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Experience Report: Nikon N2020

The Nikon N2020 is user-friendly and offers a classic SLR design, but most importantly, it has auto-focus.

As an avid photography enthusiast, I have a soft spot for my Minolta XD-11 and Minolta X-700 cameras. However, my less-than-ideal vision, resulting from cataract surgery in the early 2000s and multiple eye surgeries in 2019, have made manual focusing challenging. While my everyday activities are manageable, photography requires more precision. Therefore, I sought to purchase a 35mm film camera to accommodate my needs.

Here's a concise list of the features I desired:

  • Autofocus and manual capability
  • Classic design reminiscent of late 1970s and 1980s film cameras
  • Programmed auto-exposure mode
  • Aperture priority and Shutter priority modes
  • Manual ISO dial
  • Exposure compensation dial
  • Solid and durable construction

After seeking advice from Jim Grey and reading reviews online, I decided the Nikon N2020 (Nikon F-501) was the perfect fit. I scoured eBay and KEH for weeks without purchasing until one fortuitous spring morning in Princeton. While walking around with my Fuji X-T3, I "stumbled" into the New York Camera of Princeton. It鈥檚 interesting how often I stumble into New York Camera of Princeton. 馃檪

After a short conversation about my needs, the shop owner handed me a clean and functional Nikon N2020 from the display case and even replaced the batteries for me to test. The camera felt good in my hands, and the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens provided with it seemed capable. After a brief overview of its essential features and several presses of the shutter, I couldn't contain my excitement, especially when they offered the body and lens for a reasonable price of $87.

Specification Details
Camera Type Film SLR
Film Format 35mm
Lens Mount Nikon F Mount
Shutter Type Electronically controlled focal plane shutter
Shutter Speed Range 30 seconds to 1/2000th of a second
Exposure Modes Program, Aperture Priority, Manual
ISO Range 25 - 5000
Built-in Light Meter Yes
Viewfinder Type Pentaprism Viewfinder
Autofocus Yes
Multiple Exposure Yes
Self-Timer Yes
Battery Two 3V CR1/3N or DL1/3N lithium batteries
Dimensions (W x H x D) Approx. 146 x 91.5 x 59 mm
Weight Approx. 470 grams (body only)
Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 19 April 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

The Nikon N2020, released in 1986, was a groundbreaking camera that revolutionised photography with its autofocus technology. It made focusing quicker and more accurate, a significant advantage for capturing moving subjects and action shots. Despite the technology's limitations compared to modern cameras, the N2020's autofocus is considered quick for its time, and it helped make photography more accessible to a wider audience.

Auto Focus: Auto Focus is the main reason I wanted this camera. The N2020 utilises Nikon's first-generation autofocus module, with 96 CCDs focused on a subject in the centre of the frame. Later modules, like the AM200 used in the F4, had 200 CCDs. The autofocus uses a "screw drive" mechanism, where the camera body's motor drives the lens. Nikon labelled the initial screw drive lenses as "AF" or "AF-D." Nowadays, most autofocus lenses have motors within the lens but are powered by the camera body, resulting in less noise and vibration.

Despite being slower than modern cameras, the N2020's autofocus is still capable, particularly in well-lit conditions. It performs better in daylight than in low-light situations. The camera can achieve "focus lock" by half-depressing the shutter, allowing you to reframe while maintaining focus. However, the screw drive autofocus generates some noise during operation.

The N2020 offers "single" and "continuous" autofocus modes. In "single" mode, the shutter will not release until the subject is focused, allowing for focus lock and reframing. The "continuous" mode attempts autofocus tracking but is not very effective.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 19 April 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Viewfinder: My copy of the Nikon N2020 has a reasonably clear and uncluttered viewfinder, although it may be less bright than other models. The viewfinder displays LEDs for the shutter speed on the right side and focusing indicators at the bottom, providing essential information for composing shots.

By default, the camera has a "Type B" focusing screen. However, you have the option to replace it with either a proprietary "Type J" screen (matte/fresnel with a centred microprism) or a "Type E" screen (grid).

