a feature-comparison chart by Don Atzberger
for photo.net (specifically, the Nikon
In response to ongoing queries about which SLR is a good choice for beginners, I've compiled data on the Nikon N-series cameras into a pair of charts. The first chart compares the N70, N6006, N60 and N50 bodies. The second chart compares the these four cameras to the N8008(s) and N90(s). Note that the notation "N8008(s)" refers to the N8008 and the N8008s and that "N90(s)" refers to the N90 and the N90s. Also included is a chart of model equivalencies between the American and European/Asian naming conventions and a very subjective comparison of the N50 and N6006.
I've been asked to address the F100 and the Pronea-S here. I only know a little about the F100 and unless I hit the lottery (or my photography starts paying off better), I won't have much chance to use one. What little I do know about it is included in notes here and there, but it's not formally a part of the comparison. If I do get lucky and get to use one, I'll write a review when I can. The Pronea-S is an APS camera and, since this section is about 35mm equipment, I won't include it here.
The larger issue of whether to buy Nikon or Canon is addressed on the Nikon vs. Canon page. There is also some more in-depth comparative information on the Nikon and Canon review pages. For what it's worth, I've also included a little blurb on why I prefer Nikon at the end of this page.
I hope this will help those who are considering the purchase of a Nikon make a more informed decision. If there's anything I left out or if you find errors, let me know via e-mail -- I want this table to be a help, not a hindrance.
Please note that most of what is here is hard fact, but that I've added my opinions in quite a few spots. These are MY opinions and you're free to disagree with me, but flames will be summarily ignored and will just cause you to be added to my kill file.
Those of you who are more familiar with the European/Asian naming convention should note the following model equivalencies...
The N-series encompasses the models listed in the above table. Nikon introduced the N-series in the mid-eighties to compete with the automated cameras from the other manufacturers like the Maxxum and early EOS cameras. The line didn't really get popular with pro photographers until the release of the N8008. Today, lots of pros use the N8008(s), N90(s) and quite a few still use the N6006 as a backup and/or a second body. Some still use the N6006 as their primary camera, though this is less common.
The N2000 and N6000 are manual focus cameras -- the rest are autofocus. All of these cameras have the Nikon F-mount, but none will allow pre-AI lenses to be mounted without damaging the aperture indexing tab. If you have any pre-AI lenses, they'll need to be AI-modified before you can safely mount them on any N-series camera.
The N-Series cameras are a great way to get into the Nikkor lens line and have autofocus without spending a ransom on an F4 or F5 body. The used market for these cameras is huge, so if you can't afford the price of a new camera, chances are you can find a very good used one for a lot less.
I haven't included the data for the N4004(s) or N5005. Suffice it to say that I DON'T like these cameras, least of all the N4004 as it's AF is pretty close to worthless. The AF on the N4004s is better, but it's still insufferably slow. The N5005 is better -- I like its interface better than that on the N50 because it's simpler. The N4004(s), N5005, N50 and N60 are unable to use Nikkor AI or AIS manual focus lenses. The lens will mount, but the meter will not function. Personally I hate this as there are piles of good used Nikkor manual focus lenses available, none of which can be used on these cameras without a separate light meter.
The interface on the N4004(s) and N5005 is like that on the F5 and F100 (and N60, kinda) in that the aperture is set by turning a dial on top of the camera instead of by twisting the aperture ring. This is nice, but switching between a traditional Nikon body like an F3 and a 4004/5005 can be a bit frustrating if you're in a hurry. In the implementation of this feature, Nikon designed the camera so that the meter will only function when the lens is set at its narrowest aperture (marked in orange on the aperture ring). If you're using an AF lens on a conventional camera such as the F3 or FM and you swap that lens to the N4004, N5005 (or N50/N60 for that matter), you MUST remember to twist the aperture ring to the narrowest aperture and lock it even if the latter camera is in aperture priority or manual exposure mode. Also, on the N4004/N5005, the only indication that the aperture ring is set wrong is the "+" and "-" LEDs alternately flash at you. With the N50/N60, you'll get an "FEE" display in the finder which is a bit more informative. Note that with the F5 and F100, you can still use the aperture ring to change the aperture -- you just don't see the aperture value in the LCD display (ugh). At least the F5 has a little window (the ADR window; ADR="Aperture Direct Readout") that lets you see the aperture ring; the F100 doesn't.
