In Bloomington, Indiana, just north of the Indiana University campus, you’ll find nine blocks where the interior streets are paved in brick. Bounded by 7th Street on the south, 10th Street on the north, Indiana Avenue on the west, and Woodlawn Avenue on the east, these streets are lined with lovely older homes.
I was in Bloomington in late July to have lunch with my son. My Nikon FA was with me, its 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens mounted. I was shooting some expired Kroger-branded, Ferrania-made ISO 200 color film I had picked up cheap. I overexposed the film by a stop to reduce the color shifts I was likely to get at box speed.
Brick’s heyday as a primary paving material was the 1910s and 1920s. I don’t know when these bricks were laid, but I’d be surprised if it were much earlier or later than those two decades. The occasional brick street or road was laid after then, but more for aesthetic reasons than practical ones. Concrete and then asphalt came to rule the roads.
These streets have been maintained, but never restored. While I’m sure these bricks were in perfect rows when they were first laid, they’ve shifted in the century or so since and look uneven now. You’ll find patches where newer bricks were laid, probably to repair deteriorated sections or to replace bricks removed to access buried utilities. Here and there, concrete was used to replace removed brick.
The real stars of this neighborhood’s show are the gorgeous older homes that line these brick streets. The university owns many of them and uses them as offices. The rest appear to be private residences. The rest of this post are the houses I liked best of those I photographed.
When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.
More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.
It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.
The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.
Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.
The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.
To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.
All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.
First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.
The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.
But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.
By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.
I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.
The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.
I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.
I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.
The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.
It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.
The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.
When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.
If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
I’ve had about enough of my scanner, a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. Despite getting negatives with gorgeous density when I developed Ilford Delta 400 in LegacyPro L110, a Kodak HC-110 clone, about half of the scans look terrible. I used the Ilford data sheet recipe of Dilution B, 7:30 at 20° C. I made the photos in my wonderful Olympus XA.
I made these three images on a graffiti wall in Bloomington when I was there to walk in a park with my oldest recently. The tonality and sharpness are pretty good. These images needed very little post processing.
On the way home I stopped in Martinsville to see an old friend, this brick road that was probably laid in the 1910s. It is the precursor to State Road 39, which is maybe 500 feet to the left, out of the frame. The bricks in the foreground look nearly three-dimensional, as if you can reach out and touch them.
I went to McCormick’s Creek State Park to walk with my youngest. Thanks to COVID-19, I’m seeing my adult children in the outdoors whenever the weather allows it and I can get away. My scanner just couldn’t pull good detail out of the shadows on these negatives.
I had a chance to visit my favorite abandoned bridge on the way home. It was starting to get dark that gray afternoon and the XA gave me shutter speeds of 1/15 or less at apertures that would secure lots of depth of field. I backed off to f/5.6 as a compromise, but for some reason I got underexposed negatives. My first scans were so dark as to be unusable. I re-scanned these images, tweaking settings to bring out the shadows, and got images like this one. It’s better, but still not great.
I have no idea what happened in this image, which I made at the Bloomington park. It’s grainy and not sharp, and the tones are flat. Maybe that reflecting mirror fooled the meter?
I finished the roll in downtown Zionsville. This is the best image from that little walk, technically. A couple other images have a more interesting composition, but I whiffed focus or shook the camera a little. It was a heavily overcast day and again I was getting slow shutter speeds at f/5.6. I’ve had great luck with the XA in crappy weather before, so I don’t know what happened here.
The Olympus XA is a never-miss camera for me, which heightens my disappointment in these images. The negatives look great, it’s just that my scanner isn’t getting the detail I know is there.
My son graduated from Purdue and then landed a job in Bloomington, home to Purdue’s arch-rival, Indiana University. So far, he’s not taken too much flak for his educational pedigree! I visited him a couple weeks ago and we strolled around campus as we talked. I had my Pentax K10D along with its 18-55mm zoom lens.
In 1988 I had a girlfriend at IU. Laura and I remain friends to this day. Sometimes she’d come to see me at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute and sometimes I’d visit her at IU. We walked campus a lot because it didn’t cost anything; neither of us had much money. It’s remarkable to me how after more than 30 years IU feels exactly like it did then, but I recognize almost nothing.
