The Nikon RD2 is a film camera to have if you want everything automated. It came at a time where auto-everything was being sold to consumers. Even if they did not know they wanted or needed it. The less buttons the better!
I got this camera from a tiny little town for a few dollars and thought it might be a nice compact to take where I was not worried about the camera. In the end I used it fairly consistently for a few family events and even took it on a trip to New Zealand as it was quite handy.
There is something to be said about removing all options and stripping back to simplicity. Pick up the camera, frame and press the shutter release. It does limit you with some creativity but forces you to be creative in another way.
I flit in and out of being in the mood for using compact cameras. Somewhere along the way through these phases I have accumulated quite a few compacts. Some have been reviewed here on this site. This includes the Nikon Lite.Touch 140 Zoom, the Canon Sure Shot 70 Zoom, the amazing Nikon L35AF, the wonderful Olympus XA3, and the massively fun and waterproof Canon Sure Shot A1.
After picking the RD2 up for next to nothing and finding it convenient and easy to use, let’s find out how I got on with it and how it performed. First though, let’s find out a bit more about it.
Nikon, like most camera manufacturers, got into the compact craze in the 1980s through the 1990s and early 2000s. That is until mobile phones pretty much wiped the compact market out for both film and digital. During all these periods different segments of the compact market emerged.
A lot of us hear about the high end models. Ones now costing more than what they were when new. There is another market though which Nikon and the others like Canon, Olympus, Pentax and Minolta all targeted. This is the cheap, easy and continued Kodak’s tradition to make photography available to the masses.
Nikon originally started in earnest within the compact market with the Nikon L35AF in 1983. This also was the start of the One.Touch series. This was a massive success and Nikon quickly started on the path of branching out new models. The L35AF and subsequent models were considered premium. So in 1986 Nikon introduced the TW series, which were less successful.
They quickly revised the TW into the TW2, but it gave Nikon a really good lesson on what consumers actually wanted in the lower end of the market. That was something they can use quickly, light and very uncomplicated.
Thus in 1987 the Nikon RF was released. It also had an optional model as the RD, which included a data back. This was loosely based on the L35AF-3, the third iteration of the L35AF compact. Differences included a less solid plastic construction and a slower 35mm f/3.5 lens.
With the compact market moving so fast, in 1988 the Nikon RF2 and this camera, the RD2 were released with incremental changes. It was also named the One.Touch 100 in some markets.
The Nikon RD2 is a plastic 35mm compact camera with a fixed 35mm lens released in 1988. It is the data back model of the RF2. It features a quartz date function. Most functions are automatic, including the film speed (DX code), focus, aperture, speed, metering, flash, film winding and rewinding.
The lens has a widest aperture of f/3.5 and is constructed 4 elements in 3 groups. It has a powered autofocus which can focus from 65cm (2.1 feet) to infinity. Focus is very centralised as can be seen by the focus marks in the viewfinder, in the centre of the frame. The only control given is that the focus can be locked for 30 seconds by pressing the Focus Memory button. The lens can be covered with a slider which also acts as an on/off switch for the camera.
Apart from the lens slider and focus memory button, the front only has the sensors for metering and focusing, and the flash. The flash is automatic without an option to turn it off. It has an ISO of 100 (GN 9).
The top of the camera is also sparse with the shutter release button on the right and an analogue frame counter near it. The counter is reset automatically when film is loaded. There is also a timer button, but apart from the normal 10 second delay it has a special feature not seen on many other cameras (if any). If you hold the timer button down for 3 seconds, it will take a second timed shot 5 seconds after the first.
The back of the camera features the viewfinder and a little window to remind you what film you have in the camera. Since this is the data back model, it has some functionality to print the date/time on your shots. The dates available are from year 87 though to 19. A mode button allows you to select the format you want printed. Another two buttons allow adjustment of the details.
Under the camera is the tripod collar, film rewind button which requires something sharp or the nib on the strap that comes with the camera and the battery compartment. The camera takes two AA batteries. A further battery is required, a CR2, for the data back which is inserted behind the film plane. It can function without a battery in this compartment.
