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Tips & Tricks

How To Use Old Legacy Lenses On Your Modern Nikon DSLR

By Kishore Sawh on January 3rd 2016

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Camera brand loyalty is a strange thing if you were to ask me. Camera companies generally do little for us as individuals; your father unlikely worked for the company, they don’t call you on your birthday, they don’t rub your head when you’ve got a headache, all can do a very good job at shriveling your wallet, and I know I’ll get some scoffing at this, but really they all pretty much do the same thing. Spare a very few situations and circumstances, give me, or any competent shooter a Nikon or Canon or Pentax or what have you, and we’ll be able to execute pretty much the same shot with each brand. So why then, do we tend to have an affection for one and not the other?

Well, I believe it often has something to do with what you grew up with, what was your first, what you associated with good equipment, and then as a consequence, buying into it and not wanting the trouble inherent with shifting systems. For me, it’s Nikon, and I’ve always been that way. The first baby pictures of me were taken on a Nikon, a Nikon I still have to this day an with the same lenses, too. It’s not just a sense of nostalgia that I enjoy, and when I transitioned to digital some many moons back, I didn’t like the idea of those lenses tucked away, but they just weren’t practical to be used on my then-current DSLR.

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Older lenses that were manual focus, like the legacy Nikon F-mount lenses, had brilliant optics and control, but no brain. Unlike modern lenses that are ‘chipped’, they couldn’t digitally communicate with the camera, so there was no AF, and couldn’t even speak automatically to the cameras to tell them what aperture they were at, and what focal length so metering properly was non-existent. This renders them somewhat useless for most people with modern DSLRs, and that’s a shame. Nikon, however, seems to love their old lenses as many of us do. Thus, on many modern, albeit higher-end Nikons, there exists a menu option in the SETUP Menu called Non-CPU Lens Data. If your camera has this, it means you can pair your old lenses and breath life back into them for use with your current body.

Non-CPU Lens Data

Currently, there are a number of higher-end Nikon DSLRs that have an aperture indexing (AI) ring built in, which allows for meter coupling with lenses that can’t digitally communicate with the body. These Non-CPU lenses simply don’t have the chip and contacts on their mount and, therefore, can only communicate with the new bodies via aperture (manual aperture ring – your camera body won’t be able to adjust aperture any other way).

What you’ll see here is how Nikon allows you to set-up the Non-CPU lens data on your camera which will give you pretty much the same functionality you’d get from a modern but strictly manual focus lens. So what am I talking about? Probably the biggest one here is metering. Once you input the data as I’ll explain, your camera will know some parameters of the lens and will actually allow for the internal metering system to work, and that’s a big deal. This means you can shoot as you do your other lenses pretty much, and furthermore, it allows iTTL to work properly, and automatically. Nice right?

Here’s what to do:

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*I’ve been told that Non-AI lenses should not be mounted on Nikon DSLRs without the ring as they give massive trouble to dismount and often cause damage. Apparently, however, if you get your Pre-AI lens serviced by Nikon they can make it AI.*

SETUP

Step 1:

Hit the MENU button, and scroll down to the SETUP MENU (the little wrench).

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Step 2:

Scroll down and near the end of that menu, you’ll see Non-CPU Lens Data. Select it, and the next screen will present you with a few more options: Lens Number, Focal Length (mm), Maximum Aperture.

Under lens Number, choose any, and you can program up to 9 lenses! I start with one because I’m just original like that.

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Step 3:

For Focal Length, if you’re shooting prime, just select the one that fits your lens, and if you’re shooting a zoom, select the longest focal length of the lens. So for one of my lenses, I use an old 70-210, so I choose the high end of that. For Maximum aperture, just choose the widest aperture for your lens.

Step 4:

Go to Done, and that’s precisely where you’ll find yourself. Now, you can go ahead and program all the other lenses you want by repeating these steps for each.

