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Part II; The Nikon Years

Almost every time I write about Nikon, I get the Simon and Garfunkel tune: “Kodachrome” earwig going. Can you hear it? 🙂

The “Nikon Years” – 1979 – 1983

Cameras.        I shot mainly with the Canon TX and a 50mm f2.8 lens for the next couple years. In 1979, I joined the photography staff at our College newspaper, and the photo editor and I became good friends. We lived in the same dorm, and at some point he and I worked out a deal in which I acquired my first Nikon, and became a near-lifelong Nikon guy. Again, at the time, the brand selection was nothing more than chance. But there was a perception, and a cachet, about a Nikon. You know, the “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors … I’ve got my Nikon Camera … makes you think the world’s a sunny day,” kind of cachet. So I was excited about becoming a Nikon owner.

Nikon “Nikkormat” SLR Camera

The real motivation was that he traded the camera body and 3 lenses, and I wanted more selection. The deal we made was much more affordable for that same broke college kid, than purchasing another lens or two for the Canon. Ultimately, that Canon went to my sister. I don’t think she has it any longer, as we both moved on to digital years back.

Some of us tend to overvalue and undervalue certain camera components

My first Nikon was a Nikkormat FT, which was a “consumer” model made by Nikon for those of us who couldn’t afford (and perhaps didn’t need) their flagship Nikon F (and progeny) models. Some years later, after we had moved on to “electronic” cameras, I picked up a nice, used F2 and had a lot of fun shooting with it. But I probably owned that Nikkormat the longest of any camera (except the Asahiflex). It saw very regular use for two years as a Newspaper shooter and also the college yearbook staff. Then I went to law school in 1981. I think I got the camera out one time in the spring of 1982. After that, it stayed stored in the bag for many years. After law school, I got married, and got a job and bought a house.

Lenses.            It has been my experience that most new photographers (at least the “enthusiast” type – perhaps those with professional training got the benefit of wiser advice) go through a similar evolution. Some of us tend to overvalue and undervalue certain components. An experienced photographer knows it is not the sexy camera that is what matters. It is all about the glass. It usually takes us a while to learn that. The great irony is that we probably spend close to the cost of pro-quality glass, buy buying cheap glass high and selling it low, eventually going to the better glass anyway. But sometimes, it is just about the budget (and of course the manufacturers of less expensive glass appreciate and serve that market – nothing wrong with that).

An experienced photographer knows it is not the sexy camera that is what matters. It is all about the glass

In my case, the primary motivator for my “deal” was the 3 lenses. Ironically, I don’t even really remember what they were. None of them were Nikon. One was Tamron and one was Albinar, and maybe a Vivitar? One was a variable zoom, which I probably left on the camera most of the time (the other two, I rarely used). I did not have a 50mm lens, but picked one up shortly after, and used it more for my personal photography than any other. All but the 50mm were all cheap copies, and in 20/20 hindsight, the “trade” to obtain variety maybe did not really put me in the position I imagined. Or, maybe it did, because it allowed me to be able to shoot sports, speeches, and other events where I could not get close enough to make the “portrait” images called upon by the newspaper.

Medium.         Most of my personal work continued to be with Kodachrome. Kodachrome requires a unique, proprietary development process (which is part of what makes it “special” in my view – not that it does, but the results of the process). Kodachrome is actually a specialized black and white film base. Color dyes are introduced during the development process, rather than being imbedded in the film itself. Obviously, this is a much more complex technical process. And, unless you were in a major metropolitan market, the local processors could not afford the equipment, and development had to be by mail order. So I would shoot a roll or two and put them in my mailer with stamps, and then wait up to 2 weeks to get my results – a far cry from today, where we look at a representation of our results on the camera back, an instant after shooting.

Kodachrome 25

I did experiment a bit with Kodak’s other slide offering; Ektachrome. It used a less complex and more traditional development process (known as E-3), which meant it could often be developed locally, or in your own darkroom. It was also offered (eventually) in 64/160/200 (and in 1979, 400) ASA/ISO, which should have made it work well for more versatile lighting situations. But it didn’t have the richness of Kodachrome, and I always thought it looked too blue. I may have tried one of the other offerings out there but it did not seem like they were “ready for prime time.”

From that time, on, I always knew that I would have a color darkroom one day

Working for the Newspaper, however, put me with a different medium; one I had not used since the Kodak Brownie days. We shot exclusively black and white (B&W) film. We mostly used Kodak Tri-X film. It was rated at 400 and we often “push processed” it as high as 800 (ASA/ISO). It had a signature, grainy look that was pretty common for newsprint in those days and pretty good exposure latitude. This made it very versatile. I probably shot it 99% of the time. I did experiment with some lithographic film for making very high contrast black and white images (mostly for gravitars on signature lines).

One thing this experience did was gave me access to the darkroom. Because it was only equipped for B&W processing, it also drove me to experiment just a little with B&W in my personal work. I never really got good at it and never really got excited about it. But I learned things in the darkroom that would round out my photographic knowledge later. From that time, on, I always knew that I would have a color darkroom one day.

Doodads.        Really not much changed here for me. Mostly a polarizer and a rarely used cheap Velbon tripod. Most of the reportage shooting was handheld, of necessity. My personal work had not advanced to the level of appreciating a good support system yet. I did acquire a fairly powerful Vivitar Electronic Flash unit during this time. I used it when allowed. Flash has always been a bit of a mystery to me and it showed in most of my results.

Next . . . . “Updating”