FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F2 Titan

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The F2 was introduced in 1971 off the back of the hugely successful F. Though external resemblances are similar, the camera was completely redesigned internally to improve reliability and ergonomics – firstly, the backs became hinged, and the shutter button moved forward to a more comfortable position at the front of the body and the wind stroke became shorter. The camera’s internal construction became modular, improving ease of repair. Batteries for powered finders migrated to a small cavity in the base of the body, with mirror lockup now standard. The titanium horizontal-travel FP curtains were improved and speeded up to offer 1/2000s and a 1/80s x-sync, up from 1/1000s and 1/60s in the F.

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It spawned a huge number of variants, from the basic unmetered F2 with plain DE-1 prism, to metered versions (DP- finders) that offered everything from match-needle metered manual mode on an old-fashioned galvanometer and CdS cell, to a solid state/LED system, to an attachment that converted the camera into a shutter-priority automatic by mechanically moving the aperture ring of the lens.

But those are the pedestrian versions. We’re interested in something a bit more special. There are a few candidates here: the F2H, equipped with a pellicle mirror, motor drive, huge number of batteries and titanium shell, reached 10fps; F2 Data (data back imprinting); F2 anniversary (bleh) and of course…the Titan, designed for ultimate durability and ruggedness. The working photojournalist hero’s camera – if they could afford it. There were actually several models of Titan: early F2Ts had plain fronts, a titanium mount, top and bottom plates and unmetered DE-1 head. Around 3,000 were produced from 1978-80. There were a rare few in natural titanium – these fetch a fortune at auction – if they ever come up. The ‘F2 Titan’ – with ‘Titan’ script on the front – was produced for one year, in 1979, with also around 3,000 produced. Practically, I like to think of the titanium F2 variants as the pinnacle of Nikon’s mechanical film cameras – some may argue for one of the S rangefinders, but I don’t think they ever went as far as the F2 did.

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The F2 is a bit of a special camera for me. The first film camera I really bonded with was an F2A; coming from a D2H, it felt antiquated and clunky. But also incredibly well built, tactile, and solid beyond belief; the kind of thing which you’d throw at anybody who might want to steal it, with the thief coming off with the worse end of the deal. Its manual-ness made me slow down and think before shooting. I can’t remember why I sold it – I do remember it wasn’t a lot of money – about $300 – but I suppose there must have been something else I needed more at the time. Years later, being older, photographically wiser (unlikely) and deeper down the rabbit hole (definitely), I yearned for one again – and regretted selling the first one. On and off, I browsed online classifieds and used equipment sites, hoping to find something that might suit. Then I discovered the titanium variants, and actually got to see and handle one in Tokyo; this would have been around 2008. Far out of my budget at the time, I left Japan empty-handed. But I was smitten. In late 2012, following the last Tokyo workshop – an opportunity presented itself.

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I’d originally gone into (the unfortunately named) Lemon Camera in Ginza – an enormous warren of used gear – to pick up something as a souvenir from the trip. I had in mind a beat up old F (those go for $50 or less) as a paperweight or display item. Then I found I could get one that worked for not much more, and before I knew it, I had about a dozen mechanical Nikons on the counter, a 28/1.4 D, a Leica M6 Titanium…and the F2 Titan. One of my students from that workshop trip – Doyle, if you’re reading this, I really appreciated your patience that day – accompanied me and saw first hand my extreme indecision when it came to camera shopping. In the end, I was seduced by the snappy mirror, incredible viewfinder, feeling of solidity and balance, and left with the Titan – dream fulfilled.

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Now that I had it, I had to shoot with it. And this time, I’d do it properly – self-developing and all. This camera is what started my serious return to film photography. I have to admit, the first few outings made me nervous: I was shooting with a very rare, very expensive classic, in nearly perfect condition. Making a mark on it would seriously affect its value. It’s clear that the previous owner used it, but used it respectfully; it’s been very well taken care of. One’s first impressions on handling a Titan are conflicting: the spatter-finish paint is identical to modern pro Nikons, the body doesn’t weigh as much as you’d expect from a brass camera (of the period), but the design paradigm is thoroughly vintage. It almost makes you think you’re using a special-edition reissue of sorts.

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The finder, however, is not something from a modern camera at all. Despite its coarseness and focusing ‘snap’ it’s surprisingly bright and very, very large. Eye relief is more than fine for somebody wearing glasses. And unlike modern finders, the mirror was still perfectly aligned after over 30 years – the infinity hard stop on my manual focus lenses has the split-prism lining up perfectly at infinity. Most modern focusing screens don’t show the effects of lenses faster than f4 for brightness, since the majority of users have slow zooms anyway; even the pro Nikons don’t seem to be much better. The F2 will show a difference in brightness and depth of field down to f2, making critical focusing a breeze anywhere in the frame. In case you don’t like the focusing screen, there are about eight or nine other options that can be interchanged – just pop off the prism, flip the camera upside down and push the button again to release the screen cartridge. Here, one of the camera’s secrets is revealed: I suspect the brightness is due to the collimator lens underneath the focusing screen itself.

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There are few controls on the camera body itself, and all of them fall under your right hand – shutter speed, wind lever, shutter button with locking collar, DOF preview button and mirror lockup lever, self timer lever. All buttons and dials have a very satisfying feel, owing to the fully mechanical innards. Pretty much everything moves against a hard detent or a tension spring. And it’s all perfectly adjusted for the right amount of tactile feedback, too. Rewinding is off a crank on the left hand side; you open a keyed tab on the bottom of the camera to release the back, and pull up the rewind lever to admit or release the film canister.

