This is a weird time to have photography as a hobby. Due to Covid-19 many places are still closed, while others have limit capacity or hours of operation. If that wasn’t bad enough, toilet paper and disinfectants are still hard to come by. I had convinced myself, that if this is really the end of the world, I might as well spend it with my grail camera – the Leica M5. Well, this is not a review of that.
Actually, what kicked this whole thing off was an article written by a photographer from Hawaii that really spoke to me! So I scoured the bay and pulled the trigger on a minty Nikon EM with 50mm 1.8 E series lens. It set me back like 4% the cost of the Leica so that means the pictures will be like 25 times better?
I have been enamored with photography since my early teens when my mom and stepdad bought me a Vivitar 220 SL camera with a 50 mm lens for Christmas. In college, I traded it in for an Olympus OM-1n which went with me everywhere until it was stolen. As with so many things in life, interests ebb and flow. The last decade has seen a lot of fits and starts but no real passion for photography. Now oddly enough, in the past couple of months, I’ve been super inspired and am carrying Sabine with me every day (yes, I named my camera).
As soon as she arrived, I threw a set of new batteries in her and loaded a roll of film. Over the years I’ve shot plenty medium speed black and white film and really liked Kodak Plus X. Since that and my other fave Acros were discontinued and I’m not into the sterile T-MAX look, I shot mostly Tri-X 400, HP5 PLUS and some Fomapan 400 Action. I looked through my stash and picked out an old roll of Foma Creative 200 that had been sitting in my bag for almost a decade. Somehow it made sense at the time to put a new film stock in a camera I’m not familiar with. What could possibly go wrong? A lot actually. As it turned out poor Sabine’s seals were bad. It was like trying to catch water in a sieve. Once I got that straightened out I tried again.
With a day off, I decided to follow Robert Palmer’s advice and “get outside!”. The sky was pretty bright with a few broken clouds, I added a yellow #2 filter so I could shoot at something other than f/8 or 11. Not much was going on – even the college students decided to stay in – so I photographed empty bars, restaurants and sites around the capital. Sabine looks as good as she handles thanks to Giorgetto Guiguari!
The EM is “small” by Nikon standards, about the same size as my Olympus OM2. I think it would be a street shooters dream. It was a lot of fun to get out of the house and work out the kinks. I will always be a consummate snapshooter and got my usual average results by shooting at IE 160 and developing in HC110 dilution H for 9 minutes. The negatives looked good in my eyes. They scanned well and I think they would print easily.
I like the results from Foma, a tabular grained film much like Kodak T-MAX and Ilford DELTA. Unlike its counterparts, it has a classic, old school look providing a soft, pleasing grain texture. The tonal range is sumptuous, producing dark rich blacks to stunning whites. It is contrasty and gets loads of detail out the nooks and crannies. One word of caution – it doesn’t like to be underexposed, the results are dull and flat. I highly recommend this film if you enjoy something different than the clinical sharpness of TMAX and Delta. It’s a wonderful film stock and I am adding it to my regular rotation.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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