last update: Jan 18, 2002
|Nikon N65 / F65 Review
A decent lightweight body that doesn't sacrifice much.
Camera is no longer produced
a price tag for the body under US$300, the long list of features in the
F65/N65 immediately gets the attention of cost-conscious photographers.
Nevertheless, those of you who've read my other reviews and recommendations
know that I've never been a fan of the lower-priced autofocus SLR bodies
Nikon has produced. Virtually every one has had problems that I felt crippled
the product. Is the F65/N65 finally the entry-level camera that breaks out
beyond those limitations?
The F65/N65 looks a lot like the F60/N60, but don't let the surface cosmetics fool you--the 65 is most definitely a new body with new internals. A comparison of the F60/N60, F65/N65, and F80/N80 shows just how much closer the new camera is to its more costly brothers than it is to the lowest cost models:
Some of the differences in the above table are substantial, and some of the things that look the same are actually quite different. For example, on the F60/N60, centerweighted metering sneaks in unannounced whenever you hit the exposure lock button; the F65/N65 only switches to centerweighted metering in manual (M) exposure mode. On the other hand, while both the F65/N65 and F80/N80 have five autofocus sensors under user control, the F65/N65 does not incorporate the convenient thumb-controlled direction pad on the back; instead, you press a button to the left of the lens on the front of the camera and turn the command dial to switch autofocus sensors. So read this (and other) reviews of the F65/N65 carefully. While this camera has a wealth of features, the user controls sometimes are simplified from what you might see on the more costly bodies, and that certainly will have some affect on your shooting style.
As is my style in these reviews, I try to compare a camera body's features to the next logical body in Nikon's lineup. For the F65/N65, that's the F80/N80. Things that are the same between the two bodies:
Significant ways in which the two camera bodies are different:
Minor things that are different on the two cameras:
For those of you who are considering buying an F60/N60 body instead of the F65/N65, in a word: don't. While inventories of the older body still remain throughout most of the world and you can obtain it at a highly discounted price, I do not consider the F60/N60 a usable body. Besides lacking a depth of preview button, the F60/N60 has the annoying habit of changing metering modes unexpectedly. That, coupled with a less capable autofocus system makes it a clear non-contender in my mind. About the only advantage an F60/N60 has over the F65/N65 is that it has an exposure lock button. But even that advantage is quickly lost, as the camera switches automatically to centerweighted metering when you use the exposure lock button.
Hogan's Complete Guide to the N65 is now available as an eBook.
Click on the cover below to find out more about this book, the laminated
cards, and the software that accompanies it.
Thom Hogan's Complete Guide to the N65 is now available as an eBook. Click on the cover below to find out more about this book, the laminated cards, and the software that accompanies it.
Reading the feature list of the F65/N65, you might wonder if Nikon left anything out. Like the F80/N80, the F65/N65 has nearly every feature a pro would demand of a camera (with perhaps the exception of build quality).
You get Program, Shutter, Aperture, and Manual exposure modes; diopter adjustments for the viewfinder; a wealth of useful information in the viewfinder (though no frame counter); excellent, though not-quite-state-of-the-art autofocus; 6-segment matrix, and centerweighted (Nikon doesn't specify weighting in the manual, but it is likely 75/25) metering; exposure compensation and three shot autobracketing; DX auto ISO sensing (but no manual override or display of the set ISO); TTL flash control, including Slow and Rear Sync in some exposure modes; multiple exposure capability; and depth of field preview.
Put simply, the feature set of the F65/N65 is impressive at its price point (I got my US N65 for US$275). Personally, I'd prefer spot metering to centerweighted as the alternative system, and I really miss the ability to meter with manual focus lenses. But those two omissions aside, I can't really think of anything I'd want to add to a lightweight, low-cost body.
I thought the F80/N80 was light, but the F65/N65 is even lighter. As Galen Rowell has recently written, the F65/N65 just begs to be taken along on runs and bike rides and virtually any other activity you might partake. With a simple, light lens (I use the AF 24mm f/2.8), you barely notice that you've got a camera around your neck (or chest, or waist, or wherever you're carrying it).
