Having recently found a gem of a deal for a Nikonos V in a stellar condition I’ve been using it on swims every weekend. Living in San Diego I normally shoot surf photography. Problem was, this has been as flat a summer as I can remember.
Fortunately, the beginning of fall came with a fresh swell. I put a new roll of Portra 400 in the camera and hopped in the water.
A few things to note about using this sort of camera for surf- I’ve become accustomed to using a mirrorless camera with a high frame rate. This leads to shooting a few hundred shots in the span of an hour or two. No wave or moment is ignored no matter how mundane or bland. Of those few hundred shots, maybe ten to twenty are actually worth keeping.
This particular day had a nice blend of warm weather, little to no wind (keeps the water texture smooth and waves from crumbling), and 4-foot waves. Swimming with the Nikonos was easier than my larger digital setup. The camera is very easy to handle and actually feels like a camera when shooting! Modern water housings while great at their job, are bulky and add a layer of separation between you and the camera that just doesn’t exist with the Nikonos.
The 35mm lens uses zone focus which I set and forget at f8 with a range of 7-30ft. With surf photography, you normally want higher shutter speeds. I figured that aperture priority with f8 and iso 400 would stick to either 1/500 or 1/1000 because of the sunny conditions. The lack of motion blur in most of the roll confirmed this. That plus knowing where this wave breaks led to having a roll of mostly in-focus shots exposed correctly. A real treat.
Using the Nikonos I’m helped and hampered by the fact that I have 36 moments at most that can be captured. I also can’t take five to ten stills of a single wave like I would with a digital camera. This leads to a lot more thought regarding positioning, which wave is actually worth it, and what moment in the sequence to press the shutter. (I’m hoping that this sort of patience can translate to outings with a digital camera).
Add to that the home developing and scanning and you end up with a series of photos that feel much more personal and rewarding than others that are tack sharp photos of larger waves. So much of my digital post-processing is done to try and come close to the dynamic colors that a film like Ektar 100 or Portra 400 produces. So you can imagine how pleasing it is to be able to shoot these films in the water.
Moving forward I have no idea what system I’ll pick when we get the next 8+ foot swell and that shows just how impressed I am with the results of this perfectly imperfect camera.
Thanks for reading.