My Top Five Favorite Film Cameras of All Time

My Top Five Favorite Film Cameras of All Time

Criteria

I’ve collected quite a few film cameras over the years, and I found it difficult to select my top five favorites. Having winnowed the field fairly quickly down to 8 semi-finalists, I applied the following criteria to pick the winners.

  • I personally own one or more of each camera, either the exact model or some variant.
  • Number of images taken with each.
  • How often I used the camera in the past year.
  • Ease of use and familiarity.
  • Feelings the camera invokes within me and in others. For example, do people tend to approach me to talk about the camera when they see me using it in public.

#5. Nikon FM2

Nikon FM2

I stepped back from photography in the mid ‘90s while I attended grad school, a period I refer to as my dark ages. I sold all my camera gear except my Nikon FM and the venerable Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm, a dodgy lens by almost all standards yet one I hold in high esteem. I write nostalgically about this wonderful lens at length in this blog post: https://photography.warrenworks.com/index.php/photography/two-images-decades-apart-same-great-camera-and-lens/  

Large White Planter - Balboa Park, San Diego 1999

Over the Nikon FM, I prefer the Nikon FM2. Like the FM, the FM2 is a fully mechanical camera with several improvements, namely, a faster maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second. It’s a rugged, dependable instrument and is one of the finest cameras Nikon ever produced. I especially like this camera because of its compact size. Yes, they make a motor winder for it, but I have never felt compelled to use it. I like the buttery smooth feel of the manual film advance and the reassuring sound of the shutter release and the mirror moment. It just feels put together, well made, wonderfully engineered.

Pavillion - Balboa Park, San Diego, CA - 1999

It has an exposure meter, which requires batteries, but I never insert the batteries. Instead, if needs be, I use a handheld exposure meter, either the Gossen DigiSix, or a Pentax Spot Meter.

Twisted Trees - Balboa Park, San Diego - 1999

This camera is all about slowing things down and taking your time. What’s the rush? There’s no gunning it, no spraying the subject with the machine gun sound of a high-speed motor winder. With a little thought, planning, and measurement, you can obtain incredible images without wasting film. I’ve used this camera on a tripod more than any other camera I own.

It’s the camera I’d take with me on a trip into the jungle or into the artic. I’d take it anywhere I believe I’d be unable to find batteries or electricity. As long as you have film, you’re in business.

#4. Leica M3

Leica M3 w/Leica Summicron 50mm Near-Focusing Range Lens

I was a late comer to Leica cameras. Like I explained earlier, I chose Nikon over Leica early in my photography career and I’ve been happy with my decision ever since, but when an opportunity came along to acquire a pristine Leica M3, I figured why not? I’m still happy with my Nikon gear, but I must admit, there’s something special about how a Leica camera using Leica glass renders an image on film. There’s more acutance, which comes from the rear of the lens being closer to the film plane due to the lack of a mirror. I still prefer an SLR to a rangefinder, but a well-tuned rangefinder lets you achieve very precise focusing, especially when shooting portraits and you want to focus on the eyes.

Exploring The Barn - Shamba - March 2020

This particular M3 was made in 1962. I like the idea of making images using a camera that’s older than I am. After 58 years, It’s still going strong. And who would have guessed? Retro technology is the new cool thing! Like the Yashica Mat 124G, walking around in public with this camera around your neck attracts aficionados who admire and appreciate sleek design and precise engineering.

I prefer to use the Leica 50mm Summicron f2 Near-Focusing Range lens on this camera. It requires the use of goggles when in the near-focusing range to correct for parallax. The goggles lend an air of mystery to this already beautiful camera which magnifies its attraction quotient substantially. Someone who would ordinarily walk past an old camera in use is drawn to the goggle-equipped Leica M3 like a moth to a flame. You can learn more about this incredible lens in this blog post: https://www.warrenworks.com/film-photography/leica-m3-post-cla-shakedown/

Waiting - Shamba - 2020

The best thing about the Leica M3 is that it’s 100% mechanical. It contains no batteries and no frills. If you want to take a picture, you’d better know your craft. In fact, I enjoy the mental exercise of manually calculating exposure, especially when using this camera. It sharpens the photographic eye.

