This article started as research into classic film cameras in movies. This led me to movies featuring photographers, of which my two favourites are Apocalypse Now, featuring Dennis Hopper as a manic photojournalist, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The search for the origin of Dennis Hopper’s crazed character then took me on a voyage of discovery that proved to be nearly as winding as the Mekong River…
The Photographer of Apocalypse Now
Dennis Hopper plays an unnamed disciple of the deranged Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who leads a renegade army of American and Montagnard troops from a remote abandoned Cambodian temple.
Hopper’s photojournalist appears at the end of Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) journey up the fictional Nung River to terminate Kurt’s command due to his ‘unsound methods’.
Hooper greets Willard as the ne plus ultra of combat photography; bearded and unkempt, wearing full camouflage with a red headband and sunglasses and covered in Nikon photography gear, some of it visibly battered.
The Literary Inspiration for The Photojournalist
The Photojournalist appears in only three scenes, but despite these brief appearances, Hopper’s role is central to the sprawling story.
The Photojournalist is based on The Harlequin in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a Russian sailor who was Kurtz’s only European companion for several months before the steamboat arrives, and who acted as his listener and advocate.
The Harlequin and The Photojournalist are insiders obsessed with Kurtz’s genius who attempt to convert outsiders to his way of thinking. Here is the Photojournalist’s unsuccessful attempt to justify the severed heads on poles outside Kurtz’s headquarters:
“The heads. You’re looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far. But… he’s the first one to admit it.“
Both cut absurd figures: The Harlequin with his colourful patches and cheerful demeanour in such a hellish environment; the Photojournalist a parody of the crazed hippy combat photojournalist in a headband. Both have a tendency to babble.
This the Way the World Ends
Although the Photojournalist speaks many of the The Harlequin’s lines they do not play identical roles. The Photojournalist is also illustrative of the heavy price war photographers can pay, particularly the blurred lines between observer and participant and the internal conflicts set off by the accompanying moral ambiguity. The unimaginable trauma of Kurtz’s bloody compound and all that came before it must also weigh very heavily:
“This is the way the fucking world ends! Look at this fucking shit we’re in, man!“
An Ounce of Cocaine
Coppola builds the photojournalist’s crazed dialogue around lines from the Heart of Darkness and poems by Rudyard Kipling and T. S. Eliot. These are combined with Hopper’s hippy jive talk, which may have been delivered ad lib, fuelled by Hopper’s prodigious drug intake on set.
Hopper was reputed to difficult to work with on set because he was almost always high. George Hickenlooper’s documentary about the production Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse supports this: “Dennis recounted the story to me that Francis came to him and said, ‘What can I do to help you play this role?’ Dennis said, ‘About an ounce of cocaine.’
A Pair of Ragged Claws
This is in stark contrast to Coppola’s extensive use of poetry in the Photojournalists dialogue, which comes from Kurtz reading poetry to the The Harlequin in Heart of Darkness. The exceptionally strange last line of the speech below is from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Captain Willard : Could we, uh… talk to Colonel Kurtz?
Photojournalist : Hey, man, you don’t talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he’ll… uh… well, you’ll say “hello” to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you. He won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say, “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you”… I mean I’m… no, I can’t… I’m a little man, I’m a little man, he’s… he’s a great man! I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas…
The photojournalist’s evident admiration of Colonel Kurtz is because he had enlarged his mind, which is also what The Harlequin admired so greatly about Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.
We Were All Crazy
The role was suggested to Coppola by the set stills photographer Chas Gerretsen who advised Coppola that “we were all crazy” – and so the role was born. Chas had served in Vietnam and routinely carried Nikon F’s, some of which he sold to the production company for use in the film.
All that was left to do was to replace the role of Captain Colby, Willard’s predecessor, in which Hopper had originally been cast. Colby appears only very briefly and does not speak, surrounded by Montagnard natives and stroking a rifle. His appearance is set up in Willard’s briefing:
“There has been a new development regarding your mission which we must now communicate to you. Months ago a man was ordered on a mission which was identical to yours. We have reason to believe that he is now operating with Kurtz. Saigon was carrying him MIA for his family’s sake. They assumed he was dead. Then they intercepted a letter he tried to send his wife :
SELL THE HOUSE SELL THE CAR SELL THE KIDS FIND SOMEONE ELSE FORGET IT I’M NEVER COMING BACK FORGET IT
Captain Richard Colby – he was with Kurtz.“
Bad, Dope-Smoking Cats
The Cultural References section of Sean Flynn’s entry in Wikipedia references him as the basis for the Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. Though it is not substantiated it is entirely possible. Flynn, along with Englishman Tim Page, are portrayed as the lunatic journalists and “bad, dope-smoking cats” of Michael Herr’s classic book on the Vietnam War Dispatches.
Herr went “chopper-hopping round the war zone” with Page and Flynn, taking huge risks according to one reviewer of Dispatches. He later collaborated on the narrative of Apocalypse Now.
In Dispatches Herr described Page as the most extravagant of the “wigged-out crazies running around Vietnam”, largely due to his drug intake. Page’s Wikipedia page also describes him as part of the inspiration for the character of the Photojournalist, who specialised in wigged-out craziness:
“One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.“
I thought dialectic physics was pure invention and part of the madness. It is not, and is helpfully described as “a living method of cognising nature and of searching for new truths in modern science, and in physics in particular” in M. E. Omelyanovsky’s Dialectics In Modern Physics.
In Like (Sean) Flynn
Whether he acted as an inspiration for the role or not SeanFlynn, the only child of hell-raising screen legend Errol, has one of the most fascinating, but also one of the saddest stories of the war.
Initially following in his fathers footsteps as an actor (his first film was Son of Captain Blood, sequel to his father’s classic Captain Blood), he abandoned the craft to start a new life in Vietnam as a combat photographer.
He exploits are truly intrepid. He shot his way out of an ambush with the Green Berets with an M16; incurred injuries from a grenade fragment in battle; made a parachute jump with an Airborne Division, and identified a mine whilst photographing troops, saving an Australian unit from potential destruction. Flynn used a Leica M2 in Vietnam, and it came to light, complete with a strap that fashioned from a parachute cord and a hand grenade pin, just a few years ago.
The Disappearance of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone
In 1970 Flynn was captured by Viet Cong guerrillas at a checkpoint along with fellow photojournalist Dana Stone. The pair had elected to travel by motorbike rather than the limos the majority of photojournalists were travelling in. Neither he or Stone were seen again. Despite the efforts of his mother to find him, Flynn was declared dead in absentia in 1984 and the fate of two remains unknown, notwithstanding the continued efforts of friends and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the organisation responsible for recovering the remains of fallen soldiers.
Sean Finn’s story is told in a film inspired by his life entitled The Road to Freedom which was filmed on location in Cambodia in 2011. It also the subject of an eponymous track on the album Combat Rockby The Clash.
A CIA Kurtz?
Whilst the role of Colonel Kurtz and his ‘unsound methods’ was clearly inspired by ‘Heart of Darkness’, there is another potential influence which is less well known. This is revealed in the UK documentary ‘The Search for Kurtz’ which describes how CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Tony Poe and his leadership of Operation Momentum, which was launched in 1962 to turn the Laotian Hmong people into anti-communist guerrillas.
The Wrath of Klaus Kinski
Another significant influence for the Vietnam river epic is Aguirre, Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, starring a barely sane Klaus Kinski in the role of his life. The story follows the self styled ‘Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, King of Tierra Firme’ Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in search of El Dorado, city of Gold.
It is an astonishing and spectacular film, described by Robert Egbert as is “one of the great haunting visions of the cinema”. Curiously, I did not make the connection with Apocalypse Now until researching this article. Like Apocalypse Now, which was troubled by a heart attack, an overweight star, a mental breakdown and storms that destroyed the sets, the filming of Aguirre is the stuff of legend. Herzog allegedly pulled a gun on Kinski to force him to continue to act in the remote fever-ridden jungle district where the film was shot.
Has a character in a movie, especially an unnamed one, ever had such a rich set of sources?
The Photojournalist’s Cameras
The Photojournalist’s cameras are Nikon Fs with a variety of lenses; possibly a fast 50mm, a 105mm and a 200mm. This isn’t a a surprising photographer’s rig as the Nikon F, along with the Leica M2, was the leading film camera of the Vietnam war and carrying multiple cameras was common. Richard Crowe a former Combat Cameraman who served between 1966–1972 described the practice on the Q&A website Quora:
“If we are talking about photojournalists, they usually carried two to three 35mm cameras each with a different focal length lens. Nikon and Leica cameras were the favorites and the photojournalists usually owned their own equipment. The guys that I worked with often carried both a Leica with a UWA lens and two Nikons with normal and short telephoto lenses. The Canon SLR cameras of the day would often not stand up to the rough usage and dirt and grime in Vietnam. The photojournalists began to paint the silver portions of the camera bodies black so the camera would not be a point of aim for a sniper. Later on, camera companies began to supply cameras with black bodies and called them “Photojournalist Models”. BTW: no photojournalist that I knew or met ever carried a zoom lens on his camera. The early zoom lenses for SLR cameras were pretty crappy in image quality.”
The Nikon F was not the first SLR, that distinction belongs to the Exakta, which is the subject of another blog about photographers – Rear Window. Prior to its introduction, however, no SLR could challenge the mighty German rangefinder in the 35mm camera market; SLRs were often compared unfavourably to rangefinders as heavy, slow and less than reliable, with dim viewfinders.
The F swept away that dominance and many professional photographers abandoned Leica for Nikon. Leica lost its market dominance and never recovered it, though it has prospered in its niche of late.
The Nikon F brought many advancements to market simultaneously:
A system camera with interchangeable viewfinders and focusing screens
An automatic diaphragm and an instant-return mirror, which made it the quickest SLR by far.
An impressive lens line up
A large reflex mirror that kept the viewfinder bright, and reduced vignetting
A 100% viewfinder, an SLR first
A focal plane shutter with titanium-foil blinds—also a first
These advancements made the technical advantages of the SLR over the rangefinder compelling. The need to match lenses to frame lines and for external viewfinders to use wide angle lenses disappeared. Gone too were the framing and parallax compensation issues and the limitation on zoom and lenses longer than 135mm.
Over time the F became legendary for indestructible levels of reliability and durability. It still casts a long shadow.
The Legacy of Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is an iconic movie, savage and darkly comic, and an expedition through insanity from start to finish. It is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. I have watched it many times and it has retained its power for me.
Robert Egbert said of it: “Apocalypse Now is the best Vietnam film, one of the greatest of all films, because it pushes beyond the others, into the dark places of the soul. It is not about war so much as about how war reveals truths we would be happy never to discover.“
This article was inspired by classic film cameras in movies, taken from my own observations and from internet research and initially focused on the cameras in the films. From cameras in movies, it’s a short step to movies about photographers. My favourite movie about photographers is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but there are several others – some of which I’ve yet to see.
Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White (1989)
The Killing Fields (1991)
High Art (1998)
Harrison’s Flowers (2000)
Gentlemen’s Relish (2001)
City of God (2002)
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)
Everlasting Moments (2008)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window contains probably the most iconic photographer/film camera combinations in movie history. The film is based on a short story, “It Had to Be Murder” and stars Jimmy Stewart as LB ‘Jeff’ Jeffries, a New York magazine photographer. Recuperating from a broken leg, Jeffries is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment in Greenwich Village.
Jeff’s rear window looks out onto a courtyard and his neighbour’s apartments, which he observes during his convalescence in a stifling Manhattan summer. The include a lonely middle-aged woman, a new wed couple, a dancer, a husband and his sick wife, an alcoholic pianist and a couple who often sleep out in the balcony in the hot weather. Jeff’s observations include some suspicious sounds and behaviour and he becomes convinced one of his neighbours, Lars Thorwald, has committed a murder.
Inspirations for a Murderer
Mischievously, Hitchcock modelled the murderer on a former meddling producer he did not care for, David O. Selznick. Grace Kelly plays the archetypical Hitchcock blonde heroine in Lisa Carol Fremont, a stylish and resourceful socialite who has to engage in much of the action as Jeff is wheelchair bound. Although he did not write the the screenplay, Hitchcock also supplied colour for the murder story from two cases he head read about in the newspapers: the infamous Dr. Crippen and the less well remembered Patrick Mohan, both of whom dismembered their victims.
The Role of the Photographer
Rear Window is another of my favourite films, and the role of the photographer is pure Hitchcock. David Campany describes it well in the essay Re-viewing Rear Window:
“For Hitchcock’s purposes, a photographer is above all someone who looks. It is their socially accepted voyeurism that is significant, not their images. Voyeurism requires a safe distance, a vantage point for the observer beyond the reach of the observed (much like a movie audience, watching but not accountable). In Rear Window, the photographer is cut off not just by the lens of his camera, or by the glass window of his apartment, or indeed by the abyss of the courtyard across which he stares. It is his professionalized looking, with its fantasy of objectivity, that cuts him off. It demands his separation from the world. Despite witnessing what he believes is a murderer covering his traces, he feels no urge to get it on film. Rather, he uses his camera’s long lens as a telescope to watch, swapping it for binoculars when things get really intense.”
That Obscure Object of Desire
Jeff’s camera was an Exakta Varex VX 35mm film SLR made by the improbably named Ihagee of Dresden, which was in East Germany at the time. This manufacturer is best known for the Kine Exakta (1936-1948), the first 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera in regular production.
The Exakta Varex VX was introduced in 1951 and was based on the Kine Exakta. The Exakta Varex VX was a system camera that could be used with either a waist level finder or with a pentaprism and a variety of focusing screens. Other specialised equipment available for the camera system included microscope adaptors, extension bellows, stereo attachments and medical attachments.
Exakta as Witness
In addition to a staring role in Rear Window Josef Koudelka used an Exacta Varex to photograph the invasion of Prague in 1968. He had returned to Czechoslovakia from Romania recording his photo-essay Gypsies (also with an Exacta Varex) two days before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
These photographs, of crowds staring down the barrels of tank guns, defiant youths waving resistance flags in smouldering streets and anti-Soviet graffiti that sprang up every day and was whitewashed every night, came to define one of the pivotal moments of 20th-century history. However Josef Koudelka would have to wait another 16 years for an exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery before being credited as the photographer. Until then, the pictures had been attributed to PP (Prague Photographer) to protect Koudelka and his family from reprisals.Josef Koudelka: the lonely, rebel photographer
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window the Exakta Varex VX was paired with a huge 400mm telephoto lens; the catchily named Kilfitt fern-kilar f/5.6 model. The f/5.6 400mm lens weighed 1.76kg and almost certainly required a tripod to obtain sharp shots.
Collectively the camera/lens combination is known as the ‘Rear Window stalking camera’ and is much desired by collectors.
Although scarcely known today beyond its association with the Hitchcock classic, Kilfitt was an innovative German lens manufacturer who introduced the first production varifocal (zoom) lens for still 35mm photography – The Zoomar of 1959, which arrived the same year as the Nikon’s game changing F. Kilfitt also produced the first macro lens to provide continuous close focusing in 1955. If you are interested in photography milestones such as these, take a look at the timeline on this site.
My Own 400mm Rear Window Lens
I have a 400mm lens prime also. Not wanting to spend several thousand on a lens I would use only occasionally I purchased an old school manual focus Nikon Ai-S 400m f3.5 IF-ED from a Japanese eBay seller – just like this reviewer, who has included a couple of great sample shots.
A Beast of a Lens
It’s an all-metal 2.8kg beast of a lens, a whole 1kg heavier than the Rear Window 400mm, and built like the proverbial tank. Mine came with a protective clear 122mm filter, which made it even better value. It is an amazing piece of kit but not the most practical. There’s no VR and it requires a tripod and a gimbal head, which makes the combined shooting weight pretty substantial.
The first version of the lens was introduced in 1976 and was followed in 1977 by an Ai version. Mine is the Ai-S lens version introduced in 1982 and which can be identified by the minimum aperture number which is engraved in orange. The expression ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’ was never more true than with this lens which is an incredibly solidly engineered piece of work.
I used it originally for shots of the moon with the Z7 and the FTZ adapter using focus peaking, but I have recently acquired the new 100-400 mm zoom for that kind of shot. It’s better optically of course, and far lighter, but has nothing like the presence. I’ve kept the old monster for use with my older Nikon cameras – the F series and FM film classics. Sometimes, only film will do.
The date for our departure on our long anticipated road trip in the Faroe Islands finally arrived on the 25th May 2023. Our first was flight from Stanstead, UK to Aalborg, Denmark, an old city on the Limfjord where Viking ships once sailed. As it was a late afternoon flight with a decent layover we had time to head into the city for quick dinner with our Danish friends who would be accompanying us in Aalborg.
The final flight, on Atlantic Airways, arrived at Vágar Airport (Vága Floghavn in Faroese, IATA: FAE). This is the sole airport serving the Faroes on the island of Vágar. The landing was flawless, despite a nasty cross wind. The airport was built by the British Army during World War II and site was chosen largely because it was hard for German warships to observe from the sea! This is not the only legacy of the British in the Faroe Islands, as the locals apparently continue to enjoy British staples such as fish and chips and Dairy Milk chocolate.
It was late when reached the Hotel Brandan in Tórshavn so we retired after a quick night cap.
For those interested in photography, in addition to the shots on this page, you can find my black and white gallery here. Also on this site, Part I of this blog provides a bit more background to The Faroe Islands and describes why it is well worth visiting.
Where to Stay in The Faroe Islands?
We had a short debate about where to stay in The Faroe Islands, particularly as to whether we should stay in a remote location or in the city. Although we found some lovely cabins out in the wilds, eventually we decided that it would be best to base ourselves in the capital city Tórshavn. We found this decision suited us very well.
We travelled to some fairly remote locations during the day and Tórshavn felt like a metropolis in comparison. The Hotel Brandan was comfortable, hotel amenities were very welcome, the staff were friendly and the excellent breakfast set up us nicely each day.
Road Trip Day 1. Rain, Vestmanna and The National Gallery
We awoke full of excitement on our first full day, and after breakfast headed for the village of Vestmanna (West Men), on the northwest coast of Streymoy, the main island. It is a short drive, just half an hour or so from our hotel. We took the scenic mountain road Oyggjarvegur and stopped near Kaldbaksbotnur, a village of just two farms, near Kaldbaksfjørður and took in the spectacular views of the fjord.
Vestmanna is a medium sized Faroese village best known for boat tours to the Vestmanna bird cliffs. The boat was sailing that day, but as we had already booked two other boat trips and it was raining we elected to visit the Saga Museum by the harbour and grab a coffee. Piracy was a common hazard in Vestmanna for centuries and features quite heavily in the various stories told by the wax figures and accompanying audio at the Museum.
The Epic Voyage of St. Brendan The Navigator
The first of the waxwork figures we encountered is of an Abbot. This figure, and accompanying audio, tells the story of St. Brendan The Navigator, an Irish Monk. He is important in the story of The Faroe Islands because of the epic journey he is said to have made across the North Atlantic in the sixth century, which was recorded in a ninth century text. During the voyage, Brendan visited an island which he described as The Paradise of Birds and a larger island described as The Island of Sheep. It’s not hard to see how this could have been The Faroe Islands, an archipelago whose name means Island of Sheep.
The National Gallery, Listasavn Føroya
We returned to Tórshavn, a name that rather pleasingly translates as Thor’s harbour. For the mythologically inclined, Thor’s most nautical myth is an account of his fishing trip to catch Jörmungandr (Jormungand) the Midgard Serpent.
On the return journey we took the other (non-scenic, but still scenic!) road from Vestmanna. We had a pleasant walk around Tórshavn harbour before heading for Listasavn Føroya, the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands, which is a great rainy day location to visit.
The National Gallery houses a large collection of nearly 3,000 works of Faroese art of which only around 10% are displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition. These are divided into themes, and the museum is well worth visiting. There was a lot of great work on show, but I particularly enjoyed the work of Sámal Joensen-Mikines, Edward Fuglø (particularly ‘Colony’) and Rannva Kunoy. There are trees around the museum which is quite a novelty on the Faroes, which is treeless across most of the islands.
In the evening we dined at Áarstova, a lamb and seafood restaurant in Tórshavn. It is named after the house two famous local poets, Hans Andrias Djurhuus and Janus Djurhuus, were born in. The food, setting and service were all excellent.
Day2 . Wind, Klaksvík and Gjógv
The second day we headed to Tórshavn to Klaksvík via Route 10 and the Eysturoy tunnel. This incredible feat of engineering, which took several years to compete, shortens the drive from just over an hour to a little over 30 minutes. All the sub sea tunnels charge a toll, which was applied by our hire car company. It was exciting to see the world’s first undersea roundabout (aka the jellyfish roundabout), after which we drove up the East coast of Skálafjørður, the longest fjord in the Faroe Islands, passing half a dozen or so small villages.
Encountering a Skrid
There is a very small road about halfway across one of the narrowest parts of Eysturoy which provides wonderful views of the bay of Gøtuvík. We stopped and took a few shots there. It was so windy we could hardly stand up straight to take our photographs. Reading a local weather report later, that was hardly surprising as we were experiencing a skrid – a gale force (8) wind. Beyond that, at force 9, is a stormur a strong gale, and a hvassur stormur, which blows at storm force 10.
Syðrugøta – and a Saga
We rounded the end of Gøtuvík bay, passing Syðrugøta, where The Faroe Islands’ most famous Viking age Chieftain Tróndur í Gøtu (c. 945 – 1035) is said to have lived. He is a central character in the Færeyinga saga, the Faroe Islands’ saga which tells of the arrival of Christianity, and his opposition to it.
For those interested in the strange world of the Norse I can highly recommend a book that provides a thoroughly entertaining deep dive into it: TheChildren of Ash and Elm. This is written by a scholarly archaeologist who happens to posses a great sense of humour.
Shortly after we passed Syðrugøta it started to rain quite heavily and the wind picked up, but this didn’t deter the women playing football on a windswept pitch in one of the small towns we passed through. We were in awe of their resilience.
On to the Northern Islands
After crossing Leirvíksfjørður, the fjord that separates the islands of Eysturoy and Borðoy, via the 6km long Norðoyartunnilin (The Northern Isles Tunnel) we drove into Klaksvík, the capital of the four Northern Islands; Borðoy, Kunoy, Kalsoy, and Viðoy. Borðoy was the only one of the four we visited, but we got great views of Kalsoy later that day from the village of Gjógv.
Klaksvík – The Harbour amongst the Mountains
Klaksvík is the main fishing port for the islands and the second largest city. Despite this, before the sub sea tunnel Norðoyartunnilin opened it must have been quite isolated. It is in an impressive location, sitting between two fjords and surrounded by high mountains that rise from the shoreline, which made for some great pictures.
A Faroese knitwear shop, Tógvhandilin, beckoned. Klaksvík is one of three main towns with shops, the others being Tórshavn (the clear leader) and Runavík. There is a knitwear festival in the islands each year. Each of us bought something – hats, mittens and a sweater. Faroese knitwear is very well made and amazingly warm.
My hat was certainly a welcome upgrade when we were out at sea later on the trip. Before we left we had coffee and something to eat at Fríða Kaffihús, a nearby café. This recommendation came from the knitwear shop and proved to be a winner.
Our next destination was Gjógv, a small, colourful fishing village located on the northeast tip of the island of Eysturoy, overlooking the island of Kalsoy. It is about 30 miles from Klaksvík and is located at the end of a deep valley, with no other villages in sight.
We parked and walked down towards the village, which sits on either side of a river. The majority of Gjógv’s houses are modern but colourful and make for a lovely spectacle as you walk down the hill towards the sea. It was a lovely start, but it gets even better.
Walking down to the shore we found breath taking views over the volcanic shore to the Island of Kalsoy. One of our party observed that the coast resembled one she had seen in South Africa, and having seen something similar myself, I agreed. The village gets its name from a 200-meter-long gorge, which was used for centuries as a natural harbour and is also quite something to behold.
Some Welcome Waffles
After taking in the views for some time we enjoyed the local speciality of Faroese waffles (vaflur) with rhubarb jam at Gjáarkaffi, a tiny coffee house. It turns out that rhubarb is one of the few vegetables that grows in the tough climate of the Faroe Islands. My memories of British rhubarb and custard are not especially fond ones, but the slightly sharp jam was a superb accompaniment to the waffles.
A Different Kind of Surf and Turf
We drove back to Torshavn, well pleased with the day, and completed it with dinner at Barbara. This is a fish restaurant, which serves a multi course tasting menu described as tapas. It is set in a very old turf-roofed house which has an interior full of character. I particularly liked the old black and white photos of life in the Faroe Islands in the early twentieth century. We had high expectations of the restaurant and it did not disappoint, though like all the best restaurants in town, the bill was quite steep.
Day 3. History: Kirkjubøur and Sandur
Next up on our road trip was Kirkjubøur. This is the country’s most important historical site and the southernmost village on Streymoy. Here, in close proximity, are the ruins of the Cathedral, the oldest church still in use, and an ancient log house which has been continuously inhabited since the sixteenth century by one of the leading families of the Faroe Islands. Most of the houses in the village are dressed in classic pitch-black with turf roofs and there are views of the islands of Hestur, Koltur and Sandoy.
Kirkjubøur was the seat of the Faroese bishop from the 12th century until the Reformation, and the church there was the most important in the islands. The medieval village was larger than it is today with around 50 houses. Most of these were washed away by a storm in the 16th century.
What remains is still fascinating.
The farm house Kirkjubøargarður is one of the oldest constantly inhabited wooden houses of the world and the oldest part, the Roykstovan, (the smoky room) dates to the 11th century. This part of the building is open to the public. The Patursson Family, who have played a number of important cultural and political roles in the history of the Faroes, has occupied the farm since 1550 and is still resident.
Saint Olav’s Church – Ólavskirkjan
Saint Olav’s Church or Ólavskirkjan dates from about 1250 (though I’ve seen older dates). What is agreed is is that it is the Faroe Islands oldest church still in use.
Saint Olav is the patron saint of the Faroe Islands (and of Norway). He is celebrated each year at Ólavsøka (Saint Olav’s Wake), a two-day celebration held on 28th and 29th of July. Many Faroese gather in the capital Tórshavn, some in traditional Faroese dress, greeting those they meet with “Góða (Good) Ólavsøka!”.
