Nikon F75 Project – Part 3 – Kodak Portra 800 & Two competing brains at the Christmas Fayre

First things first, I want to say thanks to Kodak Alaris for sending me this roll of Portra 800 film to shoot. A little while ago I was contacted by their PR guy who asked me which of the professional line of films I had shot. I was almost embarrassed to say that apart from a very rare roll of Tri-X and a couple of rolls of Portra 160 I shot on holiday about 4 years ago, Portra 400 was the only one of their films that I shoot regularly, and certainly the only one I feel particularly familiar with.

In response to this I had a little care package sent to me containing (along with a few other films I’ll come back to at a later date) two rolls of Portra 800. Funnily enough, I’d actually been warned off Portra 800 in the past. I was told that thanks to it not being one of the new Portra emulsions, I’d be better off underexposing Portra 400. That’s advice that has stuck with me until these rolls landed on my desk at work.

Given the higher speed of the film it seemed only right use it in lower or more difficult light to see how it held up. I must say, I am really happy with the results! It’s certainly not as grainy as I thought it might be and even where large parts of the image were under-exposed, it scanned really easily! This latter point being a big deal for me – I really don’t like faffing around with my scanner, with my preference being just to get decent files that I can work with in lightroom.

Christmas Fayre 2017

The next step (somewhat inspired by some advice I had on twitter) is to overexpose some in good daylight – I’ve seen some really nice results, and want to see if I can capture a bit of the colour pallet I’ve seen. But anyway, more on that another time…

The Nikon F75 at the Christmas Fayre

I talked around the way I think differently with different cameras in my hands in my post about the Lure of the Uncomplicated camera. How the Nikon F75 impacted on my thought processes at the Christmas Fayre makes for a really good opportunity for me to qualify some of those thoughts without me getting too bogged down in being too critical of the camera itself.

When I started this series of posts, I said that I hoped I wasn’t going to get too distracted by all the features the camera offered. As it turned out, not getting distracted was a little harder than I expected. Though, to be fair, I only really have my own brain to blame.

How this happened

Shooting one of my manual cameras in difficult lighting I’m in full control and have my mindset set to adjusting the exposure to the light being reflected off my chosen subject matter, not all the bright points of light. I know how to expose properly in this sort of light without a meter and – at least with the flexibility of my chosen negative films – I rarely fuck it up.

Even shooting a simple point & shoot I can give myself a sense of being in control. Point & shoot cameras often have pretty dumb centre weighted light meters, so it’s often quite easy to work out what they’re thinking with little more than a basic understanding of the metering pattern any particular P&S camera might have. I have in fact published a post about shooting point and shoot cameras in low light using the same Christmas Fayre for example images – have a read here

Getting in a muddle with a Nikon F75

Shooting the Nikon F75, my mindset started out as such that I could point and shoot in the difficult light of a Christmas Fayre and everything would be ok. Actually, as it turned out, this sort of worked out okay. I guess the camera’s evaluative “matrix” meter did a reasonably good job. I also suspect that the latitude of the film helped out a bit.

Christmas Fayre 2017

Regardless of the results, as I started shooting, I also started to feel out of control. The problem I had was with the level of information I was being given combined with my understanding of how the camera works all fighting against my instincts.

The camera reads out shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder, so with it set to aperture priority in the very mixed and variable light the shutter speed was varying from its maximum to less than 1/30th. This was sometimes happening through changing the direction I was pointing the camera even as little a few degrees one way or another. This is of course due to the huge variation and nature of the lighting levels at the Christmas Fayre at night.

Christmas Fayre 2017

The problem I have is that given a camera with this level of specifications, I think I’m smarter than it, but also know it’s pretty clever too. The issue I have is that whilst I know it’s very clever, I found it hard to judge how clever it was being at any given time. I know that 9/10 times it’s going to make a good decision for me, but given my worry about the one time it’s going to fall over, I spend my time trying to judge it’s decision, rather than trying to judge the light for myself.

Christmas Fayre 2017

This became a massive distraction to me, and really impacted on my enjoyment whilst shooting it. What I should have done – and actually did after shooting a good few frames – was set the camera to manual and make use of my own brain and not the cameras brain.

Of course this frustrated me though both regretting not just taking a more simple camera, and being annoyed at the Nikon F75 for not allowing me to choose a more simple metering mode (centre weighted metering is only available in manual mode with the F75). I was in the paradoxical position I talked about in my Fuji X100f post where I simultaneously wanted both more and less features.

Autofocus fail

The above amounts to AE fail for me. I appreciate that in reality it didn’t let me down, but the shooting experience was hindered and so didn’t feel like a positive one.