John - Falls Church, VA - March 2020

#3. Contaxt T

Contax T

The Contax T is the ideal street photography camera. It’s compact, discrete, and unobtrusive. It has a manual focus Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 38mm lens, made by Yashica, that folds up for easy storage.

Single-Handling the Contax T
Single-Handling the Contax T
Single-Handling the Contax T

Its manual film advance is easily operated with one hand. It has a leaf shutter, so it’s quieter than the Leica M10D. On a busy street, or in a quiet setting, no one knows you’ve taken a picture. It works in Aperture Priority mode, so in low light you get some wonderful, ethereal, blurry images. 

Alex and Pete - Irish Bar - Courthouse - 2008

It’s a rangefinder, but rarely, if ever, do I focus in this manner. Instead, I set the aperture to F8 and position the green dot on the hyperfocal distance scale opposite the black aperture indicator. This ensures everything between 1.8 meters to infinity will be in focus. Every lens has a hyperfocal distance. I highly recommend you take some time to study this important concept, especially if you’re interested in street photography. With the hyperfocal distance set, I aim the camera in the general direction of the subject, usually from hip level, and fire.

Setting Hyper Focal Distance

I hold the camera in my right hand with the carry strap wrapped around my wrist. I aim, shoot, and advance the film with one hand. I find shooting from the hip yields the most candid shots. The camera is down, out of the way, and inconspicuous. I find that when people see a camera their defenses go up. They become suspicious and sometimes hostile.

Acrobat Man - Leidseplein Square, Amsterdam -  2005

If I want to engage a subject on a more personal level, I will approach them and ask for their permission to take their photograph, like I did with this protester at a Women’s Rights March in Washington, DC.

Protester - March for Women's Rights  - Washington, DC - 2004

#2. Yashica Mat 124G

Yashica Mat 124G

In 2006 digital cameras reached parity with film and professional photographers around the world started upgrading. This resulted in a glut of used medium format gear coming to market at good prices, so I bought a few. One of the gems I acquired early on was a nearly new Yashica Mat 124G. I took it on a trip to Amsterdam and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

Amsterdam 2007

This is a twin lens reflex (TLR) camera and it takes some getting used to. To take a picture, you flip open the top and peer down through the top to compose and focus the shot. From a distance it appears you’re hunched over a mysterious black box. People watching wonder what you are doing, and that’s what makes using this camera so much fun. Perfect strangers, driven by curiosity, approach and start a conversation. Where I to find myself stranded in a strange land with nothing but the clothes on my back and this camera, by the end of the day I could secure a hot meal and a place to stay.

Frankie & Jack - Atlantic City, NJ 2012

I especially like to use this camera to capture images with a different point of view. By the very nature of its twin lens reflex design, one tends to shoot from their belly button, as opposed to a 35 mm SLR, which is most naturally employed at eye level. It’s easy to photograph subjects who are sitting without the need to squat down. Where this camera really shines is shooting at ground level without danger of getting your clothes dirty. I’ve made my best images of my animal friends with this camera.

Pirate Flag - Old Forge, New York - 2007

The Yashica Mat 124G is not a high-end camera. Compared to a Rolleiflex 3.5F or the Mamiya C330 Professional, both heavy, solid cameras, the Yashica Mat 124G feels like a rattily tin can. Using an automobile analogy, the Yashica Mat 124G feels like a Yugoslavian compact car to the touch but performs like an uber engineered German touring sedan. Physically, construction-wise, one perceives loose tolerances, sloppy seconds, false hopes.

In reality, this camera shines in three key areas:

  1. It has one of the world’s finest lenses,
  2. It has a dead-on-accurate, built-in exposure meter, and
  3. It’s one tough mother of a camera.

There’s nothing frilly hanging off the sides of this machine to get destroyed when it’s accidentally dropped, say, when drinking beer and playing foosball at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. It’s lighter, too, than a Rolleiflex 3.5F or the Mamiya C330 Professional, which makes it easy to carry around for an all-day shooting adventure. And you can buy one for a song, comparitavely speaking. 

