It’s the beginning of 2021 and COVID is still running full force. I am a freelance corporate photographer and COVID-19 has decimated my business. So this was a rare instance in which a client from a Chicago law firm called for some portraits of a few new attorneys. I hadn’t been to downtown Chicago since the early fall of 2020 and the city was basically a ghost town then.

To get to these photo sessions I pack everything I need into a backpack and a light stand case. This time I left room for a recently acquired Nikon F. I already had some Nikkor lenses that went with my Nikon F2 but only had room for one so I chose the Nikkor 24mm, f/2.8. The film of choice was going to be Kodak T-Max 400. My hope was to get some city shots that would show Chicago’s emptiness.

Nikon F + Nikkor NC Auto 24mm f:2.8 pre-AI, Michael D. Watson
Nikon F + Nikkor NC Auto 24mm f:2.8 pre-AI, Michael D. Watson

Full disclosure, I normally only shoot medium and large format film using Mamiya cameras and a Chamonix 45f2. I love the detail and smoothness of tones that I can get with the larger formats. I had pretty much written 35mm off after I had shot a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS through my Nikon F2. I hated the results. To be fair, I love ILFORD films and have changed developers and am now very pleased with HP5 PLUS in larger formats. I like film grain but I like it controlled and for me, HP5 in 35mm was just too much. I figured Kodak T-MAX 400 would still give me the speed, even though I rated it at 320 and hopefully a more controlled grain.

After taking my train ride into the city and shooting my portrait session with my digital gear it was time to break out the (original) Nikon F. What a smooth operator! My body is from 1973, the last year that they were made and the meter still works and is quite accurate, in fact, more accurate than the photographer on this day. The viewfinder is bright and easy to see through even with eyeglasses. The film advance on mine is buttery smooth and the mirror slap is subtle. I can see why professionals flocked towards this camera when it came out.

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The time of day for these photos was midday when Chicago would normally be a mass of humanity out getting their lunches, a smoke, or a cup of coffee. Not on this day, during COVID, there is an eerie silence. An occasional person would walk by but mostly you would just see and hear the flags flapping on the flag poles and the hum of the skyscrapers with an occasional car or bus going by. Very Apocalyptic!

As far as my results with the camera and T-MAX 400, I love them! The T-MAX was much more controlled grain-wise, gave me great contrast, and for 35mm great detail in my images. I loved the camera/film combination and will use it again!

~ Michael

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About the author

Avatar - Michael Watson

Michael Watson

I am a corporate photographer living in the suburbs of Chicago. All of my fine art photography is done with film cameras. My most used cameras are my Mamiya TLRs and my Chamonix 45F2.

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  1. Excuse me, but I have to stop and offer a compliment the beautiful of your images. I love shooting city scapes myself, but living in the desert, where I ended up retiring, limits me the offer of the pleasure pf photographing that urban landscape that I sorry miss. Your images are outstanding and I wish I could see the other frames from your roll..Wonderful

  2. Love the results. Well done! Perhaps some shots from a different perspective will have added to the overall feel. I mean from higher up since you were in an office building you could snap some quick ones from the office window after the session looking down at the empty streets, if the view was nice. In any case, great all together. The Tmax looks mildly contrasty as it should be abd there is no easy way to extract much details in the shadowy areas. But the contrast adds to the odd feel of the pictures. I usually shoot HP5 or XP2 with my 35mm and medium format cameras but I have a T-Max 400 kept and I think I will try it with my F100 and the 28mm 2.8 D lens.