Nikon Equipment

I've been a serious amateur photographer since childhood.  I started with Yashica equipment (FX-3, FX-103 Program, Kiron 28/2, DSB 50/1.9, ML 50/1.9, DSB 135/2.8, Sigma 35-135/3.5-4.5, Image 70-300/5.6, Sigma 400/5.6 catadiopotric).  Unfortunately, this equipment got stolen in 1994.

Although I had a bit of lust for autofocus equipment, I was intrigued by the possibility of getting Carl Zeiss glass for my Yashicas.  Alas, when the equipment disappeared I didn't see much point in replacing it as it was, so I elected to go with Nikon.  (The interesting thing is that, as much as I love my autofocus equipment, I find myself using manual Nikons more and more!)

My system has evolved quite a bit since I purchased it.  In fact, my F90 body is the only thing from my original Nikon system purchase that I still own.  That's because I fell into a lot of opportunities, gradually figured out what I wanted, and refined my system to better suit my photographic style.

This page will gradually feature reviews of the equipment, but that will take me some time.  :)  For now, I'll list the equipment I currently have, and the equipment I used to have, with a small thumbnail description of each piece and my general opinion of it.  As time allows I'll expand these descriptions and add photographs.

Away we go.


Autofocus Bodies

F50 - a basic low-end autofocus-lens-only body (AI-P lenses work too but there are only three of them).  Manual lenses will mount but no metering is possible.  The camera fits my hand perfectly, but the peculiar user interface means slow mode-changing.  Still, the camera is nearly free these days (well under $100 US) and it will take your most expensive Nikon glass.  Sold in 2004.

F601 - this camera is a bit of an enigma.  It's nice and small, very lightweight, and full of features such as spotmetering and matrix metering.  It's like a mini-F90, really.  Unfortunately, the autofocus is quite slow and the focus motor and motor drive are very, very loud.  There have been reports that the back is easy to break, too.  However, this body makes a great second camera because it is so capable.  A trick:  the battery will nearly double its life if you insert it into the slot and tuck it under the retaining lip.  I'm not sure why this is so, but it is so.  This retaining lip is not at all obvious unless you know it is there.  Sold in 2003.

F90 - this, along with my F601, were the first two Nikons I bought.  This camera is really great.  The motor drive is decent (3.6 fps), the shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/8000 sec. with a 1/250 synch speed, the metering is fabulously accurate, and the camera isn't too noisy.  The autofocus sensor is quite large but it is a bit frustrating to use once you're used to a camera with multiple sensors.  The autofocus is noticeably inferior to more modern Nikon systems, but everything else about the camera is great.  The MF-26 back adds a lot of functionality, such as multiple exposures, flash exposure compensation, trap focusing, etc.  Unfortunately, although the camera is very inexpensive, the MF-26 is still very pricey.  I still own this.

F90x - as the F90 but with shutter speeds in 1/3 stop increments, 4.3 fps motor drive, slightly faster autofocus, the ability to use the MB-10 grip (it fits the F90 but the vertical shutter release does not function unless the body is modified), and slightly better weather sealing.  Functionally, I don't notice much of a difference between the F90x and the F90.  I bought this on a whim in July 2005 for $250 Canadian from Don's Photo.

F100 - this is my workhorse body.  4.5 fps motor drive (5.0 with the MB-15 battery pack/grip), exceptionally good autofocus, fabulous metering... I can't say enough good things about this camera.  My only complaint:  the back locking mechanism on the F90 series cameras is far better.  You can open those backs with one hand, but you need two to open the F100's.  They look really good, too.


Autofocus Lenses

AF 28/2.8D - extremely sharp, small and lightweight.  I sold it to finance my 20-35, but I miss it.  The only Nikon 28 that is better (and this is arguable) is the AI-S 28/2.8, but I didn't feel I was lacking.  Has a decent manual-focus feel.

AF 35/2 - similar in size and weight to the 28/2.8, this lens makes a great available light lens.  Sold to finance my 20-35.  Good manual-focus feel.

AF 50/1.4D - bought new in December 2003 from B&H.  This is a grey market lens but it only cost $209.95 US, which I thought was a fabulous bargain for such a fast lens.  I bought it because I missed my 50/1.8 and I wanted the 1.4.  The 1.8 is probably just as good optically, maybe even a hair better, but I often use a 50 when I need the speed and there is no substitute for speed when you require it.  The lens is still small and light and I find it pleasant to use on manual bodies, too.  In fact, I use it on my FE and FM2n more than I use it on my autofocus bodies.

AF 50/1.8 - one of the best bargains in the Nikon line and, according to some, sharper at middle apertures than the /1.4 and /1.4D.  My experience doesn't show that this lens is superior, but it certainly doesn't show that it's inferior, either.  If you can't afford the f/1.4 optic, buy this one and don't cry; you won't miss the 1.4 that much.  (The only real advantage of the 1.4 is that extra 2/3 stop of light-gathering ability.)  The new D version of this lens doesn't look quite as nice cosmetically, but it works just the same.

AF 85/1.8 - I bought this lens used off a friend of a friend in 2004.  I couldn't refuse it for the price, so bought it I did.  I have no regrets.  This is a great lens for informal portraiture, and it's nice and fast.  It's heavier than it looks, but it is still comfortable to use.  You can easily use it wide open; it's good at all apertures.  Great on manual bodies too!

AF-S 17-35/2.8D ED Ė I purchased this lens from a friend in early 2006. I havenít used it much yet, but I love wide angle lenses and figured that the extra 3mm of coverage would be worth having. (Itís more than it sounds like it is.)My 20-35 will be going on the market soon since I canít justify keeping both lenses. The silent-wave autofocus is nice because you can override it at will.

AF 20-35/2.8D - bought in 1998 just as it was being phased out and the 17-35/2.8 was on the market.  The 20-35 dropped just below $1,000 US and I had to have one, and a windfall (and the sale of my wide-angle primes) let me do it.  This is a great lens.  It is a little soft in the corners at wide apertures, but it is a pleasure to use.  The manual focus feel is quite reasonable.  Digital shooters complain that this lens suffers from too much chromatic aberration; that's why so many wide-angle lenses have ED glass these days.  On film, you can't tell.  (This is due to how digital sensors work, not due to any inherent inferiority of film.)

AF-S 24-85/3.5-4.5G ED - bought new in April 2005.  I wanted a good lens for a weekend trip to Toronto, something I would walk around with, and this seemed the perfect choice.  It does not disappoint.  It's optically excellent, has nearly silent autofocusing, and is small and light.  I'm not keen on the G series of lenses (I can't use this lens on my manual bodies, and I lose aperture priority and manual mode on my F90-series cameras) but everything else about this lens is great.

Tamron AF 28-105/2.8D LD - bought used in 2004 to complement my other f/2.8 zooms.  This lens is massive (82mm filter threads), but it is quite good optically.  The bokeh is quite peculiar, which may not appeal to some.  Sharpness is good.  It is a bit large to be carrying everywhere, but you won't be disappointed with the images.

AF 35-80/4-5.6D - there are two versions of this lens.  Mine is the older version, with the reasonably good rubber focusing ring and a metal lens mount.  (The newer version has a very thin plastic focus ring and a plastic mount.)  Popular Photography's test of this lens rated it as exceptional, one of the lowest-price lenses they'd ever tested it that got an A+ rating at 11x14 (granted only at one aperture).  This impressed me to no end.  I fell into this lens online thinking that it would be a great lens for when I didn't want to carry much weight.  I don't use it as much as I thought that I would, but when I do I am not at all disappointed with the quality.

AF 35-135/3.5-4.5 - bought in 1994 when I got my Nikon system, because I was used to my Sigma lens of the same range and aperture.  It's a nice lens - at least mine was; apparently build quality is pretty variable.  The aperture ring was very tight, though.  This lens is very large and heavy, which means that it is well made but it certainly isn't fun to carry all day, unless you have a heavy body to balance it (and it still wouldn't be fun to carry).  Sold to finance my F100 purchase.

AF 75-300/4.5-5.6 - bought to replace the Tamron noted below.  Cost me $150 Canadian second-hand, in cherry condition (but with no caps).  I think it might have taken a drop because it won't focus to infinity at close focal lengths, but otherwise it is extremely good.  I rarely use it at shorter lengths so I haven't bothered getting it repaired.

AF 80-200/2.8 ED - this is the first version of the lens, with the large manual focus ring that also functions as the zoom ring.  The ring spins freely in autofocus mode, but feels remarkably like a real manual-focus lens when you switch to MF mode.  This makes the lens a pleasure to use on manual bodies.  The autofocusing is slow because of the lens' long focus turn, but on modern bodies like the F100 it performs quite well.  Prefocusing on subjects before the heat of action makes the lens entirely usable in AF mode.

