Nikon prices from 25 years ago

I came across an old issue of Modern Photography from December of 1986. With the latest price increases, here is a nostalgic flashback of Nikon prices from 25 years ago:

More after the break:

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  • Bonetti

    Im buying a Time Machine!!!!!

    • texasjoe

      I was 2 years old. Haha. But I love my D700 and 70-200 VR II!!! I’d love to be able to use these cameras though.

      • chuck

        I just got one of these bodies, the N2020 aka F501.

        • Mock Kenwell

          The N2020 was my very first new camera purchase. I’ve been with Nikon ever since.

        • My mother gave me one of those last year. It was hers back when it was new. She also had a Nikon FM but she gave that away about 10 years ago before I ever considered photography. I got into it about the same time she did which is nearing 40. I haven’t used the N2020 yet though. I still have a desire for an F3 and F4.

  • plug

    I had an FA then. $439-50, body only? I remember it seeming expensive. Excellent camera though.

  • R R

    love this post

    • James

      Me too!

      I bought an N-2000 in ’96, although I don’t remember what I paid for it. Talk about a flashback!

      • James

        Correction: I bought an N-2000 in ’86, not ’96. And I must admit to buying an EOS 650 the following year. πŸ™‚

  • AlphaPuma

    Wow the F-3 AF with 80/2.8 is 900$, apparently $6,384.77 in 2011 prices.

    • AlphaPuma

      Err $1,835.04 Math fail 😐

    • Nathan

      I don’t think many people wanted that F3-AF. It was ugly, bulky and the lenses were the same.

      • Jabs

        Actually, the F3AF was quite good and the lenses were spectacular. The 80 F2.8 was fast and the 200 F3.5 ED-IF was slower in focusing but very sharp (about like the manual focus 180 F2.8), as I bought the whole kit and got laughed at until they saw my slides – lol. The F3AF was the precursor of things that we have now, so remember that. You could also get focus confirmation with non AF lenses plus the focus motors were in the lens, a practice Nikon abandoned later and now has returned to. It might not be as fast as today’s gear but in its’ time, it was revolutionary.

        • suprchunk

          Actually he didn’t say they weren’t good. He said they were bulky and ugly.

          But it’s nice of you to write such a huge wall of text to argue against something he didn’t even say, or imply.

          • Jabs

            What he said and what he perhaps implied are two different things. Why don’t we both ask the poster what they meant by ‘bulky and ugly’ as they were neither in my opinion.

            • Nathan

              I didn’t like the way it looked. I was sure the lenses were fine optically since they were Nikkors and they were expensive.

            • Nathan

              Here’s a picture of the camera. I didn’t like the way that looked. The lenses at the time didn’t appeal to me either. Remember, we weren’t used to seeing AF lenses at the time, only the Nikkors that were out.


            • Jabs

              Thanks for clearing that up. I once used an F3AF/MD-4/MN2 with an 80 F2.8 AF to capture some pigeons feeding at Union Square in NYC (was on my knees) using FujiChrome 50D or 400D and I also tried the same shots using an F3HP and F3T with color slide and black and white film. The F3AF nailed more shots than the manual F3’s after you got used to how it worked! Many persons reacted to the F3AF like they did when digital first came out and thus you would not believe how many people laughed at you when you used it. Perhaps, I reacted to that. I loved my F3AF/MD-4 combo plus you could easily removed the head, pop in a focusing screen to become an F3 of your choice and it sure taught me how to focus better and quickly too. I also loved the 200 F3.5 ED-IF AF, as it was way cheaper than the 200 F2 ED-IF (lol) and I loved the focus range limiter and M/F switches built into the body. When I shot with the 50-300 F4.5 ED-IF, I also used it on an F3AF, as focus confirmation was quicker to me than manual focusing when things got fast or hectic.
              Have good one!

  • Me

    It’d be interesting to know if the relative price has increased or decreased

    • Banned

      Apparently, even taking the inflation rate into account (about 100%, meaning you must multiply the 1986 prices by 2 to get 2011 prices), it’s hard to tell because lenses are so different now than at the time. For example they had a 80-200 f/2.8 that was more than $2,000 in 1986 $ so that’s double that in 2011 $… much more than the 70-200 f/2.8 VRII now. And I’m sure the new model is much better in terms of performance. For fixed focal lenses I see the 600 f/4.0 was $4,100 in 86 $ and now it’s $11,000 in 2011 $. So a slight increase but not that much. And again you get VR and better performance, etc… For bodies you can see the F-3T is about the same as what the D300 now costs. Supposedly F-3T was their flagship model so comparable to D3? Not so sure really…

      • Global

        Not to mention the wild-card factor of Exchange Rates!

