Wednesday, August 08, 2018

In Praise of the Nikon F

First released in 1959, the Nikon F became the dominant SLR among professionals due to its ruggedness, reliability, full complement of accessories, and ease of use.  The modular approach with different viewfinders allowed Nikon to upgrade the metering system without having to revamp an entire camera. The Nikon F was discontinued in 1974, after being replaced by the F2 in 1971. Fifteen years is a long time, and while the F was certainly not the only Nikon SLR produced over that span, it remains an iconic SLR. Over 860,000 Nikon F bodies were produced in that time, and I wonder how many are still working today. My guess is that most of them do.

The Nikon F was the first Japanese SLR to have:

  • 100% coverage in the viewfinder
  • Mirror Lockup
  • Interchangeable focus screens
  • Full Pro system from day 1 (a huge range of lenses on day 1)
  • 250 exposure back
  • electric motorized winder that could be attached to the body
  • titanium foil shutter

I'm not going to provide an exhaustive history of the Nikon F, as it's certainly covered elsewhere on the web and in various publications.  For some great resources, check out the following two books:

  1. The New Nikon Compendium. Stafford, Hillebrand, & Hauschild. 2004. Lark Books, NY. 415 pp. ISBN-1-57990-592-7
  2. Nikon F Nikkormat Handbook of Photography. Cooper and Abbott. 1968. Amphoto. (ring bound with 14 chapters + index).

and web sites:

Okay, back to my story. I first held a Nikon F around 2000-2001, when I was moving a bunch of equipment around where I worked at the UM Museum of Zoology.  A Photomic F belonged to a curator who had used it extensively in Australia in the late 1960s, and through the 1980s.  The worn leather bag held the camera and 3 lenses - 50mm f/2, 55mm micro-Nikkor, and the 200mm f/4, as well as an M extension tube.  That was my first contact with the camera, and while I thought the Nikon F with the Photomic finder was ungainly, the view through the lens was fantastic.  Plus, what was with the funky twist and turn when I mounted the lens?  Compare the Nikon twist with the predominant M-42 mount that was available in 1959, and one can see how much better it was.  The "Nikon twist" - was to index the lens to the maximum aperture, which all of the non-AI lenses required with the Photomic finders on the F and F2, as well as the Nikkormats (until the FT-3).  AI lenses - Auto-Indexing, which came later, was achieved with a small tab on the base of the lens that engaged a matching cam on the lens mount. If you had a plain prism or waist-level finder on the F, you did not have to index the lens. 

I found that old camera to be a challenge, but I was already a Nikon fan, having been the recipent of an N-50 and lenses from my mentor, Bill Brudon.  I eventually was given a Nikon F by someone that was cleaning out his accumulation of "stuff." It too, was a Nikon F with the Photomic finder.  Later, I bought an F2 which I used for quite a while. 

Over the years since, several Nikon Fs have come my way.  While the metered Photomic finders may have had problems, the bodies did not. My daughter also liked the Nikon F with a plain prism.  It was simple, less heavy than the Photomic version, and just looked awesome.  No meter? No problem, sunny-16 or a hand-held meter.

For a while, I divested myself of any Fs and then earlier this year, this lovely Nikon F with a nice plain prism found me.  I'm keeping this one.  It is a superb example of the iconic camera.  Plus, with a 50mm f/2 Nikkor-H lens, it's a lot of fun to shoot with. 

Using a Nikon F with the plain prism is as basic as you can get.  No meter, only the aperture ring on the lens, the shutter speed dial, and the shutter button, and film advance. It is very similar to using a Leica M2 in that aspect.  The Titanium-foil shutters of the Nikon F seem to last forever, unlike the cloth and rubber shutters found on the Pentax Spotmatics. 

