…it feels like it may be a step too far.
For two years now I have been searching the history of film cameras to find the strange, unusual and often overlooked cameras that can still produce amazing images today.
What started as a reaction against my own personal over reliance on digital options, became a reminder of why I love to take photographs and along the way I have found amazing cameras that I can honestly say I have felt privileged to use some 20, 30 or even 60 years after they were first sold.
As mentioned many times before, this quest for quality in the images I take has brought me very quickly away from my starting point with a replica Lubitel 166+ through to cameras, lenses and films that are at the performance end of the spectrum.
This two years has seen me delve through the history of the 35mm SLR cameras and lenses; stopping off on the way with a fantastic Mamiya MSX100, then a Nikon F2A and an FE and finding some amazing manual Prime and DC lenses along the way.
At some point it became clear that one thing was as inevitable as my ending up with a Hasselblad for Medium Format – and it was that I would end up at the end of the road for Nikon Film cameras at the F6 – that is apart from one thing that happened to me on my journey along the way – and this was my time spent with the Kiev 60 and then the Fuji GW690II medium format monsters.
These two leviathans became great travel partners with me around the globe and through learning to travel with such heavy cameras, I found myself not at the end of the Nikon road with the F6 but just before with the slightly cruder and less refined F5 which comes in at around one and a half kilos.
The Nikon F5 was the pinnacle of the Nikon film cameras for many people apart from one critical aspect – weight. Because of this the F6 became the pro camera of choice when it was launched; although many Sports photographers chose to stay with the much faster F5 that can still pump out up to 8 fps on film. This sort of speed is above the ability of all but the top digital SLR’s, even now some 15 years after the F5 first hit the market.
As the slightly uglier older sister of the F6, it does mean however that they have lost their value to the point where you pick this landmark in SLR development up for a fraction of the price you will pay for the F6. A quick look at ebay will show the F5 for a couple of hundred dollars against the F6 at typically one and a half thousand.
The reason for the speed and the weight probably rests with the 8 AA batteries that run the Auto Focus motors fast enough to produce the 8fps – running the camera on continuous focus tracks moving objects without steps or blur and the choices of shooting rate can be separately controlled on the top left of the camera to control the rate you fire the shutter at. For this of course you need the minimum of a D lens that Nikon was developing along side the F5 in the 90’s.
I had read the F5 eats batteries but so far I am many films in and still firing on the same set I started with. The sort of figures often quoted are 25 films per set of batteries and that the spent batteries still have quite a residual charge – but not one big enough to run the F5. I am not sure of the cost of AA’s around the world but in Asia the market price monopoly between Duracel and Energizer was destroyed by the newcomer GP a few years ago and a set of AA’s for the F5 will cost you less than half of the price of the film you put in the camera.
So why step up to the F5 at all with a great FE and also the F2A and most importantly a bunch of prime lenses that run as well manually as they would in auto-focus? I guess the answer is the same as the reason for buying proper lamps and a lighting set up and that was the need to get more professional about my photography. The biggest difference for me with the F5 has to be the 3D Colour Matrix Metering available for the first time on the F5.
There are three metering options on the F5;
3D Colour Matrix Metering
* Now Red-Green-Blue (RGB) metering sensor with 1,005-pixel CCD reads not only brightness and contrast but also scene colour and using actual shooting data from more than 30,000 scenes stored in F5’s database.
* Integrates distance information when D-type AF Nikkor lens is used.
Flexible Centre-Weighted Metering
* 75% of sensitivity concentrated within 12mm circle in the centre of the viewfinder.
* Size of centre circle can be changed by Custom Setting #14 on the back of the F5 to increase it to 25mm or reduce it to a few millimeters.
* Reads 4mm-diameter area corresponding to the focus area selected. There is a toggle on the back of the camera to change the position of focus to 5 different areas (center and four areas above, below and to the sides).
Although I chose to take most of my personal photography in B/W, I do need to use colour for interior work and I have always found lighting and colour shift the hardest thing to get to grips with. By using the Matrix Metering on the F5 this takes away part of this problem.
Lighting or correct exposure is less of an issue with Bracketing and the F5 was the first of Nikons cameras with on-camera bracketing. The F4 had bracketing using an optional Multi Control Back which can also be used with the F5, giving up to 9 shots. On camera control allows either 2 or 3 shots from +/- 1/3rd to +/- 1 stop which means you can either compensate for hair and skin colour in a portrait or bracket the shot whilst you learn the best settings.
This only leaves colour cast from walls or light sources and for this as mentioned before I am now correctly metering with a 18% Grey card and using the correct colour gels on my strobes that run at 5200K.
So finally, with the F5 I also have the Nikkor 20/2.8D because of the need shooting interiors and because I could never be without a wide lens after living with the Voigtlander 15/4.5 Heliar for so long now.
These are from the weekend with Lola and Cassius and although the lens distorts (widens) the image, it also focuses at a ridiculous 25cm which is perfect for kids who love to shove their faces into my cameras.
So is the F5 a step to far for am amateur photographer? Does it just do too much and give too many options? For me the answer has become probably not after a two year period of building up more of a style that dictates the way I approach a camera.
Would I suggest an F5 over a 1970’s F2A? Again, probably not, as this is an issue of how you want to use your camera and portability.
Over the past couple of years returning to film, the beliefs I held two years ago seem less relevant today. I feel much less hysterical about film versus digital than I did and have started to find my base level in photography from which I can now start.
Henri Cartier Bresson is famous for saying that the first 10,000 pictures you take are your worst and to this I would add that my first two years of taking film again have only brought me back to the bottom and from here on, the options are only ones of growth.