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!
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.
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.
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.
A hard cold front roared through Oklahoma last night, leaving today the kind of day that inspired me to write awkward poetry in my youth. It was grey all day, and it eventually lured me outside several times to walk the dogs and, of course, make pictures.
I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless and my $50 Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5. Unlike the cameras and lenses I use professionally, this combination is challenging: the camera is smaller, and the lens is manual focus, super slow to focus, focuses in the opposite direction of my Nikkors, and will only run at one aperture, in this case wide open at f/3.5.
After the session, I walked our Irish wolfhound Hawken again, and he found a discarded work glove in the pasture and made it his new toy. He loves this weather.
I spent an evening this week with some friends old and new at a poetry/fiction reading event at a home here in Ada. Lit by Christmas lights, candles, and camp fires, it really was photography pushed to the edge of all the margins: ISO 6400, aperture f/1.4, shutter speeds down to 1/8th of a second.
I shot it with my Fuji mirrorless and the magnificent Pentax K-Mount 50mm f/1.4. The results are messy in a great way; the chaos and intimacy of the imagery mirrors the chaos and intimacy of the participants and their words.
In recent months, Mac has been curating film photography into her body of work as an aspiring photojournalist, and that has included disposable cameras, 35mm film cameras, medium format cameras, and even toy cameras. Photography with toy cameras is sometimes called lomography.
One thing I showed her while she was here at the office is some of the thousands of 4×5-inch black-and-white negatives we have in our files at The Ada News.
4×5 negatives are about 15 times larger than 35mm film frames, so they potentially contain a tremendous amount of detail. In fact, 4×5 negatives are large enough that they can be printed as contact prints, in which the film is laid directly on the printing paper and exposed to light, skipping the step of putting the film in an enlarger.
If 35mm film is common and medium format film is exotic, 4×5 film is the Wild West of photography.
I’ve never owned a 4×5 camera. I do have a photographer friend, Robert in Tulsa, who has a Burke and James 4×5 field camera. A field camera differs from a view camera in that it uses a viewfinder instead of a focusing hood or cloth. If you have ever seen the movie Flags of Our Fathers, the character of Joe Rosenthal uses a 4×5 field camera to photograph the raising of the second U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.
As Mac and I talked about film photography, she said she’d like to see what I could do with film, and I pointed out that in the very office in which she sat were literally hundreds of thousands of film frames I made during my career, from when I started at The Ada News in October 1988 until about the middle of 2005, when I had enough digital cameras to get the job done, and when the film scanner of 1998 vintage finally died.
I also told Mac that if she gets a chance to use a darkroom in her travels or education, I’d be glad to tag along and throw in my expertise. I’d also extend that invitation to anyone who wants to learn about how a darkroom works. It’s pretty amazing that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you exactly how to process a roll of film.
A friend of mine recently asked me to look over an older film camera of his. He told me he had grown up making pictures with it. I I told him I would be happy to look it over, and to drop it by my office. I wasn’t surprised when the that camera showed up the next day was a Canon AE-1 Program, one of the most popular cameras ever made.
Before I go on, let me say that I’m not usually a “they don’t build them like they used to” guy, since technology has swept us away with all kinds of advancement, from the smartphone to the self-diagnosing car engine, but on this occasion, well… they just don’t build them like they used to.
The Canon AE-1 Program came from an era of rapid advancement in camera design, and includes some very advanced technology in it, but it also inherited the build quality, fit, and finish of the handmade and hand-assembled era of camera development.
The AE-1 Program followed the AE-1, which was probably the most popular camera ever sold in the film era. The “Program” was a piece of tech that allowed the camera to pick both the shutter speed and the aperture, and was the first of that feature to be introduced.
In-hand, this camera has a big-camera feel. In contrast to almost any digital camera today, it is heavy. The corners and grips of the camera are fairly conventional, and the controls are laid out nicely. I can pick up a camera like this and immediately start using it.
I cleaned it up with a soft toothbrush and some canned air. It had a fair amount of back-of-the-closet dust on it. This particular one seemed to run just fine. The shutter and aperture cycled like they should. Focus on the 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fine piece of glass that every Canon owner had during that era, was smooth and accurate. The only thing I could find wrong with it was the light seals – the foam rubber in the slots on the film door – was dry and cracked, which could cause light leaks, especially in bright sunlight.
If my friend is willing to buy film then have it processed and scanned or printed, his Canon AE-1 Program is ready for the job.
Mirrorless digital cameras have matured nicely alongside the rest of digital imaging, and are, today, at the top of the game. There are plenty of great mirrorless camera systems in the photography world today. Sony was one of the first leaders in the field, but the industry has caught up in recent years, and Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and others all have competitive models.