The only area where the F is lacking would be in using a flash.  Because the finders are removable and interchangeable, the flash contacts are over by the rewind crank.  To use a flash connected directly to the camera with a hot shoe, you need the AS-1 flash adapter, which works with any flash with a standard hot shoe.  The original Nikon F flash adapter is a cold-shoe, and you connect to the X-sync PC socket on the body with a short cable.  You can also use a flash attached to a flash holder that screws onto the tripod socket, which also requires a PC cord.  The big potato-masher flashes of years past were connected this way. Flash sync is 1/60 sec, slow by today's standards. 

You may also be a bit confused on how to rewind the film, as there is no release on the bottom of the camera.  The collar that surrounds the shutter release button is rotated to "R" to rewind. Make sure it is rotated back to "A" to advance the film.  If you want to use a cable release with the F, you'll need to find a Leica-style cable release, or an adapter that screws onto the collar to allow a standard cable release to fit.  These are minor quirks that F users are familiar with.

If you have a Nikon F with the metered prism, such as the Photomic, you'll have to use hearing-aid batteries (zinc-air), because the meters required mercury cells. Of course, you can use Alkaline cells, and if you are using C-41 film, it probably won't make much of a difference in your results.  In addition, due to the age of the finders, they may not work at all, or be unreliable.  This is why I prefer the plain prism finder.

I took my F along on a trip to Collingwood, Ontario last month.  Sometimes I used a hand-held meter, sometimes I used sunny-16, and trusted my instincts.  I shot a couple of rolls of film, one of them being Fomapan 100, which I developed in HC110-B.  Here are a few images from that roll. 

I found the camera to be a joy to use, and its robust yet ergonomic construction just invites one to use it.  There is no chintzy feel to this camera whatsoever.   In fact, it could stop a bullet.    I only need mine to stop time for a fraction of a second.  It does that quite well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Kodak Master Photoguide - Filmtastic Resource!

When I got my first SLR, an Exa IIa, in 1973, I was eager to learn as much as I could about photography.  I don't recall what books I may have looked at in high school, but I did buy a current (at the time) Kodak Master Photoguide.  That little black pocket-sized ringbound book served me well for years, and I still have it tucked away somewhere.  For the longest time, it was my only photographic resource. When I think about it,  never had a light meter, and the Exa IIa had a very limited range of shutter speeds.  The Master Photoguide was my source for exposures, flash photography, and Kodak film information. 

My most recent example of the Master Photoguide dates from 1981, and I don't know how much later they were produced, but I would assume that they stopped making them by the late 1990s.  Back in the day, it was (and still is) a good thing to have in your camera bag.  If you are new to manual film cameras, the Master Photoguide is an easy way to have a lot of information at hand. 

There were subtle changes in the Master Photoguide over the years, as camera and film technology changed.  I like the older ones that actually had the filter gels in the page.  That makes them useful for seeing how a filter changes how the image looks to your eye.  The guide also has the "filter factor" chart to adjust your exposure for a given filter.  If you have a meterless camera such as a Nikon F with a plain prism, a Kodak Retina IIa, or a Yashica A TLR, the guide is quite handy. 

To me, the genius of the guide is that all of the subjects are located by the tabs at the edge of the page.  A quick looks takes you right to the appropriate topic.  Secondly, the guide has the essential information that a photographer needs without the fluff that may be found in a much larger book.

1966 version with color gels
 While a lot of old Kodak publications can be found online as  PDF files, the Master Photoguides have wheels inside that you move to get the appropriate exposure, as in the daylight exposure dial.  That makes the real thing all the more desirable.The durable covers and binding will give you years of service, and my old beat-up guide is 45 years old!

