Servicing the Nikon F6, part 2

Nikon F6 shown with: Nikon R1C1 Macro Close-Up Flash Kit (Nikon SU-800 wireless speedlight commander, Nikon SX-1 attachment ring, Nikon SY-1-62 adaptor ring, NIKON SB-R200 wireless remote speedlight, NIKON SW-11 extreme close-up adaptor) Nikon DR-5 Right-Angle Viewer; Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens.

This is a short follow up on the previous post from late 2015, Servicing the Nikon F6. The executive summary is, I continue to be impressed with Nikon Service. Here’s why…

After receiving my F6 back from a refresh late November, 2015 I was very pleased. The camera felt and sounded like new, and aside from the minor wear and tear scars I’ve provided – looked like new too. The Non-AI modification worked beautifully and the ancient, non-AI lenses looked and felt great on the camera. I was tickled.

This is what the F6 looks like with the Pre-AI modification made to the Aperture ring mount.
This is what the F6 looks like with the Pre-AI modification made to the Aperture ring mount.
The F6 with a Pre-AI 50mm 1.4 lens mounted.
The F6 with a Pre-AI 50mm 1.4 lens mounted.

I ran a few rolls through just to test and sure enough, all was well. They even figured out how to replace the internal battery without resetting the camera’s roll count, and preserved the rolls of shooting data I’d forgotten to download before sending it in.

After service there’s a 180 day window allowing you to send the camera back if anything is amiss – and they’ll take care of it. Around day 160 I tried to unscrew the Viewfinder Eyepiece to mount the DR-5 Right Angle Viewer and behold – no joy. The Viewfinder Eyepiece may only be unscrewed if the Viewfinder Shutter lever is closed, preventing dirt and damage to the Viewfinder itself. I raised and lowered the Viewfinder Shutter Lever several times. It was functioning correctly; raising and lowering the gray blades covering the Eyepiece. But the Eyepiece would not unscrew. This isn’t something I do every day, so it took a while to discover the malfunction. I returned the camera to the Nikon Service Center in California with a short note requesting it be repaired. The camera went out last Tuesday, May 17th.

This morning as I was settling in for the morning routine. Just as I was about to check the status of the repair on Nikon’s web site, the doorbell rang. It was UPS, handing me the camera back, fully repaired. There had been no need to question or provide proof of anything else. They simply fixed it, fast, put it in the same box and sent it back.

I couldn’t be more pleased. Once again, don’t hesitate to send your F6 in to Nikon Service for a reboot. I’ve found them to be fast, efficient, thorough (OK, someone’s going to mention the eyepiece not unscrewing as them messing the camera up – but stuff happens. What’s important is they made good on it immediately, doing exactly what they promised. In my world that’s what counts.). Thanks very much Nikon Service. Very pleased.

A Case for 35mm Film

35mm film has endured for a reason. Could it be the ideal format? You decide.

Introduction

This article is a written collection of thoughts explored in an attempt to think through some recent considerations. Every once in a while I get the itch to explore different film formats. The initial inspiration for this article was the recent consideration of diving in to large format film photography.

I’m approaching this from the standpoint of which film format works best for my type of shooting, and why. Not film vs. digital, which grew tired years ago. Both have merits, both are worthwhile. Exploring the choice of film format though, to me has merit. It’s an investment. Not just the film itself but the infrastructure/gear to shoot, process, scan and archive. There are advantages and disadvantages to each format depending on what/how I’m shooting.

I began thinking through buying, outfitting, then hauling around and using a large format system. I considered the benefits and weighed the cost. With that – this article isn’t a attempt to establish the “best” film for everyone to shoot, but the best film for me to shoot based on my own personal creative goals. My hope is this might help others who’ve considered different formats, and they’re able to glean any insights to draw their own conclusions.

SIZE

One foundational question when choosing a camera system is what type of photography you’re interested in. If you’re strictly a landscape photographer making very large prints, a 35mm film camera probably isn’t your best option. Answering the question of what you’re planning to do with the photographs is important before making the commitment to a system.

Besides prints, printed books are one of my favorite applications for photographs. The ideal resolution of a 35mm photograph is far more than adequate to print any reasonably sized book, even large, coffee table books.

When's the last time you popped some corn and fired up the slide projector?
When’s the last time you popped some corn and fired up the slide projector?

Of course, if you want to go totally old school, pop some corn and fire up the projector, you could have a good old-fashioned slide show (who remembers that distinct smell of the projector bulb as it heats up to throw your beautiful images across a dark room)?

Sheet Film & Large Format

Sheet film’s immense size has obvious advantages to image quality due to the amount of information contained. There’s nothing like it. Gorgeous, super high-resolution images you can zoom into various parts and form compositions within compositions allow printing gigantic prints people will ooh and ah at. It’s truly spectacular. Another advantage to sheet film is the processing. Because you’re not developing 12, 16 or 36 different exposures at a time – and just one – you’re able to customize development for that one, specific shot. This allows custom processing and tremendous creative control for each frame. The down side is, sheet film is expensive and a bit cumbersome to work with. A 20-sheet box of 4″ x 5″ Velvia 100 runs about $72. That’s about $3.60 per shutter release. A 20-sheet box of 8″ x 10″ Velvia runs about $255. That’s almost $13/shot. That’s some pretty serious dough if you’re going to shoot a lot. There’s also the idea that – because something is so expensive to shoot, and you’re only carrying so much film at a time – one may be reluctant to make an image they’re not sure whether it’s worthwhile or not. No one is right every time they decide to frame up and shoot – or pass it up because it’s just not happening.

A few years ago we were climbing Independence Pass returning from a fall colors trip. It was near the end of the trip and colors were in their prime. Light was gorgeous and leaves were twinkling in the breeze. We pulled over just as two large format shooters were breaking down their large, heavy cameras off their large, heavy tripods. They’d pulled over and seen the same forest – but when it came time to frame up – I heard one say it just wasn’t happening; it’s time to move on. My friend and I spent some time nosing around and I came away with this:

Fall colors, Sawatch Mountains, Independence Pass, Colorado.
Fall colors, Sawatch Mountains, Independence Pass, Colorado. Velvia 100 35mm.

This image was made with the superb Micro Nikkor 105VR to reach into the inner depths of what I found interesting in the forest, and compress the layers of trees into an expressionistic style montage. It was also shot with a shallow depth of field because I wanted to accentuate the abstract, expressionistic feel to the foreground leaves. The bokeh on the 105VR is super smooth and optics with ED glass are super sharp. It was the perfect lens for the composition I saw. The image is crisp enough to be enlarged quite large without quality loss.

If I were a large format shooter with only so many sheets of film at the end of a week-long trip and limited focal length lens, would I have been willing to make this shot? Hard to say – but those two guys walked away from the same scene without an image. I was glad to have had enough of the right film and a lens with the right reach to frame up what I saw in that forest, which turned out to be one of the best images from the trip.

Packing Photographic Gear for Haiti 2010 Post Earthquake Relief Trip from CRANEDIGITAL on Vimeo.

Large format is also a bit cumbersome to haul around quantities for extended trips. I know people do it and get some great images – but as much as I admire and respect the image quality of the good shots resulting from such an investment of time, money and energy – I guess it’s just not something I’m willing to do.

120 Roll Film and Medium Format

Mamiya RZ67 System
The Mamiya RZ67 System: capable of tremendous image quality – if you can get it out into the field.

Medium format roll film is a higher-volume alternative to sheet film, coming primarily in two flavors: 120/220. 220 provides the same physical frame size as 120 but provides twice as many shots because the roll is twice as long. But it’s tough to find these days – and doesn’t alleviate what I view as the more significant problem of shooting medium format: the larger size of the cameras.

The Mamiya RZ67 Pro II at work in North Park, Colorado. If you can get the RZ into the field it can produce tremendous images.
The Mamiya RZ67 Pro II at work in North Park, Colorado. If you can get the RZ into the field it’s capable of tremendous images.

The technical attributes of a medium format system are impressive. Initially I thought of it as the “goldie locks” format: not too big and cumbersome, higher number of shots per load, more detail in the negative… was it just right? It was clinically perfect; large negatives providing way more detail and information than the resulting print required. Beautiful, yes. But was it getting the proverbial drink of water from a fire hose?

The Mamiya RZ with medium format film is an amazing photographic tool.
The Mamiya RZ with medium format film is an amazing photographic tool, especially with a high-grade film like this Portra 160VC.

I enjoyed my Mamiya RZ67 system- until it came time to use it the field. At that point it became a boxy, cumbersome beast. And even with a good assortment of high-quality lenses the RZ never was quite as wide – or close – as I wanted.

Then when I’d go out to shoot there was the internal struggle with what system to bring. After all – because of its flexibility, bringing the smaller format kit was a given. Its smaller form factor and a mind-numbing array of lenses and accessories provided a clear advantage. Bringing the medium format system too, meant doubling the amount of gear I had to fumble through when it came time to shoot. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fumbled through bags of  gear searching for a doodad in the dark. Just too much stuff, I’d mutter under my breath as a headlamp flickered on low batteries and fingers hoped to land on the one item so I could get back to work.

The Spear Head, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Spear Head, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In 2009 I took a backpacking trip into Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph the Spear Head, a gorgeous, granite blade jutting out of Glacier Basin. I was a little younger and stronger then and figured what the heck, I’d just bring it all. I intentionally didn’t weigh my pack until after the trip. It weighed nearly 100 pounds. I’ll never do that again – I was miserable. I got some decent photos but really struggled beneath the weight.

Dynamic, Fluid Compositions

For me artistically – somehow the content of the medium format frame usually lacked something; a spontaneity, a whimsy, surprise. Larger format systems often lack the ability shoot off the hand; to respond to fleeting or decisive moments worth photographing as they appear.

Street Photography in Memphis, Tennesse
Street Flipper, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014). Nikon F6 and Portra 400.

