In the late 1990’s Nikon launched 2 new SLR cameras that they thought would be game changers. These were serious kit and offer incredible back and forward lens compatility and can still use Nikon lenses made today and from the 1970’s . But you’ll never find either of these Pronea models on a top 10 Nikon cameras list
That’s because they shoot APS film.
Advanced Photo Sytem (APS)
Introduced in 1996, APS was a film format created by some of the big camera and film manufacturers. If you want to take a benevolent view – they wanted to give consumers a modern, compact, easy to use film with pop in loading and no messy negatives to deal with. With some cameras the film could switch be swapped out mid roll and store EXIF like data.
Now the cynic in you will see big photo money’s attempt at foisting a new format on an unsuspecting public and forcing labs to buy expensive new gear. Ken Rockwell is truly scathing about this. In the end APS despite efforts like the Pronea never impacted on the prosumer or pro market as the frame is notably smaller than 35mm. However it did alright in the P&S consumer market.
But not well enough to survive the rise of digital. During the first few years of this century, digital compacts went from bulky, lo-res early adopter, expensive cameras to affordable, reliable cameras. APS was doomed and would cease production as a film in 2011. Ironically its name lives on as a digital camera sensor size.
APS in 2020 ?
Worse stocks of film are running out. As I type eBay in the UK just lists 26 items in in APS film category (and one of those isn’t film). All of that film is gonna be expired. And thinking Re-spooling APS canisters ? To my knowledge, it hasn’t been done as there are huge obstacles to this as this APS group flickr thread demonstrates. The good news is most mini labs have the equipment to deal with these films (although not necessarily the know how)
So using any APS camera is on borrowed time.
But at least you can get your shots developed.
Nikon’s APS dabble
Nikon was one of the big backers from the camera manufacturers. They made a host of variable P&S APS cameras under the Nuvis name. But they also went very high end. Along with Canon and Minolta they launched APS SLR cameras.
Enter the Pronea series.
First up in 1996 was the rarer Pronea 6i (aka Pronea 600i). This was the pro/prosumer level version. Funnily enough the pros looked at it and then at their 35mm and went “thanks but no thanks”.
Now you might think the 6i looks like a modern digital SLR. Turns out it would be one. Kodak used it for their DCS 300 series of digital cameras. Amusingly Kodak didn’t even bother taking off the Nikon Pronea 6i branding.
Weirdly this actually means the Pronea 6i has a footnote in camera history. Its digital offspring the DCS 315 was one of the first dSLR with a a LCD screen for image review and to use the jpeg format.
But let’s leave that aside.
But our focus arrived in 1999. This time targeting the amateur end of the market. But this is one of the most revolutionary designs of a SLR I’ve seen.
Pronea S Specifications
At its core we have a F mount Nikon SLR for APS format. Interestingly this was launched the same year as the Nikon F60 (N60) arguably one of the company’s worst cameras. Ken Rockwell describes the lowly F55 as “far superior” to the F60. Turns out the Pronea is as well on paper.
The Pronea S actually offers nearer specs to most mid range full frame cameras of the times. You get a vertical plane electronically controlled shutter capable of speeds between 30 seconds and 1/2000. Metering is phas a 2-21 EV(200 ISO) range in a 6 segment 3D matrix. Both spot and centre weighted metering are options.
AF support for both AF-S and AF-D is built in with AFassist illumination option. AF is by phase contrast TTL and can function between 0-20 EV (200ISO). I’m guessing single point here as there is only one focal point in viewfinder and Nikon don’t specify.
The camera offers Auto, P (program), S (Shutter priority), A( Aperture Priority). 4 dedicated scene modes (portrait, landscape, macro and night) are also available. However there is no custom or manual modes.
The built in TTL flash has a GN 16 (200 ISO, metres with a 24mm lens). It needs to be triggered manually by sliding a switch on the rear although you do get a warning to do so in viewfinder. Sadly there is no hotshoe, so if you want to use a more powerful unit you’ll need to set it up as a slave with the optional slave flash controller. The built in unit has red eye and slow sync options
There is no cable release but an optional remote exists (ML-L1). The viewfinder has diopter adjustment.
Lens support with the Pronea ?
