Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL

1971 Chevrolet

It was the last of the Nikkormats (or Nikomats, as they were called in Japan): the EL. It was also the first Nikon SLR with aperture-priority autoexposure. Nikon made them from 1972 to 1976. They’re well-built cameras that can take years, even decades, of heavy use.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

This one was a latecomer to my SLR party; by this time I’d settled on my favorites. While I liked this camera fine when I shot my test roll with it I kept reaching for my usual cameras after that. The test roll was Fujicolor 200, and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens was mounted. This photo from that roll is of two cars I used to own.

Looking Over my Car

This is a fine, capable camera. Perhaps that’s why I waited until near the end of Operation Thin the Herd to shoot it: I expected I’d like it and keep it. I plopped in some Fomapan 100, mounted my guilty-pleasure 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, and went to town.

McOuat

I also laid in a fresh battery, a stubby 4LR44. Thank heavens for Amazon, because you can’t get these batteries at the corner drugstore. The battery slips neatly in below the mirror inside the camera. Use the mirror lock-up button to get at it.

Founders Cemetery

Fomapan 100 is far from my favorite slower b/w film, but this roll had been moldering in my fridge for a long time and I decided to shoot it up. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever gotten from this classic film. Highlights are on the light side but at least they’re not blown out, which seems to be this film’s signature move.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

The EL’s tactile experience falls short of luxurious, but everything feels rock solid under use. If you send a Nikkormat EL out for CLA, it will outlast you. That’s what I need to do for this one. Every single frame on the roll showed shutter capping. I’ve just cropped it out of all the photos I’ve showed you before this one. Now you know why some of these photos are 16×9 rather than 4×3.

Capped!

The shame is, you don’t know a shutter is misbehaving like this until after you’ve shot the roll and had it processed. Unfortunately I shot two rolls of film in the Nikkormat before sending them off for processing. The second roll was Agfa Vista 200. Cropping saved many of this roll’s images, too.

Capped Soft Selfie

I brought the Nikkormat out for a day on the Michigan Road. This pizza joint is on the square in Greensburg.

Slices

Half the 35-70’s split prism focusing aid was black on this bright-sun day, a not uncommon problem with zoom lenses. I had to guess focus, and I frequently got it wrong. Between that and the shutter capping I got nine usable images on this roll, which I shot entirely on Greensburg’s square. Not a great day with the Nikkormat.

On the Square

You don’t expect to find a tiki bar in the heartland, but here one is nevertheless. It’s in what used to be Greensburg’s department store, Minear’s.

Tiki Bar

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

The Nikkormat EL is a competent and capable tool, its shutter issues notwithstanding. I didn’t dislike using it, but I wasn’t falling in love, either. Its size and weight is similar enough to my Nikon F2 or F3, which truly delight me to use, that I’ll probably always reach for those cameras first. I’m going to pass this Nikkormat along to its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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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

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon FA

Necklace

I own more Nikon SLR bodies than I can possibly use, but each one of them offers its own wonderful characteristics. Also, many of them were gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and remembering the gift-giver makes it hard to want to say to goodbye.

Nikon FA

This Nikon FA is the body I received most recently, and I’d shot just one roll through it. I liked it for its compact size and excellent capability. Here’s a photo from that roll, which was Fomapan 200, through my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens.

Wet hosta leaf

The FA is part of the FE/FM/FA family of semi-pro 35mm SLRs that Nikon introduced to replace its Nikkormat line. The FA was last to the party, introduced in 1983 as a technological tour-de-force. It is the world’s first camera with matrix metering, which Nikon called automatic multi-pattern (AMP) metering. I believe it is also the first Nikon SLR to offer programmed autoexposure, setting both aperture and shutter speed. It also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure and manual exposure.

