25 Years Shooting Nikon
Nikon F2AS, my first Nikon, with 28mm f/2.8 AI-s. enlarge. You can get these used today at these links to it at Adorama and eBay. It also helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz and J&R to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.
31 December 2008 More Nikon Reviews
My first SLR was a Minolta SR-1 that I bought in 1973.
I worked at a newspaper starting in 1980 while in college. I still shot Minolta, having an SRT-102 and buying an X-570 with motor to cover sports. I still used the 200mm f/3.5 preset T-mount Vivitar lens I got for Christmas in 1973.
Some of the gear hounds at the newspaper harassed me for my camera, even if I was one of the photo editors and consistently bagged great shots with it. They suggested I take a few steps up to becoming a man and get a Nikon, like the pros.
I was still very impressionable back then, especially since camera advertisements still showed lots of naked women, and who wouldn't want to shoot like a pro? My only complaints with my Minolta X-570 was that its batteries went dead below 50ºF (10ºC), which made shooting football a bit difficult.
I started reading up on Nikon in 1983, and decided to look for a used F2AS. Back in those days, the F3 had just came out. No pros trusted it, because it was a girly-man electronic camera that was dead without battery power. The F2AS, a mechanical workhorse, had already proven itself in a decade of heavy service in every climate around the globe.
Here's the funny part: in 1983, a used F2AS sold for more than a brand-new F3! The F3 was that hated by pros. A new F3 sold for about $450 brand-spanking-new, while a used F2AS, no longer available new, went for about $500.
I went to Nikon not just because it was the manly thing to do, I chose it because all the lenses took the same filter size. If you really shoot, you need to use filters. When you change them between lenses, you have to have the same filter threads.
Amateur brands like Canon and Minolta used different sizes on different lenses every time they changed the cosmetics every two years. One year Minolta was 55mm, the next year the same lens would be 49mm. Canon had some lenses in 52mm, and others in 58mm. That doesn't fly with pros. Ever tried changing filters while shooting out an open airplane door? I did.
I also was intrigued that I easily could rent weird lenses in New York City for Nikon, but not for my Minolta. (I never have rented a lens, so that was a pointless reason.)
I chose the F2AS for its extreme low-light metering sensitivity, rated to -2 EV (8 seconds at f/1.4). The F2AS not only can meter directly down to 10 seconds, it can make mechanically-timed, no-battery-required exposures as long as 10 seconds! It also has a T shutter mode, as well as Bulb. In T, the shutter stays open without needing a cable release.
Screw electronics, I wanted the he-man F2AS.
I scoured Newsday and Buy Lines classifieds, and found one offered at $500.
I phoned the kid who owned it, and drove over in my beater 198 CID slant-six, three-in-the-tree 1974 Plymouth Duster.
Here's the funny part. I'm no expert. Many people think I play one on the Internet, but I'm just a guy who likes to take pictures, and does my homework. I don't consider myself an expert today, and I certainly didn't consider myself one back on New Year's Eve in 1983.
Imagine my amusement when the kid selling the camera nonchalantly proclaimed himself as "a Nikon expert." Wow, I was impressed for about three minutes, until I started to show him features on the F2AS he didn't know existed. What is it about instruction manuals that people can't read? This kid was no expert; he was another idiot who thought he was an expert.
Anyway, I bought my F2AS which I still use to this day, 25 years later.
What Have I Learned?
25 years have shown me that I was wrong.
The F3 was a fantastic camera, and more people shoot F3s today than F2s. The F3 turned out to be extraordinarily reliable.
Nikon's instruction manuals for the F3 cautioned that the viewfinder LCD, which was just like the one on a quartz watch, would need to be replaced every 5-7 years. Obviously, we've learned that these things still work great today.
Sure, the F3 ran on the same two S76 cells which power only the meter of the F2. The F3 ran for years on a pair of S76 cells, just like the F2AS. It's easy to carry several sets of spares in your wallet for either, if they died on you while shooting.
