When I bought my D700, it was missing the rubber grip for the right thumb. Some weeks later one of my D200s died, and I stripped it for parts. The thumb grips aren’t the same, so I trimmed it with a scissors and glued it on, and it worked fine.
Ten days ago, though, it came unglued, so I decided to glue it back, only more aggressively than before. I put a fair amount of Gorilla Glue on the spot, pressed the rubber grip into place, and put a book on it to hold it down while it dried. Apparently, the pressure from the weight of the book caused the glue to ooze out at a couple of spots.
I laughed hard when I saw the result. Of course, I can just cut off the extra glue with a razor or sharp knife, but I’m halfway tempted to leave it on and tell people it’s some kind of an accessory, like the glue spots are pressure points or massage balls or something.
“If I take one more picture of a leaf, I’m going to explode” ~R. E. in 2015, about a creative rut he experienced.
Lately I’ve been social media friending a lot of photographers at bigger newspapers on the coasts. Their work is amazing and inspirational, but seems to flow from a different source: regattas, refugees, politics, enormous sports events, current affairs; they live in states that have counties bigger than Oklahoma, so it’s a different worldview just based on what we see every day. I look at their lives with some incredulity: how can you deal with millions of people, their noise, their traffic, their smell. I live in a town that has fewer people in it than the staff at the New York Times.
I caught a recent YouTube video from a channel called DigitalRev (“Rev” being “revolution” I guess) about photographic cliche’s to avoid. In it, he mentions just about every kind of photo. I’ve touched on this idea before, and it is this: in a world of literally billions of images being made every day, stop trying to reinvent the wheel and start trying to express yourself. It’s a subtle concept, but one worth merit.
Looking at the work of other photographers will make you chase your tail. It’s all been done to death. Don’t believe me? Do a web search for “Hong Kong at Night.” I’ll wait.
See? What can you add to that? Next, do a web search for “YOUR NAME in pictures.” Now, what can you add to that?
Finally, I know I’ve said this time and again, but it bears a lot of weight: you can’t buy mastery, you have to earn it. Trust me on this: when I take my pistol down to the pond and my first ten shots miss, there’s nothing wrong with my pistol.
My wife Abby owns a 1986 Toyota MR-2 mid-engine roadster. She is its only owner. It’s not her main vehicle, and she doesn’t drive it very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than her current vehicle, a Nissan Frontier pickup.
But it does do one thing better: it’s fun to drive.
I tell you this because all winter I used my “SUV” cameras, matching Nikon D300S digital cameras, for everything, and when things started to get sunny and green, I decided to give them a break for a few days and shoot with the much older Nikon D2H cameras I have locked up in my office. I don’t use them very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than the new cameras.
But like Abby’s roadster, the D2H does something very well: it’s fun to shoot. It features perfect, lightning-fast autofocus and an effortless eight frames per second frame rate. Nobody needs the speed and handling of a sports car, but it’s fun. The D2H is also one of the best-built cameras and feels great in-hand.
It’s also fun to make really powerful photos with outdated cameras because it shows the “upgraders” that it really is the photographer, not the camera, making pictures.
I know at least one gearhead out there is going to want to chime in with, “but it’s only a 4.1-megapixel camera, Richard. What if you want to print big?”
I always hear this talk from people who never actually make big prints.
You need to come to my office and look at my big prints… 24×36 inch… and tell me which ones were made with the D2H. You won’t be able to.
So what doesn’t the D2H do well? It doesn’t do well at ISO 3200 and above. It doesn’t have a big, luxurious viewfinder, and it doesn’t have a big, bright monitor on the back. Otherwise, though, this camera does pretty well for 15-year-old technology.
In the month since the end of the basketball season, the D2H has been my main camera for baseball and softball, sunny sky sports, giving the D300Ss a nice rest period, and allowing me to make great pictures and have great fun doing it.
For the entire first half of my career, I shot film, and though digital was fairly primitive when it came along, I embraced it, and have exactly no desire to go back to film. Fuji apparently agrees with me, though for a very different reason: profitability. It’s clear that companies can’t make money selling 20 rolls of film to 20 moody millennials who think film is “edgy” or “hip,” so the film game is over.
