My first ever camera was the Nikon N55, purchased from the Ritz Camera in Charlotte’s Arboretum shopping center in the summer of 2001 for my high school photography class. Sure I might have been a few disposable cameras prior to then, but the N55 was my first real camera, a true SLR; a single lens reflex camera with changeable lenses and a hot shoe for flashes and other accessories. I felt like a professional, even if I didn’t know how to use it yet.
The champagne colored N55 is not a professional level camera, by any means, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good camera. You still get the ability to control shutter and aperture independently, give either priority over the other, or shoot in full auto. There’s autofocus. There’s manual focus. There’s a self timer and there’s bulb mode. You can take a multiple exposure or you can auto bracket the exposure. And, since this is a film camera, you can capture the same image with the N55 as you could using a “professional” camera costing hundreds more. Unlike digital cameras, with sensors that differ from model to model, and year to year, the N55 uses a simple roll of 35mm film that’ll act the same in any camera.
A useful feature of this camera is that, as you shoot, your images are rolled back into the film canister. Many film cameras don’t do this, instead rolling film out of the canister for each image. This matters for two reasons:
1) The film counter will show the number of frames remaining on the roll letting you know when to reload
2) Since each exposed frame is rewound into the canister, no photos will be lost if the camera back is opened before the roll is finished, whether by accident or if security has an issue with you shooting somewhere you shouldn’t have.
If you were in the market for a film camera, why would you not buy an N55? Well for starters, the N55 only has 3 autofocus points. The Nikon N80, a higher end film camera from the same timeframe as the N55, has 5 autofocus points (for comparison, the modern D5 has 153 points.) Maximum shutter speed is also less than in the N80, at 1/2000th of a second vs 1/4000. The built in exposure meter is more powerful in the N80, capable of 3D matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering, measuring from EV 0 to 21 (EV 3 to 21 with spot metering). The N55 can only measure from EV 1 to 20, and doesn’t have spot metering. The N55 has a 1/90 flash sync speed, while the N80 has a faster 1/125 speed. Neither camera can use infrared film, as they use an IR beam to measure film advancement.
That all said, the N55 is still a great camera for someone who wants to experiment with a film camera without paying a fortune. Currently, you can buy this on eBay for less than $20, which means this camera costs about as much as the pair of CR2 batteries that power it. In most cases, that price also includes the matching 28-80mm kit lens. While the kit lens may not be the fastest available, ranging from f3.5 at 28mm to f5.6 at 80mm, it’s a decent performer in good lighting conditions, and who could turn down another FX sized lens? Of course, any other FX lens will fit the N55 too, including the Nikkor 70-200mm VRII. Just don’t expect the newer lenses to autofocus.