      • Jabs

        The flagship model then was the F3AF and the next down was the F3TC (Chrome) or F3TB (Black), then the F3HP (High Eye-point). Stuff is much more expensive now, but not by much.
        The 80-200 F2.8 was a 95mm filter behemoth that was later replaced with the 72mm filter threaded 80-200 F2.8 ED zoom that was cheaper, so refer to that. A well equipped F3 cost about what a D300s costs today as you needed the MD4 motor drive, MN2 Ni-cads and charger, MF-6 or MF-18 back, MN-1 (not sure of name) unit that goes below the motor drive to give you a vertical shutter release plus varied shutter release speeds like we take for granted on cameras nowadays. The problem today is the time to obsolescence and that has driven cost of ownership figures into the stratosphere as then cameras lasted a decade and now, maybe four to five years maximum (due to ever increasing technical changes and betters sensors plus features) like how the D3s obsoleted the D3 in a few short years.

        • Phil

          [Stuff is much more expensive now, but not by much.]

          So which is it? LOL!

          • suprchunk


            I was getting ready to ask the same.

            Holy cow!

          • Jabs

            Sorry, but it was an unfinished thought – lol.
            I meant that cameras were more basic than now, so they were cheaper initially BUT when you added up the required accessories which are now built in to many cameras, then you get a better perspective of the prices then and can now better compare them price-wise, as people often forget that fact.

    • Jabs

      Short answer:
      Bodies have quadrupled in prices while lenses have tripled on newer gear. Older lenses from that time have maybe doubled at least.
      When you figure in bodies, you have to remember to factor in the motor drive, the Ni-cad battery pack and charger too, all which came separate.
      To figure it out:
      F3T, F3HP or F3AF
      MD-4, MN-2 Ni-cads (x 2) and the charger
      M6-6B back or MF-18 Back
      MN-1 motor drive accessory for vertical shooting and various shutter speeds, like CH (continuous high), CL (continuous low) and silent or slower set speeds.
      The F3 series along with an MD-4 was the D3s of its’ day
      The F3HP by itself would be like a D700 today minus the motor drive.
      The FA would be the equivalent of a D300s today

  • Mike

    $400 for a 35 1.4 *sigh*. πŸ™‚

  • AT

    Double the price and you get today’s price. Between 1986 and today, the total inflation has been 104%.

  • vinman

    58/1.2 NOCT = $699.69
    Good. Lord. I’ll take five, please.

    • vinman

      Heck, while I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and send Apple and Bill Gates a capital investment (notarized and sent via my attorney just to be on record!)…

      • Global

        Somethings are more valuable than lenses, eh. =P

  • nice brings back memories i use to sell camera equipment in the late 70’s and early 80’s

    • Vandyu

      Back in the ’70s and ’80s we could walk into a bricks and mortar camera store and feast our eyes on entire walls of cameras and lenses. It was an adventure to go shopping, handle the equipment, and talk to the store owner.

  • yrsued

    I actually remember these days!! I also remember getting an F3HP for $420 and an MD-4 for $189.

    • iamlucky13

      And just think…they’re going for $200 on Ebay now! Get one while the prices are low!

      I’m slightly amused that some of those items are selling used today for what they originally sold back then, which is a nice thing about lenses. While digital bodies take a dive in value after just a couple years, good lenses seem to lose value not much faster than inflation.

      • maddog

        Has to do with usefullness I think. There’s a new SLR\DSLR coming out every year or two, but good glass is timeless. I bought the 800 f5.6 back about 92 or 93 and I still use it πŸ™‚

        • Phil

          That’s how I feel about my 135mm F2. Even though it’s a non-ai (which is why I’ve been waiting for the D5100), I see they’ve appreciated more than even the 180mm f2.8, which used to cost more!

    • Apoooo

      Gotta love that sound it makes with the drive! Can someone make an mp3 of that… I miss the sound… it would make a great ring tone! hahahaha!

  • Oh, excellent! It’s been on my list to scout out old issues and scan various ad pages, and here you post some of the ones I’m most interested in for me! Thanks so much.

    Now, please go back another 10years πŸ™‚ .

    • yrsued

      I have every issue of American Photographer (Now American Photo) since issue #1 in 1978…. BTW, Prices were higher in 1978…

      • If you send me some scans from 1978, I will post them online. Thanks.

  • kaze kaze

    keke those days… I remember seeing the gold FA outfit complete with the 50 1.4 lens “behind safety glass” and the pack of “hungry wolves” circling around it and all drooling… oh less not foregot the F3-T too

    if I’m not mistaken that’s a T90 from the C-camp on the cover (which is the rage back in the good-old days)?

