Giving Thanks

Nikon FA, Nikkor AF 105/2.8 D Micro, Fuji Velvia 100

Because the sunset at Cayucos was just so-so, I only shot half of the roll of Velvia 100.  I wanted to finish it off so I took a number of macro shots of a flower bouquet later that week.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating.  I hope you find yourselves surrounded by family, friends, and good food!

A couple things on my mind or just in my inbox…

Eddie Soloway’s November newsletter talks about the great time he had recently shooting in Kyoto.  He also is planning to add some 2012 workshops to his list over the weekend.

Polaroid has launched a combo digital & instant camera, integrating their ZINK printer into a classic-styled camera.  It looks fascinating, but sadly does not support old-school manipulations.

The British Journal of Photography has an iPad app for quarterly interactive publications, the first of which is free.  Sadly I did not make their top ten list of photo blogs…maybe next year!  (ahem)

If you really are looking for a good way to use lots of 35mm film, check out Lomography’s new hand-crank Lomokino movie camera.  They have some interesting video clips online already.

Cayucos Pier

Nikon FA, Nikkor Ai 200/4, Fuji Velvia 100

This is a shot I took while we were on our summer vacation in Cayucos.

This was the first time in a long time I had the opportunity to plant my camera down on a tripod. We are a very active family these days and pretty much everything I shoot is handheld, so this was a nice break.

The sunset was not spectacular, but there were some nice purple tones just after it fell below the horizon.

Velvia 100 is slightly less saturated than Velvia 50, but the colors still pop off the slide and screen with this shot.  I adjusted black/white levels a bit with curves in Photoshop, but otherwise this scan was as true to the slide as possible.

I had a great time shooting this sunset with my father-in-law.  I don’t recall seeing what he got here, will have to ask him…

We are already thinking of making a reservation in Cayucos for a similar stay next summer.

Canon: 1 – Me: 0

Nikon FA, Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5, deep red filter, Ilford HP5 Plus via dr5 process

Q: What is more difficult than trying to get a stand of flamingos to pose for a photograph?

A: Loading film into an early rangefinder.

I tried loading some film into my Canon IV-S last night.  I used to think loading my Nikomat FTN was tough, but I have been humbled by this recent experience.

If you recall I tried repairing some holes in the Canon’s cloth shutter a month back.  I still need to take some pictures with it and see if I sealed the light leaks or not.

This camera has a very old-school design with a solid back and removable base plate.  In order to load the film you actually have to pull it slightly out of the 35mm cartridge, slip it under a clip on the camera’s removable take-up spool, and then slot both of them with film strung in between into the upside-down body.

(Don’t forget to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time too!)

The real trick is that it has to have some slack to pass over the sprocket mechanism, but then once it is in place you tighten it up over the sprockets to make for a solid film advance.  I thought I was doing this right after reading some tips, but multiple attempts later I still could not get the film advance knob to actually move the film.

Ugh… I mauled the start of a nice fresh roll of Ilford B&W film in the process.  I think for my next attempt I will work with an old roll of some junk film so that I can play around without fear.

Black And White Reversal

Nikon FA, Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5, deep red filter, Ilford HP5 Plus via dr5 process

Wow, I am seriously impressed with dr5 lab!  I sent them a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus traditional black and white film to be processed into slides and love the results.

Normally black and white film is processed into negatives which can then be printed using traditional photo paper or scanned and turned into a positive image by your computer.  But the dr5 proprietary development process turns the black and white film into a positive image slide just like true (color) reversal film.

They claim that this is superior when your intention is to scan the film and post-process it digitally, and so far I can’t argue against them.  The scan results from their slides are far cleaner (fewer scratches/blemishes) than I am used to and seem to have excellent detail, contrast and dynamic range compared to working with a strip of negative film.

And I have to say the slides also look gorgeous in real life on my light box.  It makes me want to pull the projector and screen out for a good old fashioned slide show.

Maybe I will do just that next time my in-laws visit.  I will see if I can get my mother-in-law to fall asleep during the show just like the good old times…

This Here Giraffe

Canon S90

Which of these is false?:

  1. Flamingos can stand an hour straight on a single leg
  2. Apes have tails and Monkeys do not
  3. Sun bears like to eat corn cobs

If you had spent the day at the Oakland Zoo like we did then perhaps you would know!  My Dear Sweet Wife spent the afternoon teaching quilting at A Verb for Keeping Warm, during which time the boys and I visited the African savannah, rain forest and other exotic locations without ever leaving the bay area.

I used this opportunity to put a second roll of film through my Nikon FA.  Now that I have worked with the FA a bit more I am beginning to appreciate its strengths and understand its weaknesses.

Its Program-automatic and Shutter-priority modes worked very well.  In Shutter-priority it was smart enough to override my chosen shutter speed (usually the slowest I could stand for hand holding shots) down when the available light wasn’t sufficient, indicating so in the finder display (so I knew to brace my camera against a railing to avoid blur).

However, its meter display in fully Manual exposure mode (when choosing aperture and shutter speed myself) left a lot to be desired.  It merely displays “+” or “-” signs and gives no relative indication of how far off you are from the correct exposure like many other cameras do.

The biggest usability snag I encountered was that in Program-automatic and Shutter-Priority modes you need to leave the lens’ aperture ring at the smallest setting such as f/32.  But when switching between Aperture-priority and the other modes I would often forget to move it back leading to an exposure error message in the viewfinder.

I may have more to say after I get the film back from the lab.  I plan to test the .dr5 lab service to product B&W positive slides from this roll.