The FA is also small and lightweight compared to Nikon’s flagship cameras like the F2 and F3. That makes it great for a long weekend of shooting, as when my wife and I recently visited bourbon country in Kentucky. I started with Arista EDU 200 on board, which is rebranded Fomapan 200.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

My 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens was mounted. Ken Rockwell calls this one of Nikon’s 10 worst lenses ever, but except for noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end I like it. I use it like three primes: 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm, all of which are marked on the barrel so I can dial them right in. For that convenience I’m happy to spend a little time correcting distortion in Photoshop. The photos above and below are from the Maker’s Mark Distillery near Loretto, KY.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

I shot in program mode at first, but the in-viewfinder display kept telling me 1/250 sec. and I wondered whether something was amiss. I switched to aperture-priority mode after that. But every photo I made came back properly exposed. Perhaps the FA’s program mode just biases toward midrange shutter speeds. This photo is of the spring house at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home

I blew through the Arista EDU in a day and switched to Agfa Vista 200 for the rest of the trip. In challenging late-afternoon light the FA did a good job of exposing so the Talbott Inn in Bardstown wasn’t lost in the shadows. This tavern and hotel has been operating since 1779.

Talbott Inn

Bardstown is charming, especially for people like Margaret and me who like old houses. We walked around town a lot just photographing homes and buildings.

Old Talbott tavern

I have one peeve with the FA, and I became more and more annoyed with it as the weekend rolled on. To meter, you have to pull the winding lever out to its first stop. With the camera at my eye, that lever poked right into my forehead. I wished for a different way to activate the meter. Also, my FA has a strange fault: the mechanism that prevents you from winding past an unexposed frame is broken. Otherwise, the FA performed well. Its size, weight, and feature set make it a great everyday manual-focus SLR.

Pointy signs

The 35-70 zoom also includes a macro mode. What a versatile lens this is.

Spring blooms, macro

It’s taken me most of the last 10+ years of collecting and using old cameras to internalize that the lens is the critical component of any camera. But I do believe the FA’s matrix metering made a real difference in mixed and challenging light. My beloved Pentax ME would likely not have done as nuanced a job exposing this mid-evening light.

Bardstown street

We drove out to Bernheim Forest on our trip to see the giants, these wooden sculptures just completed by artist Thomas Dambo. I’m sure I’ll do a whole post about them soon. Light reflecting off the smooth wooden surfaces made for a challenging exposure situation, with lots of bright and dark areas. I had to tone down highlights in Photoshop.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

The FA’s 1/4000 sec. top shutter speed lets me blur the background in dimmer light, compared to my 1/1000 sec. Pentax ME.

Smoking bear

Want to see more? Check out my Nikon FA gallery.

Let’s take an inventory of my manual-focus Nikon SLR bodies.

I’m not getting rid of my two Nikon F2s or my Nikon F3, no sir, nuh uh. I own two Nikkormats, an FTn that’s big and heavy like the F2, and an EL which is smaller and lighter like this FA. I also own an N2000.

The Nikkormats will have their turns in Operation Thin the Herd soon. But I don’t see me keeping either of them over my F2s and F3.

When the N2000 had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd (here) I decided to keep it. I travel with it, as if it is damaged, lost, or stolen, replacements can be had for as little as $20. And I just plain like it.

A working FA costs at least $100, but it’s a far more capable and sensitive performer than the N2000.

On this Kentucky trip either camera would have been fine, though the FA nailed exposure in some of these shots where the N2000 would probably have only done okay.

It comes down to this: The Nikon FA’s wind lever pokes me in the forehead. It’s really annoying.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica Lynx 14e

Down a Zionsville sidewalk

The 1968 Yashica Lynx 14e is a fixed-lens rangefinder camera that packs an incredible lens — 45mm at a whopping f/1.4.

Yashica Lynx 14e

I first shot the Lynx 14e on a road trip with Kodak T-Max 400 inside. The results blew me away. Just look at those creamy tones, that crisp detail! Even four years after making this photo, looking at it still floods my brain with pleasure hormones.

No Smoking

Here’s one more past photo from this camera, which adores being shot inside on fast black-and-white film. This time I used Arista Premium 400 (discontinued; I miss it). I photographed this Auburn Model 654 at the factory museum in Auburn, Indiana. Just look at this excellence. Look. At. It. So good!