Focus Assist: The Nikon N2020 allows most manual focus Nikon lenses to utilise its autofocus sensor for "assistance." By half-pressing the shutter button, you activate the sensor, and arrows and a circle will appear at the bottom of the viewfinder. Once the centre circle turns "green," it indicates that the lens is in focus. This focus assist feature is valuable and has been incorporated into subsequent higher-end Nikon film SLRs.

Exposure Modes: The Nikon N2020 offers three program modes: aperture priority and manual operation. In program modes, only the shutter speed is shown in the viewfinder. "Program" is a fully automatic mode setting both aperture and shutter speed. "Program Hi" sets a higher shutter speed and wider aperture. "Program Dual" switches to "Program Hi" for lenses 135mm or longer; otherwise, it uses regular "Program." Aperture priority mode lets users choose the aperture, while manual allows setting both shutter speed and aperture. The camera indicates meter mismatches by blinking the shutter speed.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 19 April 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Auto Film Loading: With auto film loading, the Nikon N2020 streamlines the process of loading film, making it quick and efficient for photographers to start capturing their images without requiring extensive manual film threading. Push the shutter button after loading the film canister to activate this feature. There is no automatic film rewind.

Under Exposure Warning Alarm: The Nikon N2020 features an underexposure warning alarm with a switch on the top. If the selected shutter speed and aperture combination is insufficient for the lighting conditions, it produces a loud beep. However, you have the option to disable this feature if desired.

Motor Drive: The Nikon N2020 has an integrated motor drive for continuous shooting. However, the motor drive on this camera is relatively loud and lacks sound-dampening, which means it can be noticeable during operation.

The N2020 can achieve up to 2.5 frames per second in the fastest continuous shooting mode. This rate is comparable to other non-professional cameras of its time. Under normal ideal shooting conditions, the camera can sustain a continuous shooting speed of about 1.5 to 2 frames per second.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 19 April 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

While the continuous shooting capability is useful for capturing fast-paced action or sequences of shots, the noise produced by the motor drive might be a consideration for photographers who prefer a quieter shooting experience, especially in quiet or discreet shooting environments. However, for situations where capturing multiple frames in quick succession is essential, the Nikon N2020's motor drive provides a functional and effective tool for those needs.

Film Speed: The Nikon N2020 offers versatile film speed options for various shooting scenarios. The ISO dial has a DX setting, automatically recognising and reading the film's coded information from DX-coded film cassettes. This simplifies the shooting process, as the camera sets the appropriate ISO speed of the film automatically, ensuring accurate metering and exposure settings.

For non-DX coded film cassettes or if the photographer wants to override the DX setting, the N2020 allows manual film speed selection. Users can manually choose any film speed between 25 to 3200 ISO. This wide range of manual film speed selection ensures compatibility with various types of 35mm films, including those with non-standard or specialised ISO ratings.

DX and manual film speed options allow photographers to use a wide array of film stocks, adjust sensitivity to lighting conditions, and accommodate creative preferences. Whether shooting with standard DX-coded films or experimenting with unique film emulsions, the Nikon N2020 provides the necessary versatility to achieve optimal exposure.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 19 April 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Exposure Compensation: You can override the camera's automatic metering and fine-tune the exposure for specific shooting conditions or creative effects. Located on the ASA dial, there is a dedicated wheel that enables exposure compensation adjustments ranging from -2 to +2 stops. To dial in the desired negative or positive exposure compensation value, simultaneously press an adjacent button and rotate the exposure compensation wheel.

Flounder Brewing 路 June 25, 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 路 FUJICOLOR PRO 400H

The Nikon N2020's sturdy build quality and ergonomic design make it comfortable to handle during shooting sessions. Its versatile shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/2000th of a second, with a bulb mode, allows for creative photography, including long-exposure shots.

The camera's ISO range from 25 to 5000 offers flexibility in adapting to various lighting conditions, and it supports both DX-coded film and manual ISO adjustments.

Flounder Brewing 路 June 25, 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 路 FUJICOLOR PRO 400H

The N2020鈥檚 compatibility with Nikon's F-mount lenses, renowned for their backward compatibility and extensive range, is a significant advantage. While the 43mm "perfect normal" focal length more closely matches the human eye鈥檚 perspective, the 50mm focal length was popularised by Leica, and it quickly became "standard." The "standard" AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens sold with the camera is a versatile, high-quality prime lens suitable for portraits, street photography, and low-light conditions.