The N2020 isn't included here either. It is the predecessor to the N6006. Its AF is pretty unimpressive, though it seems a little better than that on the N4004; faster anyway. However, it has an interface somewhat like the old FA which is MUCH nicer than that on the N4004(s), N5005, or N50. Also, unlike the N4004(s), N5005, N50 and N60, the N2020 can use any manual focus Nikkor AI or AIS lens -- a feature that can save you a LOT of cash. It doesn't have the limitation that the aperture ring must be at the orange mark in manual or aperture priority exposure mode, so for those who use older manual focus cameras, swapping lenses isn't as cumbersome. If you discount it's old AF technology, the N2020 is a neat little camera.
The N2000 and N6000, as mentioned earlier, are manual focus versions of the N2020 and N6006. I've had no experience with either camera. Given that the N2020 and N6006 are available used at such inexpensive prices, you'd be better off to get the AF cameras. Even the AF on the N2020 is useful if you have the time and the scene has enough contrast to let it work.
In my view, the N6006 is a much more capable machine than the N50. The only two features (both minor at best) that the N50 has over the N6006 are the 3D meter and the 1/2-stop clicks on the shutter speed dial. The 3D meter in the N50 is NOT used for flash metering, so it offers no real advantage. 3D metering only has a significant effect on flash photography -- in my experience and that of others, it seldom has any detectable effect on available light photography.
On the N6006, exposure compensation can be used to change the shutter speed in 1/3-stop increments when using program AE or aperture priority AE. In shutter priority AE, exposure compensation causes the aperture to be shifted in 1/3-stop increments, so you can still control the exposure to 1/3-stop. In manual mode, the aperture ring can be set anywhere, not just at one of the click stops (the click stops are ONLY reference points), so you can fine-tune the exposure by slowly turning the aperture ring until the electronic analog display shows a perfect exposure. The N50 uses button pushes to change the aperture and shutter speed in half-stop increments. Thus the N6006 offers finer control in this regard.
The N6006 and N50 both use the AM200 AF sensor, so despite the fact that the N50 uses the same naming convention as the N70 and N90s, it has the SAME autofocus as the N6006. The N70 uses the CAM274 sensor which is MUCH more sure-handed than the AM200.
In all other respects, the N6006 is a much better camera than the N50. If nothing else, the N6006 can use manual focus lenses without losing its metering, unlike the N50. Considering the large number of used MF Nikkor lenses available, that alone is a huge advantage.
The interface on the N6006 is an extension of that found on the N8008(s) and N90(s). A "shift" button was added to the N6006 to allow access to the flash features. This interface is easy to get used to especially if you've ever used an N8008(s) or N90(s). The interface on the N50 is another matter entirely. This is strictly my opinion, but the interface on the N50 just feels cheap and cumbersome to me. I used to have a Maxxum 2xi and was always jealous of Nikon and Canon users who could change the aperture and shutter speed with a twist of the aperture ring or a turn of the thumb-dial. On the N50, you use a button to scroll through the apertures and shutter speeds. Note that the aperture-ring caveat that applies to the 4004/5005 also applies to the N50; if you take an AF lens off of a more conventional camera that's working in aperture priority or manual mode and mount it on the N50, you MUST turn the aperture ring to the narrowest aperture (the number marked in orange on the aperture ring) or the N50's meter will not function. This is true even if the N50 is set for aperture priority or manual operation.
Most of the technical limitations of the N50 also apply to the N60 when comparing it to the N6006. It has the older AF sensor, it can't use manual focus lenses without losing its metering and it has the aperture ring caveat mentioned above. A few features have been added that make it more competitive with the N6006 from a useability standpoint, but I still prefer the N6006 by a wide margin.
The big difference between the N50 and N60 is the interface, and it is a HUGE difference. The N50's interface is a nightmare; the N60's is a dream. The N60's interface is designed after that on the Canon EOS cameras -- long known for their simplicity. In short, the N60 is as user-friendly as the N50 is "user-irritating." That horrendous button-driven scrolling to change the aperture and shutter speed on the N50 has been replaced by a thumb-dial and an aperture button. It's not perfect, but it beats the daylights out of the N50's methods. Here's the scoop by mode.
The N60 changes the aperture and shutter speed in 1/2-stop increments.
If money was tight, I had to buy an AF backup body and I couldn't buy used, I could live with an N60. The N50 would wind up at the bottom of Lake Erie.
