Friday, March 22, 2019

The Nikon Pronea 6i SLR - my last tango with APS film.

I'll be honest with you.  I liked the APS format  (the official format name is IX-240) and the cameras that used the film.  Back in 2001-2004, I shot quite a bit of APS film with a couple of pocket cameras and the Minolta Vectis S-1 SLR.  I thought the varying output print formats to be very useful, and those 4 x 11" prints in panorama mode were generally fantastic.  The only downside was the cost of processing, and also the fact that no traditional b&w films were available that could be home-processed. In fact, home-processing was out of the question for APS film.  I stopped using APS film when it became harder to find, and, as I was doing other things with my photography, APS was just a little side trip.
In January, I acquired a very nice Nikon Pronea 6i APS SLR with two zoom lenses and manual; plus a couple of rolls of APS film -- all for free. 

First, a little about the Pronea 6i

In my opinion, the Pronea 6i was a pretty audacious camera. It was introduced in 1996, not too long before the digital onslaught.  In fact, a version of the camera was sold by Kodak as the digital DCS 315 in 1998, and updated in 1999 as the DCS-330. The DCS 330 had a 3MP sensor with a 1.9x conversion factor for lens focal length. The museum where I used to work had a DCS-330, which cost over $6000 when new. 


Back to the Pronea 6i that I have:

First of all, the 6i features pretty much all the control that you would expect from a Nikon AF SLR.  It's most similar in features to the then contemporary N70 35mm SLR.  It features a "Basic" mode where it pretty much sets you up in Program mode, uses the DX code on the APS cassette.  "Advanced" mode gives you full control of the camera's functions and features.  If you have been using any AF SLR, the advanced mode is the way to go.

Here are the key features of the Pronea 6i (from the Nikon site)

  • Advanced Photo System Single-Lens Reflex
  • [BASIC] and [ADVANCED] modes
  • 3D Matrix Metering features an 8-segment Matrix Sensor
  • Accepts a wide selection of AF Nikkor lenses, and IX-Nikkor lenses made especially for PRONEA series
  • Similar specs to the N70 (1994); IX240 benefits include Mag. IX, Mid-Roll film Change (MRC), Data and title imprinting, Print Quantity selection
  • Two 3V CR123A (or DL123) lithium batteries



Important aspects:

  • Focus Mode Single Servo AF, Continuous Servo AF, and Manual with Electronic Rangefinder
  • Focus Area Wide and Spot selectable
  • Focus Tracking Automatically activated when subject moves
  • Autofocus Detection Range Approx. EV 0 to 20 (at ISO 200)
  • Autofocus Lock Possible once stationary subject is in focus in Single Servo autofocus
  • Electronic Rangefinder Available in Manual focus mode with lenses having a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster
  • Exposure Metering Three built-in exposure meters - 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot
  • Metering Range (at ISO 200 with f/1.4 lens) EV 0 to 20 in 3D Matrix and Center-Weighted, EV 4 to 20 in Spot
  • Exposure Meter Duration Remains on for 8 sec. after switch is on or after removing finger from shutter release button
  • Exposure Modes Programmed Auto (Auto-Multi Program and Vari-Program), Shutter-Priority Auto, Aperture-Priority Auto and Manual; only Auto-Multi Program and Vari-Program are selectable in BASIC mode
  • Programmed Auto Exposure Control Camera sets both shutter speed and lens aperture automatically; Flexible Program possible
  • Vari-Program Six kinds built in; Portrait, Hyperfocal, Landscape, Close-Up, Sport, and Silhouette Programs; each has its own program line; Flexible Program possible
  • Shutter-priority Auto Exposure Control Aperture automatically selected to match manually set shutter speed
  • Aperture-priority Auto Exposure Control Automatically selected shutter speed to match manually set aperture
  • Manual Exposure Control Both aperture and shutter speed are set manually
  • Quick Recall Function Using the QR button, user-selected or original camera settings can be recalled; up to three settings can be memorized
  • Exposure Compensation With exposure compensation button; ±5 EV range, in 1/2 EV steps
  • Auto Exposure Lock By pressing AE-L button while meter is on
  • Exposure Bracketing Three frames in 1/2 or 1 EV steps
  • Shutter Speeds from 1/4000 to 30 sec. (in 1/2 step); electromagnetically controlled Bulb setting
  • Viewfinder Fixed-eye level pentaprism high-eyepoint type; approx. 100% frame coverage for printed image area in H mode
  • Eyepoint Approx. 20mm
  • Built-in TTL Speedlight Guide number: 66 (ISO 200, ft.); flash coverage: 20mm or longer lens; Matrix Balanced Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync and Rear-Curtain Sync are possible
  • Flash Synchronization Up to 1/180 sec.
In other words, a very full-featured SLR that despite using APS film, can use almost any Nikon AF lens, including the DX lenses for cropped sensor APS-C SLRs, such as the D300.
Two lens kit with 20-60 and 60-180mm  IX-Nikkor lenses

