Nearly there with a Nikon

June 11, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

My first photography addiction began when digital sensors were still prototypes folks like Kodak were playing around with.  I had a Bronica SQA and various 35mm cameras.  Minolta kit dominated and I was happy with it.  

Swept along with the 2nd film revolution, there were various brands I felt I had missed out on first time around.  Nikon was one. 

The local auction house, famed for their lack of detailed descriptions, listed a 35mm Nikon and accessories one week. Based on a shoddy web picture and vague description, I took a chance and bid. Nobody else was daft enough, so I bagged a Nikon F501 with an original Nikon bag, a Nikon flash and the user manual, for what seemed like a bargain price.  How wrong I was.


The F501 was one of Nikon’s early 35mm autofocus cameras and on this one the autofocus still worked. Part way through the first roll it became clear that something wasn’t right and a few quick comparisons with a digital showed the metering was not responding.  This turned out to be a mechanical issue with a completely rotted circular spring, driven by the aperture ring on the lens to adjust the metering. A few shots had happened to be about right, but most weren’t.  The meter driving mechanism was a mess inside and I decided beyond repair.

If you are looking at buying a 301 or a 501, take the lens off and see what it looks like around the bayonet mount.  There is a black circular plastic ring that connects with the aperture ring on the lens.  This ring should be able to move smoothly to its stop and spring back again nicely.  If it won't spring back, that probably spells trouble.

Trawling the well known auction site, turned up an F501 body described as working correctly. Well, I had got the lens and other accessories… why not get another body?  So the original bargain camera was now becoming a costly exercise.  The replacement body arrived and the metering did work on this one, but the autofocus didn’t.  So now two Nikon bodies one with no metering, the other with no autofocus.  I hatched a plot to see if the autofocus motor could be transplanted from the one body to the other. So far I haven’t been able to get successfully into the part of the body where it sits.

Nikon did a clever thing with the 501, there was also a ‘focus assist function’ I think so the camera could be used with lenses that didn’t have autofocus.  With manual set, this illuminates an LED when correct focus is achieved.  So a partial answer that allowed the 501 to go into service.  I never had an autofocus 35mm SLR when I was young anyway, but all these years on and I need glasses for distance.  Autofocus just makes it easier to work a camera without the glasses.

A friend asked me to sort through some old camera gear… well who can resist?  There were several generations of Nikon including the quite dreadful Nikon F50, an F301, some lenses and accessories. After selling some of it on the friend’s behalf, I inherited the 50mm Nikon lens a teleconverter and extension tubes.  So the F501 kit is due another turn and this time there will be some macro work to be done with it.

The F501 has proven quite nice to use and so far has produced some sound results. The controls are very much late eighties and not the most comfortable.  The camera uses 4 AAA batteries oddly placed under a cover in the base.  So far the batteries are lasting longer than I expected, given the noises these cameras make.  The focus assist has proven easy enough to work with.  I am not especially keen on auto winding and especially rewinding which can deprive you of the option to part shoot a film and transfer it to another camera easily.  Again, Nikon did something helpful.  The F501 uses a powered film advance, but the rewind is still and old fashioned fold out crank.

Here are some more images shot with the Nikon F501 on Agfa APX 400. The first one a Lincolnshire church, the other two around Heysham Village in Lancashire.

Thank you for taking the time to read the blog.  Do keep checking for more items.  Until next time, enjoy your photography.


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