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In practice, the camera is very intuitive to shoot. All you have to do is set exposure, compose, focus, and hit the button. Once you get used to metering with a handheld meter, or better yet, flying by eyeball, there’s really nothing in the way of driver aids to help or hinder: if you get the shot you want, it’s entirely down to you. If you don’t, you can’t blame the camera, either: it does exactly what you tell it to, no more, no less. And I like that; I like the challenge, I like the way it fits and feels in my hands, I like the bright, airy, punchy viewfinder. I like to use it, and that alone is a fairly rare but extremely important characteristic of cameras design that’s frequently overlooked today (for more on this, you might enjoy my article on haptics and tactility). The camera is no more than the distilled essence of a facilitator: light-tight box, shutter, and film transport. But, boy does it do its job well. MT

The best place to find vintage gear is on the secondary market in Japan – send an email to Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter; he can source to spec and budget. I get a good chunk of my stuff from him and can’t recommend him highly enough. Send him an email and tell him Ming sent you!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Larry Miller says:

    This camera with a DE-1 prism is better than “raw sex”. Well sort of. IMHO :-)

  2. I received my unmarked Titan today. Lovely camera. Can you tell me if your de-1 finder is marked as being a titanium finder anywhere? Can you weigh just the de-1 finder and post it here? Thanks.

    • Congratulations! Nope, mine isn’t marked. Sorry, don’t have a scale handy either…

      • Thanks. I was being paranoid and checking the weight and etc to confirm the authenticity — it all confirmed okay. It came with the box and manual and packing — I really wanted a titanium m9 but am happy with the Nikon Titan. The one I got is in super shape. I certainly agree with your decision to get the Titan!

        • The crinkle-finish paint – like the modern Nikons – should be the first clue. It isn’t easy to replicate the finish.

          Sounds like a good deal – no box or manual with mine!

  3. I came across this article comparing film sharpness to a D800 – http://diglloyd.com/articles/GrabBag/photographic-film-was-not-much-of-a-performer.html This might have been a link from your site (can’t remember whose site it was, sorry). It is quite interesting though ….

  4. Reblogged this on photo potpourri.

  5. Tom Liles says:

    Mmm. Considering what “fidelity” means [a representation, in itself], I’m not sure what a representation of fidelity is…

    I haven’t been very precise either: a/d converters don’t convert “data,” they create it from analog current signals [which, like the molecules in emulsion, appear continuous; but cannot be, as we know of such things as the Planck length, etc., and have quantized the fabric of reality---nothing is continuous].

    What is “linear,” or flatter than film, at least, is the incident light to electrical signal relationship at the sensor. The a/d converter changes this relationship when it quantizes the signal into digital data. Presumably different makers have different algos for this, hence all the different behavior from same sensors, and different behavior between generations of camera.

    I read sonewhere, when I was starting out, maybe it was Luminous Landscape, that the digital sensor catches “many many more colors than its output [outout gamut] can show or it’s internal hardware cope with. This was an old article. Certainly pre-2010. I’ve always wondered about that:

    1) How did he know?
    2) So isn’t a/d technology what’s responsible for advances and not the number of sensels on a chip?

    I think with the bonkers number of pixels offered by everything now — and I just realized the other day, my iPhone 4S camera has more pixels than my DMC-L1K, I’d still rather have the DMC ten times out of ten! — with the silly figures for res now, looking at you D7100, a/d “flavor” and conscious attention and marketing of it is the next phase for digital. It may end up exactly the same as film—each maker or camera line having a signature data allocation. With the disadvantage of: with a digital camera your “film” choice is a lock in [the a/d is built in, non interchangeable hardware].

    Like Andre, I’m more interested in film at the moment. But it had to be said, my digital pictures look sharper, cleaner and exhibit more fidelity :) than my film captures. And I still prefer the film.

    Horses for courses!

    • Ah yes. I suppose in this case we’re talking about preserving the character of the lens/ film without adding any digital artefacts? Huge chunks of photography are a semantic minefield simply because there’s no way to describe in words what we see or how we feel about it.

      There are lengths shorter than the Planck length: we just can’t measure them with any degree of certainty, so the Planck length itself might as well be the shortest length there is.

      1) No idea if he’s telling the truth or not. But it seems feasible: we arbitrarily put three color filters over the pixels and then interpolate to fit the data into at best a 16bit space, more often 8, 12 or 14.

      2) Quantum efficiency at detecting electrons; full well size; area occupied by the photosensitive portion; minimum read noise; color filter quality and UVIR cut, etc. The list goes on.

      When I need ultimate quality I’ll use the CFV. It’s actually not that far off film for B&W work in terms of tonality, either; it lacks that organic quality, but the tones are pretty good. Otherwise, I’m happy with fewer pixels for less processing time or film for the feel…

      • Tom Liles says:

        I just meant, if sensors in the early 2000s were capturing this much more information than any gamut — even ProPhoto — could interpret [as the guy said], didn’t the pixel race and all the other stuff you listed, Ming, seem like an exercise in inefficiency? Like having a W12 but only half the block is working, yet we spend our time worrying about the effect of tyre pressure on top speed. If I knew I was already capturing this much info, it’s right there in my hand already, I’d have concentrated all my efforts into finding ways to transduce it.

        The key point: it’s been captured, but massive amounts of it are lost at the a/d converter. Solution: better a/d converters! This must surely do more to radically advance/improve IQ than, say, what effects an stronger or weaker IR filter may have…

        Shorter than Planck length? I’d like to see the metric that can hold up down there. As far as I know, no metric can; when metrics go, everything goes: nothing makes sense sub this scale, i.e., “length” has no meaning at all. Hence you can’t have a length smaller than Planck [and be speaking meaningfully]

        Can you? :(

        [Zeno and Tom wait with baited breath :) ]

        • Tom Liles says:

          Sorry MT. Sleepless nights getting to me here: nothing you said stands in opposition to what I just did re: Planck and metric breakdown.