If I had my way (and/or a Kickstarter plan), I might be inclined to find a way to integrate digital photography into the millions of wonderful old film cameras we all own and relish, but I have no urge to shoot film with them. It’s pretty apparent that no one else does, either, because no one ever asks me to teach them anything about the darkroom or film, and I almost never see anyone shooting film in the field.
The Shrinking World of Film...
I came across my next door neighbors last night, and they had an old film camera with a broken-off rewind knob, so they couldn’t remove the film to have it processed. We picked at it with a pocket knife to no avail, and I went on with my chores. Even if they get the film out and take it to Wal Mart or Walgreens (the last places in town that say they can process film), those businesses no longer have actual C41 processors, and will need to send the film to Dallas or Los Angeles or Hong Kong to be processed. Like them, I am curious to see what’s on the film, but have no reason or desire to shoot any more film.
But hey, if you think there is money to be made in making and selling black-and-white film, get some investors and make Fuji an offer for their Acros brand, or start your own. What’s that? Only a fool would try to make a living selling film in 2018? Ah.
Welcome to another in my series of older cameras that were once great but have been relegated to the dustbin of photographic history. Here is the Sony Cybershot DCS-F828.
Introduced in 2003 and shipped in early 2004, this replacement for Sony’s DCS F717 all-in-one fixed-lens digital camera was very expensive when it was introduced, and plagued with problems. At the time, my bridge/travel/all-in-one camera was the excellent Minolta DiMage 7i, which was still going strong, so I passed on the Sony.
This class of cameras is known as bridge cameras, crossover cameras, or even walk-around cameras, and feature a permanently-attached, very-long-zoom-range lens. They are a favorite of mine and of my wife Abby because they are so easy to integrate into activities like travel, hiking, and family reunions.
I got my hands on the Sony F828 years after its heyday, for about a tenth of its original retail price.
Positives for this camera:
Mechanical zoom lens that allows tactile access focal length.
Distinct 7-bladed aperture that creates 14-point sunstars.
Well-balanced with a good in-hand feel.
Many of the important controls use buttons or switches on the camera/lens body rather than hidden in a menu.
It’s a great-looking, sexy camera that never looks like a toy.
Negatives about the F-828…
The zoom lens’s images are very prone to purple fringing. Apologists for this camera had to whitewash this flaw with phrases like “under certain circumstances” but the truth is that my Minolta DiMage 7i never once did this.
Shooting RAW files locks the camera for ten seconds, ensuring a missed follow-up frame, even in continuous shooting mode.
The JPEGs out of this camera have an odd purple undertone even with white balance set correctly. I expect this is a combination of purple fringing from the lens and Sony’s weird four-color “HAD CCD” with its RGBE layout, the E being “emerald,” but really meaning something akin to cyan.
The hinge between the camera part of the body and the heavier lens part of the body gets loose, and soon either requires partial disassembly to repair, or putting up with the lens flopping into a straight-down position when holding the camera by the grip.
There is a tiny switch to change between the electronic viewfinder and the LCD on the back of the camera. Every other bridge camera I’ve owned has an eye detector and switches this automatically, including the Minolta DiMage 7i that came out two years before the Sony.
The Auto/Manual Focus switch moves too easily, sometimes resulting in the lens not autofocusing, with little indication in the viewfinder.
Although it will take both a CF card and Sony’s proprietary memory stick, the video frame rate is cut in half when shooting to the CF card, which I assume is to bully the buyer into purchasing the always-overpriced memory stick.
The menu system is a mess; some critical functions are accessed by pushing the “Menu” button, while others require setting the exposure mode dial to “Set Up.” Then within those dialogs are another mess. While this was common to cameras in the early transition from film to digital (and the migration of menus from film cameras to digital camera), I guess I expected more from a $1500 camera.
A couple of years ago I half-decided to dedicate this relic to infrared photography, but a couple of weeks ago it killed a CF card, so now I only trust it as a conversation piece. I also don’t care much for Sony as a corporate entity – almost every Sony electronic I ever owned, tape decks, DVD/Blu-Ray players, and amps all died untimely deaths.
