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My Love-Hate Relationship with the Nikon D90

In late 2008 my wallet opened for a brand new Nikon D90 with a kit lens. A few months later I bought a Nikon “nifty fifty” 50mm f1.8 prime lens and put the kit lens in a cupboard. I made a lot of pictures with that camera. I still own it. It’s just never really made me smile. In some ways, the DSLR is too bloody easy to get a good-enough something. Sharp. Fast. Pictures.

I put that Nikon D90 aside in 2010 and purchased a cheap-arsed beat up 30-year-old Zenza Bronica ETRS medium format film camera. And the next year I picked up a late 1970s Nikon F2A Photomic for shooting 135 film. I have a few other film cameras laying about, but these are my main squeezes. The move to film was a profound shift around what I was beginning to consider a good picture, rather than crisp, sharp and smacking of modernity. I bulk load the 135 film from 100′ rolls, process the film in a Paterson Developing Tank and scan the negatives onto a computer. I have darkroom gear, but not quite everything that I need. That’ll happen. Eventually.

So before anybody runs around in circles screaming “Film Apostle” into their social media megaphone … I’m not a nostalgist. I enjoy old things. Only I’m not a nostalgist. My interest in cameras is primarily about qualities of the pictures that I want to create and I tend to draw away from people who are all about the cameras or the technologies. I just want the qualities of a certain style of picture. And that style and type of picture seems to be intrinsically based around film.

The qualities of a digital photograph often put me off. Too crisp. Too… sort of flat. Grainless. Perfect. The blacks are blacks and the whites perfectly white. Sadly, different blacks and whites than I’m looking for in my images at the moment.

What I like about shooting film is that I never know on the day what I’ve got in the camera. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s treasure. How I treat the film and process in chemicals governs a lot of the final picture. A picture with grain. It’s that thing where I’m not sure what it is until I see it. So, in the film pictures I sometimes see THAT. The thing that I’m looking for when I envision a photograph.

Yes, occasionally I pull that lovely Nikon D90 out of the cupboard and take it for a spin. It looks as good as the day I bought it home. It’s still a mighty fine piece of technology that I’m proud to possess. And when I do use the D90 there’s nearly always a final disappointment. At the process. At the post-process. At the pictures on my screen. The ones that didn’t cost me a cent to produce. That I under-thought. That I will, except for the rarest pictures, never desire to print.

And yes I’ve made some beautiful digital images over the last few years. One hangs in our bedroom; a jury picked finalist in the Poimena Art Award 2009. The thing is that I love my film cameras more. The subtle qualities of the pictures more. The process more. The everything just that much more than digital. These are merely tools in a photographer’s hand. I like the imperfect. I have disdain for the immaculate. Life is a grungy piece of work with grain and that’s how I like to capture it. On film. With that old Bronica ETRS and the Nikon F2A Photomic.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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