To fully realize the benefits of the larger film size, shooting from a tripod is often required. This usually (but not always) means slow to set up and often resulting in a somewhat rigid, undynamic angle resulting from reluctance to mess with a perfectly level horizon, for example. The net result is a well-structured but often stiff, stagnent image. Still, I kept trying to talk myself into believing the larger, ‘higher quality’ image was worth the trade off. In the end, with reservations, I sold the RZ system. I’ve missed it occasionally but believe I made the right decision.

So then, lets take stock so far: 1) It seems one of the things I value is portability, and the ability to remain flexible to my environment – and have a camera in-hand when it yields an image. 2) I also value consolidating systems and gear as much as possible to avoid hauling around too much incompatible “stuff.” 3)Having the flexibility to shoot a larger number of images per load has also proven valuable. 4) While I do use a tripod, I also value the fluid, dynamic composition shooting off the hand allows. 5) And the ability to fine-tune composition through focal length (which by the way is one of the reasons I prefer SLR cameras instead of rangefinders) is a real plus.

Nikon F6 35mm film camera packed and ready to travel in the Lowe Pro Photo Trekker AW.
Nikon F6 35mm film camera packed and ready to travel in the Lowe Pro Photo Trekker AW.

35mm Cameras, systems and Great Design

The early Canon AE-1/AT-1 system was my first experience with 35mm SLR film cameras many years ago. To this day I admire the 35mm SLR design and form factor.
The early Canon AE-1/AT-1 system was my first experience with 35mm SLR film cameras many years ago. To this day I admire the 35mm SLR design and form factor.

OK, if portability is so important why not a point and shoot camera? This introduces the idea of aesthetics and style to the equation; the tactile component; what brings beauty, elegance and joy to the process. Photography isn’t bereft of beauty; not simply an analytical equation or assortment of facts and figures. It’s art.

To shun the aesthetic component of photography is to strip the very essence of its role as art. This aesthetic component extends to the tools used in the process… it doesn’t mean you can’t make a good photo with an ugly camera – but why would you want to?

Stripping photography of aesthetic value and trying to turn it into pure pragmatism is like eating bread and water all the days of life because it’s convenient. Give me a solid, well-designed, well-built, rugged tool over a fragile, plastic box any time. Yes – the point and shoot will fit in my pocket and be very portable. But the aesthetic and flexibility hits are just too great.

The design of cameras; their usability, tactile layout, human engineering, curb appeal and just joy-in-hand is a real thing. It’s why some cameras resonate with some but not others; why people collect – but don’t use – cameras. The engineering, thought, devotion to manufacturing excellence and even quirkiness/funkiness – is all a real thing. Art, beauty and great design are most excellent qualities in life.

A few cameras out for a little TLC. Though there are favorites reached for time after time, they're all wonderful tools. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter what camera you use. It's about the whole experience of lining something up in the viewfinder and - if even just for a moment - identifying it as worthy of your attention.
A few cameras out for a little TLC. Though there are favorites reached for time after time, they’re all wonderful tools. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what camera you use. It’s about the whole experience of lining something up in the viewfinder and – if even just for a moment – identifying it as worthy of attention.

O.K. you say… beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Where’s the beef? What about the practical, the functional side of shooting a 35mm film camera?

Weather sealing on the Nikon F6 is as good as it gets. This image is from one of Nikon's advertising pamphlets describing how the camera was immersed in intense dust for prolonged periods with no ill-affects.
Weather sealing on the Nikon F6 is as good as it gets. This image is from one of Nikon’s advertising brochures describing how the camera was immersed in intense dust for prolonged periods with no ill-affects.

How about weather sealing? Fatigue-minimizing ergonomics? Drop-resistance? A mind-boggling assortment of lens? Modern benefits like super sensitive electromagnetic shutters made of space-age materials? How about low operational noise? Rapid frame rates? Underwater housings? Interval exposures? Remote triggering for positioning in difficult or dangerous places or to capture wildlife.? And of course the aforementioned accessories? Interchangeable backs and viewfinders, for example. The list goes on and on because the 35mm system has been so popular for so long, and so many have wanted to do so much with it.

Rapid frames rates like the F5's amazing 8fps let you burn through a roll of film before you think to lift your finger off the shutter release.
Skipping Lake Tahoe. Rapid frames rates like the F5’s amazing 8fps let you burn through a roll of film before you think to lift your finger off the shutter release.

When initially exploring a system the first temptation may be to think “oh, I don’t need anything fancy…” But as your passion for the art of photography grows and you want to experiment, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to start all over again with a new system? The benefits of a contemporary 35mm film camera combined with today’s film is an awesome total photographic experience.

OK, so along with the points raised before, some sense of style, design and aesthetic appreciation is important to me. Got it.

So let’s look at the attributes of 35mm film itself and see if they line up with creative goals:

35mm roll film attributes

35mm is convenient. Not as convenient as digital, but more convenient than large or medium format. As roll film (not sheet film) with 36 frames available on a roll, you can load it and shoot a good many pictures before it runs out. When it does, because it’s so tuckable; stowable, it’s easy to have another roll or 3 in your pocket, ready. So being able to take a few rolls on a hike, for example, is pretty nice. It doesn’t mean you need to shoot it all – but if you need it, it’s there.

35mm still relatively inexpensive and available. Even if your local drug store no longer stocks/develops film, it’s easily obtained in quantities at a moderate cost. So if you pick up a brick or two, store it in the ‘fridge and use it over a span of time – it’s a great value.

Fall colors in Gunnison National Forest, Kebler Pass, Colorado. Velvia 100 and the Nikon 28-70 ED zoom, tripod-mounted and cable release.
Fall colors in Gunnison National Forest, Kebler Pass, Colorado. Velvia 100 and the Nikon 28-70 ED zoom, tripod-mounted and cable release, mirror-up.

35mm has a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s pleasing to some and not others. Some call the 6:7 aspect “perfect” (i’m guessing it’s the ones who developed the camera who decided it was perfect)… because you don’t have to crop for 8″ x 10.” Others say 6:45, which is pretty close to 3:2. Still others site the advantages to the square format because you don’t have to turn the camera on its side to shoot portrait. Whatever… I don’t know if it’s an old habits die hard thing or what, but I find the shape of the 3:2 frame agreeable to virtually any composition; either horizontal or vertical. Some things frame up better side to side, others top to bottom. And turning the camera on its side to shoot vertically being labeled “too difficult or inconvenient” reminds me a Seinfeld episode where Elaine complains about having to shake the juice before opening it. It’s not complicated.

The L-bracket makes mounting the camera on a tripod horizontally or vertically quick and easy.
The L-bracket makes mounting the camera on a tripod horizontally or vertically quick and easy. the L-bracket also provides additional attachment points for accessories.

I’m a believer in the L-bracket because with certain cameras I do shoot on the tripod regularly. The L-bracket provides fast, sure, solid mounting in either horizontal or vertical position. But the real power of the 35mm form factor is being able to easily hand-hold the camera.

The future of film

There are still plenty of different emulsions available from which to choose. It’s true – chrome (slide) films have taken a hit in past years. But other films are emerging in their place, and they’re really, really good. Still – Velvia 50 on a tripod with a good lens is capable of amazing image quality. Today’s 35mm film is relevant because it’s better than anything produced in the past. Kodak’s Portra line, for example, has been completely retooled, and it’s awesome. Portra 400 is not the same 400 speed film as yesteryear.

When I visit one of the few remaining camera stores in my area I ask how film sales are going. Every time I’m told the same thing: we can’t keep it on the shelves. People are still buying lots and lots of film whenever they find it available. Add mail order from local suppliers like Denver Pro Photo here in Colorado, or national mail order retailers like B&H out of New York- and continued availability seems assured.

I think it’s safe to assume the heyday of large-scale film production like we saw in the past is behind us. But there are new players emerging, and businesses seem to be consolidating, positioning themselves for future success. I for one am very encouraged. To form some idea of how many people are still devoted to film photography take a look at instagram and search something like #filmisnotdead, or #filmfeed, #analog, #filmphotography, #analogvibes or countless other film-centric hashtags. Film is very alive and very well.

Fourth of July Parade, Allenspark, Colorado (2014)
Fourth of July Parade, Allenspark, Colorado (2014). Sometimes it doesn’t make a bit of difference what camera a photo is made with, and the old adage, “f8 and be there” is all you need.

35mm film is easy to work with. Because it had such a wide commercial appeal, having it processed is easy. Processing it yourself is even easier, as I’ve recently been reminded. The tanks to hold it are smaller, the reels are smaller, the chemicals are less. Everything about 35mm is smaller and easier to work with. Yet, done right – the image quality is amazingly high.

HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1
HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1

image quality

What about image quality? Let’s get this out of the way: this is where you get into the limitations of 35mm film for certain applications. It will never produce a 30″ or 40″ or large print as cleanly as that big, beautiful 4″ x 5″ piece of film – or today’s super high-resolution digital cameras. So if that’s the goal, 35mm is the wrong tool. But… how many times have I actually wanted to print a photograph that large? Not many. The rest of the time, something in the neighborhood of 18″ x 12″ with a nice, 2″ matte all around is more than large enough. And if it’s a good shot I want to go larger with – if technique is perfect and equipment is first class – I can.

Aspen leaf, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. Velvia 100, Micro Nikkor 105VR with CLS-triggered flash.
Aspen leaf, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. Velvia 100, Micro Nikkor 105VR with CLS-triggered flash.

The 35mm look

When people think of 35mm film often time they think of grainy, black and white (or color) photojournalism photos made over the years. There is a reason those images look like they do. Often times photojournalism films were in the ISO400 speed category and therefore had a courser grain. The reason was pretty obvious: as a photojournalist you need to be ready for anything, in any light. And a 400 speed film was a good way to stack the deck in your favor. The point of the photograph wasn’t how sharp or perfect it was – the point was the content of the image itself. So a “great photograph” might be great not because it’s super sharp and has no visible grain, but because it’s a compelling image.

