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How-to's Camera Reviews

FAQ - What Camera to Buy?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: nikon, camera, bodies, faq, film

Show pages (12 Pages)

WHAT CAMERA TO BUY?

This is one of the most common questions we see at most photography forums, both by beginners and amateurs - Yet, there is no site that offers a thorough easy-to-follow complete guide to go through the maze. Quite frequently sound advice but imposed, not explained. I am old enough and passionately interested in photography to have used all the formats and have owned -and still own- several cameras and complete systems in each category, so ......
 

The author in autofocus-tracking mode with an F4s
The author enjoying autofocus-tracking mode with a F4s
and a 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF Nikkor

What follows is an attempt to provide a logical guide within the framework of film based photography. 

A WORD ON DIGITAL
Film still dominates the market and in general still provides great solutions as of today for many applications; yet, digital is better for others.

Good, highly acceptable digital alternatives do exist and more are soon to arrive, demolishing previous price barriers and most preconceptions. The latest Coolpix models render surprisingly good images. On the DSRL front, first the D1, then the D1X and the D1H and later the D100 have tempted us from the very beginning; not to mention the D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D200 and the most affordable Nikon D70, D70s and D50. 

If you add to the above that most high-end modern lenses out-resolve any film, there is no point to discuss now whether quality prints from digital sensors can rival those made from film. I've seen astonishing proof, poster sized. On top of it, even those not enjoying top of the line digital cameras do enjoy the instant gratification factor and instant retakes, making digital photography most attractive.

There is no doubt that the digital segment of the market will continue to grow, even after stabilizing from never imagined proportions, as soon as lower prices make them reachable to the masses and to emerging countries populations.

So the debate is over and we now simply face personal dilemmas.

Very soon this FAQ will show the two options: Film and Digital

In the meantime, today you can be the proud owner of the continuing reigning supreme world class 35mm SLR camera: a Nikon. 

The body choices are multiple, but we should try to separate them by type and categories, i.e. by the factors to look for or think about before buying:
 

  •  
By negative size: meaning, the inherent capacity to produce razor sharp enlargements beyond 5X7 inches. Yes, film is getting better all the time but clear barriers still do exist, differences are noticeable to the naked eye.
  •  
By convenience:
- Bulk and weight or easiness to carry around at all times
- By degree of automation (the more automated, the easier to operate in general)
- By film availability (you want to be able to find your film anywhere you go and have plenty of choices)
- By WYSIWYG capability ('What You See Is What You Get')
- By availability of a wide selection of lenses
  •  
By preferences of use:
-
Manual (You really want to learn "the secrets", are very creative, demand to be in total control and have very good eyesight or are a refined masochist)
-
Automated (You want to concentrate on framing and composition)
-
Solid, rugged construction (It is not that you are going into the wild, or have wild friends or relatives, or you are all thumbs; but you hate cardboard walls and plastic .....)
-
Light (You avoid weight, are a very careful neat person, have enough to buy insurance and don't dislike -or have an allergy to- polycarbonates)
  •  
By budget:
-
Low end of the prices scale (If you are under tight budget constraints, like our Secretary of the Treasury and the entire Third World)
-
Medium level (Where most of us are, aren't we?)
-
High priced (You are a yuppie, spoiled since brat; or have reached the comfort level to say "... so what, it's only money and we take none to the grave")
  •  
By status:
If you are a person that responds to status social pressures, it is not up to me to say it is silly; you may find out 40 years from now on your own. In the mean time on your behalf (and mine still to some degree) I will also consider cameras by status.

I will not waste your time with 8mm or 16mm negative size which are not worth considering, nor on view cameras (4X5, 5X7, 8X10 inches negatives) which are clearly superior but have reduced mobility due to their size and therefore do not qualify as at-all-time-carry amateur cameras, no matter how serious.

So let us dive in through the first category: negative size.


Some say that one hot summer, somewhere around Tokyo, camera and film manufacturers gather together, very late at night in a dark sushi basement bar and came to conclude that they were giving away "too much negative" for the kind of snapshots people were taking and ordering prints from, in small sizes (3 1/2 X 5, or 4 X 6 inches). Therefore "also too much of cameras and lenses" for such menial tasks; no enlargements!

To top it all, the registered statistics on film loading failures was amazing, as proven by the high number of unexposed rolls being developed at the corner photo shops and the taped loud screams from customers. To make things worse, customers were dismayed and taking less and less pictures and ordering less and less reprints from the poorly handled negatives. Top of the line camera models were not moving from retailers' shelves, but disposable cameras were on the rise. So ...... after much laugh from the anecdotes and serious concern for the future, the "Advanced Photo System" or APS came about, with features to solve the common problems ..... of the moronic.
 

The Canon Elph APS camera

 The camera that created the appetite for APS. The Elph, with great marketing.

 

The cold facts:
The following table shows film dimensions and relative area sizes

 

Film type
or format
Negative
size
mm
Area
square
mm
Relative negative area
(as % of the base chosen)
APS
base
35mm
base
645
base
6X6
base
6X7
base
APS - H
16.7X30.2
486
100%
56.3%
 20.7%
 15.5%
 12.5%
APS - C
16.7X23.4
391
80.4%
45.2%
 16.6%
 12.5%
 10.0%
APS - P
9.5X30.2
287
59.0%
35.2%
 12.2%
9.2%
 7.4%
35 mm
24X36
864
177.7%
100%
 36.7%
 27.6%
 22.2%
645
56X42
2,352
483.9%
272.2%
100%
 75.0%
 60.4%
6 X 6
56X56
3,136
645.3%
362.9%
 133.3%
100%
 80.6%
6 X 7
56X69.5
3,892
800.8%
450.5%
 165.5%
 124.1%
100%
Several conclusions can be drawn from the simple table above and can be related to the factors selected for consideration:

The APS negatives use -at best- only 56% the area of a 35mm negative. In other words, the 35mm negative is almost 78% larger. And the APS negative is less than 16% of a 6X6 one. Do I need to say more? These cameras provide several conveniences but have only one place: a small pocket or a ladies small handbag.