          I’m going to go and sit in corner with a paper hat on. Guess which letter of the alphabet it sports…

        • We did get better A/D converters, along with lower noise read circuitry. But I’m inclined to think your article is more likely to be factually incorrect…resolution and noise aside, at base ISO, I know the quality of color I get now out of the D800E is much better than the D70, for instance.

          UVIR filters have a HUGE effect on color. Just try shooting any artificial black fabrics with a Leica M8…

          Planck length: distance, energy etc are tied dimensionally via constants to energy quanta. There are fundamental limits on uncertainty in measuring energy due to the energy states of subatomic particles, and the Planck length is tied to this. This is not to say that other sub-particles within the particles cannot exist and have different energy states of their own, some combination of which may permit smaller measurements…but due to the way the universe is structured, we can never know it. It’s been more than a decade since I last looked at this, so I may be wrong in places.

          Something can exist without us knowing about it: my partial consumption of a tube of Mentos on my desk is independent of your knowledge of the tube’s existence, for instance. Quantum entanglement violates the speed of light – we can go faster, we just can’t know we’re going faster because there is no means of transmitting the relative positional information required to fix our location and speed fast enough.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Is the dunce going to have one last knock on the door? As sure as these words are being typed and exist on your screens, we all know [already, no less] that he will! Now, there’re two of our topics already—existence and knowing. I’ll leave faster than light speed alone, as it isn’t that shocking to me, to Ming, or most scientifically trained or interested people. I used to work in nuclear power and have had the privilege of being stationed on two plants [different kinds of reactor, too]. On both I had routine access to the ponds and have seen, with my own eyes, the effects of electrons traveling faster than light speed [in a medium], it’s called Cherenkov radiation. Simpsons fans: it’s not a green glow, unfortunately. On a whim I bought Richard Feynman’s book QED [Quantum Electrodynamics], enjoyed it and also read in there that light often breaks its own limit, even in a vacuum –> it all ties back to what Ming said about probability: there is a distribution of possible values for these things, they congregate around one value but the probability of certain other values is not 0%—hence light that goes faster than light. Light that does not take the shortest path between two points… Temperatures that go lower than 0K — that’s zero on the absolute scale; the laser beam in CD/DVD readers do it out of necessity — and so on. I’m not taken aback by that.

            That meaningful measurements can be had sub-Planck does shock me. First time I’d heard it and will have to investigate. My current understanding:

            1) To model space we need maths
            2) a mathematical space is continuous if it withstands infinitesimal subdivision
            3) a metric is a distance relationship defined on a space as follows:
            4) if ‘a’ and ‘b’ are two points in space, with an arbitrary third point ‘c’
            5) the distance between ‘a’ and ‘b’ is always less than or equal to the sum of the distances between ‘a’ and ‘c’ and ‘b’ and ‘c’
            6) that is, if d(x,y) is the distance between two points x and y, then:
            7) d(a,b) <= d(a,c) + d(b,c)
            8) If (7) holds no matter how close the distances between 'a' and 'b' and 'c' is, then the space is continuous.

            [I've kept this definition with me for a very long time, it dates back to my secondary education! It's pretty much water tight: the only bone I can pick with it is, it's wholly Euclidean?]

            This metric continuity breaks down at the Planck length, so space is dis-continuous down there. First thing to note, there is a grain to the universe. Second: that is a slippery “grain” –> we’re effectively talking about grains without spatial extent!

            A Rambling Philosophical Aside
            The Planck length, quantum limits… because space and time are undefined below this threshold, they must no longer bear extent or direction. This is the origin of “Quantum Foam,” etc., a fairly well regarded physical hypothesis. I prefer philosophy, as it happens, because I think space has [has to have] a mental dimension, so an “object only” physical language like Physics is powerless to capture it. Philosophy [of which Religion is a specialized form] can. Philosophers used to think of space like a substance: like fish swim through water, we move through something called “space.” Since the triumph of Einstein, space has been abstracted and abstracted and now nothing material remains of empty space. It’s permeated by fields and vacuum energy, but these are just contained by space and are not equivalent to space itself. Space has become a tensor field, a mathematical abstraction that confers attributes [location, direction, linear & angular velocity, etc., etc] on physical objects and energy fields. Empty space, as abstracted from its contents, cannot be observed, and has no observable effect on anything, so it is not “physical” in the usual sense. Now for the payoff…
            That which is immaterial is abstract. Abstraction is a wholly mental process. From a philosophical viewpoint, saying space is immaterial [yes] and abstract [yes] can only lead us to the corollary that it is, in fact, mental in nature. Space has a mental as well as physical aspect. Yes it does. Mind is not, repeat not, separate from matter. Religionists and philosophers have been here WAY before. For example, a philosopher and religionist, Bishop Berkeley, said just this — that reality is perceptual in nature — almost three centuries ago. This is to ignore the LITANY of Eastern philosophy and religion which trod the same ground in even more ancient times. Just as Gordon’s knowing T.S Eliot quote reminds us, scientists will surely come full circle and re-discover, for the first time :) , this knowledge someday [assuming their dogmatic objectivism gets out of the way].
            This model of space, including mind in it, definitely runs against the scientific grain—but I got there from the grain they gave me [ta-da!]
            /ends

            Something can exist without us knowing about it? For sure.

            Something can exist without any thing [no anthropologic limit on that] knowing about it? I don’t think so. Goes back to that anti-matter apple — or was it a tomato! :o :) — in a box Ming [in-joke alert!]. I think the entire artifice of reality, the universe, the lot is a giant feedback loop. Yes, like Hegel I think it’s all, we’re all connected. And by “we” I mean all the matter and energy and combos thereof that there is. Language and information are the sine qua non of the whole shabang.

            That you’re a mentos man, Ming, was some very interesting info indeed. Tell us, mint? Apple? Perhaps grape? No, they were mint, weren’t they. Weren’t they?

            I have to know!
            [ba-dum-ching :) ]

            • There’s nothing wrong with 1-8 even on the quantum scale: the problem becomes one of observation. Another analogy: if you have a ruler that’s only marked in cm, distances shorter than that exist, but you can’t measure them because your quantum of observation is limited by your ruler.

              The mentos are anti-tomato flavor, of course! :)

          • Tom Liles says:

            UVIR filters have a HUGE effect on color. Just try shooting any artificial black fabrics with a Leica M8…

            On my list! In the meantime, I have an Epson R-D1s, which suffers — if we want to call it that — from the same issue. Though not as badly as the M8. By the by, I did a shot count on all my cameras [pictures I've processed and kept], and the winner was:

            THE EPSON R-D1S!

            I was actually quite surprised. I haven’t consciously tried to use it the most and didn’t have the conscious impression that its images were my favs. But I have the most EPS RAWS and the most processed photos, both! And I’m only on a single lens, a 35mm Voigtlander Color Skopar 2.5, for it. I don’t see any need to expand the m-mount arsenal [and I'm not that interested in RFs; though the Epson is a joy]; and as they say in Brazil “the winning team, we don’t change.” Plus my money is destined for other uses! But that was a pleasant surprise. Good old Epson!

            An unpleasant surprise has been how close my photos taken with 400 yen disposable cameras are to ones taken with snazzy and expensive cameras. Of course surface detail/quality is different — the disposables have a crappy plastic lens for starters! — but the content: very, very similar. That might be seen as a good thing, but I was actually hoping for the converse. I was hoping the disposables might open up a new feel for me. Maybe they have and I haven’t noticed yet. They are FUN though, that’s for sure. I plan to have one in my bag from now on. The little Fujifilm ones are great. Seriously addicted.

            Now then, I’m a chemical engineer, when I buy my house over here, making sure when I do there’s a bloke’s room, somewhere, anywhere, for Tom’s access only in it—might I try some C-41 chemistry? I’ll ease in with the B&W [on that topic: roll of Acros 100, my first ever, in the F2 from today: 4 shots down, 32 to go :) ], then maybe E-6, then C-41?

            I kid, I kid. I’m LAZY. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Paying Horiuchi Color, or even the local Chemist, to do it for me is just fine. I don’t get anything worth the time and effort. And you know my wife will be (>_<) “EN – OH!” That’s the main one. OK, that’s the only one!

            • Not a bad thing. If you’re consistently composing with different gear, then at least that part of your photographic process is gear-independent – as it should be. I don’t compose any differently whether using the iPhone or the Hassy so long as the FOV is the same.

              At web sizes, as this site has proven, you cannot at all tell the difference between different digital cameras. Film is a different kettle of fish as the grain structure and tones tend to give it away.

              You really need to shoot the same film a lot under many different conditions to see how it behaves and eliminate any one of the variables in the imaging chain – emulsion batch, exposure error, ambient light conditions, developing, sacnning etc.

  6. Michael Matthews says:

    Here’s one last entry in my continuing attempt to come to grips with B&W film vs. digital tonality. After this, I pledge to shut up.

    You’ve written that film’s response to highlights and shadows is nonlinear, unlike the digital sensor’s. It finally occurred to me that film…varying with the emulsion…may be responding differently to various portions of the spectrum. It may see and respond to the presence of infrared and UV ignored by the digital sensor. That mixture of visible light plus the rest — or, more simply, any color bias built into the emulsion’s response — may produce a final rendering in black-and-white different from that produced by the digital sensor.

    In other words (please, not more words!), it’s not a simple matter of black and white and a million shades of gray in between. There’s more than the simple intensity of light being recorded. Does that make any sense?

    • That’s quite possible, in fact. A similar effect happens with the original Leica M8 – it’s highly sensitive to UV and IR pollution, which results in very messed up blacks and magentas, but at the same time, luminous shadows in B&W conversions – which look great.

    • Tom Liles says:

      Can I add to the confusion.
      [And speak on Michael, I'm enjoying listening to you!]

      I get all the stuff about CMOS linearity, CCD to some extent, Foveon too, I get the stuff about linearity; but at he same time the way A/D converters (are thought to) work negates this effect? That’s to say, in digitizing data they are putting an exponential curve in –> for a hypothetical 12bit lump of info to be allocated over 8 stops of dynamic range: 2048 increments of data go to the top stop; 1024 to the next one down; 512 to the next; etc., etc. this is the origin of ETR (expose to the right), right? Definitely doesn’t sound linear to me.

      Before the a/d converter? => Linear
      After the a/d converter? => non-Linear

      We deal with post a/d conversion data. So…

      P/S interesting to note that digital sensors are actually analog; and film emulsions are actually digital (chemical reaction happens or it doesn’t, there’s no intermediate or continuum position). But when agregated and scaled the analog silicon becomes digital and the digital emulsion becomes (effectively) analog.
      [while there aren't an infinite number of molecules in the emulsion, to give a true continuum, their number is so great as to appear so for the purposes of our eyes: check Avagadro's number, just for atoms in a mole of something, to get an idea of the mind boggling number of things we are talking about!]

      • My impression is that there is some cooking of the RAW data before it gets written to the file, often for good reasons. Perhaps Ming can confirm this, but it’s said that the E-M5’s highlight roll-off is gentler than its fellow competitors’. Sony sensors as found in Sony cameras seem to have worse image quality than when they’re found in Nikons or Olympuses (Olympi?), too.

