Then - n - Now
Shooting Flashback with a Nikkormat FTn & Nikon D600
I first took serious interest in photography in 1971 by shooting 620 film with my parents Brownie. I also built a darkroom in the garage during the summer of '71, where I spent most every Saturday and Sunday developing film and making enlargements.

Although today in 2014, I do happen to have a upper end camera to play with making captures. Unfortunately , I did not have the same quality camera until about 1977 or so. Until then I went through several kinds of cameras which I have created my Lifetime of Cameras album on FaceBook you can also view.

But... if I did have one of the upper end 35mm cameras in 1971 it would have been the Nikkormat FTn, since the F, was the pro model and more costly. Now finally I actually do have an early 70's Nikkormat and have had some times where I took both cameras out shooting and there were some very obvious advantages and disadvantages to both cameras one I had shot the same similar subjects.

Hitting The Scales
I thought my D600 was heavy at 760g till I picked up the FTn that weighs 765g. Sometimes it can be a little unfair to compare a product 40 years apart from one another, so I will just note whats different in handling between the two. Since both cameras weigh about the same, the missing built in grip on the D600 becomes very noticeable on the FTn. As over the years we have gotten accustomed to the motor-drive-type grip to hold the camera.

Since I seem to have gotten quite use to the grip, I did miss that feature very much when handling the FTn. I also noticed how it is also more ergonomic for me to have the shutter button up in the grip and a little forward from the front of the camera. The shutter button on the FTn is packed up in with the other dials on top of the camera and I don't get as comfortable feel on the shutter button as I do with the D600 button. But there again, cameras in the 70s had the shutter button in the same place as the FTn does, as it was standard back in that day, just as the button being in the grip is the standard now.

Set The Controls
One feature dramatically different than any of the film SLR's I had in my day, is the fact that the shutter speed is controlled by a dial around the lens mount that is turned by moving a lever clockwise or counter-clockwise. Unlike just about any other 35mm Film SLR where the shutter speed was typically controlled from a round knob atop the camera.

The FTn is a fully manual camera with "match needle" metering, so you wont be using any shutter or aperture priority modes. But, it is still rather quick and painless to get the needles matched up... unless of course you have to change the shutter speed. Then you will hopefully not fumble around too much trying to find the lever to change the speed.

There again not only have I gotten very accustom to turning a wheel built into the hand grip on the D600 to change the shutter speed... and the aperture as well. Being that the shutter dial on the FTn is in such an unorthodox place for me, it makes some shoots seem a little awkward in using the camera as intuitively as I want to.

Setting the aperture wasn't too difficult to adjust back to, but it still promotes a good shooting rhythm when you can set the aperture by turning a dial in the grip. With the shutter speed and f-stop adjustments in the grip, you can actually stay focused on the subject and not really have to move your hands to change a setting. Thus you can stay focused and framed up in the viewfinder just the way you want it.

As with the D600, after I have framed up the first shot and I simply want to shoot it again with a different EV, I can just turn the shutter speed wheel in the grip and make a change and shoot. As with the FTn, it is a little awkward to reach to the lever that turns the shutter speed. And since it is all manual exposure, you also may have to adjust your f/stop as well and between doing both those task and keeping your subject squared up in the viewfinder the same way... it's not quite as easy.

Scene Composition
One thing I really am glad to see, is the standard lens on cameras now is a zoom. Although I do have a period correct 50mm normal lens on the FTn, I am really finding out that some shots just can't be framed up the same way. Depending on the obstacles around you, decides where you can stand and take aim. But with the zoom, often you end up getting at a different distance from the subject and zooming in or out for the composition you want.

The big advantage for me with the zoom lens is that I can slightly zoom in or out and fine tune the composition of the capture, but with the 50mm fixed lens, I have to physically move back and forth to re-crop the scene.

I first grabbed up the FTn at the Cabbage Patch Carolers Shoot, and shot about 15 shots of different carolers and at varying distances. And I have found that the sharpness is not quite an arguable point for film photography outside. It is in the low light and long exposures where digital camera captures totally are far superior to the film images under those conditions.

I then switched cameras and walked the same parts of the area and captured similar images. Except I captured about 30 images since I have no per image cost as I do with film. I have found i really like the ability to capture 3 or 4 shots from the same scene and not be concerned about either using up the roll of 24 that quickly or the cost of each exposure.

But you give film enough light, and it will blow your socks away ad to the detail you get compared to a straight digital capture and no post-processing. You can sort of even tell it here in this pair of pics. In the front subject that is in focus, you see more detail in the blue hat and the sweater. Plus the white point is a little less in the film image, but the red scarf on the film image is a bit over saturated and has a loss in detail.

Less Gadgets = Less Hassle ?
No... not at all, and in fact it is some of those extra gadgets that make shooting with the D600 a lot more fluidly and efficiently. After shooting with digital and even more modern film SLR's than the FTn, it's not really fair to come down on it too hard since it is over 40 years old in technology.

One thing that remains true still with the film SLR is that due to how much longer it takes to compose and expose a scene, combined with the fact you only get 24 or 36 captures on a roll of film... It makes the FTn more of a nostalgic fun shoot. You wont be quickly firing off several shots at different EV's like you can with the digital camera.

And just like 40 years ago.. you need to make every shot count... or at least as many as possible. The goal to shoot for would be to get 6 great shots from a roll of 36. Now that I have broken the habit of trying to get that one or two great captures like in the days of film, I will fire off five to ten of the same scene with the D600 to make sure all the elements of the capture are as close to how I would like them to be.

What About The Glass ?
Well... so far about the only thing the FTn has over the D600 is coolness factor and shiny metal. As for everyday use of the camera, it is much more fun and rewarding shooting with the D600.

No matter what the differences were in actually composing and exposing a scene was between the two cameras, I was very interested in what the lens would do. I didn't question what my $600 24-85mm lens would do on the D600, but I did wonder about the "period correct" 50mm lens I had on the FTn is only valued at about 40-60 bucks in todays market.

When I opened the image shown here on the computer, I was blown away at what that 40 year old lens produced. (You can view larger image of this and other Nikkormat Captures from the FaceBook Album) The details at the top of the bell tower are details with todays cameras that I use tone mapping, exposure blending and HDR methods to achieve the same thing. But the resolution of this vintage glass was quite remarkable, to say the least.

So, will there be any more film captures for me in the future? I certainly hope so since I also have a freezer full of assorted films. And already captured almost a whole roll of Tri-X with another one to go and then break out the developing tank.

I mostly bought the FTn not only to have a film camera, but to also have one that was period correct for the early 70's when I got into photography. As a result of my initial film test, I have found that I will buy an F3 or FE to shoot film with since they are more similar in operation as to the D600 than the FTn could ever be. And it would make the film captures a little more fun actually, with the ease of metering and exposing made much easier.

I already have some B&W developer and fixer, plus a barely used Nikor Stainless Steel Tank ready to have a developing party as soon as I shoot up two rolls of Tri-X. and also purchase an E-6 kit to process the Fuji slide film also on stash in the freezer. Look for notes on those adventures to come up soon in The Photography Experience.

The Fun Has Just Began
Other than the retro look of the FTn, I pretty much would rather not use it for creating my art pieces. The main reasons being the ease of changing exposure values and framing up the scene with the zoom lens instead of a fixed length.

Stay tuned... the doctorsid film adventures have just gotten underway again after a 10 year pause due to digital captures.

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