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Happy National Camera Day: Nathan's Analog Camera Collection

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Happy National Camera Day: Nathan's Analog Camera Collection
There are several hobbies that go hand in hand with watches and watchmaking:
  • Cars and motorcycles. Many watches are designed with similar aesthetics, and the internal mechanics making something move rings true to both industries. 
  • Vinyl records and audiophiles, generally. An art form replaced by a modern, digital (some say inferior) form born out of convenience with little appreciation for the intricacies that make a true expression. Few things sound more incredible than the warmth of a vinyl jazz album on your grandparents sound system, or the ticking of a manual watch movement as it effortlessly marches forward. 
  • Cameras and analog photography. A combination of the former two, analog cameras were replaced by digital cameras, swapping film for pixels and 36 exposures with 1000+. Analog cameras are filled with tiny gears and levers that make them work, precise to 100ths of a second in order to capture the right moment the right way. 

So on National Camera Day (that's today, June 29), it should come to no surprise that we want to share our camera collections — and there are few better collections that our own Director of Watchmaking, Nathan Bobinchak. 

Read on as Nathan shares his favorite cameras in his collection, why they're so great, and view some of his photos on Instagram 

Nikon FE2Nikon FE2

My nickname for my Nikon FE2 is “Ol’ Trusty,” because it can go with me anywhere, and it simply cannot let me down. It’s a semi-automatic manual-focus 35mm film SLR from the mid 80s (1983-1987), hailing from an era when manual focus was still king, but electronics were not.

It can electronically set the shutter speed for a given aperture and film speed, but nothing else. It has gorgeous over-engineered honeycomb-pattern titanium shutter blades that allowed it to shoot as quickly as 1/4000th of a second (later models have plain, flat aluminum shutter blades), and it’s compatible with 40 years of F-mount lenses.

My FE2 usually wears a Nikkor 35mm f/2 Ai lens, equally beaten, battered and patina’d. They’re my desert island combo, if that desert island has a film lab.

Leica M3

Leica M3

My newest film camera is also one of my oldest, a Leica M3 from 1955. I never thought I’d shoot a Leica, especially an unmetered one, but I found an unbeatable deal on Facebook Marketplace, and here we are.

The M3 launched the modern era of Leica, debuting the M-mount that continues to this day, and is an obvious cousin to the M11 that launched just this year. Unlike the modern digital M cameras, the M3 is purely mechanical. It’s a hunk of German brass, glass and silk that simply feels like the essence of precision engineering. Since there are no electronics, there’s no meter, but I’ve found particular joy in shooting without one.

Color negative film is extremely forgiving to incorrect exposures anyway, and I’ve found that I apparently know how to meter by eye. Yes, this counts as a humblebrag!

Anyway, the thing about M-mount rangefinders like the M3 is that they’re delightful to use and pretty small, so I find myself taking it everywhere. They say that the best camera is the one you have with you; it helps that the camera I have with me is one of the finest ever made. My M3 came with a collapsible Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 and a Hektor 135mm f/4.5, though I typically shoot with a Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC.

“But wait!” I hear readers cry from the other side of the screen, “The Leica M3’s widest framelines are 50mm!” Yes, it’s true, but the entire visible area of the incredible viewfinder outside the framelines is almost precisely 40mm, so it works for me. If none of the last few sentences makes sense, don’t worry about it.

Mamiya M645 1000S

Mamiya M645 1000S

While Oskar Barnack and Leica made 35mm film the standard film for most cameras, I almost always prefer shooting on medium format film, also known as “120 film.”

120 was developed by Kodak in 1901 for its Brownie No.2 camera, and survives to this day. The biggest difference is the size of the negative; while 35mm film shoots a negative that’s 36x24mm, the smