Gear Reviews

Nikon N2020 Review

In 2019, I picked up a Nikon N2020 on a whim. I was looking for a 35mm Nikon that had a physical shutter speed dial and supported AF lenses. Originally, I thought I would be picking up a Nikon F4, but I didn’t want to spend that much. So, I started looking at other cameras from that period and landed on the N2020. The decision to go with the N2020 was only partially because of cost—there was also a sense of unfinished business. The very first 35mm SLR that I bought was a Nikon N2020, nearly 12 years ago. It was a short-lived experience. I shot a single roll and was so disappointed in the results that I sold the camera. Looking back, I know I didn’t give the camera a fair chance. In 2009 I was barely a competent photographer and knew nothing about shooting film. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the N2020 and see what my opinion was as a more mature photographer. Now, after owning this N2020 for nearly two years I want to share my experience with this unique—and oddly enjoyable—camera.

The Nikon N2020, or the Nikon F-501 outside the U.S., was released in 1986 and was Nikon’s first successful autofocus SLR. While the Nikon F3AF came out a few years earlier, it did not have much success and it also used AF lenses specific to the F3AF. The Nikon N2020, on the other hand, debuted the Nikon AF system that would be the standard for Nikon cameras for the next 30 years. The Nikon N2020 is based on the N2000, with the addition of autofocus. Both cameras marked a shift in design for Nikon. Gone were the film advance levers and an all-metal design. In their place, we have a built-in motor drive, auto film loading, and new polycarbonate construction. These cameras, especially the N2020, represented a transitional period in the photography industry. Cameras like this bridged the gap between the metal, full manual SLRs of the 60s and 70s, and the plastic, full auto SLRs of the 90s. As with any transition, it didn’t come without growing pains.

Nikon N2020 Autofocus

While the camera certainly has a lot of firsts to be proud of, it is objectively not that great. We’ll start with the thing that made the Nikon N2020 special, the autofocus. To say the AF is archaic would be incredibly kind. The N2020 uses an early form of phase detection, but it’s a completely passive system. Modern cameras have an active system that uses a form of range-finding to determine focus based on subject distance. Passive systems act similar to the contrast detection that was found in mirrorless cameras. The result of this early attempt at AF leaves a lot to be desired.  Even in good lighting the focus frequently hunts, and usually has a bit of back and forth before it settles. In low light—and I mean anything dimmer than an overcast day—the AF can be unusable. Many times I had to tap the shutter button multiple times to get it to focus. Sometimes it refused to focus at all. Even when the AF is behaving, it is loud and annoying. Speaking of sounds, the film advance is downright depressing. Every sound this camera makes harkens back to a bygone era. A time of electronic advancement, of unnecessary motorization, and blinking red LED lights everywhere. 

Nikon’s Design Philosophy

If we can move past the shortcomings of the N2020, of which are many, what’s left is something almost enviable. While other manufactures wanted to jump straight into the world of buttons, wheels, and LCD screens, Nikon tried to apply new technology to their existing design philosophy. The Nikon N2020 is a camera of duality—having one foot in the world of manual focus SLRs and the other foot (or perhaps just a toe) in the modern era. Save the AF and integral motor drive, the N2020 has more in common with the F3 than an F5. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation are all physical dials on the N2020. And it’s this sense of continuity and legacy that will forever endear me to Nikon. While Nikon has evolved over the years, it is always in a measured way. Nikon’s design philosophy honors their roots while treading new ground carefully. The N2020 exemplifies this. The design cues and tactical controls are very similar to an F3, with the addition of autofocus. It is a unique experience having the tactile control of a classic SLR like the F3, while using more modern AF lenses.

Lens Compatibility

On the note of lens compatibility, the N2020 can use almost any manual focus lens. The major exception to this is “Pre-Ai” lenses, a limitation many late model manual focus Nikon bodies share. For AF, the N2020 supports the “screw-driven” AF or AF-D lenses, but can’t drive new AF lenses with integrated motors. It is also important to note that lenses without aperture rings can be used, but only in “P”. These limitations are important to be aware of when looking at bodies from this era. Out of my 10 lenses, only half will work on the N2020.

Shooting with the N2020 is an interesting experience, and a bit of a guilty pleasure, if I’m being honest. Dealing with the autofocus speed is a challenge, even trying to get a decent photograph of my cats can be almost impossible. Shooting it requires patience and understanding of its limitations. Learning and overcoming these limitations is one of the most enjoyable parts of shooting older cameras like the N2020. Putting yourself in a box and having to work to make good photographs—it’s a test of a photographer’s skill.

The Bottom Line

I like to shoot the Nikon N2020, not despite its flaws, but because of them. I like taking a step back into the 80s and experiencing what our parents did. There are certainly better cameras out there, but the N2020 has its place. If you want to use a real shutter dial and aperture ring, and want to use some of your AF glass, this is the only option short of a Nikon F4, which is easily 5 times as expensive. I feel the need to drive that point home because it is staggering. As of writing this, October 2020, the N2020 can easily be had for ~$30. The Nikon F4 on the other hand is $150-200. 

If you are looking for a cheap way to dip your toes into 35mm or specifically looking for a more manual experience, this might be the right camera for you. After almost two years with it, I can safely say it is a camera I reach for often. Its unique experience keeps pulling me back. The Nikon N2020 isn’t perfect, but perhaps that’s the reason I can’t recommend it enough. You can pick one up for a decent price on KEH.com. (Note: This is an affiliate link and I may earn a commission from your purchase.)

Nikon F100 Review

The Nikon F100 I used for this camera review

The Nikon F100 holds a very special place in my heart. Back in early 2010 (when I was first getting into film) the Nikon F100 was the first 35mm that I took seriously. I had a Nikon N65 before that, but I tested it as more of a proof of concept than anything else. I wasn’t sold on film yet – it was more of a curiosity. I wanted to know what it was like and what it could do, and most importantly, if I was good enough to make it work. I got some good results from the Nikon N65, but I hated it. The camera was entry level and the fit and finish wasn’t the best. After a few rolls I decided to take 35mm more seriously, and that lead me to the Nikon F100.

History of the Nikon F100

The Nikon F100 was released in 1999, and at the time it was a trimmed down version of their Professional model, the Nikon F5. The Nikon F100 came at the tail end of the film era, and in many ways it represents the transition to the digital world. Sitting right below the Nikon F5, it was Nikon’s semi-pro option, offering a lot of the F5 features while having a lower price. The F100 replaced the aging Nikon N90/N90X, which came out in 1990 and 1992 respectfully. The F100 brought the modern design of the F5 to the semi-pro model. Beyond the aesthetic, the F100 carried over much of the tech of the F5, including meter, auto-focus, and custom functions. The F100 was only the second Nikon camera to have custom functions. This feature allowed changing settings the same way we would on a digital camera, giving us control over things like bracketing order, auto film rewind, half-press AF, and more. All of this made the F100 a popular alternative to the F5.

My Journey to the Nikon F100

I wanted to get something familiar to the DSLR I was using at the time, and a step above the N65. The F100 was Nikon’s first modern semi-pro SLR, this body would be the basis for the D200, D300, etc. At the time, my digital SLR was the D50, an entry level body. The switch to a camera that was so much higher up the ladder was quite jarring. The build of the F100 is fantastic. At the time, it was the best built camera I had ever used. I have since gotten an F5, but the F100 remains up there as far as build quality goes. Even on the digital side, my current camera is a D700 and it’s basically a descendant of the F100. The cameras are almost 10 years apart, but the similarities can clearly be seen. It’s a testament to the camera’s design that ten years later the basics remain unchanged. This design is what I found most appealing, and many other photographers agree. Going into the world of film can be scary for a lot of photographers, but having something familiar can ease the transition. Sure it is ten years old and uses film, but the basic controls remain the same.

Nikon F100 Review

The Nikon F100 I used for this camera review

The F100 controls like a digital Nikon, and that makes it much more accessible. Moving to film requires a lot of learning, anything to make that easier increases your chances of success. On top of that, most current lenses work great with the F100 – DX and AF-P being exceptions. Technically, you can use DX lenses, but there can be pronounced vignetting. I won’t waste any more time talking about specs, I want to focus on what it’s like to shoot.