A set of carved pew ends from the church, known as the Kirkjubøur chairs, are now in the National Museum. We didn’t get to that museum on the trip, but there are some great images of them on a set of postage stamps issued by Postverk Føroya in the 1980s.
The museum also holds a runestone, the Kirkjubøur stone, which was found in the church in 1832. The glass art in the front gate was made by painter, sculptor, glass artist and explorer Tróndur Patursson.
The Epic Brendan Voyage – Part II
In 1977 this intrepid member of the Patursson family accompanied British explorer and historian Tim Severin across the North Atlantic on the Brendan, a replica of a replica of St. Brendan’s currach in an attempt to prove this feat was possible. It was! Setting out from Tralee, Ireland, this remarkable, two-masted boat of ancient design, wrapped with ox hides and sealed with animal grease, successfully made the 4,500 mile crossing, arriving in Newfoundland Canada. The voyage took over 13 months and the route took in the Hebrides, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
St. Magnus Cathedral
Close to both St Olav’s church and Kirkjubøargarður farm house is Magnus Cathedral, a ruined cathedral, built around 1300, which is commonly said to have been abandoned before it was a finished, though recent research suggests it did indeed get a roof. The ruins are the largest medieval building in the Faroe Islands and stand as a reminder of a time when the small village it looms over was the religious centre of the islands.
By way of extreme contrast to the epic Brendan Crossing, our first sailing in the Faroes was the short ferry crossing from Gamlarætt to Skopun on Sandoy. This is the only island in the archipelago with sand dunes. The ferry rolled considerably in the swell but the journey took less than 30 minutes. This service will soon be replaced by a sub sea tunnel which is under construction. Our point of arrival, Skopun, is a niðursetubygd, a unique Faroese term for a settlement or village of modern origin (19th century) which has no outlying land belonging to it.
The Old Church in Sandur
From Skopun we drove down to the town of Sandur, walked around the old church which is the 6th on the site, and took in the view. The first of these churches was an 11th century stave church. Also dating from the 11th century is a hoard of silver coins that was found in the graveyard. The sandy beaches may have welcomed settlers well before the Viking age as evidence of settlement in the 4th-6th century was found on the island in 2007.
Returning to the harbour at Skopun we took some pictures of some old abandoned boats just beyond the harbour, before boarding the ferry and returning to Tórshavn via Gamlarætt.
A Literary Lunch
We had a late lunch in the Paname Café in Torshavn after a wander in the excellent bookshop that is in the same building. The fare in the café was first rate. The bookshop, H.N. Jacobsens Bókahandil, was established in 1865 and is the oldest in the islands. The building that houses the café and bookshop has the classic Faroese grass roof and red exterior and is quite a landmark in Tórshavn. It’s a great place to hang out for a while.
Another wander in the old town was followed by a short rest at the hotel and before we knew it was it time for dinner, which we took in the hotel. The bar was crowded with Icelanders who seemed to be having a most excellent time.
Day 4. Sea Stacks and a Waterfall into the Sea
Our last day of our road trip on The Faroe Islands took us on Route 50 back to Vágar, the home of the airport in the western part of the Faroe Islands. We crossed via the sub sea tunnel and drove through Sandavágur with its landmark bright red-roofed church. Soon we reached Sorvágur, a little town most visitors frequent only to sail to the famed bird island of Mykines.
Later that day we would heading out to the sea stacks by boat. After a short wander around the harbour and town we headed on to Gásadalur and its famed waterfall that empties into the sea.
A Miss and A Myth
We passed Lake Leitisvatn, also also known as Sørvágsvatn, and more commonly theFloating Lake because of the optical illusion it presents when seen from Trælanípa cliffs. This view requires a one hour hike. Though we planned to see this, to our regret we didn’t make it.
We did however, see the silver statue of a Nykur (also known as a Nixie or water spirit) at the lake. We took this to be a prancing horse, but despite its equine form this is no pony, but a sinister mythical beast and the subject of Faroese legend.
The Nykur has the rather unfortunate habit of luring the unwary to mount it or touch it, after which its sticky skin keeps them attached and they are dragged down and drowned in the lake. The word Nykur may well be related to Old English nicor (water monster) used in the epic poem Beowulf.
Gásadalur and Múlafossur
Gásadalur is home to the spectacular waterfall Múlafossur. There are only about 30 waterfalls that empty directly into the sea in the world and I had never seen one before. It is quite something, and made all the more special by the seabirds that fly in front of it.
A farm dog followed us as we walked towards the waterfall and wanted to play. We threw a stone for him which he ran after and jealously guarded for a while, before realising it. He stayed with us for some time.
Nearby the waterfall in Gásadalur is a café and guesthouse in a working farm, Gásadalsgarðurin, which sells local art and serves locally sourced food. Here I tried another local delicacy – fermented meat. The farm breeds bull calves organically and their fermented meat is used in a beef soup. The soup has been recognised at Embla, the Nordic Food Awards.
We walked around the harbour and then to the boat, where we met our skipper, an avuncular and highly capable Faroese named Elias.
We had booked the boat to sail to Drangarnir, the Faroe Islands’ most famous rock formations. There are two sea stacks, Stóri Drangur (large sea stack), a spectacular sea arch, and its companion Lítli Drangur (small sea stack).
Beyond the stack stacks lie Mykines. We had booked a trip to the island earlier in our stay but never reached it due to bad weather, which is not uncommon.
Elias talked of his life in The Faroe Islands and the childhood he spent there. It was great to hear directly from a Faroese. His description of an active life, bound by community and much closer to nature made a great case for life on the islands. We also learned that our food in Gásadalsgarðurin had been cooked by his mother and served by this sister!
Bøur Beach and Village
We sailed past the picturesque village of Bøur, which must have one of the best views in the islands. It overlooks Drangarnir, as well as the uninhabited islands of Gásholmur and Tindholmur. There is a tiny beach of black volcanic sand nearby, which is likely be one of the quietest beaches in the world.
We finished the day at Katrina Christiansen – a fish restaurant with a history. The building is early eighteenth century and the informative website describes how it started as a barbershop, before becoming a general store and home to William Heinesen a well known Faroese poet, writer, composer and painter. The menu offers a choice of tasting menu, and both fare and service were excellent, with the cod cheeks and Faroese beef and mashed potatoes being the standouts.
Return and Reflections
Our return to the UK was via Copenhagen as the connection at Aalborg was just too tight for comfort. I will confess to feeling a little lost when I returned to Oxfordshire and kept my slightly battered and much annotated map of The Faroe Islands in my pocket for a few days. The post holiday blues have passed now and I am extremely happy and grateful to have been able to make the trip.
A road trip in the Faroe Islands is a much more practical proposition than I had thought and the islands are quite unlike anywhere else.
I saw some of the most stunning landscapes in the world – rugged, sculptured, dramatically lit, and painted shades of green I have never seen before. They are also largely untouched and possess a distinctive and fascinating cultural identity.
Beyond The Faroe Islands: Other Road Trips on this Site
If you’ve enjoyed reading about our road trip in The Faroe Islands, you might enjoy some of the others I have made.
Why visit the remote and northerly Faroe Islands? A volcanic archipelago of 18 islands situated between Iceland and Norway in the most turbulent part of the North Atlantic might not seem like the most promising destination for a road trip. However, as I found recently, the islands proved to be an epic setting for a motoring holiday .
The Gift of the Gulf Stream
The Faroe Islands are located on the 62nd parallel in the North Atlantic, northwest of Scotland and about halfway between Iceland and Norway. The island’s closest neighbours are the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
This is generally a rather chilly part of the world; the Arctic starts only a couple of parallels up at 64.2°N. The icy Bering Sea, The Sea of Okhotsk on the Eastern coast of Siberia, Alaska and the Hudson Bay are some of the cold and rather inhospitable neighbourhoods at this latitude.
Fortunately, the Faroe Islands sits right in the heart of the Gulf Stream. This creates a temperate marine climate with minimal temperature variation. The average temperature ranges from around 3°C in winter, which is very moderate for so northerly a location, to an admittedly rather cool 12°C in the summer. The harbours never freeze and snow is short lived.
The Connected Archipelago
Like north west Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetland, the Faroe Islands are notoriously windy, resulting in extremely choppy seas. In years gone by this severely restricted travel between the 17 inhabited islands – especially in bad weather or at night.
This presents few problems today as the islands are well connected by an impressive series of sub sea tunnels, making it easy to travel across them by car. One sub sea tunnel even has a roundabout – the world’s first undersea roundabout, AKA the jellyfish roundabout. The Faroe Islands have a good infrastructure, with an excellent road network. Over half the islands’ electricity is produced from sustainable sources like wind power.
The archipelago is 113km (70 miles) long and 75km (47 miles) wide, with an area of about 1,400 square kilometres (540 sq. mi.). This makes it slightly larger than half the size of Luxemburg and the 170th largest country by area.
A road trip is an eminently practical proposition.
The Wild Beauty of The Faroe Islands
The Faroes are also an utterly beautiful and somewhat otherworldly place to visit.
You will never be more than 5 km (3 miles) away from 1100 km (687 miles) of spectacular coastline. This is deeply indented with fjords, dotted with imposing sea stacks and has many steep rocky cliffs, many of which are populated by colonies of seabirds.
The rugged landscape, composed of volcanic rock and sculptured by glaciers, has high mountains, deep valleys and many waterfalls. Nothing much grows above ground, so the contours of the land are always on show and the treeless slopes contribute to the islands’ wild beauty.
With all this on offer, the Faroe Islands are a landscape photographer’s paradise.
The two photographers in our party took a medium format Hasselblad System V film camera, a Nikon F3, a Leica Q2, a brace of modern Nikon digital cameras and a selection of lenses from 24mm to 500mm. I also made use of my iPhone Pro, especially from within the car. We were both pleased with the results, some of which you can see in this article. You will find the main black and white photo gallery here.
Constantly Changing Light
Although the archipelago sees less than 850 hours of sunshine per year, the northern light is ideal for photographers and artists. The light is never the same for long; the changeable maritime climate produces brilliant sunshine one minute and misty hill fog the next. Rainfall and cloud are both frequent.
Our Faroese skipper on our sailing trip out to the sea stacks joked that it rains 300 days a year. That’s an exaggeration, as it only rains for 210 days! You can of course pick the month of your visit, and June has the fewest wet days at 12. As they say in The Faroe Islands (and in Iceland), “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Inevitably we encountered some rain on our trip, but it didn’t trouble us.
At this latitude the sun is also up (but not always visible!) for nearly 20 hours at the summer solstice.
A Fascinating History: Settlement of the Faroes
Unlike most of the world, human colonisation did not occur in pre history. Evidence of settlement on the Faroe Islands goes back to the mid-fourth century, though the people are unknown. This was followed by Irish monks in the eighth century, who may have established Christian communities.
Norse settlements followed in the ninth century, resulting in a Norse culture. The name Føroyar (Faroe Islands) is derived from old Norse and means Sheep Islands. The Faroese language, which is closely related to Icelandic, derives from the Old Norse language of these Norsemen, which developed into modern Nordic languages in the mid-to-late 14th century.
It’s possible there is some Gaelic language in Faroese as place names such as Mykines, Stóra Dímun and Lítla Dímun may contain Celtic roots.
The conversion of the islanders to Christianity came c. 1000 from Norway. In the same century the Faroe Islands may well have formed a stepping stone beyond Shetland for the journey across the North Atlantic to America. The islanders established their Althing (parliament), later named Løgting, at Tinganes in Tórshavn, the capital city.
The islands became a Norwegian province in 1035 and passed to Denmark with the rest of Norway in 1380. Later the islands became a Danish royal trade monopoly, which inhibited economic development for many years.
A Fascinating History: The Faroese Strike Back
Rising Faroese national identity and a shift to fishing as the islands’ main commodity led to the end of the Danish trade monopoly in 1856. Faroese national identity was further strengthened in the 19th century by the creation of a written Faroese language and the restoration of the Faroese Løgting (parliament). This body first sat in 825 and is likely to be the Parliament with the longest unbroken tradition. The Thingvellir of Iceland and Tynwald, on the Isle of Man, also make claim to this distinction.
The British occupation of the Faroes to protect against German incursions from occupied Denmark changed life in the Faroe Islands and strengthened demands for home rule. This resulted in autonomous status in 1948. As part of that move, Faroese was also given equal status with the Danish language.
The Unspoilt Faroe Islands
With a low population density, minimal industrialisation and tranquil untouched landscapes, the Faroe Islands offer a beautiful pristine environment that’s hard to find elsewhere.
The most substantial contributor to the the low level of industrialisation is the percentage of fishing and aquaculture in the thriving Faroese economy. This contributes virtually all the income from exports (around 95%). There is plenty of room for both of these activities: the Faroe Islands has self-identified as one of 15 Large Ocean States (LOS) with a maritime zone of 271,000 square kilometres. You will see Salmon farms in fjords and bays throughout the islands.
It’s also a very safe place with one of the lowest incarceration rates in the world. At the date of our visit, you wouldn’t quite be able to count the prison population on your fingers, but you could get pretty close! The prison is famous for its location, which has possibly the best views of the spectacular fjord Kaldbaksfjørður.
As you can see from the word ‘Kaldbaksfjørður’, the written language looks both Nordic and magnificently old. It contains the letter ‘Eth’ (ð) which is also to be found in Old English and Middle English.
Faroese Culture and Art
The Faroese people have a distinct cultural identity, rooted in their Norse heritage and many local traditions, including a long tradition of ballads (kvæði) and songs. These have helped to keep the Faroese language alive for centuries.
This is accompanied by modern Nordic design sensibilities, which are visible in many of the newer buildings.
For art lovers there are several galleries of Faroese Art to enjoy. The work we saw, which spans the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, really enriched our experience of the islands.
Faroese restaurant culture has changed drastically within the last decade, particularly in the capital. It is now much more common for Faroe Islanders to eat out and traditional Faroese food has become part of a burgeoning dining scene with new restaurants emerging regularly. We ate very well during our stay.
Why Visit The Faroe Islands? Why Not?
I hope this short article answers the question ‘why visit the Faroe islands?’ Yet, as I write this another question occurs to me: why did it take so long for me to visit the Faroe Islands?
In part II of this post I’ll describe the packed four day itinerary of our Faroe Islands road trip.
I have been photographing the ruined manor at Hampton Gay regularly over the last 20 years or so. Along the way I learned about the history of the manor, and became interested in the story of the family that built it. According to the landed families site the story of the Barry family at Hampton Gay starts with John Barry (d. 1546), a glover and landowner of Eynsham, Oxfordshire. The coat of arms of the Barry family dates back much earlier – to the reign of King Edward II (1307-1327) – but the connection to that time is no longer discernible.
Oxford, Sheep and the Manor
The Barry’s fortune and subsequent investment in the Manor at Hampton Gay came from John Barry, who moved to Oxford in 1536. He prospered substantially, becoming Oxford’s leading tax payer and holding the office of Alderman of Oxford, 1537-46 and Mayor 1539-41. In 1544 he purchased the Hampton Gay estate, but died just two years later, leaving some 1,900 sheep in his will.
The estate passed to his eldest son, Laurence Barry (d. 1577) and then to Laurence’s eldest son Vincent (1548?- 1615), who built the manor house. The exact date is not certain, but it probably dates from the 1580s.
Like many other landowners at the time, Vincent Barry enclosed the fields of the parish for sheep farming, which resulted in a revolt amongst the local labourers and farmers and a plot to murder him and his daughter. Barry was warned, and the revolt was thwarted. Several men were arrested and the ringleader was executed.
The Barry Inheritance
After Vincent Barry died it passed to his daughter Katherine and her husband Sir Edward Fenner (d. 1625). The next to inherit the estate was his cousin, Vincent Barry (1628-80) of Thame, Barrister-at-law and Justice of the Peace for Oxfordshire. He followed in turn by his son, also Vincent Barry (1660-1708).
The Sale of The Manor
The Rev. Vincent Barry (1660-1708), was a cleric and graduate of Oriel college, Oxford. He inherited Hampton Gay Manor from his father in 1679. In 1682, he was admitted to the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. The same year, he sold the Hampton Gay estate, sold the Manor in 1682 to Sir Richard Wenman (1657- 1690), 4th Viscount Wenman. This was possibly in order to provide for his widowed mother and other dependants. He subsequently became the vicar of Fulham. The Barry fortunes would then decline for some generations.
Re-establishment of the Barry family fortune
It was not until the nineteenth century that Sir Francis Tress Barry (1825-1907)re-established the Barry family’s fortune. He established himself in business in Bilboa and made a fortune from open cast copper mining in Portugal. Sir Francis purchased St. Leonard’s Hill, in Windsor, which he used to lend to the Prince of Wales during Royal Ascot. He was involved in various philanthropic projects, including making a Christmas gift of 6d to all the children in the London workhouses and workhouse schools. Sir Francis also owned Keiss Castle in Scotland, where he served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Caithness and financed the excavation of Nybster Broch, an Iron Age drystone structure nearby. Sir Francis had five sons and two daughters.
The following is from his obituary from the Morning Post, March 1st, 1907.
The late Baronet filled the position of British Vice-Consul for the province of Biscay, Spain, in 1846, and was Acting Consul for the provinces of Biscay, Santander, and Guipuzcoa in 1847. In 1854 Mr. Barry was offered by the Earl of Clarendon the appointment of British Consul at Madrid, but was obliged to decline it as he had established himself as a merchant at Bilbao. Returning to England shortly after, he joined his brother-in- law, Mr. James Mason, in the exploitation of the famous San Domingo copper-mines in Portugal, from which time many honours fell to him. He was decorated with the Order of Christ by the King of Portugal in 1863, five years after being raised to the rank of Commander of the same Order. In 1880 he was decorated by the King of Spain with the Cross of Naval Merit (Second Class). He acted as Consul-General in England for Ecuador in 1872. Sir Francis represented Windsor in the Conservative interest from 1890 to 1906. He was created a Baronet in 1899, and also held the Portuguese title of Baron de Barry. Sir Francis is succeeded by his son, Major Edward Arthur Barry, who was born in 1858.
The story of the Barry family at Hampton Gay resumes with Stanley Leonard Barry. He was born in 1873, the fifth and youngest son of Sir Francis Tress Barry. Educated at Harrow, he became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Berks Regiment (Militia) in 1891, and a Lieutenant in the 10th Royal Hussars, in 1894.
According to the Anglo Boer war site Barry served in South Africa in the South African War from 1899-1902 as as a Staff Captain. He was mentioned in despatches and highly decorated – receiving the Queen’s Medal with six clasps, the King’s Medal with two clasps, and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He also became a Brevet Major. A brevet was a military commission conferred for outstanding service but without a corresponding increase in pay.
After the South African war he served as Signalling Officer, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (Intelligence) and Assistant Military Secretary (AMS) to General Sir John French from 1900 to 1906.
During World War One Lieutenant Colonel Barry once again served under Sir John French, now Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. This time he served as Aide-de-Camp (ADC). He also served in attendance on HRH the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII, and the Duke of Windsor after his abdication), in the early years of the war.
From 1916 Colonel Barry served as Assistant Military Secretary, Home Forces, Horse Guards. He was mentioned in Despatches, made a Member of the Victorian Order (MVO) and a Companion of the Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) in 1915. He was also awarded the Chevalier, Legion of Honour.
After the war Colonel Barry was awarded an OBE, and was promoted to Brevet Colonel. He retired from the army in 1929 and lived in Long Crendon Manor, which was restored by renowned architect Phillip Tilden in 1920/21 under the direction of Colonel Barry’s future second wife.
Return – after 300 years
According the peerage.com, Colonel Barry married twice: Hannah Mary Hainsworth in 1906, and Laline Annette Hohler (formerly Astell) in 1927. His second wife was the widow of fellow WWI veteran and DSO holder Lt-Col. Arthur Preston Hohler, who survived the war but died soon after returning to England in 1919.
Colonel Barry had a daughter from his first marriage, Jeanne Irene Barry (1915-2008), who married the Hon. James McDonnell, the son of the 7th Earl of Antrim, in 1939.
Colonel Barry returned the Manor to the Barry family in 1928 when he purchased it from Wadham College. The family had last owned it 300 years previously, in 1628. The College had purchased it in 1862 for £17,500. It burned down just 15 years later.
The ruins of the manor remained in the Barry family after Colonel Barry died in 1943 but the story of the Barry family at Hampton Gay came to an end when his daughter, by then the Hon. Jeanne McDonnell, sold the ruins in 1975.
Photos of the Ruin
For more photos of the ruin take a look my galleries:
It’s hard not be distracted from Vivian Maier’s work by her life. As told in the 2015 documentary Finding Vivian Maier, the extraordinary stories of her life and the discovery of her work have contributed substantially to her posthumous status as a photographic legend.
Taking in the first UK exhibition of her work Vivian Maier: Anthology, in Milton Keynes, I was determined to avoid that. Vivian Maier’s work demands our full attention.
As Enigmatic as the Smile of the Mona Lisa
The challenge of admiring Vivian Maier’s work is that her life story is so unusual and her work so deeply entwined in it, that it is extremely difficult not to get lost in it. Her experimental self portraits, frequently cast in shadow or captured in a reflection, contribute to this challenge. Sometimes they are playful, often slightly mischievous and occasionally ghostly, but every glimpse draws you into the life of an extraordinary woman. Her appearance is as enigmatic as the smile of Mona Lisa and it’s hard not be fascinated by her and dwell on her extraordinary story.
The White Bear
Not dwelling on Vivian Maier’s life story when looking at her work is so difficult that it reminds me of the famous test of the white bear. As a boy, Tolstoy and his friends founded a club with the sole membership requirement of standing in a corner for 30 minutes and not thinking about a white bear. This is called intentional thought suppression, and it is difficult to achieve. There is a book on the subject: White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts.
A Guardian review of Anthology argues that the exhibition of 146 images overcomes this problem, and I agree. ‘The extraordinary life story of the nanny who was secretly a street photographer can overshadow her groundbreaking images – but at the first UK show of her work they take spectacular centre stage’ was Sean O’Hagan’s summary.
The text that greeted me on the wall of the Anthology exhibition by curator Anne Morin described her life in just 75 words.
Vivian Maier’s work was unknown to most people for the vast majority of her life. While working as a nanny in New York and Chicago for over 40 years, she photographed daily life on the streets. She produced over 140,000 images as well as film and audio recordings. Maier’s work came to light in 2007, just before her death, when her huge archive was auctioned off from a Chicago storage locker due to missed payments.
Vivian Maier: Anthology, Milton Keynes, June-September 2022, curated by Ann Morin
I’ll leave it at that. Morin’s introduction, captured by my iPhone, then went on to describe her work.
Her images, mostly from the 1950s – 1970s, present a distinctive record of urban America. From carefree children and glamorous housewives to the homeless and poor, Maier’s pictures capture the highs and lows of everyday life. Street scenes with shop fronts, arcades and architectural images play with perspectives and patterns. Smouldering furniture, abandoned toys and tangles of electrical cables set the scene as families, workers and commuters go about their daily business.
Vivian Maier: Anthology, Milton Keynes, June-September 2022, curated by Ann Morin
What struck me about Vivian Maier’s work, particularly her square framed black and white street photography, is the unique combination of ‘how did she do that?’ composition, shot making excellence and an extraordinary probing empathy for her subjects.
The strange, rather detached, but still evident humanity that characterises Maier’s street photography work is arresting. In another Guardian review Adrian Seattle concludes with ‘We could talk of a compassionate eye but I’m not sure it helps or even if it is true. It was all the same to Maier and she didn’t flinch or pass by.’ The autobiography Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nannyby Ann Marks records that Maier was once described as an extraterrestrial by an acquaintance, and I think I understand why. There’s that white bear again.
Vivian Maier’s Cameras
Much of the exhibition shows images taken on the iconic 6 x 6 medium format Rolleiflex, for which Maier is most famous. A little online research revealed that, like many photographers of the period, she started out with a simple Kodak Brownie box camera. Maier acquired her first Rolleiflex in the early 50’s and over the course of her career used a Rolleiflex 3.5T, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rolleiflex 2.8C and a Rolleiflex Automat. The Rolleiflex is solidly made and weighty, with the 3.5F tipping the scales at over 1.2 Kg.
The Iconic Rolleiflex
The Rolleiflex is a twin-lens reflex camera (TLR) which has two lenses with same focal length, one above the other. The bottom lens is used to take the picture, while the top lens is used for viewing the image. The two lenses are connected, so that the focusing screen displays what will be captured on film. Because the camera is held or suspended at waist level the viewfinder is often called a ‘waist level finder’. That viewpoint is quite different, and subjectively often better than an eye level view, simply because it is lower.
The viewfinder requires an angled mirror to reflect the image onto a matte focusing screen at the top of the camera, which the photographer looks down into. Unlike an SLR, in which the mirror moves out of the way when the shutter button is pushed, the mirror remains stationary. The advantage of this is that there is no ‘mirror slap’ or vibration from the mirror as it moves. This allows the Rolleiflex to shoot at lower shutter speeds hand-held.
The first TLR model is not known for certain, but the London Stereoscopic Company’s “Twin Lens Carlton Hand Camera“, from 1898, is a good contender. Mass adoption came later however, with the introduction of the Rolleiflex in 1929, developed by Franke & Heidecke in Germany.
Other Rolleiflex Users
Vivian Maier is one of the most famous Rolleiflex photographers. Other illustrious users include Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Bill Brandt, Robert Capa, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Doisneau, Helmut Newton and Gordon Parks. Amateur users included celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Grace Kelly.
Post Rolleiflex, Maier embraced the freedom a 35mm camera can provide, wielding a much more compact Leica IIIc rangefinder, an Ihagee Exacta SLR, (star of Hitchock’s Rear Window) a Zeiss Contarex SLR and a few other SLR models. Maier mostly used Kodak Tri-X black and white film, which was introduced in 120 form in 1954, and from the early 70s onwards Ektachrome colour film.
Shooting with the Rolleiflex 3.5F
I have a Rolleiflex 3.5F Twin Lens Reflex (TLR). It is a beautifully engineered camera and the view of the world is much improved through its ground glass screen. It really is magical. Achieving critical focus at wider apertures isn’t easy, however, and the Selenium light meter isn’t particularly accurate. The maximum speed the leaf shutter can deliver is 1/500 of a second. When you first use a Rolleiflex the lateral inversion and odd viewpoint can make you dizzy. Because of a balance problem, I’ve never quite conquered that.
