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…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.

Spot Metering
* 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.

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Posted by simon on February 24, 2012
7 Comments Post a comment
  1. 02/24/2012

    Great post — and one that I personally can identify closely with. I also started my film journey about two years ago, being lured in with the Digital Harinezumi. This camera took lofi film-like photos and after several weeks with it, I jumped onto the holga bandwagon. Then the lomo LCA. And onward with the yashicamat 124g, mamiya rb67, nikon fm2 and then eventually the Leica M4-P.

    I sold most of these cameras, realizing my film addiction, and held onto my FM2, Holga and replaced the M4-P with an M6. Then thought that a Mamiya C330 wouldn’t hurt. Or getting a very sexy and out-of-this-world Kiev 60. And many more.

    Film photography is simply addicting. Strangely, this path takes you to higher and higher quality cameras, approaching the accuracy of digital yet still embracing the qualities and joy of film photography (and self-development and the frustration of scanning and the dust monsters).

    What is it? I believe it’s the physical tactical of the shutter opening and closing. The film gently gliding across as you pull the film advance. Or perhaps it’s knowing that this photo was physically there with you at this time and space. It’s not a representation via pixels of what was seen; this moment in time was burned into a medium that was actually present at the time of event. It is very easy to get lost staring into a slide. A moment, frozen in time.

    My current favorites are the Kiev 60 and Leica IIF, though I have been eyeballing that Nikon F5…

    Reply
    • 02/25/2012

      Matt,

      This made me laugh out loud as this behaviour is more common than we thought. It’s like the kids in a candy store that have 60 years of toys to chose from and that will take you way beyond the level of most digitals on the market apart from a few of the industry leaders.

      My journey is definitely having a pause at the Hasselblad and F5, if only to have a real chance to explore the world with two of the icons.
      I am however more than aware that this isn’t the end of the journey and there will be more chapters to come.

      Cheers,

      Simon

      Reply
    • 02/25/2012

      Matt,

      I’ve been looking at your site and it is really fantastic. love the photos but also the formats for the look book and blog all interlinked. did you have this site made for you or is it an off the shelf like wordpress?

      Reply
      • 02/27/2012

        Simon,

        It’s all a constant battle; I am terrible at keeping my Flickr up-to-date, worse at keeping my site fresh and simply bad at attempting to keep a blog. Tight integration through multiple services (flickr; tumblr and wordpress) has helped me manage through the noise and cross-post effectively. I shoot a whole lot more than what makes it online.

        To answer your question: Yes, the theme is a template that I purchased from a vendor. I adapted it for my own use, but I have found I take much more joy in my non-commissioned works. I will be integrating my blog and my landing page into a singular site in the future, but how that will look and feel is still to be determined.

        An unfortunate consequence to our affliction is that of choice. Which tool for which job? For this year, my first major photographic expedition will be to travel to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to capture burning man. I am torn for 1> Which cameras shall I subject to the harsh desert winds and sand and 2> Which medium? Slide? Negative film? Digital? Medium format? Small format? Polaroid?

        I watched a short on National Geographic’s photographers from 1999. Those Leica R6.2s with their square lens hoods were prominently featured. Small. Unobtrusive. A mechanical paradise. I had to look away.

        Back in my digital-only days in 2009, selection was quite simple. I had my Nikon D300 and chose which lens to bring. Now, I have the curse of choice — but gain a photographic keep rate well over 90%. I was lured into this world by being attracted to small, lightweight “full-frame” cameras. Little did I realize that in 2012 I would be carrying three cameras in my Domke F-5XB: the sony nex 3 and two film cameras.

      • 02/28/2012

        Matt,

        The template makes it look really good. Like you say, the digital on line options are immense and growing. I am currently looking at view book as an option and link this into my wordpress blog – which of course links to both tumblr sites I run and my flickr…….
        Sometimes I think I am oversharing – something I am critical of with general use of social media – and then I think that tumblr and flickr bring people to my blog, which is the bit I love anyway.
        Burning Man is going to play havoc with a camera. I’d be tempted to get an old film camera with a crummy waterproof housing for it and use that for the trip…you have time to get this sorted before the 2012 burning man anyway.

        cheers,
        simon

  2. 02/28/2012

    Very nice retrospection Matt… I too got bitten by “looking back” and going back to the “roots”, after being indulgent and coaxed by the digital system.

    I esp. looked into 35mm point-n-shoots and managed to get my hands on a very clean n nicely kept Olympus mju II.

    I went through one roll quite fast, even though many times had to curb my urge to shoot, thinking it was film and not digital, therefore having only limited shots! haha…

    However, I still have the first 2 finished rolls laying at rest on my desk as I write for quite some time now. Just haven’t had a chance to send them to the lab. This is what “hurts” me – the turn around time!! 🙂

    But yeah, I started on film when I was 8 yrs old and my first encounter with digital was in 2004. I miss the overall experience of shooting film and using those amazing film cameras… the F5, F3, F-1n…

    Reply
    • 02/28/2012

      cheers for the comment and you are right to move to film. the delay in processing is part of the beauty of film – if you know you are going to wait, then you make sure the shot is right first – which is very counterintuitive to the whole digital experience. simon

      Reply

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