Specification Value
Name AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Manufacturer Nikon
Maximum Aperture f/1.8
Minimum Aperture f/16
Mount Type Nikon F
Lens Type Fixed Focal Length
Focal Length 50mm
Angle of View 46掳
Minimum Focus Distance 0.45m
Lens Construction 6 elements in 5 groups
Diaphragm Blades 7
Autofocus Yes
Filter Size 52mm
Weight 185g
Dimensions (DxL) 64.5 x 39mm
Recommended Yes

So, what鈥檚 my conclusion? The Nikon N2020 provides a user-friendly experience, featuring intuitive controls, a bright viewfinder, and a classic 1980s SLR design. Its autofocus technology, versatile features, and lens compatibility make it an excellent choice for amateur 35mm film photography enthusiasts.

Flounder Brewing
Flounder Brewing 路 June 25, 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 路 FUJICOLOR PRO 400H

I exposed three 35mm film cartridges: an expired 36-exposure roll of Fujichrome Provia 400F, a roll of ORWO Wolfen Color NC500, and a fresh 36-exposure cartridge of Fujicolor Pro 400H.

The Fujichrome Provia 400F was underexposed. I had forgotten to override the automatic DX settings that the camera read from the cartridge. The Fujichrome Provia 400F was exposed at box speed.

All the films were developed at Boutique Film Lab and scanned on my Epson Perfection V600. The Fujicolor Pro 400H and ORWO Wolfen Color NC500 negatives were converted using Negative Lab Pro.

ORWO Wolfen NC 500

The heavy grain and muted colours disappointed.

ORWO, short for "Original Wolfen," is the trademark of ORWO Net GmbH, a company based in Wolfen. They're well-known for their black and white film products, crafted in Germany and sold under the ORWO brand.

ORWO recently introduced a color-negative film called Wolfen NC500, an ISO 400 film. This film lacks a remjet layer, which can be processed in any standard C-41 colour film processing lab and is available in 35mm canisters of 36 exposures.

I wish I'd come across James Tocchio's experience report on ORWO Wolfen NC 500 before I used it. Sadly, I stumbled upon James' post several months after I had already loaded this film stock into my Nikon N2020. James' thoughts on his ORWO Wolfen NC 500 experience closely align with mine, so I'll let his words do the talking.

... let鈥檚 look at the grain structure. It鈥檚 heavy and exaggerated, and it does tend to diminish some of the detail of the film. Color films from Kodak鈥檚 Pro line certainly render sharper and cleaner images, and even ORWO鈥檚 own Wolfen NC400 has finer grain. Recall, however, that sharpness and cleanliness are not the intended goals for Wolfen NC500. Wolfen NC500 is not a true-to-life film. Not even close.

The de-saturation is certainly a "vibe". Colors are muted across the range, but especially so in the blue tones. Believe me when I say that the skies of Florida and the waters of the Gulf are all far bluer than images from this film indicate. Plants are greener, too. For those seeking to simply document the colors of the world as it is, Kodak鈥檚 color films are much better in this regard.

I'm with James on this one. I scanned the negative myself. I thought I'd messed up somewhere when I first saw the scans. So, I went back to Vuescan to check my settings. I also tinkered with the white balance for the images I brought into Adobe Lightroom. The images were not to my liking.

But it finally hit me after I checked out some sample photographs on the Lomography website. I had had a bit of a misconception about how this film stock would turn out. Personally, I'm a fan of the fine grain and more true-to-life colours you get with the Kodak Porta 400 film stock. ORWO Wolfen NC 500 doesn't do it for me.

Lastly, ORWO鈥檚 new color film is not cheap. Pricing ranges from shop to shop, but NC500 typically costs in the area of $17 per 36 exposure roll. Compared with some other color films, ORWO is pricey.

I burnt through the whole roll in just one day. Most of the shots were taken outside at the local farmers' market on a sunny July day.

