“New” Kodak Portra 400 – Thoughts

When Kodak announced that they were “consolidating” their VC and NC emulsions for Portra 160 and 400, a lot of photographers, myself included, were convinced the end was near. “The beginning of the end” of Kodak film. That end is likely coming, but until then, Kodak has brought us New Portra 400. The most amazing and versatile color negative film I have ever used. Latitude is great, colors pop, the grain is film like, yet not overbearing. The shadow detail and dynamic range reminds me of TriX. Yes, this is the color film closest to B&W. You can shoot at ISO 800, and 1600, without pushing it. A good thing, as my camera shop will not push process. This film really should be why photographers fight for Kodak to survive. Buy, buy, buy this film. It is available in 35mm, 120 and 220 (medium format), and 4×5 and 8×10 large formats. I took some portraits of my son on another roill at 800 and 1600, and they came out amazing. Believe it or not, the skin tones are spot on, which really is baffling, goven the vivid colors seen here, in fall landscape photographs. I have not tried the New Portra 160 yet, but believe it or not, these were shot with 400, and at box speed.

These 35mm shots are from last week, at Hart Pond, Chelmsford, Massachusetts, taken with my Nikon F, and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 Ai.

The Beach In Fall

The Beach In Fall

Freeman Trail, Which Runs Past Hart Pond

Freeman Trail, Which Runs Past Hart Pond

Dock

Dock

Wood

Wood

Reflection

Reflection

Get Juiced- What To Do When The Batteries Die In Your Electronic Shutter Nikon Film SLR

FE-2 / MD-12 With Big Brother F3HP, And 2000 Vintage Nikon Catalog (Yes, They Still Sold The F3 In Y2K!)

FE-2 / MD-12, SB-15 Speedlight, With Big Brother F3HP, And 2000 Vintage Nikon Catalog (Yes, They Still Sold The F3 In Y2K!)

In 1971, Nikon introduced the electronic shutter with the Nikkomat EL. Traditionally a very conservative company, Nikon has traditionally, to this day, introduced new features and gadgetry into “consumer” level cameras, waiting a few years for such functionality to be enhanced and refined before being introduced into its prosumer and professional models. The Nikkomat EL was way ahead of its time, despite being a “popular” Nikon. Almost a decade later, electronic quartz-controlled high-speed shutters later showed up in the FE/FE-2, the prosumer models, and the F3, the revolutionary professional body, that brought the F line into the high-tech era.

This weekend, while shooting with my FE-2, the inevitable happened- the batteries died. Despite being coupled to the MD-12 motor drive, the light meter needle would only respond while pushing the shutter button down half way, and then return to zero. Then, the shutter stuck, while in the middle of an exposure. Finally, the flash sync light erratically flashed.

What do you do? I had no experience with this, as the set of Varta silver oxide cells in the camera were over 2 years old. But I did have another set in the bag. These things have incredibly long shelf lives. But what about the shutter? Moving the shutter speed dial to M250 (yes, the FE-2 has an emergency 1/250th sec. mechanical shutter override speed), smoothly and reassuringly, the shutter closed nicely. Unmounting the motor drive, I opened up the battery chamber with a quarter, and pulled out the dead batteries. In went (2) Varta SR44 silver oxides. On came the light meter, instantly with a push of the MD-12’s shutter release. On came the flash sync light. Yes, one of the many benefits of the electronic shutter is being able to sync as fast as 1/250th of a sec- you can do fill flash with this camera, nicely.

Varta To The Rescue - V76PX SR44 Silver Oxide Cell For Nikon's Such As The FE-2 And F3

Varta To The Rescue - V76PX SR44 Silver Oxide Cell For Nikon's Such As The FE-2 And F3

Haven’t developed the results yet, as just last night, I mixed up a batch of D-76 and HCA. But that extra long shutter opening frame may be a fun one to see.

Till the next couple of years? Happy FE-2 shooting! I hope to blog soon about my favorite Nikkor zoom, the somewhat uncommon 50-135mm f/3.5 Macro. This is a shot from Green Hill Park, Worcester, MA, from a couple of years ago, with that lens mounted on the FE-2-

May, 2009- Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 Macro, Fujicolor 200 - My Favorite Nikkor Zoom.

