Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by jim_cain, May 3, 2003.

  1. I am interesed in a SLR for birding/nature at +135mm. I know very little about Nikon
    lenses--or the nomenclature--F, A1, AF-- If I bought the camera, what PRIME lenses
    should I look for --What will work? I don't care about autofocus and remember the
    "1973 ish" 83mm with affection. A simple guidleline is appreciainted.
  2. manual focus- go for AI OR AIS non AI are for the old non
    indexing cameras nikno F etc... I love the 85 f1.8 AIS very shard.
    Good think about Nikon is AF and MF lenses work on either
    body, not however the new AF G lenses as they have removed
    the aperture ring. The FM3A is a very nice camera similar in
    features to the M7. You can pick up the long AI AIS glass for very
    good prices these days. hope this helps abit.
    Cheers, Mark
  3. There are a few good books about Nikons. "Moose" Peterson has a book that tells about every Nikon lens, body and flash. Since the FM3A is manual focus you can take advantage of lots of older MF Nikon lenses that are cheap compared to new AF lenses. Get AIS lenses, which are the latest of the MF lenses.

    Hope that this is of some help.
  4. You might want to try the Nikon forum also, as this question doesn't deal with rangefinder esoterica.
  5. A 400mm f5.6 ED would be perfect for birding, with a FM3a. This is not currently in production, but write to me if you decide to get one.

    Douglas Herr (writes on this forum) is a master of the Leica R 400mm Telyt lens. Please look at his website to see superb bird pictures.

    Best of luck.
  6. Look at for lens reviews of all makes. The 55 2.8 micro is superb and inexpensive on *bay or KEH. The 180 2.8 ED is another fine affordable Nikon offering. I'll be picking up an FM3a soon as well for macro and longer tele work. Cheers!
  7. There's a glowing review of the FM3a in this month's Outdoor Photography in the UK. Personally, I had a FM2n and I didn't like the viewfinder which, like the FM3a only shows 92% or so.

    Before parting with your hard earned ackers you might want to investigate the F3 which I believe has just been discontinued. In my opinion it's likely to be a much nicer camera altogether although it doesn't have the FM3a's very clever hybrid shutter.

    If you do go for the FM3a, any AI or AIS should work nicely and you can save a lot of money by looking for well used ones. Just because it's got the paint rubbed off doesn't mean it won't take very sharp shots. I had a 180mm ED which had seen a lot of life before I got it and saw a lot more with me - the images were superb. I've only ever bought one new Nikkor and that was because I was offered a truly astounding deal. Nikkor lenses are astonishingly tough as well as very, very sharp.
  8. The best manual-focus prime lenses (although you can use any non-G AF lens) are the 20mm f/2.8, the 28mm 2.8 (look for the 8-element version) or the 28mm f/3.5 PC (because it'll do something the M system won't), the 55mm f/2.8 micro, the 105mm f/2.5, the 180mm f/2.8ED, the 400mm f/5.6 ED-IF, and the 500mm f/4P, all of which are pretty much first-class optics, although that last one is a bit on the expensive side. The 400mm isn't quite as good as the rest of the lot, I think, but the other options in 400mm (unless you want to go 2.8) aren't as appealing.
    There are a couple of things nikon doesn't do well. They don't make a really good 135mm lens except for the superb but overpriced 135mm f/2AF-DC. Their manual focus 300mm lenses (except for the 2.8) are a little underwhelming, as well -- some much more than others.
    You should really look at Bjørn Rørslett's lens reviews at They're quite detailed, and very informative.
  9. Some useful links for Nikon lens nomenclature:

    As noted above, the 'pre-AI' and AF-G lenses are not compatible with the FM3a (though pre-AI lenses can be upgraded). You'll get plenty of suggestions for specific lenses on the Nikon forum, and on the Nikkor forum at
  10. I use a Nikon 400mm f3.5 manual focus on a FM2n or an F100.
    Add the TC14b teleconverter and you have a 5.6 560mm. This
    lense is extremely sharp, focuses very quickly and smoothly, and
    is far less bulky than the manual or autofocus lenses Nikon
    makes at f2.8. The other top Nikon lense is the 80-200mm f 2.8.
    The silent wave (newest version) is great, but the older lenses
    are just as sharp, though AF is slower. The 400mm f3.5 is also a
    bargain right now. Everyone is going AF crazy, so they're cheap
    (less than 2 grand.) I shoot both lenses on a weekly basis, as
    well as my M6 :) The owl photo was taken with the 400mm at f3.5
  11. Chad,

    Since you mentioned Moose Peterson; Penn Camera (my employer) is hold his Walk Softly But Carry a Big Lens Seminar on May 15th in the DC area. Anyone interested in wildlife and landscape photography might find this seminar informative.