Unfortunately I also had an autofocus failure too. The problem with the autofocus was not so much that it didn’t find focus, although it did fail in that department on and off too. What really annoyed me was that in its attempts to find focus it triggered the bloody annoying autofocus assist lamp which combined with it hunting and not finding focus in the poor light quite readily drew attention to me as I tried to take candid shots around the Xmas Fayre. Of course, it was only after I got home did I realise I could turn the AF assist light off via the custom menu…

Christmas Fayre 2017
Portra 800 doing a stunning job at capturing the available light and being very easy to scan / The Nikon F75 doing a crap job at focusing and not drawing the attention of the man in the background.

It was actually around the same time I realised I needed to switch the camera to manual exposure that I also realised manual focus would have suited me much better. I was shooting a camera that at its core is designed around automation. It doesn’t even have a manual focusing aid beyond a little focus confirmation light. Even the lens feels horrible to use as a manual focus lens…

It goes to show that just because a camera does have a lot of features, doesn’t mean it’s optimised to be used in all the different ways it can be. I actually find this quite frustrating, just as I felt with the Konica Hexar, it makes me feel like some of the features are really just superfluous fluff. But anyway, as I said, I don’t want to get bogged down by being critical of the camera itself, this really is about my personal approach, and how the Nikon F75 just didn’t work for me given this type of shooting… and that’s, as I say, despite getting results that I’m quite happy with.

Christmas Fayre 2017

Christmas Fayre 2017

Christmas Fayre 2017

Christmas Fayre 2017

Christmas Fayre 2017

After the point & shoot joy I found in part 2, this was definitely not the experience I hoped to find here! I am aware that if I’d been able to set the metering pattern to a more simple one, and perhaps realised that I could switch off the focus assist lamp I wouldn’t have had as many issues, but ultimately I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d have been a lot happier and more comfortable with one of my manual cameras (read Leica M3).

Despite setting out to, I didn’t finish the roll at the Xmas Fayre either. As such, I will be back soon with some other thoughts on the experiences I had with the rest of this roll, specifically talking about trying to get used to using an SLR viewfinder again.

All posts from the project can be found here

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23 thoughts on “Nikon F75 Project – Part 3 – Kodak Portra 800 & Two competing brains at the Christmas Fayre”

  1. Hi Hamish, I’m having trouble seeing pictures in your blog posts again (I mentioned this before). Whether on iPhone or iPad, and within Gmail or in Safari or in Mantaray browsers it’s the same – blank rectangles where the images should be. If I hold my finger on them it shows me a Flickr URL and if I just tap on the image it opens in Flickr app fine. Just don’t know why I’m not seeing them within the posts on your blog. On my MacBook using Chrome I’m getting the little torn picture icon with a text link next to them. Thoughts you’d want to know.

    1. Dan, I did a quick search and found this relating to Mac. Usually the problem you are experiencing is down to your settings, which you’ve either done yourself or have somehow been changed. I’m not a Mac user so have no direct input for you, see how you get. This posting is 6 years old, so bear this in mind, but I assume Mac settings are still the same.

      “I’m no computer expert. Chrome had no problem with my PC. I recently switched to a Macbook Pro and noticed so many problems with videos playing, images showing and websites loading properly. After playing around with a couple settings, this seemed to work for me.
      First I tried this:
      – Open Chrome > Click Wrench symbol (Settings for Chrome) > Preferences > Under the Hood > Uncheck “Predict network actions to improve page load performance”
      Then I did this:
      – System Preferences (on Mac) > Network > Advanced > Proxies OR (Open Chrome > Click Wrench symbol (Settings for Chrome) > Preferences > Under the Hood > Change Proxy Settings) > Uncheck “Use Passive FTP Mode PASV > Apply
      Then, everything seemed to be working correctly.”

  2. Hamish,
    I’m really enjoying this post. I’m a collector of cameras mainly of the 1960’s that I use. It’s therefore interesting to see what you’re doing with a later ‘auto everything’ film camera. Your eye is seeing the images and you’ve now worked out how to use the camera to capture them. Very good indeed.

  3. Hope you saved some for where it real shines, portraits in the shade/indoors lit by windows. I like the photos, but I totally understand why people are in love with the tungsten balanced cinestill/vision 3 500T, the yellowish cast does ruin somethings

  4. interesting that you should post this as i’ve been experimenting with portra 800 the past couple months. i’ve found it to be a versatile film, albeit in a different way than portra 160 and 400. 160 and 400 can be overexposed or push processed without drastically changing the overall “look” of the image. this is a very good thing if you like the look of those films. portra 800, on the other hand, exhibits distinct changes in characteristics when altered from the box speed of 800. when i rate it at 200 or 400, it looks very similar to portra 160, the tone/color palette is very smooth and slightly cool. at 800 it takes on a bit of a gritty 500T cinema look (similar to what you have posted). i’ve not tried it yet, but i’m going to shoot it at 800 and 1600 and have the lab push it one stop. i’m hoping to see another discernible change in appearance!

