Nikon FM Chrome

Nikon FM Chrome

The venerable Nikon FM is a mechanical camera whose batteries serve only to power the built-in exposure meter. I usually remove the batteries and go completely mechanical. If I do need an exposure meter I use the Gossen Digisix, pictured below, otherwise I estimate exposure using the Exposure Rule-of-Thumb.

Gossen Digisix

I like the heft and feel of this camera. It’s small, balanced, and fits nicely in your hands. Its feature set resembles a sparsely decorated apartment; there’s no clutter here. The shutter speed and film speed selector share the same dial housing, its film advance ratchets smoothly, reminiscent of winding a precision clock (and you are in a way), and its shutter release fires with reassuring certainty. You can definitely feel the mirror’s moment as it swings up and down. Its report is the sound of superior quality.

Balboa Park

I particularly like this camera because I’ve owned it the longest of all the cameras in my collection. I purchased it from a pawnshop in Norfolk, Virginia back in the early 1980s when I was stationed on board the USS Norfolk (SSN 714). For twelve years it served as a backup camera to my Nikon F3HP. In the mid 1990s when I started graduate school, I sold all of my camera gear with the exception of the FM, a 50mm lens, and my Contax T.

Balboa Park

Traveling with the Nikon FM is easy because it’s small and extremely rugged. It doesn’t depend on electronics to operate. It can take a beating and look better for it. It’s not fussy and doesn’t complain when the weather is too cold, too wet, or too hot.

When I travel with this camera I pop it into a Zing camera case and go. The Zing is made of neoprene rubber. It’s like putting your camera in a wetsuit. The Zing case slips easily over the entire camera and comes in different sizes to accommodate various lens lengths. My lens of choice for this camera is the Nikkor AIS 35mm f 1.4. (Although it is pictured with the 35mm f2. Both are excellent lenses.)

Twisted Trees

I like to venture meter-free into the world with mechanical cameras and exercise my brain by estimating exposures. It’s easy to do, as is anything given enough practice. I use the Exposure Rule-of-Thumb, which goes something like this: on a bright sunny day, the base line exposure would be an aperture of f16 and a shutter speed of 1/film speed. I round down the shutter speed. For example, if I’m shooting 400 ASA film, my baseline shutter speed would be 1/400th of a second, but since this falls between 1/500 and 1/250 I select the lower shutter speed. Given the baseline exposure I am free to adjust as I see fit based on the particular needs of the image. For example, am I using a filter, or do I want less depth of field.

What you must be aware of when using the Exposure Rule-of-Thumb is the location of your subject. If your subject is laying on the beach in direct sunlight and there are no clouds then you’ll get a good exposure with f16 and 1/250. The following table lists various lighting conditions and their associated exposure values (EV).

EV

Subject in...

16

Bright sun on sand or snow

15

Bright or hazy sun

14

Weak hazy sun or the full moon

13

Cloudy – bright  light – Gibbous moon

12

Heavy overcast

11

Open shade – Sunsets

10

Immediately after sunset

9

10 minutes after sunset

8

Times square at night

7

Stage shows – circuses

6

Brightly lit home interior

5

Night home interior

4

Candle lit close-up

3

Fireworks (time exposure)

2

Lightning (time exposure)

1

Distant view of lighted skyline

I keep a copy of this table in my wallet along with a copy of the following table on the flip side:

ASA 400

 

1/250

1/125

1/60

1/30

1/15

1 / 4

1 / 2

1

2

f 16

15

14

13

12

11

10

9

8

7

f 11

14

13

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

f 8

13

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

f 5.6

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

f 4

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

f 2.8

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

f 2

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

f 1.4

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

0

f 1.2

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

0

-1

f 1

6

5

4

3

2

1

0

-1

-2

Note that this table represents an ASA 400 speed film. When I find myself waiting for something and have nothing to read, I pull these tables out and refresh my memory on the different possible lighting situations and their associated exposures. As Ansel Adams said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

 

Higher Resolution Images

Nikon FM Black

Nikon FM Black

The Nikon FM is a 100% mechanical camera. Yes, it does contain a built-in exposure meter, but when using this camera I find it faster to estimate the exposure using the exposure rule. If I require more accurate exposures then I’ll use either my trusty Gossen Digisix or my Pentax spot meter.

