A reader has asked me a couple of times about my “gear list”. It is long and in a constant state of flux, and I’m not much interested in enumerating it. However, it may interest some of you to know some of the equipment in my past. That interests me much more, as it is a reflection of my decades long photographic journey.
So, at the risk of unwelcome self-indulgence, I’m going to walk you through the camera systems of yesteryear that were important to me. This post is just the cameras that I used with film. The digital ones will come later.
1950 Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. Given to me by my family, this ancient point-and-shoot was my first camera. It took 12 2 ¼ square pictures on a roll of 620 film, had a slow, fixed focus lens, and a waist level finder. My father and I made black and white contact prints in a bathroom.
1957 Folding Zeiss Ikon. I borrowed this from my father to begin my career as a school newspaper photographer. It made 16 6×4.5 cm images on a roll of 120 film, had a very good f/4.5 lens but no rangefinder.
1957 Argus C3. When I returned to school in the fall I had my own camera, purchased with summer wages. This ugly little Bakelite brick of a 35mm camera had undistinguished interchangeable lenses, a behind the lens leaf shutter. I put six or eight rolls of film a week through it for the entire school year, developing and printing all of the pictures in the school darkroom.
1958 Nikon S2. This one took my entire summer wages. Purchased used from a local press photographer, with the 50mm f/2 lens, it turned out to be a wonderful camera for me. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a 35 mm interchangeable lens camera with a lever film winder and a cloth focal plane shutter, kind of like the Leica M3. Technically, this camera doesn’t belong on this list, since I still own it. I never use it anymore, but I can’t bear to part with it.
1959 Speed Graphic 3 ¼ x 4 ¼. I bought this one used at the beginning of the next summer, and sold it at the end of that summer after realizing that accessories were hard to come by for that size.
1959 Speed Graphic 4×5. I traded in the smaller Speed Graphic for this near the end of the summer. I used this camera intensively for a year or two, even using it for sports. It was overkill for newspaper work, but it was great for group shots for the yearbook. After I went to Stanford, I did most of my work on the Chaparral with the Nikon, and the press camera gathered dust.
1966 Nikkormat FS. This was a 35 mm single lens reflex made by Nikon. It had the same lens mount as the Nikon F. I later had the version with a lightmeter, the FT.
1967 Nikon FTn. The classic Nikon F with a coupled finder-reading light meter grotesquely attached to the top where it could control the shutter speed and read the f-stop via little finger that reached down to mate with a pin on the lens’ aperture ring. A kleudge, to be sure, but it was a wonderfully solid, precise, and accurate camera.
1978 Nikon FM. A poor man’s Nikon F. I bought it as a companion to the FTn.
1979 Hasselblad 500CM. In 1979, I built a darkroom and decided I wanted to get serious about photography again. To me, that meant moving up in film size. I wanted interchangeable lenses, so that left the Rollei TLRs out. It’s interesting to compare my camera selection process the end with what it would be today. I went to my local camera store, Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto and borrowed a Bronica, a Mamiya, and a Hasselblad for a few days each. I bought it with the standard 80 mm lens, a 50, and a 150. I never made friends with the 50 but after a few years I bought a 40 mm lens and used that a lot.
1981 Nikon F3. This replaced my other Nikon SLRs, but not the S2. A workhorse of a camera. Rugged, solid, and confidence the-inspiring.
1982 Nikonos III. My first underwater camera.
1983 4×5 Sinar F. My work with the Hasselblad was going well, and I decided I wanted to try a larger format again. Sinar advertised the F as the lighter, field model of their well respected P series. I hated this camera. It took forever to set up in the field, was bulky, and the movements were imprecise. I struggle with it for two years. In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t get rid of it a lot earlier.
1985 4×5 Linhof Master Technika. This turned out to be a great camera for me, and everything the Sinar wasn’t. Small when folded, although not light. Quick to set up. Very precise movements. Another one that doesn’t strictly belong on this list, since I still have it. I don’t use it with film anymore, but rather with the Betterlight scanning back.
1986 Plaubel Makina 6×7. I was doing a lot of European travel by then, and wanted a way to do street photography with better quality than I could do with the S2. I had done some street work with the Hasselblad, but it took up a lot of room in my luggage. The Makina had a very nice Nikon 80mm f/2.8 lens, a good rangefinder, and a cartoonish, non-threatening look that worked well in the street.
1986 Nikonos V. More bells and whistles than the III, but not nearly as reliable. I used it mostly with the Nikon water-contact 15 mm rectilinear lens, and that was a great combination.
1990 Nikon F4. Replaced the F3, and, when wrapped in a Aquatica housing, became my go-to underwater camera. I used it for about 10 years.
1990 Arca Swiss 6×9. This was a very small view camera with a folding monorail. It had a reflex finder so you didn’t need a dark cloth. I had been doing the Alone in a Crowd series with the Hasselblad, and I wanted more perspective control. This turned out to be a fine travelling camera, with precise controls, although some of them were hard on fingernails.
1991 Arca Swiss 4×5, 8×10. I liked the baby Arca Swiss so well that I bought its big brothers for studio work. I used the 8×10 a lot more than the 4×5. Since the cameras were so modular, the only difference between the eight by 10 and the four by five were the bellows, the back standard, and, of course, the lens.
1997 Nikon F5. Probably my favorite Nikon film SLR, though I loved all the F flagship models (I never bought the F2). Fast, solid, rugged. I used it to do the This Green Growing Land series.
2000 Hasselblad 503CW. A few minor updates to the Hasselblad 500C.