654

All is not perfect with my Lynx 14e: it underexposes by a stop. It’s not the end of the world, because I just set exposure a stop lower (say, EI 200 when shooting ISO 400 film) and all is well. But if I keep the camera, I’ll send it for CLA and have the meter calibrated.

Its meter is powered by two PX640 batteries, of the mercury type that has been banned for years. I own no other camera that uses this battery. Fortunately, you can buy alkaline batteries of this size on Amazon for a few dollars. The voltage is slightly different but if you’re shooting negative film it shouldn’t matter.

Since I wanted to see how this lens likes color film, I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Also, it was the dead of winter and the gray days called for fast film. I started shooting stuff around my house.

Drying dishes

This lens finds whatever’s interesting about the light, and enhances it.

Centerpiece

These images are short on shadow detail. I tried to bring it out in Photoshop but it just wasn’t present.

Graflex

We got a rare day of full sun in early February so I took the Lynx into town to make a few photos. I dropped the camera’s ISO setting another stop for these photos, for two reasons: this film loves to be overexposed, and I wanted a little exposure flexibility as otherwise every shot would have been at 1/500 sec. and f/16.

Brick wall with iron stairs

I’ve never seen Superia X-tra 400 look this good. I got Portra-like color from it.

Florist

Other reviews of this camera have panned how you activate the camera’s meter: you press the amusingly named “Switch” button on the front of the camera. The consensus is that it’s awkward. But I’ve never had any trouble.

Colorful storefronts

What I did have trouble with, on this full-sun day, was reading the red OVER and UNDER indicators in the viewfinder window. They light when exposure is wrong; you adjust aperture and shutter speed until they disappear. They blaze bright in muted or inside light. Direct sunlight washes them out.

Zionsville house

See more photos from this camera in my Yashica Lynx 14e gallery.

When I evaluate a camera, I like to take it on a solid photographic assignment so I have a chance to bond with it. Unfortunately, cold and snowy February is the worst month of an Indiana year for photography. It took me weeks to get through the roll, sneaking in a shot here and there as I could. It didn’t create the best experience with this heavy camera.

Moreover, even after thinning my herd as far as I have, I still own more cameras than I can shoot regularly. It is just a flat shame to own a good camera I seldom or never use. I’m not sure how often I’ll get around to shoothing my Yashica Lynx 14e.

Still, I continue to be bowled over by the sharpness, detail, and tonal range this lens delivers. This camera deserves more of my time.

Verdict: Keep

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Konica Auto S2

Church entrance

Some old film cameras have become very popular on the used market. Just try buying an Olympus Stylus Epic or a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III for bargain prices anymore. Yet plenty of highly capable cameras never catch on among modern film photographers and languish in relative obscurity. Like the Konica Auto S2.

Konica Auto S2

This 1965 camera has everything you need to make lovely photographs today: a 45mm f/1.8 lens set in a Copal leaf shutter with top speed of 1/500 sec, a coupled CdS light meter driving shutter-priority autoexposure, and a rangefinder. You might consider it a limitation that it accepts films up to only ISO 400, but I don’t; that’s as fast as I normally go. It returns lovely results, as here on Kodak Gold 200.

The Pyramids

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I chose Kodak T-Max 400. I found a fresh PX625 battery in my stash, loaded the film, and got busy.

Bird is the word

I started Downtown in Indianapolis one chilly, slightly snowy day. I have been getting my hair cut at a barber shop on Delaware St. and then walking about with my cameras after. These electric scooters litter the street corners.

Indianapolis Public Schools

The Auto S2 nailed this gray-day exposure every time. The only thing I had to do with these photos in Photoshop is straighten them, as I proved unable this day to hold the camera level.

Firestone

The more I shoot Downtown Indianapolis, the more I want to capture routine street corners and get as many buildings in as I can. The architecture here is varied and, while common, still interesting.

Indianapolis Musicians

I took the Auto S2 on a sunny-day photowalk in downtown Zionsville. Bright reflections off light-colored surfaces and deep shadows did trip up the Auto S2 a little bit, but generally not so much that a little tweaking in Photoshop couldn’t help considerably.

