They say that the way to make the gods laugh is to tell them your plans. But sometimes something weird happens – you have a forlorn hope that will never be realised, and then it drops into your lap. It’s like John Cleese said “it’s not the despair, I can deal with that; it’s the hope”.
But truly, the legend has landed.
What am I on about? I got a Nikonos plus underwater strobe. Not just that, but a range of close-up attachments as well. Having only just said I wasn’t frightened of them any more. So the joke is on me to learn the true meaning of fear. Let’s call it apprehension. This is the justly famous underwater Nikon that was the only serious diving camera for decades. Even James Bond had one. I feel I should fall to my knees and chant “we’re not worthy“.
So what have I got? A Nikonos V with a Sea&Sea strobe, a couple of extension tubes and a supplementary close-up lens. The extension tubes come with the the matching prongs to mark the plane of focus and the field of view. The close-up lens has a couple of prongs but has holes to use four. So I will need to work out if the prongs I am using are meant to mark the frame width or the frame height.
For anyone wondering why my camera has prongs, you have to imaging the difficulties of shooting macro underwater. Digital made it so much easier because you can see on the camera screen what you are taking. Back in the bad old days the Nikonos was a viewfinder camera with a manually-focused lens. So you would buy and fit some form of close-up lens or attachment and they usually came with some form of frame to mark the field of view. Rather than look through the camera to frame the shot you would offer-up the frame to the subject and hope not to damage it or scare it away. (Can you see yet why digital won?)
So I need to figure this one out. The first step is to get the camera into a swimming pool (avoiding a public session and the likelihood of arrest) and take some macro shots of a marked surface so that I can check where the point of focus actually falls. And if the camera does leak, it’s better to have it do so in fresh water than salt.
I have printed and laminated an A4 sheet of paper with a focusing line to put the prongs on and a series of lines before and after. With any luck this will be nicely sharp where the focus prongs fall. I have also made the focus sheet double sided. This is because I don’t know if the lens should be set to infinity or the hyperfocal distance for the aperture I’m using. So one side says INF on the focusing mark, the other says HYP. [Update – jumped in the pool at the end of a scuba session and took some pics. No obvious bubbles from the camera and the flash worked. Now to finish the film and develop it.] [Update to update, it worked. The prongs mark the width of the frame.]
Of the two sets of close-up gadgets, the supplementary lens looks easiest to use. As it fits over the front of the lens I can fit or remove it underwater. So if I was photographing seaslugs and a whale shark cruised by, I could pop off the close-up lens and take a fishy portrait. The extension tubes would get in a lot closer, but I’m committed to macro during the dive.
Still, shooting off the remaining film will be fun and a chance to get to know the camera. The standard 35mm lens works in air as well as underwater and it’s no big chore to zone focus the lens. If it was ever necessary I still have a little rangefinder gadget to help me find the actual range.
The shutter sound is very muted – this is a very quiet camera. Not surprising when you feel how thick and heavy the thing is. It’s good for at least 50m, which would be a pressure of around 75psi. Doesn’t sound a lot – don’t lorry tyres run at a higher pressure than this? I remember taking diving a cheap but fashionable watch that said it was waterproof to 200m. And then seeing it gently implode at 20m. This thing is genuinely built like a tank. And 50m is the limit of how deep I could dive on air. Plus it’s dark down there.
The lens on it is Nikon’s 35mm f2.5. From the look of it it’s not the unwanted E series lens but a repackaging of their old rangefinder lens. Makes sense, as it was available at the time and a rangefinder lens can fit much closer to the film – this camera doesn’t have an SLR mirror needing clearance.
It’s all very well having prongs for underwater macro, but on the surface this is a scale-focusing camera. How on earth do you focus it accurately? One way is to zone focus – the lens has a really neat set of depth of field markers that change with the aperture. The other way is to use a rangefinder card like the one in the picture above (You can either calculate one or just measure the distances from an object and mark-up a piece of card).
Having said that and for all my smug cleverness, I measured the distances in feet and set the lens focus using the metres scale. Duh! Still, the ones set to hyperfocal distance worked.
The lens has another neat trick, in that you can mount it on the camera upside-down. This makes it easier to read the settings when you tip the camera backwards to look at the aperture or focus. It does mean that the image on the film is upside down, but it’s no bother to rotate it in the scanner or turn the paper round under the enlarger.*
So I’m pretty happy with it. My dreams have not yet turned to dust, or as they say: ” a thing of beauty is a joy for a fortnight”. The next thing to do will be to load this baby with some colour negative film and take it diving. That might be a while though – we’re at the cold end of the year and probably won’t get into open water again until the Spring. In the meantime I have a tough little camera with a pretty good lens that won’t be hurt by a spot of rain. A bit of a top duck.
* Yes, I know, but it’s funny.