And by-the-way, I mixed up the primates above.  If you see a tail, you know you have a monkey on your hands!

Nikon FA

Nikon D300, Micro Nikkor AF-D 105mm F.2.8

My interest in photography began with my Father.  I can recall back when I was a kid making frequent visits to Ace Camera in Burbank, CA in order to develop film shot by my Dad in his Canon AE-1.  He is still into photography, although he focuses more on collecting cameras than shooting.

His first constructive criticism of this blog went something like “For a blog about classic photography, you sure don’t have many pictures of classic cameras.”  Well, let me try to rectify that with this post!

You can see above that the 1983 Nikon FA has a “modern classic” look.  It isn’t quite as vintage looking as a my chrome FTN, but also is a far cry from the curved lines and textured surfaces of my F100 or current DSLRs.  It was available in either black or chrome finishes; I personally think that the black finish is more suiting for the era as it fits well with the predominantly black 1981 Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AI-S manual lens I have attached to it.

The FA was the first Nikon body to leverage the new AI-S focal length indicator ridge on the rear of the lens mount.  Previous generation AI lenses gave the camera no indication what their focal length was.  The interesting part is that AI-S Nikkors were first introduced in 1981, two years before the FA was released.  Nikon has a history of sneaking in new features in their lenses even before there are cameras on the market that can use them.

The FA is smaller and lighter than both the earlier FTN and the later F100.  It feels positively petite in my hands, although the detachable hand-grip bar is very welcome.  I have no fear of dropping it when held with just my right hand with the bar, although it isn’t quite as rock solid a feel as my F100.
FA-BThe right-side shutter speed dial shows its steps from 1-second to 1/4000 of a second. Bulb and a fully-manual 1/250 of a second options are also available.  The M250 setting is the only one that will operate without any batteries in the camera, so if desperate you can use that in M mode along with setting the aperture manually as well.  Feel free to use the Sunny Sixteen exposure rule if warranted!

You can also see the one of the other firsts delivered in the FA here: A full set of Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Program-automatic exposure modes.  They are all available with virtually any Nikkor lens, from an AI-converted F-era lense through modern AF lenses.  You can even use AF-G lenses (which have no aperture ring) in S and P modes.
FA-CThe left-side film-speed ring has a number of functions hidden in it.  You can see the supported speeds from ISO 12 to 4000 in 1/3-stop increments, and you set it simply by lifting the outer edge of the ring to unlock it.  There is also a 2-stop exposure compensation control also in 1/3-stop increments which is unlocked by the lower-right chrome button.  Clearly they both rotate the same ring achieving the same effect as far as the meter is concerned, but setting them independently allows you to compensate without confusing yourself about what speed film is loaded.

Pushing the black lever on the inside of the ring allows you to lift the film crank and thereby releases the back of the camera to load or unload film.
FA-DThe back of the camera shows a couple of my favorite features.  They aren’t critical, but are very nice touches.

The first is the eyepiece shutter.  When shooting photos on tripod or otherwise holding the camera away from your eye, light from behind the camera can enter into the eypiece and affect the metering or even exposure.  I would often shade my F100’s eyepiece when exposing on tripod as I didn’t bother with its slip-on cover.  But the FA has a lever-activated shutter built right into the eyepiece, which is colored red so you can’t mistake when it is in place.

And the “note holder” is a classic touch that lets others know you are shooting film, here with my current preferred B&W film box-end firmly in place.
FA-EFinally, we get to the CF-31 case made specifically for the FA.  This was designed to hold an FA along with the common accompaniment of the time, the Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-S zoom lens.  While I love the FA, I fear that the cases Nikon made during this time are not my favorites.  Earlier hard leather cases are classy, durable, and form-fitting.  This “semi-soft” case feels way too soft to me, uses thin, wrap-around arms to hang off the strap, and looks like a humpback whale to boot.  Later cases for N80, F100, and current cameras seem at least to have sturdier construction and some kind of screw-in attachment to the baseplate.  Oh well, I have seen some vintage aftermarket cases for this era of Nikons, perhaps I can find one for my FA some day…

All-in-all I really like the look, feel, and so far function of the FA.  I need to put some more film through it before I give a functional report, but I am very glad that it is now part of my collection!


Give Dad A Nikon!



Nikon D300, Micro Nikkor AF-D 105mm F.2.8

I’m not sure how many of you received an e-mail with the above title about ten days ago, but I sure did.  Clearly Nikon USA’s marketing folks were targeting those undecided with respect to what gift to give to the Fathers in their life for Father’s Day.

Maybe my wife is also on their mailing list, she is quite the Nikon fan herself.  But somehow she got the idea that I might not mind a new Nikon body.  She didn’t buy me a Coolpix L120 like their ad suggested, but rather a Nikon FA!

As I hinted at before, the Nikon 1983 FA is in several ways a revolutionary camera, if not an odd bird.  It is:

  • The last big developmental step in Nikon’s manual focus bodies (other bodies released since were low-end like the FM10/EM10 or arguably a refinment of classic designs such as the FM3A)
  • The first matrix meter from any camera maker, initially called Automatic Multi-Pattern (AMP) using 5 segments
  • The first Nikon to offer all four main exposure modes (MASP), and the only one to do so with manual lenses (the F4, F100, F6 and other later bodes don’t offer S or P with manual lenses)

I managed to shoot a quick roll of some ancient Sensia 200 film through it just before our trip this past weekend and it seems to be working just fine.  Exposures appear spot on, even when shooting in Program mode on my AI’ed Nikkor 35mm f/2 O.C.  I have barely had time to play with it though, and will recount some experiences and lessons learned later.