Quite a few people end up here to try to get answers to their million-dollar questions, such as: “Is my D50 motorized or not?”, “Can my D100 focus and meter with manual focus lenses?”, “Is my D3100 geo-tagging (GPS) capable?”, and so on. I have concocted a compatibility table that pretends to answer these questions all at once. One-stop shopping to solve your Nikon DSLR doubts, so to say. It is so large that it does not fit my standard blog page, which is why I’m providing the table both in HTML and PDF. Because to err is human and to forgive divine, I would greatly appreciate you dropping me a line if you find any errors. Thanks!
For the HTML version click here, for the PDF version click here. Note that cameras are ordered chronologically by launch date.
I’m writing this post nearly 5 years after Can I use Nikkor AI and AI-S manual focus lenses on my Nikon DSLR?, because the interest of Nikonians for legacy lenses is undeniable, while my research into the topic has added some – hopefully worthwhile – facts. At the same time, the value of manual focus NAI and AI(S) lenses is clearly on the rise, which is good for everyone who has a few of grannies F-lenses lying around, either for proper use or sale.
The Nikon F-Mount was launched with the Nikon F camera in 1959 and has remained virtually unchanged since, making it the only camera mount still in production almost 6 decades after its introduction. The F-mount can be found in five versions: F, AI, AI-S, AF and Non-MF (Fig. 1). The latter made its debut in 1987 on the F-401 (N4004), is used on the D40 to D100, D3000 and D5000 series and essentially a downgrade back to the original F-Mount, because it lacks the meter coupling lever to interface with non-cpu lenses. This is why none of these cameras exposure meter with MF lenses.
The F-mount has only seen two major updates. The first from the original Auto-Nikkor to Auto-Indexing (AI), with the addition of the meter coupling lever – introduced on the Nikon F2 Photomic A in March 1977 – and the second from AI-S to AF, with the launch of Nikon’s first flagship auto-focus camera, the F3-AF, in April 1983, followed by the popular Nikon F-501 (N2020), two years later.
Where the manual focus system update from F-Auto to AI was basically oriented at making existing technology (aperture indexing) more user friendly, the update to AF may be considered break-through. With it, Nikon replaces mechanical camera-lens coupling with a cpu-driven, electronic camera-lens interface, allowing for many posterior innovations such as aperture control from the camera body, electronic range finding, distance metering (with D and G-type lenses), EXIF data recording, AF-S, VR, iTTL flash, etc.
While I give them considerable credit for their thorough camera sensor testing and ranking, those of us who look to DxO Mark to help us decide which lenses are the “best” for our particular cameras have been lead astray for too long, already. One particular testing item that has always called my attention, but had never bothered to research – until now – was the infamous DxO Mark “Best at” Score, which, without exception, suggests that lenses ought to be shot wide-open for best performance.
Shooting lenses wide open might be interesting in certain situations, but in general does not make much sense, because they are typically at their optical best at around two stops down from their maximum aperture. It also called my attention that lenses we all know to be average keep picking up DxO score on newer, higher resolution and/or full-frame cameras, while some legendary ones keep getting below average scores, independent of the camera they are “tested” on.
As it turns out, and I quote: “DxO Mark Score is measured for low-light conditions: 150 lux and 1/60s exposure time. Such conditions correspond to a correctly lit living room (with no daylight). It is a difficult, but rather typical photographic use case.”
It's been more than five years since I wrote this article (in Spanish) on autofocus and although in many areas the innovation of DSLR’s has slowed down since, autofocus systems are still making unimagined jumps. I don’t know if this is because we have lost our sense of awe about innovation or because the big camera makers keep devoting considerable resources to AF, but the advances in this area are probably among the most significant in modern DSLR camera development. If only five years ago we were talking about a second-generation system (Multi-CAM 1000), the latest Nikon models already use fourth generation systems that are considerably faster, more versatile and accurate.
