The Nikon 28Ti isn’t the best point and shoot film camera that I’ve ever used. But it might be the most enticing. It’s got a wide and fast lens. It’s made out of titanium. It’s got a panorama switch, exposure compensation, and just enough user controls to be interesting. To the delight of many, it has a set of analog dials on top that were designed by Seiko, the famed Japanese watch-makers. Finally (and this last point will be important for Nikon fans), it’s the only premium point and shoot with a wide angle lens that has the name Nikon stamped onto it.
All of these uncommon features and upscale buzzwords noted, there exist a few other premium point and shoot cameras that I’d choose to use over the 28Ti. The Ricoh GR1 series offers everything that this Nikon does, but it’s significantly smaller. The same can be said about the Minolta TC-1. The Fuji Natura Black F1.9 has a significantly faster and slightly wider lens. Most surprisingly, each of these apparently better cameras costs less than the Nikon does today!
That’s not to say that the Nikon isn’t a great choice for the point and shoot enthusiast that’s looking for a fast, wide, premium compact camera. It’s a fantastic photographic tool and I adored using it during a recent family vacation. It’s a dream camera for many film photographers, and rightfully so. But in the end, it’s not my first choice.
Specifications of the Nikon 28Ti
- Camera Type : Premium point and shoot for 35mm film
- Image Area : Full frame 24 x 36mm in normal mode; 13 x 36mm in panorama mode
- Lens : Nikon Nikkor 28mm F/2.8 made of 7 elements in 5 groups
- Shutter : Programmed electronic shutter with available aperture-priority semi-automatic mode; speeds from 1/500th of a second to 2 seconds; long exposure mode up to 10 minutes
- ISO Range : DX-code reader for ISO 25 to ISO 5000 films set automatically; non DX-coded films automatically set to ISO 100
- Auto Exposure Range : EV2 to EV17 at ISO 100
- Exposure Compensation : + or – 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments
- Flash : Built-in flash, automatic for low light and backlit scenes; Anytime Flash and Flash Cancel modes available; Red Eye Reduction mode available
- Viewfinder : Illuminated optical viewfinder with 0.35x magnification; coverage 82%
- Viewfinder Information Display : Shutter speed (or aperture dependent on mode), flash ready light, exposure compensation active indicator, image area frame lines, parallax compensation frame lines, autofocus spot
- Analogue Needle Display : Shows focus distance for each shot, aperture, frame counter, film rewind, self-timer and exposure compensation data, and counts seconds for long exposure times
- Top LCD Display : Shows imprint data, frame counter, and battery status
- Focusing Tech : Autofocus; Infinity focus preset mode; Focus lock. Minimum focus distance 0.4 meters (1.3 feet)
- Additional Features : Automatic lens cover; self-timer; illuminated viewfinder in low light; illuminated analogue needle display; data imprint functionality
- Battery : 3V lithium battery (DL123A or CR123A type)
- Dimensions : 119 x 66 x 36mm
- Weight : 310 grams (without battery)
Feel and Finish
I don’t buy a vintage camera unless I can convince myself that I’m buying it on the day that it shipped from the factory. The Nikon 28Ti had been on my film camera bucket list for seven years before I finally bought one, and when I did, I made no deviation from my habit. I made sure to buy one in like-new condition, barely used, with its original box, packaging, paperwork, etcetera. In instances such as this, in which the camera that I’m buying is decades old, finding one in the required condition can be a challenge. But I overcame the challenge. Doing so was easy. All it took was opening my wallet rather wider than I’m accustomed.
As I awaited arrival of my like-new, (nearly) thirty-year-old premium point and shoot Nikon, I considered my expectations. I expected that the 28Ti would be finely crafted and precise. The mechanisms would whirr and hiss and snap with electro-mechanical surety. For the price that I paid, the fit and finish would be top shelf. And when it arrived these expectations were mostly satisfied.
I say mostly satisfied because while the Nikon 28Ti is indeed a premium point and shoot camera, let’s face it, it’s a point and shoot camera.
From the day that they were conceived, premium point and shoot cameras were hyped and marketed as more than they really were by teams of smarties working in the highfalutin-est camera companies of Europe and Japan. The Contax T series, the Leica Minilux and its predecessor, the Leica CM, Minolta’s TC-1 are all examples; camera companies learned quickly that if they pulled their standard point and shoot camera tech out of its plastic shell and stuffed the same into a titanium one, that people would pay a lot more money than they would on, say, the average Canon Sure Shot. But all of these premium point and shoots truthfully aren’t as special as they’d have had us think, and they’re not really very premium, either. Not really.
