This past month has been a time of experimentation for me. Good fortune and the generosity of a relative/friend landed me with a set of photographic equipment dating from the 1960s. Nikon manual focus lenses and cameras to match them, most notably a Nikon F, the first successful SLR.
I decided to use this equipment – and some other similarly manual focus Contax and Canon stuff – in a deliberate attempt to walk myself back into a way of doing things that has long passed. Mechanical operations and use of a light meter. The ‘Sunny 16’ rule. No autofocus. No batteries!
The results were variable as you might expect. Some over and under exposures. But few focus misses and some pleasing images. For the first time, I found myself really paying attention to the ambient and reflected light within a scene, to the effect that a contrast filter might have on exposure, and to a focal point and depth of field selected with the eye rather than by the camera.
It’s been instructive. I learned again (for I had long forgotten and taken it for granted) just how much work a modern camera does for you. On the whole entirely pleasing work to be sure, but nonetheless you as a photographer have relinquished some of the control of how the image is collected to the camera’s own brain. Being forced to do that work on my own was enlightening and liberating, even as the many inconveniences that came with this made themselves quite clear.
I can’t say I got better pictures as a result of this experiment. On the whole, they were probably worse than my average. But each missed step added up to a set of learning experiences that integrated me into that bridge between viewing a scene and capturing it in a more profound way than ever before. This is what I was looking for. It will make me a better photographer.