Film Photography

One Nine Five

Some subjects draw me in every time I pass by with a camera. This scene on Main Street in Zionsville has become one of those subjects. I am sure I have at least one more photo from here, but I can’t find it now. Enjoy these five.

One Nine Five

Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C, Fujicolor 200, 2019

One Nine Five *EXPLORED*

Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2018

One Nine Five

Olympus Trip 35, Kodak Color Plus, 2019

Around Zionsville

Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018

Around Zionsville

Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018

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Film Photography

Shooting Kodak Portra 400

Salem Cemetery

How is it that I’ve been back into film photography for 13 years but have never shot Kodak’s Portra 400? My 2018 EMULSIVE Secret Santa gave me the nudge I needed by dropping two rolls into the gift box she sent.

Magnolia blooms

As I’ve seen others shoot Portra 400, some use it as a general-purpose color film and others find it most useful for photos that involve people. I don’t often shoot people. I tend to shoot things that don’t move. Like cemeteries. And flowers. In cemeteries.

Served

I had been shooting my Nikomat FTn and decided to keep at it for this roll. I had my 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C lens mounted. Portra gave me just enough exposure room to shoot inside, albeit with shallow depth of field.

Books

I can’t decide whether I think the colors are muted or not. So many people have said Portra’s colors are muted that I don’t trust my judgment. I see muted colors in these books, but that might be because the books’ colors are genuinely muted. The magnolia flowers and the American flag above don’t look muted to me. Are the greens below muted? I want to say no, but I also can’t recall how vivid the scene was in real life.

Down the path

I don’t notice grain in these photos at this size, but I do when I look at them at full scan size. It’s neither pleasing nor disruptive. It’s workmanlike grain, faint and unobtrusive. However, I scanned these on my flatbed scanner. Lab scans might have made the grain even harder to detect.

Flowers for sale

The Portra was at its best at early evening, the sun in that golden-hour sweet spot.

Blooms

Portra 400 is a very good film. I haven’t pixel-peeped to be sure, but it might have the least obtrusive grain of all the fast color films I’ve shot.

Starkey Park

But the film I use most, Fujicolor 200, suits me fine and costs a lot less.

Starkey Park

My EMULSIVE Secret Santa sent me two rolls of Portra 400, so sooner or later I’ll put the other one through a camera. I shot it at box speed this time, so next time perhaps I’ll shoot it at EI 200. Several photo bloggers I follow get really nice results when they do that.

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Bloom

Single tree flower
Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2019

I had high hopes when I shot my Nikon Nikomat FTn again. I’ve learned so much about photography and using vintage gear in the last few years, and I expected all of that knowledge would come to bear in the images. Yet I felt disappointment as I looked at the scans. I didn’t like the colors the Nikkor H-C lens rendered on Fujicolor 200.

Maybe it wasn’t the lens, but the processing. Or maybe the film was funky. I don’t know. But I had to do a lot of work in Photoshop to remove a brown caste from nearly every image. I’ve seen green and blue castes before, but never brown. It was weird.

Because of a scanner snafu some of the images weren’t usable at all. The lab agreed to rescan the negatives for me, and I’ve sent them back, but not before I scanned them myself. This is one of my scans. It isn’t bad but it’s mighty noisy. It’s not a bad look but it wasn’t the smooth, crisp look I was going for.

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Film Photography

single frame: Single tree flower

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikomat FTn

Tree flowers

Metal, mechanical 35mm SLRs with coupled light meters are my favorite way to shoot. I like how substantial they feel. The best of them, like my 1967-75 Nikon Nikomat FTn, feel like they’ll outlast me.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

On my first outing with this camera I loaded some since-discontinued Arista Premium 400 (which was allegedly rebranded Kodak Tri-X 400) and went to the State Fair. The camera felt a little clumsy in my hands at first, but I soon adapted to its ways and enjoyed the experience.

Moo

And then this camera went onto the shelf and stayed there. I simply have too many lovely metal, mechanical SLRs to choose from, and I kept reaching for my Nikon F2 and my various Pentax bodies first. This is one of the reasons for Operation Thin the Herd: to pass on gear I’m just not going to use enough. Let this good gear go to its next owner.