35mm has a “look” to it. What is that look? Difficult to decisively say. Here’s a brief discussion by Ted Forbes and the “Art of Photography” that touches briefly on the topic. It has to do with the relationship of the size of the image to the grain structure. If you were to make an image on 120 film, then again on 35mm film – and print them the same size – they’d look slightly different to the photographer’s eye. Not radically different, but slightly different.

Today’s 35mm film is capable of many other things beside grainy photojournalism photos. A fine grain 35mm film like Velvia (color slide film), Kodak Ektar 100 (color negative film) or Ilford PanF50 (black and white print film) has virtually no visible grain and possesses tremendous enlargement capability. So many different “looks” can be created with different 35mm films, developers and scanning or darkroom techniuqe. See the “look” heading down further for more on this topic.

To the casual viewer who couldn’t care less what type of camera was used to make the picture – they see the contents of the frame, not the technical attributes of the photograph. The photographer is the only one who cares what camera was used.

It’s the same sort of thing that makes a digitally captured photograph look different than a film-recorded photograph. Most people would see the contents of the frame, not the presence or lack of subtle tone falloff, clipped highlights or grain/no grain. With today’s digital post-processing techniques, one could choose to process that “look” right out of a 35mm made image if so chosen.

Lowe Pro Commercial AW loaded and ready to roll. Having everything in one bag that can just be grabbed when it's time to go ensures you'll have what you need when the time comes.
Lowe Pro Commercial AW loaded and ready to roll. Having everything in one bag that can just be grabbed when it’s time to go ensures you’ll have what you need when the time comes.(Mamiya 645 on Ilford HP5+)

One System

When I parted with my RZ system – as painful as it was – I consoled myself with this: when I go out to shoot, everything uses essentially the same F-mount, Nikon system. I can use virtually any lens on any camera, film or digital, and everything just works. There are of course caveats in the details. But largely it’s true, and it’s reliable. And I like that because it reintroduces simplicity to shooting and allows me to enjoy the process of creating again. UPDATE/FULL DISCLOSURE: After this article was written I decided for those normal to wide shots where a little more resolution would help, adding back the ability to shoot medium format was a good idea, and picked up a Mamiya M645 1000S. It’s considerably smaller and more compact than the RZ system and with one lens, fits perfectly into the bag above. The M645 uses the same, screw-in cable release as my older Nikons, the same Kirk ball-head mounting plate I’m already carrying, and has a easy Mirror-Up mechanism. A 58-77 step up ring allows use of the same filters and lens accessories I’m shooting with the Nikon lenses. So now technically I’m back up to two systems, but now the MF rig is tiny and self-contained. 

Easy Film Processing

As mentioned in a previous post, recently I’ve begun developing my own black and white films again, after a 30 year hiatus. To say I’ve enjoyed the process again is an understatement. I should have done it years ago. But I had a great local lab available and didn’t need to.

Shrine to FORD, Ward, Colorado. Shot on Ilford Delta 100 Professional with a Nikon F2, then processed in Ilford DDX at home.
Shrine to FORD, Ward, Colorado. Shot on Ilford Delta 100 Professional with Nikon F2S, then processed in Ilford DDX at home.

Processing your own black and white film is extremely easy. There’s a small, initial investment required for tanks, reels and a few odds and ends, but after that your cost per roll drops to virtually nothing. Contrast that with $10-$12 from commercial black and white processing and the cost savings is significant.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016). Made with a all-mechanical, 47 year old Nikon F with no metering on ILFORD FP4+ black and white film, self-developed in ILFORD DDX developer.
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016). Made with a all-mechanical, 47 year old Nikon F with no metering on ILFORD FP4+ black and white film, self-developed in ILFORD DDX developer.

As wonderful as cost is – it’s perhaps the least compelling reason to process your own film. You also have the ability to try different developers to produce different looks. Then there’s the convenience of shooting and processing your film on the same day. Add to that the feeling of actually creating something with your hands again and the case for developing film at home is solid. Don’t wait like I did. Jump in with both feet and enjoy it.

A Buyer’s Market – Finally

A few Nikons from the collection
A few Nikons from the collection

The overabundance of high-quality tools with which to work in 35mm is one of those pinch me moments we don’t get enough in life. Really, really good cameras and lenses are ridiculously inexpensive on the used market thanks to people simply retiring their tried and true friends after experiencing the convenience of a first digital camera.

A few Nikons from the collection
Nikon F with eye-level finder on left, Nikon F2AS on right.

A few years back I picked up a Nikon N8008s for $26. It retailed new for about $500-$600 in the late 80’s, which in today’s money is around $1,100. I often wonder how many wished in hind site, a year or two later, they’d held onto their trusty 35mm friend rather than selling it for pennies. I’ll bet lots. It’s a shame, really. Things don’t suddenly become useless because something new comes along. This is an on-going problem in our culture; not just for cameras but other consumables too. After spending so many thousands of dollars on digital gear from 2006 to 2010 I’m pretty happy to get a great-working camera for $26. Be warned though: the used market has caught on and prices are rising.

35mm film
Can a compelling reason be made to shoot 35mm film? I believe it can. And even if you simply just want to – that’s O.K. too.

Of course, being the best of the best, the F6 is still considerably more expensive than $26. And the F6 is the focus of this web site. After all, the F6 could be one of the greatest reasons to continue shooting 35mm film. Or – perhaps shooting 35mm film is one of the greatest reasons to have and use the F6?

I’ll leave that for you decide.

Cheers.

Pure Film

Altocumulus lenticularis clouds, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. ILFORD Delta 100 (w/ Red R60 filter) developed in ILFORD DDX.

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for years: began developing my own black and white film again. After a 30+ year hiatus, the time had finally come.

Developer, Stop and Fixer in amber flasks, ready for action.
Developer, Stop and Fixer in amber flasks, ready for action.

Up until last year I’d been fortunate enough to have one of the best pro film labs in the country only minutes away. I’d always told myself when they shut down, I’d begin. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances that time came last year, but I held on, continuing to search for a suitable alternative for the next several months. A few weeks ago I finally said Uncle and put in an order to B&H.

IMG_1770

I suppose there are reasons that seem suitable at the time why we do things like wait… and it’s easy to second guess decisions in hind-site. But I’ll say this: I wish I’d done this a long time ago. Today’s film processing is essentially the same as 30 years ago, with a few key differences. Patterson tanks and reels are one of those differences. The last time I tried to wind a roll of film onto the old, stainless spiral reel it was a catastrophe. The Patterson reels are easy as can be. Another reason is the lack of dark room. A nice, big changing bag took care of that. The chemicals and process are all pretty much the same – and now it’s actually fun – especially when compared to the alternative -sending it out, waiting for at least a week. And there’s the cost. Dramatically less developing yourself, even after gearing up with fresh, new supplies.

Preston Miller, Bindle Coffee, Fort Collins, CO
Ilford Delta 100 developed in Ilford DDX.

Then there’s the creative control you have over your films. For whatever reason the ILFORD Delta family of emulsions has always resonated with me. I shoot other films too – but gravitate back to the ILFORD films when the fridge is empty and it’s time to reorder. It’s simply not a feasible request; asking a commercial lab to custom develop your film with different developers than they’ve standardized on. With that, I’ve always wondered just what qualities in the film I’m missing out on by not experimenting with different developers and simply accepting the lab’s standard. Now I know, and will never go back.

Moraine Park, RMNP (Red Filter)
Moraine Park, RMNP (ILFORD Delta, Red R60 Filter)

Recently I’ve been considering something else I haven’t completely thought through, but will give it a go here. There seems to be many who become interested in photography – using the digital camera as a gateway. This can be a great thing. The digital camera’s immediate feedback provides invaluable tools for learning about light, composition, exposure, etc. About 10 years ago I was amongst this group. I’d been involved in photography for many (many) years prior, and to be honest, had just grown a little bored with it. There were times I’d go on a trip, shoot lots of film, then simply leave it undeveloped in my file cabinet – sometimes for years. Along came the digital camera and immediately I was enthralled. The curtain was pulled back on the seemingly long, mysterious process of going from the snap of the shutter to viewing the final image. There it was on the camera back; no more mystery. No more anticipation. What seems to happen with people who become newly interested in photography through digital cameras is – they grow bored with it. It turns out for me that mystery and anticipation was actually one of the benefits of the process, not a detractor -as I think it might be for those who get a digital camera and have a “perfect” image handed to them milliseconds after its exposure. Once the novelty wears off it becomes less interesting. This isn’t always the case, but I have seen this pattern repeat itself.

The beginnings of rebuilding a humble darkroom.
The beginnings of rebuilding a humble darkroom.

My stint with digital lasted about 3 years before migrating back to film. Now I enjoy both digital and film, but admittedly leave my digital camera home unless there’s a specific reason to bring it. Now, developing film again has deepened my commitment to film and made me even more focused. It’s such a treat to shoot and develop a roll yourself within the span of days rather than weeks or months. The quite satisfying feeling of actually making something with your hands returns.

I’ll encourage anyone who’s ever thought about developing film passingly but deemed it too complicated or expensive – to think again. It has been said to me and I agree; if you can bake a cake you can process your own film. Give it a try.

New Mexico, 2015

Sometimes returning to your roots is a good thing. When we lived in Santa Fe from the mid 90’s ’til 2000 I was in a different phase of photography. In recent years I’ve enjoyed returning to this beautiful country with a better understanding of light – and how to coax more out of a frame of film with subtle adjustments here and there. Below are a few recent images from our last visit to Santa Fe, the F6 loaded with Velvia. The meter in the F6 is a perfect companion to the narrow exposure latitude of this sometimes tempermental emulsion. A good 2-stop Neutral Density Gradient and occasional use of a 81A warming filter can help coax light into cooperating with Velvia, producing very pleasing results.