The good news is this can pretty much use any Nikon F mount lens from the AI revision on until the AF-P arrived (usual exceptions like invasive fisheyes apply). Granted you’ll need to shoot any Manual focus AI lenses in S mode without metering but you can still use ’em
I’ll let that sink in
This is a “budget” camera but can use this has better lens support than many more well regarded bodies. Shoot a G lens ? – no worries. DX lens ? – grand. Lock and load my 3rd party AF-S lens ?- fine. Go with my Manual focus glass ? – no meter but no other issues (and you get focus assist). Yes you can use your manual glass here !!
In fact you can also use M42 lenses with a adaptor. You still get that rangefinder which is nice but of course no metering.
And this is on probably the least rated Nikon body ever. Granted VR support isn’t there but neither is it on most Film bodies. As usual there are a small number of lens it doesn’t work with. Mostly these are the usual suspects (medical & PC-Nikkors etc). There is a list in the manual ( on Mike Butkus’s site). Also be aware some AF zooms may have limitations at the wide end. Thankfully MIR has a list of some but I suspect that may not be up to date. Now I was I was able to use my sigma 18-300mm at the wide end with what appeared to be the same focus range as my D7000. But I suspect some other wide zooms may aso have limitations.
Oh and then there’s the IX lenses sold for the Pronea models…..
Now for the Proneas the IX lenses aren’t a problem. The IX lenses are specifically designed for the cropped frame size. Most proneas on auctions come with one and the others are cheap as chips. That’s not because they are intrinsically bad, They just don’t work really with any other bodies.
Nikon designed the rear element to protrude much more than even DX lenses do. So even if you can mount em which is unlikely due to the rear plastic ring you run a big risk of damaging your internals like the mirror even on a cropped APS-C sensor DX dSLR.
Only 6 IX lenses were ever made all are zooms. The pronea S sold with the silver Thailand made 30-60m 1:4-5.6 kit lens. There are two 60-180mm zooms. One is a black bodied expensive Japanese 11 elements 1:4-5.6. A cheaper silver 10 elements 1:4.5-5.6 made in Thailand replaced it. There’s a black 24-70mm 1:3.5-5.6 (Thailand made) and two 20-60mm 1:3.5-5.6 (silver made in Thailand and black made in Japan). All seem to be AF-D and G class.
Their rear elements require a longer cap than a standard Nikon one. replacements are no longer made. You can find 3d printed solution but much neater is to get a Tarmron adaptall 2 Nikon cap which is also deeper and much easier to source (my thanks to Make Time Move for that nugget and some of the lens data here)
But maybe a glimmer of hope for the Brave ?
Luigi Gallerani noticed that the 30-60mm didn’t protrude that much and could be converted for use on his DX dSLR but that hack doesn’t work on the others. They have some interest in digital land with adaptors for smaller format CSC notably micro 4/3. However that does seem to be adaptor dependant (my F mount G class to micro 4/3 adaptors would not accommodate them). Be wary the lens doesn’t protude back and cause damage – it would be impossible to safely use them with on a Canon EOS even though the adaptor fits
Build and layout
A pretty revolutionary curvy design hides a otherwise conventional innards (bar APS and flash). As you’d expect – tichy but oddly not that much smaller than the Pentax MZ-5. Not surprisingly, it is a plastic body that seems only to come in Silver (the 6i does either that or an off black shade). And of course cost cutting is seen. So the lens mount is plastic not metal and you get a Penta-mirror .
On the top plate you have the shutter button surrounded by an on/off toggle switch. To the right you have a command dial to move between settings. Mines is glitchy so doesn’t always scroll through smoothly.
Round the back
The rear has a a mode dial beside a small LCD panel. Flipping down the panel beneath the small LCD reveals a set of options that you can use in conjunction with the top plate selector dial. This allows you to switch metering modes, use the timer options, EV compensation.
This also allows you to have the date/time imprinted on your image.
Less useful is the weird caption system. The pronea S lets you add a caption like “Birthday” or “Mother’s Day”. These are in 13 languages (including American and British English (the default)). Thankfully that can be turned off and even if your lab still uses it, gets printed on the back of any prints.
Power is by 2xCR2 lithium batteries. An accessory batterypack (MB-11) exists which allows you to use 4xAA
Weirdly this felt like my G2 but with a better viewfinder. You get an optical viewfinder is small but serviceable and bright. It has a simple clear matt (type IV) AF focus screen but with an illuminated LED readout on the right This shows shutter, aperture, focus peak, if EV compensated (but not setting) and if flash is needed/ready.