Over at Analogue.Cafe, Dimitri thinks that if you're willing to put in extra work, you can find a use for this 35mm film. ORWO Wolfen NC 500 is pricier than Kodak Portra 400 film stock, and honestly, it doesn't look as good. Why bother?

ORWO is gearing up to release a new 200-ISO color negative film called NC 200. Hopefully this will be better than ORWO Wolfen Color NC 500. I can't recommend the ORWO Wolfen Color NC 500. I have zero plans to use it again.

Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 路 Nikon N2020 路 AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Experience Report: Minolta XD-11

A "new to me" Minolta X-700 camera made me fall in like with 35mm film photography again. A "new to me" XD-11 made me jump for joy.

The Minolta X-700 was the pinnacle of Minolta's final manual-focus SLR camera series. Minolta made X-700s for 20 years starting in 1981. Minolta aimed the X-700 at the advanced amateur, giving it aperture priority and program autoexposure. The novice photographer twisted the lens until the viewfinder image was crisp and then pressed the shutter button. The X-700 took care of the rest.

A used Minolta X-700 camera reignited my passion for 35mm film photography. It's funny how certain cameras click with you, pun intended. My Pentax SP II and ES II were nostalgic buys, but using them felt more like a chore than a joy.

In the summer of 2020, I took my X-700 for a day trip with Bhavna down the shore, and I had an entirely exciting experience. The X-700 just felt right in my hands, and the shots I got were some of my favourites.

That experience sparked my curiosity to dig deeper into the world of Minolta cameras. It's incredible how the right camera can inspire and motivate you to explore your craft further. Now, I'm on a journey to learn all there is to know about Minolta's gems. Who knows what photographic adventures lie ahead?

While aperture priority shooting is my default for any camera, I was concerned that there would be action shots where exposure priority would be needed. Did Minolta have an exposure-priority 35mm film camera that was as fun to use as the X-700? My search discovered that Minolta had created a professional-quality modern multimode Minolta "X series" SLRs mostly made of metal- the XD-5, XDs, XD-7 and XD-11.

Minolta had some interesting naming conventions for its products, making a point to have distinct names in the Japanese, European and US markets for almost everything. The XD-7 is the European and Japanese market version of the XD-11: same camera, different badge. The XD-11 was sold in silver and black models. I found many silver-bodied XD-11s for sale online, but I prefer the black body. The black model was more expensive, and consequently, fewer were sold. Thus, the black XD-11 body is much more costly and desirable in today's used market. After several weeks of searching eBay, Etsy, KEH and anywhere else that sold film cameras, I found an XD-11 body on Facebook Marketplace. After a quick negotiation on price and an agreement that I would pay shipping instead of collecting in person, my "new-to-me" camera arrived from Pennsylvania.

The X series uses Minolta MD and MC mount lenses. Unlike MC lenses, MD lenses have an extra coupling arm for use with multimode metering. The older MC (Meter Coupled) lenses can be used on "X series" cameras but not in the exposure-priority mode.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 路 Friday 1 January 2021 路 FujiFilm X-T2 路 XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

My XD-11 camera was sold as "body-only", but this was not a problem since I already had a standard MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 and a JC Penny 80-200 Zoom that came with the Minolta X-700. The MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 is a superlens, but I prefer a field of view closer to that of the human eye for general use. A few months later, I purchased an MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2 lens, a versatile manual focus lens often hailed for its solid performance and compact design. Its 45mm focal length falls within the "normal" range, making it great for everyday photography. This became my primary lens for the XD-11.

Released in 1977, the XD11 was the world's first camera with aperture priority, shutter priority, and a fully metered manual mode.
Minolta developed the XD-11 in conjunction with Leitz, with some websites claiming that the body was the basis for the Leica R4 and, later, as the chassis for the Leica R5, R6 and R7. Leica introduced a more advanced metering system into the body (including spot metering). Still, most other camera features are evident in both bodies.

Inside the film bay, the take-up spool and rewind crank are about as vanilla as possible. Pull up on the crank when loading film, and the door opens. The take-up spool grabs the film leader with authority and pulls it around and into place without hinting at a missed load. Unlike the X-700, the XD-11 has a film load indicator, a minor but delightful feature in a few other era cameras.