A big thanks to Richard Photo Lab in California for their excellent work developing all the film from this trip. It was the first time I’ve used Richard but not the last. They handled a large, complex order well and all the films were properly labeled and processed.

Santa Fe, New Mexico October 2015
Chamisa Sunrise, Santa Fe, New Mexico October 2015; 1/10@F11; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 2.8ED @45mm, 2-Stop ND Gradient for sky.
Sunrise, Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 2015
Sandia Sunrise, Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 2015. A 2-stop ND Grad helped the sky stay vivid while allowing a little more light to hit the piñon’s in foreground. 1/1.6 @ F11; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 2.8ED @ 70mm. A nice thing about traveling and shooting sunrise late in the year is how late the sun comes up. This image was made just before 7am.
Gasoline Alley, Embudo Station, New Mexico (2015); 1/50@F7.1; Velvia 50; 28-70 2.8ED @35mm
Eagle Nest, New Mexico, October 2015
Eagle Nest, New Mexico, October 2015. 81A (mild) warming filter kept sometimes harsh UV’s out of the way preserving the golden hour tone. 1/80@F8; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 2.8ED @ 42mm, Tiffen 81A warming filter.
"It's A 8" Embudo Station, New Mexico October 2015
“It’s A 8” Embudo Station, New Mexico October 2015. 1/100@F6.3; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 2.8ED @ 48mm. No filtration.
Gasoline Alley, Embudo Station, New Mexico (2015) 1/160 @ F5.6; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 @ 28mm
Gasoline Alley, Embudo Station, New Mexico (2015); 1/160 @ F5.6; Velvia 50; Nikkor 28-70 2.8ED @ 28mm

 

Servicing the Nikon F6

Nikon F6 shown with: Nikon R1C1 Macro Close-Up Flash Kit (Nikon SU-800 wireless speedlight commander, Nikon SX-1 attachment ring, Nikon SY-1-62 adaptor ring, NIKON SB-R200 wireless remote speedlight, NIKON SW-11 extreme close-up adaptor) Nikon DR-5 Right-Angle Viewer; Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens.

INTRODUCTION:

Since purchasing my F6 new in August of 2008 it has traveled all over the place with me, mainly in the United States, but also in Haiti’s extreme heat and humidity. Its been in the rain, dirt, mud, dust, desert, forest, mountains and just about every other place you can think of. The camera has been pulled out of and stuffed into a bag or crate countless times. I’ve run close to 400 rolls of film through it – not epic by heavy shooter standards, but not too skimpy either. So even though the shutter is rated to an astounding 150,000 actuations (I haven’t even used a 10th of its shutter’s life span), the rest of the camera has begun to show some wear and tear. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with the camera, except the sub (front) command dial missing more often then hitting when rotated – but after reading a few scary threads on other blogs about serviceability, availability of parts, etc. I decided to have it done while there was still the opportunity to do so. Even though these cameras are built to last, nothing lasts forever. With use everything eventually breaks, wears out or needs maintenance of some sort. Being a preventative maintenance guy I believe in taking good care of things. On top of these reasons, I’ve wanted to have the modification to accept pre-Ai (F-mount) lenses made on the F6 – before it became impossible to get parts. What follows below is an account of the process, beginning with the most recent update and growing older the more you read.

UPDATE 11/27/15:

Today – 22 days after the F6 left here for its journey to the mother ship in California for servicing – UPS rang the doorbell and handed him back to me. He was packed in the same, original gold box and all original packing material he left here in three weeks ago. Upon opening the box I was delighted to see him safely cradled between the two, form-fitting cardboard inserts he originally arrive here in back in 2008, wrapped in the same, plastic bag. I’m happy to report he’s back to his old self and looking rather smart; better than ever. Nikon Service did an excellent job of cleaning, adjusting, and servicing the camera. They:

    • Replaced the rubberized grip. Due to extreme fluctuations in temperatures the grip had worked its way loose over 7 years of use. This appeared in two places: the most noticeable was the bottom right-front above where the MS-41 battery caddy slides in. At first it was just a little, but it grew to a gap between the bottom black rim and grip producing an entry point for moisture and dirt. The second as on the back door where, when you grab the camera with your right hand, the thumb rests.
    • Replaced the rubber button collars surrounding BKT buttons on top-back-left and AE/AF-L and AF-ON buttons on top-back-right that had gradually worked their way loose and torn; both one clumsy grip away from tearing off completely.
    • Adjusted the sub-command dial: it was not consistently engaging when rotated. Being primarily Aperture-Priority and Manual exposure shooter I use the sub command dial more frequently than the main command dial.
    • Performed the non-Ai lens modification to the lens mount allowing use of pre-Ai/non-Ai/F-mount lenses. (this added $50 to the cost of servicing)
This is what the F6 looks like with the Pre-AI modification made to the Aperture ring mount.
This is what the F6 looks like with the Pre-AI modification made to the Aperture ring mount. Much like the Df, the small, metal tab folds down without the need for an additional pin as found on the F4 and F3.
The F6 with a Pre-AI 50mm 1.4 lens mounted.
The F6 with a Pre-AI 50mm 1.4 lens mounted.
      • Replaced the internal battery, which was working fine, but after 7 years decided to replace it while it was in for servicing. (this added about $75 to the cost of servicing)
      • As an added bonus they sent it back with two Energizer Lithium Photo batteries (it left here with no batteries).
      • They also replaced the internal battery without eradicating the 10 rolls of data stored in the camera I had forgotten to extract before sending it in. They were also able to maintain the present roll count of the camera, keeping my file naming structure intact – which I was very pleased about.
      • As if all the above weren’t enough – I was granted the NPS 20% discount, bringing the grand total to what I felt was a reasonable cost. The camera looks, sounds and feels like new – but it’s most certainly my same old friend, evidenced by the serial number, a few well-earned battle scars and the worn eye piece shutter lever on the viewfinder.

The executive summary: I’m extremely pleased with the job Nikon Service did on my F6. They made me validate the camera was purchased new, in the US (even though there is a “Nikon USA” sticker on the rear, flip-down door) before performing service. The parts hold was about 1 week, and upon completion the shipping was next day. Who could ask for anything more.To anyone considering sending your F6 in for repair – especially if you bought it new in the US, and can prove it – do not hesitate.

In hind site I’m glad to have not purchased a gray market camera years ago. At the time it would have saved a couple hundred dollars, but painted me into a corner when it came time for service. After this experience I’ll be sending him again – more frequently this time – knowing cost is reasonable and confidence is high in a quality service experience. Thank you Nikon Service.

UPDATE 11/24/15:

Thus far I am very impressed with Nikon Service. This morning I received a e-mail from the gentleman coordinating my repair with Nikon Service informing me that there was in fact a way to preserve the data on the camera, and the repair should be completed by today. Having forgotten to extract the last 10 rolls of data from the camera before sending it in for repair, this was great news. Coming unsolicited, by the way, after I’d told them to proceed yesterday. So high marks for being proactive and willing to accommodate requests on the fly.

UPDATE 11/23/15:

The camera has been on Parts Hold for a week. I just received word today it should be completed by tomorrow. As suspected, replacing the battery does reset the number of rolls the camera has recorded to zero. This is something to be aware of when purchasing a used F6 if you’re using the roll count to gauge the age of the camera. If the internal battery has been replaced, the counter begins again at zero. There is no way to prevent this.

UPDATE 11/17/15:

After a reminder from my friend Andy in the UK I used Nikon’s web-based system to request replacement of the internal battery while it’s there for service. The current battery functions – but I figure I may as well replace it while the camera is being worked on. This raised the estimate from $115 to $170. Well worth it. TIP: If you need to reset your film roll number go to: SET-UP\Shooting Data\Film number: and re-enter the number of rolls in the camera. This is both good and bad: Good if your roll counter accidentally resets to 0. Not so good if you’re buying a used F6 and are counting on the number of rolls the camera has exposed to determine the age of the camera.

LATER in the same day…

Great news. The repair estimates have come in much less than anticipated.: $114 to CLA and replace the grip. Another $50 to modify the aperture ring mount to accept pre-ai lenses. I was happy to authorize and pay for the repairs immediately. I’ll keep updating through the process and conclude with an unwrapping video when the camera is returned. I’ve been “investing in” some pre-ai lenses this year as I build out my F/F2 kit and am anxious to mount them on the F6.
A Haiti Christian in her earthquake-destroyed church, Port au Prince, Haiti.
A Haiti Christian in her earthquake-destroyed church, Port au Prince, Haiti. (Tri-X)
Croix des Bouquets, Haiti
Croix des Bouquets, Haiti (Velvia)
Port au Prince, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake
Port au Prince, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake (Tri-X)

So after 7 years of moderate use I (a little reluctantly) decided it was time to send him in for a little TLC. This blog post will track the process of having the F6 serviced by Nikon and hopefully be of some benefit to anyone else who’s contemplating having their F6 serviced, now or in the future.

Wood Chisels, Allenspark, Colorado, Portra 160
Wood Chisels, Allenspark, Colorado (Portra 160)

Getting it ready to send:

First off, “sending him in” means sending the camera to Nikon’s Service Center in Los Angeles, California. Being in Colorado – Los Angeles is the proper service center.

Being a NPS (Nikon Professional Services) member, I decided to go through the NPS web site to set up the repair and print the packing slip. The NPS literature states that being an NPS member provides preferential treatment so I figured hey, why not. I filled out all the requisite information in the web form and printed it out. Always keeping original boxes, (much to the chagrin of my office) I carefully packed the F6 body in its original packaging materials, minus the strap, MB-40 grip and any batteries. I included the body cap, wrapped the camera in the original plastic bag it came in and placed it carefully in the cardboard cut-out form cradling the camera top and bottom, then slipped the golden, exterior box around it, then placed the whole thing in a corrugated cardboard box with a thin layer of bubble wrap around it. I sent the package USPS Priority Mail, trackable and insured for $2,500 which would cover the cost of a new one if the postal system lost or damaged it. It cost about $48 to ship it one way. It would have cost another $20 to ship it UPS.

