Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Vintage lenses, modern cameras, and a sunny Seattle day

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The view from Seward Park, overlooking Lake Washington onto Mount Rainier. Shot with Nikon D5300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (PC, AI) vintage lens.

The sun is finally out. No, seriously. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Seattle broke a 122 year old record for rain this year. We’ve only been recording rainfall in the area for… 122 years.

In a recent post, I talked about the need to have things to do outside work. Things that are completely removed from work. For me, that’s meant revisiting the things I’ve always liked but haven’t always made time for.

In fact, that’s the raison d’être for this blog. I’ve been making lots of photographs, but the stories go lost on Flickr and other social media.

Hannah and I invested in a camera last year before our wedding, with the help of generous gifts from friends and family. It would be good to memorialize all the year’s big events, to take on our honeymoon, and to document the beginning of our married lives. Plus, I have wanted a DSLR for a decade, at least.

But while I fantasized about a DSLR for years, I cut my teeth on a good old 35mm point and shoot. I remember trying to talk my godmother out of her extra cash at the big box store to buy me a camera when I was too young to know much about them, other than that I liked to document the things I saw. One day when we were at a garage sale, I found a camera on a table. “Go ask them how much it costs,” my godmother urged me. So I did. “25 cents,” the lady at the garage sale told me.

And so it started.

I cycled through a number of point and shoots and disposable cameras in the years that followed (although that 25 cent camera is still at my parents’!), but when I took a photo class in high school my dad let me borrow his 35mm Canon Rebel. I remember when he was saving up for the camera. We’d stop at the store on the weekends to add some more cash to the layaway, until finally he was able to bring it home. He documented the early years of my little sister’s life with that film SLR, and by the time I was using it, though we all had transitioned to digital cameras, it was still an advanced, automated camera that took great photos.

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That’s the kid sister (except she’s not a kid anymore!). Shot with my dad’s Canon Rebel and kit lens on Ilford HP5 400. Developed and printed in a high school darkroom.

Fast forward to 2017, and we have a neat, advanced DSLR. The Nikon D5300 does a lot great, and paired with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 I picked up last year, it can help to produce some really nice photos.

About a month before my birthday, though, I started to wonder again about film. The DSLR can do just about everything I ask of it, but in some ways it can do too much. I stumbled across a good deal on a 1980s Nikon FG with an E-series 50mm f/1.8 lens (you can read about the FG here at Casual Photophile). I’m still waiting on the first four rolls of film to return, but I was hooked pretty quickly. The camera has everything you need, and no more. Plus, the tactile response of the all-manual lens – something I’ve never experienced even when I was shooting a film SLR – just felt right.

So I made the impulsive decision to buy another classic, all-manual lens. I justified it to myself because – thank Nikon! – these vintage lenses still work on the modern DSLR. But it wasn’t just any lens. Nope, it was the classic Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (you can read about it here at Casual Photophile), the legendary lens used by Steve McCurry (in one of its variations, anyway) for the modern Mona Lisa, “Afghan Girl.”

The lens is a joy to shoot with. It’s sharp, renders beautiful color and bokeh (the out-of-focus area), and resolves detail really impressively. And my copy is from the early 1970s, right after the first major redesign of the lens’ elements and groupings.

When I get those rolls of film back, I’ll have more to share. I finally had the chance this weekend to take the 105mm out attached to the DSLR, and I’m really impressed with the lens. It’s fun to handle, easy to focus, and helps me achieve the photos I want to take.

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What the lens is really famous for is portrait photography. I haven’t had the chance to shoot any human subjects, but I have shot some non-humans. The lens really does have a character of its own that it brings to bear on the images I make. And I like that a whole lot.

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