..
Neg size comparison
  • APS does not let you handle the negatives, the film is kept inside the cartridge to avoid scratches, hamburger grease, soy sauce or nail polish 
  • Some APS camera models are the most convenient in terms of size and weight   
  • Film is not always available at all locations  
  • Most are fully automated, both for focus and exposure   
  • Some models are very solidly constructed but the somewhat fragile flip-up flashes and built-in flashes are not powerful enough 
  • "Good" APSs are in the mid level price range 
  • In terms of status, these give you not much, some are 'cute' but they all are very affordable and can be found at K-Mart, Wal-Mart or Target 
  • APS format cameras have been discontinued by Nikon
Great for what it was designed for: 4X6 snapshots; unless you use Fujicolor Nexia H400 or 800 film at all times, to obtain reasonable shutter speeds with those small aperture zoom lenses, avoiding blurred images. But one cannot expect to get great results always, regardless of advertising. As long as you are aware of what to expect from them, they can be nice to have if the only other option is nothing. Few (if any) professional photographers use them at all. This format was designed to expand the interest in photography and it has in fact increased film and processing sales and margins. At that it has been very successful. However, to the limitations of the lenses (specially zooms with their large number apertures) we must add those inherent to the negative size, plus the fact that the integrated tiny flashes on these units typically have limited power for distances beyond 10 feet or enough coverage for group pictures. Sorry, but I still crack in tears when I remember guys taking flash pictures towards the center of a dark stadium, at night, with an APS camera; and a sweet girl taking shots at the moon with flash! ("To have it well illuminated").

 
APS Recommendation:

For about the same price of an APS you can keep convenience and move up to at least a "compact" or Point & Shoot 35mm camera, just a bit bigger but better armed in terms of both negative size, better lenses and nice integrated flashes, most of them now with red eye reduction capability and variable power.

If nevertheless somehow you must, take a look at some APS options ...»


I have attempted to forewarn you about the almost certain disappointments of the "Advanced Photo System" or APS. But, if you must somehow, at least increase your chances for some success with a Nikon. I purchased a Canon Elph. Yes, sorry; I succumbed to the great marketing campaign. So I have used it extensively and as a direct consequence of such experience I can comfortably badmouth it.
 

Sorry, no decent enlargement possible

 Picture taken of the author with a Canon Elph by his beloved wife
at Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. Too early in the morning.


 

See it at B&H Photo and Video

  Check it\'s current price at B&H Photo and Video
Nikon Nuvis S
 
Nikon Nuvis S 2000
When your camera's power is on, the sleek and thin Nuvis S protective lens cover opens to reveal the powerful 3X 22.5-66mm f/5.2-7.5 Nikon Zoom lens (28-82.5mm equivalent in 35mm format); 6 elements in 6 groups, aspherical multi-coated and exclusive Nikon Close-Range-Correction (CRC) technology for up close sharp, clear superior images over those of others.
 
 
New design. A 2X Nikon Zoom lens with 5 elements in 5 groups lens. Focal length range of 24-48mm (30-60mm equivalent in 35mm format), aperture f/4.5-8.2. Features Anytime flash, Auto flash, Flash cancel, Slow sync and Red eye reduction modes. You can select from 30 titles in 12 languages to be printed on the back of each picture, date and time.

APS Recommendation:
  • If you must have a truly tiny convenient APS get the Nikon Nuvis S. 
  • If you want a more professional APS with better lenses, look into the SLR APS. But remember they have been discontinued.
  • For about the same price of an APS you can keep most conveniences and move up to at least a compact Point & Shoot 35mm camera; just a bit bigger but much better armed in terms of both negative size, lenses and integrated flashes, most of them now with red eye reduction capability and variable power.

Moved by competition, even Nikon went the SLR APS way. Yes, much better lenses and the feel of a single lens reflex camera, but you have to remember that the almost certain disappointments of the "Advanced Photo System" or APS come from the negative size. But, again, if you must somehow, at least increase your chances for some success with a Nikon.
 

Sorry, no decent enlargement possible

 Red Panties for good luck. A Christmas family tradition, source of joy, clean fun and great expectations. Uneven lighting and pink "rabbit" eyes, from a Canon Elph APS..

 

 

 

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Nikon Pronea S
 
Nikon Pronea 6i
With AF-A Automatic Switching Mode; the Pronea S detects forward movement and Continuous Autofocus automatically activates itself. It also features Focus Tracking, also automatic when movement is detected. With AF Illuminator that allows the Pronea S to focus in very low light conditions. 3D Matrix Metering in 6 segments.
 
It was called the "new dimension" in Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) photography. Boasting a stylish metallic-gray color and sleek design, the Pronea 6i delivered Nikon quality and high performance – like superb exposure control and razor-sharp auto-focus. With its Nikon F lens mount, you could access both the Nikkor IX line or the full interchangeable autofocus Nikkor lens system.
 

APS Recommendation: For about the same price of an APS you can keep most of the conveniences and move up to at least a "compact" or Point & Shoot 35mm camera; just a bit bigger but better armed in terms of both negative size, lenses and integrated flashes, most of them now with red eye reduction capability and variable power.

If you are somewhat fascinated by the now discontinued SLR APS, go all the way to a 35mm SLR. The APS film required plenty of improvements, but all of them have now been incorporated into 35mm film. A modern ISO 800 film looks like the ISO 100 of yesterday in terms of grain.

 


The Compact or Point and Shoot cameras have the advantage of using the 35mm film negative in full. They are convenient to carry, light and the next best possible alternative to the disappointing APS.

