Body material - in the days of old they could do rugged things...

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ruslan, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. So why aren't all entry-level SLR cameras made of metal? I am engineer and do undderstand what manufacture cost mean... but aren't they aimed to seasoned photographers? Many years of usage? Then, even many compacts are made of metal, but SLR - it is need. Remember FE, FM? Pentax K1000?
    Once I picked, in the dusk of film era, a very old Pentax 50/1.7...Old as universe... Even the aperture ring was metal, and "Asahi Pentax" was engraved on the barrel...We do need reliability. I want D60 and D90 to be metal. I assume that when a person gets a SLR he wants a rugged one.
  2. "Entry level". People are concerned about weight, and plastic is lighter than metal. The plastic isn't that weak- it's actually a pretty strong plastic. People who don't mind the weight and want super ruggedness can get a Nikon D300 or D3 :p.
    Or go buy a film camera.
  3. So why aren't all entry-level SLR cameras made of metal? I am engineer and do undderstand what manufacture cost mean... but aren't they aimed to seasoned photographers?​
    in a word, no. this may seem obvious but entry-level cameras are aimed at entry-level users. for "seasoned photographers" used to 35mm film focal lengths, there's the D700 and D3. in other words, you pay more for the benefit of experience. or metal DSLR bodies.
  4. I'm not particularly nice to my cameras - they hang over my shoulder all day, and get a punch from time to time. I have not had any problems with the D70-body not being of metal. My experience is that Nikon cameras are tough.
  5. Yes, see how many people are still using D50s. That means something...
  6. Entry-level/consumer DSLRs are not aimed at seasoned photographers. They're aimed at as many people as possible. I think (but no source to back it up) that the majority of D40/D60/D5000 buyers will want the camera to take good photos of family trips and holidays. Exactly the occassions where a heavy bag with a rugged DSLR gets in the way....
    And my D50 and D80 never felt like they would fall apart. Not a squeak, no play in the body panels, not after a lot of use either. Plastic as a material has come of age, and there is no longer need to do everything in metal, without sacrificing reliability.
    But funny, nearly all engineers I know always tend to be a tad conservative when it comes to material choice. Old habits die hard, I guess ;-)
  7. What a lot of people dont think about is the fitness for purpose of an object.
    Entry level cameras are made the way they are because they fit the purpose for which they are intended.
    People who need a ruged camera will have the money to spend on a better made body.
    Also, modern plastics are very tough and stiff. Something which I would imagine is very important in a camera. Steel bodies will be prone to flex and warp.
    What I would like to see however is a CFRP body, and see what fool would spend good money on it!
  8. Just to add to Wouter's commend regarding engineers...
    I am doing a PhD in aerospace materials and when I talk to more experienced engineers they always want to use what they used when they were "growing up".
    I cant remeber the exact quote but I think its along the lines...
    physics only changes when a physicist dies.
  9. I was in the photo industry in the 1970s when plastic-body 35mm SLRs were first introduced. The roar of protest from experienced photographers was deafening. But consumers flocked to the new cameras in the millions. The new designs did exactly what the manufacturers intended -- converted non-35mm snapshooters to the world of SLR photography. The experienced photographers never did stop complaining; all the while a whole new mass market was being created around them. By the way, that's the same plastic that football helmets are made of. Engineers take note: Even better composite materials are now coming out of the aerospace industry.
  10. metal dents.
    plastic bounces... to a point...
    plastic is probably the best material for my D50. I wouldn't like it a lot heavier than this.
  11. I have a D200 and have found it to be very durable. But still a metal entry level camera such as the D60 would bring out the check book. I would want one. A tough black anodized metal finish and leather like exterior (color options?) would be great and fun to have.
  12. Plastics are a lot better than they used to be. My D90 feels quite sturdy enough. Also, these cameras are designed to be used for years, not decades - the body will be obsolete and worthless before it wears out.
  13. In days gone by, when the sensor in the camera was updated every 36 exposures it was expected that the camera would last for years, maybe decades. Now days, to update the sensor you need to replace the entire body. Because of this development, the life cycle of the body only needs to be 18 to 24 months. Now it’s like most electronic gadgets, it’s disposable. The question is, when will manufactures build a durable body with a replaceable sensor.