  • Mac Rockwell

    Love that stone age……….. nowadays…too much digital and quick product refresh with small life…. Would like to go back in stone age where no Facebook, No Twitter……. And…..

    • iamlucky13

      …no Nikon Rumors!

      Well…the past wasn’t perfect, but at least the camera gear was all built rock solid.

    • Vandyu

      I hear you. Somewhere between internet accessibility and the total domination of your life by social networks lies a nice comfort zone of convenience. Technology has gotten out of control in terms of responsibility for individual privacy. I have no desire to toss my wallet and credit cards of favor of having a smartphone run my life. Nor do I want Joe Q. Public being able to tap into my entire history. But, actually, with everyone having a 2 megapixel camera in his hand, it’s probably too late for privacy. You really need to think about what you do and how you behave in public. A rant at the WalMart cashier can wind up on YouTube before you’re out the door.

  • cool stuff! if inflation was only 100%, then some of these AIS lenses have really held their value… don’t think that can be said about the AF lenses we have now.. thanks admin!

  • In 1966 a Nikon F with a 50mm f/1.4 and behind the lens metering sold for around $450. By comparison, a VW Beetle was about $1800, a carton of cigarettes $2, and gasoline 20 to 30 cents a gallon.

    • Sahaja

      gee – given the price of cigarettes today, they would have been a good investment – if there was a way to keep them fresh for 45 years.

  • Christiaan Phleger

    Yeah. I remember this era, and I had this issue. 85mm f/1.4 for less than 500. NOCT for 835.00. 300mm f/2 for 5,399.00, not much more than the 400 f/2.8. Its also the little things, AR-1 for 15.00! HK-7 for 19.95! (You priced one of these lately?)

  • amator

    We can still get a glimpse of the old prices in Broadway Photo and similar ads.

  • Louis Smith

    Man..Look at them Prices..Id have all the Gear in the World back then…Sheesh!!..

  • Just one example:

    180mm f/2.8 AIS was US$475 in 1986
    would be US$932 in 2010 dollars
    in good shape you could sell that lens today for about US$550, so you would have lost 41%

    B&H sells the AUTOFOCUS 180mm f/2.8 for US$899

    • iamlucky13

      Well…not exactly “lost” 41%. You’d also have 2-1/2 decades of dependable use. Not many products last that long: My mom recently passed along her 25 year old Kitchen Aid to me still working fine, the Commodore 64 I dug out of a relative’s closet after college still works, and I think my brother is still using the Coleman camp stove we cooked pancakes on outdoors for as long as I can remember, but these are exceptions, not the norm.

      I can’t proclaim much confidence on my part that newer gear will hold up as well as the old stuff, but on the other hand, I can’t really complain much about the image quality and cost of modern zooms either.

      • Pdf Ninja

        I can guarantee you the Commodore 64 wouldn’t work today if you had been using it all day every day. The 180/2.8 would.

        • zoetmb

          I was doing software development in the early days of microcomputing from about 1980 to 1986 and we used to break several Commodore 64’s a week. They were relatively inexpensive, so they weren’t worth fixing. I remember we used to pile up the broken ones against the wall. We had tons of broken C64s.

        • iamlucky13

          Interesting. I’ve only ever seen them broken by being at least slightly abused (meaning I disassembled a Vic-20 when I was 12 to see what it looked like inside, and it didn’t work when I put it back together). There’s almost no moving parts to wear out except the keys…

          I can tell you for sure though, my mom’s Kitchen Aid mixer has seen it’s fair share of use. Beware though, the current entry-level model has plastic gears. If you bake a lot, spend the extra $100 on the pro line.

      • Mac Rockwell

        Agree with you… Lens during this time wouldn b idle…. |0|

    • Well, actually you would have made $75 on an accounting basis, but I get your drift.

      • Under US tax law, had you expensed it you would have made far more. But had you just stuck that money in the bank 25 years ago and drew average returns on it, you’d be better off. That’s one of the reasons why I keep harping on making sure that you’re not just buying equipment to buy equipment, but actually buying something that’s useful to you in some meaningful way photographically.

      • Jabs

        @Ron Scubadiver.
        Yeah – I was thinking the same thing. You got to use a piece of equipment for 20+ years for FREE and they even paid you $75 additional when you sold it.

        Overthinking, perhaps!

  • Wow… That brings back memories.

    I especially laughed at seeing the FG-20. I had an after school job in a camera store back then. We used to refer to the FG as f ing garbage and the FG-20 as f ing garbage $20 less!! I don’t really talk that way now, but the memory of being a kid doing it is still with me. What a hoot.