The N70's feature set much like an upgraded N6006. It has superior AF, 3D metering for both ambient and flash photography, and several flash features the N6006 lacks. The user interface on the N70 has received mixed reviews. It's very logical, but it's not fast and you must take your eye away from the viewfinder to change most settings. Personally, I like the interface on the N6006 better than that on the N70. There is still no depth of field preview or mirror pre-fire on the N70, nor is there a vertical grip for it. Given the absence of these features and the slower interface, Nikon will probably continue to take a beating from the Elan II(e) in the mid-range amateur market. Those trying to decide between the N70 and the Elan II(e) should first check Philip's Nikon vs. Canon page. There's some more in-depth comparison info on the Canon reviews page and the Nikon reviews page.
Several folks have expressed a fear that the N70 isn't as tough as the N6006. On initial inspection, it's easy to see where this impression comes from as the N6006 just seems heftier and similar in build quality to the N8008(s). However, reports from the rec.photo newsgroups have not borne out this fear. The N70 seems to be plenty reliable for most work. It likely won't take the pounding that an F4 can take, but under normal circumstances it should be fine.
More detailed info on the N70, N6006, N60 and N50 can be found in the following table and corresponding notes.
The N70 and N6006 are very similar in function. Although Nikon states that the N70 replaced the N8008s, its feature set is more reminiscent of the N6006. The N50 is the consummate Ph.D. camera (Ph.D. = "Push here Dummy"). Fortunately, the N60, N6006 and N70 can also be used in "Ph.D." mode.
Note that adjacent rows with a ## in the note column are related.
|CAM274 AF sensor||AM200 AF sensor||AM200 AF sensor||AM200 AF sensor||(1)|
|Will AF with AF-I/S lenses||_NO_ AF with AF-I/S lenses||_NO_ AF with AF-I/S lenses||_NO_ AF with AF-I/S lenses||(2)|
|3D ambient metering||2D ambient metering||3D ambient metering||3D ambient metering||(3)|
|3D flash metering||2D flash metering||2D flash metering||2D flash metering||(3)|
|Monitor Pre-flash||_NO_ Monitor Pre-flash||_NO_ Monitor Pre-flash||_NO_ Monitor Pre-flash||(3)|
|Red-eye reduction||_NO_ Red-eye reduction||Red-eye reduction||_NO_ Red-eye reduction|
|Flash compensation||Flash compensation||_NO_ Flash compensation||_NO_ Flash compensation|
|Rear-curtain Synch||Rear-curtain Synch||_NO_ Rear-curtain synch||_NO_ Rear-curtain synch|
|Slow Flash Synch||Slow Flash Synch||Slow Synch||Buried Slow Synch||(4)|
|28mm flash coverage||28mm flash coverage||28mm flash coverage||35mm flash coverage (worse)|
|Will autozoom w/SB24-28||_NO_ autozoom w/SB24-28||_NO_ auto-anything with w/SB24-28||_NO_ autozoom w/SB24-28||(5)|
|Spot Meter||Spot Meter||_NO_ Spot Meter||_NO_ Spot Meter|
|1/4000th sec shutter||1/2000th sec shutter||1/2000th sec shutter||1/2000th sec shutter|
|Works with MF lenses||Works with MF lenses||_NO_ MF lenses||_NO_ MF lenses||(6)|
|Electric remote Release||Mechanical remote rel.||_NO_ remote release||_NO_ remote release||(7)##|
|Bulb Exposure||Bulb Exposure||"TIME" exposure||"TIME" exposure||(8)##|
|_NO_Mirror lock or pre-fire||_NO_Mirror lock or pre-fire||0.5 sec mirror pre-fire||0.5 sec mirror pre-fire||(9)##|
|Has +/- focus guides||Has +/- focus guides||_NO_ +/- focus guides||_NO_ +/- focus guides|
|DX Override||DX Override||_NO_ DX Override||_NO_ DX Override||(10)|
|"Canned" programs||_NO_"Canned" programs||"Canned" programs||"Canned" programs||(11)|
|Good interface||"Standard" interface||EOS-like interface||Mediocre interface||(12)|
|Quick Recall (QR) mode||_NO_ Quick Recall||_NO_ Quick Recall||_NO_ Quick Recall||(13)|
|QR-0 = "Simple Mode"||Two-button "Simple Mode"||"AUTO" Mode||Adv./Simple switch||(14)|
|Auto-bracketing||Auto-bracketing||_NO_ Auto-bracketing||_NO_ Auto-bracketing||(15)|
|3.1 fps film advance||3.1 fps film advance||_NO_ continuous advance||_NO_ continuous advance|
* Much of the info here comes from Bo-Ming Tong's excellent Nikon FAQ
3D metering only works with D lenses.
3D flash metering uses barely visible monitor pre-flashes to determine the flash exposure. Unlike any previous system, the camera knows the flash exposure before the shot is taken.