To get the same beautiful waist-level view, but with a higher percentage of keepers and less dizziness, I have shifted my medium format allegiance to a Hasselblad 203FE, which is an SLR with a waist level finder. I have no idea why such a similar shooting experience doesn’t affect my balance. However, in terms of both usability and keepers, the Hasselblad’s almost supernatural light meter, auto exposure, astonishingly bright acute matte viewfinder and 1/2000 second focal plane shutter make its complexity worthwhile. Now and again I dust off my Rolleiflex and venture out with it, but as yet I have no images to cherish from those forays, but I haven’t given up.
I have no idea what percentage of keepers Vivian Maier had – and at this point, whilst her vast body of over 100,000 images is still being curated, (there’s the white bear again) I imagine even the archive manager of the biggest collection, John Maloof, doesn’t have the full picture yet, but every image I’ve seen is superbly executed. She clearly knew her craft very well indeed.
In Chicago in the early 1970s Maier switched to colour photography, shooting with a Leica IIIc rangefinder and various German SLRs. 35mm rangefinders and SLRs typically have eye level viewfinders and the change of viewpoint from waist level to eye level is a significant shift. Some of the work from this period seems to be as much about exploring colour as depicting the subject, and there are also less people and more objects, including found objects. I enjoyed the images, but my preference is for the earlier black and white square-framed Rolleiflex shots.
Vivian Maier’s Time Capsule
Much like opening up a time capsule, viewing her work makes you feel like a time traveller. Immersed in each piece of work, a glimpse into the life and times of a bygone era. Maier was ahead of her time; her images are timeless. Her empathic eye made her street portraits striking. Her images portray a great deal of affection toward her subjects. She had the knack for capturing the essence of her subjects. Vivian had a gift for entering the privacy of the people she photographed; her brilliance in reading human behaviour is undeniable. Like a movie trailer, her photographs leave us with more questions than answers. Cleverly timed. Always in the right place at the right time, with an intuitive sense of timing, effortlessly capturing moments of both high drama and sublime banality. It is not easy to make the mundane and everyday look extraordinary, but Vivian did with an expert sense of composition.
Vivian Maier: Anthology, Milton Keynes, June-September 2022, curated by Ann Morin
That sense of time travel is something only the greats can deliver. I had the same sensation when I came across the work of Brassai, who transported me to his dark and beautiful realm in 1930s Paris. Vivian Maier does the same for New York and Chicago from the ’50’s to the 70’s, delivering a head-shaking ‘how does she do that?’ experience, both in terms of her composition and crisp shot taking.
To be able to conjure up that sense of wonder and to transport us to another time and another place is a rare thing and I am grateful to the enigmatic woman who made it possible. And if that troublesome white bear sometimes intrudes, that’s a price worth paying.
With the crammed, tiny text engraved on the front plate that describes the rather eccentric ‘Autotime’ system, and a stylus on the back to engrave notes on the negative using the Autographic feature, the Kodak No2 Folding Autographic Brownie has plenty of unique points of interest.
It also has a good deal of ‘early camera’ DNA. Not only is the lens standard pulled out on a track fixed to the baseboard like a Victorian field camera, but the back is detachable, though it takes 120 roll film rather than a plate. This makes it one of the most interesting cameras I have ever come across, which inspired me to research and write this article.
The Kodak No 2 Folding Autographic Brownie is my oldest camera. From the serial number (109947) engraved on the foot it was probably manufactured in late 1916.
Perhaps this was around the time that the first Tanks saw action (mid September 1916) , or a little later in November, when the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest military operations in history, was coming to a conclusion.
For cameras made between 1915 and 1919 you can determine the date of manufacture of this camera with reasonable precision from the design changes listed by serial number at brownie-camera.com.
I bought it at a camera fair hosted by ImageX in Bicester, Oxfordshire and when I opened the camera up I discovered a Kodak London service sticker from 1953, proving it had a very long shooting life. Although the body shows quite a lot of wear and the aperture blades and shutter are slightly pitted, the camera is light-tight and in working condition – no doubt due to the care of attention of Kodak London.
Kodak’s Folding Cameras
This model of Brownie is a vertical format folding camera. Folding cameras originated in the 1850s, replacing the 1840s sliding-box design with leather bellows. See the article Early Cameras, a Timeline on this site for more on early camera design.
Kodak produced numerous folding models from the 1890’s until the 1960s. The first was the Folding Pocket Kodak which was introduced in 1897. The last was the Kodak 66, Kodak’s only post-war folder for 120 film rolls, which was manufactured in the UK between 1958 & 1960.
The non-box Brownies
The name ‘Brownie’ brings a low-cost box camera to mind, but Kodak manufactured several folding models in that famous and long-lived family of cameras between 1904 and 1926. The Folding Brownie series were Kodak’s least expensive folding roll film cameras and had a more basic specification than their Kodak branded counterparts. The also offered fewer optional configurations.
The first folding Brownie was the No. 2 Folding Brownie, which was introduced in 1904, with a model B introduced in 1907 as the Folding Pocket Brownie. These were the predecessors of the Autographic Brownies.
The No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie
The No 2 model in Kodak Autographic Folding Brownie series was produced from 1915-1926 for the type 120 Autographic film. The exact number of cameras manufactured of this type in that 11-year period isn’t known, but brownie-camera.com states that 540,000 were made before 1921. Kodak only made minor changes to the design during the production run.
The most notable of these changes is the early change from the square-ended box shape shown in the Kodak Advertisement. This was changed to a more to a more curved design in 1917 (from serial no 133,301 according to brownie-camera.com.) Another change that is useful in dating models is the shape of the foot, which was modified from an S-shape to a C-curve in 1919 (from serial no 133,301 according to the same source).
120 Roll Film Format – The Last Survivor
Kodak produced a huge number of different roll film formats with a variety of different negative sizes. 120 (or No.2 film as it was originally called, as per the name of this camera) is the only one still being manufactured. The larger 116 and 130 film utilised by other Autographic Brownie models have both been discontinued.
120 film is still used extensively by medium format photographers, and readily available. The No 2 Folding Autographic produces 8 exposures measuring 6 x 9 cm, which are the largest that can be obtained with 120 film.
6 X 9 is a less common format than 6 x 7 (e.g. the hallowed Pentax 67), 6 x 4.5 (e.g. Mamiya or Pentax 645 models) or 6 x 6 (e.g the legendary Rolleiflex). Some examples of 6 x 9 cameras include the Fuji GW690 series, Zeiss Super-Ikonta C, Plaubel 69W ProShift, Royer Teleroy and Agfa Record III. Some technical and field cameras can also take 6 x 9 film backs.
The Kodak Autographic System
Kodak was researching a way to allow the photographer to enter their own notes onto a negative when Henry Jacques Gaisman’s invention came to the company’s attention. ‘Jack’ Gaisman (1869 –1974) was a prolific inventor and the founder of the AutoStrop Company, a safety razor manufacturer. His patent was purchased for the sum of $300,000. It was such a large amount at the time to as to be newsworthy and the purchase was covered in the New York Times. Gaisman reputedly filed over one thousand patents including those related to swivel chairs, men’s belts, and carburetors, as well as razors and cameras.
The Kodak Autographic System uses a narrow slot covered by a light-tight hatch. To write a note, the user lifted the hatch, which revealed the film’s paper backing. A stylus held by a clip on the back of the camera next to the hatch was used to make a notation on the paper backing. The hatch was left open for a few seconds, depending on the prevailing light, which exposed the marked area and burned the note in. The text entered would appear in the margin of the processed print
Kodak’s autographic films (which were designated by an ‘A’ after the film size designation) made use of thin carbon paper sandwiched between the film and the paper backing.
There were two other models of Folding Autographic: the No 2A for the slightly larger 116 film, and the No 2C for 130 film, which produced the largest negatives. Kodak sold autographic backs as upgrades for their existing cameras.
The Kodak autographic was hailed in the original 1915 advertisement as ‘The biggest photographic advance in twenty years’. Kodak also promoted the Autographic with the slogan shown in the advertisement below: ‘Any negative worth the making is worth a date and title’.
During my research several sources mentioned the relatively scarcity of autographically annotated prints, so despite Kodak’s promotional efforts it is debatable how much the system was actually used in practice. It was discontinued in 1932.
Lens Options and Shutter Variants
There was a choice of two lenses. The higher end lens option is a rapid rectilinear which was widely used in more expensive cameras. The other is a very simple achromatic lens. They are easy to distinguish as the glass elements the achromatic lens are behind the shutter and the aperture.
Information on the focal length of either lens is hard to come by, but I have seen a reference to 98mm and a maximum aperture of f/7.9. Given the crop factor of a 6×9 image the 35mm equivalent is approximately 42mm, which is what I would expect from the shots I have taken.
Both lenses made use of the quirky and not particularly accurate Kodak ball bearing shutter until it was replaced in the last two years of manufacture by a Kodex shutter.
Shutter speeds are limited to 1/50 seconds and 1/25 seconds plus B (Bulb) and T (Time) for long exposures. In keeping with the rest of the camera, the shutter speed selection scale is rather eccentric with the B and T modes set between the ‘instant’ speeds.
The Autotime System
The Kodak Autographic System isn’t the only Kodak innovation on the camera. Setting the correct exposures was originally performed using the Kodak Autotime system, an early, and rather incomplete, automation system.
Using Autotime, the photographer selects the shutter speed to match the lighting conditions. The 1/50th second speed is marked “Brilliant” 1/25th “Clear” and guidance for “Gray”, “Dull” and “Very Dull” is marked in between. These make use of the slower, and manually, controlled Bulb and Time settings. Aperture selection is via a choice of subjects marked at the bottom of the shutter dial. These are “Portrait/Near View”, “Average View”, “Distant View”, “Clouds/Marine”.
The Autotime Patent
Autotime was patented in 1908. It was not a Kodak invention, nor was the idea fully implemented as it lacked the mechanically geared linkage between aperture and speed settings suggested by the inventor, Frank S. Andrews. I can find little about the visionary Mr Andrews except in this article on the Autotime scale. The concept was well ahead of its time, and it was not until the 1950’s that the coupling of aperture and speed settings was resurrected by Kodak in the Retina range of 35mm cameras.
The Autotime Scale was eventually abandoned along with the Autographic feature.
The Universal Scale (US) System
Below the Autotime labels are the numbers 1-4. These are from the Universal or Universal Scale System, often used on simple cameras prior to 1920. This system was adopted by the Royal Photographic Society of Britain in 1881, which was one of the first attempts to establish a standard for lens apertures. The numbers represent f/8, f/16, f/32, and f/64.
The No2 Kodak Autographic Folder in Use
My example has the simple lens option so my expectations from camera weren’t high, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I didn’t experience any of the light leaks that often plague cameras of this vintage, presumably because the bellows were replaced during the 1953 service – they are in excellent condition. The focus was reasonably sharp and the exposures fairly accurate.
Framing and Focusing
Framing isn’t easy as it relies on the tiny (1.5 cm x 1.5 cm) ‘Brilliant’ finder mounted above the lens. This creates a tiny and approximate representation of what the camera is pointing at. Peering down into the minute square of glass the photographer sees an image that is laterally reversed just like a viewfinder in a Rolleiflex, but much, much smaller! It is usable, though getting the horizon level isn’t easy.
Focus is very basic ‘scale focusing’ and is set via a scale on baseboard. This has just two pre-set distances that engage with a catch on side of the lens standard. I’ve only ever used the most distant of these (30m or 100 feet). I’ll get round to trying to shoot some portraits at some point and try out the 2.5m/8 feet setting.
Setting an Exposure
Setting an exposure isn’t difficult as there aren’t that many usable options! I always use 1/50th of a second as the 1/25th is a bit slow without a tripod, and I avoid setting the aperture wide open as this is likely to be when the rather unsophisticated lens will produce the softest image. This gives me a fixed shutter speed and a choice of 3 apertures, which I select after consulting the light meter on my iPhone. Given how forgiving black and white film is in terms of exposure latitude, I haven’t found it difficult to get a reasonably accurate exposure.
The shot above left was taken on a cloudy day with Kodak TMAX 100 pushed to ISO 200. I had to crop it as the horizon wasn’t straight. It is by no means a great shot of a wonderful location, but it does prove the Kodak to be surprisingly effective. I have a gallery of shots of the manor and you can also read about the story of the ruined manor and the lost village of Hampton Gay.
The shot below right was taken with same film from the first roll I shot from the pier in Deal, Kent. The shot is reasonably sharp and the image is uncropped as I managed to get the horizon straight. There is a dark patch in the centre of the sky, though I am not quite sure what caused it. This was evident in a couple of other shots from that roll. There are several galleries on Deal on this site.
Avoiding Film Fogging
Care needs to be taken of the red frame counter window on the back of the camera, which displays the frame counter numbers on the backing paper of the film. Early film had low sensitivity to red light so a combination of the backing paper on the film, plus the red window, prevented film fogging. Modern film is sensitive across the whole spectrum of light, so taping up the window whilst it is not in use helps prevent light getting into the camera. I haven’t experienced any fogging by removing the low tack tape I use to view the film counter when winding on, so it doesn’t present a real problem. This is similar to later frame counter windows that had little covers to prevent light leaks and were only opened whilst the photographer was advancing the film.
Some reviewers have developed work arounds for winding on ‘blind’ with the tape applied throughout but I haven’t found that necessary.
Loading and Unloading
Loading the camera with film isn’t especially difficult – I used this YouTube video to help me the first time round. I have found that my camera won’t wind on past frame 8, but I work round that by unloading the camera in darkness, and haven’t lost any frames as a result.
Getting in Touch and Further Reading
If you’ve any experience with the Kodak No 2 Autographic Folding Brownie, please leave me a note in the comments – I’d love to hear about it.
As a Nikon user and collector, I’ve noticed quite a few Nikon film cameras appearances in the movies and on TV shows. This short article outlines those appearances. I’ve also written in more detail about the Nikon F’s appearance in one of the all time great movies – Apocalypse Now and there is an equivalent article on Leica M cameras in the movies.
“The Nikon F reinforced its reputation and established itself as modern design icon through its starring roles in films such as Blow-Up, with David Hemmings as a fashion photographer in London; Apocalypse Now with Dennis Hopper as a Photojournalist; and, later, with Clint Eastwood as National Geographic photographer in The Bridges of Madison County.”
Nikon SLRs in Movies
Beyond those described above, the Nikon F series Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras appeared in several movies, including more greats like Full Metal Jacket and Taxi Driver. I found additional appearances from a little internet research, which revealed quite a few more. The Nikon F, F2, F3, F4 and F5 have all made appearances, but despite searching, I can’t find a movie with Nikon’s final pro SLR, the mighty Nikon F6 in it. Whilst I haven’t included TV, I am sure that my favourite TV detective, Columbo, used a Nikon F or F2 in one episode but I can find no reference to it. I suppose I will just have to watch every episode again… I am also yet to see another favourite, the Nikon FM3a on the screen, though the FM and FM2 have made appearances. With retro cameras becoming more popular its by no means impossible it’ll appear one day.
Lolita (1962, Nikon F1)
Blow-Up (1966 Nikon F)
The French Connection (1971, Nikon F Photomic)
Diamonds are Forever (1971, Nikon F)
The Killing Fields (1984, Nikon F)
Jaws (1975, Nikon F2)
Taxi Driver (1976, Nikon F2)
The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978, Nikon FM with MD motor-drive)
Apocalypse Now (1979, Nikon F)
Cannonball Run (1981, Nikon F)
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982, Nikon F)
Under Fire (1983, Nikon F2)
Ghostbusters (1984, Nikon FE2)
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Nikon F) Private Joker and Rafterman!
Gorillas in the Mist (1988, Nikon F)
Groundhog Day (1993, Nikon F Photomic)
The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Nikon F with S36 motor drive)
Heat (1995, Nikon F4)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Nikon F5)
Ronin (1998, Nikon FE2)
Ford v Ferrari (2019, Nikon F Photomic)
City of God (2002, Nikon F)
Walk the Line (2005, Nikon F Photomic)
The Bang Bang Club (2010, Nikon FM2)
Batman v Superman (2016, Nikon S3 Y2K)
Ford v Ferrari (2019, Nikon F Photomic)
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020, Nikon F3 HP)
The First SLR?
Today many people think of the Nikon F as the first Single Lens Reflex camera, but it was actually the much less well known Ihagee (who made the Exakta VX Ihagee Dresden famously used in Rear Window) that manufactured the first 35mm SLR outside of prototypes. The F brought the innovations and features of earlier models into a single body so well that earlier models seem to have faded from consumer memory. Its effect on the camera market is similarly profound as it ended the dominance of German rangefinders from Zeiss and Leica. If you are interested in the history of photography there are a couple of comprehensive timelines on the site. From Chemistry to Computation is the timeline of the photographic process, whilst the Camera Timeline Year by Year describes camera introductions and innovations every year from 1900 to the present day.
My Nikon Film Cameras
Beyond Nikon Film cameras in the movies, I have a small collection of Nikons I enjoy shooting with. Some of which are reviewed on this site (The F6 and FM3a).
I have a late Nikon F from 1971 and it shoots very well. It has the original standard non-metered eye level finder, like the ones Dennis Hopper was carrying in Apocalypse Now. As much as I like an integrated light meter, the Photomic heads spoil the lines of the F too much so I use a hand held lightmeter. The Photomic heads are a little easier on the eye on the F2 and I have added a DP-12 Photomic head to my 1975 F2. I have a rather battered 1980 F3, which I bought in Sweden, and a 2004 F6, which I use a great deal. I also have an FM3a and FM2n, both of which are very lightweight and great to shoot with.
Other Classic Film Cameras in Movies
A huge number of film camera manufacturers have come and gone and their products have appeared in hundreds, if not thousands of movies, but below are a few of the more notable ones. Of the models listed below, I have only shot with the Olympus OM-1, another game changing camera which began a shift towards more compact, lighter 35 mm SLRs, away from the increasing weight of the Nikon pro SLRs and back towards the smaller form factor that Leica had always delivered with rangefinders.
Though I don’t have any of the Rolleiflex models listed below (2.8F and T), I have a Rolleiflex 3.5F from 1961 which I absolutely love, and is considered by many to be one of the finest film cameras ever made. The Rolleiflex uses 120 medium format film which produces huge and very detailed 6x6cm negatives. Shooting a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera is an entirely different experience to shooting either an SLR or rangefinder, and though manual focus can be challenging, gazing at the world through that illuminated ground glass screen that sees the world back to front is absolutely entrancing.
This timeline of early cameras describes significant photographic milestones and early cameras representative of their year of introduction between the inception of photography and 1900. I’ve also provided an overview of the most important developments decade by decade from 1840-1900 as an introduction to the timeline.
The first cameras were smaller versions of the camera obscura, a simple viewing device based on a sliding-box design that had been in use for several hundred years. By the 19th century this was commonly employed by landscape painters to achieve proper perspective. French artist Louis Daguerre built upon the work of Nicéphore Niépce, who had produced what is widely regarded as the first photograph in 1826, by designing the first camera to be commercially produced. This was the Daguerreotype, which was announced to the world in 1839.
Daguerreotypes followed the sliding-box design of the camera obscura, and used two boxes, one slightly smaller than the other. The lens was placed in the front box. The second, slightly smaller box, slid into the back of the larger box. Focus was achieved by sliding the rear box forward or backwards until the image was sharp on the ground glass focusing screen. The image was laterally reversed unless the camera was fitted with a mirror or prism to correct it. When the image was sharp the lens cap was put on the lens and the screen was replaced by a plate holder loaded with a sensitised plate to make an exposure. The lens cap was used as a shutter.
The daguerreotype used a direct-positive process, which created a unique and highly detailed positive image on a sheet of copper plated with a thin, highly polished coat of silver. The photographic process made use of a number of hazardous chemicals. Before sensitisation, the surface would be wiped with nitric acid to remove any organic matter. The plate was then sensitised by exposing the silver surface in darkness or under safelight first to iodine fumes, and then to bromine fumes, resulting in a silver halide coating. After exposure, the plate was carried to a developing box, where it was exposed to fumes from heated mercury. Finally, the plate was fixed by removing the remaining silver halide with a mild solution of sodium thiosulfate.
As there were no camera manufacturers at the time, Daguerreotypes were manufactured by opticians, cabinet makers and instrument makers.
Fox Talbot and The Paper Negative
A few years earlier, during the mid-1830s, the British gentleman scientist and polymath William Fox Talbot, had been keen to make a permanent record of what another draftsman’s aid, the camera lucida showed. The camera lucida’s purpose is to superimpose a refracted image of the landscape onto the artist’s sketchbook. It consists of an adjustable metal arm fastened at one end to the artist’s sketchbook and a glass prism at the other.
Talbot’s frustration with the camera lucida led him to recollect his previous experiences with the camera obscura and start to experiment to see if he could capture a permanent image to make nature record the image. He referred to these experiments as ‘photogenic drawing’.
Talbot found that a sheet of writing paper, coated with salt and brushed with a solution of silver nitrate, darkened in the sun, and that a second coating of salt impeded further darkening or fading. Talbot used this discovery to make tracings of botanical specimens. He would place the specimen on a piece of sensitized paper, cover it with a sheet of glass, and expose it to the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened, but wherever the plant blocked the light, it remained white. He called his new discovery “the art of photogenic drawing”, and it is still in use today in the salt print process.
Talbot’s salt print process evolved into the Calotype photographic process, where a sheet of paper coated with silver chloride was exposed to light in a camera obscura yielding a negative image. The image was “developed” on the paper, which was actually the acceleration of the silver chloride’s chemical reaction to the light it had been exposed to. The developing process permitted much shorter exposure times in the camera. The developed image on the paper was fixed with sodium hyposulfite. The negative could yield any number of positive images by contact printing on another piece of sensitized paper.
To minimise exposure times Talbot made use of much smaller cameras with short focal length lenses which would concentrate light on a smaller area. The best made lenses available to him were microscope lenses, which he fitted to small cameras his wife referred to as ‘mousetraps’ as he had so many of them around the house. It was with one of these small cameras, measuring only 2.5 inches each side that was used by Talbot to take his first successful photograph in 1839. Though the ‘mousetraps’ are the most well known Talbot made and commissioned many more sophisticated cameras during his research which are now distributed in museums throughout the world.
Similar Cameras, Different Images
Creating a Calotype used much of the same basic equipment as found in Daguerreotype making. A similar camera type, though there were many variations for both methods, similar ways to expose the image and similar way of preparing, although the Calotype offered a somewhat safer process.
However, the difference between the images they produced was vast. While both created a monotone image, the Daguerreotype created pictures that recorded very fine details across the whole range of tones and appeared to produce a glow from within the image due to the reflective properties of the metal, which of course had no grain.
The Calotype images had higher contrast because the chemicals were absorbed into paper fibres, which reduced detail in the highs and lows. Because of those fibres, the image also offered a grain that would diffuse detail, rather than preserve it. As it was a paper to paper positive negative process, further detail would be lost in the transfer. This resulted in a less detailed but highly atmospheric image.
Cameras of the 1840s
The earliest daguerreotype exposure times ranged from three to fifteen minutes, making the process fairly impractical for portrait photography. This was due to the slow Chevalier lenses used by Daguerre. Accordingly, with few exceptions, daguerreotypes made before 1841 were of static subjects. Josef Max Petzval, a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, changed this with the design of a new lens, though it took nearly a year to design and manufacture it. It was the first lens to be designed using optical principles and mathematical computation – previously they had previously been ground and polished according to experience. In 1841 the first camera fitted with this lens was introduced by Voigtländer and Sons, an Austrian maker of telescopes and other optical equipment. It was the first portrait lens and had a 160mm focal length and an achievable aperture of f/3.6. Exposure times were many times shorter than with the previous generation of lenses.
In 1841 Franz Kratochwila freely published a chemical acceleration process in which the combined vapours of chlorine and bromine increased the sensitivity of the plate by five times, greatly reducing exposure times from minutes to between fifteen and thirty seconds in bright lighting conditions.
Early Camera Manufacturing
Gradually the opticians, cabinet makers and scientific instrument makers, as well as chemists familiar with the chemical process required for early photography evolved into photographic supply shops and camera manufacturers. French optician Noël Paymal Lerebours was one of the first, and used his skill in optics to manufacture and sell a sliding box whole-plate Daguerreotype camera, working from the instruction manual for Daguerre’s pioneering instrument. W. Butcher and Sons of London started as a pharmacy but evolved into a magic lantern supplier, then a camera importer and finally a manufacturer. George Hare was a joiner, like his father, before he started producing the high quality cameras he became renowned for in London. Frank Brownell, of Kodak Brownie fame, started as a cabinet maker in the 1880s. Another start point was stationery – Marion and Co Ltd, originally an offshoot of Auguste Marion of Paris, started in fancy stationery but widened their business to papers, prints, plates and then onto cameras.
These small firms were economically quite vulnerable. Thomas Ottewill, one of the leading British camera makers, was made bankrupt on several occasions during the 1860s. This was despite his claim in 1856 of ‘having now the largest manufactory in England for the making of cameras’ and having an incredible talent pool. Camera makers George Hare, T. Mason, Patrick Meagher, T. Garland and A. Routledge all worked for Ottewill before establishing their own businesses. Ottewill and brought in partners William Morgan and a Mr Collis after bankruptcy. A partnership arrangement offered greater protection for the business and this model was often adopted by the emerging photographic firms.
A Faster Chemistry Set
The wet plate collodion process of 1851 invented by Frederick Scott Archerwas many times faster than previous methods and enabled photographers to make glass negatives combining the sharpness of a daguerreotype with the replicability of a calotype. However, wet plates needed to be processed wet which required photographers to carry around a portable darkroom as well as the camera.
A commercially viable method of producing a photographic print on paper from a negative was already available for wet plate collodion photographers in the form of the albumen print. This was published in January 1847 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. Thin paper was coated with a layer of egg-white (albumen) containing salt and sensitized with a silver nitrate solution, then printed using daylight under a negative. The prints could be toned with a gold solution which gave a purple-brown tint to the image and reduced the risk of fading. This process would became the dominant form of photographic positives from the mid 1850s to the start of the 20th century.