I did a brief look online, and the Master Photoguides now sell for more than they did when new.  They are often most encountered in old camera bags and thrift shops, so keep your eyes open for the various editions.  The most recent one has a silvery cover, and is easily identified. 
the tabs are very handy.
The daylight exposure guide looks suspiciously like it is based on Sunny-16.  Yes, it is!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Memories and Projects

the farmhouse, 2016
 Over the past few weeks I have been diligently going through my various hard drives and consolidating my image files onto one 4TB hard drive.  I am appalled at how poorly I used to organize my scans.  On top of that, I find that I have probably lost some files that had been previously on a Mac.  Once I am done, I will then recopy the newly assembled files onto several 1TB hard drives, and erase the old drives that had previously stored all my backups.  One thing is apparent -- I have shot a lot of digital images over the past 12 years.  Even though I also shoot even more film now than I did 15 years ago, I still have quite a few digital images, though I would say that the number has dropped considerably from a few years ago.  It's also given me a chance to revisit images that I haven't looked at in a while.   In some cases, I can see where a series of images from different years could easily be a project, or even a publication, were I inclined to forge ahead with them. I will be considering that aspect more seriously in the coming months.  Some images meant a great deal to me at the time, and in retrospect, have less interest to me now, and others that I may have thought less of at the time, and may even hardly remember now, have more significance.  That's the thing when I shoot digital -- it's easy to take a lot of photographs and experiment with the lenses and controls at the time of exposure to make a shot "just so."  The instant feedback is certainly a creative bonus.  However, I found that some of the results were exactly what I was getting with some of my "toy cameras," where I may have only taken one shot of a scene.

I am enjoying looking at images from 10 years ago, and seeing how my photography has changed -- not just subject matter, but also the quality of the image.  I will still be shooting some similar subjects as a decade ago, but am choosier about it now.

Along the way, I looked at a series of images from June 2016, when we were visiting my mother-in-law (Charlotte Murphy) and family for her 90th birthday.  Looking at them now, I was probably thinking at the time -- when will we be back to her house again?  I shot a series of images inside the house that to me, captured how I would always think of her home.  Charlotte is still doing well at 92, and I am impressed with her mental acuity and ability to be on her own.  I tell her she's my favorite MIL, and that always get a bit of a chuckle.  After knowing her for 42 years, she's probably heard most of my jokes at least twice.

the road to the farm

apple trees

Cat and stairs

Corner cupboard


Living room with desk and empty gun rack

Mementos on the mantle

There is a different look to the two sets of images - indoors vs outdoors.  The interior images, taken in the quiet morning are relatively sharp and focused.  The "memories"  are the objects depicting memories.  Trinkets from trips, photographs, paintings, and the accumulation of a lifetime.  These are purposefully shot to indicate those things.  On the other hand, the outdoor images, shot with a CCTV lens on a Nikon 1J1 camera,  are blurred, in soft-focus, and somewhat surreal.  That's because we have a memory of the farm as it once was - a working dairy farm with many acres of land and crops.  Now, it's a horse farm, owned by someone else, and partitioned off.   While I photographed it in 2016, my mind was still imagining the scene of 40 years ago.    That's how minds work.  Our reality is shaped by our experiences.  Memories are plastic, as well.  I think this is why toy cameras such as the Diana and the Holga are great at producing images that make us think of memories.
old silos

fence and trees

The flag

As I looked through the images from the farm, I realized that I have many such series that have "photo essay" all over them.  I will try and do more of these in the coming months.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Last Exposure - Celebrating the life of Marc Akemann

 This is probably the hardest post for me to write. On Tuesday (07/03/2018), I lost my best friend, Marcelino (Marc) Akemann (born 10/27/1956).  Marc had been battling non-small-cell lung cancer for over a year, and the latest treatments had him feeling quite positive and feeling good.  He drove over to the house for a visit on Saturday, and we laughed and had a good time. He also got see to my daughter Jorie, who was down for a few days from Marquette.  I took a photo of the two of them in front of Hound, the Jeep Cherokee that Marc bought from her a few years ago.  I gave him a big hug, and he drove home.  On Monday afternoon, he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, and died peacefully Tuesday afternoon in the ER surrounded by family (and Adrienne and I, who arrived just moments earlier).  It was a surreal scene for me, to see a man that had just a few days ago, been talking about the future, lying still, and never again being part of this world.

