What to do with Older Nikon Gear
Keywords: tips_and_tricks, infrared
Nikon cameras have been around for over 50 years with the professional Nikon F hitting the market back in 1959. Some of us who use Nikon started out decades ago, amassing a large collection of equipment and cameras. Long-time Nikon users often wonder if their old equipment is still worthwhile, or if it is even still functional with the latest hardware. In this article, we’ll discuss using older Nikon gear in an attempt to sort it out.
You’ve just bought yourself this great Nikon D800 DSLR. Does this mean you can now take your old Nikon D200 (and the even older Nikon F4 before that) and toss them in the fireplace? With your Nikon D800 (or Nikon D810), are your old cameras suddenly useless and no longer functional?
Of course not. Just because you have your new bright and shiny gear, does not mean your old stuff does not work anymore. Your previous equipment is still going to work, and will still produce images that you were once happy with. So, why not use them? Your old DSLR can become a backup camera. Your old Nikon F4 can still shoot film, as well. They still make film, your camera can still use it and film can impart character to an image that digital often can’t quite match.
One of the most interesting things you can do to an old digital camera is to convert it to an Infrared (IR) camera. There are several companies out there that will convert your camera for you, such as LifePixel. For not a lot of money they will take your old digital SLR and remove the IR filter on it, replacing it with another that allows IR light to pass to the sensor.
All digital cameras can take IR images, but they usually require long exposure times, as the IR light is mostly filtered out through an internal filter. By replacing the internal filter with one designed for IR use, you can use your camera just as it was, with normal exposure times, but it will capture IR light.
You don’t have to use opaque filters and you can choose a filter for which part of the light spectrum you wish it to photograph: IR, ultraviolet, or “full spectrum.” Full spectrum filters block out no light at all, but requires a filter placed on the front of the lens. If you choose to go that route, it’s best to have a camera that has live view, as the image in the viewfinder will be opaque. The image on live view, though will contain the IR light that the sensor sees. You don’t have to do it that way, though. If you don’t have live view, you can still go full spectrum, and you review your image on your view screen as you would after any other photo you would take. Exposure times are as short as for any normal type of photo.
This sort of thing is true of all your gear. It doesn’t suddenly break because you bought something new. It might not have the latest whiz-bang features, but sometimes those features are only incremental. In other words they aren’t really going to make a great deal of difference in what you do.
Nikon has been making F-mount lenses since 1959. Through the years, they have been able to maintain incredible SLR compatibility. While lenses made prior to 1977 (non-AI) need to be modified to fit on newer cameras, once they have been properly changed, they will work on cameras that Nikon makes today. There are several hundred Nikkor lenses alone that you can use, as well as all the other F-mount offerings by other companies.
In your years as a photographer, you’ve likely have picked up several lenses. You may have a Reflex-Nikkor 1000mm f/11, and a nice macro lens, or any number of specialty lenses. All these lenses were the best and brightest when you got them, and you enjoyed making great photos that impressed your friends and family. But now, suddenly, you start reading things online. That Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S zoom that you (and most everyone else) thought was just amazing is now being derided as not very good. It’s obsolete (it’s not, and they still sell it). The Nikon 14mm f/2.8 AF-D prime, why that’s just a piece of junk. The thing to have now is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S.
Well, no. Not really.
I own all three of these lenses. The new 14-24mm zoom is a great lens and I would recommend it over the 14mm prime. It is sharper, has less distortion, and is recognized as one of the best lenses ever made.
It’s a little more complicated choosing between the 17-35mm and the 14-24mm, however you don’t always need absolute perfection.
Unless you’re going to be taking photos of test patterns or brick walls, or enlarging them to great size, you really are not going to be noticing very much difference. That lens you bought 20 years ago that was creating high quality results before is still going to do it now. On the other hand, if your previous lens is terrible, then it will also continue to produce terrible results. That’s when you replace it.
Lens technology has been moving forward for quite a while. They keep coming up with new things. Autofocus, silent wave focusing, VR, nano-coating, increased sharpness, and so on. These truly are great advances. So what is the gain? Let’s compare the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF Micro which they stopped making in 2007, and the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED which they are making now.
If you get the new lens, you gain the following features:
- AF-S. With AF-S the autofocus mechanism is inside the lens, and not part of the camera body. The older lens requires the camera to do the physical autofocus work. Some cameras are built for one type, or the other, or both. If you get an AF lens and have a camera that only supports AF-S autofocus, then you now have a manual focus lens. AF-S focusses a tiny bit faster, but as long as your camera works with your lens, this really isn’t going to affect you.
- VR. Vibration reduction helps keep things from getting blurry due to camera shake. When you hold a camera, your body and hands move a bit. This is helpful if you are hand holding your camera and shooting something that is not moving. You can slow your shutter speed down and still keep focus. But if you are shooting something that is moving, it’s not worthwhile. You will still need a faster shutter speed. If you are doing macro work, which is what this lens is for, you will likely be using a tripod, and in that case you turn this feature off.
- G. G lenses do not have aperture rings. To change the aperture you must adjust a setting on the camera body. This is not an improvement.