The wet plate collodion process offered an alternative to the Albumen print in the form of glass-based positive made by taking an underexposed negative so that it could be viewed as a positive using a dark backing. This was known as the Ambrotype and was introduced in the early 1850s. The ambrotype quickly grew in popularity because it maintained the image clarity of the earlier daguerreotype —but was faster and cheaper to produce. The finished plate was usually mounted in a decorative presentation cases just as daguerreotypes had been. Also like the daguerreotype, which it replaced, each image was a unique original that could only be duplicated using a camera.
A second collodion-based positive emerged in the form of tintype, or ferrotype, which replaced the Ambrotype’s glass plate with a thin sheet of japanned iron. The process was first described by Adolphe-Alexandre Martin in France in 1853. This type of photography survived well into the twentieth century because of its continued use by street photographers.
In the late 1850s sliding-box gave way to a leather bellows with a lens plate at one end, and the light-sensitive plate holder at the other. First came a square design and then a more compact tapering version. In 1856Captain Francis Fowke patented a compact concertina-pattern pleated bellows camera of his own design, which was the first to use cloth bellows, rather than a wooden body between the lens and plate. The tapering design invented the following year by C.G.H. Kinnear, and proved extremely durable. It is still in use in large format cameras today.
First Steps Towards Industrialisation
By the 1860s the medium had started to become industrialized. Instead of mixing chemicals according to their own recipes and hand coating their papers, photographers could buy commercially prepared albumen papers and other ready made supplies. The market was moving increasingly towards the middle-class, which required photographers to produce a greater quantity of cheaper prints. In this new market, the photographers original artisan processes and refined techniques became less important.
The quest for a larger volume of prints gave rise to the he carte de visite (CdV) which was patented by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. His camera featured a moveable chassis and multiple lenses, with which he could make eight exposures on a single glass-plate negative, print the entire plate at once, cut the sheet into eighths, and paste the individual photographs on mounts the size of visiting cards. The carte de visite was slow to gain adoption until 1859, when Disdéri produced CdVs of Emperor Napoleon III’s which caused a sensation a triggered a craze that would last throughout the 1860s as ‘cardomania’ until it was supplanted by the larger ‘cabinet card’ of the 1870s.
The cameras that took multiple images at once were known as “Multiplying Cameras.” The number of lenses varied with some cameras having 4 lenses others 8, 9, 15 or a few a even 36 lenses, but regardless of the number of lenses the multiple images were exactly the same.
The Fast(er) Distortion Free Lens
By 1865 photographers had three types of lenses available to them: the simple landscape meniscus, the Petzval Portrait lens, and the wide-angle Globe lens or the Ross Doublet. What they needed was an intermediate lens with minimal distortion. The Rapid Rectilinear lens which fulfilled this requirements was introduced by J. H. Dallmeyer in 1866. Most previous rectilinear (i.e., distortion less) lenses had been slow (f16), and Dallmeyer was therefore justified in calling his f8 lens rapid. Lenses of this type were fitted to most better quality cameras for nearly sixty years.
The Tailboard Camera
The tailboard camera gradually became more popular – a camera with bellows and rear focusing. Focusing with a tailboard camera is carried out by adjusting the ground glass back’s position forward or backward until the image on the matte screen is sharp. The design goes back to the 1850s but adoption accelerated in the 1860s. A good example is the Hare Tailboard of 1878. Tailboard cameras were still available into the 1890s and 20th century, as typified by the Ernemann Alex shown left.
The End of the Portable Chemistry Set
Dry plates, glass plate coated with a gelatin emulsion of silver bromide, superseded wet plates in the 1870’s. These could be stored until exposure, and after exposure could be brought back to a darkroom for development at leisure. This was far more convenient than the wet collodion process, which required the plate to be prepared just before exposure and developed immediately after. The dry plate could be factory produced. It was still important to have a camera which could fold down to increase portability size even though the photographer no longer required a portable darkroom.
Hand and Detective Cameras
In the 1880s the hand camera, also known early on as the ‘detective camera’ was introduced. The terms ‘detective’ and ‘hand’ camera were used interchangeably during the 1880s. The Oxford English Dictionary records the former term in the British Journal of Photographyin 1881 and the latter term in the Photographic News in 1889 and meaning a hand camera adapted for taking instantaneous photographs. Compared to larger bellows cameras, the design was unobtrusive. Many manufacturers introduced their own designs, including Rouch with the Eureka and Fallowfield with the Facile. The Eureka’s back incorporated a built in changing bag so that the photographer could move an exposed plate and insert an unexposed on ready for his next shot without the need for separate plate holders.
The 1880s also saw an evolution of the bellows design with George Hare’s New Patent Camera of 1882, a front focusing model which built on the Kinnear design with a back hinged to the baseboard and a front which pulled out on rails for focusing. The British Journal of photography described the camera as ‘the model upon which nearly all others in the market are based’ – despite Hare’s patent.
The Quest for Flexible, Lightweight Media: Celluloid Plates
A number of photographers experimented with celluloid as a replacement for their heavy and fragile glass plates. John Carbutt, an English photographer who had emigrated to America, was the first to gain some success. He persuaded the Celluloid Manufacturing Co. to produce a thin celluloid film which was sufficiently transparent for photographic purposes around 1884 and started to manufacture cut film using this material in 1888, but it was slow to catch on.
Paper and The Roll Film Holder
In 1883, George Eastman startled the trade with the announcement of film in rolls, with the roll holder adaptable to nearly every plate Camera on the market. His first approach was to coat the photographic emulsion on paper and then load the paper in a roll holder. The holder was used in view cameras in place of the holders for glass plates.
Flexible, Lightweight Roll Film
Eastman was well aware, however, of the serious drawbacks associated with using paper as a photographic support and began experimenting to find a flexible, transparent base from about 1884 onwards. It was not until early in 1888, however, that he began seriously considering celluloid as a possible medium. He set a young research chemist, Henry Reichenbach, to work on the problem, which Reichenbach duly found. The first successful roll-film hand camera, The Kodak, was launched publicly in the summer of 1888, followed by an improved model in 1889. This second Kodak was the Kodak No 1 and featured an easily removable lens board, and an improved shutter.
Independently, the Rev. Hannibal Goodwin had also devised a process for making celluloid film and applied for a patent in 1887. However, due to an unclear patent submission (Goodwin was not a chemist), the patent was not granted until 1898. By this time George Eastman had started production of rollfilm using his own process. It was not until after Goodwin’s death that it was ruled that Kodak had infringed Goodwin’s patent.
Roll Film Processing
Although the Kodak was made possible by technical advances in the development of roll film and small, simple cameras, Eastman’s real genius lay in his marketing strategy. By simplifying the operation of the camera and the processing the film for the consumer, he made photography accessible to the casual amateur, coining the memorable slogan: “You press the button, we do the rest.”
The Dry Plate Tintype
The dry plate process came to tintype or ferrotype photography with the manufacture of the gelatin tintype in 1890. This was followed by the introduction of packaged dry ferrotype plates the following year. This was popularly adopted and was popular into the the 1920s when the widespread use of the roll film camera by the amateur photographer greatly reduced the need for street, country fair and beach vendors.
The First Fast Shutter
In the 1890’s the first fast shutter appeared, patented by Ottomar Anschütz in 1888 in Germany and 1889 in Britain. It was capable of exposures as short as 1/1000 of a second, which at the time was considerably faster than other shutter designs. It was incorporated into the Goerz Anschütz camera, including a collapsible version, which proved both popular and durable. This fast, portable camera made the medium capable of capturing activities such as cycling races, rowing and other sports. These were featured in illustrated periodicals and newspapers that started to incorporate photographs during the 1890s.
Daylight Loading Film
Kodak introduced its first daylight-loading camera, the Daylight Kodak, in 1891 which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom. Film for the Daylight Kodak had a black paper trailer at the beginning and end of the film which covered it during loading and unloading.
In 1895 Fredrick H. Sanderson patented a mechanism for swinging the front lens panel, resulting in Sanderson’s Universal Swing Front Camera. This was a bellows camera with a variably movable lensboard and the first highly flexibleview camera which introduced large format camera movements which include include rise and fall, lens shift, swing and tilt, and are still in use today. The field camera, a term suggestive of portability compared to heavier studio cameras, was one of several types of cameras available in the late nineteenth century including hand and stand and reflex models. There were as yet no rangefinder cameras, which would not be introduced until 1916 with the Kodak 3A Autographic Special.
The Pocket Camera and the Snapshot
In 1895 The Pocket Kodak was introduced, which was the first mass-produced snapshot camera. The Pocket Kodak was one of the first cameras that use front roll design, daylight film spools and a red window to see the number of the exposure on the back of the film. In a front roll design the feed and take up film spools are located in the front of camera, where there is enough room to the left and right of the incoming light rays. Before this design was introduced, the spools were located behind the plane of focus, making the camera about one third longer.
This small compact camera was also was easy to use: “one button does it” was the Kodak slogan . Photography was no longer restricted anymore by heavy equipment supported by with tripods and casual amateur photography, characterised by the snapshot was born. The term snapshot was coined earlier, in 1860, by Sir John Herschel, based on the hunter’s term for a quick shot made without careful aim, although it took until the 1890s to be matched to a technology. The associated term ‘snapshotter’ was noted by The Oxford English Dictionary from 1899, ‘snap-shottist’ from 1891 with the term ‘snap-shot’ from 1894.
The Folding Pocket Kodak of 1897, was a significant milestone in camera development as it was to establish the principals of the folding roll film format, which would continue to dominate camera design from the 1890s to 1930s. This design offered the photographer a camera that would fold up into a compact package that was light and easy to carry via a lens standard panel that pulled out on sprung struts with collapsible bellows. A classic example is the Kodak No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie which is reviewed on this site.
The Turn of the Century
The Rise of Personal Photography
By the turn of the twentieth century Kodak had introduced the first of the Brownie series which brought the snapshot to the masses in the form of an affordable cardboard box camera that took pictures on roll film.
Timeline of Early Cameras
c. 1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce uses bitumen of Judea for photographs on metal and makes the first successful camera photograph, View From My Window at Gras
1827 Niépce addresses a memorandum on his invention to the Royal Society in London, but does not disclose details
Charles Chevalier creates a compound achromatic lens to cut down on chromatic aberration, a failure of a lens to focus all colours to the same plane, for Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s photographic experiments
1832Robert Hunt’sResearches on Light records the first known description employing platinum to make a photographic print, but does not succeed in producing a permanent image
1835William Henry Fox Talbot makes his first successful camera photograph or “photogenic drawing” using paper sensitised with silver chloride.
1839 The public birthday of photography, from three inventors – Daguerre, Fox Talbot and Bayard
Susse Frères manufactures a daguerreotype camera which is one of the first two photographic cameras ever sold to the public
c. 1840 The Voigtländer Daguerreotype is the first camera made of metal. It is the fastest camera lens of its time, with an aperture of f3.6
1840 French optician and daguerreotypist Noël Paymal Lerebours uses his skill in optics to manufacture and sell a sliding box whole-plate camera, copied from the instruction manual for Daguerre’s pioneering instrument
Alexander Wolcott patents the daguerreotype reflector camera which uses a concave mirror to focus the available light onto a photosensitive plate
The Tintype process is first described by Adolphe-Alexandre Martin – an inexpensive direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel
1854Andre Adolphe Disderi is the first to devise a way to make multiple Carte de Visite images on a single photographic plate, which requires a new type of camera with a shifting back. Each time the back is moved, a different portion of the plate is exposed allowing a set of several images to be printed at the same time. These cameras soon become known as Multiplying Cameras
James Ambrose Cutting takes out several patents relating to the Ambrotype process, underexposed or bleached wet collodion negatives that appeared positive when placed against a dark coating or backing
1856 Captain Francis Fowke patents a compact concertina-pattern pleated bellows camera of his own design. It is the first to use cloth bellows, rather than a wooden body between the lens and plate. It will be produced the following year by Ottewill & Co. for the British Government
1857 The folding camera with tapering bellows is invented by C.G.H. Kinnear, forming the basis for subsequent bellows designs
David Acheson Woodward patents the solar camera, derived from the earlier solar microscope, using sunlight to make enlargements from glass negatives
1860 P. Meagher introduces an improved version of the Kinnear design called the Improved Portable
1861 The first photographic single-lens reflex camera (SLR) is invented by Thomas Sutton
1862 The Pantoscopic camera is produced by Johnson and Harrison in England. It is one of the first designed to take panoramic photographs (110º view) on glass plates. It produces 7½ x 12 inch images on flat collodion plates
1864 The Dubroni No. 1 is the first successful self-developing camera
1873CharlesHarper Bennett improves the gelatin silver process by hardening the emulsion, making it more resistant to friction
Marion & Co. introduces the New Academy which adds a mirror behind a glass screen to a pair of vertically mounted lenses which slide for focusing making the camera into a twin-lens reflex model
The Interchangeable View Camera is marketed by Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. It is a plate camera that can also be fitted with an Eastman Roll Holder containing a roll of flexible film
1888 The Kodak is George Eastman‘s legendary first roll-film camera bearing the new brand name. It comes pre-loaded with a 100-exposure roll of flexible film. After finishing the roll, the consumer posts the camera back to the factory to have the prints made
‘Krügener’s Taschenbuch’ Patent Book Camera is one of the smallest cameras of its time, with dimensions of just 45 × 100 × 140mm
E & H T Anthony introduces the Fairy, an 8 x 10 inch lightweight folding view camera with a revolving back and bellows so pictures could be taken both horizontally or vertically
1889 The No.1 and No. 2 Kodaks are introduced. They resemble the original Kodak Camera, but have a different shutter and are available with paper-based stripping film or its successor, Eastman transparent film
George Eastman introduces the first transparent plastic roll film, made from highly flammable cellulose nitrate film
The Loman Reflex, the first commercially produced camera with a focal-plane shutter, is introduced
c. 1890 L’Orthoscope by E. Tourtin, is the first French reflex camera, for plates 9 x 12cm
1891 Kodak markets its first daylight-loading camera, the Daylight Kodak, which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom.
1892 The Boston Camera mfg. Company produces the Bulls-Eye camera, the first to use Samuel Taylor’s new numbered paper backed film, which requires the introduction of a red window
W. Griffiths & Co. Ltd introduces the innovative Zodiac which replaces the usual wooden base of the period with telescoping metal tubes. The rear standard slides along the tubes and for fine focusing they are extended by a worm screw
1893 J. Lancaster & Son, Birmingham, England introduces the Instantograph Patent Camera, a 1/4-plate model complete with Lancaster’s Patent Instantaneous Lens and rubber-band shutter, one of a series of models first introduced in 1888
The first Richard Vérascope stereo camera is launched. It is the best selling stereo camera of its time. The range will continuing through the 1950s
1894 Kodak markets the Flat Folding Kodak in England. It is a folding camera for darkroom loaded roll film, with a capacity of 48 pictures of 4 x 5 inch on one spool
The Xit series of cameras are introduced by J. F. Shew. The folding side-strut design (also known as chambre à joues) makes the camera quite compact when folded. Shew advertises them as “the most portable camera in the world”
1895 The Pocket Kodak appears, the first mass-produced snapshot camera
The Briefmarken Camera was manufactured by Emil Wunsche, of Dresden Germany featuring 12 lenses to capture 12 stamp size portraits simultaneously on 9 x 12cm size plates
1896 The Zar Camera Company of Chicago launches the Pocket Zar, a miniature glass plate box camera with a body entirely constructed of cardboard, a material never used to such an extent in cameras before
c. 1899The Pascal is one of the first cameras for roll film, and the first with spring-motorised film advance. It is a box camera, with a wood-and-metal body, with leather covering and makes twelve pictures 40×55 mm on special roll film
1900 Kodak introduces the first of the Brownie series which brings the snapshot to the masses. It is a cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that takes 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film
Most of the resources I have found for early photography provide information on British manufacturer’s and their cameras. This is not because that is my exclusive interest, jut what I have come across so far. If you have information on early photography books or websites from Germany, France, the US or any other country, please share them with me and I’d be glad to update this article.
Early photography website Details a collection that includes examples of most types of camera from the Daguerreotype to the start of electronics but concentrates on the heyday of British camera making – the period of hand-made brass and mahogany cameras from the likes of Hare and Meagher and the small workshops of Adams, Newman & Guardia and others.
Red Bellows website. A site detailing a collection of Vintage & Antique Cameras and related Photographic Ephemera
British Camera Makers This fine book by Norman Channing and Mike Dunn, now out of print, but still available second hand, covers early photography in Britain in detail, extending into the twlighlight of manufacturing in Britain in the 1960s.
The massive Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography appears to be the definitive work on early photography up to the beginning of the twentieth century, with 1,200 essays. It is however, extremely expensive to purchase in print – I’ve read a couple of the essays online but have not purchased it.
I hope you enjoyed this early photography article and timeline. If you spot omissions or errors, please let me know in the comments.
The legendary German marque has had more than its fair share of movie appearances, particularly the M3. Leica pioneered the 35mm ‘miniature format’, back in 1930 with the first practical camera to use standard cinema film, which required high quality lenses and negative enlargement to make the format work.
Subsequent development, based on many years of learning, resulted in the M3 of 1954, which a huge step forward on its predecessors, combining the viewfinder and rangefinder in one bright window, a bayonet lens mount, and rapid film advance lever. Despite its high price it was very successful with over 220,000 units sold by 1966 when production ended. By that time the Nikon F, nemesis of the teutonic rangefinder, had been in the market 7 years and the world of 35mm photography had changed forever, with the SLR having won the hearts and minds of many professional photographers.
The M6 TTL
Enthusiasts continue to argue over which is the best Leica and the M3 maintains a strong fan base, mainly for its large, bright high magnification viewfinder, which many argue has never been bettered. I’ve shot with the M3, M6TTL and M7 and my personal favourite is the M6TTL (0.58 version pictured below, along with 0.85 M7) The built in light meter is eschewed by the Leica hardcore, but I find it preferable and it has superior ergonomics with a modern film crank and large dial for the shutter speed. Leica consider a film rewind crank, which has been standard on virtually all film cameras since the ’60s to be a bit racy and like the original M3, neither film camera in production today (the Leica M-A and Leica M-P) sports one.
I came to Leica from the autofocus Q, which I travelled the world with as part of my job at the time. I am not a digital Leica M shooter, but I do love shooting with film Ms, the lenses are outstanding and full of character and the build quality is second to none. They are also very beautiful cameras and look great in the many movies they have appeared in.
The Leica M in Movies
Persona (1966, M3)
Downhill Racer (M3, 1969)
Darling (M3, 1965)
Green Berets (M3, 1968)
Le Mans ( M3, 1971)
Patton (M3, 1970)
The Day of The Jackal (M3, 1973)
The Odessa File (M3, 1974)
Woodstock (M4, 1974)
Dog Day Afternoon (M3, 1975)
The Omen (M3, 1976)
Under Fire (M4-2, 1983)
Salvador Leica (M3, 1986)
Wings of Desire (M4, 1987)
Mighty Joe Young (1988, M6)
Addicted to Love (M6, 1997)
George of the Jungle (M6, 1997)
Payback (M3, 1999)
Spy Game (M6 with motor drive, 2001)
Imposter (M6, 2002)
We Were Soldiers (M3, 2002)
Blood Diamond (M6, 2003)
Eurotrip (M7, 2004)
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (M7, 2005)
The Omen (M7, 2006)
Other Classic Film Cameras in Movies
A huge number of film camera manufacturers have come and gone and their products have appeared in hundreds, if not thousands of movies, but here are a few of the more notable ones. Of the models listed below, I have only shot with the Olympus OM-1, another game changing camera which began a shift towards more compact, lighter 35 mm SLRs, away from the increasing weight of the Nikon pro SLRs and back towards the smaller form factor that Leica had always delivered with rangefinders.
Though I don’t have any of the Rolleiflex models listed below (2.8F and T), I have a Rolleiflex 3.5F from 1961 which I absolutely love, and is considered by many to be one of the finest film cameras ever made. The Rolleiflex uses 120 medium format film which produces huge and very detailed 6x6cm negatives. Shooting a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera is an entirely different experience to shooting either an SLR or rangefinder, and though manual focus can be challenging, gazing at the world through that illuminated ground glass screen that sees the world back to front is absolutely entrancing.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Rollei B35, 1977)
National Lampoon’s Vacation (Olympus OM-1, 1983)
Easy Money (Exacta VX, 1983)
The Killing Fields (Rolleiflex 2.8F, Pentax Spotmatic, 1984)
Bridges of Madison County (Nikon SP Rangefinder, 1995)
Ronin (Leica R6.2, 1998)
Catch me if you Can (Kodak Retina 2C, 2002)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Pentax 67 medium format, 2009)
Jurassic World (Lomography Diana F+, 2015)
Batman v Superman (Nikon S3 Y2K Rangefinder, 2016)
Kong: Skull Island (Canon AE-1 Program, 2017)
The Last Word
The last word in this article goes to the humble Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder pictured above, a typical manual focus rangefinder camera with a fixed lens and aperture priority auto exposure mode. You simply set the aperture and if it is not correct for the lighting conditions the ‘over’ or ‘slow’ directional arrows light up.
Long after it was discontinued, the inexpensive Electro has developed a cinematic identity thanks to an appearance as Peter Parker’s camera in The Amazing Spiderman (2012). There are several Electros (G, GS, GSN, GTN, GL, MG-1 and CC) and thanks to its moment in the spotlight the GSN has become known as the Spiderman version.
In addition to being inexpensive and fun to use, the camera has highly evocative 1960s branding; the space-age atomic symbol on the front of camera and the Color-Yashica branding on the sharp 45mm f/1.7 lens are both very 1960s indeed. Colour was new to consumers when the camera was first released in 1966! I have one myself, and whilst its no Leica, for value for money and fun to shoot with its hard to beat.
That’s it for my classic cameras in movies round up. If I have missed any cameras you think I should include please leave me a comment. For more about historically important cameras, please visit the year by year timeline.
The well-known seaside town of Deal in Kent is one of my favourite locations anywhere, and one of the most picturesque and enjoyable places on the British coast to visit. I will declare that was raised there and get back to visit as often as I can, so I am not particularly objective. However, many people agree with me, as it has been voted one of the best places to live in Britain. I discovered recently that is it is not the only place with that name and that there are other towns called Deal: a seaside town in the USA with the same name; a village in Transylvania, Romania; two Deal islands, one as far away as Tasmania, and the appearance of quite a few more on the internet.
The Other Towns Called Deal – and the Internet Confusion
A quick internet search can give the appearance of many places called Deal – one site claims 10. To make the confusion worse the term ‘Deal’ gets confused with all kinds of monetary ‘deals’, financial transactions and card dealing. If that wasn’t enough there is a cryptography term DEAL which stands for Data Encryption Algorithm with Larger blocks, and even an early car named Deal! This post provides a short jaunt to the other Deals around the world and attempts to clear up the internet confusion.
The Other Seaside Deal and its Extra Terrestrial Rock
I haven’t visited any of other towns called Deal, though I have unknowingly been very close to the other seaside Deal in New Jersey, USA many times. For some years I worked for a NJ software company based in Monmouth County and I often visited the seaside at Long Branch, which is the next town on the coast, and only about 5 miles away. If only I had known about the other seaside Deal at the time!
The name of the New Jersey town is derived from the original Deal in Kent, which comes from the Old English ‘dael’ meaning ‘valley’. The modern English word with the same origin is ‘dale’. A settler, Thomas Whyte, an English carpenter from Deal, acquired land along the shore in the mid 1660s. Like much of the coast in that area, it is a pricey location. The average house price was $1.8m back in 2007, according to Forbes Magazine. There is a man-made lake in the area called Deal Lake, which is one of the largest in New Jersey, occupying 158 acres.
The other reference to Deal, NJ you might find is the Deal meteorite, which fell in 1829. It caused much excitement at the time, being accompanied by a fireball over the town and multiple booms. It is of the L6 chondrite variety, which mainly consists of obscure minerals such as olivine and hypersthene, and weighs in 28g.
New Deal, Texas
There is a new New Deal in Texas, with a population was 794 at the 2010 census. This is named after President Roosevelt’s public works program, not our English seaside town, so it’s a red herring. It was originally called Monroe, after a local landowner, but as there was already a town in Texas with the name Monroe City, the U.S. postal department changed the name of the town to avoid confusion.
Deal is Romanian for ‘hill’ so it is not surprising there is a place of that name in Romania. It’s located in the county of Alba, Transylvania which had a population of 355 in 2011. The Wikipedia page is a stub article that provides very little information except for a translation of the name into other languages. The village has a FaceBook page, which provides some images.
Given it is such a common word, it’s also not surprising to find villages in Romania that incorporate it. There are several villages called După Deal, which according to Google Translate means ‘beyond the hill’. Searching for ‘Deal’ in Romania will also bring up place names that contain the term such as the Dealul Mare wine region.
Far Flung Deal Island, Tasmania
Far from South East Kent is Deal Island, Tasmania, the largest island of the remote Kent Group of islands and some 10,609 miles away! The island lies within the Kent Group National Park, Tasmania’s northernmost national park and marine reserve. A visitor in 2018 described it as “an imposing, dramatic landfall…picture a mammoth, granite tooth jutting out of the sea on an otherwise blank horizon.”
According to the same account, the average population of Deal Island for most of the year is just two caretakers, volunteers who stay for 3 months to maintain the heritage buildings, grave-sites, and air strip. The island is largely inaccessible unless you have a yacht and the caretakers are entirely reliant on solar power. At least the caretakers have some wildlife for company, as the island has populations of wallabies and geese.
There is a lighthouse on the island, which was constructed in 1865, decommissioned in 1992 and once the highest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere. The original lighthouse keeper’s residence is now a museum.
The reference to Kent sounds like it must be connected to Deal, Kent, but that’s another red herring. The island was named after captain William Kent, an English Royal Navy officer, known for his part in settling the region.
Deal Island, USA and the Skipjacks
Deal Island, USA is in Somerset County, Maryland. The population of the island was 578 at the 2000 census, though it is dropping, whilst shedding land at about six-and-a-half acres a year due to rising seas. The island is known for its skipjacks, single-masted vessels, which were the mainstay of the Chesapeake Bay oyster fleet in the 19th century.
