Monday, February 2, 2015

Nikon EM - Yes, a Film Camera Review in 2015 (Part 1)

Have I gone mad, you might ask. A film camera review in 2015? And Nikon EM for that matter? Well, I can let you in on a little secret: I've been shooting a lot of film lately - there is a specific reason for it, that you will find out in a few weeks -and as a result I had to work with three different film cameras. I will prepare reviews for all of them, starting with the Nikon EM. For those digital-only Nikonians, who are not sure what the Nikon EM is or, more still, why you should care about a film camera review, I have only one thing to say: Keep reading, your patience will be rewarded once the "specific reason" article I mentioned above will be revealed. There are photographic lessons to be learned.
(update: click here to read the article mentioned above)

The Nikon EM is a fairly old (late 70s, early 80s) manual film camera. Keep that in mind while you read the info below (as well as the related articles that will follow).

Nikon EM with the Sigma 24mm f/2.8

+ small, light, expendable.
+ compared to digital, manual focusing with an EM is easier thanks to the split screen.
+ can take photos without a battery (@ 1/90, and of course meter is inoperable)

- buy with caution, the shutter and mirror are not among the most reliable
- Aperture-preferred only, you can't control shutter speed directly
- lots of small quirks that can annoy/puzzle you at first (e.g. battery indicator shows battery is dead until the film advances beyond the first frame!)

Intended Users
Great for:
  • if you wanna experiment with film and you look for an expendable, easy-to-use manual focus camera, this is a great option.
  • being small and light (and expendable), makes it a great hiking/adventure film camera. If the battery runs out, you can still take photos.
  • if you have AI lenses that you want to use with film, this camera will meter them (unlike some newer, AF cameras)
Not for:
  • film is not about speed or fast action, and a manual focus camera that doesn't let you directly set the shutter speed, even less so.
  • people who don't want to get their hands a bit dirty, metaphorically speaking. This is a great camera to teach you a thing or two, but you must be willing to learn. Patience and contemplation is needed.
  • modern lenses. In theory it does accept any lens with an aperture ring (most AF-D lenses, that is), but the experience is not the same (these lenses, generally speaking, don't offer enough feel or feedback for manual focus). I also faced some viewfinder blackout issues (which might be related to my copy). Check the video below:

Final Verdict
The reason this review (and the two film camera reviews that will follow) was created will become more obvious in a few weeks, when I will talk about the reason for using film all of a sudden. Let me just clarify one thing: it is related to a learning experiment. I do not plan to abandon digital, nor have I changed my mind regarding film in 2015. With modern digital sensors, if you want ease-of-use, quality, dynamic range, noiselessness, speed, sharing, you can get all of that in spades with the humblest of Nikon's offerings, such as a D3300. If you can afford an FX model, such as a D810, you can even take on medium format film (in terms of resolution; in terms of the rest of the features, there is no comparison - the digital blows film out of the water). For my next live music assignment I'll use my D700 that can give me 300 clean images at ISO 6400 - images that I can process and send within hours, just as the client needs. For my next wedding assignment I'll again use my D700, that lets me shoot nonstop (no need to change film or worry about film temperature) for hours, in rapidly changing lighting conditions. From indoor lights to outdoor, from flash to ambient, it doesn't matter. Everything can be fixed post-processing the .NEF file. 700 photos at a wedding, all transferred to the computer in about 10 minutes. Just think how much time it'd take to develop and scan 20 rolls of film. There's a nightmare I don't want to spend two seconds to ponder on.

The reason film is still here (for a while longer anyway) and the reason I went through this experiment, has to do with the different dynamics involved in film photography. It has to do with preparation, composition, feedback. As I said, there are lessons to be learned (that we should then apply to our "mainstream" photography, made with, I assume for the majority of you, digital cameras). So, to be continued!

Get it used:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

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