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 article started as a list of classic film cameras in movies, taken from my own observations and from internet research and focused largely on the cameras I shoot with – Nikon F SLRs and Leica M Rangefinders. As I sat down to write, I decided to focus on two of the greatest movies featuring photographers, Apocalypse Now and Rear Window, which happen to be two of my favourite films of all time. This took me on a voyage of discovery into the influences for the movies that proved to be nearly as winding as the Mekong River in Apocalypse Now and provided the content for this blog.
In Apocalypse Now Dennis Hopper plays the photojournalist, an unnamed disciple of the deranged Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who leads a renegade army of American and Montagnard troops from remote abandoned Cambodian temple. The photojournalist is nearly as unhinged as the man he admires – as his conversations with Willard (Martin Sheen) attest.
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…
Despite appearing in only three scenes, Hopper’s is one of the most intriguing characters in the sprawling story. Amongst the improvised hippy jive talk his dialogue is constructed from lines taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and poems from Rudyard Kipling and TS Elliot. The photojournalist, whose name is never revealed, also has an important role to play in revealing Kurtz’s plans for Willard.
Hopper’s photojournalist appears as the ne plus ultra of combat photography; bearded and unkempt, wearing full camouflage with a red headband and sunglasses and covered in photography gear, some of it visibly battered. The cameras are Nikon Fs with a variety of lenses; by the look of them a fast 50mm, possibly a 105mm and a 200mm. The role was suggested to Coppola by the stills photographer on the set Chas Gerretsen on the basis that if he wanted to mock TV correspondents in South Vietnam he should create a photojournalist because “we were all crazy.” Chas had served in Vietnam and routinely carried a number Nikon F’s, and so the role was born, replacing Captain Colby, Kurtz’s right hand man, which Hopper had originally been cast as. Chas sold several of his old Nikon F cameras and lenses to the production company and they were used in the film.
Michael Herr, who collaborated on the narrative of Apocalypse Now, undoubtedly had a strong influence on the portrayal of the Photojournalist. Herr is best known as author of the classic book on the Vietnam War Dispatches and several scenes and pieces of dialogue used from that book were later used in Apocalypse Now and also Full Metal Jacket.
In Like (Sean) Flynn
Herr was a correspondent for Esquire magazine during the Vietnam War and new many of the photojournalists who covered the conflict. This included SeanFlynn, a man with one of the most fascinating, but also one of the saddest stories of the war and the only child of hell-raising screen legend Errol. 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.
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 never seen again and despite the efforts of his mother to find him Flynn was declared dead in absentia in 1984. Despite the continued efforts of friends and JPAC, the organization responsible for recovering the remains of fallen soldiers, the fate of two remains unknown.
The Cultural References section of 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 however, as Flynn, along with Stone and Englishman Tim Page, are portrayed as the lunatic journalists and “bad, dope-smoking cats” of Michael Herr’s Dispatches. What is certain is that his story is told on the album Combat Rockby The Clash on the “Sean Flynn” track and a film inspired by his life entitled The Road to Freedom which was filmed on location in Cambodia in 2011.
The Real Kurtz
The role of Colonel Kurtz and his ‘unsound methods’ (which included heads on sticks) was inspired by the character of the same name in Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’, a book that impressed me hugely when I read it in my early twenties. What is less well known and is revealed in the UK documentary ‘The Search for Kurtz’ is another influence; CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Tony Poe and his leadership of Operation Momentum, launched in 1962 to turn the Laotian Hmmong people into anti-communist guerillas.
The Wrath of Klaus Kinski
A huge influence and template 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, though now it seems obvious. 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.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is another of 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. Mounted on it was a huge 400mm telephoto lens; the catchily named Kilfitt fern-kilar f/5.6 model, and collectively they are now known as the ‘Rear Window stalking camera’ and 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 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 includes a couple of great sample shots. Its an all-metal 2.8kg beast of a lens, built like the proverbial tank with a 122mm filter ring and surgically sharp. 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 even on a tripod it is so front heavy that on a ball head every adjustment is a bit of an adventure!
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.
So far, I’ve mainly used it for moon shorts with the Z7 and the FTZ adapter using focus peaking. I’ve recently added a TC-301 to turn it into an 800mm f7 lens and a gimbal head to make it easier to shoot, but the moon has proved unusually elusive since then. If I was ever, like Jeff, confined to home for a long period and wanted to spy on my neighbours I think I would have to get a new lens. The beast is just too heavy for anything except tripod work.