Nikon has a long compact or Point & Shoot camera tradition. As early as 1983, Nikon introduced the L35 Auto Focus. After several models, always upgrading, the first zoom compact came to be in the Nikon TWZoom in 1988. They looked 'toyish' when compared even to small SLRs of the time, but they produced very good pictures, suitable for big enlargements. And so, names like "Fun Touch", "Lite Touch", "Nice Touch" and "One Touch" became synonymous of quality pictures, with little effort and at very reasonable prices for the casual weekender or occasional shooter.
 

Sorry, no decent enlargement possible

 Nikon L35 AF compact point & shoot camera introduced in 1983.

 

 

 

See it at B&H Photo and Video

 
Nikon Lite Touch 110
 
Nikon Fun Touch 6
The Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 110 is a high-tech compact camera that both offers point-and-shoot simplicity and  lets you apply creative techniques to your photography. It has a sophisticated 38-110mm f/4-10.8 power zoom. Advanced features include Auto Load, Auto Advance, Auto Rewind, Focus Lock, Auto Flash, Anytime Flash, Flash Cancel, Red Eye Reduction and a 10 seconds self-timer. The even newer Lite Touch Zoom 110s also has Slow Sync Flash to brighten both the subject and the background in night scenes. Not bad at all for family occasions.  Another model in this range is the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70W.
 
The Fun Touch 6 offers simplified operations together with auto focus, easy film loading/rewinding, and a built-in flash. Enjoy the freedom to take the shots you want, when you want them. For those not wishing the zoom capability, the Fun Touch 6 offers an all around 28mm f/5.6 lens, good for landscapes and group photography with many features like Auto Flash, Fill Flash, Flash Off and Red-Eye Reduction. And all for less than US$50, brand new!
Another worthy model is the One Touch Zoom 90s QD, with a 38-90mm zoom lens.

Pricing at B&H

 

Check prices at B&H

Nikon Lite Touch 120ED/QD AF
 
Olympus LT Zoom 105 DLX
This is a very nice compact camera with an important distinction: it has an ED (Extra Low Light Dispersion) glass lens for superior images, with an extended zoom range from 38mm to 120mm and Macro/close-up down to 2.4 ft. Plus all of the 110s advanced features. Newer models are now available for closer reach: the Lite Touch Zoom 130 ED/QD with a 38-130mm lens, the Lite Touch Zoom 140 ED/QD with a 38-140mm and the Lite Touch 150 ED/QD with a 38-150mm lens.
 

I would fail not mentioning the superb Olympus LT Zoom 105 DLX camera with it's variable power flash, leather-like antique look case and metal lens cover. A 38-105mm f4.5-8.9 auto focus zoom lens and built-in spot metering.

The Olympus Epic line is also very convenient and sturdy, however, if not the LT 105 DLX, go for a Nikon, its flash technology is tops.

.

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35mm Point and Shoot Recommendation:
  • I don't mind repeating myself: Stay clear of APS, it is not 35mm!. 
  • If you are casual photographer, get a compact 35mm Point & Shoot like the ones shown above or similar. A zoom one will adapt to more situations. Just remember to load it with ISO 200 or ISO 400 film to compensate for the aperture of the lenses on these cameras.
  • If you want to get serious about it, buy a 35mm Single Lens Reflex, the flexibility it gives you and the wide array of lens choices are tough to beat.
  • If you have the budget and savor exquisite pieces of machinery and optics, and don't need long zoom lenses, get a 35mm rangefinder camera, although you will encounter a limited set of (superb and expensive) lens choices and no zoom lenses as of yet (with the notable exceptions of the Vario Sonnar for the Contax G2 and the Tri Elmar M for the Leica). Least WYSIWYG, but you may even learn to shoot from the hip. In terms of status, yes there are models that will enhance it.  
  • Now, if you want superior negative's quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format 

35mm Single Lens Reflex

The 35mm film format is the most popular and the 35mm Single Lens Reflex is not just "an extension of your eye", but the most versatile camera as proven daily by both amateur and professional photographers, from the weekend snapshooter to the working pro, from the novice to the seasoned veteran.
 

Nikon F

 The Nikon F, introduced in 1959, revolutionizing the world of 35mm photography.
..
There are a considerable number of reasons for this preference for the 35mm SLR: 
  • Still convenient to carry and use 
  • Wide choice of bodies and interchangeable lenses, both prime (fixed focal length) and zoom (variable focal length), from the fish-eye and ultra wide angles to the 2000mm catadioptric (mirror) super telephoto 
  • Ample selection and availability from over 120 different 35mm films, whether for color prints, color slides, black & white, most very well suited for publishing and/or big enlargements; or for special purpose 
  • Highly advanced features in the high end models; plus, 
  • Relatively moderately priced, with the exception of the flagships 
  • You can have them manual, auto, or both 
  • With or without a motor
  • High top shutter speeds and so on. 
For any kind of photography, a great world!

 

THE MANUAL NIKONS
 

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Chedk out current prices at B & H
Nikon FM10
 
Nikon FM2N
The Nikon FM10 is the fully manual camera serving as an affordable entry level into the world of 35mm SLR. Introduced in 1998, you do select shutter speed (from 1 to 1/2000 sec.) and aperture on your own, although the center weighted light meter guides you.  It has no motor, so you manually advance the film and rewind. You focus also manually and preview depth-of-field. Intended for students or beginners with an interest to understand the basics of light and exposure. Simple, easy to use, it takes all AI and AF Nikkor lenses.
.
 
The FM2N came into the market in 1983 and is still favored by many pros. It has a die cast all metal body. Center weighted TTL metering (60/40 balance). Top shutter speed 1/4000 sec. All mechanical; flash sync of 1/250 sec. Aluminum alloy shutter curtains for stable, dependable performance. Depth-of-field preview button. It uses the MD-12 Motor Drive, and has a nice MF-16 Data Back. No TTL flash. This is an outstanding upgrade of the old reliable FM2, long time favorite of the manual camera fans.

