Thorntown Library Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor GAF 125 Versapan x/7-72 @ EI 80 2021
I made a few photos on the expired GAF 125 film in Thorntown, a small town here in Boone County, Indiana. This is Thorntown’s library. This is the original building, one of the hundreds of libraries industrialist Andrew Carnegie build around the country. I documented several other Indiana Carnegie libraries here.
I’ve now shared the best of my photos on this roll of very expired film.
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.
Ivan’s Marathon Nikon N70 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor Kodak Max 400 2021
Tomorrow I’ll share my review of the Nikon N70, a 1994 35mm SLR. It’s got a crazy user interface that most people hate.
I put two rolls of film through this camera to test it, and one of them was good old Kodak Max 400. I took it up to Thorntown with a few other cameras for an afternoon of photography. Ivan’s Marathon is a favorite subject that I’ve featured on this blog many times. I always shoot it pretty much straight on like this.
I’m bringing another long-ago road trip over from my old HTML site. It was a lovely autumn drive on a series of Indiana and US highways. I was still shooting film on my road trips, using my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80. I was also still just making photographs of the road itself. Fortunately, this time there’s plenty of lovely autumn color to be seen.
The trees were startlingly colorful in the autumn of 2006, with arresting yellows, plentiful and vibrant oranges, and hot reds in their first appearance in years. I wanted to take a road trip when fall’s colors peaked, but that came and went in one day, it seemed, and I was stuck at work that day. There was still plenty of color left the following Saturday, October 28, though, so off I went.
I chose State Road 47, US 41, and US 36 as my route. SR 47 and I go back almost 20 years, when I was experimenting with ways to drive between college in Terre Haute and home in South Bend. My route until then was I-70 to I-465 to US 31, which alternated between boring and congested. I tried a bunch of back-highway routes until I found my favorite, which involved a long stretch of SR 47. I enjoyed several beautiful autumn drives along this road as it wound through Parke County by Turkey Run State Park, and then through some unexpected curves in the farmland of Montgomery and Boone Counties. US 41 and US 36 cut through some similarly lovely terrain, would bring me back to my Indianapolis home, and fit nicely into one day, so they were in. US 41 is fairly twisty through Parke County, and I had learned from a friend that US 36 is peppered with old alignments.
State Road 47 currently stretches from US 41 to Sheridan at SR 38. It originally ran northeasterly from US 41 to Crawfordsville. The state decided it was more northerly than easterly, and so gave it an odd number. While later extensions make SR 47 clearly more an east-west road, it keeps its odd number and its “North” and “South” signage.
At one time, SR 47 extended east from Sheridan to US 31 north of Westfield. Until recently, a bent sign partially hiding behind some overgrown trees tried to proclaim the distance to Sheridan, but the numbers had badly faded in the sun. Looking forlorn but very official, it seemed certainly to be a relic from the days the road was still a state highway. I wanted to take a photo of it on this trip, but I learned a valuable lesson: don’t delay in taking photos. That old sign had been replaced with a gleaming new sign unobstructed by vegetation. Oh well.
I started at the old eastern end of SR 47. Here it is, cleverly disguised as mild-mannered 236th St. in Hamilton County, looking westbound.
On Monday, back at work, someone stopped me in the break room and asked if that was me taking a picture from the median of US 31. I hid my surprise that anybody I knew actually saw me. I said yes. He was very puzzled, but I left it at that.
Old SR 47 is very narrow and flat along its five miles of farmland. It also has no shoulders. It had rained buckets the day before, making ponds out of most farm fields. That didn’t make for very picturesque scenes, and so it was hard to find a decent place to take a good photo. This photo shows one of the dry spots westbound along the route.
Sheridan arrived in no time. Here’s the beginning of SR 47, westbound, in Sheridan
This eastbound photo from across the street shows SR 47’s eastern end. Every small Indiana town is required by statute to have at least one Dairy Queen, by the way.
After SR 47 passes through Sheridan’s southern edge, its lanes widen. As it passes out of Hamilton and into Boone County, the road occasionally rises and falls gently, but remains straight until it intersects with US 421, the old Michigan Road.
After that, gentle curves begin to appear, slight bends in the road. This photo isn’t as sharp as could be. When I walk out into the middle of a highway to take a photo, I keep my ears wide open for the sound of a car coming from behind me. This day was extremely windy, and the wind drowned out the sounds of oncoming cars. Not wanting to be squashed, I took this photo (and many others this day) in a hurry.
The next burg along the way is Thorntown, which is at the center of what was the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miamis lived. This reserve didn’t last long, just from 1818 to 1828. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.”
Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. SR 47 is just out of the picture on the left. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!” I told a story about how, while we were still dating, my first wife got me out of a speeding ticket in Thorntown here.
