I've been writing more about photography lately, largely because I've been doing more of it, especially weird stuff like high dynamic range pictures—it's a hobby I can play with even when I'm on chemotherapy or otherwise ill. I've been happy using my Nikon digital SLR and small lens collection.
This week, Nikon introduced a new high-end DSLR, the D700. Of course it was fun to read about, but my D50 is just fine; the D700 is far beyond anything I need to use, and at $3000 is well out of any price league I'm likely to be in for a long time.
One thing I have been wanting to try is cross processing, of which I've seen some great examples in Kris Krug's photostream at Flickr. Cross processing, however, requires a film (not digital) camera. It usually involves taking slide film and instructing your film lab to process it using the same chemicals used for print film. Like HDR, cross processing creates some bizarre, surreal effects, as in these pictures from Kris. Taking some black-and-white shots might be fun too.
However, my last film SLR, a Nikon F601, died several years ago (the film transport crapped out while we were taking family Christmas pictures). I still use a couple of the lenses I bought for it on my digital D50, but I currently have no way to take film photos. Fortunately, now that we're well into the 21st century and the digital era, used film cameras are ridiculously cheap. As long as you're not going for a Leica or a Nikon F6, it's actually difficult to spend more than a couple of hundred bucks on even a very nice older film body.
So yesterday, Canada Day, I hunted around on eBay a bit and found this:
It is a used, slightly but deliciously worn Nikon F4s, which was Nikon's revolutionary top-of-the-line professional camera from 1988 to 1996, when it was replaced by the F5. The photographer at my wedding in 1995 (likely the year the particular one above was made) used the F4, as did many photojournalists, sport photographers, and other professionals a couple of decades ago. I put in a bid for the F4s above, and I won.
I've tried out a used F4 in a local camera store before, and unless you've handled a top-shelf professional DSLR—film or digital—the heft of the thing is a little hard to describe. Like the current flagship Nikon D3 or Canon 1D, it is large, extremely solid, heavy, and yet still very nice to hold. While it is a fully electronic, autofocus and autoexposure camera, all the controls on the F4 are analog: dials, buttons, and levers. There is no external LCD panel or menu system. It feels like you could hammer nails or fend off a robber with it and keep taking pictures afterwards.
Although it was designed when I was in my early years at university, there are numerous ways the F4 outperforms any camera I've ever owned, including its fast and precise continuous shooting frame rate (5.7 frames per second, almost twice as fast as my D50), and at least basic compatibility with (as far as I can tell) every F-mount SLR lens Nikon has ever made—from the earliest manual-focus models from 1959 to the latest autofocus ones from 2008—including all the ones I own. The F4 is midway through the line of professional Nikon F cameras made over the past 50 years:
All this for just over $200. That's about the price of a nice pair of boots, a decent set of men's clothes, an 8 GB iPod nano, or a low-end zoom lens today; $100 cheaper than Nikon's current low-budget student manual SLR, the FM10; about a third as much as the current intro-level Nikon or Canon digital SLRs (or what I paid for the D50 in 2006); and a mere 10% of the $2000 cost of a new F6—or of the F4 itself at introduction in September 1988.
My new/old F4 should arrive in a week or two. Now the question is: where do I buy slide or B&W film in Vancouver these days?