 

Check current prices at B&H Photo and Video
 

Nikon F3HP
 
 Nikon FM3a
The manual focus Nikon F3HPis the ultimate 35mm SLR camera for those who want the full control feeling in a pro body. Durable aluminum die cast construction, Center Weighted metering (80/20 balance) and TTL flash control. The F3HP comes with the now standard DE-3 high-eyepoint viewfinder system with virtual 100% coverage for full WYSIWYG; LCD exposure information readout in viewfinder. Top shutter speed 1/2000 sec. and flash sync up to 1/80 sec. Ultra strong, ultra thin, dual titanium shutter curtains for extended usage. It has a backup mechanical shutter release in case the batteries go dead on you. Aperture Priority auto exposure mode and fully manual exposure. Exposure memory lock button for off center compositions. Exposure compensation dial. Multiple exposure lever. Mirror lockup lever. Depth-of-field preview button. Self timer with LED indicator. High speed MD-4 Motor Drive available. Interchangeable viewfinders, focusing screens, battery packs, power sources and camera backs, including the 250 exposure MF-4 Multi-Control Back. Nikon F lens mount means, for the F3HP, it can use all AI-S lenses, AF Nikkor lenses, AI and even non-AI lenses. A rugged camera, both fun and very effective; like all pro models, built for a lifetime.   The latest of the manual cameras, it incorporates the best features of the venerable FM2 and the FE2 cameras.
Built in the tradition of those cameras, it has an rugged copper, silumin aluminum alloy construction chassis and metal outer body construction. It incorporates an improved light meter -with a double set of silicon photo diodes-  in the classical, well proven and reliable 60/40 Center Weighted formula of the FM2 and FE2.   The viewfinder is of the eye-level pentaprism type, with 93% of picture field coverage. Top shutter speed of 1/4000 sec. Flash TTL sync of 1/250 with hot shoe (no need for the AS-17 flash adapter like in the F3) and X-syc contact. Aperture Priority auto exposure mode and fully manual exposure. Depth of field preview button. Self timer. AE auto exposure lock for recomposition. It takes the time proven MD-12 motor drive and the MF-16 data back. It can use all of the Nikon lenses (AI, AI-S, AF, AF-D, AF-S and P) with the exception of the non-AI or pre-AI and the IX lenses for the SLR APS Pronea cameras. If you have wanted the F3 but have been weary of its age and weight, this is the camera; very light at 20 oz. (without batteries, or course). Very nice camera to have, promising the traditional reliability of the FM2/FE2 models.
 

 

 

These are just some of the conveniences of an auto focus 35mm SLR camera: 

  • They speed up your shooting; great for unexpected and action photos 
  • There is now a wide choice of interchangeable AF lenses, both prime and zoom 
  • They are now relatively moderately priced, with the exception of the flagships 
  • You can shoot fully auto, semi auto (aperture priority, shutter priority) or manual 
  • Most now have an integrated motor for film winding and rewinding 
  • Most have a very reliable exposure meter and typically more than one mode 
  • So you can concentrate on framing and composition; and off to enjoy.

 

CURRENT NIKON AUTO FOCUS CAMERAS
 

The newest Nikon SLR, the N/F75, comes in all black or black & silver versions. Perfect for those looking for an affordable, easy-to-use and convenient SLR camera. A step above the F55 and F65. Light and small, nevertheless contains most of the latest technology. Filled with many auto features that can be overridden for creative photography. All settings can be viewed at a glance on its big high-visibility LCD. Auto, Vari-program, P, S, A, M. It boasts a built-in auto pop-up Speedlight with 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash capability for more naturally balanced lighting in your picture. Easy operation using dedicated dials and selectors, new viewfinder display system, and a range of automatic features. Five-Area Dynamic Autofocus System with three Dynamic AF modes New 25-segment 3D Matrix Metering. With Nikon AF system compatibility.

See it at B&H Photo and Video

Arrow
35mm film SLR Recommendation:
  • If you are really serious about photography, you are on the right track with a 35mm Single Lens Reflex, like the manual ones shown above 
  • Or an auto focus 35mm SLR that you can also operate in manual mode
  • Maybe even a high end 35mm SLR, the best possible tool for the task 
  • If you don't have the budget, look into good choices for used 35mm SLRs
  • Now, if you want superior negatives quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format; just remember it is the bulkier and heavier of the still "portable" cameras. 

The world of autofocus cameras began with the grand appearance of the Nikon F3AF, (too soon to be understood and maybe a bit slow even then) and later on with that of the N2020. The evolution has been impressive into the incredible machines of today.

 

The F501, N2020 in the US

 The Nikon F501 (N2020 in the US), introduced in 1986.

 

 

 

 

 

Check it\'s current price at B&H Photo and Video

Nikon N55/F55
 
 
The Nikon N55 is one of the newest user friendly and affordable entry level into the world of auto focus 35mm SLR. The lightest and smallest in Nikon's SLR AF line. It has Auto mode; Vari-Program  (for Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports Continuous and Night Portrait modes); Auto-Multi Program and Flexible Program (P), Shutter-Priority (S), Aperture-Priority (A) and Manual (M). 5 segment, 3D Matrix Metering. A 28mm built-in speedlight provides for Matrix Balanced Fill Flash, Red-Eye Reduction and Slow Sync for flash pictures under low light conditions. however, like with all built-in flash cameras you should get an external flash. Built-in AF Assist Illuminator for when ambient light is insufficient for auto focusing. Focus Tracking for moving subjects and allows for long time exposures up to 30 seconds.
 