The package left Colorado on a Wednesday and arrived in California on a Saturday.

North Park, Colorado, Velvia
North Park, Colorado (Velvia)

After a few days of waiting I called the Nikon service center [(800) 645-6687, Option 1 for English, Option 5 for repairs] and made it through to a helpful, intelligent human who was able to peer into the Service system. My camera had not been “entered” yet, and he suggested I called back in a couple of days.

That puts us at today. A second call produced a second, helpful, intelligent human who peered into the system again and told me the camera was received, but listed as “non domestic.” I asked her what non-domestic meant to Nikon service and she told me I had to provide proof of purchase in the US for them to repair my camera.

Thank goodness I keep important receipts like that – even from 2008. I went into the storage area of my office and after 5 minutes (and feeling pretty proud of myself), produced the original sales receipt from B&H Photo, dated August, 2008. The document was scanned, then attached to a reply e-mail from Nikon.

A follow up call (call number 3) put me in contact with the original gentleman from earlier in the week who said he’d personally make sure the document was forwarded and provide an update soon. He did both of those things, and Nikon has agreed to now look at my camera.

My account with Nikon now reflects this repair on-line and I’m able to track status via a service order number. Just as importantly I’m able to communicate (presumably) directly with Nikon service through this portal additional details as necessary. In an effort to clearly communicate my hopes of the F6’s visit to Nikon Service, I was told to send an e-mail through their system and it would be posted on the service center’s web page, which it was. Here is the e-mail I sent:

Smoker, Ektar
Smoker (Ektar)

Good Morning Nikon Service,

Thank you for repairing my Nikon F6. Below is a list of items I’d like you to provide pricing on:
1) Clean, Lubricate and Adjust (CLA). The camera is 8 years old and has never been serviced.
2) I’d like to have it modified to accept Pre-AI lenses. As I understand it, this is accomplished by installing the same folding, metal flap/pin assembly on the lens mount similar to that found on the F4 and F3.
3) I’d like the grip replaced on the entire camera. It has come loose on the front-right extruded handle (by the battery compartment), and also on on the back door. This allows moisture and dirt in the inner workings of the camera. The rubber grip has repeatedly come loose on the back door where the right hand grabs the camera. I’d like this replaced.
4) The small rubber collars surrounding the  AF-On/AE-L button on the top-right of the camera, and the same on the top left of the camera surrounding the BKT buttons. These have gradually torn and worked their way loose. I’d like them replaced.
5) The Sub-Command (front) dial on the camera often misses when it’s rotated. So it rotates freely and fine – but does not effect change often times when rotating. I have used the Custom Settings Menu to swap Main and Sub Command dial functions because of this. I’d like to know what it will take to have the proper level of functionality restored to the dial. In effect, so it works properly.
Please provide cost and time estimates on the above.
Thank you very much,

John B. Crane, Photographer

CoCoa Beach, Florida, Ektar
CoCoa Beach, Florida (Ektar)
That puts us where we’re at now: waiting to hear back from service if they are able to perform the above.
I’ll continue to update this blog post as information progresses. In an attempt to help things go smoothly and well I’m following all protocol suggested by Nikon.
Nikon F kit
Nikon F kit (Portra 800)

In hind site I’m glad to have not purchased a gray market camera years ago. At the time it would have saved a couple hundred dollars, but painted me into a corner when it came time for service. After this experience I’ll be sending him again – more frequently this time – knowing cost is reasonable and confidence is high in a quality service experience. Thank you Nikon Service.

Nikon F6: Good Design – Long Life Design Award

This surfaced the other day and I thought it was worth a mention on the F6 Project. The F6 was won the Good Design Long Life Design Award. What’s noteworthy about this is it’s awarded 11 years after the camera was initially released in 2004. This feeds well into the “Longevity” point made in a previous post.

http://www.g-mark.org/award/describe/43350

from their web site:

“The Good Design Award is a comprehensive design-promotion system that picks good design out of a variety of unfolding phenomena, and aims to enrich our lives, industries, and society as a whole by highlighting and celebrating these works. It is hosted by the Japan Institute for Design Promotion, a public interest incorporated foundation. It’s precursor, the Good Design Selection System (or G Mark System), was founded in 1957 by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (the current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and has been engaged in this work for about 60 years. Submissions come from a wide range of fields, and roughly 1200 designs are recognized every year. Over 59 years, around 42,000 designs have been recognized by the awards. Recipients of a Good Design Award are granted use of the G Mark symbol, which has been an emblem of good design for over half a century.”

Please visit the G-Mark web site by clicking the link above.

Heavy Metal: The Nikon F2

Heavy Metal: The legendary Nikon F2 35mm film camera
Nikon F2: Perhaps the Best 35mm camera ever made.
The Ultimate System Camera – Nikon F2 Photomic, front view: shown with MB-1 battery grip, MD-2 motor drive, AN-6Y strap, AS-1 hot shoe adaptor, AR-1 shutter release, MF-3 replaceable back and DP-1 metered prism finder (which is what makes it a F2 Photomic).
Nikon F2 Photomic, rear view: shown with MB-1 battery grip, MD-2 motor drive, AN-6Y strap, AS-1 hot shoe adaptor, AR-1 shutter release, MF-3 replaceable back and DP-1 metered prism finder.

The valid question is – what does this have to do with the F6. The answer is, nothing at all. But trust me, it’s a worthy diversion.

My companions, a familiar site while out wandering...
Three Amigos – now a familiar site while out wandering…

Intro

If you’re interested in the F6, you should also take a serious look at the F2 line up. As with other “last iterations” the F2 is considered by many the finest SLR Nikon – or anyone else for that matter – has ever built. It’s also been labeled the “most beautiful” camera ever built by some. What I mean by ‘last iteration’ is this: in manufacturing terms the final version of something before a large-scale change is often times the best, most refined, successful version of that something. It leverages all the knowledge and experience the manufacturer has learned up until that point and rolls it into one, final masterpiece. In the case of the F2, it represents the last of the hand-assembled, all-mechanical single-digit professional F-series film cameras from Nikon. The F2 isn’t simply a refinement of the famous F preceding it – it’s a complete re-design leveraging everything they learned making the F and rolling it into this lady-killer hunk of a camera. After the F2 came the F3 which was assembled using more automation and employed electronics for basic operation. 40+ years after the roll out of the F2 it’s still considered by many the finest camera ever made.

Central Camera, Chicago, Illinois (2015)
Central Camera, since 1899, Chicago, Illinois (2015)

This year I’ve been working on something I’ve had in mind for a while: acquiring one of each of the single digit Nikon F professional SLR cameras. This summer while in Chicago I had the opportunity to visit Central Camera and from the shelf a beautiful, old (and I swear lonely) F with the FTn Photomic prism called to me in a way I just couldn’t ignore. Soon after we left the store for our first stroll together through the city to get acquainted.

Prior to this July my knowledge of the older Nikon systems was a little sketchy. OK, it was inept. I knew they were legends – but most of my serious time behind the now vintage Nikons began around the F4 days and I hadn’t paid much attention to the older F’s. This year that has all changed.

Central Camera, Chicago, Illinois (2015)
Can you imagine what was on these shelves in 1899 in Chicago’s Central Camera?

If the “F” leg of my journey began by happenstance, the F2 leg began as an act of benevolence from my good friend Mark. He’d been using his F2 for a while and decided to pick up a newer, nicer one. Soon afterwards I received an e-mail saying he was sending me his original F2 Photomic. I was humbled by his generosity and honestly, not sure what to expect. I knew it followed the F and, for some (unknown) reason, I thought of it as “second best” to the F – like some sort of little brother that wasn’t as talented or good looking. Perhaps it had something to do with the fanfare the original F enjoyed because it was “the first.” Perhaps it was because the F2 lacked a prominent F2 on the front of the camera, as all following F’s sported. Perhaps because at first I errantly thought that F2 was simply a reboot of the original F. Who knows… no matter the reason, I was dead wrong.

Nikon F2 shown wit: Nikon 35mm/1:2.8, DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack and DG-2 magnifier
Nikon F2 shown with: Nikon 35mm/1:2.8, DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack and DG-2 magnifier

Design Philosophy of the F2:

Nikon F2 Schematic
Nikon F2 Schematic shows how elaborate the internal workings of the F2 are (origin unknown)

In anticipation I began scouring the web for as much information on the camera as I could find. As a new comer to the F2 there’s nothing I can add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said. What follows instead is this compilation of what I think are some of the marvelous and noteworthy discussions surrounding this camera.

I’ve considered writing a head-to-head review of the F2 and the F6, but don’t really see a point to it: though they share the same DNA, one evolving from the other, they’re two, radically different cameras – each with their own pedigree and position in history – not just the history of Nikon, but in the development of the art of photography. The temptation is to ascribe one as better than the other and that’s something I refuse to do out of respect for both.

The F2 was the last all-mechanical hand -assembled camera (think about that… over 1,500 individual parts assembled into one, highly-efficient, precision instrument), Nikon F-series camera. The shutter was hand assembled by mostly women in the Oi works because of their smaller hands and more delicate touch. The F2 has electronics only in the form of a battery compartment at camera bottom to run the DP-X metered finders.

The Nikon F's FTn head (shown on left) is larger and distinctly different than the F2's smaller DP-2 head shown on right.
The Nikon F’s FTn head (shown on left) is larger and more angular than the F2’s smaller DP-1 head shown on right.