  14. From a sales perspective, one can never underestimate the importance of weight. Entry level DSLR's are not aimed at season photographers, the same way the Nikon EM, FG and FG-20 weren't in the 70's and 80's. They are aimed at enticing the average citizen into stepping up to a SLR from a point and shoot. Of course a seasoned photographer can use an 'entry level' SLR and make incredible pictures with it. But let's be honest, that's not the market Nikon is pitching the camera to. In fact, Nikon would much rather have the seasoned photographers stay away from them and buy the more expensive models instead.
    The other ugly truth about DSLR's is they don't have to last. A D60 produced today doesn't need to have a shelf life much more than 5 years. Nikon doesn't need to make a camera that will last through the ages, the buying public will plunk down another wad of cash for the next camera every 5 years or so. And the majority in even less time than that.
    To return to the issue of weight - I love my Nikon F3, but I do find it heavy to carry around in certain situations. So much so that I'm seriously considering picking up a Nikon FG-20 and a 50mm Series E lens, which should weigh in at a paltry 600 grams (100 less than the F3's body alone). Will the FG-20 be around as long as the F3? Definitely not. There's no question metal bodied SLR's are far more durable. But the point I've been circling around is that plastic bodies have their place in the SLR world, be it for a new photographer or a seasoned one.
  15. I've got a variety of Nikon bodies. My old F is tough as nails, but shows dings where they've happened. My FM and FE2, same way - every ding is quite permanent. I've also got an N4004 (plastic-bodied 35mm from the mid-1980's). I've completely abused it. It's my "disposable" auto-focus 35mm body. I throw it into bags without thinking or caring about it. I've had a dog pick it up and run with it. I've dropped it from a horse (with the 50/1.8 that I still use!). The damn thing keeps on working.

    I keep telling myself that one of these days I'm going to get an F100 while I can still find a pretty one at a decent price. I keep saying that as soon as that N4004 dies, that'll be the sign. I think I'm going to have to change my thinking around to, "that N4004's AF system is a dog, and that's a good reason to kill it off." So, even 20+ year-old plastic SLR bodes (and the N4004 was a consumer body) are quite tough. It's not a material to dismiss as undesireable.

    That said, I like the feel of the magnesium frames in the D200/300/700 sized bodies. Just feels right, esepcially in terms of balance when using heavy lenses and with a larger speedlight mounted.
  16. Many times my old Nikon N80 and me have slid down too steep slopes, bouncing off of rocks and sliding through gravel. The only sign of abuse is the metal ring of the sky light filter. The plastic body looks like new.
  17. I might be wrong, but so far I remember a large number of complains from people and even reviewers about possible plastic failures, but very few if any actual failure reports, despite the facts that 80% of DSLR sales are probably at entry level point and Internet tends to amplify negative comments. I suspect most people could like metal just for its feeling (which by the way can be a good enough reason, especially if you do this for hobby), but would not trade off lightness and price for this.
    PS My old car ('67 opel kadett) was all metal, solidly built in Germany, all mechanical, no electronics. It needed some repair at least twice a year. My current Opel Astra (2000) is full of plastics and electronic gadgets. It has not required any repair yet. And I'm a mechanical engineer...
  18. "Bulletproof glass" (Lexan, I think is the trade name) is a plastic. Take an ordinary CD, put on eye protectors and a pair of gloves to protect against possible cuts, and then bend the CD till it breaks. I guarantee that an equal thickness of ordinary sheet metal such as was used for the top and bottom plates of old SLR's would be permanently bent by a lesser application of force than it took to snap the CD.
    The interior chassis of the D90 is stainless steel, with an outer shell of plastics and rubber. The higher-end (and dimensionally larger) Nikons use magnesium alloy etc. for their chassis, because it's a bit lighter for the same strength. I'm pretty sure that any traumatic force that would fall just short of crushing those interior metal structures would irreparably shatter the LCD panels, break off control knobs, crack the rear LCD display, crush the pentaprism housing, etc.
    They used metal "in the days of old" because that was what was available and cost-efficient and felt impressive to the touch. By the way, all of my vintage metal-based "user" cameras have some degree of rust or other corrosion showing in small areas now, whereas my oldest plastic cameras look pristine, and none of them have ever broken.
  19. I thought the D90 was all plastic, to get a metal interior chassis you had to go up to the D300, which is magesium alloy underneath the plastic shell.
    I too love old metal cameras. The Nikon F that was owned by my late father is a work of art to me, I love to use it, it's never been overhauled but works very well. The Nikon FE2 had a couple dents in it by the time I sold it 13 years after I received it as a high school graduation gift, but it still worked as perfectly as it did the day it was new. My current Nikon F100 is also a brilliant design, I just love to hold it and look through that gorgeous viewfinder. The D300 too, but it has a much smaller viewfinder than the F100.
