Sending a love letter to a blog post is a dorky maneuver. Nonetheless, here we are the day after the CDC lifted the mask mandate, I can smell the fish counter again while shopping at The 99 Ranch Market, and you are reading a love letter to a blog post.
I am about to take a small break from LLFNP to work on a project that could only be shot on a dorky AF SLR. During the preliminary tests with my newly acquired, dorky, AF SLR camera, a funny thing happened. Like Don Henley’s dad rock lady-friend and her dancing, all I want to do is shoot everything on a dorky AF SLR.
That is why I am writing a love letter to the brilliant blog post titled “We should all be shooting dorky AF SLRs and Here’s Why” on Casual Photophile. Yes, this does have something to with Leica so hang in there.
Please don’t ignore it like everyone (1) did the first time. You will save yourself a lot of headaches even if you already own and love a Leica, another rangefinder, or mechanical SLR. I am both a Leicaphiliac and a Leica Fanboy. I wear my heart on my sleeve but I can assure you that both a rangefinder camera and a mechanical SLR are the exact wrong tools for many photographic applications.
I don’t even always use my m7 when I shoot film and that isn’t because it uses batteries and batteries are a crime against humanity. My dirty little secret is that sometimes I bring along the Leica just to take a few shots for LLFNP while I am primarily using something else like my Contax RX. This is something I often do when I am doing shooting 35mm commercial work.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than taking my m10, m7, 2-3 lenses, sticking them in a tiny sling-type bag, and going away for a weekend. That is my travel and personal setup.
Conversely, when I am in a studio or on location with models and an art director (generally my wife) is glaring at me as if to say “OK dumbass, time is money. You got your way with the film bit and now I cant see what is going on so if you screw this up you die!!!!” I reach for something with auto film advance, multiple metering modes, and as of just recently – dorky autofocus.
If your experience is like mine, you might just find that nobody cares about your film, how smooth your thumb action is when you advance the film, how proficient you are at rewinding your own film, your handheld meter, or even your manual focusing prowess. They sure don’t care about mine. They also don’t care what my camera looks like. They just want me to take the picture as fast as I can without screwing it up so they can either get back to what they are doing or get to the next shot so they can go home on time.
I know this because I was right there you, I listened to all of the people in the forums offering well-meaning (but awful) advice for people getting into or back into film. I followed the advice. I learned to fear electronics. I internalized the belief that relying on autofocus was heresy. In hindsight, I was temporarily and inexplicably brainwashed into thinking that sticking an electronic meter on top of a mechanical camera was somehow fundamentally different than using a camera with a built-in meter (2). Manually advancing the film lever felt cool for about 45 seconds. I played the Sunny 16 game and was proud of myself for nailing the exposure right up until I completely biffed an important series of images which reminded me that I happily use a calculator and not an abacus. I also use a scooter with an automatic transmission, a computer, cell phone, tablet, power steering, power windows, lane assist driving, and, on occasion, WiFi.
If you aren’t catching what I am throwing, what I am saying is that most of what you hear online about film photography cameras is the gospel of a well-meaning church of analog photography rather than rational advice. This whole film thing (the gospel if you will) is as much about using old cameras for the sake of using old cameras as it is about taking pictures. Church members (1) know that using, testing, and playing cameras is fun. Nerdy, but fun. I enjoy nerding out with the best of them but for newcomers to analog photography, please don’t confuse playing cameras with taking pictures. They are not always the same thing.
My recommendation is to follow the advice in the Casual Photophile post and consider a dorky AF SLR before joining the church of analog photography until AFTER you own and have mastered at least one dorky AF SLR. If you have been playing cameras for a while, and you skipped the dorky AF SLR step, I encourage you to get one. My experience is that playing cameras is fun but sometimes being a dork taking pictures and not worrying about exposure, autofocus, or anything else except the image is more rewarding than being a camera nerd playing cameras.
These are not novel ideas. I remind you that this is a love letter and these ideas were hiding in plain sight along in the blog post titled “We should all be shooting dorky AF SLRs, here’s why.” Unfortunately, too many of us (1), ignored them and played cameras instead.
James, you are right. Full stop.
My Dorky AF SLR
In 1996, Nikon released the F5. To demonstrate the F5 palmares they did a video promo. I am appropriating their idea (see below) in an upcoming project. The F5 was too big for me to want to use after the project so I got an F6 with the removable booster. For this project, I needed the highest frame rate and the best possible continuous autofocus I could find. Missing focus or exposure for a shot meant missing an entire roll so I went for it and got the F6. #Yolo.
The Nikon F6 might not exactly qualify as a dorky AF SLR. My contrarian view, however, is that unless you know what you are looking at, the Nikon F6 looks pretty much like every other dorky AF SLR from the late 90’s so it qualifies. Moreover, everything I like about it, and the reasons I am going to continue to use is, are present in almost every other late model dorky AF SLR.
If you hear about this project again, it went well. If you don’t, it didn’t. This all seemed like a good idea in the planning stages but now that it is a reality, bike frames are getting painted, bikes are being built, parts are being sourced, scripts are getting scripted, dozens of rolls of film are on order, and I am actually working through the machinations of making this project work, I am starting to have second thoughts.
Until we meet again, I encourage you to try this with anything other than a dorky…AF…SLR (3)
- Present company included
- Hint – it isn’t. They both use batteries.
- Yes. I know I could just shoot normal video, drop some frames, and make it look filmier with some plugin. If that is what you are thinking, you might also enjoy vegan cheese or oat milk. You are warned, however, there is no such thing as vegan cheese and you cant turn oats into milk. Vegans (like me) should be vegans and stop with the fake cheese and fake milk nonsense. Likewise, shooting video to look like stop motion film should be done on film. #famouslastwords.