Nikon DSLR bodies without built-in Autofocus.

I shoot both with Nikon and Canon, and love their midrange and professional grade cameras. However,  I usually recommend Canon when it comes to entry level, beginner cameras. One of the main reasons I do so is due to the availability of inexpensive lenses. Entry level cameras are all so very similar when looking at them side by side under typical use, there’s not much that’s really different between different brands of the same generation. It’s just a little easier with Canon, in my opinion, and built-in autofocus is why.

Nikon decided to not include a built-in autofocus motor on some of its entry level models in order to keep them priced low. While they work fantastically with the newer G series lenses and other lenses with built in motors (AF-I, AF-S, and third party – some older G series lenses are not AF-I or AF-S so look carefully at the lens description.) older lenses that rely on the camera body for focusing (AF, some with the term “D” on them, and some older kit lenses with “G” — many of which are usually more budget friendly) will only focus manually. This makes getting the proper lens a bit more research intensive, as you can imagine from all the letters mentioned above – with so many prefixes / suffixes / D, G, etc, who can keep track – and potentially cost quite a bit more if you decide that autofocus is an important feature.

These are the Nikon camera bodies that do not have an integrated Autofocus Motor:

  • D40
  • D40X
  • D60
  • D3000
  • D3100
  • D3200
  • D3300
  • D5000
  • D5100
  • D5200
  • D5300
  • Nikon 1 Series (with FT1 adapter)

*Current list as of 01/14/2014

When comparing budget lenses, the older models that are usually friendlier on your wallet don’t necessarily have autofocus. Take the basic 50mm 1.8 for example. Canon’s 50mm 1.8 II lens will autofocus on any EOS camera body, and put you back about $75. Nikon’s similar priced lens, the 50mm 1.8D, will not autofocus with the cameras listed above. For an autofocus 50mm 1.8, owners of these cameras would need to get the AF-S / G version, Nikon’s 50mm 1.8G, which is usually just under $200 used ($180 on average from what I have seen lately.) This puts a new Nikon shooter $100 behind his Canon counterpart.

What does this mean? If you enjoy shooting Nikon, and want to go this route, factor in lens choice into your budget if you want autofocus capabilities. It might be a better choice in the long run to spend a little more on a body with built-in autofocus capabilities, to allow for more flexibility when it comes to lenses.

Many of my favorite budget Nikon lenses are from their AF lineup (as opposed to AF-S, AF-I)

Nikon makes some fantastic entry level cameras. I am a big fan of the D40, D3200 and D5200, but when it comes down to operating on a budget, the more well-informed you are, the better. I don’t like to push one brand over another, but I do tend to recommend those on a budget to consider Canon before Nikon at this level for this fact alone. Autofocus makes things easier when you’re starting out, it makes finding lenses easier; and the easier things are, the more likely you are to enjoy what you are doing. If you get frustrated due to having to manual focus, or at a limited selection of lenses, how likely are you to continue putting effort into photography?

This article has 2 comments

  1. Paul Wossidlo Reply

    Hi Jay

    Love this site (got the link from MM), but I have to take issue with some of your assertions in this article.  The Nikon “G” designation refers to the lack of an aperture ring, nothing more.  It has nothing to do with autofocus.  Only “AF-S” (and earlier “AF-I”) designate a lens with a built-in focus motor.  In Nikon’s current lineup, all “AF-S” lenses are also “G” lenses, so a lot of people mix them up.  But there are older lenses (i.e. lenses that someone on a budget might buy used) that are either “G” or “AF-S”, but not both.  For example, the 80-200/2.8 AF-S variant and 28-70/2.8 AF-S pro lenses have their aperture rings.  And Nikon used to make cheap plastic kits lenses that were “G” lenses (28-80G, 28-100G, and 70-300G (non-VR) come to mind) but did not have focus motors.  In fact, until the introduction of the 70-200/2.8G, many forum users used “G” as a shorthand for “cheap”.

    Keep up the good work!

    • jayleavitt Reply

      Thanks. I wasn’t aware of the non AF-I or AF-S G lenses. I was under the impression that all G lenses were AF-I or AF-S, and included them since most are simply referred to with the G rather than AF-S (Nikon 85/1.4G for example is rarely mentioned with its AF-S prefix.)

      I’ll update the article, thanks.

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