Compact vs SLR

I want a new camera. Well, new to me. It has to be able to do some specific things, chief amongst which is the way it handles. Perhaps strangely, I need a camera I can use one-handed. So this means I need a compact and not an SLR.

This camera is to be used underwater as a replacement for the Nikonos. It will spend its working life in a housing, tethered to me with a lanyard. I will typically want to work the camera with my right hand and hold a big torch in my left, or use my left hand to brace my position.

SLRs are great, but I don’t want to have to use my left hand to work the zoom. Nor do I want to buy a housing that is specific to one range or model of lens. If you thought classic Leicas were expensive, try an underwater housing for a good-to-decent dSLR.

So I want a compact digital camera, as they usually have the zoom control somewhere under the right forefinger. I also want a Canon, as they make the best compact cameras.

OK – contentious. Let me explain best. Canon had (and have) a habit of putting top-range sensors and processors in their compacts, but disabling some of the functionality depending on the model. Enter the hacker’s kit – CHDK. Run a temporary firmware update from the memory card and you get back some of the hidden features, like saving RAW files, motion detection, timelapse and so on. So you can often buy a lower-range Canon compact and add back to it some of the features missing from more expensive cameras.

If you are happy buying second-hand you can also get some real bargains. My current underwater rig uses a Canon Ixus 750. The quality is quite good and I got a second camera as a spare from eBay for £5. Since there is always a risk of flooding the thing with salt water, the spare camera was cheaper than insuring the original.

But I’m pushing the performance and capabilities of the Ixus, so I want something a bit better. What I want is a wider ISO range, image stabilisation, a wider maximum aperture if possible, better macro capabilities if I can get it, better control over the flash (as I will be using a second external flash), more megapickles, and the lens to be wider at the wide end. Oh, and world peace.

So off we go to the shops. Or eBay. Up pops a Canon Powershot G9 with housing at a good price and soon it is mine (Precious). More features than Netflix and more knobs than a political rally. The housing is taken for a swim sans camera but packed with tissues to check the O ring. The camera is parked on the kitchen table while I read the manual and make ooh ooh noises.

Canon
Is this the new legend?

The first question is why it has a separate knob to set the ISO? Because it can. This is digital, not film. There is no need to set the ISO once when you load the camera and live with it – you can change it for every shot. So having a dedicated control makes more sense than burying it in a menu system. What stumped me for a bit is that the flash controls are in a menu system, which you get to by holding down the flash button and not by pressing the menu one. Hence all my first test shots were done using slow-sync flash and second curtain triggering. Sharp with a blurred overlay – nice!

It has an underwater mode that adds a virtual red filter. The usual trick is to then put a blue gel on the flash, but I need to see what happens if I’m shooting RAW.

There are also a bunch of settings for the autofocus to try, plus working out how to balance the built-in flash with the external one. The Ixus 750 was not very good at this – it kept seeing the external flash and quenching the built-in one. Even masking things with some highly technical plastic and gaffer tape didn’t cure it. Early tests with the G9 look promising.

So there you have it. For me, a reasonable compact camera beats a dSLR hands down. Or one hand down, anyway. Right then fishes, smile!

(And if his doesn’t work, perhaps I need a Diveroid?)

No more heroes any more

I wanted to love the Legend but I can’t. It’s not that I discovered my hero had feet of clay: it was more that we didn’t get on. It may well be the most competent camera in the world, but it doesn’t do what I need. I find myself saying “it’s not you, it’s me”, and it’s true.

What the Nikonos V does is rugged and sharp film photography underwater. It has a dedicated flash with off-the-film metering. Mine also has a close-up lens with a frame-finder. You don’t even have to look through the viewfinder – just place the prongs either side of the subject and shoot. Which would be perfect if I was shooting things that kept still and didn’t mind being surrounded by metal prongs.

