Lincoln Highway

Lincoln Highway

Traveling back and forth between Colorado and Illinois for as many years as I have, getting off the Interstate and driving two-lane back roads instead is always a welcome diversion. Most of the time I’m in no particular hurry, allowing me to wander slowly through the Mid-West matrix of gravel roads at low speeds, looking for anything of interest causing me to stop.

Aurora, Nebraska
frame 20 – Aurora, Nebraska (2020)

I’ve been traveling the Lincoln Highway for many years now, each time trying to cover different stretches. For this trip, I exited Interstate 80 just after Grand Island, Nebraska, and picked up the Lincoln Highway in Central City, a few miles north.

Lincoln Manor Steak House, Central City, Nebraska (2020)
frame 24 – Lincoln Manor Steak House, Central City, Nebraska (2020)
Somewhere in Western Iowa along the Lincoln Highway
frame 32 – Somewhere in Western Iowa along the Lincoln Highway

This past Spring amidst the Covid-19 outbreak I found I’d rather be in the car than cooped up in the house. Here are a few photographs from the three trips made along the Lincoln Highway between early March and early June – all with a specific purpose, by the way – to either retrieve my son from school, or return him to school in Chicago.

Outside Carroll, Iowa
frame 36 – Outside Carroll, Iowa
WalMart, Carroll, Iowa
frame 34 – Carroll, Iowa

The ‘romance’ of being on the road came to a crashing end this night in Carroll, Iowa. Having found a perfect camp site a few miles earlier – only to learn it was closed due to Covid-19 – as were all Iowa campgrounds – I was forced a few more miles down the road before stopping for the night. So what do you do in a WalMart parking lot all night? Make photographs, of course.

Lincoln Highway, outside Scranton, Iowa
frame 03 – Lincoln Highway, outside Scranton, Iowa

Though U.S. 30 is today’s closest equivalent to the Lincoln Highway, the real joy of the true Lincoln Highway experience comes from following the spurs. Often, along U.S. 30 there will be signs marking the Lincoln Highway route. More often then not these signs point the traveler down a dirt road with no obvious incentive for the casual traveler to detour from their route. But it’s on these detours – that always wind back to U.S.30 somehow (though often times it takes a good bit of head scratching and backtracking) – the true lore of the Lincoln Highway is visible.

Farm House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 05 – Farm House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa

One such detour was around Scranton, Iowa one morning. Early morning light was soft and beautiful, and traffic was light. Birds chirped along the field each time I stopped the car to make a photograph. At one point a ring necked pheasant, hunkered down in the grass waiting to determine my intentions – exploded into the sky, the suspense finally becoming too great for him.

Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 11 – Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa

Coming upon these old, abandoned establishments along the road is an eerie experience. Long-ago forsaken, they have lain dormant for years. Or have they really? Approaching with caution should one of today’s weary travelers be seeking temporary refuge for the night within the confines of its walls is always a good idea.

Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
frame 12 – Abandoned Boarding House, Lincoln Highway, Scranton, Iowa
Lincoln Highway through Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 18 – Grand Junction, Iowa
Lincoln Highway through Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 19 – Grand Junction, Iowa
R.A. Miller Mobil station, along the Lincoln Highway in Grand Junction, Iowa.
frame 31 – R.A. Miller Mobil Station along the Lincoln Highway, Grand Junction, Iowa

R.A. Miller Mobil Station in Grand Junction, Iowa was such a pleasant and wonderful surprise. It was early morning and I was just finishing off the last of my coffee when I rolled into the empty streets of Grand Junction. As usual, I stopped in the town center and climbed out to stretch my legs. Wandering around the empty streets I found some wonderful, old brick buildings and other interesting signs and markers. When done I saddled up and continued on, only to bring the car to a sudden stop not 2 minutes later when this old filling station appeared, hidden from view while exploring moments ago. Once again I stopped the car, absolutely giddy with excitement and spent another hour exploring this scene from various angles. Dogs were barking, cars beginning to drive by with drivers smiling and waving as I again and again hoisted the F6 to my eye – often times making virtually the same photograph as the moment before. Making sure I paid adequate attention to this landmark was all that was on my mind.

Gary Hevalow, Proprietor-Preston's Station, Belle Plaine, Iowa
Gary Hevalow, Proprietor/Benefactor, Preston’s Station, Belle Plaine, Iowa. Gary is working hard to try to reopen Preston’s Station as a local landmark and attraction. Given the era and subject matter, it of course had to be photographed in Ektachrome E100.

Earlier in the year during another trip along the Lincoln Highway I had the good fortune to meet Gary Hevalow, the now benefactor of a similar landmark, Preston’s Station in Belle Plaine, Iowa. You can read more about that here. These old filling stations strategically placed about the highway are a special focus for me – in what ever form they occupy today. So back in March, the opportunity to be invited in to photograph the interior was a special treat.

Abandoned wayside station along the old Lincoln Highway, somewhere in West-Central Iowa.
frame 03 – Wayside Station, Lincoln Highway, western Iowa
Abandoned hotel in Beaver, Iowa along the old Lincoln Highway.
frame 08 – Lincoln Highway through Beaver, Iowa

On this trip I followed the Lincoln Highway through Aimes, Iowa, where finally in the name of expediency I picked up the Interstate again. I encourage anyone who’s out traveling to take full advantage of the opportunity to move slowly if you can, and not be in a hurry to get from one place to another all the time. There are surely times this isn’t possible. But there are times when adding a day or two onto an existing trip to explore the less-traveled routes is quite rewarding.