 

The N65 is another fun camera, another integral motor autofocus 35mm single lens reflex. Focus Modes are: Autofocus and Manual with Electronic Rangefinder.  Autofocus Modes: Single Servo AF and Continuous Servo AF. Focus Tracking is automatically activated when subject moves. Two built-in exposure meter modes: 6-segment Matrix and Center Weighted. Five Variprograms, four exposure modes and five segment multi sensor TTL auto flash control. Its built-in TTL Speedlight has a Guide number of 39 (for ISO 100, in ft.); with flash coverage for 28mm or longer lenses; Red-Eye Reduction, TTL flash control for Matrix Balanced Fill Flash. Its film advance has a shooting speed of approximately 2.5 fps. DX: ISO 25-5000, automatically set to ISO 100 with non-DX coded film.
 

B&H has a good price

 

 

 Nikon N90s/F90x

The Nikon N90s (F90x outside the US) offers fast autofocus, fast focus tracking and accurate autofocus or manual focusing with electronic rangefinder. Plus Wide Area Focus Sensor, which has no dead spots. It has three metering modes: narrow angle Spot for selective measurements, versatile Center Weighted for general work, and Nikon's unequaled 3D Matrix Meter. It has a comprehensive exposure control system with versatile exposure compensation, Flexible Program operation, 1/3 increment shutter speed settings and TTL controlled flash system. A vertical grip MB-10 offers superb handling, a new AF Speedlight with wireless multi flash capability, expanded Data Link capability, and more, make the N90s a heck of a camera that continues to be used by many pros, as -for its price- Nikon engineers really went overboard with this one.

 

 

Price? Check it at B&H

   
Nikon N80/F80
   
The N80/F80 is one of the latest Nikon and has not only received great reviews from consumers, but become a great seller as it has been dubbed "the affordable F100".  It has great features, like the illuminated grid in the viewfinder, rightly called the "On Demand Composition Assist Focusing Screen". With a 10 segment 3D Matrix Metering supported by Nikon's on board database of over 30,000 stored images plus classic 75/25 center weighted and five spot meters corresponding to its AF sensors.
 
Its innovative Autofocus system features five separate AF detection sensors that cover the top, bottom, center, left, and right for fluid and instinctual composition. AF sensors automatically change color and intensity from black to red in low light. A great buy. I got one for my daughter and used it myself before turning it over to her. She is as pleased as I was.
 
Arrow
35mm Auto Focus Recommendation:
  • Do not let anyone annoy you with the "you are bypassing the manual experience", if it is your choice, dive straight into auto focus and concentrate on framing and composition. It is like saying "... don't use video conference, first get to know the telegraph and then step up to the phone or you will never learn the principles of telecommunications ...". Learn the basics and go. You have any question? That's why we do have the forums.
  • If you are really serious about photography, you should get an Auto Focus 35mm Single Lens Reflex like those shown above and, again, try to get the best you can afford
  • Maybe even a high end 35mm SLR
  • If you don't have the budget, look into good choices for used 35mm SLR's
  • Now, if you want superior negative's quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format

The 35mm SLR high end models are sophisticated precision machines. Loaded with features are by no means inexpensive; however, if you really love photography, you should try one of these.
 

 

Click for enlarged view

The latest queen, the Nikon F6, introduced at the end of 2004
What makes a body a high end camera in the world of 35mm film SLR: 
  • Advanced features in metering, focusing and more 
  • Rugged body with good seals for dust and moisture 
  • Loaded with electronics
  • You can use them fully manual, auto, or semi auto 
  • High speed motor for winding and rewinding (integrated or detachable)
  • High top shutter speeds 
  • Highly reliable and dependable (for as long as you have good batteries) 


 


CURRENT NIKON HIGH END CAMERAS
 

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Nikon F100
Nikon F5

The Nikon F100. Smaller and lighter than the F5, it shares most of its advanced features. Fast and precise Dynamic Auto focusing, 3D Matrix metering, plus Spot and Center Weighted meters and 3D Multi-Sensor Auto balanced Fill Flash. It also has die cast magnesium alloy chassis and covers. This camera feels very well in the hand and joins the F5 as a camera of choice in the high end section of the 35mm SLR world. You can choose to use it a lightweight body or, with the MB-15 power pack not only you add power but a vertical shutter release button and the feel of an F5.

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Before the F6, this was the dream, the flagship, the latest of the "F" Nikon cameras, the F5 which reigned supreme in its class for 9 years. Among the features that attracted most to own one is the 3D Color Matrix RGB metering system, with a 1,005-pixel RGB sensor to read a scene's color as well as brightness and contrast meter; I find it impossible to fool in almost any situation. This camera is not just highly reliable, fast, responsive and versatile, but maybe more important, highly intelligent. 8 fps! And you take full advantage of the new AF-S lenses.

Arrow 35mm SLR Recommendation:
  • If you really really are serious about photography, you must have a high end 35mm Single Lens Reflex, like the ones shown above. Yes, other brands coexist in the market, but ....... if you want the very best ..... 
  • Or at least an auto focus 35mm and try to get the best you can afford 
  • If you don't have the budget, look into good choices for used 35mm SLR's
  • Now, if you want larger sized negative's quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format, but don't abandon the world of 35mm.
  • For a Film 35mm SLR comparative chart go here

Used 35mm SLR's

The Nikon 35mm Pro model SLRs and rangefinders were and are made to last more than a lifetime. So chances are that you can still find a camera to suit you, in excellent or mint condition, without making you go bankrupt.
 

Nikon F

 The Nikon F, introduced in 1959, revolutionizing the world of 35mm photography.

