Long, long ago – back in the antediluvian era before smartphones and Instagram – I began to take photographs with 35 mm film. In doing so I was following in the footsteps of my Uncle Howard. He was a master photographer who used an old Kodak manual camera as early as the mid-1950s.
My first camera was a Yashica rangefinder. It took passable photos in good light, although flash photography was often frustrating. By the early 1980s, I was anxious to get something better. I wanted to get a single lens reflex camera – but which one?
Buying an SLR back then was a long-term decision, as once you had the camera body you needed flash, lenses and so on. Many Japanese companies were making such camera systems but for me, it came down to a decision between Canon and Nikon.
I was still trying to decide when one of my work colleagues offered to sell me a used Nikon FE. That was the decision maker. Although the FE wasn’t quite the technological marvel that Canon was, it was a solid choice. It had some automatic features and was built like a tank – although a bit more light and compact than Nikon’s pro-level models.
I used the FE for 20 years. It came with a Nikon E series 50 mm lens, but over the years I acquired some decent 3rd party zooms (Vivitar) and a 28 mm prime lens (Kiron.) Nothing fancy – I couldn’t afford Nikon glass back then. Aside from very low light photography, it served me well. Most of our 80s and 90s March break vacations were documented with the FE.
The FE was pretty much a manual camera – manual focus, manual film advance. By 2000 or so my vision was deteriorating and I had trouble getting pictures in focus with it. Not really a good situation. It was time to move on to generation 2 of my Nikon equipment story.
And this was it – circa 2002. A Nikon F80 film camera. The F80 used autofocus lenses and had power film advance. It represents the golden age of Nikon consumer film models.
At the time digital cameras were becoming more and more popular and Nikon did have a digital version of the F80 called D100. However:
- It didn’t match film in image quality (yet.)
- Flash photography wasn’t as good as film.
- It was very expensive.
- There was the problem of dust getting on the sensor and spoiling your images.
Lots of negatives as far as I was concerned. I figured I could soldier on with film a bit longer. I was wrong though.
I got some real Nikon glass for this camera – zooms at first then a few fixed focal length lenses. I also got a decent flash I could mount on the camera. At last, I had a real Nikon system.
I took this camera on a number of holidays but eventually I found it heavy and bulky – especially since I was hauling the flash and 4 lenses in a camera bag along with the body. Great photos though.
The last serious photography journey I undertook with this camera was our first cruise to the Baltics in 2006. After that I was ready for digital – but not a digital SLR. They were still expensive and I was worried about the dust on the sensor. I couldn’t get wide-angle photos with my existing lenses either. The smaller DX sensor in the Nikon DSLRs meant that my existing Nikon lenses didn’t work as well as they did with the film camera.
So I made do with a series of digital Fuji and Canon rangefinder cameras. For a while I used a Nikon Coolpix 5000 rangefinder – good images but frustrating to use. The film system was stored away. Was my Nikon story at an end?
Well not quite. In 2015 I decided that DSLR technology had gotten to the point where I could get back into the game. But I needed a whole new system.
This was it:
Nikon D5500 – lightweight, great image quality, dust on the sensor much reduced by ultrasonic cleaning. I got a couple of lightweight zooms and was back in the SLR business. I don’t use this camera for air travel though – I have gotten used to vacation photography with a camera the size of a deck of cards. But for family photos, car travel, serious picture taking you can’t beat Nikon. My story continues.
Just one thing bothered me though. I was still not able to take the wide-angle photos I used to enjoy getting with my old F80 film machine. That’s all changed because finally, Nikon came up with a lower cost wide-angle 10-20 mm zoom lens for DX cameras. It only took 20 years but it’s here and I am getting one.
35 years, 3 cameras and a lot of lenses. That’s the Nikon way I guess.
Epilog comment: I can still use some of my venerable Nikon film lenses on my latest DX camera. Autofocus doesn’t work but with my improved optics after the cataract surgery, I think I’ll be able to focus manually again. I certainly will try.