Manual Lens

edited February 2017 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
Hi Moose. I have a Nikon D3100. My father left me a bunch of Nikon and Nikon manual lenses. The mounts fit, now how do I shoot with them? Lens aperture is wide open and the camera is in manual mode? Thanks for your help.


  • edited February 2017
    Manual lenses can be used in manual mode, but in this case you must use the aperture ring on the lens. The camera will adjust only the shutter speed.

    One of the nice things about the D3xxx and D5xxx family of cameras is that they work safely with nearly any F mount lens Nikon ever made. An exception is older fish-eye lenses, some of which extend too far into the body, and require a mirror lock which your camera does not have. But those lenses are rare and expensive, so if you have one, don't mount it. Sell it!

    Most of the old manual lenses are "automatic", which means that like the usual lenses you're used to, they remain at maximum aperture until the moment you shoot, whereupon a mechanical linkage stops the lens down to what you have set. You won't see any change when you change aperture, but it will be effective when you shoot. That makes viewing and focusing easier. You can also use mirror, T mount and "preset aperture" lenses, but manual aperture operation adds a bit of inconvenience, as you must remember to view and focus with the aperture open, then close it down yourself for the shot.

    In any but manual mode you will get a "lens not attached" error code. The camera's meter will not work at all. That is annoying at first, but surprisingly easy to live with once you're used to it. If you're not familiar with the "sunny 16" guideline for exposure, it's not hard to learn. After you've made a test shot, you can consult the histogram in replay (enable "overview" in the replay options in the menu). That works as a post-shot meter. Too much to the right = overexposure. Too much to the left=underexposure.

    The manual shutter speed setting will be whatever it was last set to manually, not what any automatic mode set, so keep an eye on it.

    The small viewfinder can make focusing difficult, but it's possible. Most old lenses have a distance scale on them, and many shots can be made by knowing the distance and setting it without the viewfinder at all. The little yellow focus confirmation dot in the viewfinder still works, and though not always very precise, it's very helpful. Live view will give you precise focus. If you do a lot of manual focusing, consider a viewfinder magnifier such as the DK-21M, which helps a little bit. Ease of focusing will vary with the lens and the focal length. I've found mid-range somewhat harder. Telephotos can often be pretty easy, as edges jump into focus noticeably. Wider angles are difficult optically, but the great depth of field and the focus scale on the lens make it pretty easy to get right anyway. If you're aiming at something about 30 feet away, and set the focus to 30 feet, you're on.

    This will all take some getting used to, but the results can be very satisfying if the lenses are good. Take some time getting familiar with the focus and exposure, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

    I should add, "Sunny 16" guidelines can be found in various places, but the basic starting point is that outdoors in clear sun, you should set your shutter speed at the reciprocal of your ISO, at an aperture of f/16. So if you go out on a sunny day, set ISO 100, shutter 1/100, f/16. Or in the same place, ISO 200, shutter 1/400, f/8. If it's cloudy, slow down the shutter, and so forth. Once you're used to it, you'll find that your guesses come very close, and it's easy to fine tune using the histogram.

    While practicing especially, shoot in Raw mode, and you can adjust exposure easily in post processing.
  • Thank you so much for all this information!
  • Oh by the way, just curious what lenses you got.
  • edited February 2017
    Hi Bruto,

    Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro AI lens*52

    Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AI Lens *52

    Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5*

    Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Macro 1.4ø 72

    *Was this the "fish eye" lens that you said not to use?

  • edited February 2017
    No, the UD 20 should fit just fine. You'd recognize an invasive fisheye right away, as the rear element would extend well behind the mounting bayonet, so far it hits the mirror. This one is the first 20mm non-fisheye Nikon made. Some were updated to AI, some not. For the D3100 you need not worry, as (despite what instructions may say) pre-AI lenses work fine and will do no harm. It's said to be very sharp. On DX this could turn out to be a really nice lens for scenery, constituting a very mild wide angle.

    You can tell if a lens is "AI" by looking at the aperture ring. If it's factory AI, the aperture ring will have steps in the back (look at the AI lenses you have to see what I mean). The meter prong will have holes in it where pre-AI prongs do not. And there will be a second set of little F numbers on the ring - seen through a little finder window in many cameras.

    Non-factory AI conversions will usually involve milling the back edge of the aperture ring to provide the needed steps, but will retain the old style meter claw and have no little numbers.

    The meter claw, by the way, was used only for meter coupling on pre-AI cameras, and retained on AI and AIS lenses for backward compatibility. No Nikon camera made after about 1977 uses it. If you don't expect ever to use an older Nikon or to sell the lenses, you could remove them, but I'd save them just in case.

    The 55mm Micro is a great lens, sharp as a tack, specially designed for best close focusing. I believe it goes down to 1:2 natively, and was usually accompanied by a dedicated extension tube to take it down to 1:1. Many love this lens. It may be best used on a tripod for macros, and focused with Live View, but it can be used as an ordinary lens too.

    The 50mm f/1.4 is at least very good, and although it loses a little sharpness wide open, it's very fast and most 1.4 lenses will sharpen up well with the aperture closed a little. It's likely to be quite nice by the time you get to f/2.8 or f/4. Great out of focus "bokeh" is likely when used as a portrait lens in DX. I have always found a 50mm somewhat hard to focus well on the small DX finder, but it certainly can be done, and a 1.4 is easier (because brighter) than slower ones. Try it anyway, because if you can focus it well, it will give you nice results. I have the earlier pre-AI 1.4 and a later AFD 1.4, and both perform well and catch up to just about anything below about f/4. Back in the day, when my hands were steadier, I found the 1.4 wide open made gorgeous black and white portraits by candle light and the like. Not pixel peeping sharp, but lush.

    The Kiron may be a sleeper. Not the most useful zoom range for DX if you already have something, but Kiron was one of the best third party manufacturers. They also made lenses for other labels, including Vivitar, whose "Series I" zooms made by Kiron were highly regarded. Because it has no vibration reduction, you'll find it a bit of a challenge to hold steady when you go long, but with fast shutter speeds it can work nicely and may turn out to be pleasingly sharp. That particular lens is considered something of a "cult classic" among collectors of such stuff. I believe, though I might be mistaken, that that particular lens is a true zoom, which means that it does not change focus when zoomed, as many lenses do nowadays. That's not a big deal for still shooting, but for movie shooting it's very nice if you can zoom without changing focus.

    A nice batch. Your father had good taste in lenses.
  • Thank you again so much for the information!
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