Kathleen Thinking - Old Forge, New York - 2007

Well, a Yashica Mat 124G used to be a real bargain on eBay, but a quick glance at recent prices shows mint condition specimens listed for upwards of $800. These sellers are smokin’ crack. A used one in nice condition is listed for $285. eBay used to be a great place to buy used gear until they started charging tax on out-of-state purchases for flea-market items. I’ll save that rant for another video. A used Yashica Mat 124G in good condition between $125 – $250 is a good deal in my opinion.

Stevie - Fat Rabbit Cottage
Ramble Shack In Fading Light
Bent Rim and Trash - Amsterdam - 2007

#1. Nikon F3HP

Nikon F3HP

This is, by far, my favorite camera, period. I love everything about this camera, from the way it looks, the way it feels in my hands, the way it performs, and how easy it is to forget about its controls and simply focus on the art of image making.

Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985
Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985
Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985
Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985
Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985
Wardroom Operation - USS Norfolk (SSN-714) - 1985

I bought my first Nikon F3HP in 1984 when I was a young sailor assigned to the USS Norfolk, SSN 714, a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine. I wanted to take my photography to the next level and the two camera brands most closely associated with professional photographers in those days was Nikon and Leica.

Fiery Sunset - Squadron 6 Pier - Norfolk, VA - 1984

Eventually, after some research, I narrowed the choice between the Nikon F3HP and the Leica M4-P. Unlike today, where professional grade digital cameras easily cost $5000 or more, and you feel like your arm is being twisted behind your back when you buy one, I recall that neither of these cameras were outrageously expensive, though the Leica did cost more than the Nikon.

Italian Girl Riding Bike
Italian Girl Riding Bike
Italian Girl Riding Bike

Ultimately, I based my choice on my preference for looking through the lens of a single lens reflex (SLR) camera vs. using a range finder, and so I chose the Nikon. I’ve been a loyal Nikon user ever since.

Patrick - Chantilly, VA - March 2020

The HP stands for High Eyepoint. Essentially, what makes a Nikon F3HP a High Eyepoint is the DE-3 finder, which allows you to see the entire viewfinder image while wearing glasses. This is a great feature, because in the ‘80s, I wore Ray-Ban sunglasses, so I could take pictures and look cool at the same time.

Snorking Ops - USS Norfolk - October 1984
Cold Topside Watch - USS Norfolk - January 1985
John - USS Norfolk - On Station
Batman with the Wrong Way Shoes
Five Favorite Film Cameras
Mamiya C330 Professional: Walkabout

Mamiya C330 Professional: Walkabout

I had the chance finally to take my Mamiya C330 Professional out for a spin and run two rolls of Ilford Delta 400 120 through it. This had been on my to-do list since the beginning of 2019 when I made this post: New Year’s Resolution: Shoot More Film in 2019.  Subjects included a few around-the-house shots, and a wonderful young woman, Melissa, who accompanied my wife Coralie and me along the Georgetown waterfront under the Whitehurst Freeway, as we strolled along heading for Chaia Tacos and Hill & Dale Records. During the shoot, I had my suspicions something wasn’t quite right with the camera. When I returned home, developed the film, and cast my eyes upon the first set of negatives, I realized something definitely was amiss. Sometimes, equipment malfunctions create happy accidents. Read on.

The Mamiya C330 Professional requires a bit of getting used to. You just can’t pick up this camera cold and start shooting with it. A detailed reading of the user manual is in order to learn how to do everything from opening the back cover, loading film, changing lenses, swapping out the distance scale, to advancing the film and taking pictures. After about 20 minutes of familiarity training, I loaded a roll of film and scouted the house looking for image opportunities.

In times like these I get a bit lazy and default to the back yard. I never grow tired of taking pictures of dead grass and Christmas tree lights, and the backyard has become a sort of proving ground for newly acquired cameras and lenses.

