Cameras, Photography

Nikon N8008

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I did not need another auto-everything 35mm SLR. But in what is probably my greatest guilty pleasure, which says something about my buttoned-down life, I really enjoy them. I’m no less devoted to my first love: all-manual, all-metal SLRs! Yet I was deeply tempted when I came upon this Nikon N8008 body at KEH for $13.

Nikon N8008

I resisted. But that afternoon KEH emailed me an offer of 12% off used gear and I was a goner. Twenty dollars shipped for a body that cost $857 new. Pennies on the original dollar! Now is the time to buy these higher-end auto-everything film SLRs. And the N8008 (known as the F-801 in most of the rest of the world) was higher end, as it rested just below the pro-grade F4 in Nikon’s pecking order.

Nikon N8008

Befitting its station, its specs are solid. They begin with a big, bright, high-eyepoint viewfinder, which means you can see through it perfectly even when you’re wearing glasses. It offers both matrix and 75% center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second and it takes film from ISO 6 to 6400 (and it reads the film’s DX coding). It syncs with flash at 1/250 second. And common AA batteries power it all.

Nikon N8008

It offers all of the modern modes: manual, programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority. But as you can see, it was designed before the mode wheel became idiom. You expect that from a camera made from 1988 to 1990. To set mode, you have to repeatedly press the Mode button and look at the LCD. It works fine and isn’t cumbersome. It just takes a minute to adjust to it.

The N8008 also offers depth-of-field preview, allows multiple exposures, and boasts a self timer that can take two shots in succession. And its focusing screens exchange. Three screens are available, including the matte Type B screen that shipped with the N8008. You could also get the gridded Type E screen and the microprism Type J screen.

This camera also takes most F-mount lenses. Nikon lens compatibility requires a secret decoder ring (Ken Rockwell keeps his up to date) but with a few exceptions and caveats (pre-AI lenses won’t mount, AF-S lenses won’t automatically focus, AF-G lenses work only in programmed or shutter-priority mode, the latest AF-P lenses won’t focus) you can use your legacy lenses on the N8008.

I considered mounting my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor to this camera just to test that compatibility. The moment passed quickly, a fleeting shadow. I reached instead for my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor, a “gelded” lens that has no aperture ring. The N8008 drives this lens beautifully in P (program) or S (shutter-priority) modes. Even though Nikon shipped this lens with bajillions of its entry-level film SLRs, don’t underestimate this solid performer.

I loaded some fresh Kodak Tri-X and went to work at home, right next to my easy chair. I’d just finished a finger of whiskey. Photograph drunk, Photoshop sober?

Empty whiskey glass

I stepped back and zoomed out, revealing this lens’s one major fault: barrel distortion at the wide end. I reduced the effect in Photoshop.

Illuminated whiskey glass

These well-made auto-everything SLRs appeal to me, I think, because I can get high-quality images with almost zero thinking. That’s not to say I don’t like thinking. I get full joy from shooting my manual-exposure, manual-focus cameras. But sometimes it feels good to let the camera do all the work for you, all the while leaving you confident of good results. And with the N8008, I could have full control if I wanted it.

I never wanted it on this test roll. Good thing, as the gelded lens sharply limited my options. But on a stroll down Zionsville’s Main Street I didn’t much care. I twisted in my zoom level, pressed the button halfway to focus, and then pressed the button the rest of the way to get the shot. With a loud zip, the camera wound to the next frame and I was ready to go again.

Black Dog Books

I did, however, fall pray to one pitfall of easy-peasy shooting: I shot indiscriminately. Lots of uninteresting photos was the predictable result. This post shares almost all of the photos I think have any merit from this 36-exposure roll.

Brick Street Inn

Here Margaret stands between our two Fords in the parking lot at work. I used to work not far from her workplace, a large suburban church where she’s in charge of buildings and grounds. She wears dresses on Mondays to remind her co-workers that she’s a woman after all, as otherwise it’s jeans and T-shirts because a Director of Facilities never knows when she’ll find herself cleaning up after a sick child or crawling around a failed baptistry heater.

Margaret on Dress Monday

My sons have always been curious about my cameras. When they were very small I used to get the boxes down from my closet and we’d play with them together, cameras strewn across the living room. As I got serious about my collection again in my 40s and began to shoot my cameras more, my sons often asked if they could shoot them too. Frankly, I wasn’t always thrilled to say yes. They showed no real interest in exposure and focus, so explaining it to them got us nowhere. I took to setting the camera for them, but they were often impatient as I read the light and guessed distance and all. But a camera like the N8008 is perfect for kid use, even if that kid just turned 18. It requires no explanation beyond “press the button halfway so it can focus and then the rest of the way to get the shot.” My son did that perfectly while we waited for dinner at a Perkins one evening.

Me, taken by my son

Finally, I took the N8008 along the day I visited this abandoned bridge. It’s the one that cemented my love of exploring the old roads, because finding abandoned infrastructure is strangely exciting.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

The N8008 is not without its flaws. It’s a little heavy for all-day use. The loud winder was annoying. Autofocus is slower than on a modern camera. But so bloody what? I don’t shoot sports anyway. This camera worked great, full stop.

