The Nikon N90s/F90x User Experience | Bill Smith

I own a lot of Nikon cameras. Yes, I collect a lot of manual focus bodies, but there’s one autofocus body in my kit I picked up years ago off Ebay.  Recently I decided for kicks to run a roll of film through it. I’m talking about the Nikon N90s (in the USA) and F90x (rest of planet Earth); it is a very sophisticated sleeper of a camera that in its day was considered a pro body. Today you can buy it for peanuts. 

Everyone knows about the Nikon F4: it was the first autofocus pro body out there, built like a truck but with one problem, the autofocus wasn’t that fast, but you could use any F mount lens you could find. The N90s was the next step down, introduced back in 1994 to replace the N90.  A lot of working Pros shot with the camera as a back up and more often as their primary body. 

What’s going for the N90s? Well, while you don’t quite have the same lens compatibility as the F4, you can use AF, AF-D autofocus and Ai and Ais manual focus lenses. There are some caveats of course, you can’t us matrix metering with manual focus lenses like you could with the F4, but center weighted and spot (great for backlit subjects) metering is plenty good enough. 

The other big plus with the N90s: batteries, it takes four AA’s. If you’re road tripping in the middle of nowhere, the last thing you want to have happen to you is for the camera to die and the small town you roll into doesn’t have 357 silver oxide, 6V or any other oddball batteries. With the N90s you can use the most common battery on the planet, and you’re good for 50 rolls as per the owner’s manual, temperature permitting. 

In terms of usability, if you have been using a Nikon DSLR, you will find the LCD read outs familiar, but if you have been using manual focus forever, there’s a bit of a learning curve.  There are buttons on the left side of the top that control ISO, Mode, metering options and re-wind, right side you have the control dial, exposure compensation, and a re-set button.  If you can find a Magic Lantern guide for the N90s, it’s money well spent. 

What I love about the N90s, which I use manual focus lenses exclusively for now, is I have the ability to find the focus point in the readout inside the prism, and also the fact that I can nail an exposure right down

Two things: one, back will be gummy. The rubber coating slowly turns to goo, that’s just the way of the world. Two, from personal experience, I over expose my 400 ISO films (320 for black and white and 200-250 for C-41).  You can override the DX coding, however every once in a while I get a Err message, that’s the camera being “Big Brother” saying I have the incorrect ISO dialed in. I re-set the ISO and switch it off, then on (re-boot) usually fixes the problem. This doesn’t happen too often and I don’t expect to have problems shooting Ektar 100, Cinestill 50 and Velvia 50 slide film, which I shoot at box speed. One thing I am planning to invest in for this camera is the MB-10 battery grip; it still takes four AA batteries but you now have an extra shutter button for vertical shots. 

The N90s is a great camera, you can grab a body on Ebay for about $35-70 USD.  Yes you read that correctly. It is the perfect road trip camera if you are planning to explore off the beaten path because every general store, 7/11, bodega, trading post, village market, souk, etc. will stock AA batteries. My N90s will be going out for more adventures with me this year. 


Bill Smith, an Ontario-based film photographer, specializes in landscape, street, architecture and portraiture. Follow Bill on Twitter or Instagram.