I received an unusual gift recently from my friends at People’s Electric Cooperative: a Nikon FG-20 film camera, with three lenses, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, and a Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5.
The camera had been used by PEC during the film era, often by a good friend of mine, Karen Hudson.
This camera was stored in a cool, dry environment, and is in excellent condition. I happened to have the right batteries for it, and all of its functions work perfectly.
It’s very flattering that people in our community think of me in these situations. The person who gave it to me asked if I would like to have it as a teaching tool, which was right on the money.
The FG-20 was introduced in 1984 during the crest of the film era. At the time, it was meant to be a cheap, lightweight alternative to Nikon’s heavier, higher-end cameras, but as photography evolved, cameras in general got cheaper and, especially, more-plasticky as manufacturers discovered they could charge photographers more for less as they accepted plastic into their lives.
Thus, the FG-20 is built to fairly high standards when compared to many of today’s digital cameras targeting the same market.
I don’t have any intention of shooting film, since I don’t have a darkroom any more, but I will be able to bring this camera to my students and talk about the history of photography with a working example of the kind of camera I used in the early years of my career.
Watch this space for reviews of these lenses coming soon!
Here’s an example of spherochromatism, a type of chromatic aberration that is common to large-aperture lenses in the telephoto range, and is more obvious when focusing closely. This aberration is manifested by unwanted color on either side of the focal plane, usually magenta in the region closer to the lens, and green beyond the focus point. It is more obvious in images like this one…
Much of the time, images are colorful enough or complex enough visually to hide this aberration, but this image from yesterday’s pinto bean pot made it glaringly obvious.
Options? I could run the image through Photoshop or Lightroom and try the “Defringe” and/or “Remove Chromatic Aberration” features, but I tired that with this image, and it wasn’t very effective. I could grayscale the image, since color wasn’t a key aspect of this image.
Spherochromatism isn’t a huge problem, but it’s worth knowing about, and this example of it is quite striking.
My readers have long known that I like lenses for more reasons than their use to make photographs. I think lenses are beautiful, interesting objects with an artistic appeal all their own.
I can be forgiven, then, for recently buying a big box of 11 Canon FD lenses, with a few other brands in the FD mount, marked “untested” from an Ebay seller. It cost next to nothing.
Canon’s FD lenses were discontinued in the late 1980s when Canon adopted their new EOS lenses, mainly in pursuit of better, faster autofocus technology. Some Canon shooters were understandably angry about it at the time, but they mostly got over it.
FD lenses were well-made, crafted of steel and brass, which is a level of craftsmanship I often wish would return.
During that era, my photographer friends and I were lens snobs, and thought, not always incorrectly, that Nikon’s Nikkor lenses were the only glass good enough to shoot.
To actually use these lenses, I bought a cheap adaptor that allows then to be mounted on my Fuji mirrorless camera.
As I thought about this large group of lenses, I considered the collective noun nomenclature for large groups of animals; for example, an unkindness of ravens or a sleuth of bears or a rabble of bees. (You can look those up if you don’t believe me.) So what is a large collection of lenses using this naming system? A flare of lenses? A blinding of glass? A shine of focus? It’s fun to ponder.
I recently had the opportunity to make a few photographs with an unusual camera: the Fujifilm X100V.
In a photographic world dominated by digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras and the ever-growing mirrorless camera genre, Fuji has managed to help fill a void left by the disappearance of film and compact cameras.
Fuji refers to this line of cameras as “Premium Compact,” but the X100V is actually larger than my own Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera, and it weighs more.
The photography press is absolutely falling over itself to praise this camera, and I am starting to understand why. Some of the things this camera does really well…
Film simulation modes, including black-and-white filter modes that produce images like we used to get using red, green, or yellow filters with black-and-white film.
Manual everything; you can shoot in full auto mode, or manually control any and all functions, thanks to knobs and dials that remind us of film cameras from years ago. You could use words like “retro” or “vintage,” but honestly, I sometimes miss feeling like a pilot when running a camera.
