What's better: Old Nikon build quality, or new Nikon technology?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by crowdspotting, Apr 29, 2008.

  1. I shoot almost exclusively with a few of my favorite lenses, including a 35mm
    f/1.4 AI-S manual focus lens, a 28mm f/2.8 AF-D, and a couple others.

    I've been using these lenses for years with an big, heavy F4s that I no longer
    wish to lug around full time.

    Sometimes I wish I had a smaller Nikon (say, the size of the classic FM, FE,
    FA, or the newer N-series such as the N80) that I could just toss into a
    backpack with one lens, and go. Any of these models can can be had second hand
    for about $100.

    From the older line, I favor the FA as it is the most technologically advanced
    of the older models. Of the N-series cameras, the N80 has all of the cool bells
    and whistles that one could want in a modern prosumer-level camera.

    My question comes down to this: If both were the same price, would you choose a
    mint-condition FA, with matrix metering and shutter speeds to 1/4000, and
    mostly metal construction; or would you choose to buy a new N80, which has
    decades of technological improvement, but less build quality?

    The newer N80 surely must have higher accuracy, better metering, less mirror
    vibration, and all the benefits that 20+ years of improvements can bring.

    I realize that there are compatibility limitations to both the FA and the N80,
    when it comes to metering, autofocusing, etc.

    I'm really just interested in knowing what the group thinks is better - when
    choosing a "backup" or "leisure" camera, is new technology or classic build
    quality more highly desired?


  2. Newer stuff. In my opinion of course. New stuff is built on the old stuff from yester-years, so respectfully the new stuff should get better and better every year.
  3. Of course some of the old stuff was pretty remarkable like the FE-2 and the F-5 not to mention the great lenses such as the 105mm.
  4. You can't beat the feel of the old cameras and lenses. Besides digital I have a choice of grabbing an N(F)80 or my beloved FE. The N80 usually gets the nod because.. well it's autofocus... and quiet for an SLR.
  5. Why not get an F100 - it is an incredibly good camera, relatively light weight, focus is very fast and exposure is dead-on. I have a F5 and the F100 and most of the time I will grab the F100 - it offers almost the same features but is much lighter.
  6. I would venture to say that an F2 or FM will offer greater longevity than either an FA or N80. But more to the point and in response to your specific question I would likely opt for an N80 with various caveats, among them the primary (sole?) use of AF glass as the finder and meter are not suited to MF lenses in the least. FA's are how old?

    While larger/heavier/more expensive than an N80, I suggest an F100. At fire-sale prices they offer the significant and tremendous features of F5 without the anvil-like heft but superior build to that of N80. The F100 is a wonderful value...wonderful! Yet size/weight is comparable to F4 (as opposed to F4s).

    Your best option may be to turn your F4s into an F4 by shelving the MB-21 battery holder/vertical grip and acquiring the MB-20. Certainly not as light/compact as FA/N80 but you retain metering with MF lenses and the oh-so-big and bright finder.
  7. I got N70 on the shelf and FE2 at my parents home.
    Although I shoot digital today, if I was going back to film I would probably go back to the FE2 rather than the N70, not because of the build quality but because of the hunch, feeling and good memories.
    Important thing to keep in mind though, is that hunch, feeling, memories are nice, but won't matter if your picture is not focused properly, or exposure is incorrect. The technology with the N80 and similars is not there for nothing, in some cases it does improve the result.
    Still, I would go with the FA...
  8. The main issue here is: do you want to use AiS lenses or AF ones? If AiS, then my choice would be an FA. If AF, then the F80. I dislike to use AiS lenses on other than manual focus cameras. An AF lens on a MF camera is ugly.

    I think that newer technology is almost always better, but I prefer to use best and proper designs... nothing better for an Ai-AiS lens than a F3 or a FM2, IMHO (the FA and FG are the only bodies fully compatible with AiS lenses, but I prefer the other two cameras because that "proper designs..."). I also think it`s worth the expense on a F100 instead on a F80.
  9. I have Leica screw mounts, Leica M and reflexes, and a Nikon D200. All are nice in a way.

    I will say the D200 is way better made than Nikon F and the likes. The new G lens are fun, but then they are ten times as fragile. I dropped a 35 2.8 Ai`ed Nikkor without any damage. I don`t think my new 35 AF S would have survivied.

    I would not waste my time putting film behind most of the Nikkor lenses honestly. I was going to do what you are thinking, shot a few rolls and was not impressed. So now I carry two sets of lenses. Each will have his own solution, but the consumer grade nikons are just consumer level. Like the $20 electric drill.
  10. For what it's worth I am about to go off to Indonesia for 3 weeks and as a primary camera I am taking my D300 (the D3 is staying home on this trip - just too hot and sticky for that beast). My back-up is an FE2 with 24mm AIS and CZ 50mm ZF and a whole bunch of Velvia 50 and FP4.