However, this is not what I do. What I need is a camera that can do macro work and general context scenery. I need a zoom so that I can frame subjects that would flee if I got closer. I need autofocus that will allow me to lock on the subject and reframe. I need a screen on the back of the camera so that I can operate it at arm’s length, so that I don’t scare the critters or I can get the camera into small and awkward places.

Flabellina Affinis. Nudibranch, Gozo
I need to be able to do macro (this is about the size of my thumbnail)

I did get carried away with the romantic notion of shooting film in a classic camera. And then I realised I would be spending so much attention working the camera I was likely to ignore things like my dive buddy or my own safety.

The telling thing is that I took the Nikonos on a diving holiday and never used it. I didn’t want to struggle with it getting in and out of the water. Underwater, I didn’t want the restrictions of either fixed-distance macro or having to remove and stow the close-up lens to do general pictures. Basically, it was going to be too difficult and too restrictive, so what was the point?

Comino caves, Gozo. 7th October 2019
And general context shots

I’m not alone – Martin Edge talks about using Nikonos gear in his book The Underwater Photographer. And then he says he switched completely as soon as cameras with autofocus became available.

Comino Caves, Gozo. 7th October 2019
To accurately-framed shots at mid-distance

On my recent diving trip, instead of the Nikonos I used an old and cheap Canon Ixus 750 in a housing. It has many limitations, but it is small and moves easily between macro and scenic work and takes reasonable pictures. To be fair, it took great pictures. What it lacked are things that I now know I really do need: not the fancy gadgets and features they list in the adverts, but the things you find yourself wishing the camera could do better. So I will be replacing the Canon with something that has more of what I want and saying goodbye to the Nikonos that doesn’t really do anything I need underwater. I could keep the Nikonos for surface use I suppose, but I have better and lighter cameras. So the legend will be leaving.

I did manage to buy it at a good price, so I should hopefully get more for it than I paid. The surplus will go towards a more capable digital camera plus housing that has a better ISO range, hopefully some image stabilisation and higher resolution.

So mark this one up to experience.

So, was my dream shattered by reality? No: it turned out that my reality was different to my dream. The dream is still a valid and highly capable camera system. My reality is needing something more flexible.

Rufty-tufty film camera review

Sand. Seawater. Dirt. Rough handling. Foul language. OK, maybe not the last one. Although the full set does sound like a good weekend.

Maybe these are the things you want your camera to handle. I’ve shot stuff in the past that meant I had to put the camera in the airing cupboard for a week to dry it out. Rain is one thing, but wind-blown sand is a horror. This stuff leaves you with scratchy focusing or crunchy cameras. You need something that laughs in the face of danger.

Lots of modern digital cameras have weather sealing, and you can buy compact cameras that are sealed and waterproof to five meters or so. But this is a review of the cheap-ass end of the market, based on stuff I own and use. The stuff that I don’t have to take special care of or dry out after use.

First up, the Sea and Sea MX-10. This is a very basic yellow plastic housebrick with a dedicated flashgun. Basic, because the lens is fixed focus and the shutter fires at 1/100. You have the joy of controlling the aperture and there is a rudimentary built-in meter that works for 100 or 400 ISO.

It’s a child’s toy amongst cameras – big, simple, strong. I printed and laminated the table of focus ranges for each aperture and then just get close enough to put the subject in the sharp zone. On land the lens is focused at 2.5m so you use the aperture to control the depth of field around it.

The only real drawback is the cheap two-blade aperture that forms a square hole, so turns your bokeh into cubes. It’s big, tough, very simple to use and (if you shop carefully) cheap as chips. A nice feature is that the lens front has a standard bayonet fitting common to Sea and Sea that lets you use their supplementary wide-angle lenses. You need these underwater as the refraction reduces the angle of view of the 32mm lens to nearer 45-50mm. On land it lets you get more in or keep bigger subjects in the sharp zone of the lens.

For a camera this crude and simple it actually works quite well. Plus you can drop it in the sand or the sea, take it swimming or go out in a British summer. Just don’t pay a lot for one – this is not a sophisticated camera.

MX10

Prior to this I had its big brother, the Motormarine II EX. This has a focusing lens controlled by a dial on the front of the body, that also includes a close-up setting. The EX model also includes a choice of shutter speeds, but they only run from 1/125 to 1/15. Frankly, I found it a bit of a handful. While you can scale-focus the lens you have no indication of the depth of field (unlike the Nikonos, of which more later). The camera uses DX coding but only recognises 50, 100 and 400 ISO film. Granted, it works, but the aperture and focus dials are hard to read underwater, particularly if you are of a certain age and need reading specs. Above water it falls into the gap between Lomo and hi-fi – it has some controls so you need to fiddle with it but not enough to make it worth the effort. I got some good pictures with it and learned a lot, but sold it on with no regrets.
Tech specs
35mm f3.5 lens. My copy of the manual says 34 elements in 3 groups, but you’d only get that if you dropped it. I reckon they meant 4 elements in 3 groups, making it a Tessar.
Focusing down to 0.5m.
Built in flash with GN10 at 100ISO.
DX coding for 50, 100 and 400ISO.

For a while after the EX I had a Minolta Weathermatic 35DL. I thought this was going to be the answer. It had autofocus and a dual-lens setup that gave you 35mm or 50mm. It was waterproof to 5m. But the focusing broke, even though the camera kept working. I only found out after shooting a whole roll of impressionistic fuzz. Late 80s electronics to blame, I expect. Verdit? Fragile.

Charlie chased

Next up is a Japanese oddity – the Konica Genba Kantoku 28WB. I admit to buying one of these when I read a review on 35mmc. This was the replacement for the Minolta, and it seems to be working better. It’s basically splash and dirt-proof rather than waterproof. The sharp wide-angle lens was meant for recording building projects. It’s chunky and has just enough controls to be useful – you can force the flash on or off and use a macro mode. If you keep the sun off the glass cover in front of the lens it takes a good snap. You also have the joy of a camera that can be thrown in a bag, used in the rain or dragged through as much dirt as you can eat. It also looks rather funky, like an overgrown point and shoot. This gets used a lot on beaches and it works well.

Genba
Tech specs
28mm F3.5 lens of 8 elements in 7 groups. Minimum focusing distance of 0.5 meter. Shutter speed range from 1/4 to 1/280 second. Metering by a CdS sensor with a range of 5.5 to 16.5 EV (ISO 100). The built-in flash has a range up to 5m at ISO 100 and 10m with ISO 400 film. Film loading and advance are automatic with a motor drive. Film speed set by DX coding.

At the top end of the range comes the Nikonos. There are two basic types – the ones up to type 3 that were manual and came apart for loading and the later types 4, 4a and 5 that had a conventional opening back. You can spend a lot of money on these if you go for one with a flashgun or wide-angle lens. Be aware though that lenses wider than the standard 35mm will usually only work underwater. For surface to damp places stick with the 35mm. There is an 80mm lens for it, but this is a scale-focusing camera so unless you also carry a rangefinder about with you, stick with the 35mm. So if you want one, go for the 35mm lens, no flash or extras and in orange rather than the optional green.

Mine is a type 5 and what you get is a heavy and robust camera with autoexposure, shutter speeds up to 1/1000 and a very nice 35mm lens. The focusing is by guesswork, but the lens does have a lovely pair of markers that show the depth of field for each aperture. It couldn’t be simpler to set an aperture, set the point of focus to give you a useful range and let the camera handle the exposure (unless you confuse the metric and imperial distance scales).
The viewfinder has a high eye relief as it is meant to work with a diving mask. The frame lines are well within the visible area, so it’s easy to see things coming into frame. Given that you keep the seals clean this camera will survive just about anything. They were used by photographers in Vietnam, which is where I understand the desire for an 80mm lens came from. Probably the low-vis green paint option too.

This is the expensive and heavy end of the range of tough film cameras. It can be cheap though, especially if you look for mis-spellings and partial names.

So, what do I recommend? If I’m going where I need a water and dirt resistant camera my first choice is the Konica. It’s not heavy (it’s my brother), it’s easy to use quickly and the lens is sharp.

Next would be the Nikonos. Great lens and more control over the camera. No flash though. Well, not a sensible flash that you could carry about with you.

If there was a risk of destroying the camera or things could get hectic, it would be the MX-10. With the flash attached and the aperture set there is nothing to fiddle with. Get the subject in the sharp zone and go. And if they attack, you can fend them off with it. An anti-zombie camera.

Or forget all this nonsense and buy a nice ruggedised digital point and shoot.

Drop in the ocean

We’ve all seen Blue Planet, but what could you realistically get with amateur kit in unexotic places?

First – amateur kit. Going any deeper into water than being splashed requires an underwater housing. If you thought cameras were expensive, look at housings. They are specific to the make and model of the camera, so any thought of changing your camera becomes at least twice the investment. I regularly dive with someone who uses a video camera, and the housing alone cost more than both of my family cars.

But, there are plenty of people who give-up the sport and sell their kit, or who do upgrade to something better. So the usual online markets are your friend, if you are happy to use a modest camera. There is also the ever-present risk of a leak, so I am happier risking £40 than £400 or even £4,000. I’ve got a second-hand Canon Digital Ixus 750 which was originally advertised as “With its sleek Perpetual Curve design, the contoured all-metal body of the Digital IXUS 750 represents the pinnacle of Canon design excellence”. Does make you wonder why Canon didn’t stop right there and not build another camera. It has a 7mpixel sensor, which is adequate. It also has a built-in colour correction mode for underwater, of which more anon. This, with housing, cost about £20.

Next – unexotic places. I regularly dive in a flooded quarry and off the cost of East Scotland. The quarry plays host to large groups of training divers, so the bottom gets very stirred-up (the quarry’s, although I’m sure some of them also feel the tingle). Visibility in the quarry can be less than two metres. There may be less silt in the water in Scotland but it also gets darker at depth.

The answer is to get close. The less water there is between the camera and the subject, the less silt and haze. So most underwater photography is done through wideangle lenses or as macro. The little Canon camera has a half-decent macro mode enabled through one button on the back.

The other problem is dark. Water absorbs a lot of light, and not all the colours are absorbed at the same rate. This is why the Canon has an underwater setting – to boost the red part of the spectrum and make up for the losses. For snorkelling depths this works pretty well. Any deep than a couple of metres though, and you need flash.

The little Canon point-and-shoot has one of them too. Right next to the lens. This is the ideal position for illuminating the silt in the water. Get in very close in macro mode and it works reasonably well. Try to take a picture of a person and you get the ‘diver in snowstorm’ look.

peasoup.jpg

So you get as close as you can.

Sea urchin, Eyemouth 15 June 2019

I found a second-hand underwater flashgun on that usual online market. This one was ideal, as it had a built-in slave cell. This means it can be triggered by the weedy built-in flash, or even used as a second fill-light. It’s a reasonably handy rig – small enough to hold out one-handed at arm’s length to get close to a fish without scaring it with your body bulk.

Sturgeon, Capernwray
Sturgeon
Perch, Capernwray
Perch

And sometimes you get lucky and find the entire seabed covered in a carpet of starfish.

Brittle stars, Eyemouth, 16 June 2019

So, surprisingly, you can use modest kit to take reasonable pictures. The limitations are that you probably can’t enlarge much from a small sensor, but the muck and refraction can make that a challenge even for big cameras. Lighting can be a problem, as can getting close and using very wide angle lenses.

It will never be a challenge to the BBC, but it will do for me.

UPDATE

A lobster eating a jellyfish. Never seen this before. Taken on cheap kit.

A dog with two tails

So, I’m a lucky dog and I have a Nikonos V with a flash. As is usual with underwater flashguns it sits out to the side of the camera on a metal bracket that screws into the camera’s tripod socket. Most water is full of suspended silt, so you want the flash to light the subject alone and not the grunge between it and the camera. So that’s why the flash is out to one side on some sort of arm.

But I wanted two.

I’ve got the flash that came with the Nikonos, and very lovely it is too. It’s controlled by the camera’s light sensor, so it reads the flash exposure off the surface of the film. How easy is that? But I also have a second flash that has a slave cell. So the cunning plan is to mount the original flash to the left of the camera where it normally sits, but to find a way of mounting the second flash to the right. With a bit of luck I would get a main light / fill light effect.

Both flashguns use the same arrangement for locking to their bracket. They have an asymmetric pin that passes through a slot in the bracket and then turns to lock against sliding back out. The bottom surface of the flashgun has a raised ridge that then engages a groove in the bracket to stop the flashgun twisting. A large nut tightens the arm down against the bracket and locks them together. It’s a robust and strong fitting – just as well, as the camera rig will often be lifted by the flashgun.

So what I needed was a bracket that had the same slot and groove arrangement on both ends. Basically a bit of bent and machined alloy; couldn’t be hard to find or expensive, right? Wrongit was more than I was willing to pay.

So plan B was to find a bit of alloy and make my own. The alloy was easy – a bit of flat bar bought cut to length from eBay. Even the machining wasn’t too hard. I realised years ago that I was incapable of drilling a perpendicular hole and bought a proper bench-mounted pillar drill. My dad, bless him, had left me a biscuit tin full of assorted drill bits. It was easy enough to copy the arrangement of slots, holes and grooves from the original bracket. It needed a large clearance hole around the main flashgun connection to the camera, but that yielded to one of dad’s hole-cutters.

The final step was to bend the bracket downwards at a 20 degree angle. Flat alloy bar turns out to be really strong. I’ve got a small bench vice but it just started turning on its base. Dad came to the rescue again with his zombie-killing spanner. This is a large and long-handled pipe wrench. This went round the vice and gripped it. Pulling the alloy bar in one direction, the spanner in the other and with a knee on the bench to stop it falling forwards, the alloy gracefully received its 20 degree bend.

For some reason I have a small tin of white Hammerite paint. It was probably on sale. A couple of coats of that and the bracket looked almost purpose-made. Glue on a bit of neoprene sheet (used for repairing drysuits) to stop the camera twisting and to stop the tripod screw from falling out of the bracket when it’s off the camera, and Bob is my uncle.

Total cost around £5.

So what I have now is the standard flash held in its usual position, plus a second slaved flash that can be manoeuvred for fill-in. Or you could call it a major tangle-hazard.

Except, now I’ve made it, I wonder if it’s too wide.

Big arm

The key thing will be whether the flashes throw shadow from the two macro-framing arms. And that I can dive with it and not break bits off or get it caught in anything. I might have to bring the two flashes in closer to the camera. One way to find out – dive with it.

Except… my next dive is off a boat, and I’m not sure I want to be handling a rig this big. It might be better to wait until August, when I’m doing a shore dive. Which, embarrassingly, gives me time to make the MkII version. I think I need to bring both flashes in closer to camera. I will get less chance of using nice cross-lighting but the whole rig will be easier to handle and there is less chance of the macro arms casting shadows. I’ll have a look at the same time at the possibility of replacing the arm on the slave flash (the one on the left of the picture) with a longer jointed arm. This will let me put the slave light over the top of the subject while keeping the main light on the left.

And this, children, is why we use old milk cartons and sticky-backed plastic. If I had spent decent money on this I would be forced by pride to keep using it. But I will get another strip of alloy for a fiver and make the new and improved model. I count this as only mildly percussive learning, which is a bonus. Never too old to make mistakes, that’s me.

Update

This is the Mk II version. Looks a lot easier to handle, doesn’t it? That piece of white stuff with the numbers on? That’s a rangefinder card.

Mk 2

The legend has landed

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.

prongs
It came from the deep…

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.

card

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 mighty Nikonos at Wheldrake Woods
Works pretty well on land too

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.

Sealed with a KISS

So, I broke a camera. Then I found another one on eBay for £2.20. And it was mine. Well, you have to don’t you? And then the red mist cleared and I realised I had bought a fixed-focus camera with a single shutter speed and a fixed 32mm lens. Which due to refraction under water becomes the equivalent of a 45mm lens in terms of field of view. They used to give away cameras with magazines that had more features than this. OK, so the freebies weren’t waterproof to 45 metres and didn’t come with a dedicated waterproof flash. But this camera is as dumb as a rock.

So let’s get this baby wet! What could possibly go wrong?

Lots. But while a plan may not survive contact with the enemy, planning does. The camera manual gives the distance ranges for sharp focus for each aperture (yes, you can vary the aperture), both in air and underwater. The work of but a few minutes to make up a small table of these, laminate it and attach it to the camera strap. The lighting and exposure might be all over the place, so I loaded it with some XP2. This would cope easily with overexposure and would be likely to capture at least something if it was underexposed.

The big hammerhead flash might be a problem, as it can’t be aimed in any other direction than dead ahead. Backscatter from silt is always an issue, so a long flash arm that allows an oblique angle is nice if you have the right kit or loadsamoney. What the hell – this is £2.20 – if it doesn’t work I can probably resell it for more than that.

So me and the Nikonot went diving in a quarry. Full of water, mind. I call it water, it was more like thin soup. There were a lot of trainee divers in that day, and nothing stirs up your bottom like a trainee diver. The usual answer is to use the widest angle lens possible, allowing you to get very close and minimise the amount of water between subject and camera. But I have a fixed-focus lens that is only going to be sharp between three and six feet.

Capernwray - silt!
The joy of silt

Oh what fun we had. I guessed what looked like about three feet, lined things up as best I could through the viewfinder (you think it’s hard to use a camera when you’re wearing glasses? Try a diving mask), and banged off 36 shots.

The joy of simplicity is that there is nothing to fiddle with: set the aperture according to the flash (f8 for an ISO 400 film) and just line up the shots and snap ’em. This is so liberating to a person who habitually uses a fully manual camera with a separate meter.

Cappernwray

Then I sent my film off to those marvellous people at AG Photolabs and wondered if I might get one or two usable shots from the roll. The first news is just how good XP2 is. Holding the neg strips up to the light showed some very dense frames. Pop them on the scanner and ping, out comes the detail. I had deliberately overexposed many of the shots knowing that the film would cope, and it really did. The only alternative I can think of would be to use HP5 and give it stand development. There’s a risk with this of getting uneven development though, so XP2 is one less variable in the mix.

The other revelation is that almost every frame on the roll was usable. I lost a couple with a strap or hose in front of the lens – typical hazard when you are using a viewfinder camera rather than an SLR. The rest were great! I’m amazed that a fixed focus, fixed everything camera can turn in results this good when shooting in soup.

Capernwray - Shergar
You can take a horse to water…

For my next trick I think I’ll try some colour. The equivalent of XP2 is supposed to be Portra 800 so I’ll be trying some of that at the next opportunity. Weirdly, and perhaps inevitably, this has also removed the fears I had for using a proper Nikonos. If I took the same approach of setting a fixed zone of focus and an automatic flash, it might work. The only advantage though would be to have a variable shutter speed. This would let me use a slow speed to bring the background out more, rather than leaving it as black. The only drawback though is the Nikonos’ special flash connection, so I would need the flash as well as the camera. So if someone reading this wants to donate me their kit or even swap it for the Nikonot, drop me a line (and likely kill me with shock).

Enough fantasising – this plastic housebrick turned out to be far better than I hoped. You’ve got to win one occasionally, haven’t you?