Nikon E2N

In April 2005 I bought one of Nikon's first digital SLR's (Nikon E2N) on eBay. I paid $380 for a 1.3 megapixel camera that cost about $10000 when it was first released in 1996/1997.

Less than 12 hours after my eBay purchase, I got a call from my local dealer informing me that Nikon's latest digital SLR (D2X) was waiting for me.

I believe I'm the first, and probably the last person on Earth to purchase both these cameras on the very same day!

I never considered myself a camera collector, until I found this mint condition Nikon E2N with all accessories on eBay. I simply couldn't resist. I just had to get it! (This was my first collector camera - I've since bought many more)

Even though the eBay description stated that the Unit is in "mint" condition and works perfectly, I didn't quite know what to expect.

The package arrived safely from Canada a week later, and to my surprise the camera looked even better than I had hoped for. The seller didn't lie: The camera was in mint condition and looked brand new.

The camera also came with a working battery, quick charger EH-1, AC adapter ES-1, the original ED-10 "PC Card Drive" (with SCSI cable), a 40 MB IBM PCMCIA memory card, and original manuals.

The card reader is almost as big as my Coolscan IV-ED film scanner. I also got a SB-27 speedlight and a 28mm Magnicon lens (never heard of it - I later gave it away). Except for a scratched lens cap, everything was in mint condition. I couldn't be happier.

Review

Here's a less than scientific field test and review of the Nikon E2N. Don't take it too seriously.

This is one of Nikon's first digital SLR's, announced way back in 1996. It's a 1.3 megapixel model (1280x1000 pixels) with the same field of view as a 35mm camera.

Getting both cameras at the same time, I've tested the E2N and D2X side-by-side. Can a 1996 1.3 megapixel camera compete with Nikon's latest 12.4 megapixel D2X? You'd be surprised! Read on.

Let me start by saying that the E2N is a heavy, bulky beast of a camera. For all practical purposes, it feels and handles like a medium format body. I walked around carrying it by hand (didn't bother to attach a strap) for about half an hour, and that was enough.

Other than the bulk and weight (1.72 kg), it's a surprisingly nice camera to work with. Seriously. The hand grip feels good. The camera feels both solid and stable. The E2N body is based on the F4 (the features are similar, but the actual bodies look completely different), an excellent professional film body which I used for many years.

When I first got the E2N I simply installed the battery, switched it on and started shooting. As a long time Nikon user I had no problems figuring out the buttons, menu (there's only one LCD panel, near the trigger button), etc. Easy as pie.

The shutter makes a nice F4-like sound, only slower. There's no shutter/mirror vibration worth mentioning (there probably is, but the camera is so massive I didn't notice).

Unlike the D2X that will fire away at up to 8 fps (HSC mode), the E2N will shoot about 1 frame every one or two seconds, helping you save space both on the memory card and on your hard drive. Again, it really feels like a medium format film body.

Using a Reduction Optical System (ROS), lenses have the same field of view as they would on a regular 35mm film body. There's no crop factor. A 28mm behaves like a 28mm. Unfortunately, the system will suck up light, so your f/2.8 lens will suddenly become f/6-point-something. On the other hand, the lowest ISO setting is 800, so you'll have to stop down anyway. At least in daylight.

There's also a 'High' mode (ISO 3200). The E2N viewfinder is larger, but not as bright as on the D2X.

Unfortunately, the optical reducer also degrades image quality, and many lenses will suffer from heavy vignetting. According to one source, focal lenghts below 50mm will vignette unless it's a fast f/1.8 or f/2.0 lens. You take some, you give some.

Like the F4 and D2X, E2N will meter with both AF and manual focus lenses. Unlike the D2X, you don't have to tell the camera what MF lens you're using (the excellent lens compatibility is one reason why I've always liked the F4 so much). Both aperture and shutter speed must be set on the camera. You cannot use the aperture ring on the lens (you can actually set it to anything you like - it doesn't matter).