    Oddly enough I have an F80 (N80) which I bought new just after they discontinued it and I have only ever put a couple of rolls through it. I know it is extremely capable but I just hate it's plasticky toy feel and would rather use my F6, FE2 or FM2n any day. The F80 sits in the boot of my car as an 'emergency' camera.

    In your boots I would buy the FA.

    Good luck,

  11. I think each has their time and place but I generally prefer newer bodies. The 35mm AIS works flawlessly on the D300. Maybe the G lenses are more fragile but they are still impressive optically, though perhaps within a more limited range. Even so, no plans to do a 'drop' test to see which is better built.
  12. Like some one said above: It depends if you have AIS glass or not.

    If you don't then the F/N 80 should be just what you need as a 'toss in the backpack' camera, it's light, reliable, can use about all af lenses including the recent G type, the meter is about as good as the one on the F100, about the only thing to fault on it is that you can only set exposure in 1/2 stop intervals and not 1/3, But then most manual cameras only let you set 1/2 stop intervals.

    One word of warning about the FA is that it's electronics being older and more primitive are prone to old age failure and Nikon is no longer stocking the parts to repair it. A good FE2 or FM2 could be a good alternative.

    Other models of interest could be the N2000/F301 or the F801/N8008.
    Hope this helps

  13. Thanks to everyone for the great answers. At about $100 each, maybe I'll just get an N80 AND an FA!


  14. My vote would be to get both....a nice FM(2) as well as something more modern with AF...pick your poison, there are many good ones. I love the advanced technology but one could argue that the FM series is one of the best SLRs ever made...compact, not dependent on batteries/electronics, and it produces what YOU make it produce without regard to algorithms or judgements made by a computer.

    There's definitely something to be said for the technological marvels of the past 20 years...but I always get a neat sense of accomplishment when I get a great "keeper" out of my decidedly simple FM2n...because it was "all me."
  15. "Newer stuff. In my opinion of course. New stuff is built on the old stuff from yester-years, so respectfully the new stuff should get better and better every year"

    This is only true if you stay in the same product class. An FA or FM2 is a mid line camera, even though it's 10-20 years old, it quite likely has a better damped mirror action than a much newer N80. The FA and FM2 also have "pseudo MLU", the mirror flips up when you engage self timer, so by the time the image happens, any undamped mirror slap vibration has died out. N80 does not have this.

    FA and FM2 are easier to manually focus than N80, but N80 has autofocus.

    I bet N80 can out-meter FA or FM2.

    Juergan had a point. An F100, especially if you fit it with a split image screen, is sort of a superset of N80 and FA. The ony thing missing is some form of mirror lockup.
  16. For backpacking, I think it's hard to beat a FM2n. Bomber camera, works with dead batteries, no muss or fuss, just simple quality. AIS lenses with Velvia produce incredible images, and scan nicely.

    FAs are wonderful cameras, but the aging electronics concern me, especially when backpacking.

    I also use a Bessa R2 and wide lenses, which has been wonderful. The Leicas and digitals stay at home when I camp.
  17. I shoot mostly digital now and just sold my F3. But I do still keep and FM around because it's compact and not a big investment. I also have a couple of F bodies. If you've ever handled an F or F2 you won't belive build quality was better with later cameras. But the FM series is very compact and I like the meter even though it is tinny compared to the F models.
  18. My N70 feels much cheaper than my F100 or an old classic manual job, but in 12 years of backpacking trips, rainstorms, beach sand, and a few hectic weddings it's only had two breakdowns, neither of which put a stop to picture taking (1 - meter coupling ring spring broke and meter coupling ring had to be repositioned manually when apertures were changed, and 2 - latch on back door broke and door had to be held shut w/ rubber band). It is quite possible that an old MF body would not even have had these problems, but I would have missed spot-metering, auto-bracketing, etc. You can get a bargain N70 from KEH for $16.00 now - add one to your FA order and it'll be about the same as postage.
  19. All I know is I sure felt like a schmuck handing over handing over my pristine F100 and a
    bunch of cash for a plastic D80.
  20. If I recall correctly, the F80/N80 is incapable of metering with
    AI or AIS lenses. This seems like it would rule it out for anyone
    who owns, or might buy, such lenses. Surely, the F70/N70 at the
    low end, or the F90s/N90s or F100/N100 at the higher end, would
    be better, not to mention older models if you like, of course...
  21. Been looking at this question. Recently dug out the F2 Photomic because I still haven't saved enough to get the D-SLR I've been dreaming of for the last few years. Can't see as if anything can be built more solidly than my F2 that still clicks with satisfaction after 35 years.

    I too am looking at the F/N 80 with it's key advantage from my perspective being that it works with all the latest lens technology including VR. (My thinking being that I can invest in some good glass and see where the digital industry goes - FX in a D?00 body?)

