Thursday, March 08, 2018

Learning to shoot the Nikon FE

Nikon FE
My early interest in photography got put on hold in favor of other interests and the requirement to attend to my family's needs.  When I got back to photography after retirement I basically picked up where I had left off with my Pentax Spotmatic which I had acquired in 1970.  I made a lot of pictures with the Spotmatic slr in the 1990s and also started picking up other film cameras that preceded the Pentax, mostly old folders and box cameras.
    Meanwhile, of course, the photo industry had gone on developing new technology after the Spotmatic which I largely ignored.  The major contenders introduced sophisticated multi-point metering, aperture-priority auto-exposure and lenses with computer generated aspherical designs and many multi-coated elements to resist internal reflections. Electronics replaced mechanical linkages and actuators, leading ultimately to auto-focusing, and film technology kept pace.  Thanks to some generous gifts of equipment recently I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore film camera tech developments in the latter half of the Twentieth Century before the whole industry jumped off the digital cliff.

The Nikon FE incorporates all of the tech refinements of its period allowing the photographer to stay focused on compositional issues while the camera takes care of exposure.  However, the user also retains the capacity to operate the camera in full manual mode, with user-selected shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to 1/1000 sec.  The viewfinder is very bright, with concentric circles to refine focus, and the display shows both aperture and shutter speed.  The construction of the camera and the smoothness of operation inspires confidence in the system's capacity to deliver images as envisioned.  The range of lenses available to the Nikon user were seemingly endless and of unsurpassed quality. 

I am particularly impressed with the ergonomic design of the FE.  All the controls seem to be in just the right place, and nothing important has been omitted.  I especially like the lever location of the depth-of-focus feature which is right where your shutter finger can easily find it. 

I'm still not inclined to leave behind my old folders and box cameras, but I do think that a sophisticated late-film-period camera like the FE can teach any photographer some new tricks.  I have certainly been encouraged in using the camera to explore image possibilities that I might have overlooked with some of my simpler machines.  Not every imaging experiment is a success, but I think there is no doubt that failures too are an important source of new understanding.

I liked the mid-morning light on this new Fiat during a walk through Albuquerque's downtown.  I harbor a special fondness for the little Italian; I bought one new in 1963, drove it a couple years and sold it for near what I paid for it.  It was great speeding down the highway at 100 -- kph, of course.  Even though it was only 60mph it sounded like 100 miles per hour.  Another place, another time, another life.

The Bernalillo County District Courthouse is a prominent downtown landmark.  The first-floor facade does not quite fit the rest of the design, but both the morning sun and the night-time lighting create impactful architectural impressions.  I snapped this shot from the grounds of the Federal Court House across the street, as well as a couple shots of some nice landscaping there.  Right afterward I was approached by a blazer-clad security person who informed me that photography was not permitted on federal property.  That seems like it takes in a lot of territory.  I'm going to have to look into the particulars of that assertion.

On the walk back home I found this nice unclassified agave to photograph without concern for security clearances.

I should probably paying royalties to the owners of this fine old pickup given the number of pictures I have made of it on my regular morning walks.  It is always parked in a different place in the vicinity, so it is nice to know it is still in daily use.

Up to now I have most always used color film in my slr cameras and most often reserved black and white for use in my rangefinders and simpler cameras.  The results I have been getting recently from the Nikon and the Pentax ME have encouraged me to further explore the pairing of newer technology with black and white processing, particularly in regard to my new-found interest in pyro developers.


JR Smith said...

The FE, FE2, FM, FM2n are just a wonderful series of cameras. Back up bodies for many professional photographers at the time. My FM2n is always at the ready.

Lurcher1 said...

I had a similar "federal building" experience in D.C. Pausing to take a picture of the modernistic SEC building near Union Station, a guard outside told me that there was a law against photographing the building! Astonished, I marched inside and asked, at the desk, "show me the law." They couldn't, of course, but I calmed down and let it go. I think it has something to do with the fact that the facade is all glass and you can see inside.

I have about 30 SLRs, mostly simple Practikas (not "sexy" and very cheap to buy) but also a Minolta, Fujica and Konica with more electronic "bells and whistles." They all take great pictures, and I especially like the ability to take close-ups.

Adam Fairclough

Mike said...

I've been mostly into making pictures with simple cameras over the years, but it has been fun lately to poke around in the higher end of the film camera universe.

I was not surprised when the security guard came after me. I had seen him eyeing me as I snapped the pictures of the landscaping. I also had the precedent of a uniformed guard demanding my ID after I shot a picture of a Post Office building. I felt somewhat honored to be in the same category as Russel Lee who was accused by the sheriff of being a spy after making a picture of a one-room post office in Pie Town, New Mexico.

Jim Grey said...

I'm going Downtown for some photography this afternoon ... think I'll see what happens when I photograph our (ugly, Brutalist) Federal Building.

It's fun to play with old cameras, especially to make even the most cantankerous gear yield good work. But when you want to just make pictures, there's little substitute for one of these late manual-focus-era SLRs. They just get out of your way and let you make pictures.

Mike said...

I've always been inspired by the fact that great photos have been made throughout photography's history with whatever equipment was available at the time. At the same time, of course, photographers have pretty much always striven to get their hands on the best available equipment.

Julio F said...

Beautiful series, Mike. The FE is a favorite of mine since I got one from my late father.

Mike said...

What a fine legacy that was. Not only the camera, but the appreciation of it which he apparently passed on to you.
My family had a few nice cameras, but I didn't end up with any of them. The one I think about occasionally is the Kodak Signet 35 owned by my step-father. I was just reading a thread on Rangefinderforum about the Signet and it got me thinking I should look for one.