Goodbye DSLR: 6 Months Later

About 6 months ago (7 actually), I switched from a Canon DSLR to a Nikon 35mm film camera for my photography.  You can read my previous post about my decision HERE.   After shooting with it on a regular basis over the last half year, I wanted to take a moment to look back and review my initial thoughts and see how they compared to my current thoughts.  My “new” camera is a Nikon FM, which is almost entirely mechanical in operation.  Two tiny batteries power a basic center weighted light meter and nothing more.  Everything else is mechanical and it will even shoot without batteries if needed.

I’ll start with the list I created in my initial post for my needs in a camera:

  1. It needs to be rugged and dependable
  2. It needs to not limit my creativity
  3. It needs to be capable of producing quality images
  4. It needs to have quality lenses available
  5. It needs great battery life
  6. It needs to be easy to use in the dark & cold weather
  7. It needs a mirror lock-up
  8. It needs to be light & small
  9. It needs to be able to perform multiple exposures
  10. It needs to be simple

Now, I’ll quickly recap how these currently apply:

  1.  No performance issues to date.  It is solid under all conditions, except for rain.  It isn’t weather sealed.
  2. This hasn’t been an issue to date
  3. I’ve yet to drum scan any slides but under high magnification, I’m liking what I see.
  4. I’m currently using: 24 mm f/2.8 AIS, 50mm f/2 AI, 105mm f/2.5 non-AI, 200mm f/4 AIS.  All excellent quality glass from what I can tell.  The 105mm is exceptionally sharp and a joy to use.
  5. I’ve yet to change batteries, despite many days of sub-zero shooting.  Even if needed, a 6-pack is $3 and they weigh next to nothing.
  6. Not a problem for either condition.  There are no small buttons so shooting with gloves is easy.  Plus, metal at -15 F doesn’t feel good:)
  7. No issues from self-timer/mirror lock-up.  Vibration is eliminated and I use this function for 90% of my images.
  8. Compared to my DSLR, the setup is smaller.  Weight is roughly the same, slightly less since I rarely carry all lenses.
  9. It can easily do them, the results however are always a bit of a surprise!  DSLR’s have some amazing features in this area.  DSLR’s allow use of a previous image along with a new one for a multiple exposure, film is consecutive images.  More planning and foresight is needed.
  10. Check.  Shutter, aperture and focus. ISO is set per roll of film.

Overall, I’m completely content with my choice and I feel this is the best tool for me.  I considered Medium Format or Large Format but for my needs, these systems don’t work for me.  That could be an entirely different post but I’m not interested in explaining this further.  I will mention that I even considered whether photography is the right medium of creative expression for me and I feel confident that photography is right for me.

I find I’m forced to evaluate every image before the shutter is clicked using this system.  Focus is highly selective with a manual focus system.  A scene must be metered before deciding exposure.  The scene must be evaluated for depth of field and finally, the shutter speed can be set.  Understanding how the camera meters is important because there is no spot metering function.  Knowing what types of light work with the selected film is important as well as understanding how the selected film works given the light in a selected scene.  These elements are all important whether the camera is 35mm, Medium Format or Large Format.  Just as with the other formats, this evaluation process slows down the shooting of images and results in more thought out images.  Only in a few accidental situations has focus been missed.  Any error in exposure is a result of me misreading the light or misunderstanding the camera meter.

A few complications with this tool is the inability to accurately meter low light situations.  The meter stops working before it gets completely dark or as its barely getting light.  These are great times to photograph because of a narrower dynamic range of light.  At this point, I’m still experimenting in these situations.  Once I get a handle on proper exposures (make a list!) I don’t see this as being an ongoing issue.  Another complication is the camera not being weather sealed.  I haven’t photographed in the rain with it yet, but even with a fully weather sealed DSLR, I didn’t expose the camera to water.  I’ve definitely exposed the DSLR to snow and ice but more time is needed to fully comment on this with confidence.  I don’t really see an issue because I always carry a waterproof bag to protect the camera if it does rain.

There are a few added benefits to using this system which I’ll bring up in future posts because they aren’t really about the camera itself.  All in all, I’m happy with my camera choice and I probably won’t be writing about cameras again.  I firmly believe a camera is just a camera.  With this said, I’ll just mention that I decided to add a 2nd camera to my toolkit, and as you can guess, it’s the same one.  1978 was a good year:)

Thanks for reading,


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