Gossen Digisix

I especially like the Nikon FM because of its small size and extremely rugged build. It fits comfortably in the palm of my hand and doesn’t stress my neck or shoulders when carried on a long day of shooting. The lenses I like to use with this camera include the Nikkor AIS 35mm f1.4 or the Nikkor AIS 50mm f1.2. These fast lenses let me shoot hand-held in fairly low light situations with my favorite black and white films: Kodak Tri-X or Ilford Delta 400.

Morning Walk

The Nikon FM is fairly quiet as 35mm SLR cameras go, but this is only my unscientific opinion. It has a nice, solid feel to it when you trip the shutter. Its winding mechanism operates smoothly and overall the camera just feels good in my hands. It’s definitely a high-quality photographic instrument.

What I don’t like about the Nikon FM is its non-interchangeable focusing screens. It’s not the screen I don’t like; it’s the inability to easily clean out stray dust particles that bugs me most. Call me neurotic, but I like a clean, speck free screen when I look through the viewfinder.

Pentax 67

Pentax 67

First impressions encourage one to hand hold this mammoth but doing so is not for the weak or faint-of-heart. If you have a medical condition, I suggest you consult your physician before carrying this camera around with you on a shooting spree.

Great Falls, Virginia

Although it resembles a 35mm SLR on growth hormones, the Pentax 67 is first and foremost a studio camera. To give you some indication of its size I’ve photographed it together with a Contax T3, but even that image fails to convey the camera’s true bulk and heft.

Pentax 67 and Contax T3

I have toted the Pentax 67 with me on several Washington, DC walkabouts. When I do take it for a stroll I use a wide, springy strap and the attachable hand grip. Due to its weight, I find myself constantly rotating the camera from one shoulder to the other or from my neck to my shoulders. This camera too long hanging from your neck or shoulder soon causes pain. I honestly lift weights to increase my strength and endurance so I can effectively wield this behemoth.

Schmoogle

I get good hand-held results with the Pentax 67 but it takes finesse. It’s the mirror that concerns one most; it generates a significant amount of camera shake as it loudly goes “ker-thwap” against the viewfinder prism. In practice, I get good hand-held images when shooting at shutter speeds equal to or greater than 125th of a second; anything below that and I must use a tripod.

I sometimes employ another shooting technique to further improve hand-held image quality; I use the mirror lock-up feature to move the mirror up and out of the way right before taking the shot. This works best when using a wide angle lens as the camera inevitably moves out of place, if only a little, in the time it takes to lock the mirror and take the photograph. I always use the mirror lock-up feature when shooting with a tripod.

The Pentax 67 system boasts an incredible selection of lenses, more than any other medium format system. My favorites include the 55mm f4, the 105mm f2.4, and the 75mm f4.5 shift.

Yashica Mat 124G

Yashica Mat 124G

Want to strike up a conversation with someone but don’t quite know what to say? Say nothing! Just dust off the trusty Yashica Mat 124G and hit the streets. In short order you’ll have perfect strangers approaching you asking what you’ve got. Occasionally, you’ll meet someone who knows a thing or two about cameras. These folks like to wax nostalgic about the Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) they used to have, or that they still own, but now sits in the closet, superseded by their new digital camera. Most of the people you meet, however, don’t rightly care about cameras. They just think it looks neat, or strange, this box-like contraption you have hanging around your neck whose top you open every now and then and look into, fiddling with its knobs and dials, and then closing again, just as mysteriously. I’m convinced. If I had nothing left in this world but this camera, by the end of the day I could secure a square meal and a place to sleep. Its allure is that powerful.

Canal, Amsterdam

I can totally see where one who grew up on 35mm and digital cameras would find a rare bird like the Yashica Mat interesting. You simply don’t see TLRs out on the streets anymore. I can’t recall ever encountering someone with one, other than myself. Had we, two kindred souls, met on the street, trusty TLRs in hand, we’d have retired right then and there to the nearest pub and bought each other a round of drinks.

Ghost Walker

Lots of professional photographers have completely abandoned film and gone whole-hog into the digital world. I can understand their motivation. Film is messy. You have to store it, bring it with you, and develop it.  Professionals are, well, professionals. They must earn their living taking pictures.  Professional grade digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop have transformed the photography business. To a professional, time is money, and they don’t have time to mess around with film anymore. But to those of us who have a little more time on our hands, medium format TLR photography offers many rewards, especially if you can afford a good film scanner.

Bridge Reflection, Amsterdam

Three things I especially like about the Yashica Mat 124G are its sharp lens, rugged build, and super accurate built-in exposure meter. I dropped this camera from about waist high onto the floor in the Heineken beer factory in Amsterdam while playing a rousing game of foosball. I picked it up, dusted it off, it worked like a champ. No dents, no dings.

