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Mixing old and new Nikon lenses and cameras (posted 2021-10-09)

Seven years ago, I wrote Understanding old Nikon lenses: AI, AI-S, AF and AF-S. A few things have changed since then, so I thought it was time to do a follow-up that looks at how well different Nikon lens generations go with different Nikon camera generations.

The easy solution is of course to uses lenses and cameras of the same generation. All Nikon cameras introduced since about 2015 work with all Nikon lenses introduced since about 2000. But what’s the fun in that?

First: what’s new since my previous article: AF-P lenses, E lenses and the new Z mount.

AF-P

For the past 20 years or so, Nikon’s autofocus lenses used ultrasonic "silent wave" motors in their AF-S lenses. AF-P lenses use pulse / stepper motors. Those can make small changes very quietly, so they're great for video. A big difference between AF-S and AF-P lenses is that the manual focus ring on AF-P lenses is not mechanically connected to the lens elements. Instead, the focus ring sends information back to the camera, which then uses the focus motor to change the focus.

This change means that the camera needs to know about AF-P lenses, or you won't be able to focus. Cameras introduced starting around 2013 support AF-P lenses. For some of these, a firmware update is required, and possibly there will be some reduced functionality.

E (electronic aperture) lenses

AF-P lenses also tend to be type E, indicating the lens has an electromagnetic aperture diaphragm actuator. (Not to be confused with "E series" manual focus lenses.) Support for E lenses goes back a few years further than AF-P lenses, to around 2008-2010, depending on the camera type.

Z mount

In 2018, Nikon introduced the Z line of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, and these cameras no longer have the F mount that Nikon's SLRs have used since 1959. Nikon has released a number of Z mount lenses, which are all AF-P as well as type E lenses. Of course these lenses don't work on older cameras, but F mount lenses will work on Z series cameras through the FTZ adapter. All the discussion below is about F mount lenses, for Z type cameras use of the FTZ is assumed.

The lens types

From left to right: pre-AI, AF-S type G, AI, AF type D, AI-s

So now we have an understanding of the following types of lenses:

So let's see how they work on different cameras. I'll talk about the following specific cameras that I own, or more broad categories:

So here we go.

Nikon FE and contemporaries

Nikon F65 and similar

DX DSLRs (lower/mid-range)

D7x00 and its predecessors

FX DSLRs

Z mount DX with FTZ

Z mount FX with FTZ

As always, additional caveats may apply, be sure to check compatibility for your specific camera before you go out and get new lenses.

Conclusions

It looks like the D7100/D7200 as well as the not-too-old FX cameras are compatible with all F mount lenses. There is not a single lens type that works fully with the entire range of cameras, but the AF type D lenses come closest: they work on the old manual focus cameras, work with with autofocus on the mid/higher end DSLRs and still work fully as manual focus lenses on all other cameras.

An AF type D lens is still largely usable on cameras like the Z family, where you'll have to focus manually. But with the traditional "electronic rangefinder" focus aid available, where the autofocus system tells you if you've achieved focus, that's actually a bit easier than on an old manual focus camera such as the FE. However, manual focus lenses without a CPU for some reason don't get full focus aids on the Z cameras. You can still focus very precisely by zooming the viewfinder, but this is quite slow.

So there you have it. I'm sure the next few years the second hand F mount lens market is going to quite interesting, as more and more Nikon users migrate to a Z camera or a non-Nikon mirrorless camera.

by .


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