Auto-everything film shooting isn’t normally my bag. I’m more a match-needle, twist-to-focus kind of guy. But even I have to admit, sometimes there’s charm in letting a camera do the grunt work.
This is a very early EOS camera, dating to about 1989. I’ve only shot this camera once before, that time with the pictured 35-80mm lens. I shot my former favorite (now discontinued) b/w film, Arista Premium 400.
I reached for black-and-white film this time, too: Eastman Double-X 5222. But I used my sweet little 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens.
It was gray and cold most of the time I had film in the EOS 630. I’ve never shot Double-X in those conditions and I was surprised by how muddy everything turned out.
These photos are from Flowing Well Park on 116th St. in Carmel. That bridge there carries 116th.
I got a little sun one afternoon and in a spare 30 minutes I took the EOS 630 out on a walk around downtown Fishers. I’ve photographed this area so much over the last year that if you were to look through the photos you’d watch the area change rapidly. It’s heavily under construction. New buildings go up all the time.
Which means parking is becoming a problem. Fishers is solving it with parking garages. I’m not a fan.
The EOS 630 kept metering for the shadows, I guess, because the highlights were nearly washed out. Tweaking exposure and contrast in Photoshop helped a little. And lest you think that it’s only new buildings in Fishers, a few of the old houses do remain, tucked into alleyways and along side streets.
One old house was converted into a little tea room. This is its gate.
I wasn’t enamored of the EOS 630 the first time I shot it. But I’ve used several more auto-everything SLRs since then, enough to know that this really is a pretty good tool. Focus was always right and exposure was at least good enough. I wished that the body were a little smaller and lighter, like the later EOS Rebel cameras. If I have to shoot a camera this bulky, I might as well reach for my semi-pro EOS A2e. It’s a much better camera. And for that reason, this EOS 630 must go. There’s room for at most one EOS SLR in my collection.
I’m selling some very nice cameras from my collection. See them here.
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Wall Canon EOS 630, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II Eastman Double-X 5222 2018
I took the EOS 630 all over, shooting whenever I had a little time and good enough weather. I hadn’t been to Crown Hill Cemetery in a while so I made some photographs over there. This low retaining wall borders the military portion of the cemetery. That 50/1.8 resolves pretty well on the Double-X.
A sure sign that we live in remarkable times: I bought this Nikon N90s body, which retailed new for anywhere between $700 and $1000, for just $27.
Twenty-seven bucks for this professional-caliber 35mm SLR with more features than I will ever be able to use. And I tried. I shot three rolls of film before writing this review, but barely scratched the surface of what this camera can do.
Nikon made the N90s (F90X outside of North America) from 1994 to 2001. It superseded the earlier, very similar N90/F90, which was made from 1992 to 1994. Nikon aimed these cameras at advanced amateurs and as alternate bodies for pro photographers who otherwise shot the F4.
Don’t let the plastic body fool you: this metal-framed camera is built for rugged use. It doesn’t take much Internet searching to find stories of N90s’s that kept shooting after harrowing treatment.
This camera has so much going on it would take me five paragraphs to describe it all. But a few key facts: its shutter operates from 30 seconds to a super-fast 1/8000 sec., and it takes film from ISO 6 to 6,400. It offers four exposure modes (program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual) and three metering modes (spot, center-weighted, and 3D matrix). You get all of those exposure and metering modes when you use AF-D Nikkor lenses; you lose some of those modes with AF-G and plain AF Nikkor lenses and more of them with AI Nikkor lenses. If you’d like to know more, check out the details at camera-wiki.org.
The N90s was designed before the now-ubiquitous mode dial was invented. To select modes and settings, you have to press various buttons and spin the dial that’s to the right of the LCD panel. It works well enough, but it’s tricky to learn.
It’s not at all obvious how to rewind the film: simultaneously press both buttons that have a film canister on them. Also, you can reset the camera to its defaults by pressing both green-dot buttons simultaneously. Some users recommend doing this with each fresh roll of film, so you don’t end up with some wacky setting from the last roll messing up your shots.
By the way, if you like auto-everything Nikon SLRs you might enjoy my reviews of the N60 (here) and N65 (here). I have also reviewed classic Nikon iron including the F2AS (here) and F3 (here), as well as two Nikkormats, the FTn (here) and the EL (here). Or check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
The camera came with a couple rolls of expired color film. I was so eager to shoot this camera that I loaded a roll, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, right away. Loading is simple: drop in the cartridge, draw the film leader to the red line, close the back. I also dropped in the four AA batteries the camera needs to do anything and mounted a 28-80 mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens that I already owned. It was after dark, so I just shot things around the house on my tripod. That lens lacks an aperture ring, so I could shoot only in Program mode. Here’s my kitchen and dining room.
And here’s a glass of the rye whiskey I was sipping that night, along with some miscellaneous desk clutter. The camera handled flawlessly.