Leidseplein Trashed

Most people have no idea you’re even taking a picture. There you stand, with a little black box hanging from your neck. You’re bent over slightly from the waist, like a hunchback, eye to the ground glass magnifier getting the focus just right. You lift your head, check the framing, adjust the shutter speed, then the aperture, and then, when everything’s perfect, you trip the shutter, and the only hint of a taken photograph is an imperceptible click.

Mannequins Business Card

Leica MP: Mechanical Perfection

Leica MP: Mechanical Perfection

The Leica MP represents distilled purity in the form of a photographic instrument. It sports no frills, no gimmicks, no illusions. The images it renders become a mirror into the very soul of the photographer. You cannot seek refuge in automatic exposure nor automatic focus. To successfully capture an image with this epitome of mechanical perfection you must know your craft, be confident in your judgment, and be one with the tool. All pretenses fall away when you wield the Leica MP.

Backyard Planter

There are many things to admire about the Leica MP, like its compact size, unpretentious aire, and quiet operation. Its rangefinder viewfinder is large, clear, and bright and works well in dim light. It has a built-in exposure meter, but, strangely enough, the one in my camera worked reliably on only one or two settings (i.e., f-stop/shutter speed combinations) and so I removed the battery and went totally mechanical.

Schmoogle

But the camera is only part of the story. It exists solely as a host for the finest lenses rendered by man.  And perhaps the most lusted-after lens in the history of photography is the Leica Noctilux. But putting a Noctilux on a Leica MP is like fitting a perfectly formed face with a gigantic nose.

Schmoogle

Yes, there is a certain snob appeal associated with the Leica name. It’s like owning a Ferrari – there’s no need to drive fast because you look fabulous sitting still. Unfortunately, and also like a Ferrari, the Leica brand has been priced out of reach of ordinary humans. To purchase one new will set you back dearly. I’m sure many newer Leica cameras sit safely in a drawer, their owners too afraid to take them out for fear of scratching the paint. But that’s the rub! The more you use the Leica MP, the smoother it gets. And there’s something magically attractive about a well-used Leica MP black paint model when the warm, mellow glow of its underlying brass frame starts to show through.

Stevie

What I don’t like about the Leica MP is its film loading scheme. You must remove the bottom plate to load film. This bottom plate becomes an extra part you must juggle during the film loading process.

Darren and Kai

Contax T: The Quintessential Compact 35mm Rangefinder

Contax T: The Quintessential Compact 35mm Rangefinder

Compact, discrete, reliable, precise, quiet, control. These are but a few of the words I have come to associate with the venerable Contax T. From its Porsche design to its Carl Zeiss lens, this camera is pure joy to both look at and to use.

Acrobat Man

By far, the Contax T is my favorite street photography camera. Rarely do I look through the view finder. Neither do I bother too much with focus. I set the aperture to f8 and the hyper-focal distance to midpoint. Most everything I aim the camera at is well within the focusing zone, and I use the word “aim’ quite loosely.

Central Station, Amsterdam

I like to shoot from below the hip with this camera in the vertical or portrait orientation.  It fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, with the strap securely around my wrist, and my index finger comfortably on the shutter release button. It’s so small and quiet that most people never notice it in my hand. And because it’s a manual focus camera, there’s no shutter delay when I take the photograph. The only delay I experience with this camera is that between by brain and my finger.

Kyle Silhouette

I also like to hold this camera over my head and shoot above the crowd. I also get interesting results when I shoot while moving with, and against, the flow, especially when the light begins to fade and shutter speed approaches  1/30th of a second and below.

Pigeons Eye View

I use nothing but 400 speed black and white film in this camera, most likely Ilford Delta 400 Professional, Ilford HP5, Kodak T-Max 400, or Kodak Tri-X. (But I’m thinking of running some color film through it here soon. Rick  – 24 May 2014)

Train Queue

The Contax T is easy to load, but you must first fold the lens out to avoid stripping the film advance gears. I learned this the hard way.

Soloman’s Boys

In addition to manual focus and film speed settings, the Contax T allows you to tweek exposure via an exposure compensation button with a set +1.5 stop, but rarely do I need to take this measure as I find its meter to be quite accurate in most lighting situations. When I do take a backlit photograph I’m usually pleasantly surprised by the results and have never seen any lens flare, although I would most likely consider any such lens flare an extra bonus.

Rain Walkers