It’s a Wrap – The Greatest Movies Featuring Photographers
As usual writing about the greatest movies featuring photographers turned out to be more informative than I expected. If I have missed any cameras or influences for Apocalypse Now or Rear Window you think I should include please leave me a comment.
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.
Evolution of 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 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
Nikon introduced the F3 in 1980 as their flagship electronically controlled SLR camera. 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. Professional photographers didn’t trust the F3’s electronics initially 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 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.
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 is highly serviceable long into the future
It has a built-in data facility to display and store camera settings 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.
It’s Nikon’s last and most advanced autofocus film camera
The Nikon F6 in Action
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.
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. 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.
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.
I’ve shot with the many other Nikon cameras, including the F, F2,F3, FM3a, 28ti, D40X, D300, D600, D800, Df and Z7, but the F6 is my favourite autofocus film Nikon. For manual focus I’d go with another engineering marvel, the FM3a.
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.
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.
Between 13th and 23rd May 2017, I travelled across Japan with a small group of friends on a trip organised by Trailfinders. I have wanted to go for more than a decade and my expectations were sky high, and I am happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t sure what lenses to take with me, so I took both my Leica Q and the Nikon Df with 20mm, 35mm and 85mm fast primes. I ending up using the Leica Q (28mm) and the Nikon Df with the 85mm fitted almost exclusively, both slung across my chest in readiness. You can see the gallery here. This was our itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrival in Tokyo
We flew from London to Tokyo on British Airways. Given the time difference we arrived with time to spare on our first day, which gave us the opportunity to explore the area around the excellent Park Hotel in Shiodome, our base in the metropolis. Shiodome is close to the Ginza District, the upmarket shopping area of Tokyo, so had a short walk around the area and a lunchtime beer at the Ginza Lion Beer Hall with an accompaniment of delicious hoho-niku (tuna cheeks). We noticed the displays of plastic food (sampuru) outside the beer hall, which seem to be ubiquitous in Japan. None of us had slept well on the flight and our rooms had not been ready on arrival, so we headed back to the hotel to clean up and rest. On the way back we came across Hakuhninkan Toy Park, which introduced us to the mad world of Japanese toys and collectables. That evening we ate at Tsukada Nojo which was most notable for moromi-miso; a chunky condiment made from miso served with raw vegetables, of which we could not get enough.
Day 2 – Tokyo
On our first full day in Tokyo we were accompanied by our guide Akiko, who was very knowledgable and helpful. We headed for the Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingū), in Shibuya, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife. Entering through an enormous Torii gate (made from a 1,500 year old tree) we passed into a large forested area which covers 175 acres and consists of around 120,000 trees of 365 different species from all over Japan. It is both tranquil and beautiful. There is also a huge decorative display of sake barrels (kazaridaru) in the grounds, which relates to the offering of sake every year to the deities at Meiji Jingu Shrine. As we walked though the three Torii gates, Akiko told us that we should not walk through the centre line of the gate. This is called the Sei-Chu and is the area designated for the enshrined gods to pass through.
Being British and in need of a restorative cup of tea we stopped at a Cat Cafe located near the entrance to the Shrine. Japan holds the record for the most cat cafés in the world, with as many as 39 in Tokyo. I took a bit of a risk entering the place – I am asthmatic and allergic to cats, which is not a great combination, but observed the rather bizarre spectacle without consequences.
Next was Takeshita Street or Takeshita-dōri, a shopping street in Harajuku, which was packed with fashion concious teenagers, followed by Omotesandō, an upmarket tree-lined avenue, once the official approach to Meiji-jingū. These days it is a fashionable and architecturally notable shopping strip.
After a spot of excellent sushi we moved on to Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. The temple is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world. We approached it though the spectacular Thunder Gate, and a walk down the wonderful Nakamise Shopping Street. I found a gorgeous picture of the Thunder Gate in one of the stalls, which I was keen to buy, but the price tag was far out of reach as it was an original. Prints will, the vendor, told me be available in about 30 years. Not far from the temple we came across a small park with the most spectacular collection of koi we had ever seen.
We moved on to Kappabashi, or Kitchen Town and visited the Kamata knife shop. I enjoy cooking, and love Japanese steel, so I purchased a very beautiful chef’s knife made by Ryusen.
