Another Nikonos

Having waved goodbye to the Nikonos V – the Legend – I thought that itch was scratched. It didn’t do what I wanted underwater. It was too heavy on dry land. Nice lens though, and very rugged.

But the earlier models were lighter and had the same lens. No automation at all and built like Russian tanks (what it doesn’t have can’t break). You can guess the rest.

So this is my Nikonos III.

Nik 3

It’s the last incarnation of the original Calypso camera that was bought and renamed/ redesigned by Nikon.

So why do I want an even less clever underwater camera? Because that won’t be its main job. Underwater is for digital, zoom lenses and automatic everything. Plus small enough to not fight me when I’m doing something else.

What I wanted, or what I told myself I wanted, was a rugged camera that could cope with water, sand, mud and cold. All the highlights of a British summer. I know I’ve already got several of these, but hey….

First challenge – load it. Start by taking the lens off. Pull out and twist and the bayonet unlocks with a ninety degree turn. Then use the odd strap lugs to lever off the top of the camera. It comes apart into an outer case and the inner working parts. The lens locks them together. Clever. Also rugged – if it does flood I’m told you rinse it in fresh water and dry it.

Next challenge – wind on. The wind-on lever pulls back towards you rather than being pushed round with your thumb. The lever lies across the front of the camera rather than the back. You squeeze the tip of the lever back towards you to fire the shutter. The lever then springs out and can be pushed back with your forefinger to wind on. I’m told this was meant to be easier to use, possibly one-handed, underwater. It’s odd, but saves trying to find the shutter release. The original designer obviously had experience of trying to use a camera in the dark, wearing gloves. The down side is that there is a fair bit of movement to fire the shutter and no half-press position to tell your finger it’s nearly triggered. It takes a deliberate press, so this is probably not a great camera for fast moving action. But that’s not what it’s for.

Nik 1
Ready to shoot. Note the shutter lever is locked.
Nik 2
Fired and ready to wind on.

Not a wide range of shutter speeds – these things would normally be used with flash and a macro lens or attachment and frame finder. Once you’d got your exposure right, probably on slide film, you’d leave it there. Speaking of flash, the Nikonos cameras use a special dedicated waterproof connection. But you can get a plug for land use that provides a standard PC socket. Just don’t go anywhere near water with this converter plugged in.

The Nikonos III is the one to have from the early models, as it has X sync and uses the sprocket holes in the film to count and space the frames. Hence my choice and purchase.

I’ve almost justified it to myself. But I can sell some other cameras or even camera to cover it. As cameras go the Nikonos III needn’t be expensive if you look carefully.

In use we are really back to basics. The Russian tank joke is quite true: the narrow range of shutter speeds and zone focusing make this very similar to using some Russian cameras. Metering is easy – I can use everything from guesswork via a rotary calculator to a proper meter. Focussing can be the same – from guesswork through zone to using a clip-on rangefinder.

So what’s it like to use and was it worth dipping my toe back in the underwater? Slow to load and unload, but you don’t do that often. You can mount the lens upside down so that the distance and aperture scales are easily read when you tip the camera backwards. Like using many old cameras, you take a meter reading when you start the day and keep checking and tweaking the settings on the camera to keep them right. Keep it adjusted and you can just raise it and shoot immediately without fiddling. The viewfinder is quite big and has good eye relief – it was meant to work for people wearing a diving mask. The camera can live over your shoulder whatever the weather. You might have to wipe the front of the lens, but that’s it. The 35mm lens can be used on land and underwater and has a plain glass disk at the front, so it’s safe to wipe it dry as long as you don’t use a sandy rag.

The only thing to remember is that if you do drop it in water it will sink. If you are out on a boat, attach some buoyancy to the strap.

The 35mm lens is nice – it was borrowed from Nikon’s rangefinder camera. It’s worth fitting a lens hood for land use because of the glass disk at the front of the lens. Even so, it doesn’t flare as much as you might expect and the lens is sharp and contrasty. Other than that, this thing will take whatever is thrown at it (or it’s thrown at). No batteries to freeze or die, no electronics to fail. It really does have a lot of things that can’t fail because they are not present.

