Film Photography, Stories Told

A good used car

To help one of our sons launch into independence, we decided to buy him an inexpensive used car. The criteria: Under $3000, four doors, cosmetically and mechanically okay, a couple years of life left in it.

You’d be surprised how many cars at this price are clapped out and beaten up. Darn good thing we weren’t in a hurry, because it took us about a month to find this 2005 Ford Escape. We paid $2600.

Escape

It had nearly new tires on it. They’re some off brand I’ve never heard of, and I’ve already found them to be so-so on wet pavement. I’m sure they went to some tire store and said, “Put on the cheapest tires you’ve got.” Regardless, I was happy to see them when we went to look at this car. These tires probably cost $500, a large percentage of the car’s purchase price.

Tire

I’m not an expert in buying used cars. I did pay for a Carfax report, which revealed just two owners and no accidents. I checked the car for things I know how to check. When I stuck my finger in the tailpipe, it came back grey and sooty, which was good. The oil was dirty, but it wasn’t foamy or low. The belts I could find were old but not dry or cracked. I grabbed the top of each front tire and pulled and pushed hard, looking for loose front-end linkage. They didn’t budge. All the switchgear worked, and there were no lingering idiot lights on the dashboard. The car drove and stopped straight, and had good, smooth power all the way up to highway speeds.

Dashboard

A couple minor issues were evident, however. The headliner is starting to separate from the roof where it meets the windshield. One of the hinges for the hatch glass was broken. I replaced the hinge myself — it’s incredible the car parts you can buy on Amazon and the instructions for repairs you can find on YouTube. I let the headliner go.

XLT

Whenever you buy an inexpensive used car, Murphy dictates that it will need some sort of repair shortly after. So I drove it for a couple weeks to shake it out, to keep our son from having to deal with it. Sure enough, one day I pulled into the parking lot at work and found the oil light to have just come on. My mechanic said that the valve gasket cover was leaking ever so slightly, and that there was a temporary plug in the oil pan, neither of which is great. But he said that for a car this old with this many miles, he wouldn’t invest in those repairs, he’d just drive it like that. He replaced the oil pressure sensor and couldn’t get the oil light to come back on, so we both declared it good.

One headlight

It’s been only in the past few years that I stepped up from driving old cars much like this one. I know very well that after a certain number of miles, you live with some issues that you choose not to fix because the return isn’t worth the investment.

Ford

This Escape has 175,000 miles on it. I remember a time when a car with 100,000 miles was used up. But despite this Escape’s issues, I’ll bet it has at least 25,000 miles left in it — maybe 50,000 with good care and good luck.

I forget which camera I used to make these photos — it was one of my 35mm SLRs, probably with a 50mm prime lens. The film is Ultrafine Extreme 400, which I developed in the last of my LegacyPro L110, in Dilution B.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon F-801s

As 35mm SLRs transitioned to autofocus, it took a few iterations before manufacturers settled on the controls we all know. The Nikon F-801s is an early camera in that transition. Also known as the N8008s, and manufactured from 1991 to 1995, it supplanted the F-801/N8008, but added only improved autofocus and a spot-metering mode to the earlier camera. (Read my N8008 review here.)

Nikon F801s

This camera represents Nikon’s second iteration of autofocus cameras. The first was the F-501/N2020, which had a much more square body. The F-801s generation of camers introduced The Blob as the dominant SLR shape.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s was in Nikon’s semi-professional range, sitting just below the F3 and F4 in the pecking order. As such, it was a robustly built camera, solid and heavy. It also offered a ton of features, including depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure, a two-shot self-timer, matrix or center-weighted metering, programmed autoexposure, and film setting by DX code with manual override from ISO 6 to 6,400. The F-801s’s shutter operates from 30 to 1/8000 second. Finally, three focusing screens are available, including the standard matte Type B screen, as well as a gridded Type E screen and a microprism Type J screen.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s loads the film for you when you insert the cartridge, pull the leader across to the red mark, close the door, and fire the shutter. It winds the film for you, but it doesn’t rewind automatically. If you’re not paying attention to the frame counter, you won’t find out you’re at the end of the roll until you press the shutter button and nothing happens. To rewind, press both buttons atop the camera marked with the red rewind symbol.

The controls were an evolutionary step toward the now-standard mode dial. Press the Mode button and turn the dial to cycle through the modes, which appear in the LCD. There are two program modes, normal (P) and high (PH), which chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. You can also choose dual mode (PD) that chooses normal for focal lengths less than 135mm, and high otherwise. There are also aperture-priority (A), shutter-priority (S), and full manual (M) modes.

If you like auto-everything Nikons, I’ve reviewed several, starting with the similar N8008 (F-801). Also check out the N90s, the N50, the N60, and the N65. You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

I loaded four AA batteries into this Nikon F-801s, without which the camera is inert. I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Ultrafine eXtreme 400, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. This was my first go with this film. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because when I don’t like the way the images look, I can’t tell whether it’s the film or the camera. I wasn’t thrilled with these images. A few that I shot on a walk around the strip mall near my home turned out best.

BW3

I knew I was going to enjoy using the F-801s because I enjoyed using the N8008 (F-801) I used to own. This is just a solid, competent performer. The autofocus is dog slow by modern standards, but that never bothers me. I almost never photograph things in motion. I have the time to wait.

Drive thru

But something’s wrong with the autofocus on this F-801s. At infinity, it hunts like mad and half the time won’t focus. When it does, the camera usually won’t let you make a photo. An X appears in the viewfinder LCD rather than the solid circle that means everything’s hunky dory. At closer range, the camera often focuses just behind your intended subject.

Do Not Pass

I finished the roll around the house. Trying to figure out what was up with the autofocus, I trained the camera on a drawing my brother made for me many years ago. He’s a talented illustrator; his favorite genre is comic-style art. It’s too bad he doesn’t draw anymore.

Java Jive

Our granddaughter was over for a visit that day. She likes it when we make a bowl of soapy water for her so she can play in it. Notice how the F-801 focused just behind our granddaughter’s head.

Playing in the sink

Disappointed in, but not daunted by, the F-801s’s focusing woes, I decided to try a different lens in case something had gone wrong with my 50/1.8. I thought the lens was unlikely to be at fault, but what the heck. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Sadly, the camera continued to whiff focus in just the same ways.

I nosed around the photo forums for tips on what might be wrong. A few others reported this problem, and one fellow said he repaired his by blowing dust off the AF sensor. It’s behind the lens, under the mirror. I tried it, but it didn’t help. Perhaps the AF sensor has just gone bad.

I finished the roll with autofocus turned off. The focusing screen offered no focusing help such as a split image, so I just twisted the focus ring until things looked sharp enough and hoped for the best. It worked out fine.

Lion graffiti

I took the F-801s on a walk around Lions Park in Zionsville. This is where the Little League plays.

From the mound

The 28-80mm lens was a fine choice for this walk and it delivered good sharpness. As for the sign in this photo, Zionsville is a wealthy suburb, and families here have high expectations of their experiences around town.

Remember

Except for its autofocus woes, the F-801s performed well. Its large grip makes it a little awkward in the hand; the F50 I shot recently felt far more balanced.

Ladder

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F-801s gallery.

This Nikon F-801s was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but if you want one, they go for peanuts on eBay all the time. My F-801s’s autofocus problems notwithstanding, these are generally reliable cameras and are a good value in easy SLR shooting. I prefer my Nikon N90s, which replaced the F-801/F-801s and evolved the 35mm SLR’s controls even further toward the configuration that everybody uses today. It feels more luxurious in my hand, and it focuses faster.

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