New King Of The Hill

Nikon D300, AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

My birthday came and went recently (still 30-something, though not for too much longer…) and both my father and my Dear Sweet Wife gave me new cameras.

My dad gave me a Polaroid Automatic 100 pack film camera, which is an earlier but nicer model than the 320 I have been using to date.  This isn’t exactly a “new” camera, but along with it he gave me the matching leather case, flash bulb attachment, portrait kit, and some other accessories all in excellent condition.

Thanks Dad!  I have put a bit of film through it and should have some pictures online soon.

My DSW originally gave me my Nikon F100 nearly a decade ago when she decided I had outgrown my first modern SLR, an N80.  Now she has taken it up a level by introducing our first “true” F into the family by giving me an F6!

This is the ultimate (last and most advanced) 35mm film SLR.  Everyone was surprised when Nikon introduced it back in 2004 as the market had already shifted entirely over to digital.  It is still in their lineup today, but judging from the trouble my DSW went through trying to find a new one it may not be for long.

I wouldn’t have splurged on an F6 for myself, but thank you honey for this gift!  Rest assured I will make good use of it and there is nothing that will ever displace it as my primary serious 35mm camera.

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.

View From The Window

Nikon D300, AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6

On August 19, 1839, the French government announced the invention of photography as a gift “Free to the World”.  That was the year that Louis Daguerre created the Daguerreotype process and competitor William Fox Talbot created the Calotype process.

It seems there is some debate who deserves recognition for creating the first practical photographic process.  But I am personally fascinated more by the first successful permanent photograph View from the Window at Le Gras by Nicéphore Niépce taken 13 years earlier in 1826.

Inspired by the newly-invented art of lithography, Niépce created a light-sensitive varnish made of a petroleum derivative.  He applied it to a polished pewter plate, placed it behind his camera obscura, and pointed it all out the window of his country house.

Eight hours later his exposure was finished, and after washing the plate in order to remove the exposed varnish (and reveal the shiny pewter behind) the photograph was complete.  A fascinating side effect was that opposing buildings are evenly lit due to the sun traveling across the sky during the lengthy exposure.

So happy World Photography Day to you all!  And bonus brownie points for the commenter that can identify the location of the window I captured in the image above.

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…

Spinning Light

Nikon D300, AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, @ f/4.5 and 2.4 second exposure

The lovely model in the above shot is my Dear Sweet Wife who is known to be an avid spinner of a different kind.  Our almost-three-year-old son is pretending to be Darth Vader in the background, waving his glow stick around (amazing entertainment value with young kids) saying things like “I am your father!” while making wheezing noises.

We spent a long weekend in Cayucos, CA as our end-of-summer beach vacation.  You may think that summer is just getting started, but according to our local school district it is almost over seeing as the school year starts next Monday.

The weather was a bit cold and the water even colder, but good time was had by all (us, kids, Grandparents, Aunt & Uncle, and cousins).  We got our kite flying, sand castling, boogie boarding, and seafood eating in spades.

Our culinary discovery of the trip was Taco Temple in nearby Morro Bay.  The home-made chips and salsa almost filled us up before the meal even came, my wife’s single “taco” dish of halibut was enormous as was my chicken-bacon chimichanga, and the chocolate-covered bread pudding was to die for.  (Burp!)

I had my big camera bag and tripod with me with serious intent to do some landscape photography for the first time in a long time.  It felt great just having it all in the trunk, although the weather barely accommodated one sunset outing in which I shot 24 exposures of Velvia 100 with my Nikon FA.

The sun was almost a no-show due to fog, but I managed to get some shots of the distant Morrow Rock as well as the local pier using wake-boarders, birds, or joggers to add some foreground interest.  Now I just need to come up with something creative to finish off the roll…

We Have A Winner

Nikon F100, Nikkor AF-D 50mm f/1.8m, Fuji Velvia 50

Congratulations to the winner of our first joint Sunny Sixteen/Quilt Otaku blog giveway: Zizophora!

You will be sent your prize soon, a copy of Cotton Time issue #82.  Please just send your name and shipping address to Marisa of Quilt Otaku (e-mail: quilt [dot] baby [at] hotmail [dot ] com) and it will be on its way.

By the way the above image is a photo I took a few years back at one of the historic dairy farms located inside Tomales Bay State Park about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This one is not operating any more (although most there are).  You can walk around the grounds and easily practice using selective focus with a wide open aperture as I did here.

Jamestown 2006

Nikon F100, Nikkor 28-105mm AF, Ilford HP5 Plus

I recently developed a roll of film which had been long lost.  Well, not exactly lost but merely relegated to the dusty deep confines of my desk for about 5 years.

Back in 2006 when our first son was not yet a year old we made a day trip to historic Jamestown, California.  We also visited the nearby Railtown which contained some historic rolling stock such as the above locomotive.  I shot a roll of B&W film which seemed appropriate given the western, gold-rush and steam train subject matter.

I distinctly recall having to coax and cajole our baby to drink his warm bottle of milk during lunch time.  Nowadays we have to coax and cajole him into eating his chicken or vegetables.  The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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!

Batching It

Nikon N80, Nikkor AF-D 50mm f/1.8, Fuji Provia 100F

No, I am not talking about having to cope with my dear sweet wife and adorable kids being out of town for any time.  I merely meant that my box of shame has finally forced me to investigate the wonders and mysteries of batch scanning.

I have been a big fan of the Vuescan scanning software for quite some time.  It is a 3rd party application which can be used to control nearly any scanner.  I have used it with at least six different scanners over the last ten years or so with great results.  I love it for its straight forward (if detailed laden) interface, consistent usage model across both film and flatbed scanners, and high end features such as color calibration/profiling, multi-pass scanning, and infrared cleanup of slides.

I am usually a control freak and like to tend to each scan one-by-one, but with 18 rolls waiting for my attention I figured it was time to learn to automate!

I was afraid that I would lose some control if I used batch mode, but actually it is more about saving user time than automating.  I enabled Input>Batch Mode>Auto & Crop>Multi Type and started a preview on a cut strip of film with six images.  Vuescan proceeded to perform independent preview scans of all six images.

The beauty is that before performing final scans, Vuescan allowed me to step through each preview and adjust scanning setting for each independently.  I rotated for vertical if needed, set scanner focus point, adjusted crop (though auto was almost always perfect), and even adjust color settings.  Then when I hit scan it executed all six final scans but with their independent settings in place.  This might not have sped up the overall process, but since I could focus on other tasks (like a blog post) during the preview and scanning phases it felt like I was much more productive.

I wish I had tried this before, as you don’t lose any control at all.  And it also makes me seriously want to process slide film as strips for batch scanning rather than mount them since the days of analog slide shows are pretty much over.

Oh, by the way, one down and seventeen left to go…

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!