The local oyster harvest reached its peak in 1884 but has declined steadily since, especially since the turn of the 21st century. New skipjacks were built up until the late twentieth century, but a change in the law in 1965 allowed motor powered boats to operate two days a week , and they have been in steady decline ever since. Few skipjacks remain today, but they remain a source of pride on Deal Island, which hosts skipjack races once a year. It sounds like a really interesting place to visit with traditional waterman’s homes, seafood shacks and wildlife such as osprey and pelicans. I would think it would be a great photographic destination. In addition to the boats and wildlife there is old wooden bank building still standing which closed after the crash of 1929!
Unverified Towns called Deal: Idaho, Pennsylvania, The Philippines and South Africa
You can find map references to towns called called Deal elsewhere, typically in very remote locations, but these appear to be automatically generated with nothing to substantiate them. The link I’ve shared here counts Deal, Kent twice, so its clearly unreliable.
There is also a Wikipedia stub article that references a Deal in Pennsylvania, but it provides no details except that it is an unincorporated community that had a post office in the 1880s!
Useful Resources on this Site
My post on the many pleasures of Deal describes some of the best ways to enjoy the English coastal town, which is an ancient place with a rich history. You can read more about that in my article on Deal history and its companion post on Deal’s famous visitors and residents. The most obvious start to Deal photography is at the beach. There are still several working boats to shoot on the shingle beach together with winding gear and plenty of lobster pots. I have put together a gallery of boat shots, all taken on film – you can view them at my boats of Deal, Kent gallery.
1900 Kodak introduces the first of the Brownie series which brings the snapshot to the masses. It is a cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that takes 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film
1901 The Kodak No.2 Brownie is the first camera to use 120 roll film
1902 The Royal Ruby is introduced by Thornton-Pickard, an early pioneer in the development of the camera industry, as its top of the range field camera
1903 The Century Camera Co. introduces the Grand Century Senior. It is constructed of mahogany and features a revolving back and triple extension bed in addition to front standard adjustment
1904 Century introduces the No. 2 Field Camera offering front and rear focus via rack and pinion; double swing; reversing by removable back and a three-piece lens board for 5 x 7, 6.5 x 8.5 and 8 x 10 inch plate film
The No. 4 Screen Focus Kodak combines the use of roll film with a ground glass with an unusual construction that allows the roll film back to be swung out of the way to make place for the ground glass
1905 The Soho Reflex single-lens reflex camera is introduced and becomes the definitive SLR model until after WWII
Houghtons Limited introduces the Ticka Watch Pocket Camera. It is about 2½ inches in diameter with the lens mounted in the barrel and the film in a cassette
1906 Kodak markets the No. 4A Folding Kodak, a large camera for amateur photographers, producing negatives of 4 1/4 x 6 1/2 inch on roll film or glass plates
1907 The Revolving Back Auto Graflex camera is first patented by the Folmer and Schwing division of the Eastman Kodak company. The camera’s main feature is a revolving back for taking horizontal or vertical pictures without having to rotate the camera
The Butcher Royal Mail Stamp Camera is the simplest type of multiplying camera, featuring a polished mahogany box with fifteen lenses, an internal septum to separate the images, and spring mounted metal plate shutter to produce fifteen images on small 3-1/4″ x 4-1/4″ dry plates or film
1908 Kodak markets the No. 4A Speed Kodak, a specialist camera for the professional or serious amateur photographer offering shutter speeds from 1/5 to 1/1000 of a second
1909 The 1A Graflex SLR is introduced. It shoots 2¼ x 4¼ inch Kodak 1A roll film and is notable for its pantograph viewing hood
Houghtons Ltd. introduces the Ensignette Camera, an all metal bellows camera which folded into a vest pocket size camera like the Kodak VPK. It is a milestone in popular photography, providing for the first time a practical, truly compact camera at an affordable price to the average person
1911 Newman & Guardia Ltd introduces the Model 11A Postcard Sibyl for 5 ½” x 3 ½” plates featuring a folding reflecting view-finder with spirit levels
c. 1911 The original Makina model is launched by Plaubel. It is a strut folding press-type camera, taking 6 x 4.5cm film plates
1912 The first Speed Graphic press cameras are produced. Production continues until 1973
The Vest Pocket Kodak camera, or ‘VPK’ as it was usually known, is launched and becomes one of the most popular and successful cameras of its day. Over 2 million would be sold before the model was discontinued in 1926.
1913 The Homeos stereo camera is the first 35mm camera to go into production
The first commercially successful 35mm camera is the American Tourist Multiple produced by Herbert & Huesgen, New Ideas Mfg. Co
1914Oskar Barnack, creates the Ur-Leica, the prototype of a small-format 35mm camera
Kodak introduces the No. 0 Brownie, the smallest in the range. It takes pictures the same size as the popular Vest Pocket Kodak of 1912
1915 The Minnigraph, made by Benno Levy-Roth of Berlin, may be the first still camera to use cine film. It makes what will later be considered half-frame (18 x 24 mm) pictures, on film held in special cassettes
1918The Adam, a cardboard box camera, is the first Japanese camera to sell for ¥1
1919 The Cocarette is one of the first new products of German camera maker Contessa-Nettel after the merger that led to the foundation of that company in 1919.
1920 The Venus is a folding camera made by Ihagee in Dresden optimized for exposures in horizontal format
1921 Newman & Guardia Ltd launches the N&G Folding Reflex with a collapsible focusing screen and mirror
The Paff-Reflex is introduced by Ihagee. It is the first SLR made by the company which will later introduce the first 35mm SLR
1922 The Ensign Cupid is the first camera to use a ‘double window’ arrangement for doubling the number of exposures on a roll
1923 J.H. Dallmeyer Ltd introduces the Dallmeyer Speed with a a fast focal plane shutter capable of providing speeds up to 1/1000th of a second accompanied by a fast Pentac F2.0 lens.
1924 The first common wide aperture lens becomes available with the f/2 Ernemann Ermanox, manufactured by Heinrich Ernemann A.G. of Dresden
1925 Leica introduces the Leica I (A), a watershed design that makes the 35mm format truly viable
c. 1926 The Agfa Standard medium format roll film and plate cameras become available with an optional coupled coincident rangefinder at extra cost. Ingenious and advanced for their time, they would serve as the inspiration for later Zeiss Super Ikontas and Voigtlander Bessas
1927 The first monorail camera, the Stegemann Studien-Kamera-C, a 9 ×12 model is designed by the Pictorialist photographer Heinrich Kuhn
1928 The hugely influential Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera (TLR) is introduced, with an ingenious focusing mechanism using a the carriage that held both the viewfinder and the imaging lens, achieving the same function as bellows but with metal
1929 Zeiss-Ikon introduces its top product line of folding medium format cameras, the Ikonta
Minolta, originally named the Nichi-Doku (which means “Japan-German”) Photographic Company, introduces its the first camera, the Nicalette, which is equipped with a German shutter and lens.
1930 The Leica I (C) offers a camera with interchangeable lenses using the Leica Thread Mount (LTM)
1931 The first 35mm prototype SLR is the Filmanka developed by A. Min in the Soviet Union
1932 The Leica II is launched, the first Leica camera with a rangefinder, which becomes a signature of the company
This Rolleiflex Standard K2 Twin Lens Reflex upgrades the original camera with several significant features, including support for 120 format roll film, a film rewind crank, sports finder, removable back and exposure counter
The first Voigtländer Brillant is released, resembling a TLR but functionally closer to a box camera, since it cannot be focused in the viewfinder using zone-focusing.
1933 The Leica III is introduced – a response to the introduction of the Zeiss-Ikon Contax and Oskar Barnack’s last design. It will remain in production in various iterations until 1960
1935 The Leica IIIa is released with a top speed of 1/1000th of a second
1936 the first widely-distributed 35mm SLR camera, the Kine Exakta, is introduced, with a design that will influence many subsequent SLRs
Canon introduces the Hansa, the first Asian 35mm camera
Zeus Ikon launch the Contax II, the first camera with a rangefinder and a viewfinder combined in a single window
1937 Franke & Heidecke unveil the Rolleiflex Automat which features an ingenious automatic first frame positioning and frame counting system which monitors the length of the film as it passes between rollers and sets the camera accordingly, eliminating the need for a red window
Russian manufacturer GOMZ introduces the Sport. Designed between 1934 and 1935 It is the earliest known production 35mm SLR camera ever to be built, but fewer than 320 examples were made and is overshadowed by the Kine Exacta.
Swiss watch maker Jaeger LeCoultre & Company manufacture the ultra compact Compass for the Compass Cameras Ltd. of London, one of the most complicated miniature camera ever made. Measuring a mere 6.5×2.5×5.5cm, it packs a multitude of features into its trim body
The Purma Special (named after the founders Tom Purvis and Alfred Mayo) is a British 127 roll film viewfinder camera with an innovative gravity controlled shutter
1938 Kodak Introduces the Super Six-20, the world’s first camera with built-in photoelectric exposure control
Leica introduces the first commercially successful 35 mm motordrive, the mechanical MOOLY
The Leica IIIb is released with a redesigned viewfinder optic, which brings the RF and VF eye pieces close together
British camera manufacturer Gandolfi launches the Precision, a development of the Imperial model introduced in 1899, which will remain on sale into the 1970s
Voigtländer introduces the Focusing Brillant adding a small opaque spot in the brilliant finder
1939 The Praktiflex 35mm SLR is launched by the Kamera-Werkstätten AG. The design is simple but will constitute the pattern along which virtually every subsequent 35mm SLR camera will be built, regardless of place of origin
The Argus C3 is introduced and becomes the world’s best-selling 35mm camera, offering affordable 35mm rangefinder photography to amateurs
1940 The Leica IIIc is introduced in 1940 with a total redesign of the body and shutter crate. It will remain the mainstay of Leica’s line-up through out the 1940’s
The Mamiya Six is introduced, offering a unique 6 x 6cm coupled rangefinder with film-plane focusing
1941 The Kodak Ektra offers a rangefinder that could accurately focus a 153mm telephoto and the first complete anti-reflection coated lens line for a consumer camera
1943 the FS-3 FotoSniper prototype is developed by GOI for the Soviet Baltic Fleet Navy as a long-range reconnaissance camera. It has a FED body and a 60cm lens with an f4.5 aperture
1944 The Alpa-Reflex 35mm SLR is presented to the public at the Swiss Trade Fair in Basel
1945Houghton-Butcher introduces the Ensign Commando, a folding coupled-rangefinder 6 x 6cm camera for the British Military. It is released so late in the war it does not see much active service
1946 Houghton-Butcher introduces a dual format civilian version of the Ensign Commando offering the smaller 6 x 4.5cm format in addition to 6 x 6cm
The Universal Camera Corporation offers the Mercury II which adds support for normal 35mm film rather than the proprietary Univex film used in the original. Both Mercury cameras use a unique rotary focal plane shutter that enable a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000 second whilst keeping costs low
1947Konishiroku introduces the Konica (later known as the Konica I), a knob-wound camera with a single eyepiece for a coupled rangefinder and viewfinder, based on an earlier camera called Rubikon, developed c.1938
The Bolsey B is introduced, a 35mm rangefinder camera with a finely cast aluminium body
1948 Instant photography is introduced with the first instant-film camera, the Land Camera 95 or Polaroid camera
The Gamma Duflex is the first SLR camera with an instant return mirror. Production is limited and few models find their way beyond the domestic Hungarian market and so the later Asahiflex IIb is often credited with this innovation
Hasselblad launches the1600F, a 6 × 6cm format focal-plane shutter SLR camera with a revolutionary modular design that allows lenses, viewfinders and film magazines to be exchanged
The Nikon 1 is released, the first Nikon-branded camera, featuring a smaller than standard picture format which produces up to 40 negatives from a single roll of 36 exposure film.
The Canon II B is launched with a three-mode optical viewfinder offering magnifications from 0.67x to 1.5x to match the focal length of the lens fitted.
The Ilford Advocate is introduced, the first British 35mm camera introduced after WWII. It is made of white-enamelled die-cast aluminium alloy
Nikon releases the second iteration of the Nikon rangefinder, the Nikon M, with a slight increase in picture size from 24mm x 32mm, to 24mm x 34mm
1950 The Leica IIIf is launched, offering built-in flash synchronization
Voigtländer introduces the Bessa II, the ultimate iteration of the model first available in 1929 and offering a combined viewfinder and rangefinder and 6 x 9 images
Voigtländer launches the The Perkeo 6 x 6 folding camera. Measuring just 125 x 85 x 40mm when closed, and 95mm deep when the lens is extended it is one of the smallest medium format camera.
The Agiflex II is a 6×6 SLR, made by Agilux and derived from the British WWII military aerial camera ARL that was in turn derived from the German Reflex Korelle
1951 The Nikon S becomes available, retaining the unusual 24mm x 34mm format
The Ilford Witness, an advanced 35mm coupled-rangefinder camera, is introduced with either a 2-inch f/1.9 Dallmeyer Super Six, or a 5 cm f/2.9 Daron. Production difficulties led to less than 350 cameras being made
The WrayFlex I is a British SLR which uses two mirrors instead of a pentaprism, so the image is reversed and not very bright. It has a full complement of speeds from ½sec to 1/1000th sec in the focal plane shutter.
1952 Kodak introduces the Brownie 127, a plastic box camera with no aperture or focus controls, and a single-speed shutter that produces eight 4 x 6 cm pictures on 127 film. It rapidly becomes an extremely popular snapshot camera in Britain with over a million made.
The Asahiflex, built by the Asahi Optical Corporation (later to become Pentax), is the first SLR camera built in Japan
The Canon Camera Company markets the Canon IVSb 35mm rangefinder, the first 35mm camera to support flash sync for both flash bulbs and electronic X-sync through Canon’s proprietary rail mounted flash shoe
1953 The Coronet 6×6 Flashmaster is introduced with a rigid Bakelite body, a fixed lens and a simple shutter with no aperture or speed setting
The Graflex KE-4 Combat Camera, a 70mm model, is manufactured for the military. Since the design resembles a giant Contax camera it is given the nickname “Gulliver’s Contax”
The Periflex 35mm camera is launched by K. G. Corfield Ltd. It resembles the Leica Standard, Model E but provides through the lens visual focusing using an inverted periscope lowered into the light path between the lens and the film
Nikon introduces the S2 rangefinder that takes conventional 35mm film and a 1.0X finder. It offers the option to attach the world’s first battery powered motor drive
The Asahiflex IIb is the first volume 35mm SLR with an instant return mirror. Early SLRs left the mirror in its up position until the camera was wound for the next shot, blacking out the viewfinder. The introduction of instant-return mirror mechanisms and the subsequent elimination of mirror blackout is an important step in the acceptance of SLRs
1955 The Miranda T 35mm SLR camera is launched by the newly established Japanese Orion Camera Co. It is the first Japanese 35mm SLR camera with an eyelevel Pentaprism finder.
1956 The Rolleiflex 2.8E is the company’s first model with a built in, uncoupled light meter as an option
The VT is Canon’s first camera to have a camera back which swings open for film loading. The film advances with a fast-winding trigger at the camera bottom instead of a knob on top.
1957 The Asahi Pentax SLR is introduced, placing controls in locations that would become standard on 35 mm SLRs
Tokyo Kogaku KK launch their first 35mm SLR camera, the Topcon R, ahead of Nikon and Canon
Leitz releases the Leica IIIg as the final model in the series with a newly designed top cover with a larger and improved viewfinder
The Nikon SP is the worlds first rangefinder to include built-in frame lines for 6 different focal lengths
Hasselblad introduces the medium format 500 C, which will go on too become one of most influential and successful cameras of all time
1958 The Minolta SR-2 is the first SLR camera with an automatic diaphragm which maintains maximum aperture for brightest viewing and stops down only when the picture is taken
Nikon releases a new rangefinder, the S3, a stripped down version of the Nikon SP at a lower price
Konishiroku introduces the Konica IIIA with three finder windows and offering 1.0× finder magnification
1959 The Nikon F is introduced, marking the transition from rangefinders to SLRs for professional photographers
Canon introduces the Canonflex, its first SLR
The Olympus Pen is the first half-frame camera produced in Japan. It is one of the smallest cameras to use 35mm film in regular 135 cassettes.
The Zenza Bronica is the first Japanese 6 x 6cm format camera with interchangeable lenses and film backs
1960 Konishiroku introduces the Konica F, featuring the Hi-Synchro, the first SLR shutter with a speed of 1/2000s
Nikon introduces the S3M, a half-frame variant of the Nikon S3 with a modified viewfinder and a frame counter that displays up to 72 exposures
1961 Canon introduces the Canonet, a mid-market 35mm camera with a fast f/1.9 lens. Two and a half years later, a million Canonets had been sold.
1962AGFA introduces the first fully automatic camera, the Optima, with an automatic programmed exposure, using a selenium-meter-driven mechanical system
The Nikkorex F is the first production single-lens reflex camera with the metal Copal square shutter
1963 Kodak introduces the Instamatic range of cameras, with an easy-to-use film cartridge and the phrase ‘load it you’ll love it’
The Topcon RE Super is launched by Tokyo Kogaku KK introducing features that would later become common in 35mm SLRs, most notably through-the-lens exposure metering
Olympus introduces the Pen F, a compact half-frame 35mm SLR that supports interchangeable lenses and a distinctive logo rendered in a gothic font
The world’s first full-fledged underwater camera goes on sale in Japan the Nikonos 1
1965 The Konica Auto-Reflex of 1965 is the first focal-plane-shutter auto exposure 35mm SLR. This is not TTL metering, although it does offer a shutter-preferred, auto-exposure mode
Hasselblad launches a new design, the 500EL, with an electric motor integrated into the camera body
Eastman Kodak replaces the individual flashbulb technology used on early Instamatic cameras with the Flashcube
The Practica mat by VEB Pentacon Dresden is the first 35 mm single-lens reflex camera with TTL exposure metering
1966 The Electro 35 rangefinder camera is introduced by Yashica with a coupled and fixed 1:1.7 45 mm lens. It is the first electronically controlled rangefinder camera offering aperture priority ‘auto’ mode
The Rollei 35 becomes the smallest 135 film camera
The Olympus Pen FT updates the F model with a single-stroke film advance and an uncoupled, integrated light meter
1967Nikon F Photomic SLR is the first camera with a centre-weighted exposure metering system
1968 Leica introduces the Leicaflex SL, the world’s first single-lens reflex camera with a precisely defined microprism zone for TTL spot exposure metering displayed in the viewfinder.
Konishiroku launches the Konica C35, combining light weight and compact size with the simple operation of “auto only” exposure
1969 The Olympus-35 EC, an electronically controlled 35mm compact camera, is introduced. It features a fixed Zuiko 42mm f/2.8 lens and and an automatically controlled Seiko shutter with a range of 4 to 1/800 sec
The Mamiya C220 is released as part of the Mamiya C series of interchangeable lens medium format TLR cameras
1970 The Sinar P 4×5 sets the standard for high-end, large format cameras with asymmetric tilts and swings, as opposed to traditional centre or base tilts.
1971 The Canon F-1 is introduced, a highly durable model built to endure 100K picture-taking cycles, temperatures from -30 C to 60 C, and 90% humidity.
Nikon’s F High Speed Motor Drive camera, developed for the ’71 Chicago Photo Expo offers a blazing 7 frames per second
The Leica M5 is introduced, departing from the traditional silhouette of the Leica rangefinders and the first of those cameras to feature through-the-lens (TTL) metering
Olympus launches the OM-1, an ultra-compact 35mm SLR that initiates the compact SLR revolution of the ‘70s and ‘80s
Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land announces the SX-70, taking out a folded SX-70 from his suit coat pocket whilst on stage and taking five pictures in ten seconds
The Wista 45 wood and brass Field Camera is launched – an evolution of a design available since the 1890s. Later models offer several choices of wood including Japanese cherrywood,rosewood and ebony
1973 Minolta releases a new flagship model camera, the SR-T 303 (102 in the US) which bought open aperture metering to a wide audience
The Leica CL, a compact rangefinder, is designed in Germany by Leitz Wetzlar and built in Japan by Minolta with Leitz lenses
1974 Canon introduces the Datematic, which features date imprinting and a body and exterior made of reinforced plastic.
1975 Olympus launches the XA series, one of the smallest rangefinder cameras ever made
1976 Canon introduces the AE-1, the world’s first 35mm AE SLR camera equipped with the shutter speed-priority TTL metering and a Central Processing Unit (CPU).
The first of the Zenza Bronica ETR series of 4.5 × 6cm SLRs manufactured by Zenza Bronica Industries Inc. of Tokyo is introduced.
1977 The Asahi Pentax K1000 is launched and goes on to becomethe most successful basic student SLR of all time, combining a Pentax Spotmatic F with Pentax K-type bayonet mount to produce a competent and affordable camera
The Minolta XD11 is the world’s first camera with aperture priority and shutter priority, as well as a fully metered manual mode.
1978 Konica introduces the C35 AF, the first point-and-shoot autofocus camera
Canon introduces the A-1, a sophisticated electronic camera with all-digital control featuring the first fully automatic program AE mode, pre-set aperture-priority AE, and speedlite AE mode.
1979 Canon launches the SureShot, the world’s first lens-shutter 35mm autofocus camera, with a triangulation system incorporating a near-infrared emitting diode (IRED)
The Nikon EM is introduced the first model in a revised design concept by Nikon to introduce a series of ultra compact bodies characterized by compactness, light weight and ease of use.
Canon introduces the AE-1 Program camera to succeed the original AE-1 offering shutter speed-priority AE and program AE modes.
1982 Nikon introduces the FM2, which uses an improved Copal Square Shutter to achieve an unheard-of speed range of 1 to 1/4000th second
Kodak launches the disc photography format with a line of compact cameras built around a rotating disc of fifteen 10×8 mm exposures. Labs resisted investing in new development equipment resulting in poor quality photos and the format was short-lived
The Nimslo 3D camera is launched – the first camera offering lenticular printing from 35mm negative film. A lenticular print combines four pictures into a single print that appears 3 dimensional
1983 The Olympus OM-4 is the first camera with a multi-spot exposure meter
Minolta launches the Disc-7, a disc camera with a small convex mirror on the front plate. With the help of a telescoping stick that anticipates the later selfie-stick, this allows the user to take self-portraits.
1984 LOMO begin mass-producing the LC-A, achieving popularity within the USSR and kickstarting Lomography
The Leica M6 heralds the renaissance of the rangefinder system in a market dominated by single-lens reflex cameras
The Canon T90 marks the pinnacle of manual-focus 35mm SLRs
The Canon RC-701 becomes the first still video camera marketed, offering10 fps (frames per second) high-speed shutter-priority and multi-program automatic exposure
1987 Canon launches the EOS (Electro-Optical System), an entirely new system designed specifically to support autofocus lenses
1988 The Fuji DS-1P, the first digital handheld camera, is introduced, though it does not sell
The first of the Genesis series from Chinon helps to define the category of 35mm bridge cameras
The R6 is the first mechanical, manual-exposure-only SLR produced by Leica since the Leicaflex SL2 was discontinued
1989 Steven Sasson and a colleague, Robert Hills, of Kodak create a prototype camera which is the first modern digital single-lens reflex camera that looks and functions like today’s professional models. It is known as the D-5000 or Ecam (electronic camera) and features a 1.2 megapixel sensor and uses image compression and memory cards.
1990 first digital camera shipped in the United States is the Dycam Model 1, which comes with a neutral density filter to prevent over exposure in bright settings.
1995 The Casio QV-10 is the first camera to incorporate an LCD screen on the back for image preview and playback
The Ricoh RDC-1 is the first digital camera offering a dedicated movie mode. It is capable of recording 5-second 768×480-pixel clips at 30 frames per second, and saving them in the new MPEG format
The Nikon D1 is the first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, rather than a digital modification to a film SLR
The Minolta RD-175 combines an existing SLR, the Dynax500si Super, with a three way splitter and three separate CCD image sensors which are combined digitally and interpolated to produce a 1.75 megapixel image
1996 the Canon PowerShot 600, Canon’s first consumer digital camera, is released featuring a 0.5 megapixel sensor
The Coolpix 100 is Nikon’s first consumer digital camera. It features a 1/3 megapixel sensor and a PCMCIA interface which enables it slot it into a laptop, where it appears as a removable drive
Canon introduces the first IXUS APS ultra compact as Canon’s contribution to the launch of the Advance Film System (APS). The model will later form the basis of the Digital IXUS range and is considered a milestone of compact camera design.
Minolta introduces the TC-1, a high-end, titanium-bodied compact autofocus 35mm camera with the smallest frontal area of any professional-grade compact autofocus camera
1997 The Pentax 645N is the first autofocus medium format SLR camera
Yashica’s first digital camera, the KC-600, is announced
The Epson PhotoPC 550, the third Epson digital camera and the first Epson to feature an external memory slot for SmartMedia cards, features a microphone to record up to six seconds of sound per photograph
1998 Fuji reveal the FUJIX DS-1P at Photokina as “the world’s first camera to save data to a semiconductor memory card”. It captures images using a 400 kilo-pixel CCD that Fuji had began developing in the 70s.
Kodak launches the DC 210, the first affordable megapixel resolution digital camera
1999The Nikon D1 is the first professional digital SLR to displace Kodak’s previously-undisputed reign over the professional market
Canon introduces the IXUS II in the most successful camera range in the APS market. This success will go on to make IXUS an important trademark in the compact camera market
Canon launches the first camera in the PowerShot S range, the S10 with a fully retractable zoom lens with built-in lens cover, advanced functions including Spot Metering and AE Lock, and compact, high-density packaging
2000 The Fujifilm FinePix S1 Pro is the first interchangeable-lens DSLR to hit the market. It is based on a Nikon N60 with Fuji’s APS-C-format Super CCD Sensor and is capable of creating 6.13 megapixel images
Nikon reissues the 1958 Nikon S3 rangefinder, the Nikon S3 Year 2000 Limited Edition, with an improved chrome finish as and a redesigned 50mm f1.4 lens with modern coatings
The Nikon F6 was the last of the line of Nikon’s professional SLR film cameras, and perhaps the most technically refined and advanced 35mm film camera ever made. It is the film camera I taken most pictures with. This is its story.
The Launch of the Nikon F6, 2004
The Nikon F6 was announced at Photokina 2004, along with the digital Nikon D2X. As Thom Hogan observed at the time, the launch of a new pro SLR surprised a few people, but it really shouldn’t have; Nikon delivered the F6 eight years after the F5, which was the standard interval between pro film bodies at that time.