        For me all this is moot, as I am newly and totally smitten with film. I had been looking for about 2 years for an upgrade to my digital system, and have never found a camera that feels really right. Ironically, the system that finally got me was 120 B&W film, and all of it was caused by following Ming’s film journey! The Fuji and the ‘Blad are pretty much the answers I’d been looking for. Looking at Ming’s work as well as those of other accomplished B&W shooters (and printers!), I realize that I’m not even at basecamp of Mount Everest, but I don’t think any other camera system has ever made me so happy about the journey ahead.

        • There’s definitely differences in the way different manufacturers handle the raw sensor data before it gets written as a file; on-chip circuitry (e.g. noise reduction) and first stage processing can differ significantly resulting in quite noticeable differences in output even from the same underlying photosite architecture.

          And yes, I’ve got to be honest: since passing thepoint of sufficiency, small incremental improvements in image quality hold no real appeal for me. Different ways of seeing do – and personally, I’ve been shooting mostly film for my own stuff of late. I’d hardly call myself accomplished with film though, still not much past a hundred rolls!

      • Not quite. We’re talking about more bits leading to better tonal fidelity, not necessarily a better representation of tonal fidelity. And even then, ‘better’ is highly subjective.

        Digital sensors are discrete: an image is projected over this pixel or the one next to it. With film, the continuity of the emulsion at macro scales means that the ‘dividing line’ between adjacent photosensitive areas isn’t fixed. Hence the analog-nature of its data reproduction…

        • Surely with film there IS a dividing line between the grain particles, so the adjacent photo sensitivities are fixed? Also isn’t film less sharp than digital because the pixel pitch (grain particle size) is much bigger than pixels on high density sensors? Hence your earlier comment that 35mm film can only equate to 10-12 megapixels.

          • Yes and no. The grain ‘clumps’ to a minimum, but the clumps aren’t of a fixed size themselves, so the edges of a ‘clump’ aren’t that well defined – does that make sense?

            • I’m sure none of the grain particles are ever smaller than digital pixels though. I’m assuming each grain particle can only show as one colour once exposed.

              • Right on size, probably right on color – the difference is each grain particle can be any RGB value, as opposed to recording only one value of R G or B and subsequently having to be interpolated to true color.

    • Oskar O says:

      Film is in fact sensitive to UV, but not much and modern lenses pass very little of it, so the effect would mostly affect color rendition on mountaintops.

      Film is not sensitive to IR. Even IR films are far less sensitive than bare CCD/CMOS sensors. But the aggressive IR cutoff filter in front of the sensor in most cameras could lead to a different cutoff profile than what happens with a typical film. Still, I’d like to believe that it’s not a large difference.

      Spectral sensitivity certainly plays a big role in BW photography, hence all the color filters. Many classic filters have noticeably different sensitivities from each other, take for example Tri-X and FP4+.

      • Thanks for the clarification. It definitely isn’t going to be a big difference we’re looking for to explain things here – since the visual difference in tonality (ignoring grain etc) isn’t that great in the first place.

        • Oskar O. says:

          It’s an interesting topic nonetheless and piques my interest a bit — should perhaps make some tests if I find the time.

          Have you done any side by side pictures with film and digital and compared? My guess is that the difference is due to the characteristic curve and spectral response.

          • Yes, film has much more pleasing tonality; it doesn’t always have more dynamic range, but the highlights almost never seem to blow – which I think is where the main difference to digital lies.

  7. Haaland says:

    Hey Ming, I love your photos. I’m wondering if you have ever tried the Leica R cameras? If not are you interested in trying one some day? I’m quite interested in getting a “high end” film camera and cant really decide between the Nikon F2 – Titan, the leica M6 or the R6.2. Obviously the the M6 is the one that sticks out since it is a rangefinder while the F2 and the R6.2 is SLR based cameras. They also come in at different price ranges for mint condition. The R6.2 coming in around $1500 the M6 at around $1600-$2000 and the Titan at the price of a D800. I have also been offered a M9 for $3500 by a friend (in pretty good condition), but i’m leaning towards a film camera.

  8. I’d be interested to know how you get your film scans so sharp Ming. I know from experience that film scanners require us to sharpen the scans somewhat and never seem as sharp as directly taken digital images are even then. Yet your D800 scans look so sharp. In fact all your photographs look sharper than usual. How do you achieve this level of sharpening when you scan your film?

    • Shot discipline applies here too:
      1. Use of a special rig to keep film and sensor plane parallel.
      2. Use of optimal apertures for the lens
      3. Use of a good repro lens
      4. Use of high shutter speeds and flash to eliminate camera shake
      5. Use of LV to focus.

      • So no additional sharpening then? But surely you add some sharpening to your digital images?

        • I do, but not for film or cameras lacking an AA filter. That just emphasises the grainier causes coarse haloes.

          • Ming, this is a very interesting comment.

            So far, my very limited experience with scanning film with a camera (albeit one with an AA filter — NEX-5N), I’ve had to sharpen the capture to get a good result, and I could be really aggressive about the sharpening too: big radii and high values before anything really bad comes out.

            • I could sharpen, but the result looks worse than if I don’t. Are you sure it isn’t the original that isn’t perhaps as sharp as you were expecting? 35mm tops out at around 10-12MP of ‘equivalent’ resolution to digital.

              • Some problem in another part of my workflow could definitely account for it. I’ve been researching printing (neverending rabbit hole, this B&W film thing), and some people claim that AA-less cameras don’t need capture sharpening. Anyway, I’ve just begun scanning, and I’m sure I’ll figure out what’s going on at some point. BTW, the scan/capture was a 2×2 pano of a 6×9 negative, which also happens to show all of one’s technical deficiencies in 40+ Mpixel glory … It turns out that I’m exceptionally good at missing focus.

