I like taking pictures of people engaged in activity, such as sports. So I like really good action photography. Recently I discovered a new (to me) source of action pics – Sainsbury’s.
Ok, not as such. I was leaving the store and noticed a pile of help yourself magazines at the exit. One had a great picture on the cover so I took it home. There was a new edition there this month too.
Now, I try not to endorse things (but if anyone wants to meet me at the crossroads at midnight to talk sponsorship…) and I’m not, but this is a great source of good action photography. It’s a lifestyle magazine called The Red Bulletin.
Just to be clear, I’d rather drink bleach than Red Bull and lifestyle always looked like a thing for needy people. But I like the pictures. (By the way, I didn’t steal their pictures – the ones in this post are mine. I also used these ones because I didn’t have any pictures of fast-moving supermarkets.)
So if there’s anyone out there who also gets a tingle from some good action photography, do see if you can get your eyes on a copy. And yes, of course they have a website. If you haven’t got a Sainsbury’s then I’m sure you have a browser and a search engine.
I expect that, as usual, I am late to the party and everyone in the world already knew about this. Indulge me – I don’t get out much these days.
Anyway, enough of that. C’mon Sainsbury’s, you know you want to sponsor a pork pie influencer…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.