- IF. When you focus and IF lens, it focusses internally. The length of the lens does not change, and the front element does not rotate. This is handy if you are using a polarizer or a graduated neutral density filter.
- ED. Extra low dispersion glass elements are included in the lens, which help prevent color fringing on certain elements in the image.
Sounds like a lot of stuff! And it is a newer and better lens. Are these changes important enough to stop using your old lens? That’s up to you, but if you already have the 105mm f2.8d macro lens, and enjoy using it, will these features make you a better photographer? Do you need to get the new version with VR? No, you really don’t. Your old lens will work, just like it always did. In fact, you might not even want the newer version, as it’s a G series lens with no aperture ring. You might actually prefer using the older lens. I personally prefer lenses that have an aperture ring.
But what about Nikon saying you need this lens or that lens to get the most out of your Nikon D810? Understand: They want to sell lenses. That’s just good business. So, they make improvements and add the newest technology. It will be up to you as the consumer to decide if that new glass is nearly the exact same lens you already have.
Sure, it’s going to be a bit better, but often the differences are relatively small. If your technique is incredible, you may get some better results, but how noticeable will they be? Realize that the level of pixel peeping done today would require a microscope if done with film. Differences that are not that dramatic may not require you replace your old equipment.
Your lenses are fine, provided you are happy with the results that you have been getting from them. Instead of replacing things that are similar, get something new and different. If you don’t have a Nikon 16mm f/2.8 AF-D fisheye lens (or the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 DX Fisheye) you might want to consider something like that as a better investment. Fisheye lenses are really a lot of fun and a challenge to learn proper usage. A lens like this will broaden your skillset, and that’s always a good thing.
Check out this Nikonians article on the great value of older Nikkor lenses. You might also want to see our FAQ on lenses.
Originally written on February 4, 2015
Last updated on May 22, 2015
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Charles Wade Arvey (Tibikehauler1) on April 27, 2020
Very nice Jon. I have been thinking about these exact things lately. The 17-35 2.8 is a classic that I will use for many years; because it still works on my F3 as well as newer D series bodies. My son just bought the 16-35 4 and it is a nice lens. However, the lack of an aperture ring actually makes it unusable to me on the F3. Although I own many of them, the "G" lenses are and have always have been an oddity to me. I know it probably saved a few dollars to produce but really??? VR ?? IF ?? I agree with you as Nikon has to sell new technology. AF-S is perhaps, at least to me, a nice improvement. It seems that my D3S and the 80-200 2.8 make a very small noise or maybe a vibration when focusing. The lens is almost new; maybe the camera needs adjustment? Maybe it's my technique?? So, the big question that has been on my mind is do I / we / most of us go mirrorless?? Thanks again Jon for the great article.
KENNETH JACKSON (f5titan) on June 21, 2016
An excellent article. Many of your points are the same ones I posit with the members of my photo club who are discouraged with the prices of the newest lenses. I show them my macro results using MF55mm f2.8 and MF105mm f4.0 micro-Nikkor lenses indicating to them that the results from the newest macro lenses would not be notably better. I use these two lenses on my D700, D810 and D7100 on a regular basis and saved 100's of dollars in the process. I am now saving up and looking for a MF20mm f4.0Ai lens for nighttime sky photography (the hard infinity stop is very useful)and a MF200mm f4.0Ais micro-Nikkor.
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on April 18, 2015
That is actually a really wonderful idea.
Garth Klatt (JHzlwd) on April 15, 2015
I have discovered the perfect way to recycle Nikon gear I no longer use (it could be quite old or reasonably new). I have sought out a couple of photographically talented young people who can't afford the best gear (or, indeed, anything really good). I simply give mine away to them from time to time. It is very satisfying seeing my great stuff being put to such good use. Sure, I could sell these units but don't really need the money. I also get to do some mentoring although it works both ways having learned some very interesting things about composition (especially) from these new eyes.
Kivis Shapero (kshapero) on April 15, 2015
All my old Nikon lenses get some use on my newer equipment. Each have their own signature.
Alan Klughammer (graphius) on April 12, 2015
As another poster said, flashes are a bit of an issue. I still have an SB-24 and SB25 that I use off camera in full manual with wireless triggers. TTL has fundamentally changed since the film days.
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on April 12, 2015
I converted my d200 to "full spectrum." I was messing around with it, and was able to get a pretty good monochrome IR image by just using a #25 dark red filter. It shows a bit too much red in the color image, but if you desaturate it, it's pretty good for monochrome IR. The #25 red cuts off at 585nm, but you can get the red 29 which cuts off at 650 giving you a bit less visible...these work with the d200 and full spectrum such that you can look through the viewfinder and still compose an image a bit. If I use a 720nm filter, it is opaque, and I have to guesstimate composition. This is an issue because the d200 does not have live view. It's not an issue if the d300 has it. Then you just compose via live view while using an opaque filter. I'm not sure if any of this is clear..... What's really cool with a conversion is that you have short exposure times, as with a normal photo. I like the full spectrum conversion because it allows great flexibility.
Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on April 11, 2015
Thanks for the tips Jon. Although I am now using a D700 and D800, I still have my D200 and D300 around. I may convert one for IR use as you suggested. Cheers, Frederic in Montréal
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on April 11, 2015
I don't know why your lens is not working. That lens has a screw in lever, do you have that part? I have the 1000mm F11 reflex, and it does not have the problem you describe. Perhaps it was dropped at some point in the past and something is catching internally? Maybe in the previous fix, they lubricated the internals, and that dried up? Maybe a seal of some sort is bad? Where did you have it repaired?
David Brooks (dbrooks) on April 11, 2015
i have the 1000 f11 and i need a crow bar to move the focus ring, sometimes. Nikon refused to fix it about 5 years ago and i took it to a local shop and they fixed it, but about a year later it siezed up again. it seems to be a little better now but the shop doesn't want to fix it again. thoughts? email@example.com.
Robert S Baldassano (robsb) on April 9, 2015
Couldn't agree more I have a range of Nikkor Lens that span my old F3HP days to my present D810. When I went digital all my lenses were MF FX lenses and I only bought one DX lens later sold. I have the 17-35 AFS and love it. I also own a 35070 AFD which I bought at a truly bargain price. I will never sell it because it is compact and built like a tank. Yes I do own the 16mm fisheye and it is a fun lens to use, and so small it fits in my pocket. I am currently using all my old MF lenses including a 24 mm f/2.8 on my recently IR modified D200, because all those lenses have IR dots. All of this stuff seems to work fine on my D810 too.
Alex Cruden (Haggis2a) on April 3, 2015
I recently upgraded to a D810 (several steps beyond the D5100 I had been using) though I was horrified when I saw the price of FX Nikkor lenses, especially the latest 'G' range of lenses. I deliberately sought out 'older' generation 'D' lenses and haven't been disappointed. The 85mm 1.4 D and 50mm 1.4D lenses are nothing short of stunning and while reviews of their 'G' equivalents suggest they are considered superior, I'm more than happy with the two I picked up. Still not budget lenses by any means, but they show that you don't need the latest to be sure of great performance. I have a suspicion that the build quality of the 'D' lenses may mean a slightly longer lifespan anyway, and there's something satisfying about the solid feel of these compared to the newer models.
Alan Warren (AlWarren1313) on April 1, 2015
I am happily using my AI manual focus lenses with my D810 body. I can still make good pictures with them. I too like the aperture ring under my control on the lens.
John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on March 23, 2015
A great article, I couldn't agree more!
Sam Ratcliffe (samrat54) on March 5, 2015
Nice to hear some debunking of the junk you can read on line. Many of my lenses are MF. They work just as well with my F as they do with my D800. But wait, the D800 is now obsolete! We don't even want to talk about those totally unusable D700's! And, deliver us from an AI-converted 40 year old lense! There's no way it can be sharp at F11 when viewed at 200%. |grin|
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on February 28, 2015
They all work in at least M mode. Most work in A and M mode. As mentioned in the article, if you want new features to work with your camera, you need to get newer Speedlights. G type lenses are an absolutely terrible idea. But the bellows will attach to your camera, and will do amazing things. You are best to use a non-G lens with it, unless you want to shoot with it wide open, and without any aperture control. An entire separate article might be worth doing about how to use the bellows. I've read things where people talk about sticking a Q-Tip in the back of their G lens to get the aperture to stay closed. That doesn't strike me as a great idea. If you use the 20mm f/2.8D lens, and reverse it, and use a couple of specialized cables for that purpose, you can get up to 11 times magnification with the PB-6, and 22 times with the PB-6A. The 20mm lens is still made and sold, and you can get it used for about $400. The PB-6 for about half that. But the device itself does actually fit on the D800 and will still function. If you're into photographing very tiny things, it's a pretty good item to have.
User on February 26, 2015
Unfortunately the flashes of the past don't work with newer cameras. For example the SB-24 only works in A and M with the D700 and up. If you put it on TTL all the photos will be overexposed since all flashes are done in full power. Nikon doesn't make a bellows unit that allows you to use the G-type lenses. That's a pity considering how great a newer G-type lens would be on a PB-6 or PB-4 with swings.
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on February 26, 2015
That's a good idea, but be careful where you get it from. I've bought stuff from eBay and nearly all of it was perfectly fine, but it's a bit of a gamble. Make sure whatever you buy will work with your camera. Non-AI will only work if you modify the lens. Check Adorama and BH photo they have good used departments on their websites.
Kofla Olivieri (Kofla) on February 24, 2015
As a new Nikon user, for now I plan to purchase used gear until I feel comfortable with my camera.
KENNETH JACKSON (f5titan) on February 5, 2015
This is a very informative article and the subject matter is exactly what I share with my fellow camera club members on a regular basis. Of my 20+ lenses more than half of them are manual focus or considered obsolete but all of them provide very good results when used to their strengths. Even my PB6 bellows attachment (circa 1982) is useful with most of my lenses, including an AF70-180mm f4.5-5.6 Micro-Nikkor zoom. My eleven year old IR converted D70 is still providing surprising results.