Old CTA Station on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Wells St., Warehouse District, Chicago, Illinois.
frame 29 – Old CTA Station in the rain, Chicago, Illinois

Arriving in Chicago is usually the end of the line, where there is always plenty of visual interest to finish off a roll. This old CTA station, nearly invisible beneath the L-Platform at Franklin and Chicago Ave. impressed me with its early, sturdy brick construction standing against the pouring rain.

All images made on Ilford Delta 100, developed in Ilfotol DDX developer, 1:4, by the book. Often times the humble Nikkor 50mm f1.4D with a Nikkor Y48 Yellow filter was used.

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

This is pretty exciting… (rather then re-hashing the same information, this post was lifted from DPReview)

Kodak first announced the rebirth of Ektachrome way back in January at CES. Along with Kodak Alaris—who will distribute the 35mm Kodak Professional Ektachrome film for stills shooters—the company said it would bring back Ektachrome by the end of 2017… and then promptly stopped talking about it.

But if you were worried that Kodak had given up on the idea, fear not: in a new episode of the Kodakery podcast, a few of Kodak’s higher ups (including Marketing and Product Manager Diane Carroll-Yacoby) updated the world on the progress of the Ektachrome reboot, how they’re making it, and what testing still stand between your hands and a fresh 36-shot roll of the stuff.

You can listen to the entire Kodakery podcast update below:

The first half of the podcast is mostly a photography and history lesson: discussing the origins of Ektachrome, its ‘characteristics’ (read: limitations), and how Kodak has managed to bring it back to life after discontinuing it in 2013. But if you want to get into the “how and when” of the matter, you’ll want to skip to the 22 minute mark.

That’s where we get to learn about how difficult it is to bring back a film like Ektachrome—which is made up of 80 ingredients, some of them no longer available to purchase—and how Kodak is making the economics of Ektachrome work by creating it in smaller, more sustainable batches.

You’ll want to listen to the discussion to really get the details of how the film is made, but here are a few of the most interesting tidbits about the revival process (for us anyway):

  • Kodak has managed to either find or manufacture all 80 ingredients required to make Ektachrome.
  • Much of the process so far has involved retooling the formula so it will work on the machines available to them, because they no longer have all of the equipment they had when Ektachrome was being developed previously.
  • They’ve already produced some ‘pilot coatings’ that they are testing to ensure they’re ready to mass produce Ektachrome that’s up to snuff.
  • When they’re ready to go, they will be making rolls using a coater that produces the film on sheets that are 4 feet wide and 6,000 feet long. The first of these ‘wide’ rolls will be produced before the end of 2017, and will be used for internal testing.
  • Kodak will be making a single (4ft x 6,000ft) roll for the first production run, so they don’t have to hold on to too much inventory at one time.
  • Kodak Ektachrome’s market release is planned for 2018.

Eastman Kodak itself will produce all of the film and plans to distribute the Super 8 cinema version of Ektachrome, while Kodak Alaris will distribute the 35mm slide film for stills shooters. For now, we still don’t know exactly when Ektachrome is coming back in 2018, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know so you can mark your calendars.

Scanning with Nikon LS-5000 Time Machine

Scanning with Nikon LS-5000 Time Machine

Champs Elysees, France 1957

For the past few months I’ve been working on scanning/archiving slides for my family. It’s a big job – many hundreds of a mixture of very old (late 1950’s) to just sort of old – made in the last few decades.

Gornergrat, Switzerland 1957

Several reoccurring thoughts travel my mind as I sit before the screen, inserting slides, waiting for focus, scanning the slides, and naming them in some orderly fashion so we’re actually able to find them once scanned.

Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1957

One is, I’m sure glad we have these images. They are the closest thing to a time machine I’m aware of. The other night I was looking at photographs of the Zurmatt Curling Club in Switzerland, circa 1957. Wow… talk about a blast from the past. My father took a trip to Europe after getting out of the army in the late 50’s. He and his Kodak Retina documented the countryside well and now, 60 years later, I’m seeing what he saw. That’s pretty cool.

Goat Cart and Children, Paris, 1957

Another is, as I inspect each slide, many are made on Ektachrome and carry a rather red bias. Thank goodness for the sophisticated software we have available today to bring the very best out of even these ancient (by photographic terms) slides.

Madeline Church, Paris, 1957

I wonder how much longer the film will continue to carry an image? The slides have been stored properly and meticulously labeled providing ample information to name and describe them. Though these images have remained intact for many years, there will come a time they’ll fade away to nothing. Everything has a life span and nothing lasts forever. Digitally archiving them while they’re still viable is a good use of time and energy.

View of Paris from Arc de Triomphe, 1957

View of Paris from Arc de Triomphe, 1957

I’m grateful for on-line sharing services like zenfolio, of which I’ve been a part of since 2007, allowing such easy archiving and custom, private sharing of these and other images with select audiences. Sharing these images with family members across the globe with a few clicks is easy, cost-effective and painless. And the delight it brings those is real.

Horses and Sleigh, Zermatt, Switzerland, 1957

I think about how there are really no shortcuts. To get the most out of each frame, the image needs to be scanned, optimized, color adjusted and cropped at a decent enough resolution to cover what might be asked of them in the future. I’ve decided on a modest resolution of about 2,700 px on the longest dimension, rather than the full 5,000+ to save some time – and also predicting not many (if any) images will ever be enlarged great than 8″ x 10″.

