Almost ten years ago, Casual Photophile sprung from the realization that there was a whole galaxy of cameras which nobody seemed to be talking about. At that time, many exceptional cameras could be found and bought for a tenth their original retail price, and yet they still functioned as well as the day they were made. It quickly became my favorite thing— to discover and to write about wonderful cameras and lenses which most people have forgotten. The Nikon N2000 is such a camera.
While not exactly forgotten by true camera nerds (many of my friends in the camera blogosphere have written reviews of this relatively hidden gem), the Nikon N2000 certainly fails to garner the kind of wide acclaim foisted upon other SLRs from the era of manual focus SLR dominance. Its popularity doesn’t come close to that of cameras like the Nikon F3, the Canon AE1 or the Pentax K1000, to pick three easy comparisons.
Which is strange, since the Nikon N2000 is better equipped than an F3, just as small as an AE1, and far more advanced than a K1000.
Why, then, don’t people squawk endlessly about it on YouTube? No idea. Don’t care. Let’s move on, so that I can get back to what I love— squawking endlessly about cameras that I like.
What is the Nikon N2000
First released in 1985, the Nikon N2000 (known as the Nikon F-301 in Japanese and European markets) is a manual focus 35mm film SLR camera using Nikon’s ubiquitous F mount lens system. As a replacement for the earlier Nikon FG, the N2000 was (and remains) a truly capable consumer-level camera with a number of surprising capabilities.
In fact, the N2000 represents a number of “firsts” in Nikon’s lineage.
It was the first Nikon camera with an integral motor drive. It was the first Nikon camera to use polycarbonate plastic extensively in its construction. It was the the first Nikon with DX-coding capability, and it was one of only four Nikon SLRs which was able to support the advanced exposure modes made possibly by Nikon’s AI-S F mount lenses (the others being the Nikon FA, the Nikon N2020, and the Nikon F4).
It’s a compact SLR, lightweight, surprisingly robust, easy-to-use and easy on the eyes. It’s powered by a common battery type (either four AAA batteries, or four AA batteries with an optional extended baseplate). It meters well, has multiple shooting modes, is equipped with one of the most versatile lens mounts in the history of photography, and can even beep at us when it’s angry.
The N2000 was, and still is, a solid, well-equipped, highly capable film camera. That said, it was short-lived.
By the mid-1980s, the autofocus era had truly arrived. Nikon was more than happy to push their manual focus past aside as AF was embraced by buyers in the lucrative entry-level market. The N2000 was quickly replaced by the far more modern and AF-equipped Nikon N4004s in 1987. (Tragic, because good lord, is that camera ugly.)
Specifications of the Nikon N2000
- Camera Type – Integral-motor 35mm single lens reflex (full frame, 24 x 36mm image area)
- Lens Mount – Nikon F mount
- Exposure Modes – Program, Program Hi (for high speed shooting), Aperture Priority, Manual
- Exposure Metering – Center weighted TTL metering, EV1 to EV19 at ISO 100 with f/1.4 lens
- Shutter – Electronic vertical-travel focal-plane shutter
- Shutter Speeds – Stepless speeds from 1 to 1/2000 second on Program, Program Hi, and Aperture Priority modes; non-stepless Manual mode speeds from 1 to 1/2000th second; Bulb mode for long exposures
- Viewfinder – Fixed eye-level pentaprism; 0.85x magnification with 50mm lens; approx. 92% frame coverage
- Focusing Screen – Fixed Nikon Type K2 with central non-shading split-image rangefinder circle, microprism collar, and matte-/Fresnal outer field; 12mm diameter reference circle denotes metering area
- Viewfinder Info – Shutter speed LED readout; Over- and under-exposure warning LED’s; Ready light when using flash
- Exposure Compensation Control – Plus or minus 2 Ev in one-third stop increments
- Film Speed Range – ISO 25 to 4000 for DX-coded film; ISO 25 to 3200 for non-DX-coded film
- Film Advance and Rewind : Automatic film advance up to 2.5 frames per second; manual rewind
- Flash Sync – 1/125 second or slower with electronic flash
- Additional Features – Frame counter, film type window in film door, audible warning alarm for multiple events, self-timer, red indicator LED, hot-shoe for flash and monitor, tripod socket, exposure lock
Using the Nikon N2000 Today
I’ve temporarily owned a dozen or more Nikon N2000s during my time as editor of this site and owner of a camera shop. I’ve shot a few examples of the same, here and there, over spans of weeks and months, and what has always struck me about the N2000 is just how quietly good it is.