This approach allowed designers to reduce the size and mass of the metered heads because they no longer had to accommodate a battery compartment as in the F. It was also assumed the present (early 1970’s) state of electronics development in the metered finders should be manufactured separately from the all-mechanical body allowing later swapping of rapidly advancing electronics with rock-solid mechanical engineering beneath. In short, the mechanics were expected to out-last the electronics – which of course proved to be true. Replaceable prisms remained a design cornerstone of Nikon professional cameras for many years to follow coming to an end with the F5. As we already know, the F6 no longer makes use of this design feature. The entire F2 (sans motorized grip) functions with no power what so ever. That itself is impressive. But even more so, the F2 is constructed with over 1,500 pieces clicking, twirling, humming, springing and dancing away inside that heavy-duty chassis every time you click the shutter. Simply amazing.

Nikon F2 Blueprint
Nikon F2 Blueprin (origin unknown)

Though at first glance it might be hard to tell the F from the F2, especially when they have eye-level (non-metered, triangular) finders, when design to the successor of the famous F began in September, 1965 the decision was made to start from scratch. This was further reflected by Nippon Kogaku’s changing from their traditional letter and number development code, to simply “A.” Eventually in the design cycle it was recoded “30FB.” The F2 design team was all in-house and had four main goals: a) Design a camera of the highest quality, b) quick and easy operation, c) a systemic approach allowing expansion, and d) continuing down the path to automation.

F2 styling employed a slightly rounder feel softening the hard edges of the original F ever so slightly. There’s also a good bit of accessory cross over between the two cameras. The non-metered (classic triangular) prisms are interchangeable between cameras, as are 20 different focusing screens. Other accessories like the AR-1 soft-shutter release and AR-2 cable release are also compatible between the two cameras. Despite first glances and shared accessories there are many changes and design refinements between the F and F2.

The F2 has a a distinctive, “mechanical” look to it – different than the following F3, F4, F5 and F6. It wasn’t until the F3 that Nikon brought in the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, changing the face of the following F-line forever. Though I admire the sleek design of the later F’s, there’s something wonderfully solid about the glorious apparatus surrounding the F2. From MD motor drives to MB battery packs, 250 and 750 – frame replaceable backs, early auto exposure contraptions, as well as a cornucopia of other accessories covering virtually every photographic scenario one could imagine – everything bolts to the F2 with that famous, Nikon assurance that you’re holding something in your hand that’s probably going to outlive you.

The F and F2 seem more similar than different-especially with their metering heads removed. Some components are interchangeable, like the focus screens.
The legendary F and F2 seem more similar than different-especially with their metering heads removed. Above, the F is shown in front, the F2 shown in rear. Some components are interchangeable, like the focus screens and of course the lenses.

One of the great benefits of an all-mechanical camera is the environments capable of functioning in that electronics either wouldn’t survive (like the arctic) or where highly flammable conditions exist. A great story surrounding the F2 centers around Japanese adventurer Naomi Uemura who came to Nikon with the simple request in June of 1977, “make me a camera that can survive the North Pole!” That camera was a modified F2, a camera capable of functioning at temperatures exceeding -50°C (-58°F). Nikon built Uemura 3 F2’s with which he shot 180 rolls of film over a 6 month period trekking across The North Pole and Greenland. You can read more about this remarkable adventurer and the details of how Nikon worked closely with Uemura to develop a camera specifically for his needs here.

Nikon F2 shown with DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack
Nikon F2 shown with DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack

The more I read, the more I realized what an incredible engineering feat the F2 was – and still is. Manufactured from about 1971 to  1980, it represented the most robust “system” camera Nikon had ever build. It spanned many (6 primary) model variations ranging from original F2 with the unmetered DE-1 prism to the pinnacle F2AS, as well as exotic derivatives. Limited production runs such as the F2 Uemura (3 were made), the F2 DATA, of which reportedly only 1,000 were made, the F2T for Titanium, and the F2H, for High Speed – which had a special mirror designed for super high-speed shooting. Any F2 viewfinder will fit any F2 body.

Somehow the original Nikon AN-6Y yellow strap - complete with metal buckles - is the perfect companion for a camera like the F2 + MB-1 Battery Pack + MD-2 Motor Drive.
Somehow the original Nikon AN-6Y yellow strap – complete with metal buckles – is the perfect companion for a camera like the F2 + MB-1 Battery Pack + MD-2 Motor Drive.

At 40+ years old now in many respects the F2 represents the pinnacle of mechanical engineering – prior to moving to the advances of the electronic era. The lore that surrounds this camera is almost a fairy tale; a synopsis of world history from the early ’70s through 1980.

Rumor has it that the original F adaptors were initially slow to move to the F2. The same thing happened when the F3 was launched – with many photographers opting to pay more for the older, mechanical F2 instead of trusting ‘them new fangled’ electronics. Regardless of the initial reluctance, the camera did famously well and reportedly over 800,000 units were produced from the fall of 1971 to the cease of production in 1980.

Reflecting the shift in photography of the day, the F2 was superior in forma and function and served as the final coup de grace to the German rangefinders. I suppose that’s more an op/ed statement though, anticipating an outcry from the German camera crowd. Let’s just say in the context of the working press of the day it’s subjectively true.

For anyone interested a deeper history of this camera I encourage you to check out the references at the bottom of the page.

First Impressions:

The camera arrived and as so many others can attest to upon experiencing it in hand for the first time, my jaw hit the table. To borrow a phrase from Tomohisa Ikeno describing the Nikon F6, the F2 is indeed also “a camera of great substance.” Any previous thoughts otherwise instantly vanished. The F2 is deceptively heavy for its rather smallish size compared to today’s cameras. As the camera appears in the photo atop this page, he weighs in at an impressive 4lbs 7oz. So, not exactly a featherweight. This is not a negative – I like the solid feel and welcome the balance the camera produces in hand. It’s a beautifully simple camera to operate, on par with the original F, though with a few more “shootability” traits. Maximum shutter speed was increased from 1/1,000 in the F to 1/2,000 in the F2 allowing one to work with larger apertures in brighter light. This is an even more amazing feet when you consider it’s all mechanical, horizontally traveling titanium foil shutter.

The Nikon F's FTn head (shown on left) is larger and distinctly different than the F2's smaller DP-2 head shown on right.
The differences between the F and F2 on top at first glance appear subtle. In use, they’re more noticeable. The F2 (left) is shown tucked safely in the CH-1 hard case bottom, while the F is wrapped in its appropriate ever ready case bottom.

The shutter release button was moved forward on the top plate making it a bit easier for a naturally placed finger. Functionality of the shutter release collar was expanded to allow T (time) shooting (using the self-timer lever on the front of the camera), a normal shooting position, and a L (lock) position to prevent accidentally tripping the shutter.

The film advance lever was now tipped in plastic, providing a greater sense of human engineering compared to the bare metal lever of the F. It was also given the additional duty of turning the camera’s meter on and off by rotating it out which reveal a red dot on the top plate. The film advance lever had a short throw (only 120° of rotation) allowing quick film advance.

Nikon F2 Cutaway
Nikon F2 Cutaway

The frame counter was removed from the film advance lever to the top plate. Perhaps most notably however was the back door of the camera was now hinged allowing one to change film more easily, rather than having to remove the back completely as with the F. Other refinements also went into the F2. For all the F2 detail anyone could ever digest I invite you to visit the MIR F2 Index page. You’ll get lost for hours in this incredibly comprehensive resource about the camera.

The Hunt is On

The month or so since first unboxing the F2 has been a bit of a whirl wind. The copy generously sent to me was usable, but had seen better days. I decided I’d try to obtain a nicer copy. There are a few things about the F2 I’ve learned in my recent acquisition phase from auction. One is, moderate to decent F2’s aren’t terribly expensive. I’ve seen them range from about $100 to $200 for average to good condition cameras. Even less if you pick up a F2 body with no finder. This is great news. The not-so-great news is, if you’re going to shoot it, you’d better be prepared to put a little money into having it refurbished. These are old, mechanical cameras – some of which were used hard. I recently picked up a body for the princely sum of $65 listed as “working fine” and in “top condition.” It looked presentable from the exterior, but it surely wasn’t in top condition. One of the achilles heal in older F2’s is the plastic battery compartment shattering. When it does, not only does no power reach the metered prism, but even worse, little pieces of plastic jam the film transport mechanism. The fix requires surgery: a costly strip down to the chassis to epoxy or otherwise repair the battery compartment. While they’re at it, a good CLA makes sense. So my $65 bargain ended up costing a couple hundred by the time it was repaired. Lesson learned.

Secondly, Nikon’s early assessment that the finders would peter out before that stout mechanical body proved true. Finding a good, working DP-anything isn’t as easy as you’d think. Again, these are 40 years old and early electrical technology. Many finders are “jumpy” or inconsistent or not working at all. There are a few places that will fix them – but it’s not cheap. Nor are the unmetered, original DE-1 finders in good condition. So again, to have a good F2 shooter you’re going to spend a little money. However – when the total cost of obtaining and repairing a solid F2 are compared to what the same expense would purchase in today’s consumer electronics, there’s no comparison: you’ll get a lifetime camera in the F2 vs. something that’ll sell at a garage sale in a couple years for $50 (I’m talking about the digital, by the way).

You might get lucky like I did and find a decent DP-1 metered prism for a reasonable price. Thus, my humpty dumpty F2 was assembled in such a way and looks and functions great – with a little TLC by a factory trained Nikon technician. The thinking is, at 40 years old and with a recent refresh this camera will outlive me. I’m OK with that.

Regarding serial numbers and dates of production, visit this serial number chart for reference.

“Shootability”

This is another subjective assessment. Whatever camera one uses repeatedly and grows accustomed to is going to feel comfortable in hand. It will become that “extension of one’s self” people (including me) like to say when describing how you’ve used a camera for so long and know it so well, there’s no longer an adjustment necessary when you pick it up. You just shoot. To the long-time user of the F2 – as with anyone using any other camera for a long time – it’s highly shootable. To the newbie – it’s also highly shootable.