Tamron AF 90-300/4.5-5.6 - I used to like this lens.  Then I got a 200/4 non-AI and discovered that it had sharper, contrastier images than the Tamron did despite only having single coating (the fact that it only has four elements probably had something to do with that).  So I sold the Tamron.  The Nikkor 75-300 is a lot better.


Manual Bodies

Let's start with what I have now...

Nikon FE - I have three of these, one chrome, purchased for $75 US as-is in early 2004 from an online seller, another chrome purchased from KEH for $72 US in September 2005, and one black, purchased at McBain Camera in Edmonton during the Labour Day weekend in 2004 for $225 Canadian..  The first chrome one looks beautiful but needs a new circuit board to make it work properly, and my favourite repair shop doesn't have one.  The second chrome one works really well.  The black one looks fairly ugly but it works very well.  I like how these cameras perform.  I like them better with the MD-12 motor drive.  I use the two working FE bodies quite a lot for landscape photography.  Using them tempts me to get an FE2, FA or FM3a.

Nikon FM2n - I bought this used a few years ago from an online seller.  I love fully mechanical bodies and Nikon has perhaps the best one ever made, so I indulged myself.  This camera handles like a dream.  It is very well made and very quiet for an SLR.  I prefer it with the MD-12 but that does add a bit to the noise and weight.  I live in a city with a cold climate, and this is a great camera to use during very cold conditions because of its lack of battery dependence.

Nikkormat FT3 - this is the third Nikkormat I have owned.  I missed the FTn I used to have - it was such a joy to use, with smooth winding and a very refined feel to it.  When I saw this camera at Don's Photo in Regina I had to have it.  I bought it to flip it but I couldn't bear to sell it.  Nikkormats really are a pleasure to use.  The shutter speed dial around the lens mount is very convenient for hand-held photography, but awful for tripod-mounted photography.  On the other hand, there is a second meter display on the top plate of the camera which is really handy when youíre using a tripod. (I suspect it was actually intended for use when using lenses that require mirror lockup.)I really don't need this anymore, and I have been tempted to sell it, but the resale prices of these cameras are so low that I have decided to keep it.

Bodies I've sold...

Nikon EM - small, light, tiny, limited functionality (1/90 plus aperture priority only).  If you use it right it's a very capable camera.

Nikkormat FTn - I've owned two of these.  One was in great condition and had a fully-functioning meter.  The other had a dead meter.  These cameras are a pleasure to use, although they don't meter at full aperture with autofocus or Series E lenses unless you add a meter coupling shoe.  On the other hand, they meter at full aperture with non-AI lenses.

Manual Focus Lenses

What I have...

16/2.8 Fisheye AI-S - this is a lens that most photographers won't care about owning, but I really enjoy using it.  It is difficult to use well, but I have taken several photographs with it that I have liked.  I'm glad I bought it.

28/2.8 AI - am I the first person to review this lens online?  Everyone else talks about the AI-S lens, which is reputedly the best Nikon 28mm lens ever.  (I think that the AF 28/2.8D gives it a run for its money though.)  I bought this lens at MPS in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for $100 in October 2005.  It has perfect glass but is slightly rough to focus at near distances.  Optically, it's beautiful.  It probably doesn't perform as well at near focus distances as the AI-S does, but it serves the purpose of being a lightweight wide angle lens in my manual bag.

50/1.8 Series E - not as contrasty as other Nikon 50s of modern vintage but very good and extremely tiny (almost too small for some people).  Don't be shy about using it if one falls into your lap.If you turn it upside down, it makes a great loupe, too.

50/2 AI - cheap yet good.  Probably the greatest secret in the 50mm lens range.  I owned the non-AI version of this lens and it was just as good, despite the more primitive coatings.  Some Nikon shooters feel that this is Nikonís best-ever 50mm lens (the first-version AI-S lens with the meter coupling shoe for non-AI bodies may be better, but we're probably splitting hairs to say so).

55/3.5 Micro AI - I was given this lens.  It's optically great, particularly at macrophotography distances.  I don't use it much but I have a feeling I'll regret selling it, so I keep it.

105/2.5 AI - I bought this lens in September 2005 from KEH.  I had wanted one for as long as I've been using the Nikon system, and the lens doesn't disappoint.  Wide open it has a lot of spherical aberrations, which is actually desirable because it results in very pleasing, slightly soft portraits (but they still appear sharp).  At middle apertures, the lens is a very sharp telephoto lens for landscape photography or whatever else you want to do with it.  The AI-S version has a built-in hood but aside from that issue, this lens was a good purchase.  Although it was a bargain-grade lens according to KEH, the glass is perfect and I'm very pleased with it.  I paid $76 US for it.