So what exactly is “mirrorless?” For decades the most popular cameras in the industry, both film and digital, were single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs. These cameras use a mirror to reflect light entering the lens into a viewfinder on top of the camera. Mirrorless cameras do away with the mechanically complex system of mirrors and pentaprisms by shining light from the lens directly on the imaging sensor, then showing it to the photographer using a display on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder.
Mirrorless matured hand-in-hand with smartphone technology. The same way a phone gives you a live view on-screen, the mirrorless camera does as well. 10 or 15 years ago, this process was too slow for action photography, as the camera took time to process and display the image, causing a lag between the action on front of the camera and what the photographer saw.
The biggest advantage of mirrorless is size and weight. Mirrorless cameras are small and light.
I hesitated to buy mirrorless because I already have a lot of really great cameras, but for my birthday recently, my wife encouraged me to find something I would like in the field. I hunted for a bargain, since I love bargains, and I mostly looked at finding a kindly-used Fuji. One of my first cameras was a Fuji, and my wife and I have matching Fuji travel/all-in-one cameras, and I love their style.
I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: buying cameras used is the way to go, at least for me. You get powerful, expensive technology for a fraction of the original price because someone decided to “upgrade,” which is industry code language for trying to buy better photography by spending money on hardware.
The camera I found and bought is the Fujifilm X-T10 of 2015 vintage. In 2015, it was at the top of photographic technology, and the introduction of newer cameras since then has no effect on what this camera can do.
I didn’t buy any lenses with this camera, because part of the allure of mirrorless is, for me anyway, the fact that with an adaptor, you can put just about any lens on your mirrorless camera. This is possible because the imaging sensor in mirrorless cameras is right behind the lens, not buried behind the mirror box and mechanical shutter of older cameras.
The only thing I actively dislike about mirrorless cameras are the name. “Mirrorless” is a lazy, techno-pop-culture fallback name. Saying that a class of cameras is “mirrorless” is like saying most cars are “diesel-less,” which is true, but a lame way of naming them.
I have already made some impressive images with this amazing machine, and hope to keep making more as I explore its potential.
Olympus, a Japanese camera maker founded in 1939, made a huge name for themselves by making cameras that were very compact. For years, because of this, my wife Abby and I owned and used several Olympus point-and-shoot cameras, and made some great images with them.
Sadly, for the last three years Olympus hasn’t been able to make their camera division profitable. This is despite their impressive Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras and excellent Zuiko lenses. One Olympus camera I have coveted since the day it was introduced is the TG-Tracker, a super-compact point-of-view/action cam that was not only tiny, it was incredibly great-looking. I never needed one, but I recommended it to several people who hoped to buy an action cam.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to sell cameras in a camera-in-smartphone world. My wife and I are examples of why: our current smartphones rival the images we got from our Olympus point-and-shoot cameras from years ago, so we are seldom motivated to bring a point-and-shoot along.
The photography press says that Olympus is selling their camera division to Japan Industrial Partners, but time will tell if their firm will continue to make cameras, or simply liquidate all the assets. It may be true: Olympus has fallen.
Anticipating an early voter turnout Tuesday, I drove directly from our home in Byng to Konawa to cover the school bond issue election. It was just after seven in the morning, and the sun was still below the horizon. I immediately noticed that farm ponds had fog above them and anticipated that the Canadian River, which I would shortly cross, would as well.
I drove across the U.S. 377 bridge, parked in a safe spot, put on my highway safety vest, grabbed three cameras and walked to the center of the bridge over the river. For the record, I don’t recommend this, and I did it as a journalist. I know, I know — do as I say, not as I do, but drivers can get distracted in a moment, and it’s not always easy to see in early morning light.
Sunlight caught the rising fog exactly as I had anticipated, and the scene did not disappoint. I shot it with all three cameras — one with a 300mm lens, one with an 80-200mm lens,and one with a wide angle. All three scenes expressed something slightly different about the scene, and I was glad I lugged all the hardware with me.
How many times has someone come up to me with their phone in hand and started telling me, “I didn’t have my camera with me, but…” They then show me an image they made with their phone that tells only part of the story. Despite constantly improving technology in smartphones, they lack something. Maybe they lack the attitude of a camera.
The lesson is: Always have your camera with you. I know this is easy to say if you’re like me and have had cameras within arm’s reach since I was in high school, but it can really pay off.
Sometimes I like to get out old gear and shoot with it, with the goal of making certain I don’t rely too heavily on technology to get my job done well. Yesterday I was inspired to dig my Kodak DCS 720x out of its box at the bottom of the gear cabinet to shoot a football scrimmage at the local college, and although that technology is from 2001, I made some great images with it. Look for them in my newspaper next week!
I read recently that Kodak only made about 1600 720x cameras. I’m not surprised, as the company was already deep into its inexorable slide toward bankruptcy.