May, 2009- Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 Macro, Fujicolor 200 - My Favorite Nikkor Zoom.

PS- please follow me now on Twitter @ArthurNikonF

The Most Controversial Nikon F – The F3

Nikon F3HP

Nikon F3HP

When Nikon introduced the F3 in 1980, it set the photographic world into debate, and strident discourse. The F, and the follow-up F2 were both fully mechanical bodies, with only a light meter dependent on battery power. This was the 1st F body to feature a quartz timed electronic shutter, a surprisingly accurate and reliable LED display, originally scheduled to last about 7 years (the one on mine has lasted 27 years). Other firsts include 80/20 center weighted metering (in the body- no more Photomic heads!), a semi-automatic aperture priority mode, 4-6 FPS with the MD-4 motor drive (6 with the mirror locked up), and a 1st for Nikon, an auto focus model, with proprietary AF lenses. Despised initially by purists, the model ended up in production for an amazing 21 year run. So popular, it was available at the same time as the F4. Slated for end of production a few times, Nikon couldn’t keep up with demand towards the end of its life cycle.

Sculpted by famed Italian industrial designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, it introduced a solid hand grip, and that red racing stripe that still shows up today on Nikon digital bodies. And had the longest run out of any Nikon F.

I shoot with the F3HP model. HP for High Eyepoint, it allows for viewing with eyeglasses on, up to an inch away. 100% viewfinder coverage, of course. A solid, elegant camera, which many photographers view as the very best manual focus professional 35mm body to date.

Mounted With The Nikkor 28-50 f/3.5 Macro

Mounted With The Nikkor 28-50 f/3.5 Macro

I took this shot with the above combination, using expired 100 speed film from The Film Photography Podcast – www.filmphotographyproject.com, in Elm Park in Worcester, MA-

10 15 11 Elm Park Worcester MA

10 15 11 Elm Park Worcester MA

The Nikon F – The 35mm Photographic Legend

Nikon F Photomic Ftn, From 1970

Nikon F Photomic Ftn, From 1970

The Nikon F is the camera that set the photographic world upside down, and changed all the rules. Back in 1959, a camera that had an automatic diaphragm, which stopped down instantly to the chosen aperture, then returning back to its fully wide open state, was almost unheard of. This camera was the first true 35mm SYSTEM , with easily mounted interchangeable lenses, and a catalog of accessories, available right at introduction, and available to pros and home enthusiasts. To say the camera is built like a tank is an understatement. It saved lives of photojournalists in Vietnam, by deflecting bullets. It was submersed, with exposed film, only to be recovered out of water, and have the film be able to be developed, and be dried out, to be used again. Other firsts-

  • 100% viewfinder coverage- the 1st 35mm camera to have it.
  • Titanium shutter, with a 100,000 exposure MTBF rating, but lasting much longer. Not many dead ones on the market.
  • A high-speed motor drive option.
  • Polaroid back options (known as Speed Magny)
  • 1st high-end camera from Japan to change world perception of Japanese quality.
  • Lightning fast, instant return mirror. Taken for granted today, but truly groundbreaking in 1959.
  • Accurate center-weighted metering starting with the Photomic finder series.
  • 1st Japanese SLR with mirror lock-up.
  • 1st with interchangeable focusing screens.

While I would never say this was the “best” 35mm SLR camera ever produced, it was clearly the most influential, with so many innovations and features that we take for granted today. Nice little touches, such as indicators to show if the shutter is cocked, one that you can program to tell if you have a 36 exposure of 20 (24) exposure cassette. One to remind you of the ISO/ASA, and if you have B&W or color film loaded, even programmable to remind you that the camera is empty. A smooth, beautiful stainless steel winder. While not the 1st SLR, it was easily the most accessible, and the one that got everyone talking about this system, and Nikon. Even in the US, where “Made In Japan” once was a placard that made consumers run away. Now they ran to their local camera shops.