This is what I was sipping: High West Double Rye. All of these shots had a lot of noise and grain, which I blame on the expired film. I boosted levels in Photoshop but then used this new-to-me software called LUCiD that offers a bunch of quick fixes to challenged images. It smoothed out that noise pretty well.
Oh my gosh, was that fun. I wanted to go deeper. So I bought a 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens off eBay and ran a roll of fresh Eastman Double-X 5222 through the N90s. Meet my lawn tractor’s port flank. The tractor is dark green in real life, but that Double-X deepens dark colors. I think my tractor would look awesome in all black.
I learned too late that if I had bought the “D” version of this lens, I could have taken advantage of the N90s’s 3D matrix metering. But even without it, this camera delivered flawless exposures. And that wonderful Double-X film delivered its signature contrast. This is a detail of the lamp on the desk where I write this blog.
This is my next-door neighbor’s new dog. Good grief, does he bark. And bark and bark and bark.
Margaret and I traveled to Woodstock, Illinois, in a blinding snowstorm to see her older sister get married. I brought the N90s, that 50mm lens, and some Arista Premium 400 to document the day as best I could. This is the interior of the First United Methodist Church.
Some people find the N90s’s autofocus system to be slow. My demands of autofocus are usually light; the N90s focused fast enough for me. And it absolutely nailed exposure every time.
I finished the roll Downtown. We had an unusually warm December, just right for a late-year photo walk. Here’s a trashy alleyway.
This is the Anthem Insurance building on Monument Circle. Long before I moved to Indianapolis, this building was a windowless JCPenney store.
Finally, here’s a scene from the Indiana War Memorial that shows off that 50mm f/1.8 lens’s sharpness.
Even though I’m much more a manual-focus kind of guy, there are times when autofocus shooting is the way to go. I’ve tried before with Nikon’s N60 and the N65, but found these consumer cameras’ limitations to be frustrating. In contrast, the N90s handled absolutely everything I threw at it and returned flawless exposures every time.
The N90s is a keeper.
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.
Kodak makes just nine kinds of still films today. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a pittance compared to days gone by. They’ve discontinued a whole bunch of films, including their entire slide-film line. Only negative films roll off the Kodak manufacturing lines today, six in color and three in black and white.
Kodak also still makes motion-picture film under the Eastman name. Demand isn’t what it used to be, but enough filmmakers still insist on the stuff to make it economically viable for Kodak to produce it. 35mm is a common motion-picture film size, and sometimes those films get spooled into canisters for use in still cameras. The Film Photography Project buys black-and-white Eastman Double-X 5222 film in bulk, hand spools it into canisters, and sells it. I got a few rolls recently, and put one into my Nikon F2AS with the 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens on board.
I shot most of the roll Downtown near Indianapolis’s last camera shop, which has been getting my color-film processing business lately. Just check out the rich black in that urn, and the textures in those buckets! I want to reach out and feel the woodgrain, it’s so good.
I’d say Double-X is made for contrasty, textured subjects. Standing on the corner of Pennsylvania and St. Clair, I shot the street names etched into the corner building. Again, dig those textures!
But I notice a tendency for highlights to blow out with this film. I was able to correct it pretty well in Photoshop, but that part of me that likes to get it right in the camera wants to set exposure compensation back a half stop next time.
You can see this tendency pretty well here. The red bricks are well defined and contrasty, but the concrete steps and the limestone block is missing some detail in the highlights — and that’s after I fixed it as well as I could in Photoshop. It probably doesn’t help at all that I took these shots on a blisteringly bright day.
This is Indianapolis’s Central Library. Fortunately, this shot needed nothing more than a crop to improve my composition. I love how this shot looks like it could have been taken in 1955, 1935, or 1915.
I have more to learn about Eastman Double-X. In this shot of some dark purple petunias, I would have thought the flowers would have popped much darker against the green foliage. Instead, the shot turned out not to be very interesting, save the great detail on the right flower.
This year, instead of schlepping my sons off to a portrait studio, I’ve been practicing portraiture on them myself, with various cameras and films. I’ve also handed the camera to both boys so I can have new photos of myself. It was cool to explain the F2’s basic workings to my youngest son, who’s 16, and have him listen carefully and then take a pretty competent shot. My boy might never understand how significant it was that his first film SLR photograph was taken with the iconic Nikon F2. But it’s all right, his dad knows.
True to Double-X’s form, the textures in my brown polo and my (slightly out of focus) black hair are the most visually interesting elements of the photo. My face was fairly blown out, but fortunately Photoshop’s Darken Highlights tool brought it back from the brink.
I have a couple more rolls of Eastman Double-X 5222 chilling in the fridge. Next time I shoot one, I’m going to look for dark and textured subjects. I might also shoot on a dim, overcast day. Experimenting like this is a big part of what makes film photography fun for me.