A Stroll With A Roll (And A Half): My Take On Shooting the Nikon F

The camera of for this stroll was an easy choice.  Not only is it a beautiful camera, but it has a reputation of being quite the workhorse.  The Nikon F.  A good friend of mine, Chris Etzel, and I were discussing this camera recently and he suggested we should each put a roll of film through ours and share our thoughts on what it’s like to shoot this classic beauty.  You can see what Chris has to say about it here.  

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The Nikon F is an iconic camera and one I’ve been wanting to add to my collection for quite a while. A little over a year ago, I was lucky enough to get a great deal on a clean 1966 model with a working Photomic meter. Just two days ago, I picked up another. This one is an even cleaner 1969 model with a working ftn meter.  But before we look at the results from my shoot, let’s take a closer look at the camera.

The Nikon F was produced from 1959-1973 and was Nikon’s first SLR camera and was the weapon of choice for many of the professional photographers of that time.  It has interchangeable focusing screens, allowing the shooter to tailor the shooting experience to their preference.  It also has interchangeable prisms.  The camera itself is purely mechanical, meaning it does not require a battery to shoot.  The only batteries needed are for the metered prisms, which can be used either on or off.  This means shooting is still possible even if the meter battery were to die. 

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Film is loaded into the camera by removing the entire back covering of the camera.  This is done by turning a small lever on the bottom of the camera.  Once the film is loaded, the film speed is set by lifting and turning the small ring on the shutter speed dial.  Again, this is only necessary if the meter in the prism is going to be used. 

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A step that might be missed by those new to the Nikon F is the film direction knob.  Turn it to “A” to shoot the camera and advance the film.  Turn it to “R”, and the film can now be rewound by turning the rewind knob on the top left of the camera.  Those unfamiliar with this might mistake a camera in working condition for a broken camera, and the film advance lever will not work correctly when this “R” is selected.  Embarrassingly enough, I learned this the hard way when I couldn’t figure out how to rewind the film once I completed my roll.  A quick search of the interwebs was all it took to make me realize I should have reviewed the camera manual before shooting my first roll. 

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Changing lenses on the Nikon F is nothing new if you’re already familiar with the “Nikon Twist”.  If you’re like me and this is your first time shooting an older Nikon SLR, do yourself a favor and watch a few YouTube videos before attempting to change the lens.  It will save you a world of frustration.  I shot the images for this article using the Nikkor-S Auto 1:1.4 50mm lens, my favorite manual focus Nikon lens to date.

Once you hold a Nikon F, you understand why people say you can always use it as a weapon if it were to ever stop working.  It’s a hefty beast of a SLR.  I personally like this.  I’m not the steadiest of shooters and find the weight of the camera actually helps me out here.  I find it’s heavy enough to provide some stability without being so heavy that it’s a burden to hold. 

For my stroll, I chose the small town where I live, Franklin Ohio.  It’s a quiet little town with parts that appear as if time has forgotten them. It’s located on the Great Miami River in SW Ohio and was one of the canal towns.    

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Franklin is full of beautiful old houses and interesting architecture.

Franklin is full of beautiful old houses and interesting architecture.

The iron train bridge is a favorite subject of mine to shoot.

The iron train bridge is a favorite subject of mine to shoot.

When modes of transportation evolve.

When modes of transportation evolve.

“Church”.

“Church”.

Canals and river travel heritage.

Canals and river travel heritage.

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Main St.

Main St.

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Small town life.

Small town life.

I’ve recently started rolling my own 35mm film cardtridges from a 100’ bulk roll.  The first film I’ve tried is Kentmere 400.  The photos below were taken from this roll.

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So how did I like shooting the Nikon F?  I loved it!  I love the solid all mechanical feel of the body. I’ve always used the metered prism when shooting the F, but would feel just as comfortable shooting it Sunny 16, and just having the ability to do so will make it a more frequent shooter for me. Nothing annoys me more than having a photography outing cut short because of a dead battery. You can bet this camera will be finding its way into my camera bag more often.

2018 Was A Great Year For Film Photography For Me

It’s here. 2019. Twenty. Nineteen.  It just doesn’t seem possible. I’ll turn 49 years old this year. And as I’m peeking over the edge of my first fifty years of existence, there are going to be some first time experiences for me...and I’m excited as hell about it.  

First things first. I have some goals from 2018 that didn’t quite come to fruition. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great year, but there were some goals that I had set for myself that I never totally achieved. But before we discuss those, I want to talk about some of the good things that happened.