 


There are many good, reliable sources in the USA, for used cameras in good condition, but I will only list here those I have used or those who can ship worldwide recommended by my good friend Doug Clifford founder of Ace Indexes:


SOME GREAT NIKON CHOICES

 

 

See it in the B&H Photo and Video used section

 
Chedk out current prices at B & H used section
Nikon FE2
 
Nikon FM2
The Nikon FE2 was introduced in 1983; IMHO it is the best of the FE and FM series of cameras. It's most interesting feature is the electronically controlled shutter, with titanium curtains like in the FM2. You do select shutter speed (from 1 to 1/4000 sec, TTL flash sync at 1/250 sec) and aperture on your own, although the center weighted light meter guides you.  You focus manually and preview the depth-of-field. However, it does have TTL flash. Simple, easy to use, it takes the MD-12 winder and the MF-16 data back. I am the happy owner of two of these babies, although I bought them brand new.
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The FM2 came into the market in 1982, like the FG and a year before the FE2. It is still favored by many pros. It has the same die cast all metal body of the FM and FE. Center weighted TTL metering (60/40 balance). Top shutter speed 1/4000 sec. 
All mechanical; flash sync of 1/125 sec. Depth-of-field preview button. 
It uses the MD-12 Motor Drive, and has a great MF-16 Data Back.
Non TTL flash, sorry. 
Nevertheless, solidly built, this is an outstanding long time favorite of the manual camera fans, later improved in the FM2n model.
Check current prices at B&H Photo and Video
 

Nikon F3HP
 
Nikon N70/F70
The manual focus Nikon F3HP , also introduced in 1982, is the ultimate 35mm SLR traditional camera for those who want the full control feeling. Durable aluminum die cast construction, Highly Center Weighted metering (80/20 balance) and TTL flash control. The F3HP comes with the now standard DE-3 high-eyepoint viewfinder system with virtual 100% coverage for full WYSIWYG wearing eyeglasses; LCD exposure information readout in viewfinder. Top shutter speed 1/2000 sec. and flash sync up to 1/80 sec. Ultra strong, ultra thin, dual titanium shutter curtains for really extended usage. A rugged and elegant camera to last forever. I am still pondering whether I should get one. In the meantime my partner Bo bought one while at the 4th ANPAT.
 
The N70 is another fun camera, an integral motor autofocus 35mm single lens reflex. Focus Modes are: Autofocus and Manual with Electronic Rangefinder. Autofocus Area: Wide and Spot selectable. Autofocus Modes: Single Servo AF and Continuous Servo AF. Focus Tracking is automatically activated when subject moves. Three built-in exposure meter modes: Matrix, Center Weighted and Spot. Five segment multi sensor is used for TTL auto flash control. Its built-in TTL Speedlight has a Guide number of 46 (for ISO 100, in ft.); with flash coverage for 28mm or longer lenses; Red-Eye Reduction, TTL flash control including 3D Multi Sensor Balanced Fill Flash, Slow Sync and Rear Curtain Sync. Check it out. 

Almost needless to be mentioned, a pro body that remains a most interesting alternative -with full lens line compatibility- is the F4.
 

Arrow
35mm Used SLR Recommendation:
  • If you really are serious about photography but with a limited budget, you are on the right track with a used 35mm Single Lens Reflex, like the ones shown above. You do have a good chance to get an excellent body and lenses.  
  • Or look for a good used auto focus 35mm SLR 
  • Maybe even a used high end 35mm SLR, the best possible tool for the task. 
  • Remember that on the average at least 50% of your budget will go into the body and 50% into the lens, and keep on saving because once hooked you will then need a bag, a good (sturdy) tripod, filters and of course, more lenses.

The 35mm rangefinder manual focus cameras were what the pros used before the advent of the SLR. We the amateurs, either had box or rangefinder folding cameras such as the Voigtländer, Retina and the like. Legendary names are Leica, Contax and Nikon. Legendary not just because of the precise mechanisms but also due to the magnificent interchangeable lenses produced for these beauties both by Leitz, Zeiss and then Nikon.
 

Click to see a larger photo of the S3 2000

 1958 Nikon S3 rangefinder camera, offered again as a limited edition

 

Today, a retro craze seems to continue on and Voigtländer offers the Bessa R, Leica the M7, Contax the G1 and G2 and Nikon reintroduced the S3; even Konica entered the market with the Hexar RF. The rangefinders have no moving mirror so they have thinner smaller bodies, are less prone to vibration and produce less noise, therefore allowing for sharper handheld pictures and less obtrusive shooting.

 

 

 

NIKON AND LEICA
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See it at B&H Photo and Video

 

Leica M7 - more info at leica-camera.com

Nikon S3
 
Leica M7
Behind the scenes, almost discretely, the news of a rebirth of the famous S3 rangefinder camera slowly came out and were finally confirmed. It came back to market in a limited edition. Based on the 1958 model with minor cosmetic changes: frame counter has 24 and 36 marked instead of the old 20 and 36; the film speed reminder was modernized to read ISO instead of ASA. Production numbers are still a mystery but well founded rumors talk from no more than 3,000 cameras made. When introduced in 1958, it was offering the largest lens range of any 35mm rangefinder system, from the 21mm f/4 to the 1000mm f/6.3; it also offered a macro lens, the 50mm f/3.5. It was typically sold with the 50mm f/1.4 and the 80mm f/2, which had caused quite a stir in the photographic world of the Korean war era. A great buy both for the user and the collector. 
 
The Leica is the cult star. The preferred jewel of the professional photojournalists, from the time Oskar Barnack designed it in 1914 to 1959 (when the Nikon F was introduced) and even beyond. The latest model, the Leica M7 is for many the epitome of classic, timeless elegance, not just a piece of high precision technology, at this time integrating modern electronics with the well proven mechanics. With great, razor sharp Leitz lenses, Leica helped make the images we cherished or cried over, specially those of the Korean war. Although in the 50's they were replaced with Nikon lenses, those Leitz ones were and are a true marvel. Viewfinders show less than 1x the image (0.58X, 0.75x, or 0,85x) but not only you get used to that, you may even learn to shoot from the hip. Or you can buy the new 1.25X viewfinder magnifier. All of the above of course, if budget is no object.
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KONICA AND VOIGTLÄNDER
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Konica Hexar RF
 

Check it out at B&H

Konica Hexar RF
 
Voigtländer Bessa R
With Leica bayonet type mount, rugged and beautifully manufactured, the Hexar RF adds a built in 2.5 fps motor plus auto rewind, auto loading, auto exposure and DX.  Shutter speeds from 16 to 1/4000 sec. It has an aluminum die cast body and a titanium shell.
 
