I’ve never struggled to choose the right camera for my day job. I work as a motion picture stills photographer. That once meant using sound blimps with SLR’s, I now use mirrorless cameras in silent mode and the corresponding glass. Simple. The pursuit for the perfect analogue compliment to that equipment, the camera to take with me at all times and to shoot my own projects on has always felt more of a challenge.
‘Why shoot film?’ A question often posed then answered on the pages of 35mmc.
For me, it is an antidote to shooting for work, a necessary salve to the stresses of having turned my love into a profession. I might shoot five hundred images in a day, six days a week, then need to edit all of those in front of a screen. In a twist of aesthetic irony I often spend time making my digital images look less digital, less clean. When I shoot film, I have to work less hard to get to an end result the client and I are both pleased with. If scanned well, the most I usually need to do is adjust the contrast.
On occasion I find myself on film sets where the motion picture camera is shooting film (Panavision 65mm or 35mm) and so I can shoot the same stock (Kodak Vision 3 250D, 500T and 5222 BW), to get a closer match to the look of the final film. Creating a reference library for editing my digital files as well as being useable marketing stills themselves.
In the last decade, if asked what my dream setup would be, I would have said a Leica M6 with 28mm F2, 50mm F1.4 and 75mmF2 lenses, an xpan and a the latest digital Leica M. But the current pricing of all of these cameras led me down other avenues, surprising ones.
Most days I now carry a Nikon S4 rangefinder with 5cm F2 lens. Made in 1959, it is a beautiful piece of history and I have captured priceless memories on it. My Daughter meeting her Great Grandma for the first time, and the first time we took her to a festival. With a Voigtlander Vcii meter (terrible battery door, always carry tape) on the cold shoe, and a bright 100% magnification viewfinder, it is a joy to use. It doesn’t allow me to use the range of Leica glass or modern Zeiss and Voigtlander alternatives, but that’s okay, I don’t need an entire system. One camera, one lens, one less decision to make.
My model has a dinged filter thread and a number scratched in to the baseplate by a previous owner. But the glass is free of fungus or separation, the lens and rangefinder window are scratch free and the rangefinder aligned! So I am very happy with my rough and ready model.
I acquired my S4 through a trade, knowing very little about them until a week before the deal was done. Usually I buy a a camera after months of thinking. This time I didn’t, and looking back that was a good thing. In my minds eye, this camera had not grown to mythic status, had not become the panacea to all of my artistic and technical shortcomings. I entered into this partnership, between myself and the camera, excited to see what it would bring out of me, and even how it might frustrate me.
I’m not an expert on Nikon Rangefinders, definitely look to other corners of the internet for a comprehensive guide. I do know that the S4 is essentially an S3 without the self timer lever, motor drive lugs or 35mm frame-lines. Less than four thousand were made and they were mainly sold in Japan as they were never pushed to the US and European markets, possibly because of the influx of Leica M3’s at that point in time and because Nikon were throwing all of their attention at the Nikon F. The camera that followed shortly after the S4 and made rangefinders seem antiquated. A Nikon SP or S3 can be seen on the cover of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 revisited. This fact definitely added to the magic for me. I mainly shoot Kodak 5222 (Double X) and Ilford HP5 in it.
The 5cm F2 lens is low in contrast compared to more modern lenses, so I prefer HP5 in it over FP4, and I find that Double X works well too. However that lower contrast can work to my advantage when darkroom printing and wanting to make contrast choices at that stage.
The manual focus, metering, and film rewind are the antithesis of my Nikon Z7’s. Perfect.
Below are a couple of images taken on the S4 that I did a bit more post work on. I brought more contrast back into them with quite a heavy curve, but I am really pleased with the rendering.
Stay tuned for future posts on my thoughts of the Nikon F100 and my first steps into 4×5.
Many thanks to Hamish and every contributor to date for creating this online community and all the hard work that goes into maintaining it. I feel like the 35mmc blog has the same care put into it as a beautiful fibre print in the darkroom.
I have a fortnightly newsletter all about photography and creativity. Subscribe at https://www.robyoungsonphoto.education/
You can follow my work on Instagram @rob_youngson_photography
Or go direct to my website robyoungsonphotography.com
Occasionally my photobook from the film Belfast comes up on Ebay. Unfortunately there is no stock left from the original print run and no plans for a second run at present.
Share this post: