N90s. OK, so these might not be major things to some people. I guess it will have to wait until I get that email to design the F6.
#2 N100 An improved N90s with more features, faster auto focus. A fine camera, but if you already have the N90s like I do, I question if it is worth the trade up. I do like it more than the 90s, however. Probably a better choice than the F5 for most non pros since it is considerably lighter while still retaining more features than they are ever likely to need -- or even remember without an instruction book. Although some call it a baby F5, the 100 notably lacks the F5's color metering system and advanced zillion point matrix metering.
#3 N90s & N90 Fine, multi-featured fast focus SLRs. A better choice than the F5 if you want a lighter camera. So many features it's like a computer. Along with the F5 and F4, these are the only Nikon AF bodies with a traditional PC sync. Personally I use the N90s as my own AF camera. I do not like the extra weight of the F5 and wish Nikon would return to making the motor detachable like the F/F2/F3. Personally I just don't understand people paying good money for the added bulk and weight of the auxiliary grip. This camera feels larger than it looks due to the use of easily obtainable AA batteries.
#4 N80 Nikon finally got the middle market right, replacing the N70 with the N80
#5 6006 The winner in the "Most Nikon AF camera for the Least $" contest. This is an intelligently designed camera with lots of features and fast focus. The biggest drawback is not taking advantage of the new D lens technology. My own 2nd AF body. The biggest disadvantage is the use of the relatively expensive lithium battery.
#6 N65 is the N60's replacement -- improving an already good camera
#7N60 is the N50's replacement -- a nice entry level design with more than entry level features.
#8 N50 entry level full featured SLR. With this camera, Nikon has finally figured out what their entry level AF "grow into the system" SLR should be. This is a nice camera, and a real bargain in terms of delivering value for the dollar.
#9 8008s A bit slower focus than the N90/s and without "D" lens technology, the 8008s is still a very satisfactory camera. The lower rating than the 6006 is because I consider the 6006 a better value for the money spent.
#10 N70 this middle of the lineup full featured camera suffers from a idiot like control panel which has no place on a camera of this caliber. I personally find it insulting and refuse to use the camera. The price makes it hard to justify. Why not spend more for the N90s or less for the N60, N50 or 6006?
#11 Pronea 6i An advanced APS camera in a small package. Pronea lenses will NOT fit Nikon's 35mm SLRs, but the regular AF lenses will fit the Pronea (but not manual focus Nikon lenses). In practical terms the APS film offers new features, but it also means carrying around an extra set of film if you use both APS and 35 cameras out of the same bag--not something I find particularly convenient. Unfortunately, at least at the present time, APS film and processing costs about twice 35mm. Worse yet, one hour processing is often unavailable outside the larger cities. Think twice before you buy. Too bad I don't sell advertising here. I could be telling you how great it is just like most photo magazines. damn, I could use that money. In 2003 APS is just about dead. IF you like it for some reason, the Proneas sell cheaply.
#12 Pronea S newer, smaller, easier to us APS SLR. A good design if you like the extra costs of APS film and processing. APS comments of Pronea 6i apply.
AF SLR Notes
AF SLRs typically lack features which were standard on manual SLRs. Usually gone the way of the dinosaurs are PC sync cords, depth of field previews, and mirror lockups, and most importantly, shutters that work without batteries. IF any of these features are especially important to you, don't forget to consider the earlier manual focus SLRs.
A good argument can be made that mechanical SLRs are your best choice connected to a studio sync cord. If your studio strobes have a relatively high voltage on contact, or if they just short out at the wrong time, they can easily fry the electronics in ANY electronic camera. Of course, you can get around the problem by using a slave on the other flashes, set off by your on-camera flash.
REMEMBER that ANY Nikon SLR can likely take better pictures than you are able to make. Real world, if you get a great buy on one not rated highly here, or if it Uncle Joe's favorite camera that he just gave to you, count yourself lucky and hope to equal the camera's abilities.
Digital SLR Notes
In my opinion there are presently 3 basic problems with all interchangeable lens Digital SLRs:
High end digital SLRs are very expensive, frequently $3000 plus or more
High end digital SLRs frequently become discontinued and old news within 6 to 9 months, losing half of their original retail value
DUST on the digital chip is VERY difficult for the photog to clean off in the field
If you are a pro who can justify the high price and still make money with the high depreciation, great. IF not, do your pocketbook a favor and buy the just discontinued top of the line at a big savings. That said, I do like the D100.
The best camera is ALWAYS the one loaded with film in your hand.
Well that's it. I don't claim to be right in this guide, but I hope it is useful. Enjoy!
The Nikonos V, the last of the Nikonos Line, was discontinued in 2001. Buy one now if you want the full range of their future hard to find Nikonos lenses and accessories. I personally would avoid the badly overpriced Nikonos RS, with its mediocre AF module and a problem with leaks. When Nikon discontinued their underwater flagship RS after much introductory hoopla only two years after it was introduced, you have to figure they had good reason.
Revised: August 08, 2004. Copyright © 1998-2001 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.