2018 was the year I dove head first into film photography. I’ve shot film in the past, but never at this magnitude. I shot more film in 2018 than I ever had in any other decade, much less any other year. 

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2018 was also the year I attended the Film Photography Project Walking Workshop in Findlay Ohio. In addition to the awesome folks at FPP, I also met some really cool fellow film shooters, some of which I still talk to on a regular basis.

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I hosted my first photo walks in 2018. There were two. Some of the attendees were people I met in Findlay. Others were either friends of theirs, or had seen photos from the first photo walk and wanted to be a part of the second one. Much film was shot and great friends were made. The communal aspect of film photography is one of the things I love about being a part of this culture. There’s just nothing else like it.

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I also made my first darkroom prints in 2018. I took a black and white darkroom class at my local community college, where I met some great people and definitely grew as a photographer. I loved that time in the darkroom creating images that can never be duplicated. It was a magical experience.

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And last but definitely not least, I launched this blog. I haven’t given it nearly enough attention, but that’s one of my goals for 2019. I really hope to post at least once a month. I quite possibly pick up a film camera every single day. Surely I have enough material related to film photography that I could share, whether it’s new developments, a new camera, or something stupid I did that’s funny enough to share in a way that I can hopefully prevent someone from making the same silly mistake.

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Case in point.  I did something so stupid that I can’t help but tell people about, even if it’s just so I can tell them that no mistake they may make can be any worse than what I did. Let’s go back to Findlay Ohio, August 2018  I’m on a photowalk with other films photographers, snapping away like crazy. I knew we were going to be out shooting for a while, so I was sure to bring extra film. I’m paying attention to the frame count on my Minolta X-370, and notice I’m at 34 frames. I snap off another picture. Click, wind. I see another shot. I compose the image and shoot. Click, wind. This should be my last shot. Click, wind. Ooh!  Extra frames!  Everyone loves extra frames!  Click, wind. There’s no tension on the wind lever. Click, wind?  Two extra frames??  Really??? Click, wind. Click, wind. Click, wind. Still no tension. I think you’ve probably figured out where this is going. I had certainly figured it out by this time, but alas, it was too late. I gave it one more “click, wind” just for confirmation. Only this time, I did something I should have been doing all along. I watched for the rewind knob to turn. Only it didn’t. You see, the X-370 is a manual camera. It won’t wind the film for you. It doesn’t have a fancy beep to tell you something is wrong. It’s so simple, in fact, that it doesn’t even have a little window in the back to let you know there’s film in the camera. But somehow, while standing shoulder to shoulder in a group of film photographers, I didn’t need that little window to confirm what I had just figured out; that there wasn’t going to be anything behind the door when I opened the camera. I had been walking around the better part of the afternoon shooting blanks. This is where you laugh. Hysterically. Because that’s what I did. It’s all I COULD do.  Laugh, I did. Then I quietly loaded the camera, watching for the film rewind knob to turn before carrying on with the group.  It was months before I told any of them, but it’s a story I now share regularly. 

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Goals from 2018 that I hope to improve upon this year?  Write more, and do less stupid stuff ( like forgetting to load my camera).  I think we can do tgat  

So. Back to 2019. What does this year have on the agenda?  There are going to be some firsts. 

I will shoot large format photography this year for the first time. I purchased a Crown Graphic 4x5 camera last year, but never shot it. That baby is going to see some action this year. It’s far too pretty of a camera to be a shelf queen. 

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I’m also building a 4x5 rail camera this year. I start another film photography class in less than a week, where we will be using the same type of equipment. I figured I might as well get one of my own so that I can fully immerse myself into it. 

The previously mentioned class is going to revolve around studio photography, another first for me. I don’t mind taking photos of people, but I’ve never considered myself a portrait photographer, nor did I ever think I’d be interested in becoming one. But there’s just something amazing about portraits taken on large format film. They have a special look to them. A look I seem to have fallen in love with. I want to learn to achieve that look. Hopefully, 2019 is my start down that path. 

And last but certainly not least, 2019 will be the first year that I’ll take part in a year long group photography project. I’ll discuss the details and possibly some photos in my next post, but what I will say about it is that it’s a monthly obligation to shoot the same kind of film in the same camera. That’s 12 rolls for the year, all in the same camera. Should be fun!

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So, what’s on your agenda for 2019?  A new camera?  A new format of film?  Maybe even a new shooting style?  One thing is for sure..  It’s your year.  It’s your opportunity to try something new and different. Or, you could just do what you did last year. But where’s the fun in that?!?!  Now, get out there and shoot!!