  12. For birds I prefer a fast-handling long lens, like the Novoflex 400mm f/5.6 or Leica 400mm f/6.8. Either can be found for well under $1,000 on ebay. In fact, the Leica 400mm f/6.8 adapted to Nikon was the standard bird photography lens before AF became popular. Look for the visoflex version of the 400mm f/6.8, and get an adapter from Stephen Gandy. More info on my website.
  13. 400/3.5 AI or AIS with TC14b. A birding lens to die for.
  14. Thanks Folks, very informative + great pictures and links as well. I am now on
    the way! Regards
  15. Chris Peterson wrote: Nikon 400mm f3.5 manual focus on a FM2n or an F100. Add the TC14b teleconverter and you have a 5.6 560mm.
    and Jay wrote: 400/3.5 AI or AIS with TC14b. A birding lens to die for.
    An excellent lens, very sharp in the plane of focus, can be rather harsh in the out-of-focus areas. One photographer (whose name escapes me) has used both the 400mm f/3.5 ED Nikkor and 400mm f/6.8 Telyt adapted to his Nikon loves the low-light capability of the Nikkor but finds it harsh. If he were limited to a single 400mm lens his choice is the Telyt. If the appearance of the out-of-focus areas is important to you, keep this in mind.
  16. Also, if your main lens is going to be a 180 or a 300, etc, consider a 500 mm mirror lens to keep in your bag for those times when extra reach is needed. The bokeh may be outrageous, but they are very sharp and take up very little space. Models by Nikon, Tokina, and Sigma are all good, and can be picked up cheap.
  17. I agree with Harvey Platter 100% -- the 92% viewfinder is a fatal flaw in the FM and FE Nikon bodies. Too bad! Otherwise these are lovely cameras.

    Buy a Nikon F3 -- in my opinion the best SLR body ever made -- pefect finder showing 100% of the frame, built like a tank, wonderful camera. The F3 has a ball-bearing advance mechanism -- Leica users will feel right at home. It has only one flaw -- dim, low-contrast LCD display in the finder, but not the end of the world. The F3 is a superb quality professional camera which cost close to $2000 in its time. These days you can pick up a very good user for $400 or $500 -- a great bargain!

    The F3 is a manual focus body with manual exposure, or aperture priority autoexposure, decent centerweighted metering, decent TTL flash (but with an oddball flash shoe). Like all Nikon pro cameras, it has interchangeable finders and screens, and all kinds of functionality including mirror lockup, double exposure, etc.

    The Nikon lenses are not very good compared to Leica (or even VC) glass, but the longer ones seem to be better. Among long focal lengths I have the 85/1.4 AIS and an old 135/3.5 AI. The 135 is an old fashioned lens with lower contrast than recent Leica glass, but very sharp and actually very nice. The 85/1.4 is magnificent.

    The Nikon wide angles are crap; use your Leica (or Voigtlander) for wide angle photography. There is a huge range of prime teles; check the Nikon forum to find out the pros and cons of each one.
  18. The Nikon lenses are not very good compared to Leica (or even VC) glass...
    The Nikon wide angles are crap;

    This should come as shocking news to Steve McCurry, John Shaw, Galen Rowell, Rod Planck, John Ortner, Jodi Cobb, Chris Johns, Jim Brandenburg, David & Peter Turnley, Bob Krist, and countless others.
    How could they all be so stupid?
  19. First of all, those guys aren’t stupid; they just don’t have much choice. Secondly, it is a well known fact that great photographers don’t need great lenses – witness the masterly work of HCB, who was working with what we would consider hopeless soft, low-contrast, distortion ridden glass.

    The fact remains that Nikon “F” mount wide angles are significantly and noticeably worse than Leica “M” mount and VC wide angles. Part of this is probably due to the inherent optical design compromises that must be made to make a short focal length lens clear the mirror in an SLR. Nevertheless, if you use Leicas and Nikons both, you will most likely be bothered by the Nikon wide angles. Even the very expensive and supposedly high precision 28/3.5 Perspective Control Nikkor, which I own and use on an almost daily basis, is noticeably soft in the corners, with noticeable barrel distortion (a major annoyance for architectural photography, the raison d’etre of this lens), even unshifted, and is simply worse optically than even my humble, cheap VC 28/3.5 in LTM.

    None of my Nikkor wides is even in the same league as any of my Leica or VC wides, which is too bad, as there are some situations where you really need to use an SLR, and I just love the F3 body.

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