In stark contrast to the “steam gauge” dials is that you can also control the camera with a touch-screen interface. Touch-screen cameras have been trickling through the hands of my students for some time now, and they tend to make the fun and magic of making pictures into an experience not unlike working with a smartphone.
It is film-camera-like in many ways, and reminds me of my Fuji GS670III medium format camera, a camera I regret selling but would never use if I still had it.
This camera is decidedly less conspicuous than my big DSLRs.
The sensor in this camera has a lot of pixels, 26 million, and it can shoot fast, really fast: 11 frames per second with the mechanical shutter, and 20 frames per second with the electronic shutter. I confess that I might not shoot at full speed if I had one of these, even for sports, since I tend to compose and edit in my head before I push the shutter release, and 20 frames per second can kind of clutter that process.
The hybrid viewfinder is one of the more groundbreaking features of this camera. In addition to the usual monitor on the back of the camera, it has a viewfinder which can be switched from optical, like a rangefinder film camera, or electronic, like we’re used to seeing with mirrorless cameras.
Obviously, the thing that sets this camera apart from the pack is that it sports that fixed 23mm f/2.0 lens, rather than the X-mount interchangeable lenses of their mirrorless cameras.
If you can set aside the internet’s prattle about “crop factor” and see it for what it can do, this lens is a modest wide angle. In my film days, I had a 35mm f/2.0 Nikkor that was on my camera all the time, and Fuji’s 23mm is in this category of lenses.
I only got the chance to shoot a few frames with this camera, but what I got was impressive; smooth handling, great sharpness, and very pleasing bokeh.
That kind of brings us back to the idea of shooting with a camera that is married to one focal length. On paper, this seems like a limitation, but when you get the camera in your hands and start to shoot, it works so well. It encourages working to get the image. It makes you “zoom with your feet,” and the result seems, to me anyway, to be more intimate, more immediate, more genuine.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m blowing smoke at you. It really is a great way to shoot. I’ll be watching for more images from this camera. It is an exciting piece of kit.
We all cherish memories. Many of us have fairly accurate memories, while others struggle to keep dates and people and places organized in their heads.
I believe the very best way to preserve memories is to write down the events of your life. It can be in a journal or scrapbook, as text files on your computer (preferably then printed onto paper), or in some kind of personal web presence, like an online journal or blog, some of which, hopefully, can be marked “private.”
I also happen to think that if you let social media curate your memories, you are either dead inside, or are being played by global corporations. Think about it: social media has no idea what stirs you to tears, but it does know what you buy.
I thought about this as I was enjoying a different kind of memory visit: looking through computer folders of image files from some of those great times my friends and family had over the years.
I photograph and write about all our travels, both in my journal, and here on my web site. One I visited recently was a folder of only-lightly-edited images from the first vacation Abby and I took together in 2003, The High Road. (Click it.)
It was a great time for both of us, both as a couple and photographically.
As I searched these images, I found two instances of images I had passed over at the time, two of hers and two of mine, that both looked like they would be interesting to stitch into panographs.
Abby shot with the Nikon Coolpix 885, a tiny camera I bought two years earlier as a throw-in-a-travel bag camera. When we started dating, she adopted it, and it became hers. I shot with the Minolta Dimage 7i, which I still have to this day.
Both cameras came from the start of the digital photography era, and though they have some significant technological limitations, we made some amazing images, and, most importantly, we made memories.
I possess an increasingly rare skill: being able to focus a manual-focus lens.
In today’s autofocus-saturated world, this skill is particularly hard for younger photographers to appreciate. The truth is that for the first 20 years of my career, I neither had autofocus, nor did I need it. And to this day, I have several extraordinary manual focus lenses that I can manually focus swiftly and precisely. I bring them out once in a while to keep my game and my eye fresh.
I would urge anyone getting into digital SLR or mirrorless photography to learn to manually focus. There are times when you can’t convince a camera’s autofocus system to focus where you want, and there may be times when you use non-autofocus cameras. It’s a valuable skill.