I know, I know. Sony is at the head of the line in camera development at the moment, but I still don’t trust them. If they sent me a sample of their new mirrorless to shoot, I would, but it will take a lot of trust-rebuilding to ever make me a Sony customer again.
And the F-828? If you find one at a garage sale, offer $25 and have fun, but don’t count on this machine as an image maker.
A long-time-ago photography student, Royce Gideon, invited me to judge a photography show at Artists of the Arbuckles Art Gallery in Sulphur, Oklahoma. I had no idea what to expect since photography is consistently inconsistent, but I had high hopes.
I drove down Thursday morning and had a look, and found myself in the midst of a some fairly amazing work. (I won’t show their work up close or say who won, since they are not my images. If you want to see them, go to Sulphur. It’s a nice little town.)
The judging process was pretty straightforward, as the staff made notes and placed the ribbons on the pieces for me. I discussed the merits of each winner and they took that down as well.
Kodak Alaris, the film and paper division of the bankrupt Great Yellow Father, Kodak, announced recently the reintroduction of Kodak P3200 35mm film. I consider this an odd move – and probably a mistake – because this film, first introduced in the 1980s, was a solution to the problem that existing films weren’t adequate for very low light situations.
In 1985, I was working for the Associated Press and, by November, a newspaper, and with the inherent need to cover sports in very low light – football, basketball, volleyball – found myself trying to figure out all the schemes my fellow news shooters and I were using to get existing films to act with more sensitivity to low light. We shot Kodak’s Tri-X, a great film in the 1960s and 1970s, but long in the tooth by the 1980s. We used all sorts of tricks and schemes to get more sensitivity out of Tri-X, from snake oil products like Crone-C developer additive, to relatively obscure chemistry like Accu-Fine and Diafine, to time and temperature experiments with possibly my favorite black-and-white developer, HC-110. None of it got Tri-X above about ISO 2000.
Technology needed to step in, and Kodak needed to bring it.
Enter Kodak T-Max P3200, a very high speed film that could be “push processed” into the ISO stratosphere, which I did all the time. I used Kodak’s T-Max developer and regularly exposed this film at ISO 6400. It was a game-changer. For more than a decade, I relied on this film for imaging, especially sports, in all manner of low-light, almost-no-light venues.
Then in 2001, my newspaper bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D1H. From almost exactly that day, my use of P3200 stopped. Color film lingered a while longer, but by the end of 2004, I was done with film.
My wife Abby likes to tell me that her photography was reinvented by digital, and she could finally express herself without the hassle of film – processing, printing, archiving, and especially paying for film and prints.
I, too, was very happy when I could leave film behind and shoot my low-light stuff digitally. Digital solved every problem with film: toxic silver-based chemicals, grainy images, time-consuming printing and/or scanning, and, possibly most significantly, a very limited number of frames.
Sure, a good print or scan from a P3200 negative is good, but the same shot with a modern DSLR is amazing by comparison.
Also, think about what almost always happens to a film frame in the latter day: it gets scanned to make it digital, and from there makes its way to a print, a publication, or a web site. It does not get printed onto photographic paper using an enlarger, which, in the end, is the only true path to analog photography. Adding film to a digital workflow is like recording your phonograph albums to 8-track tape then ripping those tapes to MP3.
I can almost get interested in a super-low-ISO, super-fine-grained film for fine art, but on the grainy end? Did we not just spend a trillion dollars to get rid of grain and noise?
Also, if you thought dust on your digital sensor was a problem in the early 2000s, you are in for an unpleasant surprise: the cleanest negatives from the cleanest darkrooms have a ton of dust on them, and every speck shows up when you scan.
So what might Kodak be hoping with this move? To light a fire under a previously unknown revenue stream? To be the next big retro thing? To pander to the 1% of millennials who both regard film as edgy and retro and are actually willing to use it? Kodak certainly showed us how to navigate a corporate juggernaut right into the ground, and this idea seems like more of that same thinking.
In the months and years following my first year at a full-time newspaper internship, I had a pretty clear idea about what kind of photographer I wanted to be. I wanted to be in the trenches, shooting football games in the rain, house fires in the middle of the night, perp walks on the courthouse steps, and the crowd going wild when the three-pointer hits at the buzzer.