The base configuration of the F2 with the metered DP-1 finder is an all-manual camera. In contemporary context if you think S for shutter priority, A for aperture priority, P for program and M for manual, the only mode the F2 has is M – manual. The DP-1 provides an adequate meter with which to gauge exposure – though the electronics and sensitivity of that meter aren’t on par with today’s camera – especially the F6. No matter – it’s plenty good enough and you can rely on it getting you in the ball park. It is center-weighted, taking into consideration the entire frame but weighting preference to the center of the frame – suitable for most general purpose photography. The photographer experienced with basic fundamentals of determining exposure will be able to do anything with the F2 they can do with any other camera – perhaps just not as quickly. Again – this is all subjective. Please all you old-school F2 shooters don’t take me to task on this statement; it’s not directed at you. I’m talking to the those used to a different metering system and to the adjustments they’ll want to make to be successful with the F2.

The DE-1 non-metered prism finder is a different matter. With no meter at all you’re left to determine exposure any number of other ways (like with your own light meter, or superior intellect). In that case the un-metered F2 will fall into your hands like a well-worn glove ready to respond to your every command. It is SUPERB. I’m kind of a nut about stuff like this – the warm, squishy attributes of a camera. How it feels in the hand. Its a big deal to me. Something clunky and awkward you hate to hold is not going to get held. Consequently, not going to make pictures.

The F2 is a dream. I’ve heard the term “built like a tank” so many times it has become a meaningless platitude. So let’s come up with a better way to describe the F2. I’m drawing a blank at the moment.

The Nikon F2 shown in 2 different configurations: on the left, the F2 Photomic, on the right the F2s,
The Nikon F2 shown in 2 different configurations: on the left, the F2 Photomic in chrome, on the right the F2s in black.

Accessories

Another fun thing about the F2 is all of the beautiful – but way overpriced accessories. The “collectors” have driven the price of this old gear through the roof. Something simple like a MF-3 replaceable back that allows leader-out film rewinding (with the MD-2 and MB-1) I saw at auction for $450. For a back. Buyer beware… just use your head, do your research and you’ll be fine.

The F6 has a diopter adjustment built into the viewfinder. For the F2 if you’re interested in adjusting the diopter of the F2 you’re back to old school method of finding the appropriate one. As mentioned earlier the F2 and F share some of the same accessories for the F2 like focusing screens. Thankfully viewfinder adjustment diopters are another area the F2 leverages from other camera’s accessories, sharing the same diopter size as that of the FE line, FM line and FA as well as the F3 (not F3 HP which stands for High Eyepoint and uses a different diameter thread). So with a little creativity and digging you can still find genuine Nikon parts, or high-quality reproductions fairly easily for this 40-year old camera.

If you’re into the old, mechanical nuts and bolts stuff that has a retro sound, look and feel – you’re going to go broke in the world of the F2. The accessories available for the F2 are vast. For a little fun visit the Nippon Kogaku Klub for some pretty exotic mechanical F2 gear. Over accessorizing is not a danger for him: the more bling you hang on him the better looking he gets. He’s a sculpture; a work of art masquerading as a 35mm film camera. The good news is you can pick one up at a reasonable price and have a blast shooting it stripped down to its skivvies’. It’s that great of a camera.

Repairs for the F2

Someone attempted to repair this DP-1 leatherette (the small, textured material adhered to the plastic or metal parts of the camera). You can see what a mess a hasty job can create.
Someone attempted to repair this DP-1 leatherette (the small, textured material adhered to the plastic or metal parts of the camera). You can see what a mess a hasty job can create.

It’s easy enough and even fun to clean and polish your old, new-to-you F2 when it shows up. Even tasks like replacing the often crumbly, gummy foam seals in strategic positions of the camera are easily doable with the right tools and a little time/patience (check out Jon Goodman in Dallas, Texas. He’s your man for replacement foams). But when components fail – especially electronic components – it’s difficult if not impossible to find suitable replacements so long after the originals were discontinued. Another great thing about the all mechanical F2: in theory, it’s repairable. Thankfully there are a handful of qualified, dedicated artisans still available to make such repairs.

Sover Wong's documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented
Sover Wong’s image documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented. All images are provided real-time as he works on your camera, then on CD with your camera upon return.

At the top of the list is Sover Wong. Sover is a UK-based, Nikon factory trained, F2-dedicated technician. You can read more about his approach to repairing your prized F2 here. Sover is a legend in the F2 community. To have your prized F2 “Sovered” is to restore it functionally better than new. His shutter timing calibration exceeds Nikon factory specs.  If you’re in the UK and need your F2 repaired you’re fortunate. Shipping round trip from the US adds another $100+ to the repair bill, which thankfully is quite reasonable for the level of attention he lavishes on these cameras. Upon receiving my F2S back from Sover it had a distinct ‘snap’ and smooth, quiet liquidity to operation. Having the internals of your F2 documented and provided on CD with the camera is a wonderful addition to the camera’s dossier. He records every serial number of every F2 he services and has a generous warranty and repeat service policy.

Sover Wong's documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented
Thankfully, Sover Wong’s inspection of the camera’s chassis interior revealed no fungus. Fungus is commonly found in cameras shipped from Japan and eventually destroys the camera from the inside out..
There should not be holes in the film advance lever cap. Someone drilled holes presumably to fit a spanner wrench and remove the part.
There should not be holes in the film advance lever cap. This is an example of what Sover Wong calls a “Cowboy hack.” You want your camera to be returned in better condition when you send it out for repair – not worse.

There are others still around in the US who will work on your F2. Be careful though. I’ve heard and seen horror stories of people badly mutilating the camera in the process of what they call a repair. Some components require special tools to disassemble. Calibrating the shutter is another precise adjustment requiring someone who really knows their stuff.

If you’re in Northern Colorado give Key Camera Service in Longmont a call (303-772-7690) . They repaired my jammed F2 and did a great job.

Having an F2 loaded at all times is now standard operating procedure, right along side the F6 (and the F, F4 and F5). The appeal for me is the lack of electronics and the sheer sense of substance while holding it. While I love the F6 and continue to rely on it for every-day shooting, the F2 warrants special consideration from an artistic, idealistic and even – I’ll say it out loud – romantic point of view.

The Whole "film thing"...
The Whole “film thing”…

The whole “film thing”

I was talking with my wife about it the other day, asking her what she supposes it is that causes someone to fall in love with something 40 years old; that by contemporary standards is wholly behind in technology, lacking in many of today’s stated “necessary” features and frankly the antithesis of today’s modernly digital cameras. What is it about hoisting these cameras to our eyes, we whisper under our breath, “wow…”? What is it that makes us spend the time and money cleaning them up, recalibrating shutters, repairing viewfinders, and massaging them back into smooth, efficient operation to go out and make the same photograph many other cameras could make? Why do we do it?

Passion. Romance. Feeling. Love. Lore. Appreciation for great engineering. That “X-factor” that can’t be measured, quantified or explained when you hold the sum of over 1,500 individual parts designed, manufactured and assembled into one, precision instrument you now hold in your hand. A device that’s part of history. I believe it’s the very essence of photography; the attribute elevating the mechanical process of clicking a button from the common realm to the ethereal. Making art with art. Poetic, even.

I’m of course not saying there’s only one camera capable of this. But I do believe for each person who hoists their favorite, old film camera to their eye and squints into the viewfinder; fingers caressing and adjusting knobs, breath steaming the camera back, eyelashes sticking in the viewfinder… there’s something going on more than simply using a light-tight box to execute a mechanical process. We can admit it… we’re among friends. It’s all part of the “art” of photography, and we know it.

CineStill 800T developed in Cs41 seems to respond quite favorably. Nikon F6, Fort Collins, Colorado
CineStill 800T developed in Cs41 seems to respond quite favorably. Nikon F6 (shot with the Nikon F2), Fort Collins, Colorado

So what’s all this have to do with the F6. Nothing, really. Other than when you shoot the F, F2, F3, F4 and F5 you begin to appreciate the F6 DNA all the more. Trying to answer the question ‘which is your favorite’ is a cat chasing its tail. Each photographer has preferences based on their experience: specific cameras which trigger memories from long hours spent with them in hand, or admiring one over another for aesthetic and design preferences. But best… why bother? Just shoot and enjoy each as the spirit moves you and simply enjoy them for what they are: works of art masquerading as 35mm film cameras.

Mirror-Up Shooting: It’s For Real

Nikon F2 Photomic S Slow Motion Video

Recently I read a blog post from someone claiming Mirror-Up shooting was a hoax. A waste of time, something camera manufacturers dreamed up as way to add a new feature to the camera and charge more for it. A “Emperor’s New Clothes” hoodwink, if you will. Well, take a look at this:

It’s slow motion video of the venerable Nikon F2 at 1/2000 sec. and the lens stopped down to ƒ16. If there were ever any doubt in anyone’s mind whether the mirror’s movement has the ability to create vibrations inside the mirror box this should answer the question once and for all.

To those who don’t know what Mirror-Up shooting is, please visit this page for a more detailed explanation. Essentially, M-Up is a feature included in certain cameras allowing a 2-step shutter release. The first step raises the Mirror up out of the way. The camera then is allowed to “settle” as long as you want before the second step – releasing the shutter in the camera and actually exposing the film. This all happens so fast in regular shooting that it feels like 1 quick step – but it’s actually 2. M-Up is highly useful in slower-speed photography: between 1/30 sec. and 1-2 seconds. For shutter speeds outside of this range it could be argued that the motions happen so fast there’s not time for the slight movement to affect image quality. But in that dead zone of slow exposures M-Up is real.