The shooting experience is what you would expect from a ‘Pro’ body, albeit one that’s over 20 years old. Good build, positive feel in the hand, quick and accurate auto focus, effective control layout. Switching back to Nikon have me a second look at this camera, and both times it never let me down. I have used it for street shooting, night photography, live music and weddings. Its biggest advantage is the Nikon system. Now, I know everyone is very passionate about their camera brands, but it is my opinion that no camera ‘gets out of its own way’ like a Nikon. Everything is where it should be, and it’s fast and responsive. When this camera was released digital transition had already begun. The world was changing, and this camera benefited. One of the best ‘digital’ features this camera had is the ability to record shooting information. In the digital world we take data recording for granted, but for film shooters this is not an expected feature we can fall back on. Today, we call it EXIF data, but back then having a record of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc was something that we had to carry a notebook for. The F100 saves this information in the camera and it can be downloaded later. At the time, Nikon had an accessory that would download a text file to a CF card. Today the Meta35 downloads the data to your computer, and syncs the information to your film scans. These tools make this camera a great option for those looking for a ‘hybrid’ shooting experience. While having this data isn’t do or die, it is helpful to learn and grow.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the F100 is the most sensible choice for a Nikon photographer that wants to explore the world of film. The 90’s offered many options that seemed transitional. Looking back now, the shift to digital had obviously already started. When Nikon released this camera, we might not have realized that they were setting the stage for the D1 to come the next year. It is wild that this camera’s design set the standard for the next 20 years. In 2019, it has more in common with Nikon’s current DSLRs than it does with the Nikons of the early 90s. The F100 has been my recommended 35mm for over ten years, and I doubt that will change any time soon.

Interested in buying a Nikon F100? You can use my affiliate link to get up to 20% off at KEH Camera. If you buy something through my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission.

A Review of the Pentax 67

The Pentax 67 is a camera I had been looking forward to shooting for the better of a decade. I had heard first hand accounts of how prolific it was, one of the best medium format cameras ever made. After years of waiting, a close friend (thanks Jonah!) got one and was kind enough to let me give it a try. Seeing and holding it for the first time I was less than impressed.

A Brief History of the Pentax 67

Before we dig into my thoughts on it, let’s cover some of the basic history. The Pentax 67 is a medium format SLR that was originally released in 1969 and was one of the first successful cameras to use the 6×7 format. The camera design is largely based off 35mm SLRs of the time, just supersized to accommodate the larger film and lenses. At the time the design was quite unique. The medium format market was largely occupied by TLRs (Twin Lens Reflex), with just a few manufacturers using SLR designs. The choice of a 6×7 negative also set it apart from the rest of the market. While the larger negative meant sacrificing a couple shots from each roll, 10 vs 12 compared to 6×6, it gave more detail, especially when printing in the native 4:5 aspect ratio. The Pentax 67 also had a healthy selection of lenses right out of the gate. The original lineup was 10 lenses ranging from 55mm all the way up to an 800mm. Put in 35mm terms, that’s as wide as a 28mm and as long as 400mm. The Pentax 67 had a range of viewfinder and focusing screen options, including a few metered prisms. 

Since the original, Pentax created a total of four variations of the 6×7. The original 6×7, the 6×7 MU, the 67, and the 67II. The original 6×7 was released in 1969.  In 1976 there was a small update adding mirror lockup, as the ‘MU’ implies. In 1989 the 67 was largely a manufacturing and branding update, but also transitioned to a fully electronic shutter. The final model, the 67II, came in 1998. This was a pretty significant refresh. While the essence of the body stayed the same, it was refreshed to match the modern standards of the 90s. The biggest change was the addition of a built-in grip on the right side of the camera. This grip was similar to what had become standard for 35mm SLRs, but for long time users the optional left hand grip could still be attached. The shutter speed range was expanded slightly, adding 2s and 4s. A top panel LCD was also added, displaying frame count, ISO, and if film was loaded. With the refresh came a new metered prism. In my opinion, this was the most meaningful update. The new update brought selectable metering modes, exposure compensation, and aperture priority.

