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’s interesting how often I stumble into New York Camera of Princeton. 🙂

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 · Wednesday 19 April 2023 · Nikon N2020 · 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 · Wednesday 19 April 2023 · Nikon N2020 · 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 · Wednesday 19 April 2023 · Nikon N2020 · 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 · Wednesday 19 April 2023 · Nikon N2020 · 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 · Wednesday 19 April 2023 · Nikon N2020 · 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 · June 25, 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 · 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 · June 25, 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 · FUJICOLOR PRO 400H

The N2020’s 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’s 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°
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’s 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 · June 25, 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 · 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.

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the XD-11, the X-700, and the XG-1. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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’s look at the grain structure. It’s heavy and exaggerated, and it does tend to diminish some of the detail of the film. Color films from Kodak’s Pro line certainly render sharper and cleaner images, and even ORWO’s 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’s 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’s 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 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Rediscovering Vinyl with Schiit Audio SYS and PYST Snake Oil

The Schiit Stack enhances the music experience, bringing back cherished memories.

I thoroughly enjoy the listening experience from my Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy. I noticed that the "Schiit Stack" sound is better and more enjoyable than my Mac’s 3.5mm headphone jack or the iPhone 11 Pro over Bluetooth headphones or via the pigtail adapter.

I want to sit in a chair, my eyes closed, and imagine Dad is with me, both of us quietly enjoying the moment. Dad had a large vinyl collection. I have none. Correct, I had none. Let’s back up a bit.

I felt nostalgic for the final weeks of my last year (1986) of school. It was June and Carnival time in St. Vincent, and Kingstown was excitedly buzzing. Carnival attracts thousands of tourists and is a colourful and vibrant celebration of music, dance and Vincentian heritage. Towns nationwide come alive with street parties, calypso and steelpan performances, costume parades and much more.

I had just completed my A-levels, and my brother Shane, our close friend Andre, and I were excited about Carnival. We encouraged David, our exchange student from Los Angeles, to come along. David didn’t know what he was in for.

Carnival starts in the middle of June, culminating on two special days, a Monday and Tuesday, at the start of July. The Monday is called J’Ouvert, a contraction of the French term Jour Overt, meaning "early morning". A fete1 runs from midnight to dawn. A large band then takes to the streets of Kingstown, waking the residents to enjoy the penultimate day of the carnival. J’Ouvert is followed by Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). In Vincy Mas, a band of the year competition is followed by a final parade of the mass bands to signal the end of the festival.

That last J’Ouvert morning in St. Vincent, we got up early, around 4 AM, piled into Andre’s Peugeot, and headed into town to meet the band. Andre parked the car at Barclays Bank, and we joined the celebration.

The street is filled with human beings, jam-packed like sardines in a tin. A large truck with enough speakers to sink a boat moves slowly through the street, inching forward at one mile/hour. The dancing, writhing crowd surrounds the truck, the truck and people moving in perfect harmony. The air is filled with the sound of the year's calypso anthem, "I want soca". The music is infectious. The DJ is playing this seven-minute song on a continuous loop. The party never stops, and neither do we.

Oh, man! I miss it.

audio-technica AT-LP60X
audio-technica AT-LP60X · Monday 28 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Unfortunately, most of the calypso music from my youth, including Alston "Beckett" Cyrus’s hit, I Want Soca, never transitioned to digital. I spent hours searching Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, SoundCloud, Tidal and others. If I wanted to listen to the calypso of my youth, I would have to get vinyl pressings.

A quick Google search and I discovered multiple vinyl copies of the single on discogs. I bought a few other recordings. But I didn’t have a record player. The sleeved black disks sat on my desk while I dreamed of turntables, phono cartridges, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers.

Schiit Audio claims their products are "designed and built in California". When they say "designed and built in California," they mean that most of the production costs for their products—including the chassis, boards, and assembly—are allocated to U.S. companies that manufacture within the United States. The chassis and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) are manufactured nearby or in Northern California. In essence, Schiit Audio is a product company deeply rooted in local production.

About a year after I bought the [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy] while searching for more vinyl, I walked into Princeton Record Exchange. I was looking for records. I walked out with an Audio Technica AT-LP60X.

Audio Technica AT-LP60X
Type Belt drive turntable, fully automatic.
Motor DC servo-controlled
Drive Method Belt-drive
Speeds 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Turntable Platter Aluminium
Wow and Flutter Less than 0.25% (WTD) @ 3 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio >50 dB (DIN-B)
Output Level Pre-amp “PHONO”: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec Pre-amp “LINE” 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Phono Pre-Amp Gain 36 dB nominal, RIAA equalised.
Accessories Included Dust cover, Felt mat, Platter (with drive belt), 45 RPM adapter, RCA audio cable (approx. 1.2 m. (3.9')), AC adapter (approx. 1.5 m (4.9'))

The AT-LP60X is a basic turntable. While the Wirecutter and others will recommend a [starter combo] with "an affordable turntable" and powered speakers costing over $600, the AT-LP60X was just $149. I had no speakers. I remembered that Shiit Audio offered a product called SYS.

Schiit PYST by Snake Oil
Schiit PYST by Snake Oil · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Schiit Audio often markets their products humorous and irreverently, but the company is serious about audio quality. SYS, which Schiit Audio says is short for "Switch Your Stuff", is a 2-way switch and a potentiometer. The SYS allows me to switch between two audio sources or control the volume for a single audio output without adding active components to the signal path. Being a passive preamplifier means it doesn't require power and won't amplify the signal. This is often seen as beneficial for audio purists who want to maintain the audio signal's integrity without introducing additional noise or distortion that active electronic components could bring.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

I bought some RCA PYST Snake Oil branded cables with the SYS passive switch. Snake Oil is a start-up from California. The name PYST is a playful acronym for "Put Your Schiit Together". These cables connect various audio components, e.g. [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy]. However, they can also be used in other configurations. The PYST cables are typically well-received for being high-quality interconnects that provide reliable performance, although, like any other brand, user experiences may vary.

Schiit Audio SYS
Number of inputs 2 (stereo RCA)
Number of outputs 1 (stereo RCA)
Input impedance 10k ohms
Output Impedance 5k ohms maximum
Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
Weight 1 lb

I easily switch between the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ DAC or AT-LP60X, feeding into the Shiit Audio Magni Heresy headphone amplifier and using the potentiometer to adjust the volume in my Grado SR-60s headphones. Listening on my Grado SR-60s, I easily switch between the AT-LP60X for vinyl and the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ for Apple Music streaming. The total cost of the SYS and PYST was $69. This kit is not the vintage system I had imagined, but the system's compact size and minimalism are better suited for my small home listening room space. This solution works for me.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

At some point, I would like to get some powered speakers. Schiit Audio makes powerful amplifiers, but they are not budget-friendly (at least not for my budget). The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that can connect to the input of powered book-shelf-size speakers (aka monitors) from JBL or Klipsch. My "Plan B" is to connect some used Bose 901 speakers to an old Sony AV amplifier I found in the basement. I’m not sure which way to go.

I'm thinking of grabbing some powered speakers at some point. Schiit Audio has some pretty awesome amplifiers, but they're a bit too pricey for me. The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that could hook up to some compact powered speakers, like the ones from JBL or Klipsch. My other plan is to get some old Bose 901 speakers and the Sony AV amp collecting dust in the basement.

  1. Fete is a word of French origin meaning a celebration or festival. But in the English-speaking Caribbean islands, a fete means a Carnival party.