Last summer I bought a Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera specifically to breathe new life into all manner of older manual-focus lenses, and that has been very rewarding.
I recently photographed some tiger swallowtail butterflies harvesting my cherry trees. The lens I had with me was my newest acquisition, the Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 AIs Nikkor of early 1980s vintage. Manual-focus zoom lenses are harder to focus than prime (non-zoom) lenses, since they tend to have smaller maximum apertures (thus, less-bright appearance in the viewfinder), and the focus throw (the amount you need to turn the focus ring) tends to be longer to accommodate different zoom settings.
Honestly, the challenge of focusing like I did in 1988 adds a layer of stress to shooting, but it also feels like the task is awaking and retraining my old skill.
Finally, my young friend Mac borrowed my blooming cherry trees for a photo shoot recently, and she shot digital and film, the film camera being an Olympus of 1980s, pre-autofocus vintage. She expressed a definite liking for the old camera and the technique required to focus it.
My readers know I love lenses for more than just photographic reasons. I think they are beautiful, art unto themselves, and worthy of having just because it’s fun to have them.
The trouble with a philosophy like this is that it can get pretty expensive, so I make a point to wait and wait and wait for bargains, hand-me-downs, and rough-looking but optically workable lenses.
Sometimes I will buy a lens I don’t need or even want all that much if it’s a really great bargain. Lately I am seeing rock bottom prices on 1980s-era Nikon lenses, usually zoom lenses I never saw in the field.
An interesting paradox about these lenses is that my fellow photographers and I regarded these lenses (particularly zoom lenses) as sub-standard back then, but in the nearly 40 years since that era began, there are tons of not very good, plasticky lenses being sold as industry standard.
My most recent purchase was a mostly-unknown lens, the Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 of 1983 vintage. The web seems to think it was made from 1982 to 1984. I paid $30 for it.
I was actually shopping for a 135mm from that period. At one time or another I actually owned three 135s, two f/3.5s and one f/2.8. They were all sharp and a pleasure to use, and I missed the focal length, despite being able to make 135mm with several zoom lenses.
This lens doesn’t doesn’t give me the amazing selective focus capability of a very fast prime lens like my 85mm f/1.4, since its maximum aperture is a modest f/3.5, and isn’t really quite sharp unless I stop it down to f/4.
It is a push-pull zoom, meaning you push the zoom/focus ring forward toward 50mm, and back toward 135mm. You turn the same ring to focus.
There is a macro setting; at 50mm, you can focus to two feet using an orange line on the focus scale. Calling it “macro” is stretch, since all the 50mm primes I own focus to 1.47 feet. Real macro lenses like my 60mm focus much, much closer.
It is well-built of brass and steel, common among lenses of that time, but quite rare today unless you are willing to pay for top-end lenses.
This lens was probably meant to be Nikon’s “real” offering to compete with their more consumer-focused 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E lens.
It is sharp, though it exhibits some of the usual pre-computer-designed aberrations like vignetting and color fringing, but those are easy to dial out while editing.
In early shooting, I found myself mostly starting at 135mm, but liking the fact that I could zoom a bit.
While getting this review together, I found other reviews online that, of course, employed the “brick wall, sturdy tripod, live-view focus” test, which, honestly, reveals nothing. When I review a lens, I shoot with it, in the real world, and I get a useful, real-world result.
In conclusion, this $30 lens is fun to use and makes decent images, and I am very glad I bought it.
The basketball season just ended in our community. It was a great one, though it was full of fits and starts because of the pandemic, and it kept me busy, and shooting really well.
All the sports action I shoot is made under existing light.
When sports scale back a bit, I have more time to concentrated on feature stories and photos, and I am almost always happier with my indoor feature photos if I include some flash.