Bush & Christmas Lights

 Dead Grass and Christmas Lights

It was here I first felt a glitch in the Matrix. I advanced the film wind crank, which cocks the shutter, but the shutter didn’t stay cocked. Instead, it tripped at the very end. “Hmmm”, I thought. I took a few more pictures and everything worked normally. So, into the house I went, looking for more targets. I spied the cat laying on the sofa in a shaft of glorious light. Fair game.

CatCatLaChat

Cat-Cat La Chat

 

Again, the glitch in the Matrix strikes, with ramifications I have yet to fully comprehend. I continue shooting and get what I think is a cool shot of the cat. Full disclosure – this is not our cat. Nope. It’s a community cat that likes to hang out in our house. Now, I have a soft spot for any critter that presents itself at my door, and kindness such as this becomes known throughout the animal kingdom. Word gets out and spreads like wildfire. If you’re hungry and happen to be passing by, dog, cat, bird, mouse, doesn’t matter, stop in for a snack and a square meal. On a typical day, Cat-Cat La Chat, as we call her, eats and retires to the couch, where she snoozes until recharged and ready to return to the rough and tumble outdoors.

Walking around with the Mamiya C330 Professional is no picnic. It’s easily three times as heavy as the venerable Yashica Mat 124G and twice as complicated to use. The Yashica Mat 124 G is perhaps one of my favorite cameras of all time, ranking up there with the Nikon F3HP, but the Yashica feels like a little, rattly, tin can of a camera compared to the Mamiya. (Regardless of how it feels in the hand or how it compares in weight to the Mamiya, the Yashica renders incredible images.) If I had to negotiate a tough neighborhood, I’d grap the Mamiya, as it can serve as quite an effective weapon!

Mamiya C330 Professional vs. Yashica Mat 124G

Mamiya C330 Professional vs. Yashica Mat 124G

Well, like anything, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it, but it’s a real beast of a camera, weighing in at close to 4 pounds with the 80mm lens attached. To make extended carry more comfortable, I use the UPstrap-Pro Large M Pad with Quick Release strap, model M-QR-K, which runs $60 available from upstrap-pro.com. This is, by far, my favorite camera strap.

Mamiya C330 Professional & Friends

Mamiya C330 Professional & Fans

 

It’s also cool to be seen with this camera, as the picture above attests to. I was loitering outside Bluemercury while Coralie received a makeover, when a guy walks up and says, “Hey, cool camera!” Wearing this camera is like strolling the street with a hot chick on your arm; other guys just wanna be you! Seriously, though, you don’t see a twin lens reflex (TLR) camera very often out in the wild nowadays. It’s the rarity of such sightings that bring camera aficionados in for a closer look and a kind word. I get the same treatment with the Yashica Mat 124G or a Rolleiflex. TLRs just look, well, strange, especially in the smart-phone-digital-camera age. It’s a great ice-breaker, and it’s not just TLRs. If you’re shy and find it hard to approach people, simply parade around with a classic camera, and sooner or later, someone will buy you a drink.

We stopped along Water street in the vicinity of the Berliner to take a few pictures of Melissa. Again, the glitch in the Matrix.

Melissa - Double Exposed

Melissa – Double Exposed

I cranked the lever for another shot and again, everything worked fine. On we walked to Chaia Tacos.

Melissa

Melissa Texting Kyle

If you haven’t yet paid Chaia Tacos a visit, I highly recommend making the effort. You won’t be disappointed. Melissa is a regular and knows the ropes. She recommended the Creamy Kale and Potato taco and when I tasted it, it became my favorite as well. We each ordered three tacos. I rounded out my three-taco order with a Braised Mushroom and a Black Bean with Scrambled Eggs.

Upstairs, after ordering, I took several more shots. This time I saw the glitch occur. Occasionally, the film wind lever wasn’t moving the shutter cocking arm all the way down into the locked position, this allowed it to make a double exposure as I followed through with the film advance, even though the multi-exposure knob was set to SINGLE. From that point forward, I manually cocked the shutter and the camera performed flawlessly.