    That said, I am totally enjoying the F2 Photomic at this point and am not sorry I haven't bought the D-SLR yet. Out side of autofocus (which people survived without for a century) what can an N80 or for that matter an F5 or F6 do that I can't with the application of a few little gray cells.

  22. Don't get an FA, get an FE2 or FM2. I have a classic FM (but I owned an FE2 as my primary camera for 13 years, and FM2n for 5 years) now and love using it. It's small, simple, elegant, and works very well. It also helps that I bought it from the original owner, who barely used it, with a Nikkor 50mm f2 AI lens for $92. Sold the lens for $50 and now use a 50mm f1.8 AI, a 35mm f2 AI, a 28mm f2.8 AIS, and a 105mm f2.5 AI with it as a kit. Mostly I'm out shooting with my D300 and the new 16-85mm, but it's big and bulky and sometimes I just like to walk around with black and white film loaded in my FM, and one lens and a shade.
  23. For the past several years I was shooting almost exclusively with a D70 and modern lenses, and then recently bought a D200 to complement it. Around the same time I was afflicted with a wild bout of NAS and also built up my film kit - I had a few Ftn's, an F2S, a Nikkormat and now in addition have an FM, an FE, an FG, and an F3 as well as a host of additional MF lenses.

    As nice as the D70 and D200 are, they are no match in build quality in my opinion to my old MF stuff. Period. For example, my D200 mated to an 80-200/2.8 AF-D lens fell two feet in a -padded camera bag- to the pavement recently. The internal AF motor to the body stopped working. Off to El Segundo with it - $200 because it was just out of warranty. My ancient MF bodies have never needed more than an occasional CLA and continue to work flawlessly year after year.

    I then went on a shoot in Moab and one in Death Valley. Harsh environments with a lot of wind and sand. Even though I was careful, the digital bodies required extensive cleaning (sensors, for example) after the shoot - the F2 and F3 I had along with me were easily cleaned because they come completely apart.

    My first choice for a backup/leisure camera is the F3. Bombproof, much smaller than your F4s, great non-center-weighted meter that never seems to miss. Otherwise, the FE2/FM2 are good choices. The FA has more plastic and I've heard the reliability isn't as good as the other bodies of the era.

    I cannot speak for the majority of the AF film bodies, and I shoot both digital and film and feel that I can take good photos with either - so the significant advances in, for example, metering that I get with the digital bodies doesn't always translate into better photos.
  24. Personally I prefer the older stuff, because I enjoy a solid piece of art in my hands. I bought an F801s 9 months ago, but although it's not a bad canera, it feels more plasticy to me than my good old FM. For light weigt in the field the FM (and similars) are unbeaten. Mind that the rubber sealing of these old camera's is replaced in time to prevent leakage (repair is simple). My recently bought F4 beats the F801S, but not my FM; the two are just totally differently oriented camera's. The F4 has everything I'll ever need, plus gives me the joy of a work of art. The FM, well... I just said that. The pictures come out the same! By the way the FM is more expensive than the F801s (in Holland that is). For backup sake I'll keep the F801s (I think), but I put more trust in the FM for that because it's all mechanical en metal. (If stored for a long time I release the shutter which the other two cannot unfortunately). Since I read that the 35 mm 1.4 Ai-lens is one of your favorites, I'd go for the old stuff. I've read that an F2 may be just too old by now and suffer from internal corrosion of articial materials (plastics and rubbers). I don't know if this is a serious problem, but you it might be. Check it out! You still have F3's and FM's/FE2's.
  25. Yup, nothing beats old world craftsmanship. Take that bulletproof plastic N6006 door latch, presumably designed to break away for safety in event of collision to minimize impact transfer to the photographer. Or the EM, known worldwide for days, even weeks, of reliable service.
  26. I tried working with a DSLR but couldn't get over the nasty, creaky feel of cheap plastic. I use a couple of F3HP bodies along with an FM2N all of which are beautifully engineered machines designed to last a lifetime-not spat out of a mould with instant obsolescence.
    That the F3 in all its incarnations was in production for 20 years speaks for itself.
    Lex, the models you mention are not Nikon's finest thus are not fair examples; the cameras I specified most certainly are. My 1983 F3HP is still working flawlessly after 25 years.
  27. Whoever has responded saying that the newer bodies are the way to go Obviously hasnt Used a nikon FM2 or F3 or as Jeff uses and

    The Old quality is far far far supierior to the new technology.
    The Old AIS lenses are better lenses than the new AF ones. Their built better their sharper Lighter and have only a 52mm circumfrence.
    The Older Nikon bodies from 20 years ago will outlast any DSLR on the market. Too much technology in a body means theres more to
    go wrong If its a travel compact camera your after The FM2 would be my choice over any new 35mm camera.


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