To do all these things, I needed tough cameras with big, fast lenses. I started with a Nikon FM in 1982, and slowly added to my system. On the occasions when I had a little extra money, I often hit the pawn shops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where E-1 soldiers tended to blow all their pay on payday, then pawn what they bought two weeks later when they needed to make rent.
At several points in my camera shopping I came across nice Nikkormat cameras. Nikkormat was Nikon’s 1960s and 70s effort to manufacture less-expensive Nikons for amateurs, mostly by limiting their features. By the late 1970s, Nikon and Nikkormat had largely merged, and most Nikkormats had a fair amount of features.
All the cameras made by Nikon during that era were built like tanks: steel frames, brass mounting rings, real glass pentaprisms, engraved and painted markings. It was a golden ago of camera-making for most camera makers, including Nikon.
At one time or another I owned…
Nikkormat FT, the original 1965-design without auto aperture indexing. I eventually sold it after discovering a significant focus calibration error.
Nikomat (brand name sold only in Japan) EL chrome top. I often carried this as my second-camera, usually with a wide angle lens on it, when I would be in the field all day, like at the annual Fourth of July festivities. It died, and I gave it to someone (I don’t remember who.)
Nikkormat EL. For years this camera had a place in my bag, and it remained healthy into the digital era. It has an auto-winder, which is slow and bulky, and is difficult to hold due to a lack of handgrip. In 2002, I handed it to Jamie for our hiking trip to Utah. She had a great time using it, and ended up keeping it in her collection on permanent loan. I borrowed it this week to photograph, but I consider it hers.
The Nikkormats were Nikon’s last effort to create something that was both well-crafted and affordable. Starting in 1981, Nikon introduced the Nikon EM, their first SLR that was mostly plastic, and in keeping with an overall trend in camera manufacturing, never made anything like the Nikkormats again.
Five years ago, one of my best friends, Jamie, received an unusual gift, a Pentax Auto 110 SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film camera, and brought it to me to size it up.
To say that this camera is “rare” is a double-edged sword: from my perspective, this camera is rare enough that Jamie’s is the only one I have ever seen. However, with Buy It Now prices on eBay hovering between $40 and $150, it’s obvious that quite a few were manufactured. My guess about this combination is that many cameras were sold and few were actually used to make pictures.
Photographers who remember the 1970s recall that the 110 film cartridge was one of Kodak’s efforts to reinvent film. Supposedly responding to a perception that roll film was difficult to load and manage, Kodak brought out the 110 cartridge in 1972.
Almost all of the cameras made for 110 were slim point-and-shoot cameras with fixed focus and exposure, relying on negative film’s latitude for exposure control. Many of them used flash cubes, which would fill a room with blinding light.
110 film frames are officially half the size of 35mm frames, so with the state of film in the 1970s, it was difficult to get decently detailed images with such a small film area, which is why 110 remained an amateur format.
The Pentax was an effort to cash in on the ubiquity of the 110 format, but came along just as the format was dying. The Pentax was nicely made and nicely accessorized. I got this list of lenses for the Auto 110 from Camera-wiki.org…
Pentax Auto 110 lenses
Pentax-110 18mm F2.8 Wide-angle lens, 6 elements in 6 groups, filter Ø30.5mm
Pentax-110 24mm F2.8 Standard lens of 6 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø25.5mm
Pentax-110 50mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 5 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø37.5mm
Pentax-110 70mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 6 elements in5 groups, filter Ø49mm
Pentax-110 20mm—40 mm F2.8 Zoom lens of 8 separate elements, filter Ø49mm
The camera is so miniature that it feels like a toy in my longish hands. The viewfinder is large and clear, with a split-image focus aid in the center. The lens mounts in the same direction as most SLRs (lefty loosey righty tighty), and focuses in the same direction as my Nikon lenses. Focus is smooth, but the focus throw is a little long. Exposure is set entirely by the camera (Program mode), with ISO being set by the film cassette. That’s a shame, since the driving force of a great camera is allowing the photographer to run the show. The Auto 110 has no manual exposure mode, and doesn’t even have exposure compensation.