                • If you really nail the shot – stability, focus, optimal apertures – then you don’t need to sharpen an AA-less camera’s file. Digital is much less forgiving of focusing errors than film, because the light sensitive area is essentially in a 2D plane instead of over the depth of the emulsion.

                  • Ming, you often mention using optimal aperture (I assume you mean for lens performance) which is fair enough. I too shoot with hopefully a good awareness of this, but do you actually prioritise optimal aperture over the associated DOF aspect, and don’t good lenses perform well enough across all of their mid range settings for you to do so anyway?

                    • Yes and no – I’ll pick the amount of DOF I want first, and then select the aperture. Sometimes half a stop can make a lot of difference to lens performance but not much to depth of field, for instance. In any case, these days I tend to only buy lenses that already perform very well wide open, so it’s somewhat less of a concern.

  9. adding a question which nags me a lot: what did you pay for the mint titan F2?
    One other thing is important to emphasize: film gear is cheap (if not Leica) and makes it possible to shoot with really really great professional gear I wouldn’t have been able to use say 10 years ago. I paid 160€ for my F2 (though Sover’s service did add – no – make that „I chose to invest“ additional 430€ to get a really perfect working practical user camera).

    • In the ballpark of a new D800…

      • ahh ouch – though.
        For me a „user“-rated camera will always be enough. My Zenza Bronica ETRSi (645) has seen some action before it got into my hands but – just – works. And I expect my F2 – after Sover’s service – will last another 10 years before next service.

        • They just don’t make them, like they used to. After a bit of inactivity, my OM-D grip is playing up with dirty contacts…less than two months since I last used it.

  10. I must admit, it was interesting watching you go all C.S.I. on those film bodies : )
    I might have to start saving for a blad…and a tripod?

  11. My father bought a Olympus OM-2 in the late seventies, which he still has. I like the ergonomics more than classic Nikons, but the eyepoint in the viewfinder is not as good as in Nikons and the hotshoe is too close to the forehead. Nevertheless, the top models of camera companies from the 70’s and 80’s had a lot better viewfinders than today and a nice selection of focusing screens. Nowadays the focus is on electronic crap in the viewfinder and I can’t even get replacement screens for my D800, which makes manual focusing a pain.

    I also in general like the ergonomics of the top models of that bygone era; all controls are easily accessible and can be controlled by feel. Granted, there are more things to adjust nowadays, but still I have the feeling that camera makers haven’t really been able to successfully implement efficient camera control to modern interfaces.

    I like the pictures a lot, but would you be able to tell which lenses you used? Not a big deal, but in many of the pictures some lens specific details can be noticed and I’m curious. Film would be interesting too, although I suspect that I’m not shooting the same BW films as you anytime soon…

    I would also be interested to know what the camera strap is on the F2. I’m in the market for a camera strap, can get away with pretty much anything but have very specific views on what I like and the one here looks pretty promising. Now don’t tell me it cost $150… ;)

    • The OMs were a marvel of miniaturisation given they picked a full frame piece of film. But yes, something had to give and the finders weren’t quite as nice as the single digit Fs.

      I used a whole mix of stuff – Zeiss ZF2s, a 45P and a Noct-Nikkor. Film was Delta 100. Strap is an A+A.

  12. My F2as is a 77′ or 79′ I can’t remember but it’s in the serial No. I guess. I found and purchased this camera to replace a 79′ F2as that was stolen from me in South Africa many years ago. It came from the original owner and had seen very little use in all those years. The foam is excellent still, but I would also like to find a K focusing screen. I recall that that the K was my favourite screen. I spent many years with my original F2as taking photos all over the world till things went digital. I now carry an M9 with me everyday, but I still keep the Nikon ready to use with a few fast primes and some B/W for the pleasure of it. Thanks Ming, I enjoy this topic every time you bring it up.

  13. Great write up.

    So tell us, how do the black and white images taken with the Nikon compare with the black and white images taken with the Leica Monchrome and the Leica 240-and the black and white images taken with the new Olympus Pen 5? Do the digital images compare favorably with the film images Ming?

    Elliot

  14. It’s interesting . . . as I was complaining about the inadequate grip on the new Olympus E-P5 I realized that my long-gone Nikon F (that I had gotten at the PX in Okinawa in the 60’s) had no grip at all. Nor did my OM-1. I can only think that as cameras get downsized, as in m43, grips start to become more of an issue. But then I think that the D800 is a large camera and it HAS a grip. (?)

    The history, theory and practice of camera grips . . . might make for a nice research project.

    • Mike, I remember you made this comment on another thread, but I don’t remember if you’d tried holding one. I had grip issues with the OM-D E-M5 (no grip, and I kept mashing the back buttons with my palm), and tried out the E-P5 at the local camera store. It’s really improved over a gripless E-M5. I don’t know how they did it — maybe move everything inboard a bit or something — but it’s now about as comfortable as my NEX-5N, which is thought to have one of the better grips out there. It may be worth a try if you haven’t had your hands on one yet.

      • I reviewed it earlier and have the grip on my OM-D – I don’t miss it on the E-P5 either though.

      • MIng: The rewind lever! Yeah, it’s coming back to me now . . .

        Andre: To be honest, no. I haven’t tried holding the E-M5 . . . I’m not in the market for one since I recently got an E-PL5. It was the difficulty I’ve had with the grips on the E-PL5 that prompted my comment. Like I said, I ordered the (larger) grip from B&H, used a utility knife to hack off an unnecessary protuberance and now it seems to be fine.

    • Easy: we lost the thumb hook provided by the rewind lever, so now we have to find another way to stop the camera from slipping out of hand. If you shoot an M with the Thumbs Up grip, then you’ll find you don’t need the handgrip extension.

