Love affair with a camera

I’ve always thought it a little odd how some photographers have these intense love affairs with a specific camera. They become fixated on the Leica, or Canon or cheap Diana plastic toys. A sort of photo-erotic romance. For them no other camera will ever match their one true love which they elevate on a pedestal, often with the kind of hyperbole that if examined closely, should make them blush. For me, cameras and computers are simply tools of my trade. They do the job and are discarded without sentimentality if and when they fail to measure up.

In reality though, I’m not so different. I must confess that I once had a passionate affair with one particular camera. It was the Nikon SP. Manufactured in the late 1950s, it was a machine that took the best ideas from Contax and Leica and melded them into a camera that I think, was the absolute pinnacle of rangefinder camera development. I bought mine second-hand in 1971. It came with two 50mm lenses, and a 25mm wide-angle. The 50mm lenses were the superb little Nikkor 1.4 and the incredibly fast and bulky Nikkor 1.1.

So large was the front element of the 1.1 that its barrel filled most of the viewfinder area. Without a supplementary viewfinder you were practically guessing at what was in the frame. For this reason I rarely used it, but what triggered this reminiscence was seeing that there was one of these lenses on eBay the other day. It’s price tag: $40,000! I sold mine about 20 years ago for $600 (groan).

With my Nikon SP and the 25mm wide angle, circa 1977 © Rob Walls

With my Nikon SP and the 25mm wide angle, circa 1977 © Rob Walls

The Nikon SP was my walkabout camera. It accompanied me everywhere. Compared with my SLRs it was compact (when without the f1.1 at least) and with its Contax style focussing wheel next to the shutter release, was fast in use. I developed a deep affection for this machine, and still Nikon still hold this fore-runner of the Nikon F in high regard. So much so that about 10 years ago they ran a limited commemorative edition that was immediately snapped up by collectors.

When I lost my SP in a burglary in the 1980s, I went into deep mourning. For years,  I gazed into pawn shop windows, hoping to glimpse my camera again, but eventually, I came to accept that it was gone forever. You can still pick up good examples of the SP on eBay for a couple of thousand dollars and I must admit that looking at them today, I was tempted. But then reality set in. I can’t bring myself to go back to film even for the love of my life. Now if only Nikon would produce the SP as a full-frame mirrorless digital with that superb 35mm F1.8 Nikkor, I could fall in love all over again.

If you want to know more about the history and qualities of this handsome camera, go here:

Here’s a couple of pictures from my Nikon SP.

An off-duty cleaner walks her dog from the back of a station wagon, in Centennial Park, Sydney © Rob Walls 1977

An off-duty cleaner walks her dog from the back of a station wagon, in Centennial Park, Sydney © Rob Walls 1975

Circus boy

A young boy captivated by the trapeze act at a performance by Ashton’s Circus in Sydney © Rob Walls 1973

Both of these pictures are spontaneous grab shots; the picture of the boy in the audience at the circus was shot under extreme low-light conditions. With the 1.4 wide open, I remember that the shutter speed for this was 1/4 second, hand-held, with my shoulder hard braced up against a tent-pole. I got off three frames, this was the only sharp one.


Filed under Australia, Australian, Autobiography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

12 responses to “Love affair with a camera

  1. David Dare Parker

    Like a piece of watchmaking Rob. A stunning bit of kit.

  2. You bring back memories of my own cameras I loved. Can you love a digital camera Rob..?.love the historical photo of you by the way…….Have a look at the Fuji X 100S…looks great…..feels great for some he reasons you like that Nikon camera all those years ago…..
    Warm Wishes Mate…..

    • I think I could fall in love with a digital SP with prime lenses and a full frame sensor, Mike. I had a look at the X100S, it looked good and handled well for the kind of pictures I like to shoot, but when asking around, I got mixed reports. Maybe I’m waiting for a Fuji X100SP. Wouldn’t be the first time Fuji and Nikon have collaborated. My first serious digital camera was a Fuji/Nikon DSLR.

  3. Roger Garwood

    So right about fixations Rob. For me it was/is M Leica and F (or F2) Nikon. These were cameras ( inc the SP) which anybody could pick up and use and trust their life with.

  4. Rob, I’m with you about the tools of trade and if my budget were bottomless, I’d love to explore all range of new and unfolding fandangled equipment.
    In my shop I have a small display of “fillum” cameras and with interest I note the bakelite bullet from the US, the mix of tacky plastic and metal from Japan as electronica came to the fore, but I was given a Contaflex made in Stuttgart, which is a mechanical work of art and I’m sure in its day would have been the duck’s guts.
    I guess we all like stuff of beauty, perhaps its stuff that reminds us of better times or of simple pleasures?
    Your post is proof that love never dies;)

    • Hi Dave, good to hear from you. I think with a bottomless budget the affection might be more shallow. When I bought the Nikon SP I really stretched to come up with the 350 UK pounds to buy it.

      Right now, it looks like I might be getting on the road again within a few weeks and I’m pondering whether to lash out on a Fuji X100s. The traditional style veiwfinder to the extreme left of the body, gives me much the same experience as the SP: the ability to hold the camera to your right eye and see what is happening around the scene, or moving in and out of frame, with the open unobstructed left eye.

      In the meantime: keep on shooting…warm regards on this fine Tasmanian day…

      • Cheers Rob. Who knows where I’ve been… just whips by.
        I haven’t been to my blog since January….a fickle wind blows me;)
        Shooting indeed…..bless the autumn Tassie blue;)
        Hope your road trip is all you dream of…..Davoooooooooooooooooo!!!

  5. These are example pictures which supports the fact that age differences of photos taken using Nikon span many decades. Your photographs will live forever Rob.
    Portrait Photography Sydney

  6. yep i have to say i’m not sure i get the love affair with specific cameras beyond their individual capabilities. some cameras are way better at specific things but to love one that is less good… i’ve not found that camera yet.

    • Since I wrote this I’ve found just the camera to rekindle my enthusiasm for a piece of hardware. The Fuji X100S. Its handling is so close to that Nikon SP,I tote it everywhere. So impressed by the quality of its output, I sold my DSLRs and bought the Fuji XE2 with 18-55 and 55-200 zooms as a companion camera. These two cameras fit perfectly with my current shooting needs.

  7. My dream camera is that SP in a digital body from Nikon…would love to try the film version but the prices dismay me away from purchasing every time. I’m glad you found a reminiscent experience in the Fuji, but I suppose I’m one of those hopeless romantics that love dreaming about having that “love affair” with a camera. Thank for the great post!

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