The N50 and N60 have a "Night" program that has slow synch built in (thanks to Steve Bergens for pointing this out). The N60 allows you to select slow synch explicitly in any autoexposure mode, but with the N50, the only access to slow synch is via the "Night" program. You can do slow synch in manual or shutter priority mode on the N50 by using the flash and just using a slower shutter speed, but there's no way to do it in program or aperture priority modes.
Note on the Analog Scale:
This is the scale that tells you how far the exposure is off when you're in manual mode. It's essentially the same thing as the match-needle metering of the Photomic cameras of old. I find it indispensable for manual photography. In the last revision of this page, I stated that there was no scale on the N50. I might have been wrong or maybe Nikon slipped one in on later models, but the last N50 I looked at had one. The N8008s has the best analog exposure scale of all the N-series cameras. It shows +/- 2 stops whereas the N50, N60, N6006, N70 and N90(s) only show +/- 1 stop.
These cameras are more oriented toward pros than are the N70, N6006, N60 or N50. The N90s has the fastest AF of any existing Nikon camera except the F5 and F100. The N90 AF is slower, but a bit faster than that of the N8008s. The N90 and the N70 have similar AF speed. The N6006 and the N8008 have slower AF, but still faster than the N5005 or N4004(s). The N90s is the only N-series camera rated by Nikon as a pro camera. It has better weatherproofing than the N90, N8008s or N8008.
One of the biggest advantages to these cameras is the 1/250th sec maximum flash synch speed. For shooting action with fill flash, the extra stop helps cut down on motion blur.
The autofocus and metering on the N90(s) and N70 have similar performance characteristics. The N8008 performs much like the N6006; the N8008s has faster autofocus, but its AF accuracy is about the same as the N8008 and N6006.
The N8008s doesn't have all the latest technical wizardry of the N90s or even the N70, but there's just something about this camera that makes it fun to use. For those who need a pro-grade Nikon SLR for a reasonable price, a good used N8008s will fill the bill nicely. The only big design deficit with this camera is that it doesn't autofocus with Nikkor AF-I or AF-S lenses.
The following table compares the N70, N6006, N60 and N50 to the N8008(s) and N90(s). The N70, N6006 and N50 will be referred to as the "Amateur Models" not because they're unsuitable for pro use, but because of their intended market. Also, a *** in the "Amateur Models" column means the data is as noted in the amateur models comparison table.
|_NO_ DOF Preview||DOF Preview||DOF Preview||(1)|
|_NO_high speed synch||_NO_high speed synch||High speed synch||(2)|
|Flash features ***||No flash features aboard||3 flash features aboard||(3)|
|Red-eye reduction ***||_NO_ Red-eye reduction||Red-eye reduction|
|Flash metering ***||2D flash metering||3D flash metering||(4)|
|Ambient metering ***||2D ambient metering||3D ambient metering|
|Only date backs||MF-20 & MF-21||MF-25 & MF-26||(5)|
|_NO_ Mult. Exposure||M.E. built in||M.E. only with MF-26|
|Remote releases ***||Electronic remote||Electronic remote|
|_NO_ data link||_NO_ data link||Sharp data link||(6)|
|_NO_ top deck LCD lamp||_NO_ top deck LCD lamp||Top deck LCD lamp||(7)|
|+/- 1 stop analog display||+/- 2 stop analog display||+/- 1 stop analog display||(8)|
|AF sensors ***||AM200 AF sensor||CAM246 AF sensor||(9)|
|AF with AF-I/S lenses ***||_NO_ AF with AF-I/S lenses||AF with AF-I/S lenses||(10)|
|Autobracketing ***||Autobracket w/MF-21||Autobracket w/MF-26||(11)|
|"Canned" programs ***||_NO_ Canned programs||Canned programs|
The N8008(s) and N90(s) can use the multi-function backs which allow many features that aren't built in to the camera. The MF-25 for the N90(s) is merely a date imprinting back, but the MF-26 allows multiple exposure, data imprinting, flash compensation with non-dedicated flash units, freeze focus, intervalometer, and others. The MF-20 for the N8008s is a data-only back. The MF-21 is similar to the MF-26 except that it has no flash compensation.