Chaia Georgetown

Chaia Interior – Double Exposed

 

Melissa By The Window

Melissa By The Window

We arrived finally at Hill & Dale Records  where I used the last frame on the roll to take one last picture of Melissa before Coralie and I headed home. If you’re an audiophile and love the sound of vinyl, this is the place to go for classic and recent pressings, unique, signed photographs of bands and artists of all genres, and cool, hard-to-find posters.

Melissa - Hill & Dale Records

Melissa – Hill & Dale Records

Had the camera not malfunctioned, I doubt I would have experimented with double exposures. But I have to admit, I like the results obtained from these types of happy accidents.

 

Rick Miller, Falls Church, VA – 22 February 2020

 

Leica M3 Needs CLA

Leica M3 Needs CLA

Over the course of a year (Jan 2017 – June 2018) I ran a roll of Tri-X through this camera, and when I finally got around to developing the film, I discovered it had a serious problem which I’d never noticed before. At shutter speeds 125th of a second and faster the rear shutter curtain quickly catches up to the front curtain and a severe case of shutter capping occurs, as you can see from the contact sheet below. Time for a CLA.

A few hours of Internet research later and I settled on YYeCamera.com. I sent Mr. Youxin Ye an email introducing him to my camera and its problem(s), and asked for shipping instructions. He responded within 30 minutes. His prompt reply assured me my camera would be in good hands. I told him I’d ship it out the following day.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the shutter release would jam at random intervals, requiring the use of the self-timer to release. At speeds below 125th of a second the shutter curtains seemed to work fine. Cameras, like motorcycles, benefit more from use than neglect. Taking over a year to shoot a roll of film could be construed as a high crime against a classic camera.

The lens used to make these images is the Leica Summicron 5cm f2. This is a collapsible lens and when paired with the M3 makes for a compact kit, although not quite as compact as the Leica Elmar 5cm f2.8.

Update – 28 March 2020

Read about the Post CLA Shakedown here: https://www.warrenworks.com/film-photography/leica-m3-post-cla-shakedown/

 

New Year’s Resolution: Shoot More Film In 2019 (2 January 2020 Update!)

New Year’s Resolution: Shoot More Film In 2019 (2 January 2020 Update!)

Happy New Year!

 

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of film, but I’m ashamed to admit I slacked off in 2017 & 2018 and shot only a handful of rolls and developed not one. I’m now faced with a stockpile of aging film and chemicals nearing expiration and I need to get busy. I need to shoot more film. 

My ambitious plan for 2019 is to select two cameras from my collection as daily shooters and carry them wherever I go, either one or the other, or, if I’m feeling froggy, both, but that might be too ambitious. In case you haven’t already guessed from looking at the header image, I’ve selected the venerable Nikon F3HP and the Mamiya C330.

Nikon F3HP


Nikon F3HP

The Nikon F3HP was an easy choice as it’s easily my favorate camera of all time. I’m upping the ante by using only two prime lenses: 1) a Nikkor 50mm f1.2 (shown attached to the camera), and 2) a Nikkor 35mm f1.4. The use of primes will force me out of my comfort zone and encourage me to get close and intimate with my subjects. I also need to build an image bank using these lenses and this will give me the opportunity.

Mamiya C330 Pro


Mamiya C330 Pro

I’ve owned the Mamiya C330 for some time, but haven’t had a chance to use it.  Its 80mm f2.8 Mamiya-Sekor lens is superb for portrait work.

Both of these cameras are hefty. In my very unscientific left-hand-right-hand scale test, the Mamiya feels more than a bit heavier than the Nikon with the MD-4 motordrive attached. My strap of choice in situations like this is the UPstrap Large Mountain ‘Hybrid’ Pad Camera Step/Sling. These are, hands down, the best camera straps on the planet. And no, I am not affiliated with UPstrap. I just like to plug companies that make great products here in the good-ol’ USA.

Kodak 400 TX



Kodak 400 TX

For film I’ll be using Kodak Tri-X 400, Kodak Porta 400, Kodak Ektar 100, and ADOX 25. I’ll schlep the film and other doodads around in my goto camera bag: a US Army Communications Peg Bag.

