Tag Archives: film
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).
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.
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.
I am not ashamed to admit that I don’t mourn the passing of film. The hollow, pissing-in-the-wind wails of those who claim a resurgence of the medium, cut no ice with me. One of the complaints of the old-hand film devotees is that in days gone by you could buy a camera and it would be twenty or thirty years before it needed replacing. I fail to see the merit of the argument. When I used a Speed Graphic, I welcomed the move to a twin lens TLR, When I used a rangefinder camera, I embraced the arrival of the SLR, then in-camera exposure metering and motor-winds.
One of the greatest joys of the photographer is opening the box of a brand-new camera and lifting out a pristine machine, full of potential and possibility; breathing in the new camera smell, so sensual and full of promise. I delight in the upgrading of my digital cameras as now I can get that new camera hit every year. If they could package that smell as an after-shave, I’d buy it.
I don’t splurge on the top-of-the range, $5,000 models, preferring mid-range professional cameras. Cameras that will do the job without breaking either my back or my bank. Pragmatic and unsentimental, I look at it from the point-of-view that a new digital camera can pay for itself with a single day’s work or the licencing of a few good stock shots. After that it’s all profit.
This month, I’ll enjoy that new camera charge twice. Two weeks ago with Canon’s beautifully rugged point-and-shoot, the G11…and next week opening one of those beautiful golden boxes and inhaling that heady Nikon smell with the delivery of a new D90.
I still recall the pleasures the darkroom gave me…but like old loves, I don’t want to revisit them. I’m content with replacing the smell of developer, stop bath and hypo with the more subtle and sophisticated aroma of new digital hardware. The odors of the darkroom were always about the past, of pictures already made; the smell of a new digital camera is about the future, it is the promise of pictures yet to come.
“Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” Alexander Pope
In 1967, I was hired by UPI to shoot publicity stills for the John Schlesinger film of Thomas Hardy’s, Far From the Madding Crowd. Ten days of big budget movie promotion with Julie Christie, and Terence Stamp. A week of hard work and hard partying; dining on venison at Longleat with the Marquess of Bath, chartered trains to tour Hardy country, fine wines, unlimited Cuban cigars…and a brief to individually photograph a hundred invited journalists from all over the world, talking with the stars. Motor drives were just coming in but I had yet to afford one and shooting 30 rolls of Tri-X a day, I blistered my thumb on the milled wind lever of my Nikons.
Terence Stamp had just come back from filming a Western in Texas (Blue) for which he had had his hair bleached. In those days when grooming was considered an essential part of status, I couldn’t help think how scruffy he looked. He was just trend-setting. It would be a year or two before I adopted a more hippy style. And in hindsight, he just looks so damned cool! Still does…
Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and most significantly the passing of Kodachrome, the 75 year old film immortalised in song by Paul Simon.
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my kodachrome away
While there have been periods of my career when Kodachrome was my film of first choice, for me, it had fallen out of favour long ago. Though I like(d) the Paul Simon song, I refuse to participate in the orgy of sentimentality about this quirky film. In fact, I can’t even get worked up about any of the supposed qualities of film. I haven’t shot a roll in 8 years.
For this old photographer, digital photography is the best thing since sliced bread, as the cliche goes. Mind you, I also happen to think that unsliced wood-fired sourdough is better than sliced bread.
Just watched Conflict. This superb first feature film by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn led me to seek out his website. I recommend both the film and Corbijn’s beautifully cool and edgy photography. His portrait of my musical hero, Miles Davis, is for me, a standout. You’d not be wasting your time by visiting his website.