  15. I’ve been certain that if I returned to film the most pragmatic way would be to pull out a well preserved N90s that I happen to have in storage. (Or an old Canon A-1 were it not for having inadvertently destroyed that one during a marine excursion very long ago.). After all, it’ s sitting around closer than even the nearest eBay buy-it-now button. Your enthusiasm is so contagious that my resistance to buying something else … very spontaneously and a bit irrationally? … is almost dissolved entirely. My mind starts to wander to how inexpensive one of the more pedestrian F2’s would be, for example.

  16. Hi Ming,
    Thanks for the information on the Titan model. I recently picked up a Nikon F2as, unfortunately not a Titan, rather a user. Originally I owned an F2 in the 1970’s and sold it to finance a Leica M4-2. It’s funny how the two companies have moved in different directions, the Nikon F2 was every bit the quality of the Leica, a superb mechanical camera that in my mind led me to believe the F3 was too plastic and the tactile solidness did not match the F2. Over the years the titanium bodies seemed attractive but the F2 Titan was so rare as to be invisible. The F3 titanium was more common and I purchased and sold several, but my F3 Pink version is in my permanent collection. A slight user that happened to break my fall on a granite rock the camera barely sustained a dent and didn’t hesitate to keep working perfect. In addition to denting the F3 Titanium I also had the unfortunate experience of seeing my M6 Titanium fall backward from a sitting position and hit a slight bit of metal on the back upper plate near the accessory shoe. The dent was larger than the F3, to my amazement. The lesson I learned, although I haven’t any confirmation from Leica is the M6 titanium is a coating, the plate is not made from titanium unlike the Nikon that is solid through and through. My F3 titanium saw great use for many years, the finish never had an issue except the once, and it is ever ready to go into action with a set of batteries. Looking at your pictures of the Titan that would have been my choice also, although the M6 Titanium is rather beautiful also.

    • F3 pink? That’s a new one to me. The M6 titanium is coated only, not solid titanium. Quite frankly I don’t think the modern offerings of either company match up to their historical quality levels…which is a shame, really. That said, a camera of that build quality would probably land up costing far too much to be commercially viable today. It’s a bit sad, but at the same time at least the film ones are still (somewhat) affordable.

      • Michael Waldron says:

        I have the f2t. No doubt a great camera, but not quite as smooth in winding etc. vs a m3 or m4. I love it — the shutter release is great, but the shutter/mirror sound in mine is loud and a bit harsh, yet mechanical in a nice way. I also read that when Nikon remade the s3 and sp rangefinder cameras and lenses, they lost a lot on each camera sold, and that may not have had cost accounting for bringing some labor out of retirement! I have a 50 1.4 nikkor reissue that i use on Leica, and it is great With cost of labor and materials now, nobody would pay the price it would take to build such cameras, except maybe Leica users.

  17. well, shooting myself with an Nikon F2 Photomic (pretty much looking beaten up) for two years now which just went to a comprehensive CLA let me suggest the services of Sover Wong in the UK (http://soverf2repair.webs.com/). He does much more than a CLA (I got new CDs-Cells in my DP-1 as well as a night-light illuminating shutter speed, aperture and meter needle in the dark or when the little window on top is covered). Camera feels like new (though I never laid my hands on a new F2)… Like you I crave that special haptic feeling of a full manual analog camera – you won’t get it with today’s gear (which I couldn’t afford anyway) – when exercising my passion: doing photography.

    • And I bet no matter how beaten up, it’ll always feel more special than a modern digital…somehow these cameras have character.

      I’ve used Sover for a couple of small things before – he seems to really know his stuff. If my Titan ever requires an overhaul, it’ll probably go there.

  18. Tom Liles says:

    Nice write up. Shot of someone’s midriff was a new one on me: was it an old shot? Didn’t feel like the typical thing your eye goes for…
    [though I know if the composition and light presents itself, you're open to anything]

    My biggest surprise on first use of the F2 was definitely how new it felt. Not old. I was expecting this “vintage camera” experience but everything was drum tight and smooth and firm. The shutter detents are the best, bar none, of any camera I own or have used; and my machine is from 1974. That’s thirty nine years later, it still feels as though it’s only just been broken in.
    I like the implementation of the timer and to tie the shutter dial and timing things together, the continuously variable shutter speeds above 1/125 => WOW. I’m still playing with that. Also the analog “multi exposure” option — via spool release nib button on bottom plate — though I don’t get why you’re supposed to cover the lens and take a shot after finishing a multi? Just to mark in the film where your multiple exposure was? Curious.

    Did you get the mirror foam inside the mirror box and plastic on the film guides on the back overhauled MT? Mine looks and feels a little suspect… dare I say decomposed. Will get it looked at when I’m back to the World.

    • My FM3a’s foam has the same problem. Almost like some moron stabbed at it with a pair of tweezers trying to remove the focusing screen… :s

      • Tom Liles says:

        Harrumph! I just spent 10mins tapping a tidbit out, moved to a new browser page to check something, came back and the iPhone did the old Snow Leopard era Safari trick of reloading the old window: killing my comment. Words beginning with F were muttered…

        I was going to mention this; the royal baby and some other stuff. The main bit was, oh yeah I remember now: your quip reminds me of changing the focusing screen on my wife’s D60 for a KatzEye: an hour long travail — plenty of sweat sweated — which I’d do in five minutes rough and ready now. None of this a concern with the F2 though; couldn’t be simpler—they designed it with stuff like this in mind. Amazing. It’s just finding the old screens :) Mine’s the standard fresnel with split prism one, it’s fine but if the chance comes I’d like to try the all micro prism with center split version—can’t remember if it’s a “J” or maybe the “K”…

        I’m too scared to navigate away from this window to check for you :o :)

        • Urgh, lost comment rage. I’m very OK with you not mentioning the royal baby as a result, though; today, even The Sun is called The Son http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/68898000/jpg/_68898714_018734276.jpg

          • Tom Liles says:

            I was just going to inadvertently add to the avalanche by saying its wall to wall royal baby news in Japan, so God knows what it must be like for you back at the mothership, Todd :)

            Those “wet plates” were great though. I didn’t even know what a wet plate was. Is this what Gordon and Ming were on about below the line the other day? Mentioned in amongst the scanning rig and Gordon’s camera design?.. Anyway, the F2 [and Kodak disposables while I'm on paternity], i.e., the film experience, is annoying and addictive. Mostly addictive. I can really see me having a go with 120 someday soon [some of the cameras are almost at giveaway prices]. Have you dabbled, Todd? And the look that colloidion stuff produces is GORGEOUS. Well smitten. The disposables are more my speed though. Can’t wait until I can eat at the grown-ups table :(

            • Just buy the damn Bronica already!