Marc and I met for the first time in late 2007, when he showed up at my house for a Crappy Camera Club Meeting. We had actually talked earlier that year when he visited the A3C3 "Cheap Shots" exhibit in Nickles Arcade, and of course, in true Marc fashion, he remembered our conversation, while I did not.  Someone had told him that he should meet me, as we had some things in common.  I know that we quickly became friends, and by 2008, we both went to our first Photostock and traveled around together.  In the ensuing decade, we became the Marc (with a C) and Mark (with a K) show, and made many photo trips together all over Michigan.   In Facebook posts while we were travelling in 2013, it seemed that we were eating our way across the Upper Peninsula. In fact, restaurants were the only place we had good wi-fi!
At the Two-Hearted River in 2013

Marc was the most honest and conscientious person I have known.  He was a gentle soul that made sure those who needed help were okay, and always had time to help out if you needed him.  He was a master of constructive criticism, and rarely had bad things to say about anyone.  Both of us had common ground in many things, and we both abhorred hypocrisy. Marc served in the Air Force during the post-Vietnam era, mostly in Germany.  He was a "fuelie" - working with AV fuel and other ground support.  In hindsight, I have to wonder if that was the cause of his cancer. He never smoked. In the Air Force, he was able to travel a lot in Europe, and that gave him a better insight than most US citizens about other countries.  His father (Dutch) and mother (Indonesian) emigrated with Marc from the Hague to the US in the late 1950s.  His younger brothers Max, Victor, and Dimitry, and sister Nicole were born in Wisconsin.  His dad worked in the auto-industry, and Marc had tales about when his dad worked for American Motors, and they had some of those amazing cars that came out in the 1970s.

Marc and I used to meet up for coffee in Dexter, where we might have first dropped off some film at Huron Camera, had a leisurely chat at Joe and Rosie's coffee shop next door, and then went back to Huron Camera to get our processed film.  In its heyday, Huron Camera was an amazing place that had just about everything, and there were always the "treasure bins" at the back where we found the occasional bargain.   It closed in 2014, and our subsequent Dexter meetups were less frequent.
At Roos Roast, Ann Arbor, April 2017.

We had so much fun traveling around together. We both had the same sense of humor, and I recall a couple of times that we saw things and had to double back and take a photo.  Marc used to have a rusting Jeep Wrangler that he drove everywhere.  It of course had a short turn radius, and he was never hesitant about making a quick U-turn to get back to the scene.  Somewhere in the thumb region of Michigan we saw a hilarious sign and we knew that if we didn't shoot, we would never get over a missed opportunity.  I included the photo in an exhibit I had at the Common Cup in Ann Arbor, and I was asked to remove it from the show.  It's here for your enjoyment, though.

Travelling across the back roads of the Upper Peninsula we saw a strip club.  In the middle of nowhere (to us, at least). It seemed so out of place in the UP.

Later that day, we made it to the Delta Peninsula and spent several hours at  the ghost town of Fayette, now a state historical park.  Marc and I had different approaches to our photography.  He was very deliberate, and he often used a Mamiya RB-67 and a damned heavy Gitzo tripod.  Me, I was scampering around with my much lighter Bogen tripod and usually a 35mm Nikon.  We both had a preference for Nikon cameras, and he always had a very nice black Nikon FA that he used regularly. So much so, that I regretted selling mine years earlier.  His other daily shooter was a Nikon F100 with a 50mm 1.4 (which his brother Vic had found at a garage sale for $25), and he almost always had his compact Olympus XA with him.   Of course, Marc was no stranger to GAS, and we often brought our latest acquisitions to a coffee meet-up.  He was especially fond of his nice Contaflex system, and shot with it regularly.   He had acquired some interesting gear over the years, and always took great care of it.  He had planned on getting his darkroom set up at his new place in Whitmore Lake, and then he fell ill with the cancer.

