Should I bother with a digital SLR in order to use older Nikkor lenses??

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by derek_atkin, Dec 25, 2009.

  1. I inherited my dad's Nikon F2S - which has a number of good Nikkor lenses. I thought about picking up a D1 or D2. Something that would allow use of these older lenses on a digital body. The lenses are late 70's and have been converted to AI - with a small slot cut in the base. I am curious if its worth it to pursue this course - or would I be better off to just fell the F2S and its lenses as a package?
    Love to hear pros/cons or other body alternatives.
  2. What lenses are we talking about?
  3. Any of these 24/2.0, 28/2.0, 35/1.4, 50/1.2, 58/1.2, 85/1.4, 105/1.8 lens?
  4. I bought a D200 so I could use my kit of lenses from my old F3 and the kit I inherited from my parents, but I found that new lenses are so much better suited to modern digital cameras, it made more sense to just buy a whole new lens kit. Unfortunately, most older lenses don't bring much money, so just keep the lenses that you don't have a modern equivalent of until you get something to replace it. I haven't found that selling equipment as a batch brings as much as selling lenses and bodies individually.
  5. Dont be afraid to give it a try. I bought a Nikon D200 to experiment around with as I am a late convert to digital (although I am not totally abandoning film...). I agree that modern auto-focusing capability is something that is helpful. I find if I have time to carefully focus then my shots are tack-sharp. But for quick action photography you will undoubtedly want auto-focus.
    That being said, some of the old MF Nikkors (AI, AIS) work very well on Nikon digital. I think this is one of the very coolest things about the whole NIkon system. Some lenses that were my stars on my F2AS cameras just are crummy on the D200-particularly the 24mm 2.8. But the 50mm 1.8, the 85 f1.4, the 105 f2.5, and the 180mm f2.8 ED lenses produce some very nice images, at least for me.
  6. I am not trolling, and I am still using my old non-AI lenses on my older Nikon cameras; but it may be of interest to you that all your old lenses would still work as manual stop-down, but through-the-lens metering lenses on any APS-C Canon EOS camera.
    Most MF Nikkors will work on the film EOS or 35-mm sensor EOS cameras, but a few wide-angle lenses have troubles because of projections to the back that will not clear the mirror on those cameras.
    Something like a used Canon XT or XTi is a very inexpensive path to keeping old Nikkor lenses in use.
  7. I use old nikon lenses on both my D2H and canon 5d. With the auto focus confirmation adapter the only difference between using AI lenses between the D2H and 5d is you get exif information in the D2H files. I do not recommend trying to use manual focus lenses on nikon cameras below the prosumer level D200/D300 due to metering issues.
  8. Here is the list of lenses:
    80-200 4.5
    43-86 3.5
    28mm 3.5
    50mm 1.4
    Should I stay away from the first generation digital bodies D100, D1 etc ?
  9. Derek,
    All of those lenses should work just fine on many of the newer cameras.
    Depending on your budget, a D200, D2X, D300 or D700 would all be extremely nice cameras to mount those lenses.

    Most of the modern, "nicer" cameras have a non-CPU lens custom menu where you enter in the lens' focal length and f-stop and shoot away.
  10. My old 80-200 4.5 AI zoom was too soft for me for most situations especially with Kodachome or the slower b&w films in my F2's.
    I only used that lens when I had no other choice, and never at 200. That length was never sharp for me. Even with the lens's overall softness. Given that, I don't find any sample shots I've posted on my web site using it either, not that I don't have some around.
    I'd be willing to bet that it won't be sharp enough on a decent digital camera, but I have not tried that out as I only use film.
  11. If your lenses are non ai then they can damage a D200, D300 and the other DSLR models designed to use those lenses. They will work on models like the D40
  12. I believe Derek said they were AI-modified.
  13. Derek,
    I would use them (in fact I only have AIS lenses and love using them on my D700).
    Remember though that if you purchase a DX camera (and not an FX one), all those lenses will in fact have their focal lengths extended by a factor of x1.5. So for example, that 28mm lens on a DX camera would become the equivalent of a 42mm on a 35mm film or FF digital camera. Only full-frame digital Nikons (D700, D3 etc) would treat that 28mm as a true 28mm.
  14. I found the transition from film (mainly colour slide film) to digital very smooth because I could use my old line-up of lenses on my new camera, then (and now..) the D200. Some lenses performed flawlessly. Some were less satisfactory.
    Would I be in the same position now - like you - I would definately recommend a FX-sensor camera. More useful on wide-angle lenses and probably easier to manually focus than DX camera's. On Nikon that would start with D700 and continue (money and feature wise) with several D3 variants, as you are probably aware of. Newer models. And considering your question, I ('..being in your position') would definately not buy an older model digital camera. For the reason of sensor-size. But also to avoid a possible double dissappointment: with the lenses, as well as with the camera! The starting point would be a second hand D300, now, 2009. And obviously better still: a second hand D700.
