The plan was to get out on the snowy streets of Sofia and take some pictures. Sadly the snow did not survive for long and the streets were reduced to slush and ice. The cold weather has brought some more unpleasant changes. A combination of low lying fog, exhaust emissions and the burning of coal and wood resulted in a dramatic decline in the air quality – which is not that great to start with. It’s sufficiently bad that the city has authorised reduced fares on all public transport to try to get people out of their cars, and advised schools to reduce outdoor activities. We are promised a brief respite on Wednesday when rain and wind should clear the air somewhat but the outlook for the rest of the week suggests the relief will only be temporary. Obviously given this significant disincentive to getting out and about with my camera I spent today looking at cameras on Ebay, Used Photo Pro and a few other sites, deciding what to buy next.
On the one hand I decided that I quite like the idea of getting a Nikon F, the first of Nikon’s famous series of professional grade SLR cameras, which appeared in 1959 and continued in production until 1972. While the Nikon F was not the first SLR it combined existing elements of SLR design into a single high quality professional grade camera. Some F’s incorporated Nikon’s ‘photomic’ viewfinder with a built in light meter but the original F with the standard eye level viewfinder had no meter and was entirely mechanical.
It was the F that, in the hands of photographers like Philip Jones-Griffiths and Don McCullin, recorded many of the best known images from the Vietnam war. One of McCullin’s cameras might even have saved his life. Crawling through a rice field in Cambodia under fire from a sniper, his Nikon F was hit by a bullet. That the camera survived as well as it did was a testament to the quality of the materials and the construction – this at a time when ‘Made in Japan’ carried the same connotations as “Made in China’ has done in more recent times.
As well as going to war the F went into orbit. The camera’s reputation led NASA to ask Nikon to produce customised versions which travelled into space on the Apollo 15 mission and were used on Skylab.
‘Classic’ may be a much overused epithet these days but the Nikon F is truly a classic camera and given this it is surprising how affordable they are. Examples in good condition are available for $150 – $200 from reputable Japanese dealers on Ebay. If you want a black one the price does increase significantly going to $400 and up.
On the other hand – getting back to the point – I was also tempted by the Minolta a 7 / Dynax 7 / Maxxum 7. If the Nikon F represents the early days of SLR photography the Minolta a 7 represents the last flourish for film SLR’s before digital photography swept all before it, first appearing in 2000 and in production until 2006. At one point I had an F100, Nikon’s equivalent model from the same era. For no obvious reason I didn’t warm to it so eventually I sold it. Yet I would still like to get one of these late 90’s early 2000’s auto everything film cameras since they are as close as you can get to the digital shooting experience with analogue.
The a 7 would probably not be considered a classic beyond the community of Minolta aficionados (of which I am one) which is why, like the Nikon F, it is very affordable. Again, good condition models from Japan are available on Ebay for $150 which is a lot less than an F100. Better yet, Minolta autofocus lenses are also significantly cheaper than their Nikon counterparts making for a less expensive system overall.
What to do? As I sat there mulling over which to buy I thought to myself: ‘You already have eight cameras, five of them film. You hardly use some of them. What are you doing?’ I said other things to myself as well, but I’m aiming for a family audience here. Suffice it to say I resisted the siren call of the blue box and left the Bay. Then I started thinking about New Year’s Resolutions.
So, early resolution number one is to shoot more film. I’ve gone through four rolls since I arrived in Bulgaria, a little less than one a month (though I still haven’t developed any of them). I need to use the cameras I already have to do more film photography. Perhaps I’ll aim for two rolls a month, but I’m not going to make it a rule. I also feel I need to concentrate on the cameras that work best for me. That means my SLR’s, the FM2n and the XD. Where that leaves my rangefinders I’m not sure but I do know that I prefer shooting with SLR’s so that’s what I want to concentrate on.
Resolution number two is to concentrate on a limited number of films I like. There are a lot of films I’ve never tried but instead of constantly switching around and trying more and more I think I need to select from those I have tried and become more familiar with their distinctive characteristics. Unfortunately for me the three I’ve tried that I like best are Delta 400, Portra 400 and Ektar, all of which happen to be among the more expensive films. However, HP5+ is a close second to Delta 400 and cheaper so I will probably start there.
Resolution number three is to learn how to read the light. I’ve always had exposure metering on cameras I’ve owned except my very first camera which was a Russian Leica knock off called the Zorki 4K. My fully mechanical FM2n has a built in meter but functions normally even if the power for the light meter is switched off so I plan to use that to learn how to read the light and learn to gauge exposure without relying on a meter. This is not so much about learning something like the sunny 16 rule, though that is obviously a good place to start. Instead, it’s about reaching that point where it is instinctive, where no calculation or referral to charts and tables is required.
So that’s the plan. And when I have achieved all this, particularly number three, I’m going to buy a Nikon F – in black.