I recently worked on two such features, one about Bladesmith Logan Morris, the other about Miss Oklahoma Kris Gonzalez. I photographed both of these people indoors under institutional fluorescent light, which is everywhere, from classrooms to businesses to warehouses. It is efficient in lighting these spaces, but can be somewhat unflattering to human faces.
To help with these images, I added some electronic flash. I almost always bounce the light from the flash into a wall, ceiling, or, if I am feeling particularly ambitious, a reflector. Bounce flash allows me to control the angle of the light striking the faces, as well as the color of the light.
Sometimes I add more electronic flash units to the lighting mix with a device called a slave unit, which is able to detect a flash and fire additional flash units simultaneously.
Also of note is the rise of ever-brighter, more efficient, more portable light emitting diodes (LEDs), that may soon replace electronic flash in many situations.
Finally, the Morris story is also one of contrasting worlds: a high schooler brings a knife to a small-town school and everyone is excited and proud of him. But imagine a similar situation at a big-city high school. A knife? Instant lockdown, call SWAT, send texts and social media posts saying to “shelter in place.”
It’s nice to know that small-town sensibility about such matters remains with us.
My wife Abby has been in the hospital for a couple of days. She’s getting better, and we hope she comes home tomorrow, but in the mean time, since I can’t visit her due to the pandemic, I have been fooling around with some Christmas Lights.
One of the core goals of sports photography is to capture the moment of conflict, which, by its very nature, is at the heart of athletic competition.
Presently, we are in the heart of the basketball season; finishing the regular season and moving into playoffs.
Capturing the moment of conflict can be elusive. Often inexperienced photographers will shoot dozens or hundreds of frames in a row trying to capture it, the so-called “spray and pray” method, but that usually results in a mess of inconsistent frames and an editing nightmare afterwards.
A better approach is to learn about the sport you are covering, and learn to anticipate when and where the action will happen. With basketball, there are a lot of places to be, but I have a lot of success watching players drive toward the basket, where the other team will try to stop them.
There are a lot of camera and lens options for photographing basketball, but in the last couple of years, I’ve been going to my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G. It’s not as versatile as a big zoom, but it’s lightweight, super sharp, and fast to focus. As I get older, the biggest selling point is its weight.
An unwritten rule in photojournalism for my entire career is that we like to have the ball in the photo somewhere. I’ve relaxed that rule somewhat in my photography, somewhat because we can use so many more photos in our newspaper than we could years ago.
I’m also all about faces and expressions, which tell the story better than anything.
Photographing sports is a lot of fun. It gets more fun when we start to get better results.
It certainly represents interesting times in photography. Numbers like these are an answer where there wasn’t a question: photographers can rightly say they needed more pixels and higher frame rates 15 years ago, when the best cameras sported 8 to 10 megapixel sensors shooting at 5 frames per second. But today, we are adding layers and layers of overkill that most of us don’t really need.
Also of note is that if you started shooting with these hugely powerful cameras, almost immediately you would find that your computer speeds and storage space are presently inadequate. Be ready to buy a bigger, faster computer and tons of cloud storage. This is big data.
A mind-blowing comparison is that the first computer I used professionally at The Ada News would hold about eight images from one of these cameras. Eight.
A recent sales point for cameras like these is the rapidly-expanding video specifications. The most recent spec is “8K,” meaning each video frame is 8000 pixels wide. For me, especially when I see so many people consuming media on very small devices like smartphones, 8K is level after level of overkill. And I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: what almost all video needs more than anything else is a good script.
If someone handed one of these cameras, I would certainly give it a day in court, but I would not count on it to improve my photography, which, at this point, can only be improved by building its narrative, not by buying equipment.
All of this circles back neatly to one of the things I write on the board at the start of my Intro to Digital Photography class: “You can’t buy mastery. You have to earn it.”
A fellow photographer recently asked me if I would do a head-to-head comparison between an iPhone or iPad and the cameras I use every day as a photojournalist.
I felt this comparison to be an apples-to-lemons challenge, since, for me anyway, there are many things my iPhone does better, and many things my DSLRs do better.
