5 Frames With a Nikon FM, Nikkor AF-D 35mm F2, and Film Washi X – by Stephen Fretz

I’ve had a Nikon FM for forty years, as long as I’ve been shooting. The first was my dad’s; after it was stolen, I bought one from eBay. These days the default lens on it is a Nikkor 35mm F2 AF-D; the “D” series work with Nikon’s digital and film bodies. The combo is almost too competent: while BW photography introduces a layer of abstraction, color photos are dead literal. There’s a fine line between “compelling” and “postcard”.

That’s where Film Washi’s “X” comes in. They claim to be the smallest film company in the world, a one-man operation working out of three shipping containers in Brittany. They make various “interesting” films, including some BW emulsions hand coated on Japanese papers, hence their name. “X” is their only color offering. Unlike other color print films, it lacks the orange masking layer (although the film base is not transparent). The results are exceptional sharpness, soft, creamy highlights that go on forever, and a “retro” color palate.

Film Washi usually tells us where they get the unusual film stocks they repackage, but they’re closed-mouthed about the source of X. Googling suggests it’s an aerial mapping film such as Kodak Aerocolor. Kodak’s data sheet says Aerocolor comes in two hundred fifty foot rolls nine inches wide, so it’s worth paying someone to cut and package it; It’s priced competitively with Kodak Ektar or Portra 160.

I live in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and spent a week shooting this roll, which included a ride downtown on the Hudson River bike path and a Thanksgiving trip to the suburbs of DC.

This shot of a long-abandoned ferry terminal shows how wonderfully the film captured details in the hazy, late morning sun as the fog lifted; the background has a “painterly” feeling, probably due to the film’s extended red sensitivity.

This one, taken at the South Street Seaport Museum, shows X’s ability to render “retro” colors:

Speaking of retro, one of my friends bought a house from an elderly man’s estate. He moved in and left everything as it was, a time capsule of suburban life circa 1960:

The colors stay neutral even under overcast skies:

Another great thing about “X” is its long, long tonal range. This shot of Secaucus Junction renders the shadowy underground part of the platform as well as in direct sunlight:

I really like this product. It’s got a distinctive look that isn’t gimmicky. The only films that (sort of) compete in this space are Kodak’s Vision 3 cinema films, which are also fine-grained and have long tonal scales. But they require ECN2 processing, which means either mailing them somewhere or a long subway ride to Brooklyn.

Ideally, I’d like to shoot X with my Exakta VX and its stable of single-coated lenses (which already have a “retro” look), but that will have to wait until the VX gets back from the repair shop.

My other request? This stuff in medium format would be awesome. Could we have that, pretty please?

Steve Fretz has been photographing for forty years. See more of his work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevefretz/

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12 thoughts on “5 Frames With a Nikon FM, Nikkor AF-D 35mm F2, and Film Washi X – by Stephen Fretz”

  1. Thanks for the write up of Washi X. I’ve tried a few of their black and white films and enjoyed them.

    The palette of this colour one is very interesting and I can see what you mean by painterly.

  2. Steve Thanks for your report and photos. I love your colours which show the difference between film and digital. It’s a mistake for some who have previously never used film to attempt to make their images look digital. The reason for using film of course is it’s different look. And yours look great.
    I used a couple of Nikon F Photomic cameras professionally in the 1970 decade and they never let me down.
    Recently I obtained a Nikon FM with a 28mm f2.8 to go with a built like a brick Nikormat with a 50mm f1.4. Very early days and using Kodak Vision 5207. I want to obtain some Kodak Aerocolour which you mentioned but I’ll use up my present 5207 stock first.
    I got the Nikormat cheap some years ago because the meter didn’t work mainly for its lens which I adapted to my Canon DSLRs. I recently decided to get the meter working to use the camera and I removed one of the body’s lens mount screws and dribbled in contact cleaner to the resistor while working the aperture prong to and fro to clean the carbon track concentric with the lens mount. Fitted a silver oxide battery in a simple adapter and now the meter seems perfect, although experts suggest it should have a diode fitted. I also have an excellent Doomo S clip on meter on to check it with.
    The FM has a small amount of fungus in the VF eyepiece that’s no problem. Also the wonderful 28mm f2.8 ( I forget it’s initials but it’s meant to be the best 28 made ) has a touch of fungus in a corner of the front element that doesn’t seem to affect the images. I may or may not remove the front element to remove the fungus. The jury is out on that.
    But I love the compact slightly weighty FM which seems just as good as my old Nikon F cameras I’ve long wished I hadn’t sold.

    1. My daughter took photography in HS, which meant she needed a 35mm SLR. So she’s using my F2, and also my F, so when he cousin visits, they can go out shooting together.

      The Nikkormat is one handsome beast – perhaps my fav of all film Nikons. Glad you got yours working.

      Oops – I realized you were talking about your FM. Another iconic design.

      1. Steve, I was talking about both my Nikon FM and my Nikormat Both fine and solid cameras. The FM being a bit more sophisticated. My FM, I think from 1982 shows some signs of being used but as with Nikon Fs they keep on clicking. My Nikormat from I think 1965 is still like brand new including it’s Zeiss like Nikor 50mm f1.4. Perhaps the previous owner hardly used it and couldn’t be bothered carrying it around, but the weight doesn’t worry me. I can have a different film in each and swap lenses between them. I also have Canon EOS film and digital cameras so when anyone asks me which brand I like better than the other, I can say “Neither is better”

    1. Freundliche GRüße Andrea Schönfelder

      Fotoservice Olbrich,Inhaber Andrea Schönfelder
      Emmerichstrasse 17
      02826 Görlitz,Germany
      Tel. 03581-401241
      Fax 03581-401268
      e mail: [email protected]

      Expect to pay $300 or so for a complete overhaul, plus whatever specifically needs fixing (my rewind knob had come off). Even if you don’t think you need the complete overhaul, I’d get it while there’s still someone around who can do it – my other Exakta body will be going there in a few months. The actual repair for the broken knob was $75 or so. (Right now the Euro is kind of weak against the dollar, which helped)

  3. Original Exacktas are difficult to service and repair.Look for a working one or move to another body that with adapters can use your lenses,.,Strange cameras but highly efficient. It’s age and complexity. Germans made life difficult, the Japanes looked for simplicity.

    1. You’re right, but they’re so gorgeous, and also, I’m left-handed, so I really like the ergonomics.

      I replied to another comment with the contact info for the lady in Germany who services them. It’s not cheap, but you’d CLA an old Leica if you bought one, and when they were new, the Exakta actually cost more.

      Freundliche GRüße Andrea Schönfelder

      Fotoservice Olbrich,Inhaber Andrea Schönfelder
      Emmerichstrasse 17
      02826 Görlitz,Germany
      Tel. 03581-401241
      Fax 03581-401268
      e mail: [email protected]

    2. They are not that hard and I have gone through three of my five. That means disassembly along with new curtains. Following the steps in the Ultimate Exakta Repair book it is actually pretty easy compared to a more modern SLR. Super easy to break down. The only real issue is parts.

  4. Some really nice photos here that make me keen to use Washi film.

    And could I add an endorsement for Andrea Shonfelder who did an exemplary job on my Varex IIa. There are very few people who will replace shutter curtains on these Exaktas.

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