Perhaps what caught those people out was how far digital photography had already come by 2004. The world’s first digital SLR, The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System, had been introduced 13 years previously in 1991. It was based on the Nikon F3. The LCD screens on the back of digital cameras we take for granted arrived in 1995. By 1999, five years before the F6 appeared, the first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, The Nikon D1, had been launched. In 2002 Contax shipped the first full-frame DSLR, which was followed by Canon’s popular version, the EOS-1Ds. In the same year the Minolta Dimage A1 became the first digital camera to stabilise images by shifting the sensor. Digital photography was not new in 2004.
Roll forward to another trade show – CES 2017 and the president of Fujifilm’s North American imaging division provided a clue as to why Nikon launched the F6 in 2004. “The film market peaked in 2003 with 960 million rolls of film” he said. Film sales were already in decline by 2004 but post-peak demand was still impressive.
According to the same source, by 2017 film sales had dropped to a low point of 2% of that peak before rebounding. Happily, film sales have been growing modestly since then, with film specialists like Analogue Wonderland now selling over 200 types of film stocks.
The Nikon F Mount Pro SLRs
As its name suggests, the F6 is the sixth of Nikon’s F mount pro bodies. The “F” came from the F in reflex. The F6 evolved from the legendary Nikon F, introduced in 1959. The F had a huge impact on the camera market, introducing the era of the professional SLR at the expense of Leica and Zeiss rangefinders. It was not the first SLR, but is often thought to be as it brought the innovations and features of earlier models into a single body.
The Evolution of the F6
The Nikon F evolved from Nikon’s rangefinder cameras, the first of which was introduced in 1947. The SP and S3 rangefinders required the addition of an optional reflex housing for telephoto lenses with focal lengths of 135mm or greater. Hence the need for an SLR camera, and the Nikon F was born.
In the original prototype Nikon F cameras, only the mirror box, pentaprism, and bayonet mount were new. The rest of the camera was virtually identical to the SP/S3 rangefinder.
Strong industrial design has always been a feature of Nikon’s pro SLRs – the lead designer of the Nikon F was Yusaku Kamekura, a leading figure in post-World War II Japanese graphic design, whose work included the 1967 Summer Olympics logo.
At its launch, the Nikon F introduced a comprehensive professional system. This provided a choice of lenses and accessories far beyond what had been available previously with rangefinders. By 1962 Nikon’s lens range extended from 21 mm to 1000 mm, and the F-mount would go on to support one of the largest collection of optical lenses ever created.
Mechanical Perfection – the Nikon F2
The Nikon F2 continued what the F had started, becoming standard issue for professional photographers for the most of the 1970s. It is still widely considered to be one the greatest 35mm mechanical SLRs of all time. In addition, the F2 also offered a choice of 10 viewfinders throughout its product cycle to suit every possible imaginable photographic situation. This unique modular approach continued until the introduction of the F6.
The Electronic Nikon Fs: F3-F5
Nikon introduced the F3 in 1980 as their flagship electronically controlled SLR camera. This was the camera that got me back into shooting with film, the story of which (and the story of the F3) you can find in the article Back to Film with the Nikon F3.
Giorgetto Giugiaro, a renowned Italian automotive and industrial designer, who has designed more great cars than just about anybody, designed the exterior. It was Guigiaro who introduced the grip and the red accent that would become a feature of the range. Initially, professional photographers didn’t trust the F3’s electronics but time proved the F3 to be reliable. With pro adoption Nikon were able to cease production of the F2.
With the F4, introduced in 1988, Nikon brought multi-pattern metering, a high-speed shutter, faster flash sync, and automatic focusing in a camera which had been designed from scratch. Just as with the original F, Nikon did not pioneer the new features, they would be the first to gather them all in a single camera body.
The tank-like F5 of 1996 offered a more sophisticated matrix metering system, faster autofocus with better sensor frame coverage, higher continuous shooting capability and exposure bracketing. It was the biggest and heaviest of the range (including the F6), weighing in at a hefty 1,445g including its 8 AA batteries. I know photographers who really like the F4 and others that are stalwart F5 users but I’ve never gravitated to either of them and prefer either the earlier F3 or later F6.
Enter the Dragon
In 2004 the range culminated in the F6, which remained in production until late 2020. Giugiaro was once again responsible for styling the F6, as he had done for all the Nikon F bodies since the F3, and it closely resembles the Nikon D2 DSLR. An F6 review in Casual Photophile gushes at the F6’s awesome specs in a way that resonates with a fellow camera geek.
The F6’s spec sheet promises everything any shooter could want, including a 1/8000th of a second maximum shutter speed, a 1/250th of a second flash syncspeed, Nikon’s incredible color matrix metering along with spot and classic center-weighted metering, full PASM mode selection, i-TTL wireless flash metering, 100% viewfinder coverage, built-in 5.5 FPS motor drive (8 FPS with the added MB-40 battery pack), 41 slots of custom settings, compatibility with all Nikon AF lenses including full VR capability, backwards compatibility with every Nikon AI lens (extendable to non-AI with a factory modification from Nikon), CF card data storage, AF tracking, and a thousand more functions that’ll somehow justify this ridiculous run-on sentence.
Should I buy a Nikon F6?
Like many photographers, I thought long and hard about whether I should buy an F6. An F6 is not an inconsiderable purchase, especially compared to the F100 I already owned, which was giving me excellent results at a fraction of the cost of Nikon’s last flagship film camera. The F6 is also larger and heavier at 975g vs. 785g without batteries.
In the end I found plenty of reasons to buy an F6:
It is very rugged, featuring magnesium alloy construction, weather-proofing, a pro film transport and a Kevlar shutter rated to 150,000 releases. Weather proofing is particularly important to me.
The autofocus is faster and the matrix meter superior to the F100’s
The long production run should mean the camera remains serviceable for some time
It has a built-in data facility to display and store the camera settings for your film shots without a bulky data back. These settings can be also printed between frames on negatives which is really handy when you are trying to work out why a particular shot did or did not expose correctly.
Unlike the F5, the Nikon F6 supports matrix metering in “A” and “M” mode with Nikon Ai and AiS manual focus lenses. This means it works with almost any Nikon F-mount lens made since 1977.
The F6 is compatible with the latest generation of Nikon flashes and supports Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.
The F6 accepts a wide range of batteries. The body will take CR123A or DL123A cells, whilst the optional MB-40 accepts AAs or a rechargeable EN-EL4.
Film loading and unloading is simple and intuitive. To load, just switch it on, pull up the rewind knob and the back opens. There is no additional button to worry about. Slide in the film, pull out the leader to the mark and close the back. The film auto rewinds after the last frame. If it doesn’t rewind automatically (which has only happened once to me) it is easy to get the camera to try again with the dedicated buttons.
It’s Nikon’s last and most advanced autofocus film camera
The only disadvantages I’ve found are the F6’s appetite for batteries, which is considerable, and its size and weight relative to other film cameras, such as the Nikon F3, Nikon FM3a or Nikon F100. No matter, unless I am really counting the grams I am probably going to take the F6. I’ve certainly shot more frames on it than any other film camera. For some more sample shots head over to the Nikon F6 Gallery.
The Purchase and First Impressions
I bought my F6 at Grey’s of Westminster, largely because of their after sales service. Once I had been using the camera for a little while, mostly shooting in Deal, Kent, I found a few more advantages over the F100, a camera I really enjoy using.
Straight out of the box the F6 has that top-of-the-range look and feel. Its smoother command dial operation and the embossed logos were immediately apparent. When setting up the F6 up I found the custom settings menu to be far easier and less cryptic than the F100’s codes. The F6 makes use of the rear LCD panel to use words rather than just numbers.
The F6 in Action
As I started shooting I found the grip felt better in my hand, whilst the AF-on button is angled up on the F6 to a position I find to be perfect for back-button focusing, which is how I prefer to shoot.
Ergonomically, the F6 is close to perfect. I also discovered that I preferred how the F6 displays exposure compensation, which I use frequently.
It really is a great film cameras and a joy to use. I’ve read some gripes about the autofocus sensor coverage being too small. The F6 uses the same autofocus module as the D2X APS-C DSLR, so the autofocus sensors cover a smaller area of the frame, but that has never troubled me. Some also decry the discontinuation of removable finders, but replaceable viewfinders make the camera more difficult to weather proof effectively so that decision makes perfect sense to me.
F6 Battery Consumption
As an all electronic film camera if the F6 runs out of battery power the shoot is over. There are no manual options to fall back on – unlike the amazing FM3A. I find that the F6 is good for about 15 rolls in good weather and perhaps as low as 10 during the winter, which isn’t great, but manageable. I always carry a spare set of CR123 batteries with me, which is not much of a hardship. You can use AA batteries using an accessory, but I have never gone down this route. For more information on battery consumption and options there is a good write up on the F6 project.
Lenses for the F6
I generally use the F6 with the 24-70mm f2.8 AFS G ED, which gives me a lot of flexibility. I tend to use primes on my other Nikon cameras particularly 35mm, 50mm and 85mm AF-D lenses, but the 24-70mm zoom seems to be the perfect partner for the F6 and I continue to enjoy the results I get from that combination. A yellow filter is always on the front if I am shooting black and white. If I do use a prime, I generally mount the 50mm f1.4 AF-D shown in the picture of my F6 at the top of this article. Recently I’ve been shooting with the excellent 135mm f2 DC (Defocus Control). The longest lens I’ve used with the F6 is the manual focus Ai-S Nikon 400mm F3.5 ED-IF shown here.
The End of the Line for the Nikon F6…
In July 2020 Nikon issued a recall of all F6s manufactured and/or sold after July 22, 2019. The recall was due to some components containing levels of a plasticiser called dibutyl phthalate which potentially exceeded the value specified in an EU regulation. The F6’s demise looked imminent and so it proved. It was was discontinued in October 2020 and an era ended.
Throughout its production the F6 was manufactured at the Sendai Nikon factory in the Tōhoku region North of Tokyo, which produced its first SLR in 1979.
The F6 represented the pinnacle of 35mm film camera functionality and usability. It embodies everything Nikon knew about making robust, reliable, and supremely usable cameras.
..but not for Film
You can still buy new film cameras. There are plenty at the lomography shop, the large format camera has been reinvented by The Intrepid Camera Company and Leica continue to ship M rangefinders, even re-issuing the M6 in 2022. However, I know of nothing that comes close to the sophistication of the Nikon F6. The Contax G2 was a very advanced electronic rangefinder, and beautifully made, but I never gelled with it for a variety of reasons and sold mine.
Medium format is even more difficult to get close to an F6 spec. The autofocus Pentax 645 nII and the sophisticated manual Hasselblad 203FA probably come closest – at least in my experience.
I’ve shot with quite a few Nikon cameras, including the F, F2,F3, FM2n, FM3a, F100, 28ti, D40X, D300, D600, D800, Df and Z7, but the F6 is my favourite. For manual focus I’d go with another engineering marvel, the FM3a or the F3. If I weight is a consideration, and the weather is likely to be good, I’d take the excellent F100.
For those interested, selected F6 specs are below, together with links to the full Nikon specs and original brochure.
Nikon F6 Specifications
Shutter: Electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter with built-in Shutter Monitor, 1/30 to 1/8,000s; Bulb in M mode
Viewfinder frame coverage: Approx. 100%
Finder magnification: Approx. 0.74x with 50 mm lens set to infinity at -1.0m-1
Focusing screen: B-type BriteView Clear Matte Screen II, interchangeable with six other optional focusing screens
Exposure control: Programmed Auto with Flexible Program, Shutter-Priority Auto, Aperture-Priority Auto, Manual
Exposure compensation: With exposure compensation button; ±5 EV range, in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 steps
Auto Exposure Lock: with AE/AF-L button
Autofocus: TTL phase detection, Nikon Multi-CAM2000 autofocus module, approx. EV –1 to EV 19 (ISO 100)
Focus modes: Single Servo AF and Continuous Servo AF, and Manual
Focus tracking: Automatically activated in Single Servo AF or Continuous Servo AF
AF Area Modes: Single Area AF, Dynamic AF, Group Dynamic AF or Dynamic AF with Closest-Subject Priority selectable
Exposure metering: Three built-in exposure meters — 3D Color Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot
Auto Exposure Bracketing: Number of shots: 2-7; compensation steps: 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 EV steps
Automatic film loading: automatic or manual film rewind
Film speed setting: DX or Manual selectable (manual setting has priority over DX detected film speed); DX: ISO 25-5000, Manual: ISO 6-6400 in 1/3 steps
Flash control: TTL flash control by combined five-segment TTL Multi Sensor with single-component IC and 1,005-pixel RGB sensor; i-TTL Balanced Fill-Flash with SB-800/600; Film speed range in TTL auto flash: ISO 25-1000
Power source: Two CR123A or DL123A batteries; The optional MB-40 accepts eight AA batteries or a Nikon EN-EL4
Dimensions: (W x H x D) 158 x 119 x 77.5mm (6.2 x 4.7 x 3.1 in.)
Weight: (body only without batteries) Approx. 975g (34.4 oz.)
You can find the Original Nikon spec sheethere and brochurehere
The Nikon FM3A (often written as FM3a) is one of the most refined manual SLR’s ever made, and as a 21st century manual focus film SLR, somewhat of a throwback. It was introduced in July 2001 when the shift to digital cameras was well underway. The model was the last of Nikon’s semi-professional line of compact 35 mm film SLRs and one of the brand’s last film cameras; only the autofocus F6 SLR of 2004 and Nikon’s limited edition rangefinder swan song, the SP of 2005, came later.
The D1X, an improved version of Nikon’s first DSLR, the D1, was already out by the time the FM3A was launched. The retro looking FM3A sat on shelves in camera shops around the world next to the hulking digital flagship and autofocus film cameras such as the F5 and F100. Increasing digital camera sales, low sales volume and the increasing costs of such a mechanically sophisticated unit put paid to the FM3A in January 2006. This left only the Nikon F6 and the Nikon FM10 in Nikon’s 35mm film SLR line.
Nikon built the FM3A for serious amateur photographers who wanted a a high quality camera with full manual control. Personally, I am grateful for that. It may be a camera out of time, but it is an outstanding piece of engineering: compact, handsome, precise, durable, reliable and a pleasure to shoot with.
Evolution of the FM/FE Series
The first model of the mechanical Nikon FM series, the FM was introduced in 1977. Along with the electronic FE of 1978, the FM replaced the mechanical Nikkormat FT series and electronic Nikon EL series.
In 1983 Nikon introduced the mechanical FM2 with a honeycomb-pattern titanium curtain shutter that enabled a top shutter speed of 1/4000 sec and 1/200 sec for flash sync. The flash sync speed increased to 1/250, (identifiable by the flash sync speed labeled in red). This was a huge step forward compared to the FM’s 1/1000 sec. and 1/125 sec. The electronic Nikon FE2 followed later the same year. In 1989 the titanium shutter was replaced by an aluminium version – the FM2n – this is the version I have of the FM2.
Development of The Nikon FM3A
Development started in December 1998. Engineers from Mito Nikon (a Nikon production facility that had originally created the Nikkormat of the 1960s and later the F3, FM2n, F4, and others) joined forces with their counterparts at the Ohi Plant. The Ohi facility was the source of Nikon’s first cameras and early models such as the Nikon rangefinders and the Nikon F. Top engineers from these two facilities came together to form a project team.
The FM3A’s predecessor, the manual all-mechanical controlled ‘New FM2‘, had been a best-seller since its introduction in 1984. It was popular amongst experienced amateurs and some professionals, and offered shooting even when the battery was exhausted. At that time Nikon could see also increasing demand for the aperture-priority AE. The project team needed to produce a design that would reconcile these conflicting requirements. Eventually, in order to address the simultaneous availability of aperture-priority AE and battery-free shutter operation, the team decided to adopt a hybrid shutter design.
The hybrid shutter design meant that the shutter had to operate with two control systems. This resulted in a larger, more complicated shutter mechanism with more component parts . As the FM3A was the successor to the New FM2, a larger camera body was not acceptable, meaning the larger shutter unit had to be mounted in the limited space available. It was extremely difficult to develop a reliable shutter unit with such a complicated mechanism in such a limited space, and in the early stages the project team thought that the highest speed of 1/4000 second would be unattainable. However, after much development work the design was successfully realised.
Launch and Packaging
The Nikon FM3A was introduced in February 2001 at the PMA show in Orlando, Florida. Prior its introduction, Nikon customers had to choose between the mechanical FM model with manual exposure control or the electronic FE with aperture priority mode that wouldn’t work without batteries. After the FM3A became available photographers had the best of both worlds with a hybrid shutter that allows both electronically-controlled auto-exposure shooting and full manual control without the need for batteries.
The FM3A came in all black and silver and black. For the silver version there was a matching Nikkor 45mm pancake lens available at launch, which is shown in the picture above. The FM3A could make use of a range of accessories such as the Nikon MD-12 motor drive, the MF-16 databack and the various TTL flashes.
The Pancake Lens
In July 2001, the manual focus Nikkor 45 mm f/2.8P AI-s pancake lens went on sale simultaneously with FM3A. It was a lightweight Tessar design just 17 mm deep and weighing only 120 g. The lens consisted of 4 elements in 3 groups with a 7-blade circular diaphragm. Initially the finish was matched to the silver FM3A model, with a black finish added that November. A CPU in the lens enables programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-speed priority, and manual exposure modes. The CPU also enabled it to function with Nikon’s autofocus cameras. It pairs really well with the camera, but my preferred lens is the 50mm f1.4 – which is what I used with the sample shot shown below.
What Makes the Nikon FM3A a Great Camera?
The Nikon FM3A is one of the most refined manual SLR’s ever made. Its compact size, large bright viewfinder, ergonomic controls, excellent analogue light meter display and accurate focusing split image focusing screen make it a pleasure to use. The absence of the normal SLR blackout is an added bonus.
The focusing screen is actually the brightest standard screen of any manual-focus Nikon. This is Type K3 Focusing Screen, the interchangeable focusing screen that comes as standard. The K3 is ‘a matte/Fresnel screen with a split-image rangefinder spot surrounded by a microprism ring and a 12mm centre-weighted area reference circle’. It is optimized for f/2 lenses – faster lenses won’t get any brighter. I’ve found it very easy to use. Nikon introduced two alternatives along with the K3, the E3 matte screen for close ups, and the B3 etched screen with horizontal and vertical lines. The B3’s lines are useful for composition, architectural photography or multiple exposure operation.
The meter is accurate and extremely easy to use via needle matching. It uses a 60% centre-weighted pattern but also provides a welcome and well-placed AE lock button on the back for manual adjustments. There is also a film window, which was a new feature for the FM series.
The build quality is exceptional. The top and bottom body covers are each drawn from a sheet of brass; the shutter release and film wind cap are lathe-turned, whilst the shutter and film advance actions run on self-lubricating bearings. The film transport mechanism is very tough and makes use of hardened metal gearing.
The FM3A is regularly compared to its predecessor, the FM2n, often to determine whether the FM3A is worth it, because the difference in cost between them is substantial. Both cameras feature an all-mechanical vertically-traveling focal plane shutter capable of taking 1/4000th a second exposures but the FM3A adds electronic aperture priority mode. Both are also very light, but the FM2n comes in a tad lighter at 540g versus 570g. You can shed a few more grams if you go for the FM2/T which makes use of titanium top and bottom plates to get to a very trim 515g for a tough, metal camera.
The most obvious difference to the FM3A is the FM2n’s -o+ LED metering display (a bit like the Leica M6 TTL’s), which is quite different to the FM3A’s analogue twin needle display. The needles are great in normal lighting conditions, whereas the FM2n’s is better in low light. I enjoy shooting with both, but I think the FM3A’s makes for a more engaging shooting experience. The price difference between the two models is even more acute with the black FM3A as it commands a premium as a collector’s item. I went for silver FM3A and a black FM2n, which gives me the best of both worlds.
Beyond the difficulty of viewfinder visibility in low light, there is very little to say against the FM3A, other than it was, and a remains pricey camera. It has a fixed head so isn’t quite as versatile as the F Series cameras with their interchangeable finders, but you can change the focusing screen if you want to. Some also find the locking device on the exposure compensation dial annoying, and it certainly isn’t strictly necessary, but I have not found it interferes with my enjoyment of the camera.
Nikon FM3A Vs F3
Curiously, there has been quite a bit of debate on the internet on the FM3A vs F3, though the current Nikon F pro body at the time of its launch was the F5. A frequently asked question seems to be which one is tougher and more resilient. I have both and they both seem pretty tough, though the F3 seems to have an Achilles heel when using a flash mounted above the rewind knob. There are several reports that if a mounted flash is bumped reasonably hard, the chip which controls exposure functions under the rewind knob can crack, rendering the F3 largely inoperable. The F3HP has the hotshoe above the prism which fixes that problem, but If you are looking for the toughest possible camera I would take an F2 or original F ‘hockey puck’. I am not sure how useful the comparison is, but the main differences between the F3 and FM3A is that the F3 is heavier and larger, uses LEDs in the viewfinder, offers an interchangeable prism and pro accessories and is slower for flash sync (1/80 versus 1/250) and shutter speed (1/2000 versus 1/4000).
Comparison with Leica M
An even stranger comparison, for me at least, is the comparison with the Leica M, particularly the Leica M6. In some cases this occurs as part of a search for an SLR that feels as good as a Leica, in others I think it is just a comparison of late model film cameras – the M6 TTL was introduced in 1998, the FM3A in 2001. I shoot with both Nikon and Leica cameras – digital and film, but again I am not sure of how useful comparisons are. Firstly rangefinders and SLRS are very different, and secondly Leica takes a unique approach to building cameras and lenses – which is reflected in the cost. I really enjoy shooting with both the M6 TTL (a 0.58 model) and M7 (a 0.85), but I don’t have to worry about finder magnification with my Nikons!
An Engineering Marvel
Under the covers the Nikon FM3A’s hybrid shutter is one of the most advanced SLR shutters ever built – a marvel of compact mechanical engineering built to such a high standard that it can shoot at 1/4000 of a second without battery power. This is a feat most other mechanical shutters just can’t match, topping out at 1/1000 or 1/2000 of a second. Adding batteries powers the the electronically controlled shutter for aperture priority shooting, the excellent analogue light meter, exposure lock, and DX film coding. Batteries also enable the TTL flash exposure compensation for fill flash – the only manual-focus Nikon to have this feature.
The camera weighs in at 570g, only a little more than the king of compact SLRs – the Olympus OM-1 (510g). At 142.5 x 90 x 58 mm it also compares well against the OM-1’s diminutive 136 x 83 x 50 mm form factor.
I enjoy using the analogue light meter, which is preferable to the one on my F3. The two needles, one matched to your settings and one to the light measured by the meter, are clear and easy to see. That analogue instrument is also far more durable than LEDs. When the inevitable electronics apocalypse claims many of my cameras the FM3a (along with the F and F2) will just keep going…
Unlike the FM2 that was a best-seller for 16 years, the FM3A had a shorter production life. In January 2006, five years from its introduction, production of FM3A was discontinued along with the F100, F80 and other major film cameras. Nikon’s discontinuation was necessary to allow the firm to concentrate its resources on the digital cameras.
Nikon FM3A Specifications
Shutter: Vertical-travel, metal focal-plane shutter: 8 to 8 to 1/4000 sec step-less aperture-priority auto. Bulb, 1 to 1/4000 sec manual with mechanical control (all settings available without batteries in manual)
Viewfinder frame Coverage: Approx. 93%
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.83x with 50-mm lens set to infinity
Focusing screen: K3 type (split prism-image microprism type, Clear Matte Screen IIa) standard, B3 type and E3 type optional
Viewfinder information: Shutter speed, exposure meter indication, shutter indication, direct aperture value, exposure compensation mark, ready light
Exposure Compensation: ±2 EV in units of 1/3 EV
Auto Exposure Lock: AE lock button
Self-timer: Mechanical, countdown time of approx. 4 to 10 seconds
Flash sync speed: 1/250
TTL flash Compensation: Compensation to -1 EV activated with the TTL flash compensation button
Automatic DX film recognition
Film-check window On rear of camera
Power Source: One 3-V lithium battery (CR-1/3N type), two 1.55 V silver batteries (SR44 type), or two 1.5 V alkaline batteries (LR44 type)
Dimensions (W x H x D): Approx. 142.5 x 90 x 58 mm / 5.6 x 3.5 x 2.3 in.
(camera body only)
Weight: Approx. 570 g / 20.1 oz. (camera body only, including battery)
Future Proof Pleasure
The FM3A is an outstanding piece of engineering that will last long into the future. It is compact, handsome, precise, durable, reliable and a pleasure to shoot with. For me, along with the F, F2 and F6 it is one of Nikon’s greatest cameras. It makes an appearance on a few greatest ever and favourite film cameras lists too, though I think the FM2 shows up just as regularly.
There are many strands in a photography timeline – the chemistry of film and processing, the physics of optics, the mechanical engineering of shutters, the electronics of metering and digital photography, and the iconic camera designs that bring everything together. At each end of the photography timeline, the science is bewilderingly complex – from the arcane chemical processes of early photography to the algorithms of computational photography, which enables cameras to go beyond capturing photons to compute pictures.
It’s not a linear journey; digital photography has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in all things analogue, characterised by toy cameras, digital filters and apps that produce or replicate the look of film as well as the renewed growth of film photography. I started to shoot with film again in 2016 and around the time I first wrote this article, during the lockdowns of 2020, I started to expand my small collection of vintage film cameras and went back to film photography. There is an all-film gallery of the boats of Deal, Kent shot with a variety of film cameras including SLRs, TLRs and rangefinders here. It’s gratifying to see the growth of UK film businesses such as Analogue Wonderland, which supplies a vast range of film stock and The Intrepid Camera Company, which has reinvented large format photography for the twenty-first century. I’m as interested in looking forward as back however, and and follow new developments with great interest, including crowd funded ventures such as the AI powered Alice Camera.
I’ve reviewed, and borrowed from, many timelines and dozens of articles and books on the history of film, film processes, cameras, lenses, digital technology, phone camera development and computational photography to compile this photography timeline and in an attempt to combine these strands. The sections of the timeline are of my own devising.
