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See all the specifics at my Nikon Lens Compatibility Chart.
With people donating old equipment and me buying new cameras like an F6, Nikon's extraordinarily broad compatibility is really starting to sink in. 40 year old lenses work on some of the newest cameras, and 40 year old cameras still work perfectly with some lenses sold new today.
Not that you'd always want to, but usually you can make great photos using Nikon lenses and bodies with age differences spanning many decades.
This article covers generalities. To figure out if any particular combo works, you'll have to read your manuals carefully or, if you're in the USA, ask Nikon at (800) NIKON-UX (digital) or (800) NIKON-US (film).
The menus of my newest D200 and F6 (and presumably the D3 and D300) include options for perfect coupling to even the most bizarre old lenses like the 13mm f/5.6 AI, 220 degree 6mm f/2.8 fisheye and 1,000mm f/6.3 (discontinued in the 1960s) for full color matrix metering.
Every brand-new AF lens, except for G lenses, works fine on a 1959 F body. You will want to have Nikon install a coupling prong on the newest lenses to couple to the F's meter, or use stop-down metering as-is.
A Nikon lens from 1959 can be used as-is on the Nikon D40 and D40x, and with a standard Nikon modification to the body, on the F6. You'll have no metering on the D40 cameras, but you will have electronic focus assisit and have basic metering on the F6. Send the old lenses to a machine shop, and they will work perfectly on most better new cameras.
Nikon lenses are so compatible that they even work on Canon cameras with an adapter!
Nikon gives us about 15-20 years each way for 100% compatibility, and after that starts to require us to do some metalwork. For instance, Nikon's brand-new manual focus lenses still made today have coupling prongs that haven't been needed on cameras made since 1977. The newest AFS and G lenses announced in August 2007 still work fine on my 20 year old F4s,and my same F4s also works great, right out of the box with no modification, with every lens made since 1959.
Nikon thinks ahead. The AI lenses of 1977 already had rear coupling lugs to activate matrix metering, which wasn't introduced until the FA of 1983.
The Nikon F4 of 1988 secretly possesses the circuitry and electrical contacts to autofocus with AF-I and AF-S lenses which weren't introduced until 1992. My Nikon F4 works with G lenses which weren't introduced until 2003!
Once you span more than about 15 years in Nikon you may find some features not fully compatible, but overall, I'm still using Nikon lenses I bought 25 years ago on my new Nikon cameras, and will use the new lenses that haven't even hit the street on my F4.
THe more expensive cameras, like the pro "F" series, has broader acceptance forwards and backwards than cheaper cameras. The cheaper cameras stay cheaper by accepting lenses from a narrower period of history, which is reasonable since many cheaper cameras are only used with the lenses bought at the same time.
Nikon just keeps on making sure that everything I buy from them never goes obsolete. DX lenses have never worked 100% on film cameras, but no one ever bought them intending to use them that way. Many DX lenses will work perfectly on film if you use them at certain focal lengths, for instance, the 18-55mm AF-S II and 12-24mm DX work just great on my F100, F6 and F4s at all but the widest settings.
A G lens: no aperture ring!
The only severe compatibility problem is that G lenses are worthless on manual-focus film cameras. This isn't much of a problem today, because if you need to shoot film with a G lens you can get a great used AF film body that is compatible with G lenses for under $100.
To make up for that, I've got a secret for you. In 1985 Nikon made a TC-16A autofocusing teleconverter which autofocuses manual focus lenses! I just got one used for $50.
I kid you not: put a manual focus lens on the TC-16A, stick the TC-16A on your camera, and if you have the right camera, it autofocuses! The TC-16A does amazing things, but even though it autofocuses perfectly on my F6, it doesn't seem to work on my digitals. It turns my beater $400 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF manual focus into a 480mm f/4.5 AF that works perfectly on my F6! I can't wait to see if it works on my D3. With a 1.6x factor, it expands the field of DX lenses, even my 10.5mm fisheye and 12-24 DX, to fill film, but sadly, it doesn't operate these G lenses' aperture.
Others tell me their TC-16As work on the F5 and D2 series, too.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
Thanks for reading!
Caveat: The all the ads below come from third parties. I don't see them before they appear on your screen. See more at my Buying Advice page. Personally I get my goodies at Ritz (the store, not the hotel gift shop), Amazon and Adorama.