A little note here is that my 70-210 is a strange beast, and within the Non-CPU Lens Data menu, I’m not able to actually select 210mm, so I chose 200mm instead as it’s the closest option. I’ve found that that lens minutely underexposes but compensating for about .3 tends to be just perfect. It’s unlikely you’ll run into this problem with your lens, so I wouldn’t worry; even if you’ve got something like the 58mm, the system has you covered. Actually, if you’re programming a lower focal length like 21mm, then probably go with the nearest higher option.

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How To Use

The only slightly annoying thing about using these lenses is the fact that your camera will not know which lens you’re using unless you directly tell it – each time you put the lens on. So if you’re shooting with, say everyone’s favorite 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, and then switch to a Non-CPU lens, you have to go into the Non-CPU Lens Data menu and select that particular lens. Honestly, it takes but a moment so shouldn’t bother you. Keep in mind too, that if you use this method, you understand your camera body will not be able to manipulate the lens aperture for you, thus, only Manual and Aperture Priority shooting modes can be used.

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[REWIND: How To Move Images From One Lightroom Catalogue To Another]

In regards to metering, having used this Non-CPU function on a D750 and D610, the metering was (pardon the pun), spot on. Using spot metering particularly resulted in ‘just right’ metering.

I hope you found this interesting, and maybe even practically applicable. Perhaps it’ll allow you to use some fantastic glass you haven’t been able to in ages, or now you can shop some older, less expensive, but still immaculate lenses still on the market. I typically use the Nikkor 70-210 F/4 and Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, which both still allow me to produce lovely images. You can see a few casual ones below:

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About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

29 Comments

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  1. Kevin Barker

    Cool ….  I use 60 year old Nikon glass with my Sony A7Sii.  ….f1.4 /50mm prime,  a f2.8/28mm wide angle,  and f2.8 135mm telefoto.  Never a problem with metering.  Images are sharp and the telefoto has great brokeh.  I don’t mind focusing manually …

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  2. Jack Moskovita

    Per your quote:*I’ve been told that Non-AI lenses should not be mounted on Nikon DSLRs without the ring as they give massive trouble to dismount and often cause damage. 


    I have a 35mm f2.8 non-Ai version

    Does that mean this lens won’t work with my  D500?

    If not what older lens would work. I’m after a 20-35mm f/2.8 that would work on my D500 for stars/moon and low light landscapes.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Jack,

      There are a few “E” series lenses that seem to work perfectly fine, but “non-AI” is unfortunately too vague to know exactly which lens you have. There is definitely a chance that it could damage the existing aperture coupling protrusions that the D500 has, if your 35mm f/2.8 is not AI. Unless you can specifically research the exact lens and verify that others have used it on digital, (NOT the Df, or any other beginner DSLRs that do not offer AI full functionaility) …I would definitely refrain from mounting that lens on a D500.

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  3. Debapriya Ghosh

    Hi, I am not able to mount my Nikon 70-210 f/4 Series-E lens on my Nikon D5300. I thought D5300 was compatible with this lens. But this lens just not fits in to the body. Is it a defect in the body. Please help.

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  4. Trevor Taylor

    I have an old 50mm 1.4 lens I love, I used it alot with my D90 however. It will not mount to my new D750? What’s the catch?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      When you say it won’t mount do you mean, it won’t recognize the lens as a non-CPU lens or that you physically can’t mount the lens?

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  5. Joshua Daniels

    It is possible to get around the incompatibility of older lenses by installing a CPU. These work impressively well (I’m a user of these lenses). A company in Oregon offers CPU installation as a service, as well (legacy2digital). 

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  6. Eklavya Verma

    Hello Kishore!

    Thank you very much for this information. I currently shoot with a Nikon D5300 and am planning to buy a D750 this month. I want to use it with a manual  Rokinon/Samyang 100mm macro, and a CPU 24-70 F4.My query is, can I program the manual lens to one of the preset dials on the camera (U1 or U2), so that I can simply rotate the dial to that preset when I am using that lens, to save time?

    Best regards,

    Eklavya

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  7. Dinesh Nallathambi

    I recently bought  a nikon 28mm f 2.8 AI lens. I want to know will it fit in my nikon d7200 body or do i need any adapter?. Will it create issues to the camera body?

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  8. karen kaner

    i also have the 35-70 f3.5 question: when entering the cpu lens info since it is a zoom do you just put the 1st part of the zoom 35mm f3.5 and it recognizes that it is a zoom and will work throughout the entire range?? Kishore stated above that he could not enter 210mm and went with 200mm – why the latter reach part of the zoom range?? please help so that i can use correctly with my D810, thank you!

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  9. SomuPadma Bollapragada

    Article is good informative but please provide a list of all the Nikon digital cameras of the present and past models which can use non CPU lens with input of Manual lens Max aperture & Focal length.The list will help viewers to choose a camera either new or used within their budget and it will be of great guidance.

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  10. Mahendra Doshi

    Hello Kishore
    I am new to Nikon Camera and have D 3300. Can I use manual lens like 135 mm 2.8 with this camera
    Thanks in advance

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Mahendra, hi there. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Always welcome another Nikon shooter ;-) And nice choice of lens, by the way. The 135 old nikon lenses are lovely lenses that many don’t pay attention to or know about, with brilliant optics for little cost.

      To answer your question, I’m not sure. I think that AI-s lens came about early 80s which means it should able to be used in this way, and I believe cameras like the D3300 can mount even pre-AI lenses without a problem of damaging the mount, though you wouldn’t have any electric communication. However, I don’t believe the D3300 has the ability to set-up non-CPU lenses, so you won’t be able to do what I suggest in this article. You should be able to mount the lens and ‘use’ it in Manual mode only, but you’ll have no metering of any kind, so you’d be using old-school metering with a light meter or Sunny 16 rule or something. Sorry I don’t have better news, but that’s a limitation of the body in this case.

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  11. Richard Angeloni

    Hi, great article. I have some old Nikon Series E lenses I have been using with the D7200, and I have a question about what to do after removing the non-CPU lens from the camera. Do we have to go back into the settings to change anything, or will the camera automatically know I have attached a lens with a CPU the next time I use it? Thanks.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Richard. once you put a CPU lens on you don’t need to change anything, as it’ll be talking to the camera and the camera will recognize it. The only time you need to change anything is if putting on a different non-CPU lens. So if you have a Non-CPU 50mm, and you program that one, then you have another non-CPU 85mm programmed, you’ve got to select whichever one you’re using.

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  12. Tyler Nacke

    Hello, I am new to photography (4 years) my mother has some old Nikon lenses but I don’t know if they are PRE-Al. I have a 50mm and a 35 mm that I really want to use but I don’t want to hurt the camera I love.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Tyler, hi there. Well I wish I could give you a definitive list, but that’s proven hard to find. You can try to identify theses Non-AI (NAI) lenses via looking at the lenses themselves which are different. They have a solid coupling prong and no coupling ridge, and a few other giveaways. Again, you’d have to check and an email to Nikon is likely worth it. Thing is, some lenses were updated so it’s even harder to tell. Generally if you know the lenses were made after 1980 you should be in the clear. I would drop them an email, for sure. If you have other specific questions drop me a line over email.

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  13. David rainey

    i am curious about the 70-210 lens you speak of? There appears to be an AF version and an AI-s version…I assume that you are talking about the 70-210 AI-S vesion correct?

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  14. Freeman Burgess

    Using a 135mm f3.5 on my nikon D610. Added the lens to non-cpu data. When I adjust the aperture rind, the camera does not always recognize the change. Is this to be expected?

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  15. David Sullivan

    Good article Does this work on Sigma lens also I have a 500 mm mirror lens

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi David,

      It depends on which mount the Sigma lens is. If it’s a Nikon AI mount Sigma lens, then yup, you’re good to go!

