Vintage Camera Review: Nikon N2020

One day last year, my uncle gave me a gift that rekindled my interest in 35mm film photography–the Nikon N2020. My delight to hear him say, “It has a motor focus,” was followed by a chuckle of appreciation. Ever since I was a young boy, he knew how much I loved playing with new toys and this wasn’t really any sort of exception. The Hexar AF is the camera that turned that kindle into a raging, fiery passion; but the N2020 has quite a bit going for it that makes it wonderful in some ways. Quirky, fun, reliable, and compact–I can tell why so many people genuinely loved this camera.

Tech Specs

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Like most of the vintage cameras we’ve reviewed here, a lot of the tech specs are best found and covered in the camera’s manual.

Ergonomics

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The Nikon N2020 is a camera that I truthfully wish that Nikon mimicked today at least in some ways. Though I wouldn’t say that it’s anywhere as retro-sexy as some of the company’s other offerings, it’s a nice looking camera overall.

When you look at the front, what you first spot is the obvious face. Then there’s the lens release, focusing switch, and a few other buttons that you’ll possibly pay attention to.

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Scoot on over to the top left of the camera and what you’ll find is the rewind knob/lever, exposure compensation dial and ISO dial. Next to all this is the hump and the hot shoe port.

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Then move on over to the right side and what you’ll start with is the shutter dial. Generally, you may leave this in aperture priority but you’ll also be delighted to know that you’ve got the option of working in full manual mode if you wish.

Over on the side are the drive switches, the rewind engagement, counter, etc.

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Move to the back and you’ll spot the back of the film camera. There’s a window on the left to show you what film you’ve got loaded into there.

Build Quality

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The Nikon N2020 is arguably built better than something like the Nikon entry level DSLRs today, but it’s also very typical of their times. It’s compact, made of plastic on the outside, and had a few knobs, buttons, and dials. Quite honestly, it’s not at all built terribly; but it’s also not one of the company’s higher end SLR cameras either.

With that said, I have a lot of confidence taking it with me into any situation.

Autofocus

Using this camera with the 50mm f1.8 shows me quite a bit of what its capable of. It’s got a loud, mechanical, almost robotic type of autofocus. In low light, you’ll need to place the focusing point on a very bright area. It’s also kind of slow. In truth, I’m not sure how parents were able to photograph their kids running around unless they got a lens, stopped it down and used a flash (actually that’s what I remember my folks doing).

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What was a real treat for me was testing this camera out with one of the new Zeiss Milvus lenses. Obviously you’re manually focusing the lens and seeing just what comes into focus as you shoot. But that’s much more fun than letting the camera autofocus as is.

Ease of Use

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Using the camera overall is pretty simple. You load it up with film, shoot a frame to advance it and then the N2020 shoots three frames just in case. Then when you want to change the shutter speed, you access that dial. You’ll also need to change the ISO yourself and set the exposure compensation yourself. This all just makes sense though.

Rewinding the film is a process. You need to press a button, advance a switch, then unfurl the rewind lever to rewind it. When you’re all done, you’ll surely feel it and then you pull the lever up to pop the back open. Even though you’ll need to do this process, it’s sometimes easy to forget and so you’ll need to try your best to remember.

Other cameras I’ve used automatically rewind for you.

Image Quality

Obviously, this is a film camera and the quality depends on the lenses and film used. So here’s what we’ve got:

Fujifilm Natura 1600

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm Natura 1600 film (24 of 28)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm Natura 1600 film (22 of 28)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm Natura 1600 film (23 of 28)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm Natura 1600 film (21 of 28)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm Natura 1600 film (19 of 28)

Ilford Delta 3200

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Conclusions

I really like the Nikon N2020 not because I consider it a family heirloom but because it’s an actual nice camera. Surely though it’s designed for a hobbyist or an enthusiast. The Nikon N2020 has very comfortable ergonomics, a great light meter, and despite its small quirks it’s a great camera. I strongly recommend it, at least to start out.