I actually believed rated specifications back then. The F3 was rated only to about EV 1 for the meter. Little did I know that the F3, just like the FE and FA, actually meters and automatically times long exposures many minutes long! Nikon only rated it to about 8 seconds, but Nikon was being cautious, just as it was warning that the LCD would die in 5 years.
Even though a new automatic F3 would have been a much better choice for photography than the clunky manual F2AS, little did I know that my pig-headedness in resisting newer, better cameras wound up landing me a classic.
The F2AS still sells used for at least what I paid for it on New Year's Eve in 1983. It's essentially been a free camera! The F3 sells used for much less today.
25 years later Minolta no longer makes cameras, and Canon became the leading camera with pros starting in the early 1990s. In 1987, Canon embraced autofocus with gusto and a long-term solution, while Nikon brushed-off AF as an amateur distraction. 5 years later, the pros had gone AF, and gone to Canon for it.
20 years ago, Nikon screwed itself for today. Canon wasn't a pro camera, so Canon had no problem junking all its FD manual-focus lenses so it could design a better lens mount for AF, the EOS system still used today.
Since pro photographers own far more lenses than they do cameras, Nikon jerry-rigged AF into the same old lens mount. This was so pros could still use their old lenses, and we today can still use these manual lenses on our digital cameras. The bad news is that Nikon's AF system was mechanical, and still is for most of its lenses. That's why the older AF lenses won't AF on the D40.
Nikon is still catching up. Nikon's newest 50mm f/1.4 AF-S has just barely caught up to Canon's 50mm f/1.4 USM, about a decade later.
Since Canon flushed all their FD system down the toilet in 1987, I made the right choice going Nikon. If I had gone Canon in 1983, I would have been left with orphan equipment when Canon went autofocus.
Looking back on the Canon FD gear I've gotten recently I also realize the wisdom of my ignorance 25 years ago.
Another reason I went Nikon was that the Nikon lenses appeared to be far, far better made than Canon's FD lenses. They cost the same, but a Nikon 28mm f/2.8 was built to last a lifetime or more, while Canon's FD 28mm f/2.8 was plastic. Canon's best FD L lenses, like the 50mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 and 14mm f/2.8 FD (reviews are all coming), were not as well made as Nikon's cheapest Nikkor lenses. The pedestrian Canon lenses were made with more plastic, while Nikon made its cheapest Nikkor lenses as well as their most expensive.
Today, all my old Nikkors still work perfectly, while the old FD lenses are a lot more sloppy from wear. The old FD lenses feel amateur, while the old Nikkors are still unequalled for mechanical quality. Optics were about the same.
Much of the old Canon gear people give me for The Retirement Ranch needs repair, while most of the old Nikon gear that comes in still works perfectly. I have a Canon New F1, an A-1 and a T90 all out being repaired right now so I can review them.
25 years ago Nikon was the undisputed choice of the pros. My lenses and bodies bought back then still work perfectly. I've never had to repair, adjust, clean or service my F2AS. It just goes.
The 55mm f/2.8 AI-s I bought in 1984 still works great, and it's among the sharpest lenses ever made by Nikon, so I may use it to evaluate the D3X when I get my hands on one.
25 years is a long time. With Nikon's laughable bluff of trying to get $8,000 for the D3X, a disposable digital camera, just asking for a huge case of Digital Rot and only worth $5,500 at best, maybe it's time to move on.
Nikon lenses used to go to extreme ends to ensure that every lens from 20mm through 200mm took the same 52mm filter. Today, Nikon is all over the map for filter sizes, just like amateur cameras.
Nikon's newest D3X was so expensive, I looked at Leica, and today, Leica is cheap by comparison. Yesterday the mailman brought me a used Leica M7, which cost me less than I paid for my D300 last year. I haven't shot my D300 in over a year, but the Leica M7 ought to last me another 25 years.
Sure, the best DSLRs made by anyone today are the Nikon D40 for the price, the Nikon D90 for everything overall, and the world's best DSLR at any price is the Nikon D700, but aren't we all tired of throwing money down the digital dumpster? I know I sure am.
I'm looking forward to getting back to photography in 2009, instead of dicking around with with digital.
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