By this I mean that there’s simply no comparison between what I consider to be an actual premium camera (something like a new Leica M or a Nikon SP or a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex) and a ‘premium’ point and shoot. I’ve owned and used (without hyperbole) every premium point and shoot that a person can own and shoot, and not one of these was as awe-inspiring as the zeitgeist asserts.
The body panels don’t line up perfectly. The film doors feel flimsy, or the battery covers do. The screws that hold things in place are usually proud of the body, rather than being flush or recessed. The viewfinders are weak. The knobs are connected internally via plastic, creating wiggle in their actuation. Under that titanium shell, all of these premium point and shoot cameras are simply point and shoot cameras with fancy clothes and improved lenses (and only some of them have improved lenses).
People on the internet mostly talk or write about premium point and shoot cameras in histrionic exclamations or hushed reverence. They’re titanium wonder-boxes with other-worldly lenses that will change your photography and your life. But they won’t. What they will do is cost you a month or more of disposable income and give similar photos to a $100 Pentax IQ Zoom.
Now that I’ve removed our collective rose-tinted glasses, dropped them onto the ground, steam-rolled them, gathered the dust into a vacuum sealed canister and launched that canister out of our atmosphere, through space, and into the fusion reactions occurring at the core of our Sun, let’s talk about the Nikon 28Ti directly.
It’s pretty nice. The brick-like little device is as solid as any other premium point and shoot. The paint (this model only appears in black painted titanium) has a gorgeous satin sheen which is perfect for my taste. The Leather (is it leatherette?) grip material is beautifully textured, and while it doesn’t fit perfectly against the elevated edging which surrounds it, it looks good. The lens looks gorgeous and the automatic lens cover flicks open with wonderful rapidity. The Nikon logo is nice. I like Nikon. The analogue gauges… I’ll get to them.
But the various body panels don’t fit flawlessly against one another. There are little edges here or there which are proud from their mating edges. The On/Off switch doesn’t click solidly like a metal mechanical switch would, which leads me to believe that the innards are plastic. The same can be said about the control dial, which feels wiggly and light. The film door, true to form, worries me; it flips open loosely and doesn’t feel very solid. The battery cover seals well, but it feels too similar to the many plastic point and shoot battery covers that I’ve used and which have inevitably become stripped in time.
Don’t be scandalized by my scrutiny of the Nikon. All of these complaints are coming from the brain of a microscopically observant camera freak, and they can be equally leveled against any premium point and shoot film camera. Other camera-likers don’t tend to say these things, possibly because they don’t want to admit to themselves that they spent $1,200 on a point and shoot? But I don’t mind. As far as point and shoots go, this one is as nice as it gets. Just don’t expect it (or any premium point and shoot) to feel like a Leica M.
The Nikon 28Ti in the Real (and Disney) World
When testing cameras, it’s important to push them to their limits. We’re looking for weaknesses which are often exposed by stress; challenging environments, difficult lighting, pressure and fatigue. All the better if the photographer doing the testing happens also to be suffering. In my experience, there’s no better place to test a camera than Walt Disney World. Which is where I used the Nikon 28Ti over the course of four days and nights.
Practical use of the 28Ti will be familiar to anyone who has used a point and shoot film camera. We load the film, turn it on, point, and shoot. Where the 28Ti differentiates itself from a lot of other cheaper point and shoots, is in the amount of creative control that it gives. This most obviously presents through the camera’s aperture priority methodology. By setting the mode dial to A, we can now adjust our aperture via the control wheel. Open the aperture for lower light shooting or to create subject isolation, or close the aperture to increase depth of field. This happens to be my preferred shooting mode in any camera, point and shoot or otherwise, and it works as effectively on the 28Ti as it does elsewhere. Just don’t expect bokeh, even wide open.
We also have access to an exposure compensation mode. This adjustment isn’t as effortless as the aperture adjustment, as it requires us to press the exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera, but it works well enough, especially in instances where we may want to over- or under-expose and entire roll of film (say, in the name of push/pull processing or when we’re shooting expired film and want to over-expose).
