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Legacy lenses

edited August 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
My father was a photographer and used a Nikon F2 SLR for many years. He left me lots of equipment, but when I try to use equipment from the film based era, I have a big problem. Specifically, I can attach a lenses to my Nikon D3200 dslr. I set the camera to manual but the camera does not recognize the lenses. I know there is a way of programming the camera with the lenses specification but I am not sure how to do this. Actually I do not even know how to recognize the lenses spec i.e. focal length etc., simply by looking at it. How do you do these things? Also do you return all settings to default if I make a mess of this? Thanks in advance.


  • edited August 2016
    The D3200 has no mechanical meter connections, and cannot interact with any lens that does not have electronic contacts. There are no presets or programming to overcome this.

    If you want a camera that meters with manual lenses, you'll have to go up to the D7xxx family or to a full frame DSLR. Those will meter with AI and later manual lenses, though pre-AI lenses will harm them. The F2 was a transitional camera, early ones being pre-AI and later ones AI. The difference is in the meter connection. If your old F2 meters by engaging the rabbit ear prong on the aperture ring of the lens, it's pre-AI. If it is an F2AS with a meter follower at the lens mount and no pin to engage the rabbit ears, it's AI. Most Ai lenses were backward compatible so they'll all have the rabbit ears on them. True AI lenses will have holes in the ears, and extra little numbers upside down on the aperture ring.

    Do not worry about any of this on a D3200. It can use all AI and Pre-AI lenses without harm, since there are no meter connections. A pre-AI lens will push down the max aperture switch that is used only for older AFD lenses, but will cause it no harm.

    In manual mode, the camera will operate the lens, and can make good pictures, but you must guess the meter settings or meter off the camera. This is not as hard as it might seem, and once you're used to it, it can work very well.

    To start with, you can assume the "sunny 16" rule. This is the basic idea that, for bright outdoor conditions, your exposure should be f/16 at a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of your ISO.

    The learning curve for guesswork metering is a little steep, but you will find fairly quickly that it's not that hard to get into the right ball park.

    So, for example, if you set ISO to 100, and the lens to f/8, your shutter speed should be 1/200.

    You should go to the playback menu, and enable the "overview" option so that you can get a histogram for a shot you've made. The histogram is a graph that will quickly show you the exposure. If it's too far to the right, it's overexposed, and too far to the left, under. A good exposure will have information all over the place in the graph depending on various factors, but it will not bump into either end.

    To adjust the camera, you will set the aperture on the lens alone, and the shutter speed on the camera. Each numbered aperture number is a "stop" of exposure, and corresponds to a halving or doubling of either shutter speed or ISO. So, for example, if you have a good exposure at f/8 and 1/200, you will get the same exposure at f/5.6 and 1/400. If you have a good exposure at f/8 and 1/200 at ISO 100, you will get the same exposure at f/8 and 1/400 at ISO 200, and so forth. The camera's shutter speed dial works in 1/3 stop increments. Change the ISO or aperture by one stop, compensate by three clicks of the shutter dial.

    Remember that this is a digital camera, so you can take a dozen bad shots until you get it right, and just erase them. Experiment widely and often and you'll find you're getting it right more and more often.

    As to recognizing what lenses you have, each lens will be identified by numbers on the front of the barrel. One of those will look like "1:2.8" with the second number variable. That is the maximum aperture, which you'll also see on the aperture ring. The other is "F=xxx mm" or, in some older lenses, "F=xx cm" and that is the focal length of the lens. So, for example, the old 105mm f/2.5 lens will say "1:2.5" and "F=105 mm" on the front.

    How rewarding all this is will depend a little on the lenses in question. Some old lenses are just that, old lenses, and you may not find that they float your boat. Others, if you're lucky, may turn out to have some kind of magic in them. If you have either the old 105mm f/2.5 or one of the 85mm lenses, for example, you may find that they're very much worth the trouble. If you have a fast 50mm lens, it may well make very good images, even though the modern 50's work well too. The 50mm f/1.4 is variable, and the 50mm f/1.8 fine but no better than current ones. If you have a 50mm f/1.2 hold on tight. If you have a 50mm f/2 you might find it surprisingly well behaved. Many of those old lenses are nice and give pretty images, with an indefinable quality that many love.

    Although I routinely use the kit zoom and other AFS lenses with mine, my "normal" 35mm lens is an old pre-AI 35mm f/2.8 PC lens with preset aperture and no meter connections. I like the results, and find it works well. Similarly, I love the old 105mm f/2.5, which is sharp as can be while giving delicious out of focus "bokeh." The ancient 28mm f/3.5, a lackluster lens on film, produces beautiful images in DX digital. I have a variety of old MF lenses that I use from time to time, and they can be very nice.

    ps. I forgot - don't worry about returning settings. For manual use you'll probably want to make sure you have set the ISO manually, but with no meter, it will not distinguish between manual and auto ISO. All metering and AF settings will be grayed out. The only setting that will persist will be your shutter speed, which you can change as you need in other settings.

  • Wow! A knowledgeable reply. Thanks a lot.
  • Is there a way to attach images to postings on this forum to illustrate issues being discussed?
  • edited August 2016
    @maison_de_verre , I'm afraid there is no image attachment directly on the forum. I occasionally link to images on other sites. One I find pretty handy is one called "" which has free hosting up to a certain point, and includes a program that allows you to drag and drop from the computer to a sidebar icon. Unfortunately, though, this like many other such sites strips out EXIF information from an image, so any such information on exposure will need to be added in a post.

    On the subject of legacy lenses on the D3200, I would add that the main issue I have is with some focal lengths being difficult to focus well in a hurry. An eyepiece magnifier helps, but it's still not ideal for quick snapping. You have to take some care getting it dead on, and it's still easy to miss unless your eyesight is very sharp, or you do your focusing in Live View.

    On EXIF information, there will be little to bother with on a manual lens anyway. It will include ISO and shutter speed, but will not register the type of lens, the focal length, or the aperture.
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