I know we owe a lot to Pentax, particularly for the K1000 and its role in teaching a generation of broke college students how to run an all-manual film camera, but the Auto 110, despite its innovation, came at the wrong time in history and with the wrong feature set. Still, it’s neat for Jamie to have it in her collection.
For many years of the later film era, Japanese camera maker Olympus specialized in building very compact 35mm film cameras. Hardware like the original OM-1, for example, was thought to be the smallest you could practically manufacture an SLR camera.
Also from this company were the point-and-shoot class of cameras, which, without the need of a pentaprism for the viewfinder, could be made smaller still. One such camera I coveted was the excellent Olympus XA.
I had one for years, and in spite of my fanciful imaginations about the kinds of pictures I would make with it, I actually shot very few images with the XA.
The XA uses a two-window rangefinder focus system, creating the faint yellow image in the center of the finder: double-image is out of focus, and making the images come together is in focus.
Exposure is controlled using aperture priority, meaning you pick the aperture, and the camera selects the shutter speed based on how much light it sensed and the film’s ISO rating.
In hand, the XA is not particularly easy to use. The focus lever, just below the lens, is tiny and hard to reach with the camera to the eye. The aperture selector is out of sight unless you point the camera toward you. The ISO dial requires a fingernail to operate.
The clamshell design is a good form factor. When it is closed, the camera is smooth and well-protected from pocket stuff like keys.
All this is put together to achieve true pocketability . The XA is so small, in fact, it had a wrist lanyard instead of a strap. It’s likely the XA is the smallest you can make a camera that will hold a roll of 35mm film.
I like to imagine that if I had a digital conversion kit, I would use this camera, but the truth is that I have an Olympus point and shoot that I almost never use. So the XA remains an amusing but unutilized item in my collection.
Photography is a much more complex visual puzzle than its pervasiveness implies. Sure, everyone is a photographer, but not everyone is an artist. I might give the ratio of artists to everyone else as about 99:1. For every 100 people taking pictures, 99 of them are making pictures of their grandkids or the sunset or the deer in the pasture or the soccer match, while one of them has a real eye for the subtleties of imaging: composition, exposure, lighting, emotion, intimacy, storytelling, etc.
This isn’t a criticism of you and your pictures. The devil is in the details, and most people who want to take pictures are at the start of the journey toward art. If anything, this is a call to action. Look at images. Look at art. Look at the work of the masters. We all started in the same place. Maybe it’s time to put your camera down for a minute and look at the light, look at the human faces, feel the emotion of the moment. Time to grow?
One of the more specious ideas about art, and thus photography, is that you can use tricks and rules to push your photography into an artistic state. One of the most common examples of this is the Rule of Thirds.
The conventional wisdom about the Rule of Thirds is that images are stronger if you divide your image area nine even squares, then try to place significant compositional elements within those squares. To me, the Rule of Thirds isn’t just bad advice, it is a restriction on creativity and self-expression that tells us to make images according to someone else’s vision of who we are. It isn’t a good route to the end goal of photography: storytelling.
Consider a technique that I regard as far more valid than the Rule of Thirds: leading lines.
I use leading lines all the time, since I need to tell a story to an impatient readership, and want to keep them “engaged,” as we say in marketing. I love the way we employ wide angle lenses for this, creating compositions that direct the viewer to the middle of the frame.
None of this matters if you cling to the idea that a piece of equipment will do this for you.
Instead of debating 18mm vs 35mm or large format vs APS-C, consider getting into better shape, being healthier, and once you are there, consider giving up your fear and prejudice and make a point to go the places you want to photograph.
I have been adding more photographers to my social media list lately, hopefully to inspire my work, but also in an effort to distance myself from the young white girl latte scene. One of those photographers posted a link on Petapixel about long-time photojournalist David Burnett’s recent switch from Digital Single Lens Reflex (DLSR) to mirrorless.
First of all, despite its apparent surge in popularity, when most people hear this news, they ask, “What’s mirrorless?” In simplest terms, mirrorless cameras are interchangeable lens digital cameras that use their sensors as viewfinders, reading data instantly and showing it to us on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder, eliminating the need for a mirror to redirect light into an optical viewfinder. No mirror = mirrorless.