I prefer to use my phone for video, since the video I get from it is smooth, clear, and has decent audio, while video with my DSLRs tends to require a lot more production – microphones, steadycams – than my phone does. I also love the way I can seamlessly send lightly-edited images from the field to my staff with little effort, and of course there is video streaming.
My DSLRs are better at sports, a big one for me since I cover a great sports scene at our newspaper. They are much, much better in situations in which I want to add light, like with a flash, or when I need to create selective focus by using shallow depth of field.
Finally, there is handling. This may be the veteran in me talking, but holding a big camera and lens up to my eye is infinitely more commanding in almost every photographic situation. I can compose and organize much better with a DSLR than I can holding a phone or tablet at arms length… in some ways, using a DSLR or even a film camera is making pictures, while using a phone or a tablet is like watching television.
Despite all the advances we see all the time in smartphone and tablet technology, a camera remains a better tool for photography.
Christmas is almost here, and that means photography. I recently grabbed some of my favorite lenses to help create these beautiful backgrounds. In some circles, these artifacts are called “bokeh balls,” after the largely misunderstood and over-emphasized feature of the out-of-focus portions of an image. You are welcome to download them and use them as you like.
These images were made with my Fuji X-T10 mirrorless camera and the Nikon 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/2.0, 85mm f/1.4, and the 200mm f/2.0.
Photographer Kyle Phillips at one of our sister newspapers, The Norman Transcript, was out of action recently, so he offered to let me borrow their new Nikon D500 digital SLR since I was slated to shoot the college football Big 12 Championship game in Dallas on December 19, and I accepted.
The D500 is a professional-level 20-megapixel camera. It is a neat camera, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a news or sports photographer in a minute, but it’s not a game-changer.
The Nikon D500 is an incremental upgrade to the Nikon D300S, two of which I use every day. The main improvement the D500 makes is high ISO noise. Frame rate and pixel count are up, but not enough to really matter.
The ISO dial has traded places with the exposure mode dial, which I really don’t like, and not just because I’m used to buttons where they are. The mode dial belongs on the right next to the shutter and aperture dial and the shutter release. I kind of think Nikon engineers move stuff arbitrarily. Real photographers set their file type once, mostly on the day they get the camera, and leave it there forever. Only dilletants and dabblers change file types regularly, so as far as I’m concerned, this button could disappear into the menu.
I had to shoot JPEGs instead of RAW files, since my laptop at work has an older version of Adobe Lightroom that won’t read the newest RAW files. The D500 makes very decent JPEGs.
The D500 has a swinging/tilting rear display as well as 4K video capability, a feature that makes little difference to me, since I make short videos to go with news and sports, but would make a big difference to videographers.
The D500 is equipped with SnapBridge, but I tried several times and got the message, “Pairing unsuccessful. Make sure D500_XXX is turned on, in range, and is ready to pair.” That’s typical in a world of incompetent coding. My Fujifilm X-T10, a camera of the same era as the D500, did it without a hitch.
The D500 has two card slots, one for SD, and one for XQD, a high-speed replacement for CompactFlash cards, but I don’t have any of these cards and have never used them, and I find that the photography community regards this format as a dead end.
The D500 isn’t a particularly popular camera. I have only seen one other one, in the hands of Coalgate High School yearbook advisor Kathy Ingram.
I found that 10 frames per second and a nearly unlimited buffer resulted in shooting a lot more frames than I usually do, with little impact on the quality of my product. So many files of the same thing just tends to choke my workflow.
At the Big 12 Championship game, I brought my AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8, betting on needing the f/2.8, but the lights were very bright and even. If I had to do it again, I might use my AF-S 300mm f/4, a much newer and somewhat sharper lens.
I pressed the D500 into service, and found that it does what a digital camera should: make photography easier by getting out of the way of the photographer. I was very glad to use it for a while, and really enjoyed it. Thanks again to Kyle for offering to let me use it. I know he will make many great images with it over the years.