Besides the light weight, the F65/N65 is a bit smaller than the F80/N80. Unfortunately, you may find that the small size and odd placement of controls makes the camera feel a bit uncomfortable. I'm almost certain that Nikon styled this body to fit a smaller, woman's hand. This is particularly noticeable with the location of the depth of field control, for instance. If I place my index finger on the shutter release, I can control the DOF button with my middle finger, but it feels tight and constrained (and I have small hands, albeit somewhat fat fingers). Worse still, the autofocus assist lamp (and red-eye reduction lamp) is immediately above the DOF button, so if you place your hand so that you can control DOF, you're probably blocking the autofocus assist lamp.
The exposure compensation button (and aperture control button in manual exposure mode) is located too far back from the shutter release, my hand position feels awkward if I try to keep it in one place and move my index finger back and forth. Of course, I could move my whole hand, but that makes it a bit more difficult to shoot quickly.
On the front of the camera on the left side of the lens, a very strangely positioned button is used in conjunction with the command dial (on the back of the camera) to control the autofocus sensor. If you hold your camera by putting your entire hand around the lens (thumb underneath, other fingers on top), this button falls under the left index finger, though it's so small that it'll take you some practice to get comfortable finding it by feel alone. But if you're the type who holds your left hand under the lens (and camera body), you won't have a finger positioned anywhere near that button. It's a real shame that Nikon abandoned the direction pad on the back of the camera (probably for cost reasons).
A dial on the left top plate is used to set the camera's exposure mode (and some other odds and ends, like the special program modes, some of which are the only way to set certain camera functions). This dial is clearly labeled and easy enough to use. But I still bridle at the mix of camera settings and modes. For example, centerweighted metering is only available if you set manual (M) exposure mode. Otherwise, you always get matrix metering. Likewise, continuous motor drive is only available if you set the Sports Program (otherwise you always get single frame advance). Frankly, I could have done without the additional program modes--none of them really do anything particularly useful, in my opinion.
Setting apertures takes a bit of getting used to: if you're in aperture priority exposure mode, you just rotate the command dial. If you're in manual exposure mode, however, you must hold down the exposure compensation/aperture button and rotate the command dial.
Overall, I find the F65/N65 a bit too small in size and slightly awkward in use (compared to its more expensive brothers). The camera has no fatal handling flaws, as there are in the F60/N60, but you'll find yourself taking your eyes from the viewfinder just a tad too often for my taste. If you work deliberately and aren't having to react to candid situations, a few extra moments to set a control aren't going to get in your way. But if you're trying to shoot quickly in a rapidly changing environment, I'd rather have the F80/N80 (or better yet, the F100 or F5).
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The F65/N65 matrix meter is accurate, though note that it uses 1/2 stop increments, which isn't good for slide shooters. That said, I didn't find any slide exposures that I was uncomfortable with. And you can always dial in exposure compensation or turn on the auto bracketing, if you're really worried.
Manual exposure users should note that you get three stops of metering information on each side of 0. But also note that you don't get matrix metering in manual exposure mode. Instead, you get an unspecified (in the manual, at least) centerweighted system.
book goes into the exposure system at great length, but suffice it to
say that, like most Nikon SLRs, the N65 is fine at handling 80% or more
of the situations you throw at it, and a little knowledge can help you
perfect that remaining 20%.
My book goes into the exposure system at great length, but suffice it to say that, like most Nikon SLRs, the N65 is fine at handling 80% or more of the situations you throw at it, and a little knowledge can help you perfect that remaining 20%.
Go read the section on autofocus in my F100 review. With a couple of caveats, it all applies equally to the F65/N65.
The caveats have to do with the use of the CAM900 sensor instead of the CAM1300. The F100 and F5 have much better low-light and horizontal sensitivity in the left and right sensors. This translates into additional focus hunting in a few situations. Coupled with the slower continuous drive, I also found that it resulted in sometimes missing a shot that had cross frame motion, just like with the F80/N80. If you shoot sports or wildlife, the F100 is a better choice. If you mostly shoot static or casual candid shots, this slight difference isn't going to bother you.
AF-S lenses focus quite swiftly on an F65/N65, as they do on other recent Nikon bodies. Indeed, I was a bit surprised at how well the AF-S and VR lenses worked on an F65/N65.
Do note that changing which sensor is used for autofocus is a slower, slightly more frustrating process on the F65/N65 than any of the other five-sensor bodies. You hold in a button on the side of the lens and use the command dial to choose the sensor. With all sensors active, the F65/N65 is always in close-subject dynamic autofocus mode. What that means is that the F65/N65 tries to focus on the closest object under one of the sensors, whether that's your subject or not.
