A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Film Free Digital Future

Having just sent off a 50’s era Leotax to a good man and dedicated Aussie Leicaphilia reader who seems to have a fetish for my cameras (I’ve probably sold him 10 along the way, including (I think) a cherry Hexar RF that I regret selling every day of my life (are you reading this, Rei?)), I’m now down to one film camera (not counting my 3 wooden pinhole cameras), a cherry Nikon F5 that you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence of hard usage. It’s a beauty. In a brief interlude of irrationality, thinking I was probably dying in a week or two (bad week) I actually put it up for sale here on the site for $255/shipped, but nobody wanted it ( I did receive on inquiry from some cretin mocking the price ( Q:”$255 for a Nikon F5?????” A: “Yes, Asshole, $255 for a Nikon F5. Can you not read?”). In hindsight, I’m glad none of you wanted it, first I’m still alive and paradoxically feeling better every day (I’m going out for a full day of motorcycle hooliganism tomorrow, a day that promises to be 70 degrees and cloudlessly sunny) because you’d have been getting a really nice camera worth more than you paid for it, and, more importantly, I get to keep it.

My love of the F5 is more theoretical than practical. No doubt its a beautiful beast of a thing that works flawlessly and represents the high-point of the Nikon F professional camera evolution and in that respect alone should be considered a classis. The F6, while possibly being a marginally better camera, wasn’t built for professional use but was a vanity project, to be bought and left in the box with an eye toward value appreciation. The F5 is the ultimate working camera; I suspect there’s more than one working journalist who’s had theirs run over by an Abrams tank or dropped out of a helicopter on some clandestine military mission only to find it working perfectly after they hosed it off and gave it a good spray of WD40.

Granted, my love of the F5 is a product of pure camera fetish wonkery, the kind I so mercilessly mock in others (consistency, as my wife reminds me, is not one of my strong points. So what). While living in Paris in 03 I’d spent time an inordinate amount of time in the camera shops on Beaumarche ogling the latest offerings, where one I frequented had a huge Nikon advert for the F5 strategically placed at eye level behind the counter. It promised me photographic nirvana, an end to my ceaseless cravings for the camera that would finally meet my practical, emotional and psychological needs. So, when I got home to the USA I bought one. It’s a beauty…but I never much used it, using it not being the point. But I digress.


“No, You Can’t have it for $255 shipped. Any further questions?”

A year ago I had more film cameras than I knew what to do with: in addition to said F5, an M5 (sold), a Nikon s200 with a bunch of pretty lenses (sold), a Nikon F100 (we’ll get to that later), [Editor’s Note: Oh yeah, I forgot about that wonderfully patinaed plain- prismed black Nikon F], a beautiful black paint Canon VT with two beautiful rare Canon era-specific lenses (sold), an M4 (sold), a Leicaflex SL (sold), a gorgeous Leica IIIg with Leicavit (sold) the Leotax (given away as repayment for a previous act of generosity by the givee), and Pentax K1000 (given away) (everybody needs at least on K1000). I also had a dedicated film freezer stocked with more film I could shoot had I been lucky enough to live till I was 90. That’s all gone too now, victim to friends who took me up on my offer to “take anything you want” back when I was sitting in my hospital approved bed leaking bodily fluids and, given my 5 day till death prognosis, having a mind-altering pre-funeral bash with 20 of my best friends.

After everyone got sick of waiting for me to finally die, and me stubbornly not complying, they all eventually went home, at which time I found my F100, my iconic Nikon F, most of my manual focus Nikkors, and almost all of my bulk film shamelessly looted. Someone even took my bulk film loader and all of my reusable Kodak snap-on cassettes. No that I cared, and they weren’t “looted” except to the extent that massive ingestion of oxycodone, liquid morphine, innumerable snifters of Calvados and bourbon with an occasional psychotropic gummy thrown in for good measure while Led Zep’s Black Dog played on a loop in the background and my dog Buddy snuggled somewhat confused next to me on the bed, may have compromised my ability to consent to such ownership transfers. Frankly, who cares, plus I owe the guy who took off with most of it more than I can ever repay – a wonderful friend who’d give me the shirt off his back and has on more than one occasion. An old F, an F100, an bunch of lenses and some film is a small down payment on the massive debt I owe the man for being in my life.