105/4 Micro AI'd - optically fabulous and a very convenient lens to use for macrophotography because of the increased working distance.  I've had trouble with the aperture blades getting sticky, but I think I have finally got it working reliably now.

135/2.8 Series E - this is a pretty decent lens.  It weighs more than one would expect.  It has a built-in lens hood and has a very smooth focussing feel.  Mine, unfortunately, has fungus so I have semi-retired it.  (I think the fungus is dead but I don't want to take the chance of infecting my other lenses.)

80-200/4.5 AI'd - bought for $150 at Don's Photo.  Not as sharp as my AF 80-200/2.8 ED, but it's decent and it weighs a lot less.  The zoom ring is a bit loose, but that is a common problem with this lens.  It has 52mm filter threads, which is convenient if you have a lot of manual prime lenses, which tend to have the same thread.

Lenses I've sold...

28/2.8 Series E - not a bad lens, but probably one of Nikonís worst 28s.  Still, for the price, if you shoot at middle apertures it will more than do the job.  I never felt I was lacking when I used this lens.  I've replaced it with the AI version.

50/1.4 AI'd - I bought this lens along with the 200/4 below for $75 US together.  It was filthy when I got it but a Lenspen cleaned it up magnificently.  I always wanted an f/1.4 lens, from back in the day when I used my Yashica system.  However, I was disappointed with this lens because it had very bad light falloff wide open.  It was alright stopped down.  Because I didn't like its performance at f/1.4, I sold it.  I now use an AI /2 and AF 1.4D.

55/2.8 Micro AI-S - one of the best 55 micros out there.  I only sold it because I don't use this focal length of macro lens much.

55/2.8 Micro AI'd - as above.

200/4 AI'd - this was the Nikkor-Q single-coated lens.  It looks very cool with all the chrome.  It's surprisingly sharp, too.  I kind of regret selling it despite having lots of other lenses that cover this focal length.  I may buy another one day.

Other Equipment

SB-15 Flash - small and lightweight for when I want fill flash but don't want to haul a huge unit.

SB-22 Flash - relatively small and quite good.  My first Nikon flash.

SB-28DX Flash - feature-laden and excellent.  Better on batteries than I expected it would be.  Every Nikon shooter should have one of these high-end flashes.  I bought the DX unit because it was only marginally more than the non-DX one and I thought that eventually I would want the digital compatibility.  Of course, Nikon has gone and changed the digital flash technology on me so it is a pretty moot point now.

MD-12 motor drive (x2) - I wanted to get one of these to improve the handling of my FM2n and I was not disappointed.  I find that shooting, especially handheld, is a lot easier with a motor-driven camera.  I bought one of these in 2004 from a friend and liked it so much that I bought another in September 2005 from Don's Photo.  One is on my FM2n, and the other is on one of my FEs.  The drives have gotten so cheap that it is worth having more than one rather than having to move one drive from body to body.

MF-26 Multi-Control Back for F90/F90x - I bought this in 1995 from Camtech Camera in Calgary, which went bankrupt and then was purchased by Vistek.  It really improves the functionality of the F90-class bodies.  Without it, no multiple exposure capability exists and you can't compensate flash output unless you have a flash that supports it (e.g. SB-24, -25, -26, -28, -80).  (The F601 has this feature with any flash, and it annoys me that the F90 doesn't come with the feature out of the box.)  The batteries have an annoying propensity to die suddenly, but the back was a worthwhile purchase.  I have it on my F90x now (it was on my F90 for most of its life) and I wouldn't mind finding another to put back on the F90, but the resale values for these backs is still quite high.

MB-10 vertical grip for F90x - makes the camera a lot easier to handle, especially for vertical photography.  It doesn't add that much weight.  It also permits you to use lithium batteries if you like (a separate battery clip is required).  The vertical shutter release only works with the F90x; otherwise, the grip works alright on the F90.

MB-15 vertical grip for F100 - ditto what I said for the F100, except that it only takes AA batteries.  You can also use NiMH if you like, and the motor drive doesn't slow down like it does on the F90/F90x.  The camera gets much better battery life when you use this grip (you use six batteries rather than four) and again, the vertical shutter release is quite useful.

Last updated Ė April 5, 2006