Two miles outside Thorntown the road twists a bit through a wooded area. The road rises and falls a bit through this area as well. A sign near where I took this photo says that a town called Colfax lay five miles to the north. This photo points westbound.
As Boone County faded into the farms of Montgomery County, the fresh pavement ended. Driving is pleasant as the road rolls. Curved and straight sections alternate. (I am amused, looking back now, to see I had not yet learned to photograph a road while standing on the centerline. First, it leads to a more balanced composition. Second, I’m somewhat less likely to be hit by a car.)
As the road runs under I-74 and draws near to Crawfordsville, farmland is replaced with family homes. This curve showed some of the best fall colors of the trip so far.
In Crawfordsville, SR 47 multiplexes first with SR 32 and then with US 136. As SR 47 turns south on the edge of downtown, US136 goes its own way, but US 231 multiplexes in. Outside of downtown, SR 47 turns back west, leaving US 231 to its southerly path, and finally SR 32 takes a northwesterly fork, and SR 47 is all alone again. Because of some construction on SR 47, I was detoured down US 231 to SR 234, which intersects with SR 47 8 miles west of Crawfordsville. US 231 was unremarkable, but SR 234 was interesting — narrow and gently rolling through the farmland, with a drainage trench immediately off the road’s edge making stopping for photos impossible. At one point, the road gently curved so a bridge could span something perpendicularly.
As Turkey Run nears on SR 47, the road becomes more curvy and hilly, and the scenery becomes more lovely. This eastbound photo, a few miles east of Turkey Run, shows the long shadows of the late-morning autumn sun. (If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you might remember that this photo was in my blog’s masthead for years.)
Here’s a westbound shot from the same spot. This is a nice little hill.
Soon SR 47 reaches Turkey Run State Park. I visited it often, even camped here, while I lived in nearby Terre Haute in the early 1990s. In the years after this trip, my sons and came here to hike or canoe about once a year until they were grown. I blogged about it a couple times, such as here and here.
Just west of the entrance to Turkey Run, you drive past the treetops as a bridge spans a valley. A couple miles later, SR 47 ends at US 41.
Next: I followed US 41 south most of the way to Terre Haute. US 41 is so twisty it’s hard to believe it’s an Indiana highway.
I had such a nice time with the No. 2 Brownie that I immediately loaded another roll of film, this time some Verichrome Pan expired since June of 1982.
It felt so right to shoot that film in this camera. It was the film of Everyman for many decades, recording millions of family memories.
Moreover, unexposed Verichrome Pan has a great reputation for deteriorating slowly. When I mentioned to a film-photography friend that my VP was from 1982, he said, “Only 1982? It’s still fresh!”
When this box Brownie hits, it really hits. Just look! This is the statue before the Carnegie library in Thorntown, Indiana.
Yet I whiffed about half the photos on this roll thanks to camera shake and misframing. It’s very challenging to see whether a subject is level in the tiny viewfinders. I leveled subjects in Photoshop, but that tool can do nothing about motion blur.
Every distant subject I photographed ended up at the very bottom of the frame, with tons of sky above. I can’t tell whether that’s a fact of Brownie life or not. These cameras were designed with group shots in mind — Aunt Edna and Uncle Bill and Grandma and the cousins, at 15 feet. I never had any trouble framing subjects about that far away. Next time, when I shoot distant subjects I’ll try to compensate by moving them up in the frame.
It must be statute that every Indiana town have at least one building marked I.O.O.F., for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I should do a series on Indiana Odd Fellows buildings. I’ve photographed dozens by now.
Downtown Thorntown is fairly plain. This building is in good shape but others could use a little love. There were few signs of life in the commercial district — I encountered nary a soul here. Speaking of souls…
But it was a Saturday. The Presbyterians would have to wait one more day to corporately honor the glory of the Lord.
Coming upon the Thorntown Police Department reminded me of the time I nearly got a speeding ticket here, but my young and beautiful first wife got me out of it. Read that story here.
I shot this roll of Verichrome Pan the same day I finished the roll of Ektar I shared with you in this camera’s review. I sent both rolls to Old School Photo Lab, and I had the Ektar scans in a couple weeks. After two more weeks I inquired after my Verichrome Pan. The response: to get the best results from “the old stuff” they use a different developer and a special processing run, at no extra charge — and they were awaiting shipment of more developer. Color me impressed.
When I shot the Ektar, the frame numbers were in the very right edge of the ruby window, making accurate winding difficult. The Verichrome Pan frame numbers appeared smack dab in the middle of the ruby window — as if this film was made for an old box like this.
We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the Kodak No. 2 Brownie.
This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.
Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.
But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.
The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.
The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. The shutter probably operates at something like 1/50 sec.
I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. Into the dark bag went the camera so I could remove the film and start over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.
The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.
The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.
Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.