The Noct-Nikkor is perhaps one of the most legendary – if not the most legendary – of the lenses in the Nikon pantheon. Hitting the market in its first AI version in 1977, it was designed to do two things: firstly, be shot wide open, and secondly, push the limits of the F mount’s relatively narrow diameter with a lens that would collect enough light to shoot relatively slow film at night, and without a tripod. Although based on a traditional double-gauss design, the lens incorporated one enormous technological advance for the time.
Advance disclaimer: I’m not a full-blown Leica M nut, so most of my opinions are just that: opinions. But I’ve used a few of these things in my time, both professionally and for personal work. These images predate my recent DIY film efforts, so you’ll see a mix of color negative and slide film in there – I was mostly shooting Provia 100 and Velvia 100F at the time. The vintage of the images is also given away by the early watermark…
The Leica M6 series is perhaps the most accessible film Leica for most; I mean this in terms of both usability and price. A very large number of these cameras were produced in several key variants from 1984 to 1998; this volume means that prices on the secondary market have stayed relatively affordable. For not much more money over a ‘classic’ M2, M3 or M4, you can have something with slightly updated materials – likely resulting in longer service intervals – and of course, most importantly, a meter. With any of the classic M bodies, you need to use an external meter or an experienced eyeball to determine your exposure. Ignoring the design oddity that was the M5, the Minolta-collaborative CL and the more recent (and expensive) M7 and MP, we’re left with the M6 for most people if you want a film M camera with a meter.
I suppose it’s possible to call this camera the epitome of film point and shoots; it was, after all, quite possibly the Volkswagen Beetle of its generation. Made in huge numbers (3.8 million for this model alone, 10 million of all Mju variants), not especially expensive, but by all accounts incredibly reliable and delivering consistently excellent results. I certainly remember lusting after one while growing up, but through some strange turn of events landed up buying a rather useless Fuji 1010ix APS camera instead, which I still regret to this day. Thanks to some blind luck and the quick actions of a friend, I managed to eventually get my hands on one – new in box, for not much more than a brick of film.
All of Hasselblad’s SWC (originally ‘Supreme Wide Angle, then Super Wide Angle, then abbreviated from ‘Super Wide Camera’) cameras are slightly odd beasts: they’re tiny for medium format, but large for anything else; they look very much like stunted miniature versions of the regular V series bodies. It’s as though somebody chopped the middle section out, taking the winding crank and waist-level finder out along with it. In place, the camera has grown a large megaphone-like viewfinder, and the shutter release has migrated to the top of the body.
There are two cameras that are synonymous with 6×6 medium format film: the Rolleiflex TLR, and the Hasselblad V series. (I may well do a piece on the former in the future). Today’s subject, however, is one of the final incarnations of the V line – the 501CM. I suppose you could think of it as the distilled essence of the V series – unlike the 503s, it lacks TTL flash metering; unlike the 200-series, it still relies on a lens-based leaf shutter and remains completely mechanical. But at the same time, the camera has interchangeable focusing screens and the gliding mirror geometry of the 503CW to prevent vignetting with longer lenses. (I have a brief intro to the Hasselblad V series here.) It’s my pick of the bunch because a) I have no intention of using it with TTL flash, and b) I’d rather not have to rely on electronics in any way – there are modern digitals for that…
Many thought this camera would never see the light of day, or it would do so as some strange film-digital hybrid with interchangeable backs. In 2004, however, Nikon gave the world one last hurrah in its long lineup of film cameras – the F6. The camera differs from its predecessors in many ways – firstly, it’s the only single-digit (pro) F body to lack interchangeable prisms; apparently this feature was so seldom used on the F5 that it was dropped. (Too bad, because the super-high eyepoint sports finder for that camera was a thing of beauty; easily the largest and brightest finder I’ve ever seen on a 35mm SLR.) It also revered to the F4 and previous designs that made the vertical grip a detachable unit, as opposed to the built-in on the F5. One can only suppose the F5 required a built in because of its insatiable hunger for AA batteries. The F6 uses a pair of CR123A lithiums; it lasts a bit longer, but two of those things still costs quite a bit more than a whole set of AAs for the F5.
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.
Warning: what follows is an unashamed post about gear. Yes, Ming is writing a gear-centric post. There will be no photography in this article beyond the obligatory camera p***.
Imagine, for a moment, this is an automotive blog. In fact, the precise segment that comes to mind is Richard Hammond’s recent series in Top Gear on driving the classics; every month we see him wrestling his boyhood poster fantasies with a silly grin on his face. After re-reading that sentence, I realize that sounded very, very wrong. I can’t claim to be anywhere near as popular as Hammond or the rest of the Top Gear trio, nor does my enthusiasm for photography extend that far so far back as for me to have boyhood fantasies about it, but I do distinctly remember lusting after a lot of (then) out of reach gear in the early days of my obsession. I admit that one of the high points of this job has been having the opportunity to fulfill those desires. I may never get the opportunity to drive a BMW 3.0 CSL, let alone a 250 GTO SWB or a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, but a 903 SWC is still feasibly within reach…
What follows today’s article is a little mini-series; I wouldn’t really call them reviews, because the context is very different and they’re not really that relevant as current products.