It basically came down to the compatibility issue. I wanted a backup body that I could rely on in even the ugliest conditions and one that could take some "all-thumbs-photographer" fumbling without quitting. Why this obsession?? In December of 1994, I lost a shot that might have generated more than just a few bucks, not to mention a great deal of personal satisfaction. I was in Tampa photographing Manatee at the Tampa power plant's cooling water discharge. These friendly 1-ton critters come up into the channel in the winter because the water is about 75 degrees and the Gulf is too cold to sustain them at that time of year. Suddenly we noticed a Manta Ray (or a very big, very dark Channel Ray) jumping out of the water in much the same manner as a dolphin would. I decided wanted that shot but it wasn't to be. Why didn't I get it?? The shutter on my Maxxum 2xi had jammed. The camera sounded a bit odd right after I'd reloaded it, but I didn't have a backup so I just set up and hoped for the best. A few minutes later, the ray jumped right into my field of view, I fired the shutter and immediately all manner of congrats flowed from the other photographers there. Unfortunately, the shutter had only opened about 1/8th inch and all that praise was in vain.
I didn't remember touching the shutter blades -- I'm usually very careful about that. I phoned around and finally found a repair tech -- a real pleasant, competent Russian guy with a little shop near the Tampa airport -- who was willing to stick around and try to fix the camera that evening. I told him that I was certain this wasn't my fault. He reasoned that maybe the film leader had snagged the left shutter blade guide during the previous rewind and pried the blade loose. Whether he he really meant this or just said it because I looked so pitiful is something I'll likely never know.
A modest $25 later, the camera was fixed and I was back in business, but the Manta (or whatever it was) shot has eluded me ever since.
At any rate, I began the search for a backup body and was soon convinced that the F3 was the best choice. This camera has a horizontally travelling, dual-curtain, titanium shutter as opposed to the bladed shutters found on most cameras these days. The dual-curtain shutter is a lot less prone to damage if you inadvertently touch the curtains than the bladed ones are. Also in the running were the Minolta SRT-101 and the Canon F-1N. All three have reputations as tough, no compromise cameras that will come through in rough conditions. At the same time, I wanted a modern, all automatic camera with all the gee-wiz gizmos on board. If I had opted for either the Minolta or the Canon, I'd have had to buy two separate sets of lenses -- one for the AF camera and one for the backup. This seemed silly, so I went with Nikon because the lenses and cameras are interchangeable.
Do I regret that decision?? No. This system has worked out very well for me. I would like to see Nikon engineer some good method for allowing simultaneous AF/MF with conventional AF Nikkor lenses. I also wish they'd release a lens similar to Canon's 35-350; though the Nikkor 75-300 makes astounding images. The Nikkor 24-120 is a truly awesome lens and has become my standard for photographing home construction sites. Previous to buying it, I was forever switching between a 35-135 and a 24-50.
The one thing that has really irritated me about Nikon has been their steadfast refusal to put both mirror lock-up and DOF preview on anything but their pro-level AF cameras. To ask a hobbyist to shell out in excess of a grand just to get these features is ludicrous, especially in view of Canon's feature-packed, mid-priced cameras like the Elan II(e). The rumor is that there's some new blood in management at Nikon and that they're interested in evening this disparity, so keep an eye open for new releases from Nikon with high-end features on mid-range cameras. The price reduction on the N90s is a definite step in the right direction.
After reading Philip's review of the EOS-5, I looked and found that I concurred with his assessment of the EOS finders and screens (I looked at the Elan II and the Rebel-X). For someone like me who needs glasses and can't use contacts, Nikon's finders are a lot easier to use. I haven't had the chance to evaluate Canon's flash system first hand, but given the results shown in that review and given all the flash work I do, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that problem.
There's been a lot of debate about which company makes the best AF. Well, the EOS is definitely smoother in this regard because of the USM lenses. Whether the EOS cameras are more tenacious at locking on is an argument that will probably never be settled. The N90s, N70, F100 and F5 all have very good AF, though the EOS seems faster than the N90s or N70. The AF on the other N-series cameras ranges from okay (N8008s) to awful (N4004). The two new AF-S lenses from Nikon may even the playing field between Nikon and Canon in the AF department. IF Nikon prices the 28-70/2.8 AF-S and 80-200/2.8 AF-S competitively, and IF they make mid-range cameras that'll AF with these lenses, they could give Canon quite a run for their money.
With the lens/camera interchangeability and the awesome flash exposure technology and competent AF on the N90s, Nikon was the ticket for me. Don't misunderstand, though, all the brands have their benefits and shortcomings -- nobody has managed to build the perfect system yet. Everyone has to weigh the benefits and shortcomings in the different cameras, size up what kind of shooting they'll do and make their choice based on that. It all comes down to which feature set best enhances your photography and which set of headaches you can most easily live with.
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Copyright 1999 Don Atzberger. Parts Copyright 2000 Zach Vesoulis