Auto and manual metering, manual winding and rewinding; manual everything. Old Leica type screw lens mount. Three M-Hexanon lenses were designed for this camera: the 28mm f/2.8, the 50mm f/2 and the 90mm f/2.8. Beautifully made in Japan by Cosina. Other models are the L and T.
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CONTAX
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Check current prices at B & H

 

Current price? Check it at B&H

Contax G1
 
Contax G2
With a titanium cover, bottom and sides, the Contax G1 is an excellent choice for an interchangeable lens, AF and manual rangefinder camera. It combines the flexibility of an TTL metering SLR camera with the portability and ease of use of a compact camera. Shutter speeds from 16 to 1/2000 sec. The lenses are from Carl Zeiss and their performance is naturally superb. A zooming viewfinder provides an appropriate view for any installed lens.
 
The G2 is the Contax AF and manual rangefinder flagship with TTL exposure metering. It adds a four frame per second integrated motor drive, top shutter speeds of up to 1/6000 second, X sync at 1/200 second. The Carl Zeiss T lens line is now extended from the 18mm f/8 Hologon to the Sonnar 90mm f/2.8, enhanced with the addition of the Biogon 21mm f/2.8 and the Planar 35mm f/2.0, plus the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. 

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Arrow
35mm Rangefinder Recommendation:
  • As said before, no matter what, stay clear from APS, it is not 35mm. 
  • If you are casual photographer, get a compact 35mm Point & Shoot
  • If you want to get serious about it, buy a 35mm Single Lens Reflex
  • If you have the budget, like to feel in control and savor exquisite pieces of high tech machinery and optics, get a 35mm rangefinder camera like the ones shown above, although you will encounter a limited set of (superb and expensive) lens choices and not that many zoom lenses as of yet. 
  • Least WYSIWYG, but you may even learn to shoot from the hip. In terms of status, yes there are models that will enhance it: the Nikon S3 and the Leica M7 TTL; the Contax G2 and the Hasselblad Pan-X; even the Hexar RF. Bear in mind that a Leica M7 body or a Contax G2 body will cost you about the same as a Nikon F5 SLR body when not more. 
  • Which one is the best? The one you like the most will be the easier to learn to use well. Now, if you want superior negative's quality at all times, or are considering becoming a pro and/or have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format 

The Medium Format became synonymous of quality pictures, with little effort and at very reasonable prices even for the casual weekender or occasional shooter, in the days of the TLR or Twin Lens Reflex which still can be found at reasonable prices. Rolleiflex, Rolleicord and Yashica Mat are brands and models still worth considering.

Now days the medium format is dominated by the modern SLR's and prices have gone up, but it is worth it. The larger negative size and the superb optics almost guarantee better pictures - I said almost because the photographer still counts. They now come in all flavors, fully manual or auto and you can put on them any dreamable accessory, including good (20 million pixels) digital backs.
 

Rolleicord Vb - Click for larger image

 Rolleicord Vb, 1970

 

Medium format SLR Cameras: 645, 6X6 or 6X7

These are the choice of many pros, at least for studio work. The 645 is a format that lends itself to compose pictures conveniently to be printed in the standard photo papers 8X10, 11X14, 16X20, because of its negatives proportions. The argument is being made that although the 6X6 negative is 33% larger it is seldom used at all, so it is wasted. This could be truth for full page magazine advertisements, but from my perspective only in those cases. In any event, the 6X7 negative would be better, as many professional photographers practice. A splendid compromise: the classic 6X6. Status wise? Any of them will give you plenty of status, but if you purchase one just for that reason, you will soon become tired of lugging it around.

 

See it at B&H Photo and Video

 

Check prices at B&H

The Classic Hasselblad
 
Rolleiflex 6001HG
The outstanding image quality of the Carl Zeiss lenses, durable construction and proven reliability has made it the first choice among the world's leading photographers for half a century. The Hasselblad 500 series are mechanical, 6X6 medium format SLR cameras. With interchangeable lenses, viewfinders, film magazines and a host of other accessories. Designed for CF lenses with built-in leaf shutter and flash sync at any shutter speed. The 200 series, like the 202FA shown above, are the new generation of medium format cameras, with focal plane shutter and electronically controlled shutter speeds, designed to work with the large aperture FE lenses without shutters; they can also use the CF lenses. They feature TTL/OTF flash metering and can be equipped with a winder accessory. I own two 500 series bodies and 4 CF lenses, always enjoying, without ever regretting the high investment, although I am too lazy to carry them around for regular use, as I do with my high end 35mm SLRs.
 
This beauty carries on the Rollei Werke tradition. With a built-in grip, TTL flash (even with non dedicated units), DOF and mirror lockup. It also has a built-in motor for 1.7 frames per second. As the basic 500 series Hasselblad models, it does not have a meter, but it has motor driven automatic bracketing in manual mode. Other models worth considering are the 6001, 6003, 6008 and the 6008e and 6008i. The Rollei accept over twenty lenses of unparalleled optical excellence from the leading manufacturers of medium format optics, Carl Zeiss and Schneider Kreuznach. These cameras also are fully compatible with an extensive line of accessories.
Rollei is based in Braunschweig, Germany, with its United States marketing subsidiary located in Secaucus, N.J. 
Taking about tradition, Rollei has been designing and manufacturing cameras and lenses for over 78 years.
The Rolleiflex brand continues to be synonymous with high level of performance, reliability and value.