  20. Money is also an issue. Plastic allows designers to integrate a large number of parts that in a metal body would require a lot of assembly (=cost). Metal and plastics both have their own (dis)advantages. Personally I'm quite happy with nowadays bodies although mine seems to be made of magnesium alloy. More by coincidence than by choice.
  21. jtk


    The new Pentax K7 has a stainless steel core and is metal-clad. Roughly comparable performance to D300/D90 (better than D200). Very water/dust resistant. Metal lens construction, too...check Pentax's pancake primes.
  22. I think a metal chassis with a polycarbonate (ie: plastic) shell is actually better in my experience. My Nikon F3 when dropped would almost always:
    1. Dent.
    2. Break.
    Whereas my Nikon 8008s would:
    1. Bounce.
    2. Maybe gain a cosmetic crack, but not usually.
    So personally, and perhaps it's based on sheer luck, I'd rather have a plastic outside.
    Also while metal is a lot sexier, it does get awful heavy.
  23. PS: I think the metal tends to transmit the shock inward, whereas the plastic buffers it.
  24. The metal on a D300 is rigid but not flexible and relatively thin, it will break quite easily when forced. In most usage I find polycarbonate a better material since it does a far better job at absorbing impact. Some old, large cameras make more use of steel, which is heavy but quite long lasting. The only thing I prefer modern metal bodies more than plastic bodies is for things like macro where rigidity is a must. And then I'd rather go with high-quality steel.
  25. The only cameras I've ever had that survived a hard drop on to concrete were made out of plastic.
  26. They once made dashboards out of metal, too. Even apparently plasticky "classics" like the old FG had a metal chassis lurking under their skins. Older isn't axiomatically better.
  27. I just looked at several reviews online, and there appears to be a lot of confusion as to the D90's construction. The most reputable and thorough testing sites ALL mention a metal substructure, though I've seen it listed also as "aluminum alloy" and in one case there was a diagram or photo of the bare metal chassis, though I saw that particular site a couple of months ago and couldn't refer anyone to it. In any case, the camera feels rather heavy for its size so I'm pretty sure there's a chunk of metal in there and after twelve weddings so far this year, I feel completely confident in its construction. By the way, the battery is fantastic and after shooting 1200-1300 shots is only half discharged, and then takes about an hour to recharge fully.
  28. Its called controlled obsolescence. I have all metal nikons from the FM upwards. I don't think I could buy a plastic one. Today they really want you to drop your camera about a month after the warranty runs out. Then you have to replace it. But by then the new model is out and you upgrade.
    I don't think its at all to do with weight saving. Its to do with cost. I shudder to think of the cost difference between the mag.rubber body on the D300 upwards compared to the plastic bodeis.
  29. I prefer all metal construction - mind you I'm in excellent shape so I can handle the extra one pound of weight.
    FYI: Television is the modern day Medusa. Go to the gym instead. Then they'll start making all cameras out of metal again.
  30. I don't mean to hijack this thread but I'm not clear on something: older metal bodies had metal exteriors whereas even the metal chassis today are wrapped in plastic. With this more recent approach is the metal really being used for impact resistance or to provide rigid platforms for heavy lenses, etc? As Lewis Hizer mentioned earlier it seems like in any event the delicate elecrtonics in modern digital cameras would be damaged by the shock/impact well before even a plastic chassis would break.
  31. The dynamics of an impact event are very complex. I have spent the last 12 months reading about impacts of projecectiles into a flat panel of carbon fibre reinforced plastic at various velocities, sounds simple right? Conclusions?
    It depends on impact velocity, angle, rotation, temperature, pressure and a whole bunch of other things. You cant just say that plastic body's are better at impact resistance than metal. The issue is so complex that you cant just make a simple statement.
    The degree of damage depends on so many factors that I doubt anyone could give real evidence to suggest either way. Till I see a paper in a peer reviewed journal its just an opinion.
  32. The synthetic exteriors - rigid plastic and soft grip panels - are designed to provide rounded, ergonomically friendly shapes that conform to the human hand. This is more easily done with plastics than metal.
    A side benefit is quieter operation. dSLRs generally are much quieter with less felt vibration than metal bodies.
    Camera bodies can be made from metal with ergonomic shapes - if you don't mind the incredible cost of a titanium shell, or the outrageous weight of die cast zinc.