But I don’t want to be too hasty. This is really a lovely camera. Through the 1970s Nikon put its name only on its professional cameras. Starting in 1965, its not-quite-pro cameras got the Nikomat name in Japan and the Nikkormat name in the rest of the world. I see no evidence that they were not as solidly built as the pro cameras. They just lacked some of the pro features of the F-series cameras like interchangeable viewfinder-meter heads and focusing screens. When reasonably cared for, a Nikomat/Nikkormat is a lifetime camera.

This camera is from before Nikon had devised a way for a body to automatically find the mounted lens’s aperture range. Such cameras and lenses are called “pre-AI,” where AI means “automatic indexing.” This is the only pre-AI body I own, and I keep my only pre-AI lens on it all the time, a 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C. The H means Hex, for the lens’s six elements. The C stands for multi-Coated, an improvement over earlier H lenses, which were single-coated.

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into the FTn and shot the roll. It wasn’t until I shot the fourth image past 36 on the frame counter that I realized something was wrong. I opened the camera to find the film leader sitting next to the spool. I had struggled to get the film to wind around the spool and sure enough I’d utterly failed. But this time when I stuck the leader into the spool it grabbed immediately and wound strongly. I got on with shooting the roll again. We were in Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.

Eagle Creek Park

There’s nothing light about the FTn in use. The winder feels substantial. The shutter button requires a solid push. The lever on the lens mount that adjusts shutter speed feels hefty and clicks surely through its stops. This, friends, is what I like about metal, mechanical cameras.

Eagle Creek Park

The meter is classic Nikon 60/40 center-weighted. You adjust aperture and shutter speed and the viewfinder needle moves along a scale. When it’s horizontal between + and -, you have a good exposure. + is one stop of overexposure and – is one stop of underexposure. I like how Fujicolor 200 looks when overexposed by up to a stop, so I tended to meter so the needle pointed more towards the +. It didn’t work out for me on this roll; I had to adjust exposure in Photoshop on nearly every frame. I did scan the negatives on my flatbed scanner, however, and I haven’t perfected my techniques yet.

Eagle Creek Park

By the late 1970s, SLRs from all makers had largely standardized their controls, placing the shutter-speed selector on the body’s top near the shutter button. That’s what I prefer. I know of two SLRs that place the shutter-speed selector on the lens mount: this one and the Olympus OM-1. The FTn does the OM-1 better in two ways: its selector ring features a tab that makes moving the ring easier when the camera is at your eye, and you can see the selected shutter speed through the viewfinder.

In Zionsville

While doing some light shopping on Zionsville’s charming main street, I tried making some photos inside the shops. My shutter speeds were low, like 1/15 sec. But the camera operates smoothly and I have a steady hand.

Costume jewelry

I shoot Fujicolor all the time and know it better than any other film. The lab’s scans didn’t look great; everything was very brown, and large areas were blotchy. I thought maybe the lab had a bad day with its scanner, so I scanned them myself. They, too, were very brown, but at least they weren’t blotchy. You’re looking at my scans in this post. I had to do a lot of Photoshop work to try to correct the colors.

Red trees

I also shot a roll of Kodak Portra 400 in the FTn — my first ever, so it’s a film I know not at all. Those images were blotchy too but the colors were good. The lab agreed to take the negatives back and re-scan them. If that makes any difference I’ll let you know. Meanwhile I’ll share scans I made from that roll in an upcoming post.

Black Dog Books

See more in my Nikon Nikomat FTn gallery.

I like this camera fine. I like my Pentax KM and my Nikon F2 more, and so I reach for them all the time and this Nikomat FTn almost never. This is only the second time I’ve used it. Sadly, that sounds the death knell for the Nikomat FTn in my collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

This camera has film in it right this minute, as it has its turn in Operation Thin the Herd. My, but do I like this camera. My, but do I not need this camera. Anyway, I’ve refreshed its review, and you can read it here.

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Happy 20th birthday to my son, Garrett!

Updated review: Nikon Nikomat FTn

Aside

Moo 2

Resting cow at the fair
Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C
Arista Premium 400
2015

Photography
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