Scale Focus Underwater/Rugged Cameras

Surfing with a Nikonos V, 35mm f/2.5 & Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 – By Michael Rennie

Nikonos V and surfing? You’re probably thinking I live in California, Australia or Hawaii but where I surf you’re more likely to catch frostbite than a shark bite; this is cold water surfing on Scotland’s east coast.

Winter is the only time there is waves, so it’s the only time I surf. It’s not unusual for the air temperature to be below 0°; 5mm wetsuit, boots, gloves and hood are most certainly required.

Surfing is hard and I’m not very good, so once I get tired of falling off I tend to float around and take pictures. It might just ‘the stoke’ of being in the water but I’d say the dawn light at my local beach is extra special, it makes the beating I take from the waves totally worthwhile.

So, enter the Nikonos V, I wanted a Nikonos from the first time I saw one, even more so after following @Nikonosproject on Instagram; that account is solid gold inspirational material.

Looking in my bank account quickly encouraged me to abandon that dream and instead led me first to the Hanimex Amphibian (5 Frames With to follow). The Amphibian was fun but it was a bit bulky and tricky to use with thick neoprene gloves on.

When a friend offered the Nikonos V in exchange for my Minolta Spot Meter F, I jumped at the chance. The amphibian was looking a bit forlorn so I shipped it off to a new owner in the Emulsive secret santa gift exchange.

Shooting The Nikonos V – First Impressions

A military green Nikonos V is a purposeful, almost intimidating bit of kit but the day I shot these images everyone in the water and on the shore was interested in it and were more that happy to have their photo taken with it. The perfect icebreaker built like, well, an icebreaker!

This was my first time shooting the Nikonos in the water, from a single 36 exposure roll of Fuji Superia 400 around 30 shots were keepers.

For an unfamiliar viewfinder / scale focus camera, while wearing 5mm neoprene gloves and getting battered by waves, that speaks for itself; this camera is super usable and foolproof.

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The DOF Scale With A Difference

Viewfinder cameras can be a but hit and miss in general but the Nikonos V has a killer feature to make it stand out from other scale focus cameras; the DOF scale on the face of the lens.

These two red tipped needles move with the chosen aperture and focus distance to show you the range of acceptable focus, neat and perfectly fit for purpose they make shooting a viewfinder camera so much more intuitive.

The only other ‘special’ feature is the  shutter release lock. This is 100% necessary for surfing as the camera gets knocked around a lot by the waves, the only slight negative point is that the switch is a bit small and hard to operate while wearing gloves.

Apart from that its standard fare for a semi automatic 35mm camera; on the right hand side you have shutter release, film advance and shooting more dial with aperture priority mode, manual shutter speeds, bulb and M90 for when the batteries are dead.

On the left hand side there is an iso selector from 25 to 1600 and film rewind. The shooting mode dial (on the right) needs to be rotated to “R” before you try to rewind your film.  Nothing more than you need again very intuitive to shoot right off the bat.

Get Out There!

If you do plan on surfing with your Nikonos, I recommend you add a chest strap to the existing shoulder strap, this allows you to secure the camera on your back while you’re surfing and easily swing it into the shooting position. With the shoulder strap alone the camera is just not secure enough and due to its (satisfying) heft, if the camera swings into your face or hits your board it could do some damage!

If you’ve been inspired to get in on the action I would recommend you check out @Nikonosproject for inspiration and get in the water, you are guaranteed to get a new perspective and with the Nikonos V, you’re almost guaranteed to feel like this:

If you want to see more of my images follow me on Instagram @badbeaglephotography and on Facebook

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18 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    nick holt
    February 21, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Looks like you had fun! Nice shots. Wouldn’t mind a play with one of these.

    Nick

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks Nick, it really is a special camera. I’d recommend it in a minute.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Barry Reid
    February 21, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Amazing to get any results, out there in the cold, cold winter water at St Andrew’s (recognise St Rule’s Tower – as an ex-Madras boy). And I can say is it takes a special kind of nutter to be able to hold, never mind operate, a camera in that sort of cold!!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 1:01 pm

      I too am ex-Madras, so know the area well, this winter hasn’t actually been quite so cold! If it’s really cold I wear 5mm mitts!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry B
    February 21, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    What a hoot! Brave man.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Aukje
    February 21, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Lovely photos! And while you are in the water, try taking a photo on the other side of the surface too 😉

    I love my Nikonos, but I lost one using a neck strap when I was pushed over by a large wave. In an instant I was upside down and the camera was gone, as were my glasses. Since then I use a harness (as used with binoculars), that works really well. I am practising my freediving, and I never worry about where my camera is.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks Aukje, I’ll need to get under some waves next time, maybe just wearing swim fins…..

      I’ve just made a new over the shoulder strap but with a secondary chest strap to hold it tight to my back for when I’m surfing.

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    February 21, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Hey, any fair-haired girl or boy can surf in Cali or down under! But, to winter surf in Scotland (or my neighboring state of Rhode Island) takes a tough sort. But, you eat stuffed sheep’s gut for lunch!
    The shots at eye level (or sea level) really put the viewer in the middle of the action. The color is so good.
    Continued good surfing/bobbing!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks Daniel, I hope to surf somewhere in shorts one day! I have another half roll to finish on my next surf. I’m going to take Aukje’s advice and try to get close / underneath the waves for some different views.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    matt evans
    February 21, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    Great read! reminds me of surfing in winter in Wales during my youth. Ive been jonesing for a Nikonos recently (and your pictures don’t help) but cant afford it so currently repairing a Nikon AWAF and a Sea&Sea Motormarine35.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks very much Matt, writing really is a struggle but it’s satisfying! Get out there with the Nikon, I was shooting with that cheap Hanimex Amphibian before and that was great fun too!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        matt evans
        February 22, 2019 at 1:47 am

        looks like the Sea&sea motormarine is the same as a Hanimex amphibian!

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Michael Rennie
          February 22, 2019 at 7:36 am

          Ah cool, you will get good images from that camera.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Nigel Haycock
    February 21, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    I’ve got the older IVa version and took some nice shots with it snorkeling. Struggled with it last time out and decided to go digital next time an find someone else to enjoy the underwater film world.
    I have to say the first time taking one of these out is a revelation as you just can’t believe you are about to walk into the sea with it; people do give you funny looks when they see you with it.
    As for surfing in Scotland’s winter… that takes some doing and hats off to you though I suspect you might be crazy 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 21, 2019 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks Nigel, it is a great conversation starter for sure! Honestly surfing in winter is fine with the right kit, synthetic blubber and some real blubber help a lot!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Mike Caputo
    February 22, 2019 at 7:34 am

    Nice article Michael! Great photos and it’s cool to see the surf in Scotland. Looked like a fun day in the water with some glassy sets. Excellent!
    I’m stoked to see the Nikonos V on 35mmc, it’s one of my favorite cameras. Did you rinse it well after the sesh? I’ve busted more than I can count being lazy and not washing it off after. Fortunately I’m buddies with Brandon from the Nikonos Project and he fixes them up for me, but I always get a scolding first haha.
    Aloha,
    Mike

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Rennie
      February 22, 2019 at 7:38 am

      Thanks Mike, the surf isn’t the best out here but it’s better than being in the office!

      I usually rinse it in warm water when I get home. I might chuck a new set of o-rings in it for the spring.

      Nikonos Project is solid gold, so much stoke fuel.

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