    Now seeing that FE2 and F3 there almost bring a tear to my sentimental eyes. I still have them both and they sit patiently waiting for me to buy some slide film and give them one more work out…. Unlikely, but you never know.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


  • broxibear

    Talking about nostalgia, have you seen this on the Nikon site it’s called “This Day”

    • this is cool, I thought it will be a Nikon related flashback πŸ™‚

  • Bundgee

    Fun post! Great way to kill time while we’re waiting for the future. I have always been intrigued by the older 200-400 f/4. The price dropped dramatically then went through roof in the used market before the new version was released.

  • Nathan

    I remember reading that very issue. We need to remember that though the prices look cheap, they were in fact expensive. In the movie Kramer vs Kramer a big deal was made by the fact a guy made $35,000 a year. That was supposed to be a lot of money. So it’s all relative.

    However, that said, digital IS more expensive than for film cameras no matter how we look at it. The main part though is we don’t need to pay for film or processing.

  • distanted

    I quit school to go work for a TV station around then. The station operated on a shoe-string budget. When it was time to do some promos of the news anchors, they handed me a big ole tank of a camera with a big F on the top and a 135mm f2.8 on the front. If only they’d given it to the other guy, I might be driving a nicer car right now and my kids would have a college savings account.

  • Bill

    Wow, Purchasing Nikon for 31 years since HS in 1980 FE2, MD12, 20mm, 28.85, I know I had a flash but cant figure it out 1981-1986, in 1987 SB22, and 1988 SB24.

  • CajunCC

    There’s some rare stuff in that last list. 300/2, 13/5.6, 2000/11, etc. Nice.

  • Ben Schlockwell

    Funny, I remember making $4.50 an hour back then part time, so window shopping for new cameras/lens was all I could do. BTW, just had a look on flea bay cause I want to buy a 55mm f2.8 micro nikkor, they sell them more now then when they were new. Give or take a few bucks.
    Or maybe its just flea bay.

    Some years later I bought or should say financed my F4s and still have it, rock solid tank, works like a charm, still pristine, will never part with it. Nikon rules!

  • John Skelson

    In the early 1980s I bought new F3 HP bodies (2) for $379.00 from B&H…Lenses were also much cheaper then . Still have them, not used very much though…they were my workhorses.

  • I’m all over that 13mm f/5.6 for $5999.

    • Jeremy

      I am so standing in line behind you.

  • Mike

    Bought my F3 a little before that time for just under $500 and sold it on consignment at local photography store and after their cut I received around $550. Not a bad deal. Have very little film stuff left these days.

  • I cannot believe how much more expensive the pro cameras are today; more technology involved…I guess!!

    • Absolutely. Film cameras were basically a box to keep light out until you needed it. Sure there was TTL and autofocus… but that’s actually fairly simple stuff.

  • i called for prices but no answer

    • Alex

      If you get hold of them, tell them if they don’t honor that price on the 50mm 1.4, you will take them to court!

    • Jabs

      They are Hassidic Jews, so Passover break.

  • must be on holiday

  • Jabs

    Hey Administrator,
    You got the prices just after Nikon raised its prices and people complained. Scan a Modern Photography from say 1984 and 1985 and see the difference.
    Thanks for sharing the good old days of modular Nikon’s and a wider selection of focusing screens and more importantly removable heads on the F3 series.
    WISH the upcoming D4 has removable heads and more focusing screens too, but the past is the past no matter how glorious it WAS!
    Great article.

    • Jabs, I don’t have another old (older) issue of Modern Photography, if anyone has one, send me some scans and I will post them online.

  • Sick

    What’s the conclusion of the big test?
    Especially with two AF systems compared to the MF field.

    • Jabs

      Nikon won in the 35mm category (as usual).
      F3HP with MD-4 and then I believe was the FA with MD-15.
      Forgot who won in the MF category, but believe Hasselblad in its’ category and Mamiya RZ series in its’ and Mamiya 645 in its’.
      The best Canon then was I believe the F1n and Minolta had a Maxxum AF camera system that Sony later on bought and the rest is history.
      In rangefinders, it probably was a win for Leica.

  • …I JUST now noticed the Noct 58mm f/1.2 for $599……… *cries*

  • Greg Ferris

    Yeah, but do any of these cameras shoot video?

  • broxibear

    Photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed in Misurata, Libya today, two other photographers Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown were badly injured in the same incident.

    • Vandyu

      Quite a few correspondents and photographers have been killed. I think it’s total craziness when I see these guys and gals standing in a war zone, without helmets, surrounded by rebels shooting rifles in the air. There is a point at which you have to use common sense and tell the assignment editor, “heck, no, it’s not worth dying for.”