Small file sizes is another advantage over the D2X. A typical JPEG Fine is about 670 KB. Even with my 40 MB card I can capture around 60 shots before switching cards (which I can't, since I only have the one that came with the camera).

The original SCSI card reader is also a huge beast. Luckily, I can simply plug the card into the PCMCIA slot on my laptop instead. The E2N's uncommon TIFF files are 2511 KB. They cannot be read by Photoshop or other image editors I've tried, but you can open and convert them in Nikon View, Capture and RAW PhotoDesk (www.rawphotodesk.com).

For some strange reason, Nikon's own software cannot read EXIF data from E2N files, but Windows Explorer will. Just right-click on any file, select Properties and click on the Summary tab. It won't tell you much, but at least you can check the shutter speed and aperture.

The camera is identified as Fujifilm DS5 (the body was developed jointly by Nikon and Fujifilm) and I assume this means that the camera firmware was developed by Fujifilm.

Unlike modern cameras, E2N does not have a LCD monitor. Very useful. You can now focus on your subject instead of staring at the monitor. (Please Nikon, let us have a hardware upgrade where we can get rid of the useless D2X monitor!)

Image quality

Like I mentioned, the small E2N files are really fast and easy to work with. It's a dream come true. The D2X simply cannot compete. You can process tens, or even hundreds of E2N files before you can even open a single D2X NEF file!

Obviously, the shots are not as sharp as those from the D2X (no surprises there). At 100%, they're not really sharp at all (by today's standards). Still, if you downsize and do some post-processing many (not all) E2N images look pretty good.

Some of these cameras are still in regular use, primarily in studios producing small web-sized product shots, etc. No need to use a D2X if you only need a 400 pixel image.

It's important to remember that the early digital models were primarily designed for speed (i.e. no need to develop any film) and targeted at press photographers and other professional users.

Click to see the answer .. The 3200 ISO shots from the E2N are surprisingly good, considering everything. For newsprint and web use they will do just fine - if you get the exposure right. As with modern cameras, underexposed shots are very noisy.

E2N exposure and white balance seems pretty accurate (far from perfect, but perfectly usable) under most conditions, and battery life is much better than expected. The first digital camera I used (a 1997/1998 Olympus model) needed new batteries every 30 shots or so! I haven't yet exhausted the E2N battery (I haven't really used it that much, but enough to be impressed. Batteries in most early digital cameras were notoriously bad). Dynamic range is less than impressive (only slightly better than the shots I get with my mobile phone).

Check out these sample shots and make up your own opinion.

Conclusion

Obviously, you can't really compare E2N with a modern camera like the D2X. They are worlds apart. It's like comparing a model T Ford with a brand new Ferrari. Still, it's sometimes nice to look back and know that the world is moving forward after all.

You can now get a D2X for about half the price you'd have to pay for an E2N in 1996/1997. Tell that to your wife! (Reminds me of the Shania Twain song That don't impress me much, but it's worth a try).

There's actually one area where modern DSLR's can't compete with the vintage E2N:

It's the wow! factor.

To most people, a D2X looks like a D70, D100, or just another Canon body (I said "to most people"). The E2N does not. It's an impressive camera. Unless you meet a client that knows a thing or two about photography. Then you'd better start looking for a new job :-)

..and oh, I almost forgot: If you haven't already figured it out, you can click on the D2X vs E2N "Which is which?" comparison shot to find the answer to the riddle.

Further reading

Discuss this and other vintage Nikon DSLR's in the Nikon forum

I don't want to repeat lots of technical data and info that can be easily found elsewhere. For more info on the E2N and other Nikon cameras (both film and digital), visit the excellent Photography in Malaysia website or www.nikonlinks.com.

For even more digital nostalgia, take a look at Eamon Hickey's great article on the Kodak NC2000.

2005-2013 Jarle Aasland - webmaster @ nikonweb . com (remove spaces)