US Army Bag



US Army Bag

The one shown above is a reprodution. I waterproofed the fabric with 3M waterproofing spray and I carry a handful of waterproof pouches for when the weather is particularly nasty and I can’t escape the elements.

I’ll post updates and sample images throughout the year.

Update
2 January 2020

I fell way short of achieving this goal, I’m saddened to admit. I didn’t even touch the Mamiya C330 Pro, but I did manage to take the Nikon F3HP out for several spins over the course of the year and came away with a handful of images, several of which are posted below.

Bentleys Still Life

Bentleys Still Life – Nikon F3HP w/Nikkor 50mm f1.2

Tri Nguyen

Tri Nguyen – Nikon F3HP w/Nikkor 50mm f1.2

The Nikon F3HP is perhaps my favorite camera. I’ve used it since the early 1980’s and its controls are as familiar, intuitive, and responsive to me as a lover’s body.

Kathleen

Kathleen – Nikon F3HP w/Nikkor 50mm f1.2

But it seems I have found a new lover…

Leica M10-D

Leica M10-D w/Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0

…a digital camera that shoots like a film camera, the Leica M10-D. You can read my complete review of this amazing camera here: Leica M10-D: Comparison to an Old Friend

What Famous Photographers Used Yashica Mat Cameras?

What Famous Photographers Used Yashica Mat Cameras?

On 5 September 2018, I received an inquiry via my website contact page from Mark Stone-Brant:

Dear Rick

    I was wondering which famous pro photographers actually used the Yashica TLR, It does not matter which models they used for their work. It is difficult to actually see any on the web. I was wondering if you knew which famous photographers so I could see their examples of their photos. Perhaps they are mainly Japanese photographers?

    Please let me know 

    Kind regards 

Mark

    What a great question. Until Mark’s inquiry, I’d not given the subject much thought. I know there’s a tremendous amateur interest in the Yashica Mat cameras. They’re affordable medium format cameras, though over the past few years I’ve seen prices creep up into the $500 range for units in mint condition.

    Mark also posed the question to a Yashica Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) enthusiast from Australia who offered the following analysis:

    Thank you. In terms of your question, there is no easy answer. There is a difference between professional photographers and famous photographers. The simple answer is that I don’t know of any famous professional photographers who used Yashica TLRs. There could have been but not to my limited knowledge.

    Yashica’s philosophy was to build good quality TLRs at low prices and make money out of volume. The TLRs were aimed at mainly amateurs although the crank wind models often ended up being used by wedding photographers and similar, particularly when starting out. These are professionals by any description but are unlikely to be published photographers in the sense that you would find them in an art book of some form. One such photographer is an Englishman by the name of Tony Baker who contacted me regarding some assistance with a book. He has written an autobiography, “It’s not Quite How I Pictured It”. At various times, he did very well. When he was starting out, he used a Yashica-Mat but moved on to other equipment when he became more successful.

    And that’s the reality, the Yashicas are very capable of decent pictures but they are not particularly designed for the rigours of professional use. People used them for that purpose but not so much out of choice rather than a matter of necessity. Minolta Autocords are very similar in that regard.

    Also, famous photographers rarely talk about their tools. They use whatever tool meets their needs or that they have at hand at the time and in reality, are capable of taking far better pictures than the rest of us regardless of the quality of the camera.

    I know that your question was specifically regarding TLRs but Yashica’s first 35 mm SLR, the Pentamatic, is an example of a camera being used not for some outstanding quality but for a reason only known to the photographer. It was not a commercially successful SLR, even though it seems to be a nicely built camera with quality lens. There were three versions but it only lasted in production a couple of years. The biggest issue was a poor selection of lenses and only the normal lens featured an auto diaphragm. Not the sort of camera that “professionals” are drawn to but the famous Weegee, Arthur Fellig, names the Pentamatic as one of the cameras he liked using.

    Sorry, that’s the limit of my knowledge on this topic.

    So I put the question out to a wider audience: If anyone knows of a famous or influential photographer who preferred to use Yashica Mat cameras between 1957 – 1990, please share their name and any images you are aware of with me so I can post them on this blog.

Bent Rim and Trash, Amsterdam

 

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.”

 

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