The 440

A few weeks ago I needed to get out – as in far away from the computer – in a big way. The weather wasn’t good along the Front Range and checking the iPhone confirmed pretty much any place within easy driving distance was experiencing the same. It looked like the only thing to do was out drive the front. I fueled up, stopped for the requisite Americano and headed into the rain not knowing what the day held. Not knowing what lie ahead isn’t just part of the fun – it’s the reason I go.

There are a number of different ways to connect with my favorite haunts – North Park/Southern Wyoming. Memorial Day this year marked the opening of Trail Ridge Road, which connects the front range with the deeper mountains through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a bit circuitous route, but any day beginning on Trail Ridge Road is a good day no matter what happens next. I headed up to the Park, bought the annual pass and wasted no time getting high. That’s a eyebrow-raising phrase here in Colorado these days… what I mean  is quickly gaining elevation. On a week day there was little traffic – one of the wonderful benefits of being able to take off in the middle of the week instead of waiting for the weekend.

Highway 14, North Park, Colorado
North Park along Highway 14 south of Walden, Colorado (2015). Nikon F100 + Ektar

At the bottom of Trail Ridge you wind up in Grandby T-boning at the intersection of Highway 40. A right takes you towards Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling. I stopped at the market in Kremmling for a break, the weather already improving, and considered my route. I only had the day, needing to be back that night – so was somewhat limited by daylight. The western edge of North Park is unofficially bound by 40 as it winds up over Muddy Pass. From there I picked up 14 and headed east towards Walden.

White gate near Rand, Colorado, North Park, Colorado (2015)
White Gate, North Park, Colorado (2015). Nikon F4s + Velvia

A great thing about being open to the day is a willingness to detour onto new roads. There are roads I’ve driven by many times making a mental note to return someday to explore as time allows. Nearing Walden I came upon one of those roads; a dirt road peeling off across the pasture lands to the east. With plenty of fuel and a cooler full of fruit and water this was the perfect opportunity and I didn’t hesitate.

I have and shoot a lot of cameras – many of which I was carrying on this day – all loaded with different films. I think back to a story once read about Robert Frank (The Americans) who was one day detained in a small town by a police officer who noticed he had an unusually large number of cameras visibly scattered about in the car. I smile as I think about the packed Pelican crate tucked safely in the back of the Subaru, beneath a foil space blanket to keep it cooler in the high-altitude sun shining through the rear window. I also make a note to check the cooler containing extra film brought along at the next stop.

I know some people think you should only only shoot one film, getting used to its characteristics in certain light, the look it produces etc. I understand the reasoning behind this – but toss it out the window. Different films are for different light, different applications, different scenes, different subjects. A film camera loaded with roll film can only practically shoot one roll at a time. Having different cameras loaded with different films allows greater flexibility for an image that may be better suited for a chrome (slide) film, or C41 (color negative) or black and white.

There has been a great deal of rain in Colorado this year; a wonderful break from the high and dry monotony pestering ranchers, farmers and other ag-centric folks over recent past. All this rain has turned browns into greens; refilled drainage ditches, draws and ponds, and contributed to an overall pleasant aroma to the high prairie. Standing water also means lots of bugs.

Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that's fallen.
Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that’s fallen. Nikon F4s + Velvia
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado.
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado. Nikon F4s + Velvia

After Rand I picked up 125 North towards Cowdrey, veered left at the Dean Peak Junction and was on my way North into Wyoming.

I was eager to shoot my new F5 for the first time and had both it and the F6 on the seat next to me just in case. Sometimes things catch your eye and digging a camera out of the crate takes time. Only a few frames had been made thus far in the trip. Light during mid-day isn’t ideal, which is why that time is spent moving between places – to be in position for the edges of the day. Often times I’ll think I see a shot and head down a dirt road looking for the right vantage point. More often then not things don’t line up, or the light’s wrong, or there’s too much mud (which has happened a lot this year), or I’m met with a “No Trespassing” sign (I always respect No Trespassing signs) and the detour is chalked up to a learning experience as I head back to the main road. As I’m driving down a double track or dirt road I’m always considering my exit plan. Once while trying to turn around on a double track in Sweetwater County the car became stuck – high-centered in the middle of no where. I try to avoid this.

About the time I rolled into southern Wyoming it was later in the day and the light had improved considerably. I’d left rainy skies far behind and was enjoying fresh air, brilliant bluebird skies punctuated by dramatic, enormous cloud masses as the edge of the front just passed through quietly lumbered its way east.

Riverside, Wyoming (2015)
Riverside, Wyoming (2015) Nikon F5 + Ektar

Riverside, Wyoming is a quiet town just north of the Colorado/Wyoming state line. I pass through Riverside often, en route to other destinations. This day it marked the point I was to turn east and head home. The Trading Post sits on the corner of Wyoming 230 and 70. The tired me planned on rolling right on by – until I saw the clouds, and what the light was doing. Thanks to the high pressure system chasing the front east, the air was freshly scrubbed and crystal clear. Brilliant light screamed across a fresh atmosphere and slammed into the wood siding, red roof and white accent signage. I suppose I’ve spent enough time cruising around to notice a gas station or two – and this was spectacular.

No tripod, no filters, no nothing other than f8 and be there. 2 frames clicked off the F5 loaded with Ektar and on I went. My real goal was trying to hit peak light on Snowy Range Road and I knew I’d be cutting it close.

Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming
Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming. Nikon F6 + Portra 160

Snowy Range Road – like Trail Ridge Road – is closed during winters. Signs along the approach alert the traveler well in advance whether it’s open or closed. Even with all the snow the mountains received this year I knew I was safe and car churned its way up the steep grade. I spent an hour milling about looking for a good composition vantage point based on what the light was doing – but wasn’t able to line up what I’d hoped. I used to become anxious during these moments, but now I’m relaxed. If the world aligns and an image is presented – wonderful. If not – you’re up in the mountains watching this etherial scene unfold. Where else would you rather be? A scene doesn’t need to result in an image. Just relax and enjoy not being parked in front of the computer.

Undiscouraged, I packed up and headed further up the road towards Libby Flats to catch last light on the Overlook. Almost immediately after making the one frame, shadows swept up and over, engulfing the stone structure until morning. It was time to head home. I put in 440 miles that day (and I wonder why I’m chewing through tires so fast). Driving home in the dark I was satisfied; happy to have been out wandering in the west with no agenda and plenty of cameras loaded with film. The net result was, I felt rested and ready to face another day tomorrow – at my best thanks to the break.

 

 

Hybrid Workflow: Remember Contact Sheets?

Creating a Contact Sheet in Photoshop is a breeze.

I’ve mentioned in the past what I think is one of the greatest things about shooting film these days: the ability to combine analog qualities with digital tools to create a unique, hybrid workflow to your film photography. One of my favorite things about working in the darkroom or picking up rolls of film from the lab was the contact sheet. Some people like the nicely stacked set of prints. I liked the contact sheets, full of organized, easy to view frames all in one place. After looking at the sheet with a loupe I’d three hole punch and insert it into a binder with the sleeves that held the negatives. There they remain to this day, on the shelf where I can easily walk up to any binder and by quickly scanning the contact sheet find the frame of film I’m after. I don’t have to turn a computer on to find a negative and I like that.

Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.
Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.

Working on ways to streamline the hybrid workflow has me revisiting contact sheets – but now using Photoshop to create them, not the darkroom. True – before, a contact sheet was created prior to putting a lot of processing time into the roll in order to choose which images you want to work with. Now – a lot of work goes into the roll prior to generating the contact sheet. So I suppose the reasons you’d make a contact sheet differ from the old days. I use it the same way, though: once created, print it out and stick in the three ring binder with the negatives as a quick reference to the images on the roll.

It couldn’t be easier to create a contact sheet in Photoshop. For this I’m using the most recent version of Creative Cloud Photoshop, 2014.2.2 – but I know it’s also possible prior to this. My version of Photoshop CS3 has the same plug in installed.

Once you’ve scanned your images (and embed them with exif data using meta35), open Photoshop. Under the File menu go down to Automate, and select from the fly-out menu Contact Sheet II.

Adobe Photoshop's Contact Sheet II options
Adobe Photoshop’s Contact Sheet II options

This gives you a dialog box with a few settings.

Here you will:
a-Navigate to the directory containing your scanned images.

b-Set the contact sheet’s size, shape and resolution. I use a typical 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper because that’s what my printer uses. I also create the contact sheet in landscape mode because that’s the orientation of the rest of the pages in the binder.

c-Set Mode, Bit Depth and Color Profile

d-I leave Flatten All Layers unchecked because I like to have some flexibility to edit the layers once they’re created – rather than having Photoshop flatten the document it’s about to generate.

e-For thumbnails I like to go across first and check the box that says Use Auto-Spacing. Across first mimics closely the horizontal presentation of the film strip.

f-For Columns and Rows I suppose it depends on how many images you’re working with. In this case I was working with 35 images and knew I’d probably need to go two pages for it. Most of the time I’m working with fewer images on the roll (I typically don’t scan every frame). So you might choose to size your thumbnails so they all fit nicely on one sheet. This took too much math at the time so I let Photoshop figure it out.

g-I selected Rotate for Best Fit to avoid the odd horizontal and vertical shots – preferring instead to have all images nicely aligned in one row (the OCD in me comes out).

h-Choose the font and size you want the image names to appear in – then hit OK.

Presto. Photoshop chugs through the images in the folder flattening the layers of images that exist as PSD’s and writing the image’s name neatly below the frame on the page.

It’s default is a white page which is ideal for your printer (because it uses less ink to print). I made the background black here just to show one of the benefits of not Flattening All Layers in the earlier check box.

Your images are now all presented on one, neatly organized and labeled sheet to do with as you please. I like to print and stick in the binder.

It’s a simple thing, but a great way to easily and quickly create a useful print out of images from an entire roll for cataloging.