Arc de Triomphe, France, 1957

I purchased my Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 some time around 2008. I remember driving to Denver in a snow storm and buying – new – the last one on the shelf at Wolf Camera for something like $1,000. The kids in the store looked at me like I was nuts. “Don’t you know about digital cameras?” their smirking eyes said as I walked out the door with my prize. I’ve seen LS-5000’s at auction for upwards of $2K. It’s a great scanner – providing you use the right software with it. But that’s another post.

Subway Poster, Paris, 1957

I’m grateful for this moment in time where we as photographers have the ability to choose from the affordable overabundance of such exquisite high-end picture making gear what tools to work with. I’m grateful for the advanced technology available today to get the absolute most out of every frame shot – from scanning software to post-processing editing tools,  Digital Asset Management tools and on-line sharing tools. I’m grateful for long-stored analog film in the freezer as well as all-new emulsions rolling off the production lines of Kodak and others.

Lowe Pro Commercial AW loaded and ready to roll. Having everything in one bag that can just be grabbed when it's time to go ensures you'll have what you need when the time comes.

Asked and answered: moving forward, the F6 is king.

With the question of what camera to trust finally settled on once and for all, I’m grateful for my F6, which I fully expect to be clicking away many years from now, its corners and rubber grip worn, with a roll-count well into the thousands.

Statue of Liberty, NY on Kodachrome. Date unknown.

Statue of Liberty, NY on Kodachrome. Date unknown.

The attributes of film endure, providing us with the ability to – 60 years from now – look at the world through the lens at this great time to be a film photographer.

Heavy Metal: The Nikon F2

Heavy Metal: The Nikon F2

A few years ago I set out on a quest to explore the world of ancient Nikons still appearing to thrive in modern day. Why is that? Knowing Nikon made high-quality cameras was a given because of the contemporary Nikons I’m so familiar with. But the prompt to explore the roots of that question finally compelled a deeper dive to better understand the DNA of Nikon and the final iteration of their film camera, the masterpiece that is the F6.

Ready for any adventure: Nikon F2 Kit housed neatly in the Nikon FB-11A carrying case.
Nikon F2 Kit: Oldies & Goodies, ready for any adventure, housed neatly in the Nikon FB-11A carrying case, nicknamed the ‘Man Bag” by my wife.

Prior to taking that step, my knowledge of the older Nikon systems was a little sketchy. OK… it was inept. I knew they were legends – but most of my serious time behind my Nikons began around the F4 days and I simply hadn’t paid much attention to the older F’s.

Bucket List

Central Camera, Chicago, Illinois (2015)
Central Camera, since 1899, Chicago, Illinois (2015). Burned to the ground in early 2020 during the race riots in Chicago. Tell me how that accomplishes anything.

On my bucket list has been to acquire one of each of the single-digit Nikon F professional SLR cameras. A few summers ago in Chicago the opportunity to visit Central Camera, Chicago’s oldest camera store, presented itself. While there, from the shelf a beautiful, old F with the FTn Photomic prism called to me in a way I just couldn’t ignore. Soon after, we left the store together for our first stroll through the city to get acquainted. This was really the first truly vintage Nikon I held and from the moment it hit my hands I was hooked.

The F’s first camping trip, along the shores of Colorado’s Rio Grande

Intro

If the “F” leg of my journey began by happenstance, the F2 leg began as an act of benevolence from my good friend Mark. He’d been using his F2 for a while and decided to pick up a newer, nicer one. Soon afterwards I received an e-mail saying he was sending me his original F2 Photomic. I was humbled by his generosity and honestly, not sure what to expect. I knew it followed the F and, for some (unknown) reason, I thought of it as “second best” to the F – like some sort of little brother that wasn’t as talented or good looking. Perhaps it had something to do with the fanfare the original F enjoyed because it was first. Perhaps it was because the F2 lacked a prominent “F2” badging on front of the camera, as all following F’s sported. Perhaps because at first I errantly thought that F2 was simply a reboot of the original F. Who knows… no matter the reason, I was wrong.

Nikon F2 shown with DE-1 non-metered prism finder, AR-1 soft shutter release, MB-1 battery pack, MD-2 motor drive, MF-3 camera back and Nikkor 50mm ƒ1.2 AI-S lens.
Nikon F2 shown with DE-1 non-metered prism finder, AR-1 soft shutter release, MB-1 battery pack, MD-2 motor drive, MF-3 camera back and Nikkor 50mm ƒ1.2 AI-S lens.

The F2 represents the last of the hand-assembled, all-mechanical single-digit professional F-series film cameras from Nikon. Not simply a refinement of the famous F preceding it, the F2 was completely re-designed leveraging everything they learned making the F and rolling it into a brand new camera.

Nikon F2: Perhaps the Best 35mm camera ever made.
The Ultimate System Camera – Nikon F2 Photomic, front view: shown with MB-1 battery grip, MD-2 motor drive, AN-6Y strap, AS-1 hot shoe adaptor, AR-1 shutter release, MF-3 replaceable back and DP-1 metered prism finder (which is what makes it a F2 Photomic).

After the F2 came the F3, which was a dramatic redesign in design employing more automation, electronics for basic operation and a new design aesthetic. Still, 40+ years after the roll out of the F2 it’s still considered by many the finest mechanical camera ever made. But why… what is it about the F2 that’s so special?

