Saturday, October 27, 2018

Nikon N80

- Interstate 71 heading out of Cleveland towards home.


Part 1 in a series on getting back into film.




I’ve had an interesting relationship with 35mm film. When I first took a true interest in photography, it’s what I was cutting my teeth on. At the same time, I had already saved up and purchased my first Digital SLR while in high school. While trying to learn the basics of metadata, digital post-processing, and data storage, I was also learning how to mix chemicals and develop negatives.

As time went on, the usual culprits drew me firmly to the digital side: it was simply easier and faster to get results with modern equipment. Hell, I can go out and shoot something right now, hook up the memory card to my phone, edit in the palm of my hand, and have it all on the web within minutes (and I’m sure one day that statement will even seem dated). When I became a professional, there wasn’t even an inkling of a client who’d want something on film. My collection of film cameras that had come via relatives, friends, friend’s parents, and thrift stores mainly became show pieces on the shelves of my apartments over the years.

A respect and appreciation for film was always there, though. I studied historic photographers who’d long been inspirations and I was acutely aware of contemporary folks still winding rolls and developing. Former QC/D contributor Cameron Knight was one of those people, someone creating beautiful work via an “older” process.

Occasionally, I’d get an urge to dabble in film again. In 2014, I made a few frames at a parking lot carnival. It worked out well, the film being perfectly expressive for how I felt at the time and the kinds of photographs I wanted to make. Even the cheap stuff I dusted off and rescued from a Walgreens still held beautiful color and tone that didn’t require digital manipulation. A few months later, I went to my cousin’s wedding. Her father, my Uncle, was a great man who had passed away too early. A few years before, he had given me a Nikon N80, one of the last “prosumer” SLR’s produced by the company before digital became the predominant focus. I used that camera to make some portraits and arrange some compositions at his daughter’s wedding. The Rite-Aid film I picked up in suburban New Jersey, though, was expired and of pretty poor quality. I ended up converting all of the photographs to black and white, editing the hell out of them on my computer. I was happy with the images, but returned to a passing interest in film.

Recently, my girlfriend relocated to Cleveland to attend school at the same time that I had found a new career opportunity here in Cincinnati. I knew I’d be making a lot of trips up and down the highway between the cities. Like Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager, I’m prone to taking useless side quests that yield questionable results rather than just heading directly from destination to destination on car trips. I wanted to document this time spent on the road in a unique way and thought film might give me an excuse to slow down, to take my time composing shots. It never hurts to change up your perspective on photography.

At the same time, I was finding a newfound appreciation for the medium. There’s something about film prints, whether it’s the nostalgia of the 80s and 90s, the actual grain that’s not just from an Instagram filter, or the way film captures color and depth. I was spending my free time looking at contemporary work and historical work, 90s era amusement park promotional photos being some of my favorites. My own digital editing started taking on a slant to make my shots look more like film. Then there was Travis: a friend and excellent photographer, local to Cincinnati, who’s always been putting out good work, but lately has just been pouring out some amazing images via film. With the excuse of several road trips on the horizon and chasing new inspiration, I dug up a few film cameras.

The Minolta XD-11 had a half-shot roll in it (from a previous flirtation with film circa 2009). I only remembered the roll as I accidentally destroyed it. The two Canon point and shoots from a thrift store refused to work no matter how new the batteries were. The Nikon N80 was still in great shape from over a decade of minimal use. The Pentax K1000 seemed to be in good shape, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the film door open. A few other models, the Argus Rangefinder and a Slomexa, seemed too complicated for just getting back into the swing of things (I’ve never actually used either, yet). So I set out with the Minolta and Nikon after some cheap Kodak UltraMaxx 400 film arrived from Amazon.

After destroying several rolls while re-learning how to load the cameras, I found myself on the road after work. The sun of Cincinnati quickly turned to gray skies in the netherworld between home and Columbus. I spent the way up switching between the Minolta and Nikon bodies, photographing derelict gas stations, fast food, and an abandoned minor league baseball stadium in Columbus. On the way back, the theme was the same (aside from the minor league ballpark) and I used up all the available exposures.

Back in Cincinnati—and impatient—I wanted to get these rolls off to the lab so I could see the results. The Nikon had given me some trouble, but had an automatic rewind. On the Minolta, I forgot that you had to release the film before manually rewinding it. After five minutes of turning, I figured it was good, but I opened the back of the body and exposed what little of the roll wasn’t torn to pieces. I was pretty annoyed with myself to say the least.

Dismayed and with three rolls left, I figured I should probably dig up the manuals to these cameras and shoot some stuff locally before I wasted time wandering on the road again. I was able to get an additional camera working, a Pentax K1000. Over the course of a weekend, I went back out with the refreshed Pentax and the Minolta. Thanks to The Darkroom in California (and a lot of patient, wonderful help from Travis), my rolls were developed and uploaded by the lab online. I had results in about a week.

Here’s three "frames" posts documenting a return to film. I’ll kick it off with the Nikon N80, the only camera that I had reasonable confidence in and experience with.

Like I said, it did have some trouble. I wasted several exposures just trying to ensure that the film advanced (those shots of my television showing minor league soccer aren’t included in this post). On the road, it worked relatively well, but included here are the only compositions I was particularly happy with.


I stopped in Mt. Sterling, Ohio for some gas and some coffee. The BP Station was open, but the nearby Sunoco was abandoned. Along with it, Del Mar's Cafe had also apparently been lost. On the way back from Cleveland, I stopped to make a few more frames of roadside sights. It had been a wonderful weekend visiting Laura, but the trip up and down were nothing but miserable rain, lackluster podcasts, and fast food.









When I got home, the Minolta was up next.

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