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:
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.
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.
Before I went back to film with a Nikon F3 in 2016, my previous film camera was a Canon IXUS, 20 years ago. This was a point and shoot compact which took APS film, a short lived film format from the nineties. My photos from that time date from before I actively studied photography and the shots aren’t the best. My APS films were developed on standard machines, not the specialist ones they had been designed for, which further compromised the results. This then, is the real start of the story of my film photography journey.
A Fortunate Find
Whilst staying with friends in Stockholm in 2016, I came across an Aladdin’s cave of a camera shop, which had a number of film cameras for sale, including Kodak Instamatics, Rolleiflex TLRs and Nikon SLRs, including several F3 models, some fitted with external motor drives.
The Nikon F3 model I picked out showed signs of wear and had a hole in the bottom of the body (which I later discovered was due to a missing motor drive coupling cover) but I was quite taken with it and bought it on impulse.
An Early Model
This was my first Nikon film SLR. A bit of research revealed that the F3, the successor to the legendary F and F2, was the last of the manual-focus, pro 35mm SLR cameras. It was introduced in 1980 and stayed in production until 2001, despite being superseded by the autofocus F4 in 1988.
That’s a long run – especially as according to the MIR site, work on the F3 started back in 1974, barely three years after the debut of the Nikon F2! The formal design process started in 1977 and a prototype was ready by late 1978, which is when NASA came knocking for an automatic exposure control camera for the Space Shuttle.
A check on the serial number showed my F3 was an early model from 1981, not the more common HP (High Eyepoint) variant introduced in 1982. The HP model is identical to its predecessor except for the finder (DE-3), which allowed those wearing glasses a better view of the entire frame. This became standard on the F3, which became known as the F3HP.
I don’t wear glasses when shooting, preferring to use a diopter, and in this case that’s an advantage, as the trade off the HP model makes to make the whole viewfinder visible from slightly further back is fractionally lower magnification (0.75X compared to 0.8X). The F3 is also slightly lighter than the HP variant as the finder HP finder weighs a little more, though the HP finder has slightly improved rubber sealing. Unless you wear glasses, there isn’t much in it.
The F3 has five finders (all interchangeable) to choose from: eye-level (DE-2), eye-level HP (DE-3) waist-level (DW-3), sport (DA-2), and high-magnification (DW-4). The F3 also offered a right-angle viewing attachment (DR-3) and an Eyepiece Magnifier (DG-2). I’ve stuck with the DE-2 my F3 came with.
Beyond models based on finder variants there are several more exotic models of the F3. The best known, and probably the most desirable, is the F3/T titanium model, which is a similar in weight to the regular F3 but will no doubt take knocks even better.
There was also a ruggedised F3P Press/Professional model, the F3 AF autofocus model and the weighty F3H F3 High Speed, a motorised speed demon that could shoot at 13 frames per second.
The autofocus Nikon F3 AF, which became available in 1983 with 2 autofocus lenses, was Nikon’s first entry in the world of AF technology. The Nikon F-501 arrived in1986, and the Nikon F4 in 1988.
The F3 Electronics Controversy
Unlike its predecessors, which had always been entirely mechanical, the F3 uses an electronically controlled shutter which requires batteries. Electronic shutters and dependence on battery power for anything more than a light meter was initially resisted amongst Nikon professional shooters. Their initial response was to remain loyal to their fully mechanical F2s and eschew the F3.
This controversy apparently continued for years and may still continue. As one blogger wryly commented as recently as 2019: “I mean, what could possibly go wrong in attempting a dispassionate, objective analysis of two excellent SLRs made by Nikon? Oh…right…we are dealing with two groups of people: 1) those that believe that the SLR reached perfection in 1971 and everything since is an abomination against the laws of nature, aka “Knights of the Order of F2″ (referred to henceforth as KOTOOF2), and 2) everyone else.”
The fears of Nikon pros at launch turned out to be unfounded as the F3 was demonstrated itself to be just as bulletproof as as the F and F2. Nikon was committed to increasing reliability – as an example the F3’s shutter was designed to last an incredible 150K actuations, increased from 100K for the F and F2. However, to give photographers more confidence in the new technology Nikon built in a backup mechanical shutter into the F3 that operates at 1/60 sec.
In practice, the F3’s batteries last a very long time (compared to my Leica M6 TTL for example) and the tiny LR44s are easy to carry as spares. I also have an F2 with a Photomic head, and it is excellent, but my F3 gets used more.
The F3’s Horizontal Shutter
There was one other issue that had he Pros using other Nikon cameras, at least for some shoots, was the slow flash sync speed. The F3 has a horizontal travel shutter which, given the 3:2 aspect ratio of film, takes longer to operate than a vertical travel shutter. The 1/80 second maximum sync speed was the same as that of the F2, but well below the semi pro models (FA, FM2, FE2) with vertical travel shutters, which offered 1/250 second. The F3 was the last of the Nikon Pro cameras with a horizontal shutter – the F4’s went the other way.
Longevity versus Mechanical Cameras
Over time electronic components can be the Achilles heel of older film cameras and initially I thought the Nikon F3’s LCD which displays the shutter speed might be a weak spot. The display in the viewfinder, the Aperture Direct Readout (ADR), is just a display window so is not subject to deterioration, but LCDs don’t always age well. They can become harder to read over time and eventually stop working entirely. Nikon predicted they would only last about seven years or so with pro usage! 35 years after leaving the factory my well used F3’s LCD is holding up perfectly well. The F3’s manual controls also mean that the camera can still be used without the LCD display, although not with automation.
