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.
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