Nikon F2 Photomic, rear view: shown with MB-1 battery grip, MD-2 motor drive, AN-6Y strap, AS-1 hot shoe adaptor, AR-1 shutter release, MF-3 replaceable back and DP-1 metered prism finder.

As with other “last iterations” of something the F2 is considered by many the finest SLR Nikon – or anyone else for that matter – has ever built. What’s meant by ‘last iteration’ is this: in manufacturing terms the final version of something before a large-scale change is often times the best, most refined, successful version of that something. It leverages all the knowledge and experience the manufacturer has learned up until that point and rolls it into one, final masterpiece.

Nikon F2 shown wit: Nikon 35mm/1:2.8, DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack and DG-2 magnifier
Nikon F2 shown with: Nikon 35mm/1:2.8, DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack and DG-2 magnifier. Careful screwing things into the plastic rings of any DP finder. The plastic is old and brittle now and doesn’t take much to crack.

F2 Design Philosophy

In anticipation I began scouring the web for as much information on the camera as I could find. As a new comer to the F2 there’s nothing I can add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said. What follows instead is this compilation of what I think are some of the marvelous and noteworthy discussions surrounding this camera.

The F2 was the last all-mechanical hand -assembled camera (think about that… over 1,500 individual parts assembled into one, highly-efficient, precision instrument), Nikon F-series camera. The shutter was hand assembled by mostly women in the Oi works because of their smaller hands and more delicate touch. The F2 has electronics only in the form of a battery compartment at camera bottom to run the DP-X metered finders.

Nikon F2 Schematic, Le Guernic 1976
Originally published in the french revue, Phot’Argus – who’s tests were always with an “éclaté” or inner components visible drawing – by Le Guernic 1976, this Nikon F2 Schematic shows how elaborate the internal workings of the F2 are. (Sincere thanks to Didier K., France, for the information.)

I’ve considered writing a head-to-head review of the F2 and the F6, but don’t really see the point. Though they share the same DNA, one evolving from the other, they’re two, radically different cameras – each with their own pedigree and position in history. Not simply the history of Nikon, but in the development of the art of photography. The temptation is to ascribe one as better than the other and that’s something I refuse to do out of respect for both.

The Nikon F's FTn head (shown on left) is larger and distinctly different than the F2's smaller DP-2 head shown on right.
The Nikon F’s FTn head (shown on left) is larger and more angular than the F2’s smaller DP-1 head shown on right.

This approach allowed designers to reduce the size and mass of the metered heads because they no longer had to accommodate a battery compartment as in the F. It was also assumed the present (early 1970’s) state of electronics development in the metered finders should be manufactured separately from the all-mechanical body allowing later swapping of rapidly advancing electronics with rock-solid mechanical engineering beneath. In short, the mechanics were expected to out-last the electronics – which of course proved to be true. Replaceable prisms remained a design cornerstone of Nikon professional cameras for many years to follow coming to an end with the F5. As we already know, the F6 no longer makes use of this design feature. The entire F2 (sans motorized grip) functions with no power what so ever. That itself is impressive. But even more so, the F2 is constructed with over 1,500 pieces clicking, twirling, humming, springing and dancing away inside that heavy-duty chassis every time you click the shutter. Simply amazing.

The F and F2 seem more similar than different-especially with their metering heads removed. Some components are interchangeable, like the focus screens.
The legendary F and F2 seem more similar than different-especially with their metering heads removed. Above, the F is shown in front, the F2 shown in rear. Some components are interchangeable, like the focus screens and of course the lenses.

Though at first glance it might be hard to tell the F from the F2, especially when they have eye-level (non-metered, triangular) finders, when design to the successor of the famous F began in September, 1965 the decision was made to start from scratch. This was further reflected by Nippon Kogaku’s changing from their traditional letter and number development code, to simply “A.” Eventually in the design cycle it was recoded “30FB.” The F2 design team was all in-house and had four main goals: a) Design a camera of the highest quality, b) quick and easy operation, c) a systemic approach allowing expansion, and d) continuing down the path to automation.

Nikon F2 shown with DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack
Nikon F2 shown with DP-1 metered prism, MD-2 motor drive, MB-1 battery pack.

F2 styling employed a slightly rounder feel softening the hard edges of the original F ever so slightly. There’s also a good bit of accessory cross over between the two cameras. The non-metered (classic triangular) prisms are interchangeable between cameras, as are 20 different focusing screens. Other accessories like the AR-1 soft-shutter release and AR-2 cable release are also compatible between the two cameras. Despite first glances and shared accessories there are many changes and design refinements between the F and F2.

The F2 has a a distinctive, “mechanical” look to it – different than the following F3, F4, F5 and F6. It wasn’t until the F3 that Nikon brought in the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, changing the face of the following F-line forever. Though I admire the sleek design of the later F’s, there’s something wonderfully solid about the glorious apparatus surrounding the F2. From MD motor drives to MB battery packs, 250 and 750 – frame replaceable backs, early auto exposure contraptions, as well as a cornucopia of other accessories covering virtually every photographic scenario one could imagine – everything bolts to the F2 with that famous, Nikon assurance that you’re holding something in your hand that’s probably going to outlive you.

