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Manual Focus Lenses on AF Nikon Cameras
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

Nikon Lens Technology and Nomenclature

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Manual focus lenses don't do much on modern autofocus (AF) Nikons. It's not worth the effort. I gave up and bought all AF lenses for my AF cameras. All Nikon digital SLRs are AF. Manual focus lenses were designed for the manual focus cameras popular up until 20 years ago.

To do anything at all on an AF body the manual lens must be AI, AI-s or AI converted. This covers all lenses made since about 1977. More details are on my Nikon Lens Technology page.

This is a general guide. Ignore me and go read the instruction manual for your particular AF camera very carefully to learn what really happens with your specific camera and lenses.

Only a couple of the very newest Nikons do anything with manual lenses. The F6, D200 and D2 series allow you to enter the focal length and maximum aperture manually for each lens. Then you get all the metering modes, including matrix. You only get A and M exposure modes. You can't get P or S modes. 20 year old manual focus cameras like the FA read this data automatically and gave all four P, S, A and M modes with no manual data fiddling, but not today's cameras.

The biggest loss is autofocus. It's not just slow. It doesn't work at all. You have to focus manually and look for a little dot to light up telling you you're in focus. Except for the ground glass there are no rangefinders or microprisms to help you focus quickly as manual focus cameras had.

Things go downhill from here. On the F100, F5, and D1 series you lose the matrix meter with manual focus lenses. You only get center weighted and spot.

After that you don't even get metering! With the D70s, D50, N80, N65 and most other Nikon AF cameras you don't get any metering. In other words, almost useless. You need to go get a hand held meter and set exposure manually on the camera based on what the meter says. On the digital cameras you can guess and look at the LCD. You might as well use a rangefinder camera from the 1950s, since many of them at least had a built-in meter and better manual focusing aids.

Personally I'd much rather have an 85/1.8 AF or 105/2.8 AF micro than any of the old manual 105/2.5 or f/1.8 lenses people keep asking about to use on AF cameras for portraits. Heck, I really suggest any AF 80-200/2.8 or ideally the 105/2.0 DC for portraits.

The old manual 105mm lenses were hot stuff in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and thus they have a reputation among amateurs to this day, but there are better choices today if you want to do what your AF camera was designed to do.

35mm and digital cameras trade ease of operation for speed. If you're going to give up the ease of use by handicapping yourself with manual lenses from photography's dark days you should consider moving up to medium or large format photography. A larger format camera gives astoundingly better quality. That's why I use a 4x5 for my serious work. Large format lenses have been manual focus for over 150 years and show no signs of changing.

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