Loading is easy- turn a catch to release film compartment and slide film into holder. And the camera does the rest, auto-setting the ISO. Sadly there is no manual override to adjust for the well expired film you load but at least you can use the EV compensation.
In term of focus locking, the camera locked quickly with a range of lenses from the IX-lenses throught to my Sigma DX AF-S. On film test I used just the IX lenses and my Yongnuo YN 50mm 1:1.8 AF-S. Interestingly the Yongnuo at times was slower to lock on focus. But that’s been my experience on other cameras.
The focus assist works with manual focus Nikkor lens. You’ll need to use the camera in S mode and there is no metering
The camera is small enough to wield one handed depening on the lens attached. The centre of gravity is not great doing this however.
Reliability & Cost
Hmm. Nikon tends to have a reputation for reliability. Yes I’ve seen dead bodies but the dents and the battery corrosion tend to explain what happened. My Pronea had only slight wear and booted up fine. But…
At he end of the first roll the shutter locked and the battery lindicator showed dead. Fine I though and swapped them for new one. But irrespective of that and what lens I tested with I got the same issue intermittently. Usually when the shutter speed was high (not always).
Peggy Marsh (of cameragocamera.com) whom has seen a few APS cameras tells me she’s had a few of these but none have worked. So buyer beware.
My pronea landed for £14 with kit lens and a return option. Usually they sell between £10-5 with lens but only as smart sellers put them on with either a starting price of £10+ or buy it now. Now If you’re lucky you chance across one with a 99p starting price. You may be the only bidder.
This is quite hard to call. I’m using film that expired 10-20 years ago. You can see that on the Konica XV200 roll which shows noticable colour shifts, But Broadly the metering seems okay. And only the shots where the camera locked being notably underexposed.
Focus accuracy was good.
And the lenses ?
Now usually Optical quality is not usually a point of my SLR review. But I’ll deviate here for once to discuss the IX lenses on test. Firstly it’s worth noting I had no way of testing the 3 IX lenses I used off this camera which adds a lot of variables. So I’m not going into a lot of optical stuff.
Howeve they gave a good account of themselves. For a relatively meaningless comparison I also used the Yonguo YN50mm 1.8N . This is the cheapest new AF-S lens you can buy for Nikon F mount and whilst it didn’t match the 2 older 50mm Nikon Primes I tested it wasn’t far behind
Unsurprisingly it did out perform the kit 30-60mm IX-Nikkor. But the 2 other lens – the 11 element 60-180mm and the 24-70mm were just as good if not occasionally better. The 60-180mm was probably the best but this was a single roll a lens on test.
Unless you are either a Nikon Collector or like experimenting don’t buy this camera. Not unless you’re happy to spend the next 10 years or scrambling for crappy expired small frame film. After that runs out you’ll have an odd paperwight to explain to your kids.
And that’s if the bloody thing works.
However it is quite competent when it works and has an incredible lens support. If APS was available this would certainly give high end 35mm compacts a run for their money with much better flexibility.
For alternatives, its rival the Canon IX 7 (aka IX Lite) is a better camera and with no lens nonsense. The same cannot be said about Minolta’s Vectis-S SLR which use a mount completely incompatible with their 35mm cameras. Talk about going all in.
But honestly for the same money you’ll spend on these you can buy as cheap if not cheaper 35mm bodies like the MZ-5 or the Nikon F75 or Canon 3000V. The latter 2 were made a decade after the APS boom and will still have available film in a decade even if Kodak and Fujifilm implode tomorrow,
But….. (and I’m going very A Team ish here). If you’re a Nikon shooter, who wants to dabble in APS, can’t get a working 6i and can later dispose of the IX lenses. Then maybe just maybe, this might be for you.
Manual as mentioned is on Mike Butkus’ site. In addition Nikon still maintain a product page but MIR has more technical info including lenses with limitations. Ken Rockwell does a good review (basically he hates APS but sees the postives beyond this).Randomphoto review the Pronea 6i .
Motion film website Make Time Move has an exhaustive guide to the lenses and mentioned has the cunning solution of using Adaptall lens caps. they mention some adaptors for digitals and how to use the lenses for motion picture effects