Monday, January 19, 2015

Spotlight: Nikon F2

Nikon F2 with Standard DE-1 Finder, 50mm F/1.4 Nikkor, and AR-1 Soft Release
The Nikon F2 was first introduced in 1971, and is the last fully mechanical professional camera Nikon ever made. As the successor to the original Nikon F, the F2 attempted to improve on its predecessor in every way. Here's a list of the more significant improvements and additions Nikon made with the F2:

- A faster top shutter speed (1/2000th vs. 1/1000th).
- A special self-timer that allows for 10 second timed exposures, as well as delayed shutter action.
- A swing-open back, making film loading way easier and faster than the original F, where the back came completely off.
- A shutter locking mechanism! (Just twist the dial around the release)
- Multiple exposures!
-A way more convenient mirror-lock-up mechanism (Doesn't make you waste a frame).
-A much comfier film advance lever

Top view

What's amazing is how Nikon managed to make all these improvements while still retaining the size, weight, and beauty of the original F. In fact, to the common eye, the F and F2 look nearly identical, and that's a good thing. It wasn't until the F3 that Nikon started making its cameras look hideous. The F2 is the last of it's kind: Pure elegant mechanical brilliance.

Yes, the F2 is a masterpiece of design, but it has one downside: It's LOUD. The shutter makes a violent "CA-CLACK!" during every exposure. The F lets off a muffled "clunk" when the shutter is fired, making the original model my preferred camera for candid photography.  However, for just about any other kind of photography, I'll have an F2 in my hands.

I took my F2 out over the weekend and put its multiple-exposure capabilities to the test. I mostly used my 20mm F/2.8 Nikkor lens, but also utilized my 50mm F/1.4 and 35mm F/2. Everything was shot on Kodak Ektar 100.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spotlight: Nikon F3

The Nikon F3 was released in 1980, and is the successor to the immensely popular F2.

The F3 is Nikon's first professional camera to feature a battery-operated shutter, complete with aperture-priority mode! Unfortunately, it's also Nikon's first pro camera not to support a traditional pyramid-shaped interchangeable prism (such as the F2's DE-1 finder). I'm stuck with an ugly High-Eyepoint (HP) finder on my F3.

The entire design of the F3 is a drastic design departure from the F and F2 cameras. Gone is the manly brick-like body, in favor of a smoother, rounder, more feminine form. The F3 has a small non-removable grip that's shallow, yet comfortable. I never felt like the camera was ever in any danger of falling out of my hands. Overall, the ergonomics are much improved over previous F cameras.

Top View, sans prism

As already stated, the F3 has a battery operated shutter, with manual speeds selectable in full stops between 8 seconds and 1/2000th of a second. A single mechanical speed of 1/90th is available, should you lose battery power. What's odd is this speed cannot be fired with the normal shutter button; you have to use a secondary switch on the front of the camera, below the aperture preview button. It took me a while to figure this out! Multiple exposures are easily performed by flicking a tiny switch next to the shutter button each time you want to take an additional exposure.

I have to say I don't much like the metering readout on the F3. You view your current shutter speed on a small LCD screen in the top left-hand side of the finder. A tiny "+" and "-" appear next to your speed when you are overexposed or underexposed, respectively. These "+" and "-" signs are very miniscule, and you have to take your eye away from the middle of the finder in order to read them. I much prefer a simple match needle, or a dot-light system as found in the superior Pentax LX.

The F3's full-information viewfinder

Around a month ago, I bought a Nikon F3 from a dude on Craigslist. It's a bit "sweaty", as I like to say; the rewind knob handle and motor drive cap are absent, and there's a dent on the prism, but the camera still works all right.

I took my F3 with me when my wife and I went with my brother-in-law to get his latest tattoo. I used my Nikkor 50mm F/1.8 and 20mm F/2.8 lenses, with Ilford Delta 400. I pushed the Delta 400 to 3200, so the photos are pretty grainy.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Spotlight: Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Model 2

The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Model 2 was first introduced in 1974. While many younger people are familiar with the point-and-shoot plastic-fantastic viewfinder Polaroid cameras of the 80's and 90's, this vintage beauty is a full blown SLR. Not only is it an SLR, but it's a folding SLR. It's this folding design that allowed Polaroid to market the camera (which is about the same size as a VHS tape, and twice as heavy) as "pocketable". The Model 2, pictured above,  is the same as the original SX-70, with the addition of a split-image focusing screen, flash contacts, distance scale, and a new color scheme.

Folded up and ready for your "pocket"
Operation is simplicity itself; the SX-70 is a fully automatic camera. You stick the film in, focus on your subject, and press the big red button. The camera, unfortunately, does the rest. You have a small amount of input over the exposure via an exposure compensation dial, but I would much rather have full manual control, or at least an aperture priority mode. But for the mid-70's, this level of automation, not to mention instant self-developing photos, was exciting stuff.

View of the focus screen

I've owned this camera for a long time. I even sold it on our Etsy shop over a year ago, but it was returned because the buyer said it wasn't working. Many months it sat on my shelf, and for many months I wondered whether it was truly broken. This past weekend I decided to find out for myself. I went to the closest store near me that sells Impossible Film, Urban Outfitters, and bought a pack for $30, plus tax, of course. You get 8 shots in a pack. That's $3.75 a shot. Holy shit.

Anyway, my SX-70 turned out to not be broken! Despite my initial excitement, I was pretty disappointed in the quality of my photos, which is most likely the fault of the film. No matter how I adjusted the exposure compensation dial, my images all came out overexposed. Some images had strange imperfections in them as well. However, the developing time is the most frustrating aspect about Impossible film. You have to wait 30-40 minutes for an image to develop. That's hardly "instant" photography! With real Polaroid film I remember only having to wait a couple minutes at the most for a photo. This wait time wouldn't be so bad if you could watch the image slowly form, but no, you have to let the photo develop in the dark. Ugh.

I know I'm sounding really negative here, but despite all these downsides, I still had fun shooting Impossible film on my SX-70. I hadn't used a Polaroid camera since I was a little kid in the 90's, and this really took me back. Will I use my SX-70 again? Maybe if the price of film comes waaaaaay down. Until then, this camera is staying on my shelf.

Here are a few of the photos I shot on my SX-70:

Thanks for looking!