Wheldrake Woods
Surprisingly resistant to flare

It is lighter than the Nikonos V. Not supermodel light, because it still weighs 620g, but it’s 80g less than the Nikonos V and that’s near enough three rolls of film. It’s still a chunky beast though, but it has to be. The Nikonos cameras are rated to at least 50m depth. This is around 74psi in old money. It’s also why you pull out on the lens to unlock it, not press in. At 50m depth that lens is already being pressed into the body with 290lb of force. Try putting one of your own cameras lens-down on the floor and let your 20 stone chum stand on the back. Like I said – rugged.

But that’s all top trumps talk (the game, not the nutter) – what matters is what sort of pictures it takes and what it’s like to use.

Superb bright viewfinder that shows more than the frame margins. Quiet shutter – mainly because it’s buried inside a block of metal. Grippy body – that pattern is sharp hard rubber, not leatherette. Very clear focus and aperture scales with a nice smooth resistance to the knobs. Nice sharp lens – it’s a 35mm f2.5 that drops to the field of view of a 50mm underwater due to refraction. I’ve already had good results from the one I had on the Nikonos V so I know I’ll like it.

This is a camera that I would happily use on the beach and run under the tap afterwards to clean. So the Legend is dead; long live the Legend.

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Edit yourself

Back when I used to go to a photography club, they used to have competitions. One evening I heard some straight but powerful advice. It was in response to someone who had entered two versions of the same picture. The advice was “why are you competing with yourself? If you can’t decide which of these is the better picture, why should I?” Followed by ‘you get three entries, so why did you waste one?”.

If you’ve ever looked at the contact sheets of a published photographer you can see this selection process working. Compare the images taken with the one published. An amateur may take many different scenes – which is the old joke about getting the film back from the lab with your holidays in the middle and Christmas at each end. A pro may take many pictures of the same subject, so you can see the development of what became the final image. You can ask yourself why the final selected image was the one. Indeed, there’s a useful exercise here: put together an explanation of your own pictures that you would make to another person of why one image is better than the others. The better you can explain it, the better your discrimination. It also links back to the question of why you took this picture in the first place.

What the pro doesn’t do is to publish two versions of the same picture, inviting you to compare them. Not unless the two pictures tell a story. The pro is supposed to be able to assess their own work and select the best image. Their camera is a target rifle, not a shotgun.

Contact
Nobody needs to see these but me

There’s bad pictures too. Why would you show someone a picture you consider bad or you don’t like, unless to make a point (ok, so I’m perhaps making a point quite often in this blog)? If there is a chance that someone else might see your work, make sure it’s the good stuff.

Portrait
… and this is the picture I chose to show

Digital photography makes taking extra shots effectively free, so why not use that to explore variations of framing and position? With people, their expressions and eyelines change. Take a picture of a group and you’ll be lucky to get them all facing the camera with their eyes open. There may still be a decisive moment, but the ones before and after can be useful too. Sports and press photographers take lots of pictures to get that one moment when it all comes together. Only one picture gets published though.

Talking about changing expressions, there’s an old trick used by wedding photographers when they had to do those big formal groups, of leaving one frame at the end of the roll or at the end of the shoot. Tell the group it’s over, give them a moment to relax, then take that picture. Just make sure to edit your work and only show the best.

How did you get into photography?

I have a confession to make – I have a soft spot for a prog-rock band. Hardly surprising, as I fit all the criteria. Why is this relevant? Because during a live concert recording of one of their songs they had an audience solo (Hoedown).

This is your chance.

So: you have thirty minutes. The clock starts now. Turn over your papers.

How did you get into photography? When did you start? Was there one influence or several?

What sort of pictures did you start with? Has this changed?

What kept you going?

Have you had any periods when you stopped? What brought you back?

What sort of pictures drive you – what makes you tingle?

What sort of pictures bore you then? What do you not shoot?

Do you take a lot of pictures? How many?