Yes, this is all mechanical, completely manual exposure. The shutter sound is magnificent. The results? So far, after a roll of color, and a roll of B&W, I could not be happier.

From My First Roll Shot In The Nikon F, 50mm f/1.4 Ai, Expired Kodak Max 400 Film

From My First Roll Shot In The Nikon F, 50mm f/1.4 Ai, Expired Kodak Max 400 Film

The camera continued to receive improvements over the years, eventually phased out/retired by the F2, with enhancements and refinements. The model I opted for, a 1970 vintage Photomic Ftn, with TTL center-weighted metering that is still accurate and viable today. While mercury batteries for the finder no longer available, mine runs on Wein Cells, the mercury free zinc air replacements http://www.weincell.com/ . Make sure you have a small hole in the battery compartment door- these batteries need air to breathe, and to fuel the zinc air fuel mix.

Do these “old” cameras work well? Like a charm- even today. Quirks? Yes. Charm? In large amounts. A guaranteed conversation starter? Yes. Anywhere you go with it. This is the 35mm camera I wanted all my life. Nikon only made about 850,000 of these instruments in total. Get one.

TMax From The Darkroom- And Why A Kodak Bankruptcy / Reorg Might Be A Good Thing

Spent Friday night in the darkroom. As after the fact, I read that Kodak HC-110 is not a highly recommended developer to use with TMax, it was too late- 1st two rolls, developed. While certainly punchy and sharp, the negs seemed to have a grayish tinge, and lacking definition in the blacks. Maybe this was due in part to setting 8 bit grayscale native on the scanner, and not scanning in color, and doing grayscale conversion in Photoshop. But overall, pretty happy with the results. Took this shot of my son, looking outside, with the Nikon F3HP, and 105mm f/2.5, with bounced flash-

Looking Out The Window - Shot With Kodak TMax 400, Nikon F3HP, 105mm f/2.5, Developed in HC -110

Looking Out The Window - Shot With Kodak TMax 400, Nikon F3HP, 105mm f/2.5, Developed in HC -110

So, yesterday, I picked up a packet of Kodak D-76, as I have seen some excellent results using that developer with TMax. It was the 1st developer I used, and only recently stopped using it, as I was likely over agitating, and as a result, over developing, and getting the dreaded “bromide drag”. Additionally, the sheer economic benefit of a highly concentrated developer such as HC-110 have made it my “go-to” developer. It may be time to stock up on supplies now, as shortly after getting out of the darkroom, I receive an e-mail from my mother, asking me if I had heard the news/rumors about Kodak-

Kodak shares plunge as bankruptcy fears escalate

Kodak: Death of an American icon?

Kodak shares plummet on restructuring fears

After initially nearly suffering a panic attack, reality settled in, and I realized this may in fact, be a blessing in disguise. Unlike the demise of Polaroid, this could work out pretty nicely. One scenario is that the company reorganizes, sells off its film/professional division to Ilford, or Fuji (no, Impossible does not have deep enough pockets), and beautiful emulsions like Ektar, TMax, TriX, PlusX, etc, are kept alive. As is the chemistry needed to develop it. Another is that it simply “spins off” film, although I do not see this happening, as film, while profitable to make, just does not sell in the volume needed to keep it profitable anymore. It is a niche market. Not a mass market. Despite those, like myself, fiercely loyal to it.

The least likely scenario? It ceases to exist. The folks at Impossible, while still making a highly unstable and experimental product, proved it can be done. Chemistry has been “cloned” and in some cases, improved upon, by 3rd party vendors selling chemicals through internet/mail order boutiques such as Freestyle. Yes, I am guessing that C41 might be a bit more challenging to do so. But, what happens to the Kodak machines at the places left still processing color films? Does this become an opportunity for Fuji, and do they, if Kodak goes under completely, raise the price of their films to the point where it becomes cost prohibitive for the average enthusiast?

And, what becomes of Kodak’s current “crown jewel” color emulsions, Portra, especially 160 and 400? No one has the answers- not even the folks in Rochester. Until they do, just keep on shooting.