Apr 9, 2017

Advice for a beginning photographer in an art class?

I'm in an art class that requires me to learn a wide range of skills, and my teacher wants me to get into photography. And I want to learn photography, so it works out– except I don't know where to start. I bought a Nikon N60 for next to nothing at a flea market, but I need to get a lens for it. Do you have any suggestions for lenses or resources about beginning SLR photography?

You already have advantages with the N60 that I didn't have when I took high school photography class way back in 1982. We used bare-basic Pentax SLRs that did not have auto-anything. Manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter speed. It can be a good thing as it forces you to think more about what you do, but I also found it difficult to try to remember every lesson about metering the exposure, and often wished for better guidance for a starting point when I was shooting.
If you can afford it, have a service tech in a camera shop give the camera a once-over and clean-oil the mechanical parts. I once bought a vintage 1970's Minolta XD-11 from a sheriff's auction and did just that for my own reassurance. Did not regret that, even though all was working except for the self-timer clockworks (left that alone).
So you have a Nikon F-mount and really most full-frame F-mount lenses in history can be used with this body (I believe, some of the early AI type lenses have limitations). Give strong consideration for a Nikon 50mm prime, likely the f1.8 version for under $100 on the used market. Can get new-in-box for $131 or so on Amazon. 50mm lens is a "normal" focal length and roughly gives a field of view equal to what your eyes see. This is many people's starting point in photography. Many great photographers in history made their mark with that focal length. The f1.8 aperture of the lens will allow you to work inside and out without a flash assist in daytime. You can also open up effectively to blur background when you are trying to isolate a subject in the foreground. Often done for portraits.
When the time comes for a 2nd lens, look for a good zoom lens that can cover about 24mm to 28mm on the wide end and at least 75mm or longer on the telephoto end. You will notice that affordable lenses of that type have a minimum f-stop around 4.5 or more. It is a trade-off, but the extra versatility of the zoom usually makes up for that.
Drawbacks for your N60 as I read them on Wikipedia is the lack of a depth-of-field preview, and lack of remote shutter release. Those are serious omissions on a film camera. It really takes away the option of using a tripod to steady the camera for long-exposures. Nobody (pros included) can push the shutter release on the camera body light enough to not cause shake. Without the depth-of-field preview, you will basically be stuck doing math to figure out if your subject is fully in the focal plane if you are trying to blur the background. Even those basic Pentax SLRs I used in high school had the DOF preview button so you can see in the viewfinder how the image will focus on the film.
Above all, have fun as you learn. I actually got poor grades in my class, but I never really lost my interest. It was many years later as an adult that I could finally afford better equipment and improve my craft. I think you have a better starting point.
Thank you for the advice!