I loaded two fresh CR-123A batteries and a roll of the Kodak b&w plus 400, which is over a decade old.  I used the manual ISO function to set it at ISO 200.
I have yet to use the original IX-Nikkor lenses, but on the next roll I will use the 20-60mm IX Nikkor lens. I will bet that when the sell-off of the Pronea cameras was going on, the kits included the 20-60 and the 60-180mm IX-Nikkors.  I used my 18-70mm AFS Nikkor G ED DX lens for about 2/3 of the roll and my 35mm f/1.8 AFS G DX lens for the remainder. Because APS cameras allow you to choose the print format, images taken in "C" mode will be the same as an APS-C sized sensor, so the 18mm end of the lens will not show vignetting.  In the scans, which are all at the maximum frame size, or APS-H,you can see some vignetting in the corners at 18mm. Back in the early 2000s, Bill Brudon used a Pronea S with a 14mm Nikkor lens and got great results.  WARNING - DO NOT attach those IX-Nikkor lenses to your 35mm or digital SLR - they will not allow your mirror to operate! 

The Pronea 6i feels great in the hand, and the contours of the camera provide a perfect grip.  The viewfinder is bright and 100% coverage, and the settings appear at the bottom of the viewfinder, just like all other Nikon AF SLRs.  The rear LCD screen, while certainly not the same as a DSLR screen, is easy to read and fairly easy to navigate once you get used to the control functions.  As with most Nikon bodies, the controls are where they should be, and while the Pronea 6i was intended to be a sort of dumbed-down SLR, users in advanced mode can control a great deal using the buttons on the back that border the LCD. There is no Depth of Field preview button.
 A great combo with the 18-70mm Nikkor DX lens

It's really unfortunate that the appearance of APS was not long before digital started coming out. Once that ball started rolling, the digital sales kicked APS's ass first, due in part to the many pocket cameras that were similar in size to APS.  However, here's a thought.  If you put images side-by-side from a Nikon Pronea 6i and those from the Kodak DCS 330, which were 3.0 megapixels in size... the APS image would be better by far.  It's actually too bad that Nikon didn't adopt the body shape of the Pronea 6i for its early consumer-level DSLRs.  They had the makings of a proto-digicam right there.


After I finished the roll, I sent it to Thedarkroom.com and had it processed and scanned. The scans showed that the film had lost some contrast - so I bumped up the contrast in post-processing and the images looked great.  I will be shooting with it again soon.  It's a fun SLR that cam make use of some excellent Nikon glass on an orphaned film format.  I better shoot all the APS that I can before it all gets too old.
the scans before adjustments

I mentioned the Pronea S above, which while an SLR using the same lenses as the Pronea 6i, is pretty much a completely different camera with far fewer controls of the image-making.  Since I have not tried one, that's all I'll say about it, but I think S stands for Simple.

I tried to find out the original list price for the Pronea 6i, and by searching back issues of Popular Photography magazines via Google Books, the best that could do was January 1999, when the Pronea 6i body was selling for about $350, and with the 20-60mm  lens, over $400. Today, you can find them on eBay for $10-$60, though some sellers are asking $249. Good luck with that. 

 Now for the photos!














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