Nikon F501 A review and Features of a traditional film camera

The resurgence of interest in film photography prompted me to rediscover it after 25 years. I opted for a Nikon F501 due to the high prices of the Nikon FE. Explored the history of the Nikon F501, a transitional camera with unique features. Despite its historical significance, its suitability for contemporary use is debatable. The F501 supports various lenses but has limitations with certain types. It offers versatility in exposure modes but lacks automatic film rewind. While it retains a classic look, it faces tough competition from more advanced models of its era.

The Nikon F501 SLR review image

My Nikon F501 with 50mm F1.8 lens photographed with a Nikon Z30 fitted with Helios 44-2 lens

There appears to be a resurgence in the interest of shooting film. It’s been almost 25 years since I last took photographs using film. While I don’t consider myself a hipster, I sensed it was the right time to rediscover the charm of film photography. Consequently, I opted to acquire a second-hand SLR from eBay. Initially eyeing a Nikon FE, I found the demand and prices to be quite high. Eventually, I settled for a Nikon F501 at a reasonable cost of about £30. To enhance the experience, I invested an additional £10 in a new focusing screen, and I even created a short video documenting the process.

At times, the affinity between a photographer and a camera is not a deliberate choice but rather a serendipitous connection. This holds true for my newly acquired F-501. Despite its sturdy build and continued functionality, the N2020 grapples with drawbacks such as a dim viewfinder and a sluggish, noisy autofocus system ill-suited for low-light scenarios.

In the year 1985, Nikon unveiled the F301, a departure from the preceding FG series. This model boasted several firsts: a polycarbonate body, an integrated motor drive facilitating auto film loading and advance (sans rewind), and compatibility with DX-coded film cassettes. Surpassing its predecessors in electronic features, the F301 offered two program modes (high and normal), retaining aperture priority and manual modes, outclassing even the renowned F3 and FA.

In 1986, Nikon introduced the F501, essentially an autofocus-enabled version of the F301. The F501 introduced the innovative “dual program mode,” adapting to lens lengths for optimal performance. It also accommodated three distinct focusing screens not available on the F-301. However, as the flagship F4 emerged and autofocus technology advanced, the F-501 faded out in 1989, with subsequent Nikon cameras abandoning its design.

The F-501 stands as a unique transitional camera. A leap beyond Nikon’s late 1970s and early 1980s models, it predates the mass adoption of plastic in 1990s consumer SLRs. While a fascinating piece of Nikon’s history, its suitability as a daily shooter in contemporary times is debatable.

Lens compatibility is a critical consideration, and the N2020 supports Ai, Ai-S, Series E, AF, and AF-D lenses. However, limitations arise with screw-drive G lenses, AF-S lenses, and AF-P lenses. Turning the N2020 into a manual focus point and shoot with AF-S lenses is possible but comes with restrictions on information display.

The viewfinder of the F-501 is serviceable, offering LEDs for shutter speed and focusing indicators. The autofocus, utilizing Nikon’s first-generation module, is relatively capable but sluggish compared to modern counterparts. Focus assist, a valuable feature for manual focus lenses aids in achieving accurate focus.

With exposure modes ranging from program modes to aperture priority and manual operation, the F501 provides versatility. However, certain limitations, such as the absence of automatic film rewind, highlight its vintage nature. The integrated motor drive, while loud, achieves up to 2.5 frames per second.

In conclusion, the F501, despite its average weight and loud mechanisms, retains a classic SLR look. Its versatility with manual focus lenses and AF/AF-D autofocus lenses makes it stand out from its predecessors. Yet, with affordable alternatives like the N90s and F100, the F-501 faces stiff competition, especially when compared to the superior F4, F5, or F6 models from the same era.


  • Type: SLR body
  • Films: 35mm, speeds ISO 25 to 4000 (DX-coded) or ISO 12 to 3200 (manual selection)
  • Lens mount: Nikon AF bayonet
  • Viewfinder: Fixed eye level pentaprism, 0.85x magnification, 92% frame coverage, displays shutter speed, under- or overexposure, ready-light for TTL flash
  • Metering: TTL center-weighted (60/40), meter activated by lightly pressing shutter release button, EV 1 – 19 at ISO 100, f 1.4
  • AutoFocus TTL
  • Shutter: Electronic vertical metallic focal plane shutter, speeds: 1-1/2000 sec
  • Exposure modes:
    • P: normal program, aperture and speed set automatically
    • P HI: faster program (for moving subjects)
    • A: aperture priority
    • M: manual by selecting the shutter speed and
    • B: Bulb
    • Exposure memory lock via button
  • Dimensions: 149×98×51mm
  • motorized film transport with manual rewind
  • Shooting modes
    • S: Single shot
    • C: Continuous shot (up to 2.5 fps)
    • Self timer: 10s
  • Battery: 4AAA (MB4 standard holder) or 4AA (MB3 optional holder) providing 4.8-6V
    • Camera doesn;t work if battery voltage is below 4.5V


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