I’m now left with my F5. It sit’s next to me here in my study, beseeching me to do something with it before it’s too late. I believe the universe is trying to tell me something. So, suppose I’m going to have to comply. To that end, I’ve bought another bulk film loader, a carton of 10 Kodak film cassettes, and a 100 ft roll of Fomapan 400, a relatively inexpensive Czech film that gives a nice gritty look when shot at 800 and developed in Diafine. (I now develop everything in Diafine. It’s magic) I’m now officially a film photographer again. Here’s hoping I get enough time to use it.

I aspire to be like this guy below:


So, now what? As noted in previous posts, I’m now a Raleigh flaneur, prowling the immediate neighborhood for interesting stuff to photograph, which in reality means taking a lot of photographs of 1) religious iconography 2) my shadow (a great underutilized photographic resource and 3) religious iconography that includes my shadow. And I’m going to be doing it with film, wonderful, obsolete film along with an equally kick-ass Nikon F5. Hell, I’m even thinking about buying a brand new, straight from the factory Leica M6. Why not? I deserve it. When I’m dead my wife can sell it to one of you readers. That’s the least you can do for me, right?

Of course, I reserve the right to also take out my latest affectation, the Sigma SD15. Maybe I can do a few comparison posts – Sigma Foveon vs. Fomapan 400.

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8 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Film Free Digital Future

  1. George

    Great to hear! From what I understand, the F5 is the epitome of a beautiful machine.

    As for the M6, DO IT. I made my lockdown splurge two years ago when I realized (in a more abstract, existential way than you had to deal with) that I’d die some day. So I ordered a black paint MP. New. From England because I’m still a deal hunter and the dollar was strong. It’s lovely.

    That being said, I still own a couple Canon EOS 3s. (One for backup because, you know, things break.) I love my MP, but seeing through the lens is great for a lot of things.

    Finally, if you have some funds from your other sales, it might be in your interest to look into the Pakon Plus scanners. They are obsolete, run on Windows XP, and way overpriced on eBay, but they make scanning SO MUCH easier than anything else. The 6 megapixel scans from them are fantastic.

    I wish I could quit film too… but there’s just something about it.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      George: I’m a very happy Pakon Plus owner. Bought one years ago when nobody knew what they were—for $200! Hadn’t had much use when I bought it either. Now they’re $2000. I’ve got a dedicated laptop running Windows 98 connected to it. I love it. The scans I get out of it are really good. I’ve actually spent part of the last month digitizing negatives with it – I think I scanned over 6000 frames in a week. Try that with your Coolscan.

      And thanks for those coffees. Cheers, Tim

      1. George Feucht

        Great! Yeah I screwed up and got a “non-Plus” back in the day. But for $400, which is still pretty good. I have to use the TLX software for 2000×3000 resolution, but those raw files are fantastic.

        Interestingly, I had a modded-for-full-roll-scanning Coolscan 5000 and sold it. I noticed that for b/w, it scans the surface of the negative and every tiny little scratch and imperfection is seen and recorded. Negatives that looked horrid from a 5000 scan ended up looking flawless with a DSLR scan because none of those surface imperfections are not seen when it’s backlit by a soft source. So I cashed out. The Pakon also uses a soft light source so scratches aren’t seen much at all.

  2. Bill B

    For a moment there I thought you’d forgotten film until today’s post. It was the shaking your fist at the digital sky gods that got me reading this blog in the first place. That digital siren song, like Lucifer promising the world. I can’t remember what Lorelei promised but probably shipwreck on the sands of I can’t read my file anymore.

    Photographing your neighbourhood sharpens you up.

    Good luck with getting an M6. In fact you’ll probably be able to pick up a mint 2022 M6 in a month or so once the owner gets over how pretty it is 😉

  3. Rob Campbell

    Never had an F5, but did have the F4s. I ended up hating it. The worst part was the new loading system: it usually took me three attempts before the damned film would engage so that it could be advanced. The upshot was that I traded the thing for a new F3. The problem was that Nikon had stopped advertising the F3 when the 4 came out, and I had reasonably thought that meant that none was available anymore. I was mistaken. Actually, I wished that the F2 had been around.

