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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.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired

A long-expired cartridge of Fujichrome PROVIA 400F 35mm film delivers nostalgic, surprisingly usable photos.

One of the first rolls of film I exposed from the box of expired 35mm film I received last year is a 36-exposure cartridge of Fujichrome PROVIA 400F Professional [RHP III]. Fujichrome PROVIA 400F was a high-quality colour reversal film manufactured by Fujifilm. It was known for its excellent colour reproduction, fine grain, and sharpness, making it a popular choice among professional photographers. With a sensitivity of ISO 400, this film was ideal for shooting in low light conditions or for capturing fast-moving subjects. The film's advanced emulsion technology was known to produce vibrant colours and accurate skin tones, making it a popular choice for fashion and advertising photography. I did not know what to expect from a 10-year-old cartridge.

I didn't think much about what it means to expose expired 35mm film. My first, second and third attempts at using expired film stock could have been better. I loaded the cartridge in my Pentax P3n, and despite the cold weather, I hopped on my e-bike and headed off to Rocky Hill, a nearby borough in New Jersey.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

The sun shone brightly overhead, but I could still feel the cold as I set off on Salisbury Road towards the western end of Blue Spring Road. It was still early morning as I pedalled through the quiet residential streets of my neighbourhood. Just before entering the borough of Rocky Hill, I stopped on Princeton Avenue to expose a few frames before continuing along the more scenic route, passing through Van Horne Park.

Rocky Hill was incorporated in 1890 and had a rich history dating back to the colonial era. It was an important transportation hub during the Revolutionary War and was once home to the Van Horne estate, now a public park. Van Horne Park offers a variety of amenities, such as walking paths, playgrounds, sports fields, and picnic areas.

Today, Rocky Hill is a quiet residential community with a small-town feel. It has a few local businesses, including a general store, a post office, and a few restaurants.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2
Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2
Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

After leaving the park, I continued along Washington Road, a long stretch of a historic route that cuts through the heart of Rocky Hill. One of the most distinctive features of Washington Road is its historic homes and buildings. Many houses along the street were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and have been preserved as part of Rocky Hill's history. Some of the most notable buildings along Washington Road include the historic Rocky Hill Inn, which dates back to the early 1700s and now operates as a restaurant, and the Rocky Hill Schoolhouse, which was built in 1865 and is now home to the Rocky Hill Historical Society.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2
Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2
Rocky Hill Inn 路 Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

Originally built as a private residence, the Rocky Hill Inn building was converted into a tavern in the 1800s and has since operated as an American gastropub. The inn has been beautifully restored and retains many original features, including wide-plank flooring and exposed brick walls. It is a popular spot for locals, offering a cosy rural, small-town atmosphere, delicious food (my favourite is Fish n鈥 Chips with a crisp pilsner), and a wide selection of beer and wine.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

I turned off Washington Road, arriving at Crescent Avenue, a quiet road I often photograph due to its tree-lined sidewalks and charming historic homes. Many houses on the street were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and have been carefully preserved. The homes' architecture varies, ranging from Victorian and colonial-style homes to more modern designs.

Crescent Avenue turns into River Road at the southeastern border with Montgomery Township. River Road head south toward the historic town of Kingston. It connects to the other end of Blue Spring Road in a loop that takes me back toward my home.

Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2
Fujichrome PROVIA 400F - Expired 路 Wednesday 14 December 2022 路 Pentax P3n 路 SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

I think the opportunity to take photographs with expired 35mm film was a unique touch of nostalgia and vintage charm.

I exposed the Fujichrome PROVIA 400F at box speed. After I sent the film off for development, I read that the wisdom on the web is that expired film should be exposed at a lower ISO, one-stop every ten years after it expires. The film should also be pulled during development. I understand it just a bit, but I am stumped about what camera ISO or exposure compensation settings I should have used and what instructions to give the development lab.

  • Do I set the ISO dial at ISO 200 and tell the lab to pull one stop?
  • Do I set the ISO dial to 400 and the exposure compensation dial to +1 and tell the lab to pull one stop?
  • Do I set the ISO dial to 400 and the exposure compensation dial to +1 and tell the lab to develop normally?
  • Do I expose at ISO 400, EV0

It was too late to correct my potential mistake. I sent the cartridge off to Boutique Film Lab and waited. When the slides arrived, I nervously scanned them with VueScan using my Epson Perfection V600. As I watched the previews, my confidence grew. My efforts were not wasted.

I added camera and lens meta-data and imported the images to Adobe Lightroom to finalise things. I was excited when I saw that the scans produced usable photos. I was even more excited when the photos improved further when I adjusted the exposure,contrast, highlights and shadows.

I am so excited. This worked out better than I expected. While the colours are muted, almost all of the images are usable. This post includes the ones I consider the best of the 36 exposures. A few frames are underexposed, but I think that is primarily because of operator error (i.e. me). I have five more cartridges of expired Fujichrome PROVIA 400F, and I am excited to use them all.

Name Fujichrome PROVIA 400F
Format 35mm
Type Colour Reversal
Native ISO 400
Exposed ISO 400
Lab Boutique Film Labs
Process E-6
Scanner Epson Perfection V600
Software VueScan 9, Negative Lab Pro, Adobe Lightroom