Nikon F2 Blueprint
Nikon F2 Blueprint (origin unknown)

One of the great benefits of an all-mechanical camera is the environments capable of functioning in that electronics either wouldn’t survive (like the arctic) or where highly flammable conditions exist. A great story surrounding the F2 centers around Japanese adventurer Naomi Uemura who came to Nikon with the simple request in June of 1977, “make me a camera that can survive the North Pole!” That camera was a modified F2, a camera capable of functioning at temperatures exceeding -50°C (-58°F). Nikon built Uemura 3 F2’s with which he shot 180 rolls of film over a 6 month period trekking across The North Pole and Greenland. You can read more about this remarkable adventurer and the details of how Nikon worked closely with Uemura to develop a camera specifically for his needs here.

Somehow the original Nikon AN-6Y yellow strap - complete with metal buckles - is the perfect companion for a camera like the F2 + MB-1 Battery Pack + MD-2 Motor Drive.
Somehow the original Nikon AN-6Y yellow strap – complete with metal buckles – is the perfect companion for a camera like the F2 + MB-1 Battery Pack + MD-2 Motor Drive.

The more I read, the more I realized what an incredible feat of engineering the F2 was at the time – and still is. Manufactured from about 1971 to  1980, it represented the most robust “system” camera Nikon had ever build. It spanned many (6 primary) model variations ranging from original F2 with the unmetered DE-1 prism to the pinnacle F2AS, as well as exotic derivatives. Limited production runs such as the F2 Uemura (3 were made), the F2 DATA, of which reportedly only 1,000 were made, the F2T for Titanium, and the F2H, for High Speed – which had a special mirror designed for super high-speed shooting. Any F2 viewfinder will fit any F2 body.

Nikon F2 Cutaway
Nikon F2 Cutaway

At 40+ years old now in many respects the F2 represents the pinnacle of mechanical engineering – prior to moving to the advances of the electronic era. The lore that surrounds this camera is almost a fairy tale; a synopsis of world history from the early ’70s through 1980.

Rumor has it that the original F adaptors were initially slow to move to the F2. The same thing happened when the F3 was launched – with many photographers opting to pay more for the older, mechanical F2 instead of trusting ‘them new fangled’ electronics. Regardless of the initial reluctance, the camera did famously well and reportedly over 800,000 units were produced from the fall of 1971 to the cease of production in 1980.

Reflecting the shift in photography of the day, the F2 was superior in forma and function and served as the final coup de grace to the German rangefinders. I suppose that’s more an op/ed statement though, anticipating an outcry from the German camera crowd. Let’s just say in the context of the working press of the day it’s subjectively true.

For anyone interested a deeper history of this camera I encourage you to check out the references at the bottom of the page.

The Nikon F's FTn head (shown on left) is larger and distinctly different than the F2's smaller DP-2 head shown on right.
The differences between the F and F2 on top at first glance appear subtle. In use, they’re more noticeable. The F2 (left) is shown tucked safely in the CH-1 hard case bottom, while the F is wrapped in its appropriate ever ready case bottom. Note the position of the shutter releases: on the F2 it’s more towards the front of the camera. On the F it’s more towards the rear.

First Impressions

The camera arrived and as so many others can attest to upon experiencing it in hand for the first time, my jaw hit the table. To borrow a phrase from Tomohisa Ikeno describing the Nikon F6, the F2 is indeed also “a camera of great substance.” Any previous thoughts otherwise instantly vanished. The F2 is deceptively heavy for its rather smallish size compared to today’s cameras. As the camera appears in the photo atop this page, he weighs in at an impressive 4lbs 7oz. So, not exactly a featherweight. This is not a negative – I like the solid feel and welcome the balance the camera produces in hand. It’s a beautifully simple camera to operate, on par with the original F, though with a few more “shootability” traits. Maximum shutter speed was increased from 1/1,000 in the F to 1/2,000 in the F2 allowing one to work with larger apertures in brighter light. This is an even more amazing feet when you consider it’s all mechanical, horizontally traveling titanium foil shutter.

The frame counter was removed from the film advance lever to the top plate. Perhaps most notably however was the back door of the camera was now hinged allowing one to change film more easily, rather than having to remove the back completely as with the F. Other refinements also went into the F2. For all the F2 detail anyone could ever digest I invite you to visit the MIR F2 Index page. You’ll get lost for hours in this incredibly comprehensive resource about the camera.

My companions, a familiar site while out wandering...
Three Amigos – now a familiar site on my front seat while out wandering…

The Hunt Is On

The month or so after first unboxing the F2 was a bit of a whirl wind. The copy generously sent to me was usable but had seen better days and the decision was made to obtain a nicer copy.

There are a few things about the F2 I’ve learned in my recent acquisition phase from auction. The first is moderate to decent F2’s aren’t terribly expensive, ranging from about $100 to $200 for average to good condition cameras. Even less if you pick up a F2 body with no finder. This is great news. The not-so-great news is if you’re going to shoot it, you’d better be prepared to put a little money into it. These are old, mechanical cameras – some of which were used hard. I recently picked up a body for the princely sum of $65 listed as “working fine” and in “top condition.” It looked presentable from the exterior, but it surely wasn’t in top condition. The achilles heal of the F2 is the plastic battery compartment. As plastic ages it becomes more brittle and eventually shatters. When this happens not only does no power reach the metered prism, even worse– little pieces of plastic jam the film transport mechanism. The fix requires surgery: a costly strip down to the chassis to repair the battery compartment. While they’re at it a good CLA makes sense. So my $65 bargain ended up costing a couple hundred dollars by the time it was repaired. Lesson learned.