We returned to the hotel via a cruise of the Sumida river and ate in the hotel, quite worn out.
Day 3 – Tokyo
The Tsukuji fish market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and is located within walking distance of Shiodome, between the Sumida River and Ginza. Visiting it involves making a choice of either arriving at 3 AM to queue to see the tuna market open at 5 AM, or arriving by 10 AM to see market wind down. We chose the latter. The market handles more than 400 different types of seafood (many of which look like nothing on earth) and the place is a whirr of activity – most notably the ‘Turret Trucks’, which are extremely hazardous to the unwary. Whilst we missed the tuna market, we did see tuna being carved with extremely long knives, variously called called oroshi-hōchō, maguro-bōchō, or hanchō-hōchō.
We took the tube to Shibuya Crossing, considered a must see for many visitors, and located outside the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station. This exit is named after a famous dog, whose statue has become a popular meeting place. Shibuya Crossing effectively is a crossing point at the meeting of five roads in one of the busiest parts of the most populous city in the world, and the spectacle of up to 1,000 people crossing the road concurrently is quite astonishing.
I was keen to visit a guitar shop in Japan, particularly as Fender Japan are noted for being quite innovative. G’Club, Shibuya did not disappoint and I purchased a low cost, light weight Japan-only Fender Telecaster that plays extremely well.
That evening we took in Akihabar (or Electic Town), which is famous for its many electronics shops, its otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many anime/managa shops before exploring East Shinjuku/Kabukichu, in all its neon splendour. It is a red light district and supposed to be somewhat edgy, but we were so mesmerised by the neon lights, if there was any menace there it passed us by. We were not tempted to enter any of the establishments that beckoned us.
It has been a long time since I shot with film. My last film camera was a Canon IXUS, an automatic compact which took APS film 20 years ago. Though I have always had a camera to hand since I was a small boy I was strictly a point and shoot photographer until I moved to digital, and didn’t move to an SLR until after I had turned to digital. Recently, whilst staying with friends in Stockholm, I came across an Aladdin’s cave of a camera shop, which had a number of film cameras for sale, including Kodak Instamatics, Rolleiflex TLRs and Nikon SLRs, including several F3 models, some fitted with external motor drives. The Nikon F3 model I picked out was somewhat worn and had a hole in the bottom of the body (which I later discovered was due to a missing motor drive coupling cover) but I was very taken with it and bought it on impulse together with some Ilford black and white film.
That evening I did a bit of research and discovered that the F3, the successor to the legendary F and F2, was the last of the manual-focus, pro 35mm SLR cameras; it was introduced in 1980 and stayed in production until 2001. Unlike its predecessors, which had always been entirely mechanical, the F3 uses an electronically controlled shutter which requires batteries. This dependance on the battery power was initially quite controversial and adoption was not universal amongst Nikon professional shooters. Those fears turned out to be unfounded as the F3 turned out to be of the same bulletproof nature as the F and F2 and very reliable.
Styled by a genius
The F3 was styled by Italian design genius Giorgetto Giugiaro who styled the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Bertone (1960), the Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone ‘Jet‘ (1961) as well as motorcycles and firearms. It was the first Nikon to use a red accent – in this case a vertical red line near the hand grip – which has subsequently become an integral part of the design language of Nikon cameras. The dials on the top plate were familiar looking to me as I have been using the retro styled digital Nikon Df for some time.
As the F3 is electronically controlled it offers aperture-priority automation as well as manual operation. The metering system is TTL and reads the light over the entire focusing screen but 80% of metering sensitivity is set to the central 12mm area, whilst the outer area of the screen only gets 20% consideration. As I am completely accustomed to matrix metering, this might require some change of technique to get accurate exposures. There is a small LCD readout that shows the shutter speed. The camera is of modular design, which enables a wide choice of focusing screens and finders. The electronically controlled shutter is of the horizontal-travel focal-plane type and is made of titanium.
Before I could get to use 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 can take over 20 types of screens and mine was apparently fitted with a Type D, which is used for close ups and for use with long lenses. I called Greys of Westminster and ordered the more usual Type K type screen and a new coupling cover and took the body into my local camera shop, imagex, who sent it away for a much needed service, which cost a very reasonable £69.
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. The shooting experience is good on the Nikon F3, especially the manual focusing, but I did have a few exposure issues. I probably could have pushed the film speed of the HP5 further than I did, but I put that down to experience. I also 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 like the grain and the tone of film and plan to continue to experiment with it.