In addition to these options to adjust our exposure, we have access to focus and flash adjustment.
The AF button on the top of the camera allows us to set our focus mode. We can leave the camera in auto-focus mode, which most of us will do, or we can lock the focus to infinity (useful for landscape or touristy shots). We can also use manual focus. When in this mode, scrolling the wheel will adjust our focus from infinity to minimum focus distance. The set focus distance is then displayed on one of the two larger analogue gauge needles on the top of the camera. This is useful for scale focusing, or to minimize time needed to take a shot in situations such as street photography, or in instances in which the AF system might struggle, such as low light photography or when shooting through highly reflective surfaces. On paper, great stuff. In actual use? Eh. I used manual focus once or twice. The rest of the time it’s auto-focus for me.
The flash adjustment is located on the front of the camera, and pleasantly, it is a hard switch. This means that the camera will not reset its flash mode every time that the camera’s turned off and then on, a common annoyance with point and shoots. Set the switch to Flash Off, and it’ll stay off. From there we can set the flash to automatic, or to red-eye reduction mode. These work as expected. People who dislike the aesthetic of direct point and shoot flash will find no comfort here. Of course, this also means that people who love the look of a 1990s direct-flash portrait will enjoy the Nikon.
The analogue gauges on the top of the camera are neat looking. If you enjoy mechanical watches you’ll likely enjoy that they were designed by Seiko, and that the needles click mechanically between increments. They display critical information that “lesser” point and shoots display with uncivilized LCDs and lights. How many shots we’ve taken, our set aperture and focus distance, whether or not we’re using exposure compensation, and the time we’ve been exposing long exposures; all of that (and a little more) is shown in glorious needle displays.
But they’re not that great. They’re kind of hard to decipher for the first few days, and never really become first nature. They do the job, but they’re needlessly complicated and possibly a liability. Who, I ask, can possibly fix these when they break?
The viewfinder is fine. Nothing special. Small, but it illuminates in low light and there’s enough information displayed to be useful at the decisive moment.
Shooting the Nikon 28Ti as its designers likely intended, as a point and shoot, there’s virtually no effort involved. If we believe all of those premium point and shoot marketers from thirty years ago (and the YouTubers and bloggers of today), this zero effort experience will give us shots that rival any of those made by the Canon EOS1v and an L lens (or a Fuji X Pro 3 in film simulation mode).
With the Nikon 28Ti and its Nikon Nikkor 28mm F/2.8 fast prime lens, the claim is generally true if we’re working within the camera’s capabilities. The Nikkor is a great lens, and combined with the Nikon’s capable metering system and relatively well-specced shutter, it makes images that are punchy and sharp and beautiful. In generally easy shooting scenarios (bright, soft light with the right film loaded), the camera is an excellent one.
But this premium point and shoot also struggles, and it does so in all of the same scenarios in which far less expensive point and shoot cameras also struggle. When the light gets low, it has a hard time making sharp, well-exposed photos. It fails to freeze fast-moving subjects. The auto-focus system is pretty basic. The lens vignettes. The flash is direct and lacks subtlety, and it’s sensitive to proper subject distance.
Despite the camera’s available aperture-priority mode, its exposure compensation adjustment, its user-selectable flash modes, and its analogue gauges, the Nikon 28Ti didn’t blow my mind. Its wide angle lens is somewhat uncommon in the class, and yes, it’s as premium as a point and shoot camera gets. But it’s still just a point and shoot.
At the end of the day, the 28Ti didn’t give me anything that a Nikon AF600 or a Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70W couldn’t at a quarter the price (that last one, by the way, is a total sleeper right now). Stretch the budget a bit more, to around $600, and we could have the Ricoh GR1 or Fuji Natura Black, which are actually my favorite wide angle prime lens point and shoots. That’s a lot less than the 28Ti costs.
Don’t mistake my realism for negativism. I’m not claiming that the Nikon 28Ti isn’t a great camera. It really is very good, and luxurious, and fancy, and beautiful and quirky. It’s just not earth-shaking, and buying one takes a lot of money. And sadly, nothing that I experienced while using it convinced me that the 28Ti is worth more the many less expensive point and shoots that I’ve mentioned a few times now. Which is too bad. Because I’m a Nikon collector, and I really wanted to keep this one.
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