I’ve tried to be diligent with my research and check the facts. The sources for the majority of entries are included as URLs. I have also referred to several excellent books: A History of Photography in 50 Cameras by Michael Pritchard; the Taschen books 20th Century Photography and A History of Photography; Photography A Concise History by Ian Jeffrey and Photography, the Definitive Visual History by Tom Ang, all of which I can recommend. If you spot any factual errors please feel free to share them with me along with the source(s).
Charles Chevalier creates a compound achromatic lens to cut down on chromatic aberration, a failure of a lens to focus all colours to the same plane, for Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s photographic experiments
1832Robert Hunt’sResearches on Light records the first known description employing platinum to make a photographic print, but does not succeed in producing a permanent image
1835William Henry Fox Talbot makes his first successful camera photograph or “photogenic drawing” using paper sensitised with silver chloride,
1839 The public birthday of photography, from three inventors – Dagurerre, Fox Talbot and Bayard
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s Daguerreotype becomes the first photographic process to be adopted, creating a unique image on a silvered metal plate of remarkable sharpness.
Hearing of Daguerre’s invention, Fox Talbot announces a paper process to achieve images by action of light and presents his photogenic drawings at the Royal Society in London
Hippolyte Bayard produces direct-positive images (like Daguerre’s process) on sensitized paper (like Talbot’s).
Sir John Herschel suggests fixing images in sodium thiosulphate. He also coins the terms photography, negative and positive.
1854James Ambrose Cutting takes out several patents relating to the Ambrotype process, underexposed or bleached wet collodion negatives that appeared positive when placed against a dark coating or backing
Parisian portrait photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri patents the Carte-de-visite (CdV), a new style of portrait utilizing albumen paper the size of a visiting card that will become commonly traded among friends and visitors
1855 The carbon process is patented by A. L. Poitevin, producing an image resistant to fading which becomes widely used in book illustration
1857 The folding camera with tapering bellows is invented by C.G.H. Kinnear, forming the basis for subsequent bellows designs
1858 John Waterhouse invents Waterhouse stops, a system using plates with different aperture diameters that could be inserted into a slot in the lens barrel which are the earliest selectable stops.
John Harrison Powell registers his design for a portable stereoscopic camera.
1871-1900 Instantaneous Photography without the Chemistry
1871 English physician Richard Leach Maddox invents the lightweight gelatin dry plate silver bromide process, assigning the complex and arduous chemistry work photographers had previously to undertake to a factory
1873Charles Harper Bennett improves the gelatin silver process by hardening the emulsion, making it more resistant to friction
The platinotype process, which produces platinum prints, is patented by William Willis.
1877 George Eastman learns to make his own gelatin dry plates, based on the writings of the British innovators, including Charles Harper Bennett
Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke produce Blitzlicht – the first ever widely used flash powder
1878 Heat ripening of gelatin emulsions is discovered by Charles Harper Bennett, making possible very short exposures and paving the way for the snapshot
1879 George Eastman applies for a patent for an emulsion-coating machine, which enables him to mass-produce photographic dry plates
1881 Thomas Bolas patents a hand-held, box form camera he calls a detective camera
1882Etienne Jules Marey perfects a chronophotographic gun, a device capable of taking 12 exposures a second.
1883 Ottomar Anschütz designs a camera with an internal roller blind shutter mechanism in front of the photographic plate – the first focal-plane shutter in recognisable form
William Schmid patents the first detective camera to be widely sold
1885 The first flexible photographic roll film was sold by George Eastman, though this original “film” was actually a coating on a paper base
1886 Frederick E. Ives develops the halftone engraving process, making it possible to reproduce photographic images in the same operation as printing text
The first single use camera, the Ready Fotografer, is introduced, using a dry plate, though it appears to have enjoyed very limited success
1887The Rev. Hannibal Goodwin files a patent application for camera film on celluloid rolls, though it will be not granted until 1898, by which time George Eastman has started production of roll-film using his own process
1888 The Kodak n°1 box camera, the first ready-loaded, easy-to-use camera is introduced with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”
1889 George Eastman introduces the first transparent plastic roll film, made from highly flammable cellulose nitrate film
The Loman Reflex, the first commercially produced camera with a focal-plane shutter, is introduced
1890 The Zeiss Protar, the first successful anastigmat photographic lens, designed Dr Paul Rudolph, is introduced
The Ilford Manual of Photography is first published, providing detailed technical information regarding optics, chemistry and printing.
W.W. Rouch and Co. introduce the Eureka, which will become a popular detective, or hand, camera
The German manufacturer C.P. Goerz incorporates the Anschütz focal-plane shutter into a camera
1891 Bausch and Lomb introduce the first of their iris diaphragm shutters, incorporating an f-stop and shutter speed setting device
1892 Samuel N. Turner applies for a US patent for paper-backed, daylight-loading roll film. The backing paper is printed with white exposure numbers which can read through a red window in the back of the camera. The idea is incorporated in the Boston Manufacturing Company’s ‘Bullseye” camera of the same year.
The Graflex Speed Graphic press camera is introduced and will continue in production until 1973
1913 Kodak invents 35mm film for the early motion picture industry
Oskar Barnack, creates the Ur-Leica, the prototype of a small-format 35mm camera, doubling the width of 18x24mm cinema film and running it horizontally, rather than vertically as in cinema cameras of the time
The introduction of Eastman Portrait Film begins the transition to sheet film instead of glass plates for professional photographers
1971 Nikon introduce the F2 to succeed the legendary F with a variety of finder options.
1972 Kodak reduces the popular Instamatic Camera to pocket size with the introduction of the Pocket Istamatic Camera with the new easy-load 110 Film Cartridge, extending the cartridge loading principle to what had hitherto been known as the sub-miniature camera.
Polaroid introduces the SX-70 an improvement on previous models that ejects pictures automatically and without chemical residue,
The Copal Compact Square Shutter (CCS), one of the most notable focal plane shutters of the ’70s, is introduced with the Konica Autoreflex TC
1977 Fuji introduces the first zoom lens to be sold as the primary lens for an interchangeable lens camera – the Fuji Fujinon-Z 43-75mm f/3.5-4.5
The Minolta XD11 is the world’s first camera with aperture priority and shutter priority, as well as a fully metered manual mode.
Kodak enters the instant picture field with a range of cameras and a new film. Kodak instant cameras do not need a mirror to reverse the image laterally, which is a requirement for Polaroid cameras, but litigation from Polaroid soon follows.
1978 Konica introduces the C35 AF, the first point-and-shoot autofocus camera.
1980 The Ricoh AF Rikenon 50mm f/2, the first interchangeable autofocus SLR lens, is introduced
Nikon introduces the F3, with manual and semi-automatic exposure control.
1981 Sony introduces the Mavica, a TV camera that records TV-quality still images on magnetic floppy discs.
The Sigma 21-35mm f/3.5-4 becomes the first super-wide angle zoom lens for still cameras.
International speculation on the silver market causes a significant rise in the price of silver, an important base material for the photographic industry. Agfa-Gevaert’s struggles results in the group being acquired by Bayer.
1982 Nikon introduces the FM2, which uses an improved Copal Square Shutter to achieve an unheard-of speed range of 1 to 1/4000th second and a fast flash X-sync speed of 1/250th second.
Kodacolor VR 1000 film is announced at Photokina. It is a T-Grain film, which makes possible such a high speed film with tolerable grain.
1983 The Olympus OM-4 is the first camera with a multi-spot exposure meter, taking up to eight spot measurements and averaging them
Nikon introduces the FA, the first camera to offer a multi-segmented (or matrix or evaluative) exposure light meter, which uses two segmented silicon photodiodes to divide the field of view into five segments.
1984 LOMO begin mass-producing the LC-A, achieving popularity within the USSR and kickstarting Lomography.
The Contax T, the first in a series of high quality, exceptionally compact 35mm rangefinder cameras is introduced
Leica introduces the M6, which resembles the Leica M3 but adds a modern, off-the-shutter light meter with no moving parts and LED arrows in the viewfinder.
1985-2006: Autofocus to Camera Phones
1985 Minolta introduces the world’s first fully integrated autofocus SLR with the autofocus (AF) system built into the body – the Maxxum 7000.
1986 The disposable camera is popularised by Fujifilm with the 35mm QuickSnap, which helps to define consumer photography in the late ’80s and ’90s
The Canon T90 marks the pinnacle of manual-focus 35mm SLRs
Canon launches the RC-701 ‘Realtime camera’ the first commercially available Still Video Camera
Kodak introduces T-MAX film which is smooth, fine grained and sharp – characteristics due to its use of a tabular grain emulsion. T-MAX 100 has a very high resolution of 200 lines/mm and is often used for testing the sharpness of lenses.
1987 Canon launches the EOS (Electro-Optical System), an entirely new system designed specifically to support autofocus lenses.
Canon becomes the first camera maker to successfully commercialise Ultrasonic Motor (USM) lenses which appear with the introduction of the EF 300 mm f/2.8L USM lens
1988 The Fuji DS-1P, the first digital handheld camera, is introduced, though it does not sell
The JPEG and MPEG standards are set.
Kodak introduces the DC 210, the first “Megapixel resolution” digital camera selling for under $1000 ($899).
1989 Canon introduces the 50mm f/1.0L, the fastest AF EF mount lens, and one of the fastest lenses in the world.
1990 Adobe Photoshop 1.0 image manipulation program is introduced for Apple Macintosh computer.
Eastman Kodak announces the development of its Photo CD system
The gum oil process, a painstaking and highly expressive photographic method, is invented by Karl P. Koenig.
1995 The Casio QV-10 is the first camera to incorporate an LCD screen on the back for image preview and playback
1996 Eastman Kodak, FujiFilm, AgfaPhoto, and Konica introduce the Advanced Photo System (APS), enabling the camera to record information other than the image
The Canon IXUS is the firstIXUS APS camera, Canon’s contribution to the launch of the APS film system and an important milestone in compact camera design
Hasselblad introduces the V-system 503 C/W medium format film camera which will continue into production until 2013
1997Philippe Kahn publicly shares a picture via a cell phone for the first time
1998 Leica launches The M6 TTL to replace the M6 with a larger, reversed shutter dial and TTL flash capability
Kodakintroduces the Portra family of daylight-balanced professional colour negative films for portrait and wedding applications.
1999 The first commercial camera phone, the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, is launched in Japan
The Nikon D1 is the first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, rather than a digital modification to a film SLR
2000 Sharp and J-Phone introduce the first mass market camera-phone in Japan, The J-SH04
Canon introduces the EOS D30, the company’s first digital SLR produced in-house. Previously Canon had a contract with Kodak to rebrand DCS models. It was also the first DSLR with a price tag affordable to enthusiasts.
2001 Nikon produce the manual focus FM3a, the last manual focus 35mm SLR released by a major maker
Mirrorless cameras overtake DSLRs based on unit volume (CIPA data)
2021 Sony introduces the ⍺1, a 50.1MP, 8.6K camera capable of shooting bursts at up to 30fps blackout-free, with 15 stops of dynamic range, real-time animal eye AF and anti-distortion shutter technology.
Olympus exits the camera market, completing the sale of its camera business to JIP, a Tokyo-based venture capital firm.
Nikon announces, and very late in the year, ships, the Z9 – the first professional camera to arrive without a mechanical shutter without rolling shutter thanks to its fast stacked shutter. It also offers the world’s fastest still image frame rate of 120 fps.
2022 French Photographer Mathieu Stern creates portraits of people who do not exist with the Dall-E-2 AI programme.
Leica introduces the M11 with a 60MP full-frame back side illuminated sensor
Japanese media organisation Nikkei reports that the compact ‘point-and-shoot’ market has retracted to 3.01m units as of 2021, a drop of 97% from its peak of 110.7m cameras in 2008.
This article describes the most famous residents and visitors to the town of Deal, which includes some of the most notable figures of the last two hundred years.
Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, widely regarded as Britain’s greatest military hero, visited Deal when his fleet was anchored in the Downs, the anchorage just off the coast of Deal. The weather must have been inclement as he wrote to Lady Hamilton in 1801 that ‘this is the coldest place on earth, most assuredly’
Nelson’s aide-de-camp Captain Edward Parker was severely wounded in a Raid on Boulogne in 1801. The Admiral arranged lodgings for him in Deal so he could recover. Despite the care he received Captain Parker died of his wounds and is buried in the churchyard of St Georges’s Church. His tomb was paid for by Admiral Nelson, who attended the funeral.
Nelson Street (in which I rented a cottage in the summer for many years) was named after the Admiral, as were two Lord Nelson pubs (one in Deal and one in Walmer) and two Deal Luggers (a local boat type) – the Brave Nelson and the Nelson.
Emma, Lady Hamilton, Nelson’s great love, is known to have stayed at the Three Kings in Deal, later the Royal Hotel, where she could watch Nelson’s ships from her window.
Princess Adelaide of Saxe Meiningen stayed at the Royal Hotel after she landed at Deal on her way to marry the future King William IV. There is a large property on the seafront named Adelaide House, and a pub was named in her honour in Church Street Walmer. The pub closed in 1913 and the house is now a private residence. Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is also named after her.
Winston Churchill is legendary as a statesman, an orator and the war time leader who rallied Britain from the brink of defeat to victory in WWII. Churchill was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle in 1941 and was guest of the Royal Hotel whilst visiting Dover Castle during the war.
Churchill painted The Beach at Walmer, an oil on canvas, in 1938. The view in the painting is of bathers with one of the Walmer Castle’s cannons in the foreground. He and his family enjoyed bathing in the sea and the beach was one of his favourite subjects to paint. was given as a gift to General Ismay, Churchill’s chief military adviser during WWII. The work was auctioned at Christie’s in 2011 for £313,250.
LS Lowry, famous for his distinctive industrial landscapes, visited Deal in 1912. There he sketched a beach scene which he used much to produce a painting called ‘The Beach’ in 1947. The Royal Hotel is recognisable in the work, which was sold at auction by Christie’s for £1.5m in 2006.
The Duke of Wellington
The Duke of Wellington is best known for his victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, though his battle record is long and exemplary. He participated in around 60 battles and is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time. After his military career he served as Prime Minister twice.
Wellington lived in Walmer Castle in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports until his death at the age of 83 in 1852. Walmer Castle was built as a Tudor Artillery fortress. However, unlike Deal Castle, which kept its squat, brooding profile, Walmer Castle evolved into a comfortable stately home.
The Duke, then Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Wellesley, also lived in Wellesley House in Walmer just before the Peninsula War of 1807. The Wellesley Arms in Walmer Castle Road was named after him. The pub finally closed in 1911 and is now a private residence.
Charles Dickens, the quintessential Victorian author created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest story tellers. He is not usually considered amongst famous Deal visitors as he is closely associated with the seaside town of Broadstairs, 16 miles awy. He first visited Broadstairs in 1837, and visited frequently for next two decades, writing Bleak House in the house of the same name.
Nevertheless, Dickens did visit Deal in 1847 to attend the celebrations that accompanied the opening of the South East Railway line, of which Deal was the terminus. He stayed in the Swan Inn, in Queen’s Street. This stay is not to be confused with his more well known stay at the Swan Hotel in Stafford, which he referred to as ‘The Dodo’. Deal is mentioned in Bleak House:
At last we came into the narrow streets of Deal, and very gloomy they were upon a raw misty morning. The long flat beach, with its little irregular houses, wooden and brick, and its litter of capstans, and great boats, and sheds, and bare upright poles with tackle and blocks, and loose gravelly waste places overgrown with grass and weeds, wore as dull an appearance as any place I ever saw.
JMW Turner is perhaps Britain’s most well known painter, famed for his luminous skies and turbulent seascapes. Like Dickens he is not thought of amongst famous Deal visitors and residents as his connection to Margate is better known, especially after the museum bearing his name was opened in 2011.
It is less well known that he also lived in Deal. Turner was eccentric, but also intensely private and reclusive, so when Margate became too popular for his liking he persuaded his landlady and companion Mrs Booth to move with him to Deal, where they bought a two-storey property in Beach Street with views of the English Channel and Goodwin Sands.
Whilst in Deal, Turner found the anonymity he sought and painted four works, Sailing Boat Off Deal, Deal,Off Deal and Deal In A Storm. The latter was painted in 1824 and is owned by Deal Town Council. It shows a dramatic beach scene under a lightening lit sky with boatmen preparing to launch boats for a rescue a ship wrecked on the Goodwin Sands. Whilst he was in Deal he was rowed out to the sands where he watched a cricket match at low water, a tradition that survived until 2003. When he moved to Chelsea in later life he habitually wore a naval greatcoat and was known as ‘The Admiral’ in the area.
The last of our famous Deal visitors is Joseph Lister, the British medical pioneer and father of modern surgery, lived at Park House, The Beach, Walmer. He introduced the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, which became widely used in surgery. His work led to a reduction in post-operative infections and made surgery much safer
Lister moved to Walmer after suffering a stroke and died there in 1912, the same year that LS Lowry visited Deal. In 1902 he had been called out of his retirement to oversee the emergency appendix operation for Edward VII. Lister’s antiseptic surgical method was employed by the surgeons and the King survived. Park House now displays a Blue Plaque.
The British Pub is world renowned, and for good reason. In towns and villages across the country pubs have played a vital role since our earliest history. Pubs in Deal have played a fascinating variety of roles over the course of the town’s history. It’s a story that is well told in Andrew Sargent’s excellent book ‘Drinking in Deal’. They book, together with the extremely informative The Old Pubs of Deal and Walmerby Steve Glover and Michael Rogers are the main sources for this article.
Deal was an important port for many years – see the article The Historic Town of Deal on this site for more on this. Accordingly, many of the pubs in Deal, particularly those around Beach Street, were frequented by the Deal Boatmen. Some pubs, such as the Rose and Crown, even had an early license for those boatmen returning home early in the morning. Pubs were places for the boatmen to socialise but also to wait, and in some cases, watch for salvage opportunities and other work. The Fountain and The Napier Tavern, both which were on the seaward side of Beach Street, had look out verandas. Today, The Royal Hotel is the only surviving property on the beach – the others were demolished in 1924 when the road was widened.
In addition to the boatmen, Deal’s pubs were frequented by sailors on shore leave from their ships anchored in the Downs and Royal Marines from the barracks in the town. Occasionally the marines caused trouble in the town and Drinking in Deal provides several accounts of drunken vandalism and disorder. One of the more amusing stories occurred in 1863 when a marine was caught under the bed of the landlord’s daughter in The Deal Hoy. He escaped, only to be apprehended later that day, not far away in The Bowling Green.
Emergency Accommodation – for the Living and The Dead
Deal’s pubs also served as emergency accommodation for shipwrecked or injured sailors. The proximity of the Goodwin Sands meant this was a regular occurrence over the years. In 1702 it was recorded that 400 infirm seamen were being cared for in the town. The Great Storm of 1703 battered the coast for 9 days, during which The Navy lost 387 men on the Restoration, 220 on the Stirling Castle, 387 on the Mary and 269 on the Northumberland.
The Ship Inn was one of the pubs that took in survivors from the steamship Strathclyde which sank in 1876 with the loss of 38 lives. The Antwerp (now The Bohemian) took in survivors from the Great Storm of 1877 which did a great deal of damage along the Kent coast. Corpses, including those of drowned sailors, were sometimes taken to pubs until the town had its own mortuary around 1890. This was common enough for the coroner of West Kent to complain in 1879 that he had told publicans repeatedly not to receive corpses in their houses as ‘a licensed house was for the living, not the dead’. Inquests were often held in Deal’s pubs until forbidden by law in 1902.
Pubs in Deal had a wide variety of uses. The New Inn doubled as the local excise office between 1840 and 1884; Public Auctions were held at several pubs – most notably The Black Horse, whilst The Rose and Crown acted as a milk collection point as it had early morning license. Military pensions were paid from The White Horse in 1878 and the Deal Fire brigade, along with many other organisations, associations and clubs, used the town’s pubs for meetings and dinners.
Inns and Stabling
The town’s Inns also acted as staging posts for travellers. In Deal, some travellers would come ashore from the Downs and continue their journey by coach and horses to London. The Swan in Queen Street (now Queen Street Tap) had stabling for 20 horses and 6 coaches in 1838, and The Walmer Castle in South Street was a terminus for the coach to London and the mail coach. The Inns and pubs would also house itinerant tradespeople of all kinds.
Deal has a history of smuggling and some pubs were used as receiving houses as well as unofficial stations for the boatmen. In particular, The Fountain, a very old pub of weatherboard construction that stood next to the Royal Hotel on the beach, was reputed to have a strong association with smugglers. According to an article in the East Kent Mercury posted in the Dover Kent Archives “Many a successful run was planned in the bar of the Fountain Hotel and there were secret panels, false stairs and a tunnel all used by the smugglers. The Fountain lost its smuggling association when the activity came to an end in Deal but it became notorious again in 1905 when the licensee was murdered by one of the barmen.”
The same source posts an article from the Kentish Weekly Post in 1813. It describes how two Customs Officers, having seized a boat on the beach with a quantity of smuggled spirits on board, were violently assaulted by a number of smugglers. They emerged from The Port Arms, one of the town’s oldest pubs, which stood on the beach at the time, and carried away the casks.
Disreputable Deal Houses
There were both reputable and disreputable public houses in the town – and Deal had plenty of both. The Jolly Boatman was one of the pubs with a reputation as a ‘receiving house’ used by smugglers but it also provided cheap lodgings to vagrants and itinerant travellers and was something of a doss house. It was squalid enough for an outbreak of Cholera in 1831, and in 1858 a lady apparently fainted from the noxious odious odour of ‘night soil’. Cholera returned in 1866 resulting in five deaths, after which the pub changed its name.
The Sir Sydney Smith was perhaps one of the most notorious pubs of the 1860s after the landlord, Joseph Maxted, managed to secure a 4AM license. According to The Old Pubs of Deal and Walmer; “The pub became quite a den of iniquity, frequented by the most unsavoury characters. In ensuing year, police were called on several occasions to ‘quell riots within’. There were frequent complaints of fighting with obscene and filthy language being used and accusations of a brothel being operated on the premises.” The Park Tavern had a similar reputation with complaints received by the magistrates that women were exposing their breasts to passers-by from their rooms at the tavern. Two years after those complaints were received the landlord was assaulted and threatened with shooting.
The reputation of each public house was highly dependant on the character of the landlord. Henry Edward James Webb took over The Park Tavern in 1876 and built a reputation for an orderly house throughout the 55 years he was landlord there.
What’s in a Name?
Many of the names of Deal’s pubs reflected its strong nautical links. The Deal Cutter, Deal Lugger and Deal Hoy were all named after local boat types. The Walmer Castle was not named after the nearby fortification but an ill-fated Deal Lugger. In a similar vein, there was also an Anchor, Hovelling Boat, Fishing Boat, Boatswain, Lifeboat,Waterman’s Arms and Jolly Sailor.
There were pubs named after Lord Nelson, and fellow Admirals Keppel, Keith, Rodney and Sidney Smith. These naval leaders were most famous for their actions in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars when the town of Deal was booming. Admiral Nelson visited the town during that time and was a frequent visitor to The Three Kings, now The Royal Hotel. Admiral Keppel was also a visitor to the pub that was renamed in his honour in 1778. For more on Nelson and other famous visitors to the town see my post Deal’s Illustrious Residents and Visitors.
Naturally there were also pubs in Deal with names that were common across the country such as The Kings Head, The Black Horse, and The Rose.
‘That Man Made Me Miss My Destiny’
Through Admiral Nelson’s victories against Napoleon Bonaparte are well known, Sidney Smith’s role in his downfall is not so well remembered. In fact, his actions were significant enough that Bonapart said of him: “That man made me miss my destiny”.
Another British military hero, the Duke of Wellington, also had strong links with the town as he resided in Walmer Castle as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Wellesley Arms was named after him. It seems fitting that John Ferris, another old soldier, who took over the pub in 1867, was a veteran of the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854. Much later, during WWII, both Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower would be visitors to The Royal Hotel.
Pub Signs with a Story
Pub names became compulsory in 1393 during the reign of Richard II along with the requirement to hang a sign outside. Given the low level of literacy of their customers, Publicans initially opted for signs that were easy to recognise such as a crown or bull. By way of contrast, the New Inn, was applied liberally to new establishments making it hard to determine the history of the old pub of that name in Deal High Street.
Many of the signs for pubs in Deal and Walmer were painted by Bill Pearce, Charrington’s artist. These included signs for The Rose Hotel (pictured here), The Walmer Castle and The Drum Major.
The rose shown on the sign for the Rose Hotel is of a Noisette rose, which was brought to this country from France by the Rev. Henry Honeywood D’Ombrain, the first vicar of St. George’s Church which is adjacent to The Rose Hotel. He was instituted as the Vicar in 1852. A well known plant breeder, his work was noticed by Darwin, with whom he corresponded. Darwin quotes D’Ombrain’s findings in his The variation of animals and plants under domesticationof 1863.
The Walmer Castle was named after a Lugger of the same name, which was lost with all hands off the Isle of Wight in 1892. The ill-fated boat, shown on the pub sign throughout the 1970s, was previously named The Petrel. She had been renamed and refitted after she was found drifting and full of water off Brixam, in an incident where four Walmer boats were lost. Among those drowned in the second tragedy were the skipper and owner, Henry Axon, who had missed the previous disaster having left the Lugger to act as pilot for another boat.
The Many Pubs of Deal
When I was growing up in Deal in the 1980s it was still the habit of much of the town to go to the pub every Friday and Saturday night. My friends and I made a selection each weekend from a circuit of pubs: The Kings Head and Port Arms on the seafront; The Black Horse, New Inn and The Rose on the High Street, or The Walmer Castle in South Street. Occasionally we’d diversify and visit The Pelican, Clarendon Hotel or Pier Hotel – all of which were on the sea front. If we were in Walmer it would be The Lifeboat, The Stag or Lord Nelson.
We had a lot of choice as there were still a great many pubs in the town. I was told the apocryphal story that that there was once a pub in Deal for every day of the year, and there were still enough pubs in town that I believed it. Research shows this to be an exaggeration; according to Drinking in Deal, at its peak in 1871 Deal had 79 Public Houses and 16 Beer Houses, which is still a large number for a population of around 8,000 souls at the time.
This is confirmed by Victorian ‘density indicators’, which were based on the size of the population and the number of licensed houses. In 1899 Deal’s was 1,057, far higher than the nearby coastal towns of Dover (646), Ramsgate (615) or Folkestone (556).