My son and I stepped off campus proper to walk some of the neighborhood directly to the north. I was drawn to its brick streets and the architecture of the houses. Many of these houses contain university departments today.
Kirkwood Avenue is the heart of the off-campus student experience. It’s remarkable to me how many places on it are still there since the 1980s, like Nick’s below. I remember well having beers at Kilroy’s and the Irish Lion back in the day, and pizza at Mother Bear’s. They’re all still open.
We’re still dealing with COVID-19, of course, and campus was crowded. So my son and I masked up for our walk.
I was just talking to a friend the other day, a fellow with young children who admitted that he doesn’t enjoy his children as babies. I was the same way. I loved them, but I didn’t start to enjoy them until they were mobile and verbal. The older they became, the more I enjoyed them. The middle- and high-school years were my favorite. What I wouldn’t do to have just one more year of high school with my sons! But that ship has sailed. I’m fortunate that my sons are happy that when their old dad wants to come see them. They always make time for me.
The Von Lee Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2020
This may look like a former movie theater, but only this entrance remains. Behind it is new construction.
This theater opened as the Ritz in 1928, and was renamed the Von Lee in 1948. It’s a half block from the vast Indiana University campus, on a street that most students consider to be Bloomington’s main drag.
In 1988 I saw at least one movie here, maybe two. I had a girlfriend at IU and we could walk here easily from her dorm. I remember the auditorium being cramped. But we didn’t think much of such things then. Enough old theaters still operated that it was just how it was sometimes. Newly built theaters offered only three or four screens then. The mega multiplex was several years into the future yet.
You’d think that a university town would have been able to find a community use for an old theater. Well, they did. The Indiana Theater stands a few blocks down this same street. It fell into disuse just like the Von Lee did, but it found fortune in being reused as a performing arts center in 1995. I suppose a town Bloomington’s size can support but one such venue. The Von Lee’s auditorium was demolished in about 2006.
A couple weeks ago I drove to Bloomington to see my son, who lives there. When I headed home, I followed the Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, as far as it would take me. Since SR 37 had been upgraded to become I-69, which removed all of the turnoffs to the old alignments, I wasn’t sure what I would find. I was pleased that the old road took me almost to Martinsville. Here’s its route, which now includes some new-terrain road.
For about 14 miles, Old 37 and the Dixie follow a winding path nowhere near the new Interstate. But for the next four miles or so, until it ends, the old road parallels I-69 and acts as its frontage road.
Within those first 14 miles, the old road is just as it always was: lightly traveled and lush. I’ve written about this segment before, here and here.
I had this road entirely to myself this Friday afternoon. On past trips I’ve encountered bicyclists out here; not this time.
This long segment used to exit onto State Road 37, but Interstates are limited access by their nature. Here’s how it exited onto SR 37 northbound when I first visited it in 2007.
Today, the old road curves the other way into a brand new frontage road.
Shortly the frontage road meets the next old alignment of Old SR 37 and the Dixie Highway. When I last wrote about it, here, I said that an old bridge had been left in place after a new bridge was built alongside it. I got to see the old bridge. It was saved because its qualities put it on the state’s Select list of bridges, which prevents it from being demolished without the state jumping through a whole bunch of hoops. It looks to me like some repairs have been done to it to stabilize it. But it is open now only to pedestrians.
This southbound photograph from the new bridge shows that the old road has been significantly upgraded. Notice how wide it is, compared to the old road on the right.
The new road ends about 2½ miles later, where the older, narrower pavement resumes. Shortly the road dead ends at this old bridge.
I was happy to find this bridge still here, as I’d heard a rumor that it had been removed. But I’m still saddened that it’s closed to traffic after failing an inspection in 2015. Here it is the last time I got to drive on it, which was in 2012. Read more about this bridge here.
The old highway north of the bridge has been removed, however. What a strange sight.
I’ve heard that this bridge will be repurposed as a pedestrian bridge. I’ve studied the I-69 plan map for this area and it looks like there’s no plan to continue the frontage road from here.
Here’s one final look at this old bridge from the north.
Until I-69 is built around Martinsville, it’s easy enough to return to SR 37: back up from here to the first side road, follow it east until it Ts, turn left, then follow that road until it reaches SR 37.