In this article we review the 51-point system, which was introduced in late 2007 with the Nikon D3, D300 and the evolved version of which is used in the D7100, D750, D810 and D4S (Advanced Multi-CAM 3500). Cameras such as the D5300 and D610, among others, come with the Multi-CAM 4800 39-point system. Apart from having 12 fewer focus points and the fact that its implementation is slightly less sophisticated in the D5300 –where all modes must be set in the menu– , the two systems are virtually identical in technical terms. Although the step-in models are still using Multi-CAM 1000, this system has also evolved in comparison with 5 years ago. Today, its implementation and management is very similar to the more expensive cameras, even though without the convenience of being able to control the AF modes via the command dials. Still, for the so-called “Baby Nikons” the jump from the 3 focus points available on the D40 to the 11 points in the latest generations can also be considered as a tremendous improvement in operability.
Note that all references to menus are from the D7100 manual. That said, the terms used are universal for all Nikons since the D3, D300, D3000, D5000 and D7000.
AF mode selector: Nikon D3X and earlier, Nikon D90 and later (R)
On November 25 last, Tamron announced the launch of the successor of its venerable 200-500mm f/5-6.3 ultra tele-zoom (test), the Di SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 VC USD. What does that letter-soup stand for?, do you wonder. Di means “Digitally Integrated”, Tamron speak to indicate that this lens is specifically designed and optimized for digital cameras, be that FX (Full-Frame) or DX (APS-C) crop-sensor models. SP (Super Performance) indicates that the 150-600 is part of Tamron’s top-of-the-line – akin to Sigma’s EX-Series – while VC is the companies’ term for vibration control or reduction, VR in Nikon speak, and called OS (optical stabilization) by Sigma.
Finally, USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) indicates that the lens is motorized, again akin to Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) and Sigma’s HSM, which means that it can auto focus on all Nikon cameras, including the “Baby Nikons” – such as the D3000 and D5000 series – which lack a built-in focus motor. Moreover, AF motors built into lenses are generally faster than the one inside the camera; thus, even Nikon motorized cameras ought to benefit and focus faster with this monster. Keep in mind that, although this lens focuses internally, it is not IF, which means that it extends considerably when zoomed. With the lens hood attached, it virtually doubles its length at the 600mm end.
Click here for full size. Nikon D7100, 28mm f/2 AI Nikkor; 1/125 sec @ f/4. 4.655x3.500 px.
If you want to quickly assess if your lenses are focusing properly, my friend Carsten recommends the “Newspaper Test”. This works very well, he says, because we are so used to letters that we can judge “readability” much better than a certain degree of blur. It is also the method of choice to test longer lenses at different distances, because for that both Nikon's “Ruler Test” and my “Domino Test” are a bit tricky; it may be quite difficult to judge the results at a focusing distance of – say – ten meters. Also, the field curvature of certain lenses may throw you off on the domino test, because of the width of the subject. With this test, this is not a consideration.
Click here for full size image. D7100, 55-200 f/4-5.6 VR (5370x1200 px. JPG, 1 Mb.)
Now that even the most modest Nikons feature 24 Mp. sensors, optical quality and lens performance (let alone photog skills) are increasingly coming under pressure. It is no coincidence that many of the latest Nikon mid-range and top-of-the line cameras include a feature called “AF Fine Tuning” which allows users to adjust the auto focus of their sample of a particular lens to their particular camera.
On Flickr some users are commenting on dialing in as much as +/- 20 AFFT correction on their lenses, which, to me, seems excessive. Although it is reasonable to assume that lenses might be off a couple or even a bunch of millimeters between one sample and another, claiming that they are 5 or more centimeters wrong seems like a lot. The large majority of users also say that their lenses back-focus, which is curious because, according to my tests, the rule of thirds applies here: one third of my lenses back focuses, one third front focuses – mostly my old AF-D and MF (AI, AI-S) lenses – while another third focuses spot-on, most notably my third party samples. Note that MF lenses cannot be corrected, and that correct focus was acquired using the focus confirmation dot in the view-finder, which could be the reason they are a tad off.
On their European website Nikon offer a procedure for AF fine tuning, which could be called the “Ruler Test” It consists in mounting a ruler in a 45º angle next to a stationary object that serves as a central focusing point – a book – and focusing on this center point. However, in my experience, this test is extremely difficult to interpret, because of the gradual transitions between the exact focusing point and the out of focus that can – supposedly – be observed on the ruler. Thus, I have devised a different test in the form of a “trapped” model, which consists in more pronounced focusing steps of 6 mm each, which is the thickness of the domino stones this test is called after.