Saturday, October 01, 2005

The "Family Heirloom"

Yesterday I drove up to Bourneville (the chocolate box suburb of Birmingham where Cadbury has their factory and model village) to deliver my 29 year old Nikon F2 AS to Pete. His account of the event is worth reading here.

Pete explains better than I why I'm lending him the F2. The F2 is probably one of the best loved profesional camera designs ever made and has certainly been used in the hands of many great professional photographers.

This F2 has had an interesting career. I bought it in Singapore in 1976 as an upgrade to my Nikkormat that I had bought around 1972 (probably at the time Pete was born). I had worked offshore on a drill ship and earned enough extra "danger money" to pay for the F2 and a new standard lens. I also convinced myself that it would be useful for doing geological fieldwork in Indonesia - a fact that became very true when I dropped it momentarily in a river and it came up working just fine!

I used to shoot with Kodachrome and have all the slides stored in archival containers. An interesting collection! I also used Sakura color negative film and these negatives have not fared so well.

During the 1980s I rarely used the camera but it started to come into its own again in the 1990s when I used it as a work tool when consulting in places like India, Colombia, etc. I also used it exclusively to document a six week field work project in Tunisia in 1993, taking around 50 rolls of color negative film.

By the end of the 1990s I suddenly woke up to the fact that the F2 was an old camera! But I really did not like many of the new polycarbonate bodied offerings. Eventually I saved up enough to buy a new F5 (the natural successor to the F2 via the F3 and F4) and this has been my main tool since (although these days I probably take more digital photos than film, using the Fuijifilm S7000.

The F5 is a superb camera but when it came to spending time in Venezuela, and hearing about the crime level I might expect, out came the F2 again.

Yesterday Pete and I reviewed the relatively simple workings of the camera and we could not help to laugh about the extreme simplicity of the user's manual, a tiny book that has everything in it to set you up. The camera is a joy to use and has a number of features (such as mirror lock, depth of field preview) that are no longer offered on many expensive modern cameras. The light meter still works and is the only part of the camera dependent upon batteries. The lens that goes with it is a second hand 28mm F2.8 wide angle AIS lens (i.e. one that doesn't have a CPU chip in it) and while this is theoretically one of Nikon's best lenses, there is a blemish on the rear lens element surface that tends to soften the images. Even so, this combination of camera and lens took the following picture in Eastern Venezuela, using Fuji Astia color slide film on a dull day in the mountains:



The next image is a blow up of a flower hanging above the three ladies:



Here's an image from the 1970s, a scan from a Kodachrome slide taken in 1976 in Bryce Canyon, Utah:



I am not sure of the lens used but is was either the 50mm f2 standard or the 35mm f3.5 wide angle. Either way the lens complements the extreme low grain capability of Kodachrome.
Next an example using the most color saturated film on the market, Fuji Velvia. This was taken in 1999 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a blizzard had blown through the night before. The sky really is that color in Santa Fe!