January 7, 2018
I tried. Really, I tried. I made a new year’s resolution to only stick with one camera, one lens, and one film the entire year. I’m already giving up. But I’ve adopted a new mantra – “One camera, one lens, one purpose.” I’m dedicating myself to not changing lenses on my film bodies – loading them up and having them ready to go. When I’ve got an objective in mind, I’ll grab the camera/lens combo that makes the most sense and head out. I imagine there could be issues, like rolls that sit in camera and never get developed, but overall it sounds like a workable solution. As for film, I’ve been gravitating toward Ilford films, especially HP5 Plus and FP4 Plus, but I’ve got so many funky rolls of expired film and bulk rolls of Tri-X and other oddities that it’s kind of difficult to stay focused.
So, here are my current favorite Nikon bodies and lenses, and a quick discussion of the purpose I think each camera serves.
Nikon EM, 35mm f/2.5 Series E, Street
I know that originally Nikon marketed the EM as an SLR camera for women, and I’m a pretty large male, but that hasn’t stopped me from grabbing my EM more than any other camera in my collection. It’s light, unobtrusive, and fast. It shoots aperture priority only, if you ignore the “bulb” and “M90” settings. When I want to overexpose an image all I have to do is press a small button to the left of the lens and I get +2 stops exposure compensation (if I’m not already pulling a stop or two by dropping my ISO). It’s a quirky little camera, but I’ve developed a special affinity to it and find that I take it with me pretty much everywhere I go. I paired this camera with a fairly unspectacular Series E 35mm lens and think of it as my street photography rig.
Nikon FG, 28mm f/3.5, Architectural
The Nikon FG is basically an updated EM with Auto, Program, and Manual settings included. It retains the bulb and M90 settings from the EM, so, like the EM, it still functions if the batteris die. Again, like the EM, the FG is small, light, and user friendly. This was the first film camera I bought after I gave away my original Canon AE-1, the one I bought when I was 11 years old, and declared that I would never shoot film again so why keep the old thing around collecting dust. I’m a dunce. For some reason the FG and I never really connected. It’s got everything I need, but I just don’t feel the calling for some reason. Still, I’m trying to improve our relationship by pairing the FG with a Nikkor 28mm Ai-S and I take it out when I feel like shooting cityscapes or landscapes in full light.
Nikon FE, 50mm f/1.4, Portrait
OK, truth be told, the Nikon FE is probably the main reason I don’t reach for the FG anymore. It just feels like a “real” camera compared to the aforementioned bodies. Yeah, it’s heavier and I have to think through settings a little more than I would with the EM or FG, but I like the big, bright viewfinder and the “On-Off” switch integrated into the winding lever (although I’ve missed a few shots by not remembering to turn the camera/meter “On” before attempting to depress the shutter button). I really like this camera, and so it dons my favorite Nikkor lens, the 50mm f/1.4 Ai-S. I like to use this combo mostly for shooting portraits, but I’ll take it just about anywhere.
Nikon N80, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Sports
I like the N80 – it works with my full frame “G” lenses and it’s modern adjustment wheel setup makes it feel like the digital bodies that I’m used to, but like the FG, I don’t tend to take it out very often. I’ve had it quit on my a couple times. Suspecting a battery issue, I purchased a battery grip, which kind of negated the light weight advantage that it had. Even with the grip, I’ve pulled it out of my camera bag on a couple occasions to find that it was dead as a brick. I’m using Eneloop rechargeable batteries, which should not be an issue. I want to like the N80, but if I found a cheap F100 I’d drop it like a hot potato. Just because I don’t trust it, the N80 currently sports a 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 lens that Ken Rockwell rates as one of the worst lenses Nikon ever produced and I plan to use it mostly as a second camera for indoor sports photography with 400 speed film rated at 1600 or 3200.
Nikon L35AF, 35mm f/2.8, All-rounder
I saved the best for last – the Nikon L35AF. I totally dig this little beast, and I tend to load it up with expired rolls of Kodak Gold 200 or just about any expired film I have sitting in the fridge. It’s kind of like the garbage-gut of my collection – it’ll eat anything. The 35mm f/2.8 lens delivers surprisingly sharp images, and the pure 1980’s clunkiness of the L35 makes it a total joy to use. I set it down on a counter once at a party and had someone just pick it up and start snapping shots – the pop-up flash makes it even better. I picked up my copy for $7. Don’t overlook this gem if you ever run across one at a thrift shop or a yard sale. It’s a classic.
Hope you enjoyed a quick tour of the cameras I’m currently taking out the most. If you’ve taken on the challenge of restricting yourself to one camera and one lens this year then I wish you the best of luck. Let me know how it goes by commenting below.