The last point to consider in the electronic vs mechanical Nikon stakes are that electronic shutters usually maintain their accuracy over time better than mechanical shutters.
One surprise to me about the F3 was that it was styled by an Italian design legend: Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man who styled the Ferrari 250 GT Bertone, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone, and much else.
Another surprise was that there were Space Shuttle versions of the F3. These had large magazine backs of different capacities and various other modifications for use in space. It wasn’t the first Nikon in space however, as modified Fs were used aboard Apollo 15 and Skylab.
Upgrades and Repairs
Before I could shoot with my new purchase I needed to get it serviced and replace the missing motor drive coupling cover. Reading a little more, I learned that my camera was fitted with an unusual focusing screen, a plain matte screen which lacked the usual split image rangefinder spot.
The F3 is highly modular. It’s 5 interchangeable viewfinders could be paired with 15 interchangeable focusing screens. These vary from the standard central split-image microprism rangefinder screen to those for very specific use cases such as close ups, astro and architectural photography.
Mine was fitted with a Type D, which is used for close ups and with long lenses. I called Greys of Westminster and ordered the more usual Type K type rangefinder screen, a new coupling cover and a -2 diopter.
It’s easy enough to remove the F3’s finder to change the screen. Sliding the grooved buttons on each side of the finder back towards the eye piece releases the front of the finder which can then be lifted out and removed.
All that remained was to take the body into my local camera shop, imagex, who sent it away for a much needed service, at a very reasonable cost of £69.
Adjusting to the F3
It wasn’t difficult to get used to the controls of the F3. They are simple and the dials on the top plate of were familiar looking, as I was shooting with the retro styled digital Nikon Df at the time, and the F3 only offers aperture-priority automation and manual operation.
I did fire the shutter accidently with the backup mechanical release lever (‘what does this lever do? doh!’) to the right of the lens beneath the ‘exposure memory lock’ button (AE-L on modern cameras).
The only adjustment I thought I might need to make was to get used to the heavily centre-weighted metering system, apparently a request from Nikon Pros looking for greater precision. Metering is TTL and reads the light over the whole focusing screen, but nearly all (80%) of metering sensitivity is set to the central 12mm, whilst the rest of the screen gets the remaining 20%. The F4 flipped to 60/40, though it’s not clear why. In practice the heavy centre weighting hasn’t presented a problem, even when I forgot about it, but that maybe because I shoot with very forgiving black and white negative film.
The F3 was the first in the F series to put the meter in the camera body. Previous models, which had the meter in the prism, featured 60/40 centre-weighted metering. This is also the case with the last of Nikon’s film cameras, the rather wonderful FM3A.
One little control that isn’t at all obvious is the Multiple Exposure Lever on the far right of the top plate. This enables you re-cock the shutter without advancing the film.
The Wind On Wind Up
Something I came across though reading, rather than a problem I encountered, is that the F3 metering and shutter operates differently during wind on. By design, the F3 fires the wind on frames of the film at 1/80th second using the mechanical backup shutter. I have read that this is to speed up loading a film in low light or if the lens cap is on. I’ve also seen this attributed to preventing needless long exposures in A mode. Some photographers have experienced this beyond frame 1, perhaps as the result or a mis-indexed starting point or mechanical slippage of some kind. This feature has caused me no problems, but has been the source of some aggravation in the forums.
The Nikon F3 in Use
Once the camera was back I bought some Ilford HP5 400 film and headed for the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I shot some of the statues in various galleries, whilst I also visited the excellent Paul Strand photographic exhibition. Initially I kept looking at the back of the camera to see what I had shot, only to be greeted by cardboard film type insert on the camera back. My first keeper is shown above – I really liked the grain and the tone of film and I was hooked.
From the Nikon F3 onwards…and backwards
Since I bought the F3 I have acquired several other Nikon film cameras – most notably the mighty F6 and the hybrid mechanical/electronic marvel that is the FM3A, both of which you can read about in detail on this site from the preceding links.
I’ve also gone back to the start of the F series with a late F from 1970 and an F2 from 1975, both of which are excellent cameras. I particularly like the way you can see rangefinder DNA in the F’s baseplate, which evolved from the Nikon SP rangefinder. The prototype for the F was built on an SP model, adding the distinctive mirror box and pentaprism of the SLR, and a new lens mount, the F mount. The letter F comes from re-F-lex.
Though some of my photographer friends love the later Nikon F4 and F5, I have never taken to either of them – preferring either the earlier F, F2 or F3 manual focus cameras or the final F6 pro model.
I’ve taken the Nikon F3 with me when I’ve travelled, including some fairly harsh environments like the Faroe Islands, and it performed very well. I thought about taking my FM2n on that trip, as it is lighter, but the more rugged F3 inspired more confidence.
The Go Anywhere F3
The Nikon F3 remains one of favourite manual Nikon film cameras. Unlike other more expensive classics, such as Leica M6 or Nikon FM3A, which most photographers (including me) fret about in use, my F3 presents no worries at all. It is extremely rugged, affordable to service (or replace), and easy to use.
I bought it slightly beaten up and it’s so tough I am comfortable taking it anywhere. I have 50mm and 28mm (Voigtländer) pancake lenses to keep the form factor to a minimum – the F3 and both pancake lenses easily fit into a small camera bag. It is versatile: the shutter is fast (up to 1/2000 second), and though I haven’t needed them to date, there is a PC connection (but no hotshoe) for flash, and it will take a standard cable release. It takes great pictures. What more could you ask for?