6.11.2012

A quick review of one of the best cameras ever mass produced.


There are a zillion Nikon F2 cameras still floating around the photography universe.  There are two compelling reasons for that: 1. It was mass produced for over a decade; from 1971 to 1981, during a decade in which photography exploded exponentially as a hobby.  And this particular Nikon was the ultimate aspirational camera for most photographers.  2.  The camera is just flat out bullet proof.  It's like a giant squad of unkillable zombies.  It's the Energizer Bunny, it goes on and on.  And if it won't break it can go on giving pleasure to generation after generation of savvy photo artists.

Of all the cameras I've owned the Nikon F2 is still the only one I know about that has infinitely variable shutter speeds between 1/90th of a second and the top shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second.  No, I did not mis-type, you can set the shutter dial anywhere in between marked, click stopped shutter speeds and actually get controllable, fractional settings.

See the little ring of numbers that surrounds the base of the self-timer lever?  You can use that control, in concert with the control that surrounds the shutter button to set timed exposures up to 10 full seconds.  And the body?  Solid. Built of some kind of metal that won't melt, break, decompose or break.  It is even impervious to gamma and alpha rays.  Rumors abound that the Japanese tracked a meteorite of considerable size as it plunged through the atmosphere and settled in 300 meters of depth off the coast of their island nation.  Divers located the meteorite and took samples.  After rigorous testing by the JCIC it was discovered that the meteor's atomic structure was unlike anything on the periodic table.

In incredible secrecy Nikon, using a fleet of sixty enormous oil tankers and a system of air bladders the size of Rhode Island lifted the meteor intact (130.1 meters in diameter) and took it to their secret Fortress of R&D Solitude.  When queried by officials of several governments the people at Nikon gave out an official statement:  "Giant ultra-cool alloy meteorite? Never heard of it..."

Over the years they melted down this precious metal and made an alloy they called, "Inspirationium."

All Nikon F2 bodies were constructed out of this metal.  And it skewed the entire camera market.

Competitors came out with cameras built from stainless steel and then magnesium alloy at half the price but once a consumer touched the cool Inspirationium they had to have the Nikon F2.  Nothing else would satisfy them. Car payments were missed.  College funds plundered.  That product coined the phrase, "must have."

Several of these cameras have been on missions to space but most people have never heard of the top secret events in which a Nikon F2 saved the lives of everyone on a returning space shuttle.  The story goes something like this:  During lift off high speed video cameras captured footage of some heat shield tiles popping off the hull of the space shuttle.  Those ceramic tiles were a crucial part of the heat barrier that would protect the crew of the shuttle from the devastating heat of re-entry.  Everyone at NASA totally freaked out.  They were certain that the re-entry would be a disaster. The mission was kept secret because it was undertaken for some national security agency and recon satellites were being launched.

They tried to come up with a plan to save the astronauts but nothing else on the ship could withstand the hellish temperatures.  The  astronauts went on with their mission doing their space walks and talking wonderful images with their modified Nikon F2's.  Then one of the crew (an amateur photographer) remembered the rumors about the space alloy being used in the F2's and he frantically radioed mission control.  A quick satellite link up with Nikon (and much strategic arm bending concerning tarriffs and such) confirmed the rumor.  The space alloy had an incredibly high melting point.  It just might work.

Another space walk was planned.  This time it included three Nikon F2 cameras, superglue and two rolls of duct tape.  The cameras were placed over the spots where tile was missing and superglued into place.  The duct tape would certainly melt the instant the hull began to heat up but it would help hold the cameras in place until the pressure of the atmosphere  stepped in to take its place.  Everyone held their breath as the bandaged Shuttle began the descent.  The control crew on the ground was silent as they listened to the drama on their radios.  Radar from stations across the globe tracked the progress of the Shuttle.

Then......splash down.  The mission was saved.  And divers were sent to retrieve the cameras.

That alone would make an interesting story in itself but it goes on from there.  The retrieved cameras were returned to Nikon in Japan for a clean, lube and adjust and then sent back to NASA.  They only needed the saltwater rinsed out and few adjustments, other than that they were in minty condition.  A few years further down the road and budgets were cut.  The cameras were sold off at a public auction and rumor has it that one of cameras went to a famous fashion photographer in London, another is still being shot by some guy who does cigarette ads and the third one is used by a famous photojournalist who will, of course, deny that he's ever used a Nikon camera because he is, in fact, sponsored by a rival company.  But many of the assistants who've worked with him in the field swear that, when the going gets rough, and the Pulitzers and MacAuthor grants are on the line, one of the Space Shuttle F2's comes out of the bag with one of the legendary manual focus lenses and the real magic happens.  Every time.

Then there's the story of the CIA agent posing as a professional photographer in Rumania just spying the crap out of everything.  His camera prop of choice?  Of course it was an F2. The story is long and twisted but in the end he was caught red-handed by an assassin from the Rumanian government.  They faced each other and the CIA agent, Nikon F2 hanging around his neck on a leather strap, Nocto-Nikkor lens on deck, prepared to meet death with dignity.  His adversary lifted his silenced Makarov pistol and fired one shot directly at the agent's chest.

The bullet struck the Inspirationium shell of the camera which both absorbed all impact and then bounced the steel jacketed bullet right back at the assassin, striking him in the head and allowing the agent to escape.

But there is also the sad, sad story of the man in the hot air balloon who got too greedy.  He was trying to set a new altitude record for ballooning without supplemental oxygen.  He'd attained 30,000 feet and wanted to document his feat with his Nikon F2.  He was wearing it on a new, experimental strap the fit across his chest like a bandolier.  It was made of burgundy colored leather and it attached to the camera via the tripod socket. He called his strap the Burgundy Express.  But of course that single point of attachment was ludicrous and, as the camera twisted and turned on the strap it came loose and started to plunge to the earth.  Addled by the thin air our balloonist reached desperately for the camera and lost his grip on the safety ropes for the balloon.  In a flash he and the camera were accelerating toward terminal velocity.  The camera, with its small profile, accelerated more rapidly and hit the corn fields of Nebraska with a dull thud.  The balloonist landed directly on top of his own camera and was killed instantly by the impact.

But there was a silver lining to this story as well.  The camera, after falling 30,000 feet was sent to Nikon service for a quick CLA and, after an adjustment to the second shutter curtain, went back into service.  This time in the inventory of a photographer who had been struggling to succeed both artistically and in business.  Once she picked up the F2 her business picked up as well.
She went on to shoot for a number of major magazines, even shooting royalty.  And she's shilled for several other camera companies.  But you guessed it.....When the chips are down and the assets are on the block, out comes the F2 and in a matter of a few purchase orders everything returns to fashionable success.

Well.  That's all I really know about the Nikon F2 except that I have one as well.  It works.  It only takes film.  Seems you can't mix digital sensors with Inspirationium metal.

(for the painfully literal:  this is all fiction.  That means I made it up. )


I recently bought another F2 just so I'd have a back up.  I was amazed to be able to buy one for around $150. Perhaps the existence of Inspirationium is  a better kept secret than I thought.

Don't run out and buy a Nikon F2.  There aren't enough used ones to go around as it is.  And it's very complicated to use.  It has three major controls:  Focus, Aperture and Shutter Speed.  Too tough to remember without the manual.





Portraits? Read this interview with Kurt Marcus.

http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2012/06/11/kurt-markus-the-portrait-finding-your-voice/

Lots of interesting things to read over at http://www.aphotoeditor.com

Here's one of mine:



©Kirk Tuck.  Russian Girl on the Spanish Steps in Rome.