Sunday, January 9, 2011

F90x - likes and gotcha's

My Nikon F90x arrived before the weekend and I was able to take it with me to Westport on a family trip to see the grandparents.

First things first - it is in very good condition, and the back rubber is largely in tact - but boy is it grubby! Why-oh-why did Nikon choose to coat the whole back with the stuff?! Dirt and fluff just sticks to it like glue. Maybe the quicker it rubs off the better...

That's a pretty minor gripe though really, with what is otherwise a beautifully laid out, well thought out, and nicely put together camera on Nikon's part. The camera manual came with it - but I didn't need to use it (although maybe a quick glance would have been good - more on that later). All the buttons are very clearly labelled, most fall to hand (although will require a two-handed operation) and it's a solid piece of kit.

After a very quick clean with a soft cotton cloth, I popped four AA batteries into the chamber and the F90x sprang to life. Setting up the camera for my shooting style was quick and easy. The F90x only has one focus point, but it's a good one that can handle both vertical and diagonal lines, and which can be set to either centre spot or wide. Set on wide, I tried to focus on a white tissue extending from a tissue box on a window ledge in my kitchen. A pretty tricky autofocus test, and not surprisingly, the F90x focusing system struggled. I then set the focusing area to spot, and bang... focus lock instantly! Cool. Spot focus it is then. Truth be told it's what I set my cameras on anyway.

All the other settings are fairly self-explanatory. I like to shoot in single-shot autofocus (although the F90x is capable of 4 frames per second set to 'continuous Hi'), with single servo autofocus - full matrix metering, and aperture priority. And that's really all the decisions you need to make to get going with creative control.  Oh, and BTW, the F90x has the best self-timer I've ever come across - you can set it from anywhere between 30 or 2 seconds just by spinning the control wheel and picking a number. It's electronically controlled anyway, so it makes sense that you can input any number you like. Why aren't all the Nikon's (or Canon's etc) set up this way?

Another feature that impresses is the exposure value compensation. The button itself is a little bit of a stretch from the shutter (for my small fingers) - although do-able, but the range is what impresses most! + or - 5 (yes 5) exposure values! Will I ever use a 10 stop range? Maybe not. But they are there should I want to. And for bracketing with slide film... who knows.

Although if you're going to bracket a lot with the F90x then you're on your own. There is no electronic bracketing feature controlled in-camera, unless you get the optional data back that came with the F90x. No big deal, I don't mind bracketing manually.

The F90x also doesn't have 'custom functions' (again, no big deal), or a mirror lock up (I know this omission is often bemoaned, but I have to say that in over 25 years of taking photos I have never used mirror lock up) - but it does have depth-of-field preview and an eye piece switch that covers the viewfinder if you are shooting long exposures with your face away from the camera. All-in-all it seems like a very well thought out camera - a photographers camera, with everything a working pro might need, and nothing added that would get in the way of taking great images.

I enjoyed spending the afternoon at the Westport A&P Show, using the F90x with a 28-80mm lens, snapping away in aperture priority. And here's the thing... I LOVE using the F90x in aperture priority mode! It may be a very technologically advanced camera (for its time at least), with lots of electronic bells and whistles, but using the camera in aperture priority is a very tactile, old-camera experience. The aperture isn't set by spinning a wheel on the camera body - you actually have to change it on the lens itself (so the modern 'G' type lenses can't be used in aperture priority with an F90x because they have electronic apertures). This, for me, is the best of both worlds. I'm shooting with an electronic, technically advanced camera system, but I'm actually having to physically work the aperture on the lens to get the shot. I fell in love with this way of working in aperture priority and the F90x has already become one of my favorite cameras to shoot with because of it. Aperture Priority Heaven...  :-)

Now finally, the 'gotcha'. It has to do with the film winder mechanism. It's odd. Downright odd. And stupid! And I've probably lost half a dozen shots on a 36 shot roll of slide film because of it!!!! First, when you load the film (a simple enough operation - just pop it in, pull the film tab to the red line and close the door), the camera doesn't actually wind the film on to the first frame until you push down the shutter button. On all other cameras with an 'automatic' film advance I've ever used the film has advanced to the first frame - ya know, like - automatically. But not the F90x. Push the shutter button first, and then it will advance to the first fame. Odd, but there you are. Not the end of the world.

BUT, the real killer has to do with the film rewind at the end of the roll. Again, with all other cameras I've used, when you get to the end of the roll the film automatically rewinds itself back into the camera. That's what 'automatic' film winders are supposed to do, isn't it!? Well, again, not the F90x (and this is where reading the manual and not assuming anything would have come in handy). You can probably see where I'm going with this, right?

I finished the roll of film, turned the camera off, and waited until I was home to put another film - in since I'd forgotten to bring another film with me! (Note to self: always take more film when using a film camera. Film actually runs out after 24 or 36 shots). At home I opened the camera to remove the film, and was horrified to find the film was actually still wound across the back of the camera - it hadn't automatically rewinded! And this isn't a fault with my particular camera. Nikon actually set the F90x up to work this way! A quick check of the manual (after I'd quickly slammed shut the camera back and calmed down) revealed that you need to push two buttons on the camera body and then (and only then) the F90x 'automatically' rewinds your film for you. Lesson learned the 'hard' way.

Yes, I had noticed the two red 'film rewind' buttons on the camera body, but had presumed they were to be used if you wanted to engage the film rewind half-way through a roll of film. I'd never considered you might have to start the process yourself at the end of a roll! Doesn't make sense to me, but I have learnt my lesson, and hopefully it won't happen again? And if that's my only gripe (and apart from the rubber backing it is), then I haven't really got much to worry about with the F90x.

All worries about film transportation go away when I use the camera in aperture priority mode though. It may seem a little thing, but to me it's huge! I got back into film photography because I love the tactile, mechanical nature of using film - although ironically I also love the electronic bells and whistles of the modern age. In the Nikon F90x, I've discovered the perfect fusion of the two.

1 comment:

  1. All that stuff is covered in the owner manual (use google to find - F90X Butkus - to find Mr. Butkus amazing manuals website).
    Agreed, it is a bit odd, but I suspect that the thinking might have been that if (say) shooting a wedding, baby photos, candids, one might wish to step away to rewind, rather than have a motorized rewind interrupt the proceedings or wake the baby.
    A minor irritant, unless one is very used to other makes. Unless I am much mistaken, the same thing happens with my F601, F801 and F4s... It is an act of will to decide to rewind).

    You have picked up a charming and capable instrument there - best of luck with it! I am sure you will be delighted.

    Hal

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Wayne