This review first appeared on bythom.com and re-edited for this site in 2012.
With 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:
|Single wide area autofocus sensor||Five autofocus sensors under user control (single button)||Five autofocus sensors under user control (direction pad)|
|No depth of field preview||Depth of field preview||Depth of field preview|
|No exposure bracketing||Exposure bracketing||Exposure bracketing|
|No multiple exposure||Multiple exposure capability||Multiple exposure capability|
|Auto DX ISO coding only||Auto DX ISO coding only||Manual or DX ISO coding|
|Matrix Balanced Fill Flash||Matrix Balanced Fill Flash||Multi-Sensor Matrix Balanced Fill Flash|
|No remote control||Remote control (optional)||Manual wired Remote control|
|Matrix and Centerweighted metering||Matrix and Centerweighted metering||Matrix, Centerweighted, and Spot metering|
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, center-weighted metering sneaks in unannounced whenever you hit the exposure lock button; the F65/N65 only switches to center-weighted 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:
- Both use polycarbonate bodies, are light, but not as sturdy as the F100, for example.
- Neither body can meter with manual focus (AI and AIS) lenses.
- Both have a top frame rate of 2.5 fps.
- Both use exposure compensation in 1/2 stops.
- The N80 uses two CR123A or DL123A, the N65 uses two CR2 lithium batteries.
- Rewind is about 15 seconds for the F80/N80, and only a second or so more with the F65/N65.
- Both have a built-in low power (GN 40 [12m]) flash.
- Both use the CAM900 autofocus sensor (five points, although only the central sensor is crosshatched), although the F80/N80 has a more convenient way to control which sensor is used.
Significant ways in which the two camera bodies are different:
- The F80/N80 has a faster shutter speed of 1/4000, the F65/N65 stops at 1/2000.
- The viewfinder of the F80/N80 covers 92% of the frame, the F65/N65 covers 89% of the frame.
- The F80/N80 has 1/125 maximum flash sync versus the F65/N65 at only 1/90.
- The F65/N65 weighs svelte 13.9 ounces versus 18.2 ounces for the F80/N80.
- The F80/N80 uses a manual cable release for remote operation, the F65/N65 requires a low-cost, but optional wireless remote control (ML-L3).
- The F80/N80 has "on demand" horizontal grid lines in the viewfinder, the F65/N65 does not.
- The F80/N80 has spot metering (and centerweighted metering in every mode), the F65/N65 does not.
- The F80/N80 has slightly more information in the viewfinder (most notably Frames Remaining).
Minor things that are different on the two cameras:
- Controls are different, and located in different places.
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 center-weighted metering when you use the exposure lock button.
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 center-weighted (Nikon doesn't specify weighting in the manual, but it is likely 75/25) metering; exposure compensation and three shot auto bracketing; 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 center-weighted 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, center-weighted 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).
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) center-weighted system.
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.
- Build Quality. Exactly what you'd expect for a US$300 body; you'll want to take precautions to keep this camera sheltered from the elements.
- Flash sync is only 1/90. That, coupled with the weak internal flash don't make for as much flexibility as I'd like. Example: at ISO 100 with an f/2.8 lens on the camera, your maximum shooting range is 14 feet (4.2m). Moreover, the built-in flash can't be used with virtually any zoom that goes wider than 28mm due to its position so close to the prism. The SB-50DX makes a good complement to the camera and fixes many of the internal flash limitations.
- Manual lenses. If you've got AI or AIS lenses, you won't be using them very often on the F65/N65, as the body can't meter with them. That's a shame, as I'd love to take my Series E lenses with this body to save weight on backpacking trips.
- Bang for the buck! Wow, and I thought the F80/N80 was a good value. If you can live with the handling issues and a few missing features, this body is a tremendous value.
- Feature specification is rich and deep. When a low-cost body even includes diopter correction for the viewfinder and multiple exposure capability, you won't find much missing.
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.)
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.
Thom's Comment: 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 far.
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.