The exact date of the foundation of the city of Oxford is uncertain, but the place is ancient. Sited on an important crossing point across the Thames, which formed the frontier between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, Oxford started as a ford for oxen (Oxenaforda). The castle (now just a mound) dates from 1071 and the oldest standing building, the Saxon tower of St Michael at the Northgate, was built in 1040. The Domesday book records the right of the town’s Freemen to graze animals in Port Meadow free of charge – a right still exercised today. The University started in monastic halls, though none of these survived the suppression of the monasteries in the 1530s. The city was well established as an academic centre by the 13th century with University, Balliol, and Merton Colleges all founded during that century.
Academic life in Oxford was characterised by murder in the stories of ’90s TV detective Inspector Morse, and this violence in academia was foreshadowed by a turbulent relationship between Oxford’s town people and students. The most notorious incident occurred in 1354 in the Swyndlestock Tavern (a bank today), when two students took issue with the innkeeper about the quality of his wine. This dispute quickly escalated into an armed conflict that lasted three days and resulted in around 90 deaths. Despite incidents like this and regular scholastic riots, by the mid 14th century the University was well established enough for Edward III to pay tribute to it for both its contribution to learning and the services to the state of Oxford graduates. Several colleges were founded every century and there are now 38 in total.
Oxford’s growth was inevitably accompanied by some reversals. In the 12th century a fire burned the city to the ground and the black death of the 14th century reduced the population heavily; as did the sweating sickness epidemic of the 16th century. The university benefited from these depopulations by buying up vacant property and continuing to grow its estates.
In the late 18th century Oxford connected to Coventry and the Thames, and in the mid In 1844, the Great Western Railway linked Oxford with London. The city became more industrial when the automotive industry was established in nearby Cowley by William Morris, who built the Morris Garage in Longwall street in 1910. The need for more space bought a move to a factory 1913 at Cowley and mass production followed, resulting in Cowley expanding into a large industrial centre. Despite its canal and railway links, the city had remained a tight knit , conservative and academic town, with the the university press the only large-scale employer. The car industry transformed Oxford into one of the major industrial cities of southern England, though happily the architectural gems of the old city have been well preserved, also being spared the devastation meted out to so many other cities during World War II.
The sights of Oxford
As you might expect from such a historic city, there are numerous sights to be enjoyed in Oxford, which particularly photogenic, though it is often very crowded, especially in the summer. Here are my top ten:
The cobbled Radcliffe Square containing the iconic Radcliffe Camera (part of the Bodleian Library), and surrounded by the ancient trio of Brasenose College, All Souls College and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, with its excellent view from the top of the tower.
The old pubs of the city, including the Kings Arms (1607), near Radcliffe Square; the Eagle and Child, frequented by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and located on St Giles; the old coaching inn of the Lamb and Flag, also on St Giles; the 13th century Turf Tavern, and the Bear, one of the oldest of all, with its wood panels and collection of 4,500 ties.
The Covered Market, which opened in 1774 and contains a fantastic selection of fresh produce, cafes and boutique stalls.
Bohemian Jericho, which contains Freud, one of the most notable cocktail bars in the city, located behind the ancient looking Greek columns of St Paul’s Church on Walton Street and the excellent Indian cuisine of the Standard, also on the same street.
The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren for the University with its busts of the Philosophers or Emperors.
Christ Church Meadow which borders the Rivers Cherwell and Isis (the local name for the Thames) which is ideal for a stroll. The buildings of Oxford’s largest college are also very beautiful, though even busier now with visitors since the filming of the Harry Potter films. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were also inspired and written there. The Tom Tower is one of the most imposing sights – the upper part of the tower was which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who had himself been a student at the college.
The eclectic collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, founded by Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, an anthropologist who collected more than 20,000 objects from around the British Empire.
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, on Beaumont Street, which was the world’s first university museum, and will content the culturally curious for several hours at a time.
The ethnically diverse restaurants, shops and people of Cowley Road, with its annual carnival. This started in 2000 and now attracts crowds of up to 45,000 people, with live music and food stalls outside the many restaurants.
The ancient grazing land of Port Meadow and the nearby pub The Trout, located on the banks of the Thames.