    But it's moot, because real craftsmen photographers carve their own camera bodies from granite. Metal is for wimps and consumers.
  33. What's with all this luddite malace towards plastic. Sure there's a lot of junk in the world made out of plastic but that doesn't mean everything made out of plastic is junk. In most applications, plastic can be lighter than metal and almost as strong. It also absorbs impact quite a bit better without permanently deforming (and there is a lot of literature on this). Not for nothing were metal car bumpers retired long ago.
    I wonder if as many people would complain if camera where made out of a sexier cousin of plastic like carbon fiber. Then I bet there would be a bunch of oohhing and ahhing over how light, strong, and durable it is.
  34. I worked in sales during a period when the transition was happening from metal to plastics - by that time consumers had largely accepted, but pros still wanted metal. Repairmen we worked with told me that experience was that metal bodies would dent nicely up to a point and then the exterior damage would be transmitted inwards and take something critical out. Plastics appeared to be dissipating it, and then the plastic panels/covers themselves breaking (rather than bending) - causing less interior damage as they failed, and it seemed fewer catastrophic failures. And my experience bears this out - the only unrecoverable camera failure I've had was a bounced Nikkormat.
    Not saying this is the case across the board, but I've found all the Nikon dslrs and almost all the SLRs before that to be very durable, regardless of metal or plastic (I'm another d50 user - looks like new). Pro level cameras will always be built to a higher level of abuse-resistance, of course.
    But for the OP: if you have a craving for metal cameras, there is absolutely no shortage of them about on the used market. Used Japanese rangefinders can be had for tens of dollars, medium format metal bricks for hundreds, all manner of SLRs, etc. My heaviest metal beast is a Russian-made rangefinder; feels great in the hand but I'm trying to avoid dropping it.
  35. The other ugly truth about DSLR's is they don't have to last. A D60 produced today doesn't need to have a shelf life much more than 5 years. Nikon doesn't need to make a camera that will last through the ages, the buying public will plunk down another wad of cash for the next camera every 5 years or so. And the majority in even less time than that.​
    ...and there you go. That is the ugly truth. An old film camera just keeps doing what it does. The technology is mature and all the advances are in a single, and relatively inexpensive roll of film. The digital stuff gets you onto the endless upgrade treadmill where the "new and Improved" version is released, what, every 18 months or so?
  36. ...and there you go. That is the ugly truth. An old film camera just keeps doing what it does. The technology is mature and all the advances are in a single, and relatively inexpensive roll of film. The digital stuff gets you onto the endless upgrade treadmill where the "new and Improved" version is released, what, every 18 months or so?​
    I don't think this was even true with film bodies. In the AF days they evolved just like digital to offer new features to the users (and profit to the companies, of course). In the end this evolution it what lets real artists explore new techniques. Also happened the same to manual bodies, we think they are somewhat "atemporal" designs, but in fact they got outdated when AF appear. Truth is that most of the users prefered the new features and moved to the new standars.
    Regarding metal bodies, do you think Nikon is using metal bodies in the pro models just because "It feels right"? I think we should give more credit to camera engineerings.
  37. Dropping mechanical/electronic gear is usually a bad thing. The proverbial "you could use it to hammer the tent 'herrings' in" is as stupid as it was. The body might endure, but do the fine mechanics/electronics inside? Will things not get badly out-of-line, or worse?
    I do like the feel of my F3(T, mind you!). But my old F401 and F801 (N8008) were as tough as I could wish - although admittedly I do not know how much metal was inside them. I tend to prefer the (semi)pro camera models for their features (now: F3, F4, D200), but would not hesitate to buy a 'plastic' model in terms of reliability or resistance to abuse.
  38. My capable N80 sits on my shelf next to my FE's and adored black FTn whom both have film in them and are the picks to accompany me on my jaunts out there . There is something of special beauty about them over the plastic SLR . That's not to say I pick my D300 over my 90 often ... it's weight , weight , weight then . Hmmmm . Thank you for all your words and thoughts ; it makes my day .
  39. The polycarbonates they use for today's camera bodies are actually much more rugged than the thin metal that used to be used. I cannot tell you how many times I have dinged a metal camera body (the pentaprism is especially vulnerable.) Usually the damage is only cosmetic but never the less..............!
