Friday, April 2, 2010

Nikonos V - going old school

Couple of years ago I lost my digital camera (Sony W7) with underwater housing on one of the dives (Tihanny, Herceg Novi, Montenegro) and that is when my underwater photo adventure stopped.

From than, I have been discussing various options on how to proceed with underwater photography with some of my friends, following various discussions on Internet and decided that I should go both old school and digital.

Last couple of years I see lot of people with compact cameras in underwater housing who produce massive amount of photos on every dive, but rarely really an excellent photos are produced. Due to big capacity of memory cards, divers are sucked into this spiral of shoot-as-many-as-you-can-since-no-limit-on-space-you-have violence. Also, they don't go into technical details that make photography like exposition, aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity, metering and all those things that make one produce photography he wants.

So, I have decided to polish mu photography skills by taking an old Nikonos V. Major influence on this decision was put by my good friend, my diving instructor and excellent photographer Vladan Milisavljevic. So what did I get?

I got a Nikonos V orange body in pretty good shape. With body I got U/W 35mm and U/W 28mm Nikkor lenses. Then I bought Nikon underwater flash SB-105 with necessary arms to connect it to camera. And finally I got Sea & Sea 15mm lens with appropriate viewfinder.

Nikonos V introduced lot of changes when compared to Nikonos III and IV, but from technology perspective even at that time was very simple and Nikon had much more advanced models out there. Nikonos V is not an SLR and requires viewfinder for framing the shoots. Build in covers 35mm and 28mm, but other lenses require specific viewfinders. Camera itself is very small and compact. It contains 2 sensors for measuring, one is used for TTL flash and another is used for build-in exposure meter - you set the aperture and camera chooses shutter speed. It contains easy to replace battery and does not require any specific training.

Camera itself contains 4 user maintainable o-rings which cover all user removable parts: battery, flash connector, lens and camera back. On top of this, Nikonos also contains a set of non-user replaceable o-rings which can be replaced by skilled repairman. Problem is that now there are no many left, but I will think about that in 2 years I would say.

Fair price for body and 35mm and 28mm lens is around 250 - 300 USD.

U/W 35mm and U/W 28mm Nikkor lenses are pretty much basic lenses which are cheap but not so useful for me or most of people who are not in macro photography. I think I will not even try 35mm and will use 28mm when trying to do something else then wide angle shoots. Underwater photography is specific and there is one simple rule: in order to get good photos, you need to get close to the subject. This is due to fact that water between the lens and subject is far from being good medium when compared to air and introduces lot of side effects even if visibility is great.

Due to this I decided that I must have a solid wide angle lens if I really want to capture some good shoots. Nikon produced also 20mm and 15mm lenses but those are even today still very expensive believe it or not. There were also 3rd party lenses and Sea & Sea is the company which after Nikon produced most of other Nikonos lenses. So I have decided to go for Sea & Sea 15mm and got myself also a viewfinder that goes with it. I payed for this around 250 USD and think it is worth more when I look at some European prices.

For those who did not know, when diving and going down in depth, colors start to disappear. Red is the first one that disappears and finally you're left with blue and gray at 40m and below. Due to this fact, in order to capture all those crazy colors, one needs to have an underwater flash. Alternative is to use filters, red filter for example, but that is just a way to deal it and not a good replacement. So, I opted for SB-105 which is pretty good flash and people are using it today with digital cameras as well. This is one of the latest Nikon underwater flashed and I thing it came out when Nikonos RS came out (underwater amphibious Nikon SLR). Beside TTL control it offers several other modes, like manual and slave which can be used for many different reasons.

Finally I got Nikonos V user manual and Jim Church's Essential Guide To Nikonos System book which is the bible for Nikonos.

Reading these materials an talking to Vladan made me feel capable of taking nice shoots and in 2 weeks from now I will be in situation to do so since going back to Red Sea on live-aboard adventure which will cover northern region of Red Sea and lot of famous wrecks where I hope my 15mm lens will do it's best. Drawback will be that I will develop all images when I get back since I will be living on a boat so it will be a true challenge to get some good photos when you cannot preview what you did. Due to that I will have 2 practice dives in a pool with Nikonos so I can take some test shoots, get images and analyze them before I hit the road.

Final important decisions is choosing the films and type of films. I have decided to take most of shoots with negative films due to first trip with Nikonos. Negative is capable of better handling the inappropriate exposure and comes with higher sensitivity. i plan to take a loot of "in-blue" shoots and shots of wrecks with maybe only some details exposed to flash. Anyway, will pack up couple of slide films just to try that as well. Choice has come to Fuji film and their selection of films which I will probably get in Calumet store here in Amsterdam.

Wish me all the best and when I come back, I will share what I managed to accomplish.

Finally, I would like to thank Vladan for all the effort he has put to get me ready for this adventure.

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