I lived in Oxford in the late ’80s and early ’90s, moving up from Deal in Kent, my home town. Initially I rented a room in a crumbling gothic mansion in Norham Gardens, where I taught English to foreign students. It was post graduate house populated by academics including a semiotician, several mathematicians and a philosopher. I was asked to show my rather less distinguished Degree certificate to the landlady before I was able to move in. Later, as Academic Representative for a German language school, I lived in a damp basement flat in Iffley Road – which gave me the opportunity to get to know the nearby Cowley Road. During that time I came to be very fond of the City of Oxford and have lived in the county ever since. I have been photographing the Radcliffe Camera for over 20 years, but the image included in this post is the first one I actually feel does it any justice. It was taken on a wet, cold evening in January 2014 when hardly anyone was around and the sky was full of drama. I took the shot with an old school 24mm ƒ/2.8D prime lens originally designed for film cameras mounted on a Nikon D600 (a troublesome body I intend to trade in for a D500 at some point). The Emperor’s head and the Cowley Road Festival shots were both taken on a Nikon Df with an AF-S 24-120mm ƒ/4 lens.
We have had colour photography since the 1930s and the invention of Kodachrome, though it took until the 1970s for it become the norm. So why has black and white photography persisted?
Perhaps the most obvious difference between colour and b&w photography is that unlike their colour equivalents, black and white images are not direct renditions of their subjects. By omitting colour and substituting shades of grey, black and white photography presents an abstract and therefore less realistic image. This takes us into the representational world of art, where the artist tries to portray what is perceived and interpreted with the mind rather than what is seen directly by the eye. Both the artist and the photographer are working with a 3D subject in a 2D medium and this is where black and white photograph has an advantage over a colour rendition – black and white excels at tone; which describes the darkness or lightness of a particular area of an image. This is important as tone is essential to convey the illusion of form – or how the subject looks in three dimensions. Black and white draws more attention to the shadows and lines that depict form and gives a better illusion of depth. This is one of the reasons that black and white is often an effective medium for both landscapes and architectural shots as it can emphasise the shapes and forms within the scene. The case for black and white is even stronger with a side lit photo where light intensity varies across the person or object and the scene is subject to strong shadows. This is one of the reasons why I am fond of film noir which uses a lot of side lighting, shadow and contrast as opposed to the the more evenly exposed lighting of mainstream Hollywood.
On to my example, which is a shot of the columnar and iconic Marina City Towers on Chicago’s Riverfront, designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg. This is one of Chicago’s most notable buildings and was designated a city landmark in 2015. I was much taken with this 65-storey building complex, the tallest residential concrete building in the world at the time of completion in 1964, and known locally as the ‘corn cobs’, as I was driven to my hotel in a taxi. At the time I thought it was the world’s most elegant car park, but actually only the lower 19 floors are used for parking, whilst the upper floors contain apartments, restaurants and a concert hall. The towers were used as a back drop for a chase scene in Steve McQueen’s 1980 film ‘The Hunter’ . In his last film appearance, McQueen played a bounty hunter who is himself being pursued by a psychotic killer and chases a fugitive up the parking ramp in one of the towers before the car he is pursuing skids off the edge into the Chicago River.
I shot the towers from several locations, including the river, whilst on an architectural tour of the city, and eventually captured this image, which I felt depicted the organic form of the building best – the contrast between the light edges of the circular elements and the dark background, together with the sweeping curves of the tower in the foreground, draw the eye and help describe its form. It was shot in the morning, and, as usual, I used a circular polariser to darken the sky and increased the contrast between the building and its background. I took the shot with a Nikon Df with a ‘walk around’ 28-300 lens at ISO 200/45mm/f11/1/250 sec. The towers have a constantly changing pattern of light and shadow over the course of the day and are an ideal subject for black and white photography as well as a great piece of architecture. I was much taken with Chicago, which I visited for the first time in 2015 – it is undoubtedly one of the finest cities for modern architecture in the world and I am keen to return to capture more of it, but my enduring memory of my first visit is those iconic, sci-fi columns of Marina City.
The Chrysler Building in New York is a favourite of mine, and a great subject for black and white photography. The metallic exterior, the sunburst on the crown and the metal eagles make it an architectural wonder for me.