While the Pentax 67II is certainly the best model, it comes at a cost. In December 2019 the Pentax 67II (body only) is going for close to $2,000 on eBay— more than quadruple that of the original 6×7. 

That’s enough history lessons for this post. Now onto the review.

Pentax 67 Review

We talked about the history of the Pentax 6×7, including the 6×7 MU, the 67, and the 67II. This review will focus only on the 67 model, because that is what I used. I loaded up a roll of Ilford FP4 and started shooting. I knew right away that I hated it. This is the third 6×7 camera I’ve used, and it seems to be the most unbalanced and heavy of the bunch. The Bronica GS-1 and the Mamiya RB67 were both big and heavy, but the Pentax is different. I think it’s because the camera is designed like a 35mm, just bigger. This design makes the camera wider and it seems heavier and unbalanced. This instability paired with the jarring mirror slap doesn’t exactly exude confidence when shooting handheld. 

All that aside, the Pentax 67 does handle very much like its 35mm brother, the K1000. This makes the camera more approachable to 35mm shooters than most medium format cameras. What it lacks in weight and comfort it makes up for with familiarity. Creature comforts like single stroke advance, top deck shutter control, and not having to worry about film backs. The thing just works. Unlike other medium format cameras, there’s less to learn to get started. If you’re comfortable with 35mm the only thing to learn is how to load the film. I think it’s worth noting that loading the film is a bit tougher than most of the medium format cameras that I have used. It’s not hard per-say, just a bit touchy. I wouldn’t want to be reloading this in the field without getting some practice in first. On the positive side, the camera can use either 120 or 220 without any extra parts. You shift the pressure plate and flick a switch— that simple.

I might not like the Pentax 67, but there’s a lot of photographers out there that love this thing. There is a lot to like, the end results are simply fantastic. The combination of Pentax optics and the larger 6×7 negative is a winning formula. This camera has a lot to offer, but medium format has many options. Is the Pentax 67 the best option for the way you shoot? If you want to get into medium format with a minimal learning curve, superb image quality, and don’t need to shoot fast, this could be a good option for you. My best advice is to remember there is no perfect camera. Focus on the type of shooting that you will be doing, and ask yourself if you can work around these limitations.

Here are some shots from the roll of film I ran through this borrowed Pentax 67.

The Bottom Line

My time with the Pentax 67 showed me that this isn’t the camera for me. Overall, I have found that the 6×7 format isn’t suited for the way I shoot. Too much speed is compromised. I’m happy giving up a bit of image quality and shooting a 645 (6×4.5 negative), like the Bronica ETRSi. It’s well balanced and relatively fast. If I need more resolution, I can shoot large format. To me, 6×7 is a half step. Not as light and fast as 645, nor does it have the resolution of large format. All cameras are a comprise, the trick is to find the compromise that works for you. If your main goal is resolution and you want something that’s more portable than a large format, the Pentax 67 may be the camera for you.


Interested in buying a Pentax 67? You can use my affiliate link to get up to 20% off at KEH Camera. If you buy something through my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission.


Revisiting The Nikon N2020

It was early 2009 and I was looking to challenge myself. I had already been shooting for nearly four years, and my curiosity in film had been steadily growing. I stayed away until then because I didn’t feel I was quite good enough to use it well. But, in 2008 I had grown more competent with both my shooting and editing. I was now shooting in RAW and full manual, something I’m not near as stringent about these days. I figured it was time to give film a try. I started doing research on different models and what features I would need. I ended up deciding that I needed something cheap that used my lenses – I could experiment with that and then make a real investment.

Nikon N2020

And that’s how I came to the N2020. I was just looking for the best deal I could find on a 35mm Nikon body with auto focus. I found an N2020 with a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 (which was the lens I had been wanting to get anyway) for a measly $82. Even at that time, I effectively got the camera for free. I hadn’t been this excited since I got my first DSLR. When the kit came, it was a surreal experience. Having not shot film outside of cheap 110s and the point-and-shoot 35mm Minolta I sometimes borrowed from my mother, this was another world. Even comparing it with the digital camera I had at the time (a Nikon D50) this seemed to have so much more weight. The N2020 had more controls than I was used to, it was the first camera I used that had a dedicated shutter speed dial, or ISO dial, or exposure compensation. After holding it in my hands, I thought it was going to be the tool that would open me up to a brave new world… but I wasn’t ready. In 2009 I ran one roll of film through it. Just one.