Does this mean you own a lot of cameras? Why?

Are you a photographer or do you take photographs?

Have you stuck with one camera system or changed? Why?

Do you use natural light or control it? Flash or continuous? Why?

Colour or black and white? Why?

How often do you print your pictures? What do you do with them?

Who, other than you, gets to see your pictures?

You can save one picture you’ve taken. Which one?

Post the zombie/ plague/ nuke/ alien apocalypse you are left with one camera, one lens. Which one do you save to document the uprising?

Other than your phone, do you normally carry a camera?

When you go out, how many cameras do you take? Why?

When do you take pictures?

Are there things you won’t take pictures of? Why?

What was the last thing you did that was new to you? When was that?

What is the biggest format or pixel count you shoot, and the smallest? What do you shoot most?

What’s your style? How did you develop it?

What has been the biggest influence on you? Why?

How much have you spent on photography?

Do you have a picture you are proud to have taken? Is there one you regret?

How would you like to be remembered?

How many pictures do you have of yourself?

Instagram, Facebook, website, ‘zine?

Have you ever exhibited your pictures?

What is the best camera? Why?

What’s the hardest thing about photography?

If photography stopped, what would you do instead?

Would your partner or friends answer these questions differently if they were asked about you?

Time’s up. Stop writing. Please hand in your papers. Don’t forget to put your name at the top.

Alain

1:1:1 Pentax SV

This is my first go at the 35Hunter challenge of one camera, one lens, one month. I had three possible cameras available but chose the Pentax SV. It didn’t originally come with a lens so I stuck on a lens I found in a charity shop that turned out to be better than I first thought.

So an unmetered Pentax SLR, 55mm manual lens, Kentmere 400.

The SV itself is well regarded, if very basic. Mine has been CLA’d and has new light seals. One of the joys of a mechanical camera, while you can still find people who can service them, is that they can be kept going almost indefinitely. The film? Well, the argument has probably already started between Tri-X, HP5 and Kentmere. It ends for me when you compare prices. The lens is the largest aperture one I have that fits, as this is the darkest end of the year. Even at 400ISO I could do with some help.

SV

The camera was already loaded and I’ve got perhaps a dozen shots left on the roll. At least one of these has to be of the field of grass behind my house, for reasons I’ll explain in a later post. So, less than half a roll – how hard can it be?

I’d forgotten just how nice the SV is to use. The shutter makes a gentle clop sound and the wind-on is smooth. I went out with it on a freezing night to get a particular shot and the camera got too cold to carry without gloves, but it still worked perfectly. It feels a bit old-fashioned, as it still uses a separate catch to open the back rather than pulling up on the rewind crank.

This is photography at its most basic – no electronic anything. The camera has shutter speeds, the lens has apertures, the rest is down to you. My biggest argument with screw-fit cameras is how slow and fiddly it is to change lenses, but that goes away if you stick with just one. So this challenge takes away some of the differences between cameras and leaves you with the results.

Not that this exercise will tell you much about the camera, as the best it can do is not screw up the work of the lens. The Yashinon lens though, it’s a thing of wonder. 55mm and f1.2 so it’s big and full of glass. It feels like there is a lot of field curvature as you need to adjust focus if you move the subject from the centre to the edge of the frame. It focuses close – under half a meter (eat your hearts out, rangefinders). Out of focus highlights become eliptical at the sides of the frame. They can get even weirder at night. The glass is radioactive. In other words, it’s full of character.

Lamp night
F1.2 and a proper T setting lets you shoot in the dark

The 55mm focal length may be a good covid lens too as it’s slightly longer so can cope with a bit more separation between the photographer and subject.

The combination of lens and camera works quite well. The focusing screen is fairly good but the bright lens makes the most of it. There is no information in the viewfinder at all, so you do have to take the camera away from your eye to check or change the settings. So you change your methods. Rather than adjusting the camera while looking through the viewfinder I take a light reading, set the camera and then keep taking light readings as I walk about. I’ve got an old Leningrad meter that is quite small and easy enough to carry in a pocket. It’s good practice too – I guess what I think the exposure will be before I use the meter and then see how far out I am. I’m usually a stop underexposed, but I’m getting better. And yes, I have a light meter app on my phone, but the Leningrad is quicker to use and less visible.