The Chrysler is a reflection of both the Art Deco era and the machine age and has strong automotive accents. at 319 m, it was was briefly the world’s tallest building before that honour passed to the Empire State Building in 1931. It was the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s and is still the tallest brick building in the world, albeit with a steel frame, and the 5th tallest building in New York. The corners of the 61st floor are decorated with those fabulous metal eagles whilst replicas of the 1920s Chrysler bonnet ornaments (aka radiator caps) adorn the corners of the 31st floor.
I took the shot you can see here on a Nikon D300 with an 18-200mm lens at 112mm. It was shot from 42nd Street in New York City at ground level and the picture was taken in broad daylight, in the early afternoon. This statement sometimes results in disbelief, but at night what is most visible of the crown of the building is the triangular illuminated windows, so the building appears quite unlike my picture. A quick search on Google Images for ‘Chrysler Building at night’ will confirm the difference. The effect you can see here, which I refer to as ‘Darkness at Noon’ relies on a good quality circular polariser, the nature of the camera’s light meter, and an underexposure/red filter combination during mono coversion. Let me break this down step by step.
A circular polariser is an indispensible piece of kit that increases color saturation and decrease reflections. It is also one of the only lens filters the effect of which cannot be replicated by editing. Importantly, it can also darken skies, which is what I was using one for in this instance. I used a Hoya Pro-1, which does the job very well.
The second part of the equation is not a technique but a property of the camera, whose reflective light meter wants to average out every scene to middle grey. What this means in practice is that the brighter the subject (building) is, the darker the background (sky) will be. This is why the sky looks dark blue in many Mediterranean holiday photos – the white buildings darken the sky. I took a lot of shots of the Chrysler (around 50) and one in particular had a brighter building and a darker sky, as it had caught the sunlight particularly well at that moment. So, I took the best shot I had, in which the sky was already dark blue – helped along by the circular polariser – and did my raw editing in Aperture, adjusting the curves into a gentle ‘S’ shape to make the image more punchy.
From there I moved on to Photoshop, to perform the mono conversion. I use the Silver Efex Pro plugin, which is an amazing bit of software – it has a powerful set of options but also a rich variety of presets, which makes it easy to use. I selected the ‘underexpose’ preset and added the red filter, which together will turn a dark sky pitch black, and the image was complete: a silver building on a black background. Or perhaps, a silver building caught in a flash of darkness…
Old Havana is everything it is reputed to be and more. Travelling to the city from the airport on back roads, it felt like I had travelled into an era 50 years on from the apocalypse – with everything in a state of decay and recycling a major part of life. Old Havana, with its faded and crumbling colonial architecture and many ’50s American cars, is more of the same, and the feeling of being somewhere utterly different is reinforced by the suffocating heat, the noise and the slightly intimidating street life.
I spent five days with Ramses Batista – www.ramseshb.com, a professional Cuban photographer. We shot mainly on the streets of the city, but also drove around other parts of Havana and out to Cojimar and Soroa in Pinar del Rio. Ramses was a wonderful tutor and compañero and I was really happy with the shots I brought back with me. We spent a lot of time setting up street shots – something Ramses excels at. One of my favourites is shown here – Ramses told me about the Che mural, which was just around the corner from my hotel, the excellent Saratoga, and we flagged down a suitable vehicle for the shot – which shows the driver walking back to his car. I’ve used a lot of contrast and brought out as much of the structure of the road, building and car as I could. The mono conversion plugin Silver Effex allows the placement of selective control points, which can be used like spot lights, so I lit the wheels and the pillar slightly as as they were a little too dark without a bit of extra lighting. As to what the white substance on the road is, I have no idea, but it all adds to the tone and texture.
I’ll describe one anecdote from the trip that highlights how different Cuba is: Ramses and I went out to Colon cemetery to shoot Angels (entities which are well represented on this site at the angels gallery). As we drove towards the gates on our way out a security guard stopped us and searched the boot. I asked Ramses why this was necessary and he told me that the guard was searching for human bones, which are much prized for use in ceremonies in some of the syncretic religions of Cuba…
My Nikon D600 was reliable but suffers from a sensor that is astonishingly sensitive to moisture and dirt, so I spent a lot of time cleaning up spots from the images whilst editing them. I also took a trip over to my friends at T4 Cameras in Witney for yet another sensor clean. I was in similarly poor shape as I managed to put my back out travelling in the jungle in some rather dilapidated car seats (I felt we had to take a 50s car for the trip) and I picked up a nasty bug from the same locale – but it was most definitely worth it. I want to go back and see the rest of the island as soon as I can.