Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cheap Thrills

Lately, I have been rethinking my approach to street photography, and what kind of camera system I use the most, and how do I leverage my typical assortment of lenses and accessories into a versatile set of tools. I got thinking back when I started using Nikon gear, and AF cameras were what I started with. I had an N50 - a competent but not necessarily light camera. I also had an N60, which was pretty decent, but limiting to me in terms of shooting with manual lenses. My criteria for a street camera is -- lightweight, inexpensive, and easily used in a variety of situations. My F100 does not qualify there, nor does my F3. As I get older, AF lenses have become more relevant to my shooting, if only because I don't always trust my focusing in lower light levels. That got me looking around at later consumer-level Nikon SLRs, and after a bit of research, I decided that I would give the Nikon N65 a try. If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I appreciate a bargain.

The Nikon N65 is a much-improved camera over the N60 that I once owned -- it is a bit lighter, with multiple focus points instead of a central AF point. It also takes 2 CR2 batteries, which are quite cheap online. The camera shown here was 9.99 + shipping with the manual and the Magic Lantern Guide. The lens was not included. It's a 10 year-old camera with not much use on it, and a perfect inexpensive addition to my Nikon family. I typically shoot in Aperture-priority (A) mode, but with this camera I decided to see what I would get shooting in P mode.

The top deck is quite familiar to anyone that has used a Nikon AF camera. Although the N65 has only a single rear thumbwheel control, it isn't a problem in A mode. Exposure compensation is easily adjusted, and you also have Depth of Field Preview via a button on the face of the camera. DOFP was lacking in the N60, and in most of the consumer models.

Now, you are probably wondering if I have lost my mind, buying a lower-end AF camera, and why not the N80 (which I have owned)? As I said, I am looking at the N65 as a street camera -- and it has the features I really need, and none of the features that I don't. It's cheap enough that I bought two. You can find them like-new at KEH for about $23. If you already have a lot of AF lenses, this makes a ton of sense to me. The camera has excellent metering, fast AF, and DX-code ISO setting (which you can override by adjusting the exposure compensation, if necessary). You can use the Nikon IR remote (ML-L3) for tetherless remote shooting.

You can use the newer G lenses, making for a very lightweight lens/body combo. I highly recommend the kit 28-80mm AF G lens. They were commonly sold as a kit lens with the N65, N55, and N75 cameras, and are actually very good optically -- and cheap. My 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens is a perfect match for this camera, being both a normal fast lens, and relatively lightweight. Another good lens choice would be the inexpensive 28-100 AF-G lens. With that lens, you would be good for about 90% of the photographic subjects. It's a good camera for biking, and also as an AF backup to my F100. Don't go off and buy the N55 -- that camera lacks some significant features that the N65 has, and is by far the worst of the lot, in my opinion. If you are currently using a Nikon DSLR such as the D90, etc., and want to get into "analog photography" the N65 is a great choice, as it would feel quite normal in your hands, and offer you the benefits of AF (no using lenses designed for APS-C sensors, though) with the controls being very familiar.

After having run several rolls of film through the N65, I am happy with the results and with the handling of the camera. It's certainly lighter around the neck. For those that eschew such low-end SLRs, think about this tidbit -- Galen Rowell apparently often used the even less-featured Nikon EM camera which did just fine in his hands. It's all about your vision and the glass that you put in front of the film. All of the images below were shot on Kodak Gold 100 -- my old standby color film. There are probably a million N65 cameras sitting out there, abandoned after the owners switched to digital, so the cheap prices reflect that, not the capability of the camera.


Jim said...

Somebody gave me an N65 with a zoom lens last year. I tend to stick with 1970s SLRs so I put this camera on a shelf and haven't used it. Well, you've encouraged me; mine's now moved up next in the queue.

hardkoretom said...

I think most film cameras help you stop and think more, but I think the ones before auto modes did it a little better. But then again, those are the features you're looking for. A good choice for Canon users is the Rebel Ti. I got one off of ebay for 20 bucks almost brand new. cheaper than a K1000!!