    1. This is something that made me interested to shoot it actually – there is a chap on twitter who overexposes it a stop to great effect. I’m going to be doing a bit more experimenting, I think

  5. Hi Hamish, I get the broken pictures all the time as well when viewing on an iPhone. Sometimes they work on my Mac, but not always.
    Great blog though, really enjoy your articles.

  6. Hello, Hamish.

    Reading this follow-up post, I referred to the instruction manual as I only shot off a short length of b/w to test mine out. I haven’t used it in anger, so to say, and so not under the extreme conditions that you have. I was somewhat surprised at how difficult it is to disable features or make adjustments. It is certainly a camera that demands a lot of “hands-on” and which is surprising considering its target audience. Without the manual, it isn’t that intuitive, so I can understand your getting a bit frustrated. I notice that it can be set to centre-weighted AE, and I’m sure this would have been better than matrix in the majority of shots you took. Actually, I prefer centre-weighted over matrix any day.
    I’ve been reading up on the F100 and this looks like it would be a better match for your slr requirements.

    1. It can’t be set to centre weighted, it sets itself as such when it’s in manual mode, else metrix is the only mode. I also prefer centre weighted – it’s so much easier to understand what’s going on…

  7. I am pretty sure I too would enjoy shooting an M3 more than a camera like this one, or pretty much any camera that I own!

    I have been using a Pentax ME Super a fair bit lately for its small size and general simplicity with ability to switch to manual if wanted. It has many fewer features than the Nikon, is probably smaller, and there is very good glass is available for a reasonable price. However there is no auto-focus on the model I have. Which is a mixed blessing as my experience with auto-focus on older cameras is that there can be a great deal of hunting for focus, and not much finding, in low light. Which I wish was not the case as my 3-part progressive eyeglasses are a pain to focus through manually. It is why I deep on defaulting to a couple of cameras that work well in all circumstances, like the Olympus mjuii and a Canon Elan 7N which is probably equivalent in many ways to Nikon F75.

  8. Maybe a manual focus SLR would give you the best of both worlds. I find my Minolta X-500 hits the sweet spot among all my cameras for most purposes — it does what it is supposed to do and lets me do what I want to do. I don’t know how it compare in size with the F75, but I find it quite manageable even with the 35-70 zoom.

  9. More great images. My first SLR was an all manual Yashica FR. I learned how to compensate for the light meter reading, especially when shooting rock concerts.
    Focus is another issue altogether. Now that I need specs, I think I like idea of AF if available. However the irony is that the circumstances in which I’d rely most on AF are those in which it is least effective!

  10. Hi, Hamish!
    I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now (more than a year), but this is the first time I leave a comment.
    Your posts have always helped me through my photographic journey, mostly when it comes to chosing cameras. I read your reviews, etc all the time.

    I’ve been following this Nikon F75 project closely and I know it is not intended asa review of the camera itself.
    By the time you started posting about it, I was thinking about getting a Nikon F75 + 50mm lens, but I haven’t made my mind yet.

    I’m an Olympus guy, I currently have an Mju Ii, an OM-2n, a 35 RC and a Trip 35. I was thinking about selling the mju ii because it is way too much automatic for me, even though the lens is incredible.
    I wanted to try a small AF Srl because I want to have a sort of p&s experience but with more control. I want to be able to focus quite fast and to use aperture priority mode.

    I mostly shoot in daylight or interiors with enough light (Agfa 200/400 or Portra 400). I have small hands and I don’t like bulky cameras that cannot be easily carry around (that’s why my SRL is an OM-2n, one of the smallest srl out there).

    I wanted to know if you’d be so kind to answer some questions, please:
    First, I’d like to know if you recommend me this camera or not, taking into account the info just provided. Knowing that I’m used to cameras such as the OM2n and the 35rc which are the ines that I use the most.
    Is this camera too loud? When focusing, or the mirror or even film advancing.
    I’m now worried that AF in this camera could fail as you stated it in this post.

    I really appreciate your help and you taking the time to read my comment.
    This site is incredible and I’m very glad it is so helpful and inspirational.

    P.S : English is not my main language, so I’m sorry in advanced if it is not very good.

    Keep the amazing work!

    1. I think so – it is going to come down to a matter of your taste, and what you use it for, but I like it. It is certainly small, and will be easy to handle by someone with small hands. In terms of the sound it makes, its fairly average – its not loud, but for all the motors etc, it’s definitely not silent. The AF is pretty good – it’s just not perfect, and will simply come down to what you use it for.
      Hopefully that helps a little?

      1. Great. Very helpful indeed!
        After much thought, I finally bought a Canon EOS 300X (cf. Mauro’s post). I think is overall a better camera and suits my need.

        Thanks a lot!

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  12. Pingback: My Nikon F75 Project - Pt6 - preferences & ideologies - 35mmc

  13. The F75’s “AE lock” button changes metering to center weighted (default) or through a custom setting, to spot metering (or it can remain at matrix for that matter). That would give you center weighted in any mode. I use it for spot.

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