My prized F2S. The DP-2 prism finder (what makes the S the S) is perhaps one of the more temperamental models. This one arrived with one of the LED exposure indicators not working, remedied by a trip across the pond to master F2 tech Sover Wong.

Secondly, Nikon’s early assessment that the finders would peter out before that stout mechanical body proved true. Finding a good, working DP-anything isn’t as easy as you’d think. Again, these are 40 years old and early electrical technology. Many finders are “jumpy” or inconsistent or not working at all. There are a few places that will fix them – but it’s not cheap. Nor are the unmetered, original DE-1 finders in good condition. So again, to have a good F2 shooter you’re going to spend a little money. However – when the total cost of obtaining and repairing a solid F2 are compared to what the same expense would purchase in today’s consumer electronics, there’s no comparison: you’ll get a lifetime camera in the F2 vs. something that’ll sell at a garage sale in a couple years for $50 (I’m talking about the digital, by the way).

You might get lucky like I did and find a decent DP-1 metered prism for a reasonable price. Thus, my humpty dumpty F2 was assembled in such a way and looks and functions great – with a little TLC by a factory trained Nikon technician. The thinking is, at 40 years old and with a recent refresh this camera will outlive me. I’m OK with that.

Regarding serial numbers and dates of production, visit this serial number chart for reference.

Shootability

Nikon F2 and Kodak Ektar: match made in heaven.
Nikon F2 and Kodak Ektar: match made in heaven.

The F2 is no shelf queen; its made to shoot. Shootability is another subjective assessment. Whatever camera one uses repeatedly and grows accustomed to is going to feel comfortable in hand. It will become that “extension of one’s self” people (including me) like to say when describing how you’ve used a camera for so long and know it so well, there’s no longer an adjustment necessary when you pick it up. You just shoot. To the long-time user of the F2 – as with anyone using any other camera for a long time – it’s highly shootable. To the newbie – it’s also highly shootable.

Altocumulus lenticularis clouds, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. ILFORD Delta 100 (w/ Red R60 filter) developed in ILFORD DDX.
Altocumulus lenticularis clouds, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Shot with my ‘humpty-dumpty” F2 and the often overlooked 135m f2.8 Pre-AI, both picked up for a song. What a great time to be a film photographer. ILFORD Delta 100 (w/ Red R60 filter) developed in ILFORD DDX.

The base configuration of the F2 with the metered DP-1 finder is an all-manual camera. In contemporary context if you think S for shutter priority, A for aperture priority, P for program and M for manual, the only mode the F2 has is M – manual. The DP-1 provides an adequate meter with which to gauge exposure – though the electronics and sensitivity of that meter aren’t on par with today’s camera – especially the F6. No matter – it’s plenty good enough and you can rely on it getting you in the ball park. It is center-weighted, taking into consideration the entire frame but weighting preference to the center of the frame – suitable for most general purpose photography. The photographer experienced with basic fundamentals of determining exposure will be able to do anything with the F2 they can do with any other camera – perhaps just not as quickly. Again – this is all subjective. Please all you old-school F2 shooters don’t take me to task on this statement; it’s not directed at you. I’m talking to the those used to a different metering system and to the adjustments they’ll want to make to be successful with the F2.

Old Lincoln Highway, Chapman, Nebraska
frame 07 – Aurora Cooperative, Chapman, Nebraska (2019)

The DE-1 non-metered prism finder is a different matter. With no meter at all you’re left to determine exposure any number of other ways (like with your own light meter, or superior intellect). In that case the un-metered F2 will fall into your hands like a well-worn glove ready to respond to your every command. It is SUPERB. The warm, squishy attributes of a camera; how it feels in hand is a big deal to me. Something clunky and awkward you hate to hold is not going to get held and consequently, not going to make pictures.

The F2 is a dream. I’ve heard the term “built like a tank” so many times it has become a meaningless platitude. So let’s come up with a better way to describe the F2. I’m drawing a blank at the moment.

Accessories

The Nikon FB-11A Compartment Case, nick named the ‘Man Bag’ by my wife. Just one of many accessories available as part of the ultimate system camera.

Another fun thing about the F2 is all of the beautiful (but way overpriced) accessories. The “collectors” have driven the price of this old gear through the roof. Something simple like a MF-3 replaceable back that allows leader-out film rewinding (with the MD-2 and MB-1) I saw at auction for $450. For a back. Buyer beware… use your head, do your research and you’ll be fine.

The F6 has a diopter adjustment built into the viewfinder. For the F2 if you’re interested in adjusting the diopter of the F2 you’re back to old school method of finding the right magnification. As mentioned earlier the F2 and F share some of the same accessories for the F2 like focusing screens. Thankfully viewfinder adjustment diopters are another area the F2 leverages from other camera’s accessories, sharing the same diopter size as that of the FE line, FM line and FA as well as the F3 (not F3 HP which uses a different diameter thread). So with a little creativity and googling you can still find genuine Nikon parts, or high-quality reproductions fairly easily for this 40-year old camera.

Nikon F shown with Nikon Pistol Grip 2.