Name that Product!
I find this choice of name to describe an entire class of photographic tool to be flawed: it’s named after what is isn’t. It’s like saying my car is dieseless, which it is, but that doesn’t describe anything about the car. I can rattle off a couple of better names (for example Direct-to-Sensor (DTS), but my impression is the name, like it or not, is here to stay.
In some important ways, these cameras are a fusion of the DLSR with the bridge/crossover/point-and-shot cameras we’ve had for years, which use the electronic viewfinder, but with a fixed lens. Smartphones use the same viewfinding scheme.
The reason we have so many DSLRs instead of mirrorless is that electronic viewfinder technology has, until the last few years, lacked instantaneous feedback. There was a lag between the scene and the viewfinder; even a small lag can result in a completely missed photo. With a consumer point-and-shoot, lag wasn’t an issue because those kinds of cameras weren’t tasked with shooting action of any kind, so a little lag matched the photography.
Electronic viewfinder technology has caught up, and these viewfinders are virtually instantaneous.
A lot of web authors assert that mirrorless is taking over, but so far, I don’t see it in the field or in the classroom. Of the dozens or hundreds of photographers I know, only a few like Tina Davis and Doug Hoke seem to be shooting mirrorless every day. I had good talks with both of them about their mirrorless experience and both seem to love everything about them.
A surprise bonus of mirrorless is that because the distance from the lens to the sensor is much shorter, it allows many more lenses to be used with an adaptor. Beautiful optical glass that went idle at the end of the film era can have new life breathed into it on these cameras.
When I first wrote about mirrorless in 2011, those cameras of that era typically had micro 4/3 sensors, which were roughly half the size of a 35mm film frame, and in that infancy had some growing pains. Today, however, we are seeing surprisingly fast, capable mirrorless cameras with 36x24mm sensors, or in the case of Fuji and Hasselblad, 44x33mm sensors. Coupled with better viewfinder technology and faster hardware in the cameras, I am ready to retract at least some of what I said seven years ago about mirrorless, and proclaim that its era is, or is about to be, at hand.
Fellow photographer Robert and I were musing on the phone yesterday about the demise of “digital film,” a product that tried to gain traction in the late 1990s when the future of photography was still hazy. The idea of digital film was to manufacture a cassette that could be inserted into existing film camera so they could make digital photos.
For my birthday one year, my wife Abby bought nearly a dozen antique cameras and hid them around the house for me to find like Easter eggs.
It turned out that one company, Silicon Film, got as far as a prototype before camera makers managed to get the price of purpose-built digital cameras into the affordable range.
Why would anyone have gone this route instead of just buying a Nikon D1? Well, we all had tons of great 35mm film equipment sitting around, for which we paid a lot, and which was still working fine. What if, instead of shelving all those Nikon F100s and F5s and Canon ESO-1s, and shelling out $5000 for a D1 or 1D, we could insert a cassette with a digital sensor in place of a film cassette?
It turned out the idea was mostly vaporware, and while most people believe this was due to technical hurdles, I believe it was at least as much the fault of marketing and profitability obstacles: why sell accessories at small margins when we could be selling new cameras at huge markups?
Today we see more attempts at the concept like PSEUDO, I’m Back and Frankencamera (though RE-35 was a branding experiment and April Fool’s joke) and I wish them luck.
A Call to Action?
One concern that remains difficult to solve even after all this time is how to trigger the sensor so it knows when to record. My idea, which I haven’t seen iterated on the web, is a tiny infrared beam striking the shutter blade that switches on the sensor when the shutter begins to move.
Finally, with excellent, affordable digital cameras in abundance all around us, why would even be of interest in 2018? Answer: for the same reason lomography has it’s niche, to allow us to expand artistically. There are millions of idle film cameras sitting on shelves from our own home here in Oklahoma to the towering apartments of Hong Kong that could be put to use in some worthwhile endeavor.
