5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Nikon FE (and a return to film photography) – By Thorsten Wulff

June 16, 2019

In the sweltering Berlin summer of 2010 I sat over what should become my second Adobe Lightroom book. Because of the heat I got up early in the morning to go out and shoot stuff for the chapter of the day, with a Panasonic Lumix GF1. I wrote in my friend Cyrill’s place, taking care of his cat while he travelled. On his fridge was a bowl with a lovely Nikon FE in it, which no one used. It ended up as an image in the book, and years later Cyrill gave me the camera as a present. I carried it around with me, not using it either. I gave my last darkroom and enlarger away in 2001, switched via the Nikon CoolPix 995 to full digital and never looked back.

Until now. 2019 marked the time I returned to film, I got myself an M6, two Leitz Focomat enlargers, and turn the bath into a darkroom once a week. A trip to Italy some weeks ago was the chance to put some Tri-X into the good old FE. With a Nikkor 35mm ƒ1,4 attached, almost too heavy for the slender body I roamed the streets of Bologna and Florence. The FE gets totally out of the way, the finder is completely uncluttered with the transparent needle-based exposure meter display tugged away unobtrusively on the left and the very bright focusing screen type B with a clear circle in the center. Fast focusing the 35 is no problem, and the AUTO-exposure setting is very helpful.

Running through Florence, the river Arno is a place to hang out away from the main tourist spots, and boy, that town gets crowded. Located between two of the main bridges runs a weir which is not packed because you need to climb to reach it. I got there right around sunset with a beer, when this couple started kissing. Leaving the bottle I ran over to them, snapped and got lucky because it was image 36A, the last of the roll. (After taking the first couple of pictures I found out that the image counter did not work)

The other thing I discovered after developing the films was light leaks in some of my most anticipated pictures. (This had not occurred to me, back in the 1980s when working with new FE2, FM2 and F3 bodies I had no clue that there was foam in the cameras to keep the sun out). Well, as some of you know I guess, it degrades over time and leaves a sticky black slug that can be thrown from the mirror buffer onto the screen and all over the place. I found a «Kameradoktor» in Bochum who supplied me with a set of replacement foam for the FE. I still quite like the image very much, even with the ray of light exactly in the young woman’s face.

Carnival in Fiesole, Tuscanny. The whole town celebrated, a brass band played to the kids having confetti fights while I shot almost a whole film in ten minutes at the center of the party.

Early morning on the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci bridge, Florence. One year ago regular guy Roberto Pirrone decided to grab his gun, walk out of his door and kill the next person walking his way. This person was Idy Diene from Senegal. I did not know about this incident while I took the pictures, but was intrigued by the solemn mood of the usually busy place. This worker waited for the mayors arrival.

This is the same location and time, this gentleman was not amused by me pointing the Nikon in his face.

40 years after its introduction the Nikon FE is still a capable companion for street and travel photography. I sold the FE2 in the 1980s a bit too quick for the F3, and am quite happy to work with this one now. Compared to shooting with the Leica M6 Classic and its left-right LED arrow based light meter the FE is comfortable like an old friend. The 5 frames were reproduced with a Nikon ES-2 adapter on a D3s body and edited in Photoshop and Lightroom.

If you like what you saw please have a look at my website
and on instagram my name is herrwulff

Thank you for your time!

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  • Reply
    June 16, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Beautiful images, thank you for sharing them.

  • Reply
    June 16, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Wow, really fine street photography for a change! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Louis A. Sousa
    June 16, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Great images. Well done.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    June 16, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    My remaining SLR is an FE2. I use a micro-Nikkor on it with B&W film. The whole FM/FE series of Nikons were exceptional.
    My FE2 and M4-P are almost the exact same size. They compliment each other and Like you said, the FE is like an old friend. The American photographer Jill Kremetz worked with a Nikon FM fitted with an 85mm Nikkor and a Leica M4-2 fitted with a 35mm Summicron. I always liked her approact to equipment.
    Such a sad, tragic incident of the shooting! Here in America, this type of shooting takes place all too often. It leaves destroyed families in it’s wake and people just wondering why it happens so often.
    My wife & I were just talking about the wonderful time we spent in Florence a few years ago and ho we’d like to Italy. Your wonderful pics make us want to book a flight soon.

    • Reply
      June 16, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      Good morning everybody, thank you for your nice comments, and to Hamish for running the site and posting my story.
      Dear Dan, my wonderful girlfriend Nadja was the one who got me back to analog in the first place, and I just gave her an FM2 for her birthday. We went to Omaha Beach in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D Day, her with the Nikon and me with an M6 shooting Tri-X. I hope to print the images in the next couple of days and submit five of them here for your consideration. (85 and 35 are my favorite combo, too, on a Nikon D3 and with the Fujifilm X100)

    • Reply
      Dan Castelli
      June 17, 2019 at 4:52 am

      Oops! I should have written: “how we’d like to return to Italy…”
      I felt right at home and the food…! The city offered so much for a photographer…

  • Reply
    June 17, 2019 at 12:33 am

    great article, great review and awesome photographs.
    You really have to go to his website to enjoy a lesson of photography !
    Simply great and magic

  • Reply
    Adrian Rose
    June 17, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Thorsten, an enjoyable piece, and very enjoyable photographs – thanks! I really like these images which are full of life and character – the leak isn’t very much of an issue, unlike some I recently took with my first rolls in a Mamiya M645! I really should be more patient and run a test roll through in bright light, before taking pictures that are effectively lost to me;-)

  • Reply
    Clive W
    August 29, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Wonderful pictures, Thorsten, that put people in context and show character in their faces. Good work!

    I’ve not done much ‘street’ with my FE – or on film at all, really. Perhaps it’s time I tried.

    • Reply
      August 29, 2019 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you Clive, and yes, absolutely, go for it. The FE is a perfect sized tool, quick to focus, plus the light meter is spot-on. Using it on sthe street is a breeze, your’e done before the people know it ;))

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Returning to film with a fun, compact, affordable and easy to use Nikon FE - By Daniel Sigg - 35mmc
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