One November about 6 years ago, Marc and I were on a little photo trip to the Adrian, MI area.  At some point we saw something odd in the road, so we stopped. It turned out to be an expensive shotgun in a case.  We loaded our find into my Escape, and went searching for the proper authorities to turn it in.  As it was Veteran's Day, we had a hard time locating the police, and since it was not an emergency, we had to go find the station.  It wasn't in their jurisdiction, so the Sheriff Dept. had to deal with it. When we finally found the right place, we turned in the shotgun, and Marc filled out a form.  Two days later he got a call from the owner.  Turns out the guy had taken out the case to load something else into his truck for a hunting trip, and put the gun  on top of the cap.  He drove off, not realizing that it had dropped to the ground about 500 feet from his house.  He was so grateful that he sent Marc $50, which bought the two of us lunch at Seva.  That was so typical of many of our trips -- we also ended up with a story.
12/31/2012, on our River Raisin drive

Marc was a regular exhibitor at our Crappy Camera Club shows, and a regular attendee at meetings.  Even if he didn't have photos to show, he was always there to help put up a show or take it down.  For him, it was a way to connect with other film shooters in a group that was not about egos or agendas.  I will say it again that Marc was a dedicated film shooter, even in his professional mode as a photographer.  Only recently did he use digital cameras, and then only for very specific jobs.  He had come to really love flying his DJI Phantom drone, and this past May, he took it out when we went on our last photo/lunch/thriftshop day trip.  We went out May 5, which was one of those bright sunny days with no clouds.  We visited a bunch of places, and finally in the afternoon, visited a thrift shop in Chelsea, where he bought a LOMO LC-A camera for less than $5!
Drone Pilot, May 2018

Marc's drone at Pickerel Lake

Marc, atypical pose. May 5, 2018.

We both looked forward to attending Photostock, which is a yearly event held in late June by Bill Schwab, near Harbor Springs, MI.  We didn't always attend, but we made many of them over the past decade.  It's a great gathering of photographers - mostly film and alt-process users, but nobody is a stranger to digital, either.  People leave their egos at the door, and we talk a lot, show our work, and do some photography.  Oh, yes, and we party at night, too. We both met some fantastic people at Photostock.

Marc at Photostock 2008

Marc and I traveled together a lot at Photostock.  I think 2013 was my favorite year, because we also did a UP photo trip afterwards.  We saw a lot together, and always came away with some good images and memories.  
At a later Photostock 
Another trip to the UP was in late October 2012.  We drove Jorie's Jeep up to Marquette after I had some work done on it in Arbor. We switched out with my Ford Escape, and then drove it to some spots in Alger County that were definitely worth the trip.  Marc used to tell me that I drove like an old man. That's because I didn't have his lead foot on the gas. We did some great photography on that trip and saw the places mosquito-free, especially at Mosquito Falls.
Marc and his Contaflex, Deerton, MI

At Mosquito Falls area

At Tannery Falls, near Munising.

We definitely loaded up the SUV with our respective camera gear. However, Marc's Gitzo tripod and RB-67 bag ALWAYS took up the most space.  He had a separate bag for his Nikon gear and his Contaflex outfit.  I don't know that I saw many of those images from the Contaflex.  We went on a trip to the Ghost Forest at Sleeping Bear Dunes one year, and he carried that monster tripod and backpack across the sand and up the hills.  He was always in better physical shape than me.  We always had fun, though, and I don't think he and I ever had a cross word with one another in all those years.

It's not every day that you meet a person that you immediately like. Marc was one of those people. He had a way of making one at ease, and could start a conversation with anyone.  In his various jobs, I will bet that his demeanor and honesty was a great asset to him.  He had been a freelance photographer for some time, and one of his biggest accounts was doing photography at Domino's Farms, and was still intending to finish up some work. 