Branches
The lens gives some nice separation even when it’s not wide open

So I’ve quite enjoyed my first go at the one camera challenge thing. It certainly cuts through the usual crisis of decision-making when planning to go out somewhere. No more ‘what camera shall I take’ as the choice is made. It will also get some of the old relics out of the cupboard and give them some exercise. And if it turns out I don’t love them, then off to eBay they will go. This one is a keeper.

Next up – the Mercury II.

Mending digital cameras

Is about as difficult as you would think. But sometimes it isn’t. Let me explain.

Film cameras are like proper clockwork watches. They have gears and springs and components that push and pull each other. There’s a guy on 35mmc who has taken a Minolta apart. Part of its mechanism is basically a length of string. My Pentax MX is allegedly similar: it uses a string to rotate the shutter speed indicator in the viewfinder and there is a known error when it gets out of sync. (It affects the display, not the camera). Analogue cameras – full of pingfukkits. Ask me how I know this.

Digital cameras though are built from sub-assemblies. This is how we build things now – a set of individual circuit boards linked together. This should mean that a camera can be more easily taken apart into chunks. It should mean that you can replace just the faulty chunk. Indeed, it can make it easy to alter some of the components.

Enter the G9. This is one of Canon’s clever point and shoots and has a serious design flaw. There are two internal screws that have no form of thread lock and so work loose. They are upside down, in the sense that gravity will normally encourage them out. They live just above the main power circuit board. So the usual sequence is ‘oh, it rattles’ followed by ‘oh, it’s broken’. Mine refused to switch on, then did but immediately broke.

IMG_2825
The main power board and the offending screws

OK, so I didn’t spend a lot of money on it originally, but I’m loathe to just throw all this technology away. Fear not, YouTube and some tiny screwdrivers are your friends!

As you probably expect for a common problem, someone has put a video on YouTube of themselves fixing it. The best part of this is that you can see exactly what they do and pause the video at the critical stages. Anyone of a certain age will remember trying to mend a car or bike with a Haynes manual. And as a kid, I can still remember helping my dad to connect a cooling hose after the cylinder head had been refitted, because it wasn’t clear in what order to do things (the only reason I was any use was that my hands were smaller than his).

So what’s the problem? I’ve already said that digital cameras come apart into chunks. It’s the coming apart that hurts. The connectors between sections are tiny. It’s impossible to tell by looking whether you pull, unclip or lift. This is where you want to watch someone else do it first. You can also get a sense of how much force they used.

The camera comes apart into sections if you undo the correct screws. It comes apart into even more pieces if you undo the wrong screws. So I sit under a bright desk lamp, YouTube on pause, gently dropping screws in order of removal onto a length of masking tape (sticky side up). I’ve taken old motorbikes apart often enough to have a method and order for where I put the loose bits. It’s also why I have thread locking compound to hand.

Sure enough, two loose screws fall out of the camera. So I put them back in with threadlock and reassemble. Could I be lucky? What do you think? Yep, still broken.

EBay is your other friend, and I order a new power board from China. Surprisingly cheap – they must sell a lot of these.

After careful stripping, fitting the new power board and reassembling, the moment of truth. Nope, still broken. When the screws fell out of the camera they were deep inside the body, so I think they must have dropped right inside and fused or broken other bits of circuitry.

What a nuisance. Even more so that the prices for the G9 seem to be high. Even broken ones are seeking more than mine cost working and with an underwater housing. But my kung fu is strong, and before long a nice working one is mine for a bit less than the original.

So what did I learn? Repairs are possible if someone else has done it before and filmed it, and if the parts are available. I now have a working camera and a replacement power board if this one suffers a loose screw. If it’s broken anyway, don’t be afraid of mending it. And internal screws need thread-lock.

Checklists

So you’re off to shoot something specific – what do you take? What if the event is special or not repeatable? What if something goes wrong?

I don’t shoot photos under these sort of constraints, but I’m no stranger to the planning. I regularly (pre bug) go diving. Even the closest site is an hour from home. So I have often had that feeling of terror that I’ve forgotten something. If we’re out on a boat there’s also the dread of finding that something important is still in the car.

Enter the checklist. An A4 page printed on both sides. One is all the kit that has to go in the car. The other side is what needs to be taken to the boat. It’s laminated so I can mark it off as I go. It doesn’t stop me worrying, but I know that if the list is ticked, I’m good. I have also made up prepacked sets of equipment to help. All the underwater camera gear is in a plastic tool tray. There’s a camera bag with a rangefinder kit and there used to be one with a medium format kit. Ready to go without searching for bits.

pack list

There’s also the procedural checklist. In my work I’ve had to do some complex tasks, sometimes repeating them. I’ve also had to organise people to follow a standard procedure.

Enter the checklist again. In this case it’s every step to be taken, with no assumptions and total clarity on what needs to be done. And you tick each step as you go. Then, when you are inevitably interrupted, you can resume where you left off. You can also step back and list the tools or ingredients you need before you start. When developing film that means not just checking I have the chemicals, but that they are fresh.

The final step is the planning, which includes the alternative steps for when things happen. Where do I have to be and when? Where can I park or put my stuff? Who is my contact? What if it rains?

Run every scenario you can think of. Make notes. Draw diagrams or maps. The benefit here is that you can plan your alternates with a cool head and then know, when things go bad, that you can follow the plan. What happens otherwise is that you make bad choices under pressure. For example, the Apollo 11 guidance computer rebooted as it was landing on the moon. The engineer responsible in Mission Control had already played-out that scenario and made good decisions. NASA learned this after the failure of Apollo 1 but then forgot and had to learn it again with Challenger.

A more recent example used in a lot of studies for problem solving and decision making was BA flight 9. Gliding a jumbo jet with dead engines, facing trying to get over the mountains or ditch in the sea. They tried to restart the engines without success. So what did they do? Follow the documented engine restart procedure again.

Ok, so none of my decisions will ever be this critical. Mine are at the level of ‘what if I’m delayed?’ Or ‘what if the battery runs out?’. I use Waze to guide me when driving as it routes around congestion. I use What3Words to find and mark my destinations – I can be accurate to the correct door in a street and it feeds the destination into Waze. In the diving world we prepare a safety sheet for the place where we are diving. It has important telephone numbers, the nearest decompression chamber, access routes – everything you need to know when you don’t have the time to look for it.

Safety

There’s one more thing that helps avoid mistakes: labelling. I used to do chemical analysis in a lab, so I became a bit obsessive about labelling. Two clear solutions in beakers, which is which? In the lab I used a wax pencil. These days it’s white electrical tape. If I pick up a camera I know if it’s loaded or not, and what with. That label stays with the film through until it’s developed.

So there you go – the blogger’s guide to avoiding fup ducks:

  • Packing list
  • Method list
  • Alternates
  • Labels

Plans may not survive contact with the enemy, but planning does.

The hall of fame

What do you do with your pictures when you have taken them? Put them on Instagram? Print them and put them in an album? Ignore them and take some more?

There’s an idea I copied that makes me happy every time I look at it: the hall of fame.

Our previous house had a corridor between two bedrooms and this is where it started. I got a load of small picture frames from Ikea or anywhere I could get them cheap. They were all around the size to take a 6×4 print. I then went through my files and printed pictures of friends, family, relatives. I printed copies of old family portraits and snaps taken with phones.

Then the walls got covered in a random layout of pictures. In this case more really is more.

When we moved to the current house we had a study instead of a corridor, so it was lined with pictures. None of them is art – these are the snapshots of people and events that make you smile. This is why we carry cameras and why photography should be easy – to capture moments with people you love and like (and family).

fame

Because we are all working at home now and meeting by video, I know that covering the walls with pictures is not a common thing. In grim times it is a happy thing though. There’s my dad on national service, my granny in uniform and our kids pulling faces. Over there are friends grinning or fooling about and the pair of us gurning like fools.

It makes me happy.

One lens

My first camera didn’t have a zoom lens. It was a while before I could afford a second lens, so I learned the basics with a “standard” lens – a 40 degree angle of view. This is supposed to match the normal field of vision of the human eye, which it does not. Perhaps the ‘perspective‘ (meaning diminution) matches, which is more likely.

Zooms were great though – my favourite is a Pentax 24-50mm. I’ll bet though that a lot of zooms are used at one end or the other of their range and not much in between. There used to be a number of point and shoot cameras that offered two switchable focal lengths rather than a zoom. I know I had one for a while. It made a lot of sense – easier to make, quicker to use and probably got exactly the same shots.

I wonder though if sticking to a single fixed lens might be a useful exercise? I know that 35Hunter does a thing of using one camera with one lens for one month. I’m not sure I could be that disciplined. If anything, it would be the one month that was hardest. I’ve regularly been out with one camera and one lens, but I will change the combination depending on where I’m going. Not at all like the old days where the camera and lens of choice were the (only) ones I owned.

These days I have more lenses but I find myself swapping them less often. After that initial period with only my standard lens I had the standard hobbyist set of wide, standard and long. In those days it meant 28mm, 50mm and 135mm on 35mm film. (That’s 65, 40 and 15 degrees angle of view) I was constantly swapping lenses. The main reason was that I had them with me – I used to carry a huge bag stuffed with lenses and gadgets. As I got older I tended to cut down on the camera gear and carry things that were more useful, like drinking water or a map.

So what’s the big deal? I think I might have a go at the 35Hunter 1:1:1 challenge to see what effect simplicity has. Even though I take great joy from being able to play with different kit, it would be interesting to go back to the basics and my roots and see what happens when I have to work within constraints (and not the Konstruktor challenge). A good starting point could be that I’ve got a couple of cameras loaded already. I’m going to flip a coin and carry just one of them until it’s done, then swap to the other. Make that three – I’ve just found another one that’s loaded and part shot.

Choices

Which should it be then? The Pentax is loaded with Kentmere 400, the Mercury with Kentmere 100 and the Ricoh with some Kodak colour print film. The Pentax it is. If nothing else, it will get some part-used film finished.

Have a go yourself. See what happens.

Happy New year

A happy New Year (tomorrow) and the best to you all.

What are you hoping for? Vaccination would be good. And please stop licking the bats.

I’d like to see friends in person and get out of the house more.

I want to shoot a load more colour film. I have a C41 kit but there’s no point making up all the chemicals until I have some film to put through it.

I made a resolution for 2020 to shoot more portraits. If we get to take our masks off in 2021 I’ll have another go.

I should sell some cameras. The plan was to shoot them, write about them and then sell them, as I don’t need to keep the pile of interesting relics I’ve gathered. As above, if I can get out more I can shoot more.

I’d love it if Copal decided to produce camera shutters in quantities that a small start-up could afford. The big hurdle to anyone trying to create a new camera is the shutter. Come on Copal – if you don’t sell shutters then nobody can build cameras, so nobody will be buying shutters.

I’m thinking of changing my default developer for faster mono film. While Rodinal is the most convenient developer ever, it’s a bit grainy on faster film. Not a problem on medium format, but it can look a bit gritty on 35mm. I have some scales and chemicals so I might try going back to home-brew, but being sensible this time. I’m thinking of using the D76h formula from the cookbook, as it is basically good old D76 with one less ingredient.

I’m going to try and scan my old colour negatives. There’s a lot of them, from the period where I shot colour exclusively. Those were the days when there were processors on the high street and film was cheap. Interestingly I was listened to a podcast interview with Tim Page and he was saying how much old C41 film had faded to the point of being lost. I know I have some colour negatives from Australia around 2006 that have some serious colour shifts. It might be time to scan them before they get worse.

Anyway, I’m hoping for a better new year. I hope you have one too.