I Can’t Help But Want to Shoot a Ten Dollar Nikon

It was the end of an estate sale. No one had bought it for $20. It had a couple, maybe three rusty screws on the bottom. Batteries were dead, so of course, it didn’t power on. No one knew if it worked. I offered $10, they said sure. Glad to sell it. Move it along. Get it out of the house.

I was the new owner of a Nikon F80. Silver body, autofocus camera just below the F100 with lower build quality, no weather-proofing. The F80 is the same as the N80, just a naming difference–the F80 was sold around the world, the N80 in the U.S. only. It was a $500 camera with a zoom lens in 2000. Today? Ten buck body!

A nothing-special perfectly capable 35mm AF automatic or manual film camera–$10 for the body only, I added the 24mm.

I got home, popped a couple of 123 batteries in, turned it on, the shutter button seemed stuck, and the screen read ERR. For Error. Something was wrong. What to do. I got a cable release. It’s a threaded shutter button that uses a traditional screw-in cable release. I pulled it up–it was stuck. No longer. Still ERR.

I knew from experience with an F100 that it might need a lens mounted to rid it of the ERR screen. Mounted a 35mm f2. Nope, that didn’t work. Checked the lens was set to f22. It was. Still ERR.

But every now and again some of the controls began to show, like shutter speed and aperture. But no AF, no shutter actuations. Just ERR.


So, I turned to the Goog. (The Google knows all.) Sure enough, someone said hit the rewind button. It thinks it’s jammed. I hit the rewind, turned it on, ERR. I turned it off and on a dozen times, and then it came to life. It just needed to do a bit of sorting out. To reset its computer, to get back to work. And back to work it did.

It now works perfectly. All functions. All metering. I’ll probably give it to someone, but right now, I want to shoot with it. I have used a Nikon N80 I picked up for $30. These cheap cameras are out there, all you who say film cameras are too expensive. (Again, this camera was sitting on a table at the end of the estate sale–no one had bought it for $20 the whole sale!)

It’s a lighter-weight version of the F100, just as good metering, and manual controls as well as A, S, and P modes. I’ve been enamored by the N80 because it is so lightweight, and at the same time I’ve never had a bad HP5 negative from it.

It’s a winner for a tenner.

I’ve taken my N80 to photograph many events and visits with friends. It’s never let me down. It does feel lighter and smaller in my hand than my F100, but it just works. It’s the photographer, not the camera. And somehow for me, having a cheap bargain is extra inspirational.

It means it’s all up to me. Not the gear. Not the camera. Slap a 24mm f2.8 and it’s a great ultra wide-angle camera. Put a fast 35mm f2 or 85mm f2 lens, it can shoot in any light. Go with a 50mm f1.4, the thing is unstoppable in the dark.

What are you going to use next? Me, I’ve got the tenner in hand.

And a lot of cash leftover for Ilford HP5!

2 thoughts on “I Can’t Help But Want to Shoot a Ten Dollar Nikon

Add yours

  1. People actually ask me how to get started in film photography. I tell them to buy a late film-era Nikon SLR just like this. Get one on eBay with a lens already attached, preferably a Nikon lens. You’ll pay 20 or 30 bucks. Buy some HP5 or Kodak Gold and just have fun with it. If you like it and want to explore further, then maybe you can try cameras that are more complicated and learn about exposure. On the other hand, if you aren’t overjoyed, you’re not out much money!


  2. Exactly, and it’s perfectly capable, too, if do take a liking to it. I have Leicas in the closet and still reach for the N80 at times. It’s not the camera, but what we do with it! Thanks for the comment, Jim.


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