If you've purchased an N65QD or F65QD, you need to be aware of a problem that may require you to have your body fixed by Nikon. QD stands for "Quartz Date," and these bodies use a second, small CR2025 battery to power the date functions. Nikon issued a technical bulletin on April 25, 2001 that indicates that a transistor in the camera back is causing the CR2025 to discharge prematurely (as little as three months, instead of the expected three years). While the problem doesn't affect the shooting ability of the body, it does stop the QD functions from working (they, after all, require a battery to work). Nikon suggests that you contact your local Nikon service facility for information on how to get your camera fixed.
For anyone purchasing a new QD model after 4/24/01, there's no guarantee that your body won't be affected, as bodies already in dealer inventory may exhibit the problem. Upon receipt of your body, check with your local Nikon distributor to see if your body's serial number falls in the affected range. (See also the comments from others, below.)
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Best Book for Photographers
Well, I'd humbly suggest that my Thom Hogan's Complete Guide to the Nikon N65 is the best of the bunch, but the bunch only consists of one other option at present (that being the ubiquitious Magic Lantern Reference (a German book translated into English and published by Silver Pixel Press in the US).
Eduardo Jacob writes:
I've found info on obtaining DOF preview with the N60. It's a multistep process where you have to fiddle around and make sure you don't drop the lens. This is best done with the camera on a tripod or with the strap around your neck. I tried it and it really works: (1) turn off the camera (recommended) as there are electric contacts between the lens and the body; (2) unlock the lens and rotate it approx. 30 degrees --as if you wanted to remove it; (3) unlock the aperture ring on the lens and use it to set the aperture while you look through the lens; (4) make note of the desired aperture and go back to normal settings; (5) set the aperture back to minimum and lock it; (6) twist the lens back until it clicks locked; (7) turn on the camera; (7) adjust your aperture to the value you noted in Step 4; (8) Shoot. But what the heck, it's okay for macros or landscapes and I keep putting off getting the N80 since the N60 feels so much better in hand.
I'm not a fan of this method, as it is time consuming and, as you note,
you have to be careful to not drop the lens. I'd swap steps 2 and 3 (unlock
the aperture ring first), as changing apertures while holding the lens
against the body is awkward. And while this "fixes" one of the
problems with the N60, I still feel the N65/F65 is a better choice by
Perry Hall writes:
I purchased the N65QD from B&H Photo in New York. I wrote Nikon about the CR2025 battery discharge problem and was advised that all B&H N65QDs have been checked and corrected if necessary. The key is to look for a white dot sticker on the camera box. That is the indication that the camera you have is OK. Mine even had the CR2025 battery installed. This is my second Nikon. I wanted a knock-around camera for outside photos to use with an 80-300mm zoom. Compared to my N90s, it seems like a toy camera. The pop up flash is just asking to snap off, and the battery compartment retainer is just as flimsy. Still, the camera is superbly balanced, is well documented, and uses the AF-D lenses I already own. The CR2 batteries are US$14 a pair in Maryland, so you may want to seriously look into buying the AA battery adapter from Nikon. For US$49 that's only 3 sets of CR2 batteries 2C and you have broken even. I am looking forward to my first developed roll to compare it to the N90s. Something tells me I may not be able to tell the difference in print quality. I am anxious to try using the double exposure capability as well. One feature I do miss is the AE lock. I am wondering how the N65 will handle an indoor subject standing by a bright window. I'll know soon.
Thom's response: As I understand it, QD versions of the camera that have been fixed by Nikon also have a small white dot or sticker next to their serial number--those of you who pick a used N65QD will want to check that.
As for the battery issue, I'm not a fan of the battery adapter, though your point is well taken. The battery adapter adds bulk to bottom of the camera and changes the balance, which, as you point out, is superb.
Finally, with subject's standing next to a bright window, how well the Nikon matrix metering does is partially determined by the subject placement and whether the window extends across matrix segments. With central subjects and bright patterns in the top half, the Nikon matrix does pretty well, underexposing only slightly. When the subject moves significantly off center or the brightness extends all the way down the frame (crossing matrix lines), things get a little more interesting, and severe underexposure is often the case. If you know the meter pattern of the camera, you can generally learn to predict the cases that are most difficult for the metering system. Nikon's metering system doesn't so much look at the brightness level of a matrix area, but rather the differences in brightness levels between areas. The pattern of those differences is what is compared against the camera's database of situations.