Black Dog Books

The Auto S2’s controls generate no feelings of pleasure. You know that camera you want to use because everything feels so good under your fingers? That’s not the Konica Auto S2.

Zionsville home

But the Auto S2 isn’t unpleasant to use. It’s neither clumsy nor cumbersome. Everything falls to hand and works well enough. The winder is a little grindy but winds surely. The shutter button doesn’t have too much travel (a common affliction, I find, among fixed-lens rangefinders). The focusing lever is about where your finger needs it to be. Still, the overall tactile experience manages rises only to “meh.”

Zionsville home

What makes the Auto S2 remarkable is its lens, which really drinks in detail. The lens is why I put T-Max into it this time — its minimal grain promised to show me what this lens could do. It didn’t disappoint.

Building

I didn’t shoot anything remarkable on either of these photo walks. I made no art. But every photo on this roll came back properly exposed and bursting with detail. The Auto S2 would make a wonderful companion on one of my road trips.

Main St. Zionsville

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Konica Auto S2 gallery.

I’m surprised that I like the Konica Auto S2 best of the fixed-lens rangefinder cameras I have shot so far in Operation Thin the Herd. What it lacks in refinement it makes up for in consistent, solid results. The question is, do I need a camera like this? Would I shoot it often enough to justify keeping it? Because it never lets me down, I’m going to let time tell.

Verdict: Keep

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Collecting Cameras

Nearing the end of Operation Thin the Herd

I’m in the home stretch, with just a few more cameras to evaluate in Operation Thin the Herd.

I didn’t count cameras before I started, but I’m sure I owned more than 100. As of today, 43 remain in the collection. See my complete inventory here.

Eight of the 43 cameras are new to me and are in my to-shoot queue. They came to me more than a year ago from photographer David Ditta as he shrunk his own extensive collection. (See his collection on his Web site here.) David, if you’re out there, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to your gear. 2019 to be sure.

Kodak Retina IIc

A few cameras have been “on the bubble,” and I could decide to sell them or give them away at any time. For example, until recently I owned two similar Kodak Retinas, a IIa and a IIc, both wonderful. One belongs in my collection, but I didn’t need both. The IIa has a faster lens, but the IIc offers interchangeable front elements and was owned by the father of an old friend. I was originally not in a hurry to decide, but finally chose to send the IIa to my EMULSIVE Secret Santa recipient as a gift in December.

Polaroid SX-70

Another is this minty Polaroid SX-70. I love this camera and the incredible innovation it represents. It works, but a good CLA would make it perfect. SX-70 CLAs aren’t cheap. I’ve considered splurging on one, but I keep holding back because the available films are stinking expensive and nowhere near as good as the old Polaroid films. I just can’t see myself dumping $150 into a CLA only to get soft, washed out images that themselves cost north of two bucks each. It breaks my heart, but this SX-70 will probably be better going to someone who will use it and love it. Yet I hesitate, because I love the idea of this camera so much.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

Several cameras in my inventory never got a turn in Operation Thin the Herd because there was never any doubt I was keeping them. One of them is my Kodak Monitor Six-20 “Special.” Even though it takes discontinued 620 film, even though the shutter linkage is fussy, I love this camera. It does wonderful work. I will commit to one roll of expensive custom-spooled 620 film in it a year. I just bought some expired Verichrome Pan in 620 for it!

Nikon F2

Another no-brainer keeper is my Nikon F2A, which was a generous gift to my collection. It’s a lovely camera and a capable workhorse, but its meter is fussy. I’m about to ship it to premier Nikon F2 repairman Sover Wong for a CLA and meter repair. It will get regular use forever thereafter.

43 cameras is obviously still more than I can regularly use. While I consider myself more a photographer than a collector now, I am still a collector. Yet only a couple cameras in the collection will remain as display items. I enjoy using all of the rest and will put a roll through them once in a while.

After I wrap up Operation Thin the Herd I’ll start shooting David Ditta’s cameras. I’ll even buy a camera here and there and review it, because I still love the experience of a new-to-me old camera. But mostly I’ll get on with making photographs with my thinned herd, getting to know each camera much better, and becoming a better photographer as a result.

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