              • Tom Liles says:

                Haha. I bet you 28,000 JPY that when I get myself back to the World and get myself to that shop, it’ll have gone. No wait! What? Why am I offering you 28,000 JPY :o => that’s money that could be well spent on glass for Cromagnon!
                [decided on 35mm Distagon; though this will really be a close call: the AF-S 28G for D3 on my mind, too. Would like a 55mm micro Nikkor as well... How did you get on selling that kidney, Ming?]

                Anyway, fingers crossed for the Bronica [which WILL be named "Charles Bronson" once in my possession]. But bet you it’s gone.

                It’s ok. I’m a believer in fate [my bizarro version of]. Just as Conrad alluded to with his two old ladies knitting in the novel HEART OF DARKNESS, I’m sure fate is weaving something wonderful for me down the line. Perhaps beginning with a “H”?

            • No, I haven’t tried 120 yet. Despite having shot with film for a couple of years, I didn’t really like the results I was getting from the lab I sent everything to–and as a n00b I had no idea that was largely because of their scanning/Photoshop choices. Getting my own scanner and, latterly, Photoshop has sorted that out; processing it myself is next (that’s a harder idea to sell when you’re cohabiting though :p). Like Ming, however, colour is not currently viable for me: too expensive, too faffy to colour-correct in post (and for me significantly altering the palette digitally in post eliminates some of the point of using colour film in the first place), and too complex to process at home. I’m OK with that, though; B&W film feels really purist, and that suits me fine for personal stuff.

              Anyone want to buy my mint and boxed Coolpix A before I put it on eBay? :)

              • B&W is fine for DIY…fewer chemicals and less paraphernalia makes it much easier to convince the other half to accept…

                • And she has a big soft spot for film photography, which ought to help :)

                  My current challenge is teaching myself to meter by eye; a lot easier to do with film gear and its lack of a bazillion intermediate settings. I’m developing a reasonable instinct for it just out of experience, but still a long way off having the confidence to go meter-less. Been trying Sunny 16 for the first time (consciously) this week, but that doesn’t seem to work very well, not with the digital camera I was using to practice with anyway…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    It might just be me, but I find using a digital metered value for a film exposure doesn’t get me a good exposure. I go one stop over (over exposed) the digital meter (other camera or freebie iPhone app) and things work out better. Shooting color negative though… Precision is not exactly each word of the day!

                  • Ah, even better. I find sunny-16 doesn’t work well in the tropics either – meters too hot in truly bright sunlight. It’s also much easier for us to gauge brightness indoors than out…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      A friend recommended a Sekonic meter to me (available at a certain canera shop at seriously knock down price) but I’m hesitant now after finding this digital meter/film under exposure thing… I’ll make a complete idiot of myself and just ask the question: are there two kinds of meters out there and I should make sure to get a film one [if I get one]; or is this all in my head?

                    • There are many kinds. But digital and film ones work the same way; you just need to know how much to bias for the desired effect on your recording medium (i.e. taking dynamic range into account, how many stops above the middle gray average/ meter reading do you have for highlights?)

                      I eyeball it most of the time, but to check or if I’m unsure I use a Voigtlander VC-Meter II, which is small and pocketable. It’s an averaging meter only with a fairly large area though; it requires some experience to get your exposure surgically accurate with.

                    • As you might imagine, it’s exactly the opposite problem in England…

                    • Haha yes…

          • Oh lord…

            • Tom Liles says:

              I’ve always had a soft spot for Tabloid puns. Seriously good most of the time. But, “The Son” Mmm. Mulching in aporia on that one :s

              • You’ll like this then, Tom… http://royallydesperate.tumblr.com

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Muchas Thanksias Todd. But nothing will ever top ELTON TAKES DAVID UP THE AISLE. The Sun, December 2005.

                  IT’S PADDY PANTSDOWN a close run second.

                  My apologies to gallery. I can talk about Heidegger and post-Kantianism or Helmholtz and Carnot cycles or the apologetics of C.S Lewis, and other grown up stuff too.
                  [But The Sun puns are more fun]

        • Ouch! I think it’s because your internet connection disappeared, so it reloaded all the pages.

          I believe the screen you want is the K or the B – mine is that type and has the center split. Focusing is a breeze. Try one of the more comprehensive used stores like Map – I remember tons of odd random accessories last time I was there. That reminds me, I need a K3 for my F6…

      • Fortunately, foam replacement isn’t too difficult. Don’t know if Sover (mentioned in other comments) has kits for the FM3A, but they’re probably available off eBay.

    • These are all new images – from the last nine months or so of ownership of the Titan. I wouldn’t claim otherwise…

      My seals and foams have probably been replaced at some time, or the camera just wasn’t used that hard – everything looks pristine. If you need new foam kits, a chap called Sover Wong sells them – along with performing complete overhauls. He’s probably the world’s most experienced F2 technician.

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    FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F2 Titan – Ming Thein | Photographer

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