Loading the camera with film is easy, insert the cartridge and pull it across to the red mark. The camera will load itself when the back is closed.
The overall camera is moulded for comfort with a textured grip for the right hand.
About a year ago I was on a trip away from normal life. Every so often my lovely wife will suggest I take a few days and take a bit of a road trip. This may be by extending a business trip over a weekend or jump in the car and head somewhere. In this case it was the latter where I stopped in a small town on the way to the Australian countryside.
This town literally had one street, a few shops and overlooked a huge plant with water tanks which had been painted by an artist. One of the shops was a charity thrift shop. I dropped into that shop and had a look around. As usual, I asked the friendly older lady who was working there if there were any old cameras available for sale.
She pulled out this Nikon RD2 for $5. I’d never seen one, and it looked like one of the “focus free” plastic lens cameras, so I was going to pass it up. But before I could say “no thanks” this wonderful lady offered to grab a couple of AA batteries to try it out. After it fired up, how could I possibly not buy it? She even threw in the batteries.
I didn’t use the camera for a little while. Then about 6 months ago I picked it up again and thought, why not? Initially I loaded up with some Kodak Ultramax 400. I took it as a camera to be thrown into my bag, even to work, family events and dog walks.
Considering I usually use a variety of cameras, both old and new, it was actually quite liberating. It was very easy to bring it to my eye and snap! I found the camera was very easy to hold and the grip worked very well.
The flash being totally out of my control was a little annoying. There was a few occasions where I believe I could have held it steady enough to avoid shake without it. But alas the camera was determined to shoot with it.
The focus lock was quite handy. I had quite a few occasions where I knew the focus would be incorrect and was able to lock it in. Unfortunately when I got my film processed and scanned I realised that the waitress at a restaurant would not have known to do this. See the photo below, the table is in focus, us not so much.
In terms of the results, the camera actually performed considerably better than I would have expected it. In fact, I am glad the thrift shop lady got me to buy it. The photos it produces won’t win any awards, but they are sharp enough to enjoy. It does not have the beautiful look the sonar lens in the L35AF has, but that is not a fair comparison.
Colours are pleasant and sharpness is quite well even across the frame in what I assume to be the smaller apertures. The wider apertures show significant sharpness fall off, but in a lot of these cases the flash has also fired and it ends up with a very 1990s look.
I next loaded it up with some Ilford FP4 Plus and even took it with me to Auckland on a business trip that I knew I would only get to shoot on the way to work and the evening. Again it was handy in that I could put it in my work bag and it was there when I saw something interesting.
The results in black and white again were quite pleasing. Contrast was a little on the low side, but easily remedied in the post processing stages. Vignetting was noticeable, but not at a point where it would be problematic.
I even tried out the date feature, which I had not noticed I’d set in American format. I only worked out that it would set for the years 87 through to 19 when I picked the camera up early this year in 2020. It was back to 87, and initially I thought the new battery must have been drained. Nikon would not have expected this camera to still be in use 22 years later! I told my sons that they will have to see if they can fire it up again in 2087, as it will then be correct in 67 years from now!
Comfort wise, the camera is a little on the big side for a simple compact. It does not weigh much at all though, and not once did I find it uncomfortable. The moulded grip definitely did its job in this case.
A bit of an impulse buy, for next to nothing, this has turned out to be a handy little camera. For everyday snaps it does the job and does it well. It is fun to have a camera which requires no thought except to check you have the right thing in focus. If you see one in the thrift bin for a few dollars grab it. I have seen them now selling online for around the $50 AUD mark, so definitely worth catching bargain.
There is not much on this camera, or its siblings, online but here are a few interesting places to read about it:
James Croskroft took one on some travels and enjoyed using it in; One Week with the One Touch 100 (RF2)
MIR, which has a comprehensive history of Nikon cameras has a page of the compact evolution at Nikon including the RD2 here.