Price? Check it at B&H

 

See how much will cost at B&H

Mamiya 645E
 
Mamiya 645AF
The Mamiyas have now an over 50 year tradition. Mamiya began making the Mamiya 6 rangefinder and later their famed Mamiya 7. Today they offer a host of models, either manual, auto and with optional finders and winders. The compact 645E model is a relatively 'economical' cost-effective entry into the world of medium format, basically because its film back is fixed, i.e. not removable. Nevertheless, it has a meter for aperture priority AE. It also has AE compensation in 1/3 of f/stop increments, multiple exposure capability and mirror lockup. Available Mamiya Sekor lenses range from 24mm to 500mm in focal length. The 645 AF and the 645 PRO TL are other interesting models as well.ailable lenses
 
This model is perhaps the one most resembling a 35mm SLR. It features: Metal focal plane shutter of max 1/4000 sec. High flash sync speed of 1/125 sec. Aperture priority, Shutter priority and full Program AE. A metered manual mode. Three metering modes: Center weighted average, Spot, and Auto A-S (Variable ratio). Auto bracketing function exposes three frames consecutively. The system has 7 new autofocus AF lenses and 22 manual focus interchangeable lenses. Both 120 and 220 roll film can be loaded in the magazines. And to top it, TTL direct flash control system.
Other models worth researching are the RZ67 Pro II, RB67 PRO SD, and the 7 II. For those interested in both film and digital, there is the newer model 645 AFD.

See its current price at B&H Photo and Video

 

Check prices at B&H

Pentax 645N
 
Contax 645
The world's first Pentax 645 established a name for this medium format since 1984. The 645N model shown here, caused quite a stir in the marketplace as the next generation of the first high precision Auto Focus cameras of this format. It has surprisingly affordable lenses, four exposure modes, three metering patterns, AE compensation and exposure bracketing. The newest version is the 645 NII. 
 
The Contax 645 is a stunning machine, with a complete system of 7 Carl Zeiss T* lenses ranging from a very wide 35mm f/3.5 Distagon to a rather nice long 350mm f/4 Tele Apotessar, although the favorite of users seems to remain the 80mm f/2 Planar. It has the fastest shutter top speed for the format: 1/4000 sec and syncs at 1/125 sec. 

For prices check B&H

 

$? See B&H Photo and Video

Bronica GS1
 
Fujifilm GA645Zi Professional
I would fail not mentioning the well made Bronica. Shown above is the newest 6X7 model which also accepts multi format film backs (6x6, 6x4.5, 35mm, polaroid). 
Other models include a 6X6 (SQ-Ai) and a 645 (ETRsi). They are made and distributed by Tamron.
  This a great point & shoot medium format camera, with AF and AE capabilities, a Titanium body and a 55-90mm f/4.5-6.9 power zoom lens. Fujifilm has developed also other very interesting models as well in 6X7, 6X9 and even a panoramic 6X17.

Other medium format SLR options include the now rubber armored Exakta 66, Pentacon Six and the Russian Kiev 60

Arrow Medium Format Recommendation: 

Try them all, get whatever feels better; you are the one who is going to live with it. They are ....

  • All very well constructed, the least convenient to carry and expensive, but  
  • Give you the best possible negatives or slides sizes before going into view cameras. 
  • Have the highest WYSIWYG capability and  
  • Can include any automated feature you can dream of, including Auto Focus, Auto Metering and impressive digital backs of several brands 
  • If you are casual photographer, despite all of the advantages including the glamour and the status, you will soon get tired of lugging around one of these cameras. You might be better of with a compact 35mm Point & Shoot.  
  • If you are serious about photography but still hate the added size and weight of the medium format, buy a 35mm Single Lens Reflex
  • Now, if you really want to go for the Medium Format, again, try them all, feel them; if you can, rent one and use it, check if you are comfortable with it, see the results and then decide. They are not as popular as the 35mm format so trading or exchange is less easier. In any event you are on your way to outstanding pictures, at least as good as with a high end 35mm SLR.

To choose a camera is not an easy task for the new photographer to be. Choices are many and marketing has become the refined art of confusing the buyer into purchasing anything.

Without getting too philosophical, photography is the means through which you want to capture still images; occasions, events and maybe also moods, emotions and memories. You might be casual about it, frequently serious, deadly serious or a pro. This is what in the end really determines the resources you allocate to the tools for the task.
 

Nikon F5

 Nikon F5 shown here with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

 

Arrow
Recommendations:
  • No matter what, stay clear from the so-called "Advanced Photography System" or APS, even from the SLR APS. It is not worth the pain. What you gain in convenience you loose in disappointments, mostly from the size of the negative. Nikon has now discontinued production of its APS SLRs.
    -  
  • If you are casual photographer, get a compact or 35mm Point & Shoot. Larger negative size than that of the APS, still very small and therefore convenient, with good lenses for small to medium size prints. 
    -
  • If you want to get serious about it, buy a 35mm Single Lens Reflex  . Relatively easy to master, you will soon be a very happy photographer capable of outstanding pictures and huge enlargements, whether you have chosen a manual 35mm SLR, an autofocus or a high end flagship.  
    -
  • If you have the budget and savor exquisite pieces of machinery and optics, get a 35mm rangefinder camera, although you will encounter a limited set of (superb and expensive) lens choices and not that many zoom lenses as of yet. Least WYSIWYG, but you may even learn to shoot from the hip. In terms of status, yes there are models that will enhance it.  
    -
  • Now, if you want superior negative's quality at all times for huge enlargements, don't mind the inconvenience of the size, or are considering becoming a pro and have no serious budget constraints, go for the ...... Medium Format, but even then, don't give up 35mm.
    -
Regardless of your choice,
remember to ....

Have a great time Be Happy!

 

(5 Votes )
Show pages (12 Pages)

Originally written on May 21, 2002

Last updated on December 19, 2017

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 45746 posts

2 comments

Larry Jones (Larry443) on May 4, 2014

Outstanding! Thanks so much for the overview and the recommendations. I enjoyed reading about each class or group you presented. I especially liked your closing comment as that's what it's all about for me. Thanks again! Larry

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 5, 2013

Very good points which we may check when we want to buy a new camera. Thanks.

G