As an artist, I find this idea very compelling. As Robert and I talked, one question he asked was, “So are we talking about shooting with old glass?” Yes, I think so. Old lenses, though often not as sharp (since they were designed and built by hand in a bygone era) can create images with a unique and engaging character. Oklahoman photographer Doug Hoke does this all the time when he shoots 40-year-old lenses on his mirrorless cameras. Filters in smartphone applications like Instagram mimic the look of film and old lenses.
I love this idea, and not just for 35mm. My wife and I have more than a dozen old cameras sitting around of various formats, including a beautiful, working 100-year-old Kodak No. 2A Folding Cartridge Premo 116 format conventional film camera making a 4.5 x 2.5 inch image, and a couple of Polaroids that make 4 x 5 inch images. If there were a way to make digital pictures with any or all of these machines, I would happily do so, and in doing, hopefully open up another artistic avenue for my work.
For Christmas when I was 13, I wanted a camera. My parents, with the caution of those who don’t know where their children’s lives will go, bought me an affordable Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder camera. With it in my hands I started to learn and yearn about photography. It featured a fixed 45mm f/1.7 lens that was well-made and very sharp. Of course, I wanted one thing this excellent camera couldn’t give me: interchangeable lenses.
So, with some cash sent to me from my grandmother for my 15th birthday, I dug into the seedy underside of the back pages of Modern Photography Magazine to Cambridge Camera Exchange, a discount camera seller run in a rathole in New York City. In July 1978, I owned my first single lens reflex camera, a Fujica ST605N. I paid $127.
In 1981, I sold the Fujica to a janitor named Junior, and switched to Nikon.
Flash forward to 2018, and enter the nostalgia of Ebay, where a savvy shopper can get almost anything for almost nothing. I poked around and found a really nice ST605N, and paid for it with my PayPal balance.
In the package was the original green box with the original multi-lingual instruction manual, the camera, the lens, a lens cap, a rubber eye cup, the original leatherette carrying/storage case, and the original black shoulder strap with one of those funny leatherette film canister holders.
When it arrived yesterday and my wife Abby and I unboxed it, she said, “It looks like it’s never been used.”
When review sites and trade magazines talk about “entry level,” this is the camera at the bottom of that rung.
Some of its specifications include…
A horizontally traveling cloth focal plane shutter with speeds of a very peculiar 1/700 of a second to 1/2 second, plus bulb.
Stop-down match-needle metering, meaning that to take a meter reading, you push the stop-down lever, darkening the viewfinder to the selected aperture while you adjusted aperture and shutter speed to make the needle on the right side of the viewfinder move up and down until it was centered.
A selectable ASA (the precursor to ISO, at least in America) with settings from 25 to 3200.
A hot shoe that would fire an electronic flash, and a PC port that would do the same.
The viewfinder includes a green shutter speed pointer and scale on the left side, the match-needle +/- on the right side, and combination split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism collar, surrounded by a lighter ground glass area, surrounded by the regular ground glass. Focus is smooth and bright in the viewfinder.
The standard lens for this camera is the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2. It has a plastic barrel, clicks at full aperture values, and stops down to f/16. It focuses smoothly, like the day I bought the new one in 1978. It focuses and stops down in the same direction as my Nikon lenses.
Whatever It Takes...
Here’s a fun trick from the film era: if your camera didn’t have a multiple exposure lever, you could push and hold the rewind release on the bottom of the camera and crank the advance lever, which would cock the shutter without (hopefully) moving the film.
One of the best things about this camera, that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time I owned it, is how small it is compared to its contemporaries. Nikons, Canons and Minoltas of the era were much larger. This camera is almost as small as the legendarily small Olympus OM series.
In my review of the Fujifilm S200EXR, I said that an unused camera is a fetish object. I didn’t buy the ST605N to take pictures with it, but for the memories, so I guess it is a fetish object. On the other hand, I made quite a few pictures with it when I owned it the first time, some of which I have included in this entry.
Despite buying a cheap 28mm and getting a 75-200mm one Christmas, I kept coming back to the 55mm. The class of lens has been in my idiom ever since.
The Fujica ST605N was a beginner’s camera for when I was a beginner, and I learned a lot of important lessons about my craft from this small marvel of film technology from a very different era.