    Merry Christmas.
  15. The 43-86 zoom lens is not the best Nikkor to put on a DSLR (to put it mildly). That is, unless you're into IR photography where it does very well.
    The 28/3.5 and 50/1.4 should be good on any FX camera and you can expect very sharp and crisp images on a D700. They should also perform well on the DX models but here there might be some CA issues in the corners.
    The 80-200/4.5, if in good working order, should also perform reasonably well on a DSLR. However, you also are likely to see quite visible CA with it. Most of the CA can be removed in post processing though, which is a reminder that film and digital are two entirely different media.
  16. Derek, I too had a lot of old primes. My 50/1.4 was very sharp and contrasty. I only sold it because I got an AF version. Keep the 50 mm and the 80-200mm, sell the rest.
    I think you would like a D300, which can be bought secondhand for a decent amount. A D2Xs or a D200 would also do, but with a little more noise at higher ISO´s.
  17. Richard H feels that the 80-200 F4.5 is too soft, but I use mine on a D5000 and find it's very sharp at all focal lengths. That lens was one of Nikon's best zooms and should give you excellent shots if you take the time to focus properly.
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Derek, those old lenses you have don't worth all that much in the used market.
    If you have the budget to buy a good, up-to-date DSLR that can also take advantage of those older lenses, you get the best of both worlds and it would be great. I.e., if you can get a D700, D300, or D300S (w/ video), all of which are still current technology, that should work out fine.
    However, if you need to sacrifice image quality and features to get an older DSLR that was high-end once upon a time to get metering with those old lenses. I.e., if you need to buy a D2X, D200 or even a D1-family DSLR to get metering with those old lenses that don't worth much, IMO that is a bad move. Today, even the D90 or lowly D5000 have better sensor technology. Moreover, all of those DX-format DSLR are not that suitable for your old lenses, which were designed for 35mm film as Bjorn points out. See this current thread on why the D2X is very old technolgoy now:
    Consider this: the video capability on the D90 and D5000 can be handy sometimes; it is not great but for some people, it is very nice to have. Are you better off having that feature than the ability to meter with those old lenses? That is something only the OP can answer for himself.
    The OP can sell those lenses and move on, but again unfortunatley he won't get much from them.
  19. I have a large set of AIS lenses that I thought I might use on my D90. I don't. If I had a D700, I might, but really doubt it. I'm now very spoiled by the newer optics and their superior coatings, better glass, autofocus, internal focusing, vibration reduction and zooms with wide ranges that really work.
    I used both 105/2.5 and 200/4, but wanted the zoom capability for sailing photos, so I bought the 80-200/4.5. And sold it after a couple of rolls of film. At the shorter end I'd always reach for my 105/2.5 and at the longer end I'd want the 200/4, both dramatically superior optically.
    I'd still recommend a Nikon, but would use those old lenses for nostalgia's sake or when IQ wasn't an issue.
  20. I did that exact thing and found that manual focus on the digital camera was slow and combersome. The focus screen was lacking in brightness and contrast and made the process to difficult for rapid focusing. I did the exact same thing with a D200 and wound up buying some AF lenses as soon as I could. I started with the 50mm f1.8AFD as the price was low.
  21. I got outstanding results on my D700 with Nikon lenses made in the 1970s. I wouldn't let people here steer you in any direction. You need to try these old lenses out on a digital SLR and make up your own mind. Personally I'd rather use Nikon lenses made in the 1970s than the new plastic Nikon zoom kit lenses that come with the D5000, D90, etc.
  22. Way to go Dave. I agree. Not to take anything away from the AF lenses (other than the cheap kit lenses), but anyone who thinks that the Ai Nikkors weren't top notch optically is maybe too enamoured with the technology of the newer lenses. I'll grant that it takes a little getting used to focusing those older lenses, but practice makes it a whole lot easlier.
  23. Way to go Dave. I agree. Not to take anything away from the AF lenses (other than the cheap kit lenses), but anyone who thinks that the Ai Nikkors weren't top notch optically is maybe too enamoured with the technology of the newer lenses. I'll grant that it takes a little getting used to focusing those older lenses, but practice makes it a whole lot easlier.
  24. I too agree with those who suggests that it does not make a whole lot of sense to get a D700 just to use these all manual lenses instead of getting the new lenses that are designed to work well with digital bodies. There are technical reasons why lenses designed for use on film do not work well on digital bodies, just do a search. The D700 costs $3000 and should be matched with the new top glasses to take advantage of its capacities and do justice to the money that you spend. A cheaper alternative would be to buy one of those m4/3 cameras and use these Nikon lenses with an adapter that costs no more than $50. The Panasonic G1 can be found for $500 and is a blast to use MF lenses b/c of its superior EVF and the ability to magnify images to fine tune the focusing. It is a digital compact body designed to do MF.