If you’re into the old, mechanical nuts and bolts stuff that has a retro sound, look and feel – you’re going to go broke in the world of the F2. The accessories available for the F2 are vast. For a little fun visit the Nippon Kogaku Klub for some pretty exotic mechanical F2 gear. Over accessorizing is not a danger for him: the more bling you hang on him the better looking he gets. He’s a sculpture; a work of art masquerading as a 35mm film camera. The good news is you can pick one up at a reasonable price and have a blast shooting it stripped down to its skivvies’. It’s that great of a camera.

F2 Repair and Restoration

Someone attempted to repair this DP-1 leatherette (the small, textured material adhered to the plastic or metal parts of the camera). You can see what a mess a hasty job can create.
Someone attempted to repair this DP-1 leatherette (the small, textured material adhered to the plastic or metal parts of the camera). You can see what a mess a hasty job can create.

It’s easy enough and even fun to clean and polish your old, new-to-you F2 when it shows up. Even tasks like replacing the often crumbly, gummy foam seals in strategic positions of the camera are easily doable with the right tools and a little time/patience (check out Jon Goodman in Dallas, Texas. He’s your man for replacement foams). But when components fail – especially electronic components – it’s difficult if not impossible to find suitable replacements so long after the originals were discontinued. Another great thing about the all mechanical F2: in theory, it’s repairable. Thankfully there are a handful of qualified, dedicated artisans still available to make such repairs.

Sover Wong's documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented
Sover Wong’s image documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented. All images are provided real-time as he works on your camera, then on CD with your camera upon return.

At the top of the list is Sover Wong. Sover is a UK-based, Nikon factory trained, F2-dedicated technician. You can read more about his approach to repairing your prized F2 here. Sover is a legend in the F2 community. To have your prized F2 “Sovered” is to restore it functionally better than new. His shutter timing calibration exceeds Nikon factory specs.  If you’re in the UK and need your F2 repaired you’re fortunate. Shipping round trip from the US adds another $100+ to the repair bill, which thankfully is quite reasonable for the level of attention he lavishes on these cameras. Upon receiving my F2S back from Sover it had a distinct ‘snap’ and smooth, quiet liquidity to operation. Having the internals of your F2 documented and provided on CD with the camera is a wonderful addition to the camera’s dossier. He records every serial number of every F2 he services and has a generous warranty and repeat service policy.

Sover Wong's documentation as he progresses through the repair of your camera is unprecedented
Thankfully, Sover Wong’s inspection of the camera’s chassis interior revealed no fungus. Fungus is commonly found in cameras shipped from Japan and eventually destroys the camera from the inside out.

There are others still around in the US who will work on your F2. Be careful though. I’ve heard and seen horror stories of people badly mutilating the camera in the process of what they call a repair. Some components require special tools to disassemble. Calibrating the shutter is another precise adjustment requiring someone who really knows their stuff.

There should not be holes in the film advance lever cap. Someone drilled holes presumably to fit a spanner wrench and remove the part.
There should not be holes in the film advance lever cap. This is an example of what Sover Wong calls a “Cowboy hack.” You want your camera to be returned in better condition when you send it out for repair – not worse.

If you’re in Northern Colorado give Key Camera Service in Longmont a call (303-772-7690) . They repaired my jammed F2 and did a great job.

The Whole "film thing"...
The Whole “film thing”…

Having an F2 loaded at all times is now standard operating procedure, right along side the F6 (and the F, F4 and F5). The appeal for me is the lack of electronics and the sheer sense of substance while holding it. While I love the F6 and continue to rely on it for every-day shooting, the F2 warrants special consideration from an artistic, idealistic and even – I’ll say it out loud – romantic point of view.

The Whole Film Thing

Flying with film doesn't need to be intimidating. This brief list of do's and don'ts may just help you get on the plane with your film camera and faster, and ensure success upon your return.
Film… glorious, beautiful film.

I was talking with my wife about it the other day, asking her what she supposes it is that causes one to fall in love with something 40 years old; that by contemporary standards is wholly behind in technology, lacking in many of today’s stated “necessary” features and frankly – the antithesis of today’s modern digital cameras. What is it about hoisting these beautiful, old contraptions to the eye causing us to whisper under our breath, “wow…”? What is it that makes one spend the time and money cleaning, polishing, recalibrating shutters, repairing viewfinders, and massaging them back into smooth, efficient operation to go out and make the same photograph many other cameras could make? Why do we do it?

This original Nikon F2 advertisement hangs proudly, framed on my office wall, summarizing precisely how I feel about the F2.
This original Nikon F2 advertisement hangs proudly, framed on my office wall, summarizing precisely how I feel about the F2.

Passion. Romance. Feeling. Love. Lore. Appreciation for great engineering. That “X-factor” that can’t be explained, measured or quantified when you hold the sum of over 1,500 individual parts designed, manufactured and assembled into one, precision instrument in hand. A device that’s part of history. I believe it’s the very essence of photography; a core attribute elevating the mechanical process of clicking a button from the common realm to the realm of art; making art with art. Poetic, even.

I’m of course not saying there’s only one camera capable of this. But I do believe for each person who hoists their favorite, old film camera to their eye and squints into the viewfinder; fingers caressing and adjusting knobs, breath steaming the camera back, eyelashes sticking in the viewfinder… there’s something going on more than simply using a light-tight box to execute a mechanical process. We can admit it… we’re among friends. It’s all part of the “art” of photography, and we know it.

