Photography has always been in my blood, though for many years I didn’t engage it. The family photo album is filled with old, mostly faded Polaroid’s my dad shot from the first couple years of my life. My earliest recollections of vacations involved fishing and my dad taking pictures with his Argus C3, and later, a Sears branded SLR. One of my uncles was a die-hard Minolta fan (if memory serves me right) and eventually my older brother caught the bug and put together a dark room in our house, though what camera he had escapes me. It may have been a Pentax K1000.
During my senior year of high school, I suddenly developed an interest and in 1982 Santa brought me a Nikon EM with the 50mm f1.8 series E lens; also, under the tree that year was the matching autowinder. I was off and running! That combo accompanied me to Europe the following summer. Its lightweight and compact size were a perfect travel companion.
Upon my return I found myself using the autowinder to shoot baseball games for my former Jr. High baseball coach. Even though shooting at just over one frame per second, the sequences of hitters taking their swings and pitchers in their wind-up and delivery were able to help him spot flaws in their game. To say I was hooked was an understatement, but then life happened; college, dating, then marriage and children rightly took priority. I traded my Nikon for a little Olympus Stylus and picture taking became snapshots of kids, vacations, and holidays.
Fast-forward about two decades and once again I found myself pursuing photography. It began as a shared interest initiated by my youngest son, Tanner, and just took off from there. Once again photography bags were filled with Nikon bodies and lenses. Eventually the pursuit came full circle and I was gripped by the desire to shoot film.
Tanner had always favored film and my brother in recent years had rediscovered his love for film photography. Their influence was too much to resist and I began looking for an old Nikon film body, finally settling on a Nikon EL2. It had everything I was looking for: the old Nikon solid heft, smooth shutter, manual wind lever, and cheap. I think I paid $50 including shipping for it. I paired it with an equally value-priced Nikkor 50mm f2 ais lens and was good to go!
Old Town Kenai, Alaska
For the last 5 years I have lived in Kenai, Alaska and have begun a “My Town” photo project. The Kenai Peninsula has a very unique heritage and culture that I was drawn to explore and document through the lens of a camera. A significant part of the history of Kenai and the surrounding communities is the Russian cultural influence. Russian fur traders and fishermen first settled the area back in the late 1700’s and with them came the Russian Orthodox Church.
The oldest buildings in Kenai are mostly church buildings belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. The oldest still standing, is the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary, built in 1895, and is still in use today. The other is the St. Nicholas Chapel, built in 1906, to honor the first Russian priest in Kenai and who brought the smallpox vaccine to the native people living on the Peninsula.
As part of my project, it seemed appropriate to capture the old heritage with my EL2 shooting black and white film rather than digital. I chose Ilford PanF Plus for my film. It’s sharpness and tonal quality allowed me to adequately capture some of the fishing and religious history of my community.
To see more of my work you can connect with me on Instagram and Flickr. I also write about the connection of life and theology at “A Float on the River”.
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13 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Nikon EL2 & Ilford PanF in Old Town Kenai, Alaska – By Dan Smouse”
Lovely look at Kenai and it’s history, and at shooting with an EL2, great old camera. It feels as if it’s carved put of rock, yet has (relatively) modern electronics.
I had never even heard of an EL2 til I starting searching for a Nikon SLR. My intent was to find a shootable FE or F2 but the price of this EL2 and the reviews I read convinced me to give it a try. I have not been disappointed. Someday I will acquire an F2 but for now my EL2 has given me exactly what I was looking for.
UPDATE…turns out my brother’s camera was not a K1000 as I surmised but was a Mamiya-Sekor 500 DTL that he had purchased from our uncle.
Nice to see the EL is still being used! I bought one as a present to myself when I started my teaching career in 1977. I traded it in for a Nikon FM two years later just before I left for a summer in Ireland.
You presented a fine set of pics representing the old historic village of Kenai.
How are the film supply conditions up in Alaska? Are you dependent upon mail order, or do you have good, local camera stores? Here in CT, I rely upon B&H and Adorama because almost all camera stores are now defunct.
Thank you for your kind words! Sadly, I know of no place here on the Peninsula to buy film and must resort to online purchases. I found B&H to be my place of choice as they have the most affordable shipping options to us up here in the extreme north.
Great photos. I love the contrast. Makes me wonder why I ever got away from black & white. And for that matter, my “newest” film camera: a used Nikon FG I bought in the mid-90s. I still have that FG, a Nikkormat FTn, and an EM which is a very basic beginner’s camera I bought for my wife. (Don’t get mad at me ladies!)
An EM was my first SLR! Lots of great memories with that camera.
You did a superb job with the Pan-F, nice indeed! And I love that EL. $50 was an incredible bargain. Good luck and keep at it.
Thank you! I had read how crisp PanF was and it certainly did not disappoint.
I’m late seeing this, Dan, but I really like what you’ve done here. Your pictures are beautifully toned and thoughtfully composed, and they combine to give a strong sense of what, to my west-European eyes, is a distant and alien place — and a hint at the weather those buildings have to keep out.
I especially like the first picture, of the chapel and its crooked Orthodox cross. Nice work!
Thank you for your kind and gracious words! PanF has become my favorite B&W film. I’ve not shot anything else that renders the way it does. The Kenai Peninsula is, without a doubt, the most unique place I have ever had the pleasure to live. God bless!
Hang on to that el2 and the 50mm 2.0, it will give you some great images! I’ve had 2 since ’77. The f2.0 is one sharp lens. I understand that the el2 was able to utilize the speed of NIKKOR-S Auto 1:1.2 f=55mm, which I have, and is an awesome combination. Great images. Don’t pass up the chance to make great images.
I must admit that I’ve already sent that combo down the line. I sold it to fund the purchase of a Nikon FM which is the camera I ultimately wanted. The EL2 was essentially a doorway back into film and a stepping stone to the FM. In place of the 50mm f2 I now shoot with the 55mm f2.8 micro. It is only a hair slower but significantly sharper, albeit with a little less “character”. I would’ve liked holding onto the EL2/50mm combo but financial prudence compelled me to sell it to fund the other.