    "Plastic" is much less vulnerable as well as being cheaper to manufacture and opens up a world of new possibilities. Its seems it's much easier to injection mold (or however they do it) shapes in this material than to fabricate them from metal. Having said this, I adore metal body cameras and are with you on the aethetics.
  40. I bought several Nikon Point and Shoot camera's last Christmas for stocking stuffers and they all had a metal external body. They seem rugged enough. They are advertised as shock proof and water proof. Of course that's not a DSLR but Nikon does make some metal bodied camera's. My ipod that I just received on Father's day is a metal bodied gadget and I like they way it looks and feels. I have been busy filling it with my music and photos since then. New Leica M mount camera's are metal bodied also. I have never owned a Leica camera but I have always thought of them as very beautiful and elegant to see and hold. But my Nikon D200 which is what I shoot most of the time is certainly durable. The rubber grip certainly allows you to hang on to it easily. I would like a D60 with a metal body but that is not going to happen. BHPhoto say's the D60 is a discontinued model anyway so I figure soon you will not even be able to get a plastic d60. It was the last Nikon with ISO 100.
  41. I see a lot of people talking about plastic resistance compared to metal, but I wonder how many do really know what are real numbers.

    I know enought about material physics to say that "plastic" and "magnesium alloys" doesn't mean much if you don't know the actual composition. Then comes laboratory testing: heat, resistance, impacts... etc. Statements such as "plastic/magnesium bodies are..." are senless. It is not different than saying: "because you can drink water all liquids are drinkable".

    Again, If people that earn their money in world leading industries think that a particular magnesium alloy is better than a certain plastic to use with a high end camera model It should be more than "the feeling of the end user".
  42. Another thing to consider is that usually you drop/fall on/otherwise injure your camera with a LENS attached to it. I think an impact that would fall just short of seriously damaging a typical SLR of any type of construction would be far more likely to ruin the lens, especially a zoom with all of the moving parts and over a dozen lens elements, each vulnerable to decentering or breakage. Some of those elements are very thin. In fact, I've never actually known anyone to seriously damage their camera, other than leaving it sit in the rain, but I have several acquaintances who wrecked their lenses with a single clumsy move. The one place I insist on metal is the lens mount - both on the camera and on the lens. I've seen too many otherwise-good zooms gathering dust on shelves because one or more bayonet claws snapped off when the owner knocked it against something.
  43. Plastic VS: metal. I remember the uproar when the Glock pistol was introduced, and how many folks just "knew" that the Glock pistol would blow-up because it was "made out of plastic". That has not proven itself to be the case, as the "new" polymer plastics are very strong and durable.
    That being said, I still choose my Nikon F3HP's & F4s over any "plastic" camera out there.
  44. In 40 yrs I have never dropped a camera or even banged it hard..However I did drop a tripod off a cliff once. The tripod did fine but the ballhead shattered. But I figure that the plastic covering on our new model camera's is a very durable substance and a great choice for economical manufacturing and strenth to weight ratio. I am not an engineer or anything great. Metal bodied camera's worked out great for many years also. I personally have greater issues with camera's then the metal vs plastic thing myself. If a D60 were a nice metal bodied camera then I think it would just look nice and be a big seller for Nikon. I would probably purchase one unless the metal body bumped up the cost. I think of all the camera's I have owned it was never the outside body that moved me to replace the camera but rather internal problems such as inoperable light meters or other electronic issues. I have had several camera's repaired but I never had one that actually stayed repaired. Currently I shoot a D200 and it works great. It has not missed a glitch since buying it new over two years ago. I doubt I will have trouble with it for many years. It does have the plastic body and is very tough. I think it is basically an ugly camera to look at but very functional.
  45. Well, there's one use for a metal body: Jeff Widener, the photographer of the most well known and distributed Tiananmen Square shot of Tank Man, was saved from serious injury by an F3, which absorbed most of the force from a flying rock. That may explain why he took his famous shot on a different camera (I want to say it was an FE2, but I can't remember), rather than the F3. I don't know that a plastic body would have helped him as much.
    Not that most of us deal with dangerous situations or flying rocks on a regular basis.
  46. I did not know that. Pretty neat and lucky. The F3 is a solid camera inside and out.
  47. Thank you very much for this feedback, I meant, if manufacturers make mag-alloy compacts, they could make entry-level SLR so... Who is SLR buyer? - A man who trust in his equipment and wants a better/tougher camera than ANY compact (Canon G9)
  48. Relax guys. The overuse of metal is just a Russian engineering trait! Ham-fisted....

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