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  16. Adrian Ong

    Excellent Article. I still have a 35mm F2 AIS, 55mm 2.8 Micro AIS and a 50mm 1.4 AIS that my dad gave me. Do you know how to delete a certain lens that I have programmed on the camera? Thank you.

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  17. John Cavan

    Bit more convoluted than the global option in the Pentax line, but then you can get some lens info in image data, though I’m not sure if that happens.

    Anyways, when I was still shooting Pentax, I used to go hunting for old K-mount lenses because so many could be had for quite cheap and they were usually excellent. I even managed to get my hands on the famous Lester Dine 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. A beautiful beast of a lens, solid as a rock and as sharp as they come. The other bonus? Stabilized. That is the biggest advantage of the IBIS features of the Pentax and Sony bodies.

    In any event, I may start hunting for old Nikon glass now. I hadn’t really thought about it when I switched bodies, it didn’t seem like a “thing” for Nikon shooters like it was for Pentax, but that was probably my own biases speaking.

    Thanks for the info, very helpful.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I’m a Nikon shooter, and I’ve had an affection for old Nikon manual lenses since day one. It’s just a part of who I am, in my particular generation, as a photographer.

      I’ve been scooping up old Pentax K-mount lenses here and there for dirt-cheap too lately, since I own both Pentax and Nikon film SLR cameras, and may test out the new Pentax Full-Frame body when it arrives.

      Personally, I’m a fan of the amazing portability yet robust construction and amazing sharpness that such lenses offer. The Pentax 135mm f/3.5 is a beauty, it weighs almost nothing and yet is all metal. Good times.

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  18. Steven Pellegrino

    Excellent article. These are the lenses that I use and in exactly the way you’ve described. For anyone on a tight budget, these lenses are the way to go. My three go-to lenses are 24mm 2.8, 35-70mm 3.5 and the 70-210mm f4. If I’m just shooting with prime lenses then it’s the 24mm 2.8 & a 135mm 3.5

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Ha, Steven I absolutely adore my 70-210 f/4. I don’t know, it just looks different than any other 70-200 I’ve ever used. I notice it certainly has some vignetting, but nothing distracting, and it’s a nice touch for portraits. Somehow, and I hope it’s not just my mind, but the colors seem different with this lens. It’s generally difficult for me to be without a long focal length because I love headshots and portraits so much, so I live between 100-200mm. Traveling with 70-200s or my 80-200 is just not pleasant though. They’re both weighty, and large, and the f/4 just isn’t. I think I’ll need to go look for that 135 f/3.5 though…nice suggestion

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    • karen kaner

      i also have the 35-70 f3.5 question: when entering the cpu lens info since it is a zoom do you just put the 1st part of the zoom 35mm f3.5 and it recognizes that it is a zoom and will work throughout the entire range?? Kishore stated above that he could not enter 210mm and went with 200mm – why the latter reach part of the zoom range?? please help so that i can use correctly with my D810, thank you!

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  19. Matthew Saville

    Back when I had quite a handful of AI-S lenses, I programmed one of my buttons to do Non-CPU Lenses, that way I could program in all my lenses and access them quickly.

    In the olden days it was different, but similarly intuitive; with something like the Nikon D200 you’d just hit the custom function button, and the front command dial would adjust the MM while the rear command dial would adjust the max aperture. Nifty tool for anyone who likes to toy around with tons of different old glass.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for any old lens that has a metal, scalloped focus ring, that’s for darn sure! Oh, and old AI-S lenses without their rounded aperture blades make for GORGEOUS sunstars; any cityscape photographer who likes to make street lights twinkle should never be without an old 20mm or 24mm f/2.8 AIS. :-)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I, like you, do have an affection for old lenses. Maybe it has something to do with getting older, for me, glad to see that old things can be just as useful, relative, and special as the new incarnations. Then again I’ve just crested 30 so what am I talking about… I would love for us to put together a list of favorite old glass.

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