  25. With an old Vivitar 135/2.8 (ais?) I get excellent results on my D90, the only problem is that you have to do everything manually. It is not really worse than my Nikkor 180/2.8 AF, but it takes a long time to handle, focussing, and the lighting is some kind of gamble. So there no need for a D700 but just time to get a good picture with those older lensses. And time seems to be out for us now.
  26. Man, I wish I had fallen into a super-sweet deal like that!!!!!!!
    I am rather biased so you may want to take what I say with a grain of salt. I have three F2's (all non-AI variants with the DP-12 finders) and got a D700 within the last year. I sat back patiently and waited for Nikon to produce a digital camera (that I could afford!) with an FX format so that I could use all my 12 Nikkors, from 16 to 500mm, at their stated focal lengths. The D700 is an extremely capable camera. Add with the MB battery pack installed, it will fall as naturally in your hands as an F2 with the MD-2.
    The digital is nice, especially for doing weddings or for commercial work when the customer wants to see the work before you leave, but in my mind, film will always reign supreme.
    If you really want to jump into digital, I would recommend going with a D700. It's 12.1 MP CMOS will provide images that can be enlarged to 24 x 30 and still look fantastic. Just my 2¢ of course, but I think this MP one-up-manship is out of hand. If all your lenses are AI (or converted to such) you can use them perfectly with the D700. You can still do full manual metering with them and aperture priority automation if you are so inclined. If you do, however, I would strongly recommend that you get an aftermarket matte screen with either a microprism or split image center. They range from $75 to around $95. Katz Eye makes some that are very good. The standard D700 screen is pretty inadequate for manual focusing, especially with shorter focal length lenses and I have found the focus confirmation to be hit and miss at best. A traditional focusing screen, which is a snap to replace, is definitely the way to go.
  27. Many thanks to all the responses.
    After some consideration - I am thinking more along the lines of a D200. I cannot afford to get into a D700 right now and the D200 seems like a step up from a D1/D2 while not breaking the bank. If I read the specs correctly it will mount and meter AI lenses without issue and I can substitute a split ring focus ring to aid in the manual focus process. In addition I will add an MB pack as I have always had motor drives on my SLR's and like the feel/grip.
  28. The 50/1.4 and 28/3.5 have been very good on my D300. Haven't tried the two other lenses.
    The D200 is a better idea than an old D1 or D2. A D2X is reasonably good, but costs much more too. A D300 or D700 would obviously be a better choice.
  29. Derek, this particular comment from you would lead me to offer an alternative suggestion over the D200:
    "...I will add an MB pack as I have always had motor drives on my SLR's and like the feel/grip."​
    If you have a hankering to experiment with manual focus lenses on a dSLR and don't want to spend too much, a good used D2H is a good bet. Several pluses, only a few minuses:
    • Convenient TTL metering with almost any manual focus lens that is physically compatible . I use my D2H routinely with AI, AIS, preset and fixed aperture lenses, and even a pre-AI version of the 180/2.8 Nikkor with the help of the M2 extension tube (no conflict with the non-hinged tab on the D2H).
    • Bright, crisp viewfinder, facilitates precise manual focusing. Comparable to the E grid screen on my F3HP (other than the overall "size", due to the DX crop factor). No need for a split-image or aftermarket focus screen.
    • Good battery life per charge.
    • Very good ergonomics, including the integral vertical grip. No need to add a vertical grip/battery pack, it's already there.
    • Rugged build and a very good buy on the used market now. Maybe even a best buy for use with manual focus lenses if you can live with the disadvantages.
    • Not readily compatible with most (not all) non-AI lenses. Exceptions include those few non-AI lenses with recessed rear flanges which completely clear the indexing tab and cannot damage that tab. That includes a handful of older third party Vivitars, Soligors with sorta-auto apertures (such as the Soligor 200/3.5), as well as Nikon's own 35mm and 28mm preset aperture PC-Nikkor shift lenses (no possibility of "AI" anyway since they're not auto-indexing lenses).
    • The D2H is heavy and bulky. Maybe not a factor for you since you planned to add the accessory grip anyway.
    • The 4 mp limit. Good for up to around 8x10 without resorting to interpolation or other tricks.
    • Prone to wonky colors, especially skin tones, under some artificial lighting, especially fluorescent and metal halides found in typical gyms and auditoriums. Great colors in daylight tho', and with flash when flash is either mixed with daylight, or is the dominant light source under artificial light.
    • Noisy above ISO 400. Mostly chroma noise, easily fixed, up to ISO 800 without compromising fine detail, and up to ISO 1600 with some compromise to fine detail with luminance noise reduction. From 1600 on up the luminance noise is very heavy too and not easily corrected without sacrificing fine detail.
    The main reason I got the D2H is precisely because it was a very good value in 2005 at the then-deeply discounted new price, and was compatible with my existing manual focus Nikkors. It's still a good value for that particular reason, and a much better buy used than the D2X. The D1H and D1X would offer similar value for experimenting with older manual focus lenses, but have a few disadvantages including shorter battery life between charges (documented in the archives and via Google).

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