  • I worked in a camera store in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Back then, according to the Consumer Price Index, cameras were actually cheaper than when the CPI was started in the 60’s! In other words, camera prices were going down at the time…

  • My newest camera is on that cover page! (Bronica ETRSi)

  • The invisible man

    For few camera prices it says “Call”, they already had phones in 1986 ?

    • Jabs

      @The invisible man.
      Yeah – they were invisible (the phones).
      Here’s your pink princess phone – LOL!

  • Charlie Martin

    I remember getting my FM2n and MD 12 new in 96 for around 700.00

  • Phil

    I remember in ’78 I bought my first new body, an F2SB, although I don’t remember for how much. It was my tax return check. Before that I had only a used an F FTN body. I still have both bodies. The F2 jammed once on me in the 90s, which I was surprised about, but I was able to get it fixed at Professional Camera Repair Service in midtown Manhattan, a famous repair shop that was in their waning years at that point. Probably one of the last F2 jobs they ever did. The FTN body, which I bought used around ’76, has never failed me!

    Both light meters crapped out at some point in time. In the mid-2000s, I desperately looked around to find a place that still worked on them. Professional Camera was gone, and everywhere else I went said there were no parts around left to fix them. I then found a place on 4th ave. and 13th street in Manhattan called Photo Tech that miraculously fixed both prism meters. If you have old gear you want to repair, this is the place to go:

    Although I’ve been shooting digitally with a Fuji S9000 since ’06, I still use the old Nikons. I have some fashion shoots coming up where I’ll be using both Nikons and the Fuji together. I can then make full-frame use of my 55mm f3.5 Micro, 85 f2, 105 f2.5, and my 135 f2. As long as I still have film to put in the cameras, and they work for me, I don’t think I’ll ever stop using them.

  • ep.braun

    300 f/2 for ~$5000

  • Aure

    You got to translate the prices into something that has real value, like silver or gold. Then you’ll see the difference is small. Dollar is just a paper and figures in the computer of the federal reserve, that’s why it’s going down the toilet – they’ve printed too much for this small planet.

  • Smudger

    25 years. Ye Gods. Seems like yesterday.

    What is very obvious from these old ads is how much more extensive the Nikon sytem was back then both in terms of lenses and accessories. A choice of primes in most focal lengths even @ 400 & 600mm. Real exotica 180-600m or 1200mm anyone? Loads of close up stuff, now there’s hardly anything, no bellows, no cu lenses…….. Strange when photography is more far more poular and digital cameras are far more capable of using stuff like a 1200/11 than we were back then with 25-100ASA film

    • Jabs

      Yeah, contraction of accessories and expansion of costs. You had more heads as in removable F, F2, F3 heads plus more focusing screens and body accessories too. Some accessories became redundant when the newer bodies included such functionality, but you are right. Maybe, the D4 will return us to more accessories as in removable heads and even sensors!

  • Prasong M

    Yeah I’ll take 2 of everything please.

  • Torben

    I have a catalog from 1985: (Danish retail prices).
    Nikon FG20 4000 DKK
    Nikon FG 4800 DKK
    Nikon FM2 5800 DKK
    Nikon FE2 6000DKK
    Nikon FA 8500 DKK
    NIkon F3 9000 DKK
    Nikon F3T 12.000 DKK W/o Optics
    Nikon F3 AF 18.000 DKK W/o Optics

    Currency converter 1000 DKK = 196USD (the dollar is record low right now).

    SO!, what is the rest of the world crying about, you should be ashamed! he he, photo equipment at that time were only for rich people here in Denmark!.

  • hah

    the selection seems much better than today. blame stupid DX for making nikon crank dozens of 18-xxx DX models while ignoring FX primes for years.

  • peter

    Got my F3 body in 1978-79. No High Eye Point at that time. One of the first in my area to be available at about $900.00 body only. Still have it and this is going to get me out to take a roll or three. Trouble is, now that I am so used to digital and my uber memory card, an 36 exposure roll does not last very long. Still costs and arm and a leg to get processed though. Dig this, I take it to the local pharmacy chain with 1 hour processing because I want to see if any images are on my test roll. I say, ” can you tell the machine to push the roll 1 stop.” I get the look I get when I am in a foreign country. [dull eyed look] “huh, what’s that mean.” I tell they guy, “I don’t want you to process my film, who else can do it?” The next guy gives the same response and still manages to print the roll completely backwards even though I don’t get the special processing I want. I pay for the CD and the picture wallet and don’t get that either. Pathetic…

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