I spent hours upon hours researching cameras, but not film, developing, or scanning. The film I got was Kodak Gold 200, and I had it developed and scanned at a local Walgreens that a friend of mine worked at. For the bulk of the roll I shot alongside my D50, testing exposure settings trying to ensure I would get the best results possible. Getting those scans back was one of the most disappointing moments of my life. The colors were dull and muted, the amount of grain reminded me of shooting the D50 at ISO 1600.

That experience left a bad taste in my mouth. At that point I thought, “Ok, I shot film and it’s awful, we can move on now.” The camera went on a shelf, where it stayed until I sold.

About a year later I would revisit shooting film, this time with a trove of knowledge I gleaned from working in a camera store. I shot better film, and had it developed and scanned properly. I finally had that moment I was hoping for – getting scans back from the lab and seeing images that lined up with what I saw in my head when I took the photo.

Nikon N2020

Fast forward to 2019. I’ve now been shooting film for nine years, and do all of my own developing and scanning. Recently, I started thinking about get a smaller, lighter 35mm Nikon to have when the F5(s) weren’t necessary. I also wanted something a bit more ‘old school’. I thought it would be nice to have a body with a real shutter speed dial and that would let me drive the aperture with the ring on the lens. The first camera I thought of was the predecessor to the F5, the Nikon F4. But, just like in 2009, I wanted a cheaper path to make sure it was something I would use. That’s when it clicked – the N2020.

Much of my photographic journey over the last two and a half years has been going back to older cameras that I used to own and rediscovering why I loved them in the first place. The N2020, though, is a bit different. This is a camera that I never ‘loved’.

This was a camera that represents a transition. It was the first step into a bigger world, just not one I knew how to take at the time. I was never in love with the N2020, but I was in love with the idea of it.

My second experience with the N2020 has been much different. It’s far from a perfect camera, especially the auto focus. That being said, it is a wonderful machine. It’s cheap (this one was $18 shipped) and well built. The best way for me to describe the shooting experience is this: a Nikon F3 with auto film advance and auto focus.


Interested in buying an N2020 yourself? KEH Camera typically has them in stock for $8, plus shipping. If you buy something through my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission.


I plan on doing a full write up on it in the future. For now here’s the first roll of film I ran through this one.


Full Circle: My Journey Back to Nikon

F100 35mm film camera

Full circle. That’s a phrase I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months and how it applies to my personal journey as a photographer. A bit over four years ago I decided to make the switch to mirrorless. Well, here I am, four years later, switching back to Nikon. It has been six months since I made the switch back, and now I feel like I can look back and pull some perspective together. But, before we get to that I should go over why I made the switch. It all started with the death of my dearly loved Nikon F3. Even though I had been shooting mirrorless for my digital kit, for 35mm I still shot an old manual focus Nikon SLR. I started shooting a lot more 35mm when the F3 stopped working. Instead of simply replacing the F3 body I decided to take the opportunity to move to an auto-focus body.

The original plan was to get an F4s. It made sense to me, in a lot of ways it was similar to the Fujis. However, I had a hard time finding one cheaply. Eventually, I found a couple dirt cheap F100s. They were in Denver, and a friend who was living there (shoutout to Jonah!) at the time picked them up for me. He shipped one to me and I let him keep one. The F100 was my main 35mm camera before I went mirrorless, so there was a bit of nostalgia getting it back in my hands again. Shooting the F100 again was like coming home. After a few minutes, everything came back to me – it was like the last few years with mirrorless had not happened. I had forgotten how positive these cameras felt and just how fast they were. It barely took one shoot for me to realize that I had to switch back.