But don’t confuse that with actual audible quietness. It’s not a quiet camera. It’s loud. But I don’t mind that. Like a Contax G2 or any good camera in a movie from the early 1990s, the Nikon N2000 makes all the right noises for a camera-liker like me. Its shutter chonks hard, its winder whirrs brightly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the hand, the N2000 feels amazing. With its geometric grip, it balances one-handed better than something like a Nikon FE or a Canon AE1, cameras which are slippery in their gripless-ness. With a compact lens mounted, such as the 45mm Nikkor Pancake or the Nikon 50mm Series E, the camera is compact and subtle enough to be used as a travel and walkaround camera.
The camera’s F mount is capable of mounting any Nikon AI or AI-s lens. Naturally any third party lens made for the same mount will work as well. Only a few exceptions exist (see the manual for those).
The Nikon N2000’s controls rest exactly where they should, and handling the camera becomes second nature within just a few frames. By the end of the first roll of film I’m able to set shutter speed (or exposure mode), adjust exposure compensation, use the exposure lock, frame, and focus, all without ever taking my eye from the viewfinder or fumbling about with confusing dials and switches.
The viewfinder is informative and among the brightest viewfinders I’ve ever seen in a manual focus camera. This brightness, and the ample focusing aids packed into the fixed focusing screen, make manual focus fast and easy. Additionally, the in-VF LED display does everything I want it to do.
In manual mode, the bank of LEDs on the right-hand side of the VF shows our set shutter speed as well as a flashing speed recommendation based on the camera’s meter. In Aperture Priority mode, it shows the automatically selected shutter speed based on available light and the lens’ aperture, and when using the exposure lock it displays the locked speed and recommended setting. In program mode, the camera takes care of everything and the LEDs let us know what’s happening.
What’s missing from the VF is an indicator to show our selected lens aperture. While this is something that becomes known by feel over time, I wouldn’t have been upset if Nikon had managed to shoehorn that feature into this otherwise perfect viewfinder.
Set to single shot, the camera advances the film one frame after each shot. Set to continuous mode, the camera fires shot after shot at a pace as fast as 2.5 frames per second. Film rewind is manual – we only must remember to slide and press the two-factor authentication that is the camera’s rewind switch, and then crank the crank like on so many earlier manual cameras.
For the way that I use film cameras (aperture priority is my preferred mode, I like manual focus and single lens reflex shooting) the N2000 is an uncomplicated hit. It just works.
But not all is perfect. The N2000 does fail me in certain ways.
To start, the On/Off switch is annoying. It’s a spring-tension collar that surrounds the shutter release button. To turn the camera on or to select our drive mode, we pull it up from its L (locked) position and rotate it to either S (single shot) or C (continuous), and the motion just doesn’t feel good, being kind of vague and cheap. This is admittedly a minor annoyance, at most, but its an annoyance that’s felt every time I have to turn the camera on or off, or change drive modes from single to continuous.
Next, the tripod socket is positioned almost at the very edge of the bottom of the camera, so that when mounted to a tripod, the whole thing kind of dangles precariously with all of its weight on one side. Another nitpick, for sure, and one that will rarely impact me or anyone else. But I’m paid to complain.
Lastly, the exposure compensation dial has an egregiously protective locking feature whereby it is impossible to adjust the exposure comp by even one increment without pressing and holding down the lock button.
My very favorite method of shooting is to shoot in aperture priority, and to rely heavily on exposure compensation control as I’m reading the scene. If the subject is backlit, for example, I like to use exposure comp, or if the metering circle of the center-weighted meter happens to be in an area that’s extra dark or extra light, I will typically notice that and compensate accordingly. But with this dial’s lock, the process becomes tedious and frustrating, so that eventually I end up attempting to achieve my exposure compensation through use of the AE lock (which is hit or miss, and even more frustrating).
Other minor grumbles include the following: There’s no depth-of-field preview; the camera won’t work without batteries; it’s made out of plastic; there’s no cable-release thread on the shutter release; there’s no mirror lock-up; there’s no shutter blind. None of these things bother me, but they might bother you.
[Above: The Nikon N2000 makes great shots with all types of lenses and in all types of light. It just works.]
We all love cameras. But the cameras we all seem to love best are the ones that surprise us with their capability and quality at an equally surprising low price. The Nikon N2000 is just such a camera. Fitted with a standard, compact Nikon lens, it’s hard to think of another manual focus camera that outperforms the N2000. Especially when we consider that a used Nikon N2000 can be bought for about $50.
However, there is one big reason that a certain type of camera-liker might not like the N2000. If you’re the kind of photo nerd who can’t abide manual focus, the N2000 is a non-starter. It’s manual focus only, and that’s the end of that.
But if the N2000 sounds just right in all ways but one. If the only thing holding you back is that nagging little lack of autofocus, worry not. Nikon made an almost identical camera, called the N2020, which is nothing less than the very excellent N2000, but with autofocus. Wow. What a time to be alive.
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