    I still have that F3 body, almost unused, and the first digital one I bought was the D200. I must say, I think that D200 looks, cosmetically, better made than does the F3. If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that it isn’t fuil-frame. Though I do like the effect of a real 50mm lens on it, there is still a residual unease in me about these things not really being representative of the job such lenses were created to do. You can’t just crop into an existing lens’ coverage and expect to get the quality that you will from a lens specifically designed for the smaller area.

    I attempted to start a new project a couple of weeks or so ago, just to lift myself out of my doldrums. I have now deleted all the images but one, which may be suitable for an old, existing theme. As I was deleting, I realised that I actually hated sitting at the computer; it took me all my patience even to delete. As I think I mentioned some time ago, how nice to be able to afford to make large colour transparencies instead. Shoot, get it processed, and there’s your beautiful shot, no further farting about required. I guess this is not entirely unrelated to the basic distrust of owning nothing more substantial than an invisible file inside an equally opaque drive. Prints are nice, but as darkroom ones are now unrealistic for me, and as I never made an inkjet one that really felt as good to me as the very few darkroom ones I still have,
    I don’t really care about printing anymore. Actually, this might also just as easily be down to a single, quite separate issue: the loss of professional work. Doing it only for myself really is not the same: the buzz, the personal validation is totally absent. The ego simply does not get stroked. Only the chores remain, totally devoid of even financial reward or compensation.

    It may be that I am only seeing my own reflection, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the entire photo-sharing thing suddenly becomes passé, out of fashion and thus no longer commercially viable. It wouldn’t matter how many pixies dancing on your sensor; lose the amateur base and it’s game over.

    However, that’s not to say that I have lost interest in photography: far from it. I have a great appetite for looking at pictures, just not so much for pointlessly spending my rapidly dwindling years working on them. Truth to tell, I have probably seen more good photographs since I discovered the Internet than in all the active years before that. I do not visit any of the social sites, and so see none of the luncheon plates, cats and thong babes. What I do see is carefully curated by myself, and often revisited. Salvation?

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Rob; I’m going the opposite way of you. I have destroyed every existing print I’d had boxed up. Most of them suck on further examination. I am embarking on a project wherein I am printing 100 of my best work, all 8×12, all matted and backboarded with 16×20 off-white matts. That will be my photo legacy, I’ve talked to my wife and, once I’m gone, she is under orders to rent gallery space – maybe the CAM Museum in Raleigh, where we’re going to have a retrospective exhibit of my 100 prints along with 10 of my best paintings. I’ll draft an ‘Artist’s Statement’ to hang with it all; I’ll try to make it as unpretentious as possible, although by their nature that’s difficult. Selected prints will be for sale. Friends and family will be invited. Music will play – I’m working on a soundtrack of my favorites. Wine will be drunk. Tall tales will be told about me. I’m really looking forward to it, even though I’m not going to be there – or presume I won’t.

      As for the printing, it’ll all be done by me on my Epson ET-8550, which does exceptional B&W prints on Canon Premium Luster Paper, prints that look like silver halide prints. What my estate does with them after my retrospective is of no concern to me. I just really like the idea of distilling a lifetime of work down to one final exhibit. I’m having a great time working on the project. I must say that I’ve accumulated work that makes me proud and hopefully says something about me. Suffice it to say that nothing is going up on those walls that isn’t exceptional by my standards.

      This sort of thing would have been impossible in the pre-digital age. I simply couldn’t see myself producing 100 flawless darkroom prints, while inkjet printing makes it easily doable. I’m not bad at darkroom prints – I studied under some pretty impressive printers along the way, but nothing I’ve done in the darkroom can compare to a dedicated B&W inkjet printing set up using Canon’s Premium Luster Exhibition Paper. The results are stunning.

      As for all my negatives, I’m gradually tossing them as I bulk scan them with my Pakon Plus scanner. I like the fact that I’ll leave behind those 100 prints – and that’s it. My 50 year legacy. Everything else to the trash.

      I’m confident Donna and friends will put together an impressive show for me. What a great final gift.

  4. Robert Coscia

    I think the F5 is the bomb.
    I have many F series cameras and that is one of the top dogs.
    I dragged that thing around Thailand for a month with an 80 200 lens and developed a Popey right arm. Well worth it.
    My buddy was shooting digital wide angle so we developed a system to swap lens in about 3 seconds as needed.
    That and the F6 are great machines imo.
    The metering system is spot on.
    It was a big change using the MP yesterday, it felt like a toy.

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