He was what I call a once-in-a lifetime best friend.  I wish we had both been able to live out to a decent old age, and I will miss his graciousness, his sense of humor, and wry smile.   I know that he made me a better photographer and a more outgoing person.   
November, 2017

street shooting in Holly, MI, 2011

At Photostock 2008

2008 Crappy camera meeting


Marc will be missed by so many people. I know his wife Coleen and daughter Camille will miss him most of all. He was a proud father, good husband, and wonderful brother to his siblings.  I know that he made me a better person, and I will always be thinking of him when I venture out on a photo trip. Marc, you may not be with us now, but your spirit lives on in how you touched our lives, and so our lives must go on. I'll be thinking of you when I see the night sky and the water over the falls. Rest in peace, my friend.

08/06/2018 --PLEASE NOTE: A Celebration of Life event will be held on Sunday, August 26, at 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., at Domino's Farms Office Park, EBA CafĂ©, Lobby H, Level 1, 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48105. There will be an Open House at 11:00 a.m., a Remembrance Service starting at 11:30 a.m., with a luncheon to follow, and plenty of desserts.

Memorial donations in memory of Marc may be made to the Huron River Watershed Council.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ultrafine Xtreme 400 - A best buy in bulk film

I have been a customer of Ultrafine Online for well over 15 years.  I'm a frugal person, and I appreciate saving money on my film expenditures, so long as the film is providing me with reliably consistent results.  Ultrafine, also known as Photo Warehouse (which is how their print catalogs are labeled), has been an excellent source for all types of films and photographic papers.  I recently spooled up some cassettes from a bulk roll of their Ultrafine Xtreme 400 b&w film, and realized that while I have reviewed some of their oddball film offerings, I have not reviewed what I feel is one of the greatest buys in conventional b&w films - Ultrafine Xtreme 400!

From the Photo Warehouse site:
"Xtreme 400 is a high speed, medium contrast film allowing for exceptional utilization in action and sports photography and also an outstanding selection for general purpose photography. With a standard rating of ISO 400, it provides negatives exhibiting incredible sharpness and yet retains a fine grain under a myriad of lighting conditions. Xtreme 400 was designed to react vigorously to push processing and film speeds up to EI 1600/33 are easily achievable with X-tol type developers, maintaining nice shadow detail and perfectly scaled mid-tones, while still maintaining grain structure."

The film has a very good representation in the Massive Development Chart, meaning it's likely that you will find your choice of developer for this film.

Now I have only shot this film at the box speed, and in a recent trip to Oregon, I shot a few rolls in my Yashica FX-7 and Olympus Trip 35.

A few examples  from the Trip 35 developed in D-76 1:1 for 14 minutes-
Portland Art Museum

Cannon Beach

downtown Portland

downtown Portland

From the Yashica FX-7, all from downtown Portland, developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 7.5 minutes:

More Portland images from the FX-7, but developed in D76 1:1 for 14 minutes:

I am really pleased with the results thus far.  My only complaint is that the bulk roll did not come on a core, and I don't know if that will be a problem or not.  I like the fine grain, and the above images required very little tweaking in the scans.  Another nice feature - the film lies absolutely flat in the scanner film holder.  There is no cupping or curling.  Another nice feature -- a roll of 100 feet is $35 US.  Ultrafine Xtreme 400 is an excellent 400 ISO film that can be pushed to 1600 (which I need to try) at this price is quite amazing.  If you don't want to roll your own, you can also buy it in 12, 24, and 36 exposure rolls at about half the price of a roll of Tri-X.   I'll try processing my next roll in the FPP Super Monobath and see how it goes.  I'm not going to guess who supplies the film stock.  The rebate has Ultrafine Xtreme 400 printed on it.  I'm happy with it, and it doesn't really matter who originally made it -- Photo Warehouse has been selling it for a few years, and it's a great film to shoot with.  

UPDATE - 06/25/2018

I demonstrated the FPP Super Monobath at Photostock 2018 on 06/23.  I shot a couple of rolls in less than an hour with my Nikon F3HP in Harbor Springs. It happened to be a rainy day and the Farmer's Market was taking place in town.  I used one of the rolls in my demo and it came out great.  The standard 3.5 minutes at 74F.  Here are a few scans of the negatives: