It has been a long time since I shot with film. My last film camera was a Canon IXUS, an automatic compact which took APS film 20 years ago. Though I have always had a camera to hand since I was a small boy I was strictly a point and shoot photographer until I moved to digital, and didn’t move to an SLR until after I had turned to digital. Recently, whilst staying with friends in Stockholm, I came across an Aladdin’s cave of a camera shop, which had a number of film cameras for sale, including Kodak Instamatics, Rolleiflex TLRs and Nikon SLRs, including several F3 models, some fitted with external motor drives. The Nikon F3 model I picked out was somewhat worn and had a hole in the bottom of the body (which I later discovered was due to a missing motor drive coupling cover) but I was very taken with it and bought it on impulse together with some Ilford black and white film.
That evening I did a bit of research and discovered that the F3, the successor to the legendary F and F2, was the last of the manual-focus, pro 35mm SLR cameras; it was introduced in 1980 and stayed in production until 2001. Unlike its predecessors, which had always been entirely mechanical, the F3 uses an electronically controlled shutter which requires batteries. This dependance on the battery power was initially quite controversial and adoption was not universal amongst Nikon professional shooters. Those fears turned out to be unfounded as the F3 turned out to be of the same bulletproof nature as the F and F2 and very reliable.
Continue reading “Back to Film with The Nikon F3”
In the earliest days of photography it took a mastery of optics, chemistry, and an arcane workflow to take and process a photograph using the cumbersome cameras of the time. To read more about this, see my post on Fox Talbot and Early Photography. This time-consuming hybrid discipline restricted photography to a small and skilled group of people.
The introduction of the Kodak camera in 1888, an inexpensive handheld unit, changed all that, and is one of the more important milestones in the history of photography. Like many important events, it spawned changes that its inventor could not have envisioned. The Kodak introduced a system of photography based on flexible, lightweight roll film. In addition, it simplified camera operation by providing fixed focus, a single shutter speed and pre-loaded film. The need to work with chemicals was dispensed with by the introduction of film processing as a service. Together these refinements made photography far more accessible. In 1892, the year George Eastman’s company was renamed The Eastman Kodak Company, Eastman Kodak coined the advertising slogan, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest”. What Eastman could not have foreseen was the backlash to this popularisation of photography.
The production of a vastly increased number of spontaneously shot, realistic but unremarkable ‘snapshot’ images, prompted a protracted public debate about whether photography could be considered to be art or was purely a utilitarian medium produced by a mechanical recording device. Inspired by Peter Henry Emerson’s book Naturalistic Photography (1889) and rejecting the notion of photography as solely a documentary medium, a small group of photographers set out to show that photography was indeed fine art. Some of the better known are Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); Edward Steichen (1879-1973); Edward Weston (1886-1958); Paul Strand (1890-1976); Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79); Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901); Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936); Robert Demachy (1859-1936) and my personal favourite, the Belgian Leonard Misonne (1870-1943). These photographers formed clubs and salons such as The Linked Ring, Photo-Secession, The Royal Photographic Society and The Photo-Club of Paris and created a movement known as Pictorialism. Pictorialism was also the product of photography and the world of art coming closer together at the end of the nineteenth century. Artists such as Manet and Gauguin used photographs to capture images that would be rendered as paintings back in the studio, whilst some pictorialist photographers (such as Henry Peach Robinson) had been trained as painters. Continue reading “When Photos Looked Like Paintings – Pictorialism”