The XD-11's fresnel, micro prism spot viewfinder screen is about efficiency. Metered manual mode conveniently displays your chosen aperture and shutter speed, so you don't have to look away. This keeps you immersed in the shot, helping you maintain your creative flow and ensuring accurate settings simultaneously.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 路 Friday 1 January 2021 路 FujiFilm X-T2 路 XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The XD-11 camera features a Silicon photocell TTL centre weighted meter, which uses silicon photocells to measure light for exposure accurately. This metering system prioritises the central part of the frame when calculating exposure, striking a balance between accuracy and simplicity. This technology made the XD-11 a reliable choice for photographers.

The ASA range of the XD-11 camera typically spans from ASA 25 to ASA 1600. Remember that these are traditional film sensitivity settings, as digital cameras nowadays use ISO to indicate sensitivity. While I have exposed a 35mm roll of RPX 25, I'm not fond of grain, so I will likely never expose 35mm film at ASA higher than 400.

The Minolta XD-11 uses two 1.5v silver button (S76/SR44) batteries. It can be used without batteries but will lose automatic exposure and light meter functions. You'd need to set exposure manually using your knowledge or an external light meter. If you're comfortable with manual settings, it's feasible; otherwise, having fresh batteries would maintain the camera's automatic features.

The Depth of Field (DoF) preview button on the XD-11 camera lets you check how much of your scene will be in focus at the selected aperture. It's a helpful feature for adjusting focus and composition before capturing the shot.

The "safe-load" indicator on the XD-11 is a valuable feature that helps users load film accurately, minimising the risk of misalignment or incomplete loading. It provides a visual confirmation that the film is securely in place, assuring the overall reliability of the camera during the film-loading process.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 with MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2 路 Friday 1 January 2021 路 FujiFilm X-T2 路 XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The Self-timer on the XD-11 offers a delay option for hassle-free self-portraits or group shots. It's a handy feature that lets you compose your shot before the shutter clicks.

Shutter priority mode on the XD-11 lets you choose the desired shutter speed while the camera handles the aperture. It's handy for controlling motion in your shots, whether freezing action with a high speed or adding motion blur with a low one. It strikes a nice balance between manual control and convenience.

The XD-11 camera has a Seiko electronically controlled metal focal plane shutter with step-less speeds from 1/1000 to 1 second in automatic and stepped speeds, including "B" in metered manual mode. Flash sync operates at 1/100s with the "X" shutter dial setting. The XD-11 offers full mechanical operation at settings "O" (1/100 sec) and "B." In shutter priority mode, it provides electronic automatic aperture control and a final check metering system. This ensures exposure accuracy by stopping the lens down for assessment, a feature shared with the Minolta X-700. The XD-11 combines electronic innovation with mechanical reliability for precise photographic outcomes.

The Minolta XD-11 offers an exposure compensation range of around 卤2 EV in 13 EV steps. This allows you to adjust brightness by up to two stops in either direction for creative control in your film photography.

The Minolta XD-11 weighs about 620 grams (1.37 pounds) and measures around 142mm (5.6 inches) in width, 92mm (3.6 inches) in height and 48mm (1.9 inches) in depth. Minolta balanced a solid build and manageable weight for that era.

I've had experience with 35mm film SLRs, so using the XD-11 was old hat. However, I took the time to review the manual to ensure I was using it correctly. Unless mentioned otherwise, all the photos were taken using the aperture-priority mode.

Brick Farm Tavern July 4th BBQ
Brick Farm Tavern July 4th BBQ 路 Saturday 3 July 2021 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD Rokkor-X 45mm F2
Beneduce Vineyards Gew眉rztraminer
Beneduce Vineyards Gew眉rztraminer 路 Saturday 14 August 2021 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Race Street, Frenchtown
Race Street, Frenchtown 路 Sunday 19 December 2021 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7
Bhavna 路 Saturday 22 January 2022 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Asbury Park Boardwalk 路 Sunday 24 April 2022 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Kingston Locktender's House 路 Sunday 5 March 2023 路 Minolta XD-11 路 MD Rokkor-X 45mm F2