But I still own a Nikon N90s, also a wonderful auto-everything 35mm SLR. One does not need both cameras. One does not need a hundred cameras stuffed into every nook and cranny of one’s house, either, but that’s where one is despite ongoing efforts to thin the herd.

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28 thoughts on “Nikon N8008

  1. Hello Jim, I have one of these, theF801s as they are called in the UK. I enjoy using the camera for all the same reasons, and have way too many cameras sitting on shelves, but what the heck. I think my biggest disappointment with Nikon is the 20mm f2.8af lens I have, it is so unsharp in the corners, maybe just my copy.

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    • I’m trying to reduce the number of cameras sitting on my shelves (and in boxes, and in closets). The N8008 is great, but so’s my N90s and I don’t need both as they are largely in the same class. But I’m glad to have experienced this one.

      I don’t have experience with the 20/2.8. That’s mighty wide angle!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Dungan says:

    I have a pair of N80 bodies that shoot all the same glass my digital D7000 does. I got them for less than $20 each a few years ago. Makes good use of my Nikon glass especially on trips. I seldom shoot them now having shifted to medium format for most of my film shooting.

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  3. Jim, you seem to be increasingly warming to Nikons…

    My friend Christos has recently bought a couple of similar late bodies, you might find his reviews and thoughts interesting –

    Nikon F80
    Nikon F90x

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    • The Nikon love started when an F2 and an F3 were donated to my collection! I’ve tried and not loved entry-level Nikons. Every prosumer and pro Nikon I’ve tried, I’ve liked.

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  4. A very successful professional photographer friend of mine did all his shooting with N8008 bodies back in the 90s. Even though he could afford the F4, which was state-of-the-art at the time and $2500 in 90s dollars, he preferred shooting a couple of N8008s instead. He was rough on his cameras, as most pros are, and they held up well.

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  5. Bill Bussell says:

    Great pictures as always. My former employer, at my request, bought two Nikon 6006 with infrared modules for Metz 60-4 strobes mounted on a swing gizmo allowing the light to always be overhead of the lens. We used the 6006 for dark doctor parties at the Indiana Roof. I think the 6006 is a dirt-cheap cousin of the N8008. They worked flawlessly with hard commercial use. Soon, I would sometimes take one out in the hospital rather than an F3. The downside was the very expensive battery. I would guess the 8008 also uses that special battery.

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      • Bill Bussell says:

        Check for less expensive versions from Amazon. There are also lithium and rechargeable options. I would definitely choose an 8008, if that that met my needs. Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have a contax rx and a yashica t2 that both take that battery. Amazon has Panasonic cells for 7-8$ or radioshack’s version for under $6. Not bad when you get 30+ rolls out of one battery.

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        • Yeah, I’m sure that if I actually shot 30 rolls in one of these cameras I wouldn’t feel so bad about battery cost. But I generally shoot just 2-3 rolls in these cameras before I move on!

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  6. Nice post. My brother ‘donated’ me an N80 a while back and I got as far as putting a new battery in it and turning it on. You’ve prompted me to actually get the thing out and use it.

    I say ‘donated’ as the kindly UK Customs people decided that it warranted a tax paid on entry to the UK from the US where my brother lives, in spite of being what, 20-odd years old and worth probably less than their tax bill. I could have appealed, but by the time the administration costs came out it really wasn’t worth the lengthy paperwork. So I sucked it up, as you Americans would say.

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    • These semi-pro Nikons really are competent performers. If you don’t like auto-everything cameras, these cameras’ copmpetence won’t fully overcome that, I don’t think. But I do think you’ll at least recognize their competence!

      I think sometimes that bureaucracies count on people not fighting their decisions because the ROI isn’t worth it!

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  7. Christopher Smith says:

    Nice write up Jim I have the F801 and F801s (later updated version)
    Very capable cameras I like your photos you got from yours.

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  8. Nikon’s aren’t high on my wish list, but I think it’s because, as my friend Maurice would say, “I just haven’t found the right one.” :) Great post, Jim. I may seek your advice before pulling the trigger one day on a Nikon.

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    • These late auto-everything Nikons are such bargains that there’s no reason not to try Nikon! You should be able to pick up an N8008 or N90 or something plus a 50/1.8 AF Nikkor for $75-100. And the lens will be most of that cost.

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  9. Jim, excellent review of a Nikon AF classic!! I liked it so much I have three of them. Well, one N8008 and two N8008s and no, I never did pay full price for them either. A great camera and a great bargain!

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  10. I still remember drooling over this camera when it first came out, but quickly realizing the fact it was way out of my reach because of the too obvious price tag attached to it. I ended up with the F-401 instead, whatever that one was named over there?
    I might get one, some day, just to fulfill the dream in some kind of strange way. After all, as you say, they are cheap nowadays.

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