The Rise and Fall of the Beer House
Part of the growth in Pub numbers in Deal can be accounted for by the new Beer Houses that were a result of the 1830 Beerhouse Act. This allowed a ratepayer to brew or sell beer on or off the premises for a payment of two guineas to the Excise. These houses were not permitted to sell wine or spirits but were also not under the control of the magistrates.
The Act was intended to increase the availability of beer so that the the population might be weaned off stronger alcoholic drinks such as gin, which had established an evil reputation in the previous century during the gin craze. The act resulted in the opening of thousands of new drinking establishments and many new breweries throughout the country. The Saracen’s Head in Alfred Square started as a beer house, as did The Prince Albert across the road and The Railway Tavern near Deal Station. Before the act Deal had had 39 Public Houses.
In 1869 new legislation brought the licensing of new beer houses under the control of the magistrates and many became Public Houses. Some never made the transition. The Deal Lugger was refused a license in 1867 and 1869 and remained a beer house until it closed.
Lost Pubs and Survivors
Deal has lost many of its old pubs – there is a long listing at The Lost Pubs Project but many wonderful establishments remain. My favourites, in no particular order, are the Deal Hoy, The Kings Head, The Royal Hotel and The Ship. In nearby Walmer I am fond of The Freed Man, and just along the coast in Kingsdown The Zetland Arms is always a pleasure to visit.
When I first wrote this post during the lockdown of 2020, the pubs of Deal, like those throughout the rest of the country, were closed due to the Corona Virus. However, the culture of Britain’s pubs is inextricably linked with our tradition of resilience and the old houses mentioned have survived, just as they have through all the other turbulence of their long histories.
More About Deal on this Site
There are more articles and several black and white photography galleries featuring Deal on this site:
The history of Deal is unique in that the town was once a port without a harbour. Central to Deal’s history is the sheltered anchorage, known as The Downs, which lies between the Deal shoreline and the notorious ‘ship swallower’ the Goodwin Sands, which acts as a breakwater for ships in the channel. Hundreds of ships could be anchored in The Downs at once, sometimes remaining for weeks at a time. Whilst at anchor, the ships required provisions that were supplied from Deal and the town became a thriving port.
Three Castles and a Duke
By the time of Henry VIII the importance of the Downs made the coastline worthy of protection. There is a Tudor artillery fortress at Deal (constructed 1539–40). Another is close by at Walmer. This evolved into a stately home where the Duke of Wellington stayed in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports until his death at the age of 83 in 1852. The Duke, then Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Wellesley, also lived in Wellesley House in Walmer just before the Peninsula War of 1807. A third castle at nearby Sandown was lost to the sea.
A Major Port
Deal gained special status in the 12th century when it was granted a Royal Charter as part of the confederation of five ports (The Cinque Ports). The confederation provided the crown with ships as required in return for exemption from tax and tolls.
Unlike nearby Sandwich, which lost its status due to changes in the coastline, Deal retained its strategic importance. In the eighteenth century the town was still one of the four great ports of England, along with Portsmouth, Rochester and Plymouth.
Smuggling, Hovelling and Heroism
Amongst this maritime activity was extensive smuggling. Deal’s smuggling activities were so notorious that Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger had the town’s Luggers burned on the beach. Smuggling soon resumed however, with the support of at least some of the community. In 1801 smugglers were aided by a local mob who attacked the revenue men when they forced a lugger onto Deal beach.
The author of a Lloyd’s report in 1869 observed: “Deal might have been built for smuggling … The streets run parallel to the beach, and close to it, and are connected by numerous narrow alleys, out of which open doors leading into yards and sheds. The beach extends some miles, and at various parts of it, on the shingle itself, stand roomy wooden sheds, belonging to the boatmen. The cargoes of a whole fleet of ships, once landed on the beach, might be so effectually disposed of in these yards and sheds, in a few hours, that not a trace of them would remain.“
The Deal Lugger
The Luggers, which weighed up to 30 tons, were two masted and could be launched from Deal’s steep shingle banks. They were designed and built by skilled craftsmen for speed, strength and seaworthiness, and were the fore runners of the lifeboats.
Operating Luggers was hazardous. In The Last of Our Luggers and the Men who Sailed in Them (1929), E.C. Pain describes the loss of the Deal Lugger Fawn, run down by a steamer in 1864; Topsy, sunk by a French vessel in 1868, Reform, dashed against the pier in 1871, Walmer Castle, which foundered off Ventnor in 1892, and the Earl of Zetland which had the same fate in 1860. Pubs in Deal and Kingsdown respectively were named after the last two boats. Luggers fell out of use with the disappearance of sailing ships from the Downs at the end of the nineteenth century, the last, according to Pain, being the Cosmopolite which finished as a relic on Walmer beach.
There is still an example of a later, smaller, design based on the Lugger on the beach at Deal. The Lady Irene was built in 1906 as a trip boat to take holiday-makers on short trips out to sea.
Deal’s boatmen used their Luggers for salvage and to rescue shipwreck victims as well as for smuggling, and were known for their fearless seamanship. Accordingly, the boatmen, whose work was known as ‘hovelling’ developed a reputation for both villainy and heroism simultaneously.
In 1858 the Collector of Customs at Deal asserted that ‘this place has long been notorious for the lawless character of persons who flock by hundreds to disasters merely for the sake of plunder.’ However the author of Our Sea Coast Heroes, published in the 1880s, had an entirely different perspective: ‘The race of boatmen now existing at Deal has never been surpassed for those generous qualities which have rendered their forefathers famous…. There is no danger to themselves which they do not habitually incur in their endeavours to save life or property. They are indeed a race of heroes who go forth on their mission of mercy with their lives in their hands.’
Because of the difficulties in reaching ships wrecked on the Goodwin Sands there were several lifeboats stationed along the coast. The Walmer station was established in 1856, followed by North Deal, which closed in the 1930s when Walmer received a motor boat, and Kingsdown. Only Walmer is still operational.
The Walmer lifeboat Charles Dibdin (ON 762) was one of 19 lifeboats which took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. She was manned by a naval crew, and no details are known about the trip, but she came back decorated with holes in both sides. Since 1856 Walmer crews have received 28 awards for gallantry.
The Naval Yard and Timeball Tower
A naval yard was built in Deal in 1672. This provided for the ships anchored in the Downs. Over time, this grew to several acres in size. It was not a dockyard as Deal offered no dock, so small supply boats were kept at the yard, which remained an important part of the town until it closed in 1864.
Deal has one of only seven surviving timeballs in the UK. The Timeball Tower is four-storeys high and stood at the entrance of the Naval Yard. The ball fell at precisely 1 PM each day, triggered by an electrical signal from the Royal Observatory. This allowed the ships’ marine chronometers to be checked or reset, which was vital for accurate navigation. The tower stands on the site of an earlier Shutter Telegraph and Semaphore station, used for the suppression of Smuggling.
In 1805 news of victory at Trafalgar, where the Royal Navy annihilated the greatest threat to British security for 200 years, and the death of Britain’s greatest war hero, arrived in Deal by schooner. It was subsequently transmitted to the Admiralty in London from the Deal telegraph station.
Nelson visited Deal whilst his fleet was at anchor in the Downs. Nelson Street (in which I rented a cottage in the summer for many years) was named after the Admiral, as were two Lord Nelson pubs (one in Deal and one in Walmer) and two Deal Luggers – the Brave Nelson and the Nelson.
A High Density of Pubs
The history of Deal actually started a mile or so inland from the coast, in an area now known as Upper Deal, where the ancient Parish church of St. Leonard’s stands with its distinctive cupola, once a landmark to shipping. In the seventeenth century development shifted closer to the beach in Lower Deal along the three streets that run parallel to the shore – Beach, Middle Street and Lower Street (now the High Street). There are numerous narrow streets and alleys that cross these three main streets, such as Farrier street in the shot above. These were ideal for taking smuggled goods quickly from boats on the beach down into the town.
At one time these narrow streets also contained a very large number of pubs. At its peak in 1871 the town had 79 Public Houses and 16 Beer Houses for a population of around 8,000 people. The Victorians recorded ‘density indicators’ based on the size of the population and the number of licensed houses. In 1899 Deal’s was 1,057, far higher than nearby Dover (646), Ramsgate (615) or Folkestone (556). See the post The Pubs of Old Deal for more on this subject.
Deal – Garrison Town
Deal was a garrison town for over two hundred years. A cavalry barracks for the 15th Light Dragoons built in 1793 was expanded to accommodate infantry before becoming home to the Royal Marines in 1869 where they remained until 1996. The last unit to leave, preceded by 41 Commando, was the Royal Marines School of Music, which had moved to Deal in 1930. The school relocated to Portsmouth, where it remains today.
In 1989 part of the Royal Marines School of Music was bombed by the IRA resulting in the deaths of 11 musicians, and 22 injuries. There is a memorial bandstand on Walmer Green where concerts are still regularly played in the summer months.
Deal – Mining Town
Coal was first discovered in Kent as part of excavations to build a Channel tunnel in the late 19th century, though the first commercial coal was not mined until 1912. Numerous bore holes were drilled resulting in collieries at Betteshanger, Chislet, Snowdown and Tilmanstone. In the late 1920s farmland on the outskirts of Deal at Mill Hill was acquired to build housing for the miners. Mill Hill remained a vibrant mining community until the pits were closed. Betteshanger, where my stepfather worked for 23 years, was the last colliery in Kent to close in 1989, just a year short of the centenary of the discovery of coal in the area.
Boom and Bust
Deal has enjoyed and endured periods of boom and bust over the centuries. It was booming during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars but declined as a port afterwards, leading to William Cobbet’s harsh commentary on the ‘villainous place’ in 1823. The town started to attract more visitors after 1847 when the railway arrived. Charles Dickens attended the celebrations that accompanied the opening of the South East Railway line, of which Deal was the terminus. The town also benefited from the late Victorian growth in seaside holidays, particularly after the 1871 Bank Holiday Act which was accompanied by a rise in disposable income for much of the population.
Boats and Angling
Deal ceased to be classified as a port in 1881, but became popular for angling. In October 1957, 11,000 anglers attended the first National Angling Festival for 18 years. Events like these continued to be popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s and the town had several tackle shops for the anglers. There were also had many fishing boats on the beach, some of which were available for charter to fisherman or divers who wanted to explore the wrecks on the Goodwin Sands.
These boats started to disappear as government requirements for licensing and equipment became more stringent and there are few working boats on the beach today. I’ve been photographing boats like FE 371 ‘Denise’, DR 28 ‘Morning Haze’, DR 110 ‘Moss Rose’, DR 181 ‘Fair Port’ and the old Deal Trip boat ‘Lady Irene’ for many years. The letters identify the port of origin and are typically DR for Dover, FE for Folkestone or R for Ramsgate. Some of these (like Denise for example) are potters and and are surrounded by lobster pots. You can find photographs of them in the Deal Gallery
One of Deal’s most notable seaside attractions is the pier. The first was of wooden construction. This was never completed and was destroyed in a gale in 1857. It it was replaced by an iron pier in 1864 which was severely damaged by a drifting ship which had been hit by a mine in 1940 and demolished in 1943.
The current pier, the last intact leisure pier in Kent, was opened in 1957 and is made of reinforced concrete. It was opened by Prince Philip, who remarked that he had a link with the town due to his involvement in the rescue the pier master. The Pier Master, Captain Arthur Vyvyan Harris, had been in a tanker blown up by a mine in 1943 and the-then Lieutenant Philip had helped him up the scramble nets.
The pier provides an excellent view of Deal seafront, as well as the coast from Thanet in the North to St Margaret’s bay in the South. The pier is internationally recognised as an angling venue and features a glass-walled café-bar at the end of the pier.
Arriving in the afternoon from London, I took a water taxi into the city. It’s a great way to arrive with passing boats throwing up spray as they speed past and I was in a high state of excitement by the time I reached my hotel, the Ca’ Sagredo, as this was also a much anticipated first visit to Venice. The hotel is a very well-preserved former 15th century palazzo situated in the Cannaregio district – the largest of the six districts that make up the city. It is on the Grand Canal and opposite the Rialto Market. it is, quite deservedly, a national monument.
I was most taken by the staircase with its marble cherubs and Scalone die Giganti (Fall of the Giants) frescoes, which I thought was one of the great interior sights of my trip. During my stay I spent a considerable amount of time photographing the staircase with my Leica Q and eventually I was pleased with the shot that accompanies this post.
The hotel is right next to a Gondola station; you can take the traghetto across to the area of the Rialto market for the tourist rate of 2 Euros (locals pay 70 cents), something I ended up doing frequently.
As soon as I had dropped my bags I took a Gondola trip down to the mouth of Grand Canal. I was captivated by the Baroque Santa Maria della Salute. The domed basilica is one of the symbols of the city and was built as a response to the plague which decimated the city in the 17th century. The basilica still hosts the annual Festa della Madonna della Salute each November, which gives thanks for the intercession of the Virgin Mary to end the plague.
Returning to the hotel in the Gondola, I explored the local area, walking across the famous Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) which connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo. Up until 1854 this was the only bridge across the Grand Canal and there are still only 4 bridges along its 3.8 km length. Later I walked up the Strada Nova, one of the main streets in the city.
In the evening I ventured out once more and had drinks at the Gritti Palace, another 15th century former palace, once owned by Andrea Gritti, doge of Venice from 1523 to 1538. This hotel is one of the most expensive in the city and has some of the best views as it is opposite the Santa Maria della Salute church. Watching the Gondolas go past as the sun starts to go down from the hotel terrace is a great experience.
I walked back towards the Ca’ Sagredo and had dinner at the modest Osteria dal Riccio Peoco in the local square, Campo San Apostoli, which was inexpensive and delicious.
The next day, I took a a second Gondola ride, during which I photographed many sites, Gondolas and Gondoliers. I noticed they were speaking a language that didn’t sound like standard Italian to me and asked the Gondolier about it. He said they were speaking in Venetian dialect, which is actually a language and spoken around the Veneto region. We passed under the white limestone Bridge of Sighs that connects the Doge’s Palace to the prison opposite. It was Lord Byron who gave the bridge this name – the suggestion being that prisoners would sigh at their final view of Venice before incarceration or execution. Like many stories that give rise to names it isn’t true, but the bridge is still used to transport low risk offenders to prison.
Returning to the hotel I set off to walk around the lagoon city. I enjoyed seeing the winged lion in Campo Manin, a large bronze sculpture at the base of a statue of Daniele Manin – a hero of Italian unification. The winged lion is the Lion of Saint Mark, and is the symbol both of the city of Venice and of the Venetian Republic.
I found the Leaning Tower of Santo Stefano, a 13th century, 66m brick-built gothic bell tower located in the Sestiere San Marc. Though much less famous, its inclination is remarkably similar to that of the Tower of Pisa, at about 2 meters out of kilter. After the crowds of much of the city that day the square was extremely quiet. I passed through it a couple of times after that and it was always close to deserted.
Next I visited Piazza San Marco, both the grand showpiece and principle square of the city. There’s a lot to take in including St Mark’s Basilica, The Doge’s Palace, the Clock Tower and the columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore. I walked the square and took in the entrancing view stopping for a coffee at Caffè Florian, one of the world’s oldest coffee houses. Later, I lunched nearby at Ostaria La Campana, a local’s place right in the midst of a tourist area.
As it was getting to that time of the evening I thought a Daqueri at Harry’s Bar would be a good idea. Sadly it wasn’t. I paid a visit, but I think I missed the time when it was a good place to go by many years. It’s a pretty terrible place now, as many online reviews attest. I paid the eye watering price for an OK Daiquiri to the aloof barman and left the place as fast as I could.
Close by the view of the the Santa Maria della Salute church beckoned at the Gritti Palace. I had a drink there and then dinner on the balcony at the Club del Doge. The view of such a beautiful church with gondolas gliding past and the sun going down plus a decent risotto (a Hemingway variant with scampi) meant I didn’t begrudge the hefty bill.
The next day city I took the river bus down to the Dorsoduro Sestiere to visit the museums there and to see the Santa Maria della Salute church land side. The Gallerie dell’Academia was my first stop. Here I enjoyed the neoclassical sculptures of Antonio Canova , took in Hieronymus Bosch’s disturbing Visions of the Hererafter and walked around a room dedicated to Lord Byron in Venice.
Lord Byron lived in Venice after he was forced to leave England to flee the many debts and scandals caused by his aristocratic excesses. He conducted his Venetian affairs in some style from a Grand Canal palazzo with his many servants and a menagerie that included monkeys, a wolf, a fox, a crow and an eagle. Seeking distraction and mental stimulation he also studied the Armenian language at a monastery on the tiny island of San Lazzaro in the lagoon.
After that I walked to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum housed an 18th-century palazzo, which was once the home of the American heiress. it is full of cubist, surrealist and abstract expressionist work. I was most impressed by the works of by Picasso, Dali, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst and Alberto Burri.
I spent the evening walking along the canals in the Cannaregio Sestiere, the northernmost of the six districts of Venice, walking along the Fondamenta della Misericordia/degli Ormesini/Capuccine. It is a beautiful area to walk around. It was quiet until sunset when it become quite lively though I still managed to find a Cicchetti place I could sit outside at.
Early on my last morning I went back to the Rialto Market, the city’s ancient main market, to see the fish market in full swing before my water taxi arrived. There has been a market there since 1097 and it is still going strong. I love the theatre of fish markets and enjoy visiting them wherever I can find them. Mid morning my water taxi arrived and took me to the station where I took the train to Densezano to spend a few days in Sirmione.
The next day we left Muscat and headed for Jebel Akhdar – the Green Mountain. This forms the central section of the Al Hajar (Rocky or Stone) Mountain range, which run for about 700 km thorough Oman and the UAE. They are also known simply as ‘The Oman Mountains’. As their name suggests the range is mostly bare rock and desert. The ‘green’ of the Green Mountain starts at higher altitudes where there is enough rain to support shrubs, trees and agriculture. Damask roses, pomegranates, walnuts and apricots are all grown there.
The peaks of Jebel Akhdar surround a high plateau and have historically created a division between the relatively inaccessible interior and rule from the coast at Muscat. The mountain road is very good though access is relatively recent. As there is a military base on the mountain it was only in 2005 that the mountain was opened up to visitors. There is still a checkpoint at the bottom off the ascent but that is just to ensure that visitors are in possession of a four wheel drive vehicle and a valid driving license.
Birkat al Mouz and Old Birkat
As we neared the mountains we drove up a steep slope to an elevated vantage point. Form there we had a view of the deserted mud brick village of Old Birkat at the base of the mountain. It was a spectacular sight and one I will never forget. I took the shot with the Nikon Z7 and the 24-70mm f4 S kit lens, which I used for all the landscape shots on this trip. I use the smaller and more discrete Leica Q for street photography.
Descending the slope we drove to the nearby town of Birkat al Mouz, which translates to pool of bananas. We drove though a large date plantation and my guide went to pray at a small mosque, leaving me to admire some deserted mud brick houses and the ancient Aflaj irrigation system. In 2006, the Al Sharieh Falaj system, built between 1674-1741, was designated as one of five UNESCO Heritage Sites. Falaj is the singular of Aflaj and this ancient system of water channels dates back some 5,000 years.
The Saiq Plateau and Wadi al Ayn
Continuing our ascent we drove up a series of very steep hairpin bends to the Saiq Plateau – a distance of a little over 30 km. We stopped and walked to the rim of the cliff at Wadi al Ayn, which provided another spectacular, and more panoramic, view. Diana, Princess of Wales, apparently enjoyed the view here on a royal visit to Oman 1986 and there is a viewing point named after her at the nearby Hotel Anatara. It is an incredible vista that takes in a huge gorge with terraced steps cut into the side complete with several villages precariously hanging off the cliffs. For the second time that day I was completely entranced. As we left my guide poured water over a couple of areas of rock to show me some fossils, including an ancient turtle. Finding a marine fossil at such a high altitude was surprising but the rocks of the Hajar Mountains formed under the sea. The Oman mountains, as it turns out, are a geologist’s paradise.
Returning to our Land Cruiser we completed the last of the 50km journey up the Jebel Akhdar to my hotel – The Alila. Here we greeted with typical Omani hospitality of coffee and dates. The Alila is in a spectacular location overlooking another huge gorge. It is built of dark grey local stone and is one of the best examples of modern design I have seen anywhere. It also has an infinity pool that is, for once, not misnamed and a great kitchen. I tried the famous local dish of Suwa and was not disappointed. They also served some delicious Biryani dishes such as Biryani Al Khadruat, B. Samak and B. Dilaj.
My guide had told me that it was market day in the town of Sinaw the following day where the Bedu would be selling their camels and goats. We promptly arranged a day out on that basis.
The Souk at Sinaw
We met at 6.00 AM in the hotel reception and headed down the mountain. Sinaw is in the Al Sharqiya region, not far from the sands of the same name, and about 90 km from the Green Mountain. The town has a large Souk based around an outdoor courtyard and Thursday is market day.
We arrived at about 7.30 having stopped briefly for Qahwa (Omani coffee) and the market was in full swing. There was a continual procession of white Toyota Hiluxes arriving laden with goods and livestock. Tied to posts along one side of the courtyard of the souk were a long line camels, whilst under cover goats were being auctioned, and on the other side there was a substantial fish market. Around the edges vegetables, fresh and dry fruit, dates, dry shark meat, animal feed and much else was for sale. It really felt like a desert town, and only saw one other Westerner whilst I was there.
It was now lunch time and my guide was keen for me to sample camel so we stopped at a place he knew towards the sand. We were served both curried camel and braised camel – I preferred the former which reminder me a little of goat curry.
The Sharqiya Sands
After lunch we headed for the Sharqiya Sands (also known as the Wahiba Sands), stopping at a tyre centre in a nearby town to deflate the tyres to desert running pressures. The sands cover an area 180km North to South and 80km East to West with large longitudinal dunes, that can reach as high as 100m tall. There are no permanent human settlements there, although there are plenty of animal pens at the edge of the desert.
We travelled a few kilometres out into the desert and got stuck in the dunes. My guide was not troubled by this, and after letting a little more air out of the types we escaped and carried on, stopping at a Bedu tent for coffee and dates and a look at various items for sale. Someone had just caught a scorpion and put it in a bottle, which gave me pause for thought. A bit of quick internet research showed that there is an anti-venom available for scorpion stings in Oman, and though the venom typically causes ‘significant local pain and some swelling’, it doesn’t cause the ‘local and systematic toxicity, local tissue destruction and deranged blood clotting’ of local snake bites. I had no idea blood clotting could be deranged and it increased my inclination to avoid Omani snakes.
We hobbled back to the tyre shop using every bit of sand and rough ground we could as the tyres were practically deflated. After a top up my guide enquired if I wanted to head back out to the deep desert, but as we were travelling with a a single vehicle I declined, so I didn’t see the really huge dunes, and need to go back some time.
Wadi Bani Khalid
I had never seen a wadi close up so our next destination was Wadi Bani Khalid, probably the best-known wadi in country, which is also an oasis. The term wadi is a little confusing as it means both valley and riverbed fed by the rains – more of which later. Wadi Bani Khalid is famed for its large green pools which are fed by a constant flow of water though an eroded canyon strewn with boulders.
Perhaps because it is such a short walk from the car park to the pools, the wadi has been developed for tourism and has bridge and seating areas, where you can sit and watch the teeming fish. It is very popular with picnickers, but it was very quiet when we were there. There is a cave network near the pools but we decided not to go in. The sky above had become heavy with rain clouds and dangerous flash floods can develop quickly.
After that it was time to head home. It’s around 250 km drive from Wadi Bani Khalid to the Alila on Jabal Akhdar so we got back about 7 PM.
Nizwa – the Old Mountain Capital
The next day I was up even earlier, and met my guide at 5 AM in the hotel reception. Nizwa is a short drive away, but the action at the famed livestock market there is best seen early.
Nizwa is an ancient place located in the heart of the country at the base of the Oman mountains. It was the nation’s capital in the 6th and 7th century, and was an early to convert to Islam. Traditionally conservative, it was another destination that thwarted explorer Wilfred Thesiger during his time in Oman. His account of his time in the Arabian Peninuslar Arabian Sands is well worth reading and provides a glimpse into a vanished nomadic lifestyle.
As soon as we arrived, we headed straight for the market. It was heaving with activity and the auctioneers where busy leading sometimes reluctant goats round in a large circle for buyers to inspect. I stood on the outside and then made my way into the centre where I could shoot down on the action, capturing the image shown here.
Nizwa is known for its imposing fort built in 1668. It is one of Oman’s most-visited national monuments and was our next visit. It also has a good souk where you can find handcrafted silver Khanjars along with many other forms of silver craftsmanship. It is also known for pottery, goat wool textiles and high quality dates. Around the back of the market were some tables where Khanjars and old Lee Enfield rifles were for sale. That might sound edgy, but it really wasn’t at all – Nizwa is a major tourist destination and I felt perfectly safe all the time I was there.
We had a most delicious lunch of grilled lamb and a flatbread wrap of salad from a packed little kebab shop and then headed back up the mountain to the Alila, where I spent my final day in the Oman mountains admiring the astonishing view from in and around the hotel pool. It had been a fantastic trip and I would love to go back, the people, the culture and landscape make it one of the most interesting countries I have ever visited.
The Unexpected Wadi
My visit to the Oman mountains were a great adventure – even my return to the UK was a little more exciting than I had expected as it started to rain hard just as I was about to leave for the airport. The hotel told me to expect to spend another night as the mountain road is closed at the checkpoint when it rains, but it was only raining at the top of the mountain and my driver lived close so he arrived as scheduled.
It was an interesting journey down the mountain as the rain had dislodged a lot of shingle and small boulders and we can encountered quite a bit of flooding. Shortly into our descent, the driver told me we might have to wait for a little while ‘at the wadi’. We soon came across a raging torrent in our path. I eyed the fast moving water pensively. “That doesn’t look very much like the last wadi I saw” I said. My driver waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and told me that he lived on the mountain, that this was nothing out of the ordinary and we would cross without difficulty. I believed him on the first two points… Happily he was right on all points and we were soon through the flood water. The rain stopped as we got to a lower altitude and before long I was bidding farewell, but I hope not goodbye, to Oman at Muscat airport.