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I'm looking at buying a new SLR body. I have an old film Nikon entry-level SLR (about ten years old) with a kit lens. If I buy a Nikon body, how likely is it that my old lens will work on it? Would I be better off buying a new lens?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

This is a particularly thorny question with Nikon. On one hand, Nikon still uses the same basic mount as their very first SLRs did shortly after the second world war was over. On the other hand, over the years they've had to come up with quite a few variations on that mount. As a result, the exact degree of compatibility between a particular lens and camera varies all the way from "it'll work fine" to "can break the lens and/or camera."

There are quite a number of compatibility charts around to help out though.

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Is your lens autofocus? If so, your new camera will need the autofocus drive - many of Nikon's newer, entry level dslr's don't have one. Most of my older lenses are MF (Manual Focus).

I have a 30+ yr old MF Nikkor 135mm that works great on my D700. It's been "AI'd" which means someone cut a notch in the part of the lens's mounting ring so that the newer Nikon bodies known what aperture the lens is set at. If it isn't AI then you might have some issues. I don't know if that means it won't mount or if you just lose metering. Maybe someone else can comment about some of the other newer terms like "AIS", etc. The link below explains mo'better

Nikkor Lens Technology

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Useful information about autofocus. I had assumed it would be standard on an SLR. – DJClayworth Oct 20 '10 at 18:54
it used to be standard, but Nikon had to shift their consumer line to lens mounted motors in order to compete on body price with Canon's consumer bodies. Of course this caused an increase in the price of consumer lenses (or reduction on the margin on them). – jwenting Feb 28 '11 at 10:23

As long as your older lenses have the same mount compatability then every should work together just fine. I have some 20+ year old manual focus sigma lenses that work with my D200.

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Agreed. I have a number of Nikon and Sigma lenses ranging in age from 5 to 20 years old and they work great with my D80. – Richm Oct 13 '10 at 15:33

Assuming your lens will work fully on the body you choose (see the other answers), you've still got to decide whether you want to buy a new lens or not. There are a few issues besides compatibility:

  • New lens features: Your old lens probably doesn't come with VR, whereas a lot of the new kit lenses do. Also, a modern kit lens may have better glass than your older entry-level kit lens.
  • Appropriate focal length: If you buy a DX body, a wide angle zoom lens like a 28-85mm wide zoom becomes equivalent to a 42-128mm. You might miss the ability to zoom as wide as you could on your film camera. This isn't a problem if you buy a full-frame camera, but these are generally more expensive.
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