CineStill 800T developed in Cs41 seems to respond quite favorably. Nikon F6, Fort Collins, Colorado
CineStill 800T developed in Cs41 seems to respond quite favorably. Nikon F6 (shot with the Nikon F2), Fort Collins, Colorado

Conclusion

So what’s all this have to do with the F6. Nothing, really. Other than when you shoot the F, F2, F3, F4 and F5 you begin to appreciate the F6 DNA all the more. Trying to answer the question ‘which is your favorite’ is a cat chasing its tail. Each photographer has preferences based on their experience: specific cameras trigger memories from long hours spent with them in hand. Or simply admiring one over another for aesthetic and design preferences. But ‘best?’… why bother? Just shoot each as the spirit moves you and simply enjoy them for what they are: works of art masquerading as 35mm film cameras.

Mirror-Up Shooting: It’s For Real

Mirror-Up Shooting: It’s For Real

Recently I read a blog post from someone claiming Mirror-Up shooting was a hoax. A waste of time, something camera manufacturers dreamed up as way to add a new feature to the camera and charge more for it. A “Emperor’s New Clothes” hoodwink, if you will. Well, take a look at this:

It’s slow motion video of the venerable Nikon F2 at 1/2000 sec. and the lens stopped down to ƒ16. If there were ever any doubt in anyone’s mind whether the mirror’s movement has the ability to create vibrations inside the mirror box this should answer the question once and for all.

To those who don’t know what Mirror-Up shooting is, please visit this page for a more detailed explanation. Essentially, M-Up is a feature included in certain cameras allowing a 2-step shutter release. The first step raises the Mirror up out of the way. The camera then is allowed to “settle” as long as you want before the second step – releasing the shutter in the camera and actually exposing the film. This all happens so fast in regular shooting that it feels like 1 quick step – but it’s actually 2. M-Up is highly useful in slower-speed photography: between 1/30 sec. and 1-2 seconds. For shutter speeds outside of this range it could be argued that the motions happen so fast there’s not time for the slight movement to affect image quality. But in that dead zone of slow exposures M-Up is real.

Hybrid Workflow: Remember Contact Sheets?

Hybrid Workflow: Remember Contact Sheets?

I’ve mentioned in the past what I think is one of the greatest things about shooting film these days: the ability to combine analog qualities with digital tools to create a unique, hybrid workflow to your film photography. One of my favorite things about working in the darkroom or picking up rolls of film from the lab was the contact sheet. Some people like the nicely stacked set of prints. I liked the contact sheets, full of organized, easy to view frames all in one place. After looking at the sheet with a loupe I’d three hole punch and insert it into a binder with the sleeves that held the negatives. There they remain to this day, on the shelf where I can easily walk up to any binder and by quickly scanning the contact sheet find the frame of film I’m after. I don’t have to turn a computer on to find a negative and I like that.

Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.

Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.

Working on ways to streamline the hybrid workflow has me revisiting contact sheets – but now using Photoshop to create them, not the darkroom. True – before, a contact sheet was created prior to putting a lot of processing time into the roll in order to choose which images you want to work with. Now – a lot of work goes into the roll prior to generating the contact sheet. So I suppose the reasons you’d make a contact sheet differ from the old days. I use it the same way, though: once created, print it out and stick in the three ring binder with the negatives as a quick reference to the images on the roll.

It couldn’t be easier to create a contact sheet in Photoshop. For this I’m using the most recent version of Creative Cloud Photoshop, 2014.2.2 – but I know it’s also possible prior to this. My version of Photoshop CS3 has the same plug in installed.

Once you’ve scanned your images (and embed them with exif data using meta35), open Photoshop. Under the File menu go down to Automate, and select from the fly-out menu Contact Sheet II.

Adobe Photoshop's Contact Sheet II options

Adobe Photoshop’s Contact Sheet II options

This gives you a dialog box with a few settings.

Here you will:
a-Navigate to the directory containing your scanned images.

b-Set the contact sheet’s size, shape and resolution. I use a typical 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper because that’s what my printer uses. I also create the contact sheet in landscape mode because that’s the orientation of the rest of the pages in the binder.

c-Set Mode, Bit Depth and Color Profile

d-I leave Flatten All Layers unchecked because I like to have some flexibility to edit the layers once they’re created – rather than having Photoshop flatten the document it’s about to generate.

e-For thumbnails I like to go across first and check the box that says Use Auto-Spacing. Across first mimics closely the horizontal presentation of the film strip.

f-For Columns and Rows I suppose it depends on how many images you’re working with. In this case I was working with 35 images and knew I’d probably need to go two pages for it. Most of the time I’m working with fewer images on the roll (I typically don’t scan every frame). So you might choose to size your thumbnails so they all fit nicely on one sheet. This took too much math at the time so I let Photoshop figure it out.

g-I selected Rotate for Best Fit to avoid the odd horizontal and vertical shots – preferring instead to have all images nicely aligned in one row (the OCD in me comes out).

h-Choose the font and size you want the image names to appear in – then hit OK.

Presto. Photoshop chugs through the images in the folder flattening the layers of images that exist as PSD’s and writing the image’s name neatly below the frame on the page.

It’s default is a white page which is ideal for your printer (because it uses less ink to print). I made the background black here just to show one of the benefits of not Flattening All Layers in the earlier check box.

Your images are now all presented on one, neatly organized and labeled sheet to do with as you please. I like to print and stick in the binder.

It’s a simple thing, but a great way to easily and quickly create a useful print out of images from an entire roll for cataloging.