So, I started figuring out the value of my Fuji stuff and pricing out what Nikon gear I would need. First, I had to decide on a body to go with. After looking around, I ended up with the same body I had when I sold all my Nikon gear four years ago, the D700. Even now, nearly eight years after the camera was first released, it is still arguably the most balanced digital camera Nikon has ever made. I wanted to try a newer camera, but aside from the top-of-the-line flagship cameras, the D700 is the only full frame camera that is capable of 8fps. To be honest, I was nervous, I wasn’t sure if it was still good enough. I mean we’re talking about tech that’s nearly ten years old. The D700 is the baby brother of the D3 and shares a lot of the same technology, most importantly the image sensor and processor. The D3 was announced in August 2007, the D700 came out the following July. Before I delve any deeper into the tech, I want to touch on the experience of shooting the D700 compared to the X-T1/X-E2 combo.

Needless to say, the first thing I noticed was the size and weight, I mean the body of the D700 isn’t much less than the X-T1 and X-E2 with grips and lenses. As I hoped, going back to a camera that I had previously owned there was almost no learning curve, at least from behind the camera. It’s kinda like riding a bike, you never really forget. Going from Fuji back to Nikon is kind of like night and day. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Fuji, but the feel of a pro Nikon is something else entirely. The Fuji embodies the very nostalgia of “the good ‘ole days” of 35mm photography. I’m not talking of the twilight years of film in the 90s, I’m talking about the 70s. Back then, you were lucky if your camera even had a meter, let alone any kind of auto exposure – you focused manually and YOU LIKED IT. Fuji embraced a design philosophy that was focused on simplicity, everything was put on a knob. The Fuji design remembers when photography was a slower, more deliberate process. At the same time, they were more than willing to accept all of the modern conveniences. In a lot of ways, it was almost like a digital version of an F3 or F4, well designed and built like a tank. The Nikon was another animal entirely. If the X-T1 was a tank, the D700 was an aircraft carrier. It is bigger, heavier, faster, and unapologetically modern. It has every button, menu, and setting you could possibly think of. Well, except video, but this camera is just old enough that it wasn’t even a consideration yet. It doesn’t really show its age, even though it’s ‘long in the tooth’, in many ways it is more advanced than the X-T1. But, all of that doesn’t matter to me, what does matter is the speed and responsiveness.

Mirrorless has come a long way since I first switched, and that is something that should be appreciated. My first mirrorless was Sony’s NEX-7, and comparing that to the X-T1 isn’t even a competition. That being said, the difference between the X-T1 and the D700 is equally as drastic. Even though the D700 is much older, when it comes to speed there is no comparison. And that’s it, right there. That’s the reason why I switched: speed. As much as I love shooting Fuji, the speed was starting to cost me. Don’t get me wrong, the X-T1 shot at 8fps just like the D700, but the autofocus is another story. The AF on Fuji’s was always okay at best, especially in low light. Now, the bulk of my work is shooting live music, which is generally in poorly lit bars. My cameras live at ISO 3200 and 6400, and even at that with f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses, AF was pretty slow. I was never super happy, but it was “good enough”. The D700, and the F100 for that matter, is another animal. Both cameras have near “instant” AF. All of this aside, this switch was not completely driven by function. It was also driven by nostalgia, a very personal nostalgia.

Getting an F100 again started it, and holding that camera again invoked something. It took me back to where I was at as a photographer when I got my first F100, over seven years ago now. I was just starting to take photography seriously and I had only just started to experiment with film. Both the D700 and the F100 are pure professional tools, but they have always been something more to me. They represent a distilled photographic machine, the photographic equivalent to a supercar. It’s just a tool, a machine, but it is one that is capable of almost anything, assuming you are skilled enough to push it to the limit. And that right there is why I was so turned off by them four years ago, I wasn’t ready. I’m still not, but I have gotten to the point that I can (using another car analogy) keep it on the road. It’s still just a tool, but one that can get out of its own way. I feel more empowered than ever to learn and grow, but from here on out it’s all on me. I can’t hide behind excuses of being limited by my gear, if I mess up now, it’s all on me. I do miss the Fujis, and the F3 for that matter, but they were always cameras that were just fun to use, not practical for “pro” work. I will miss the joy I got from them, but my new kit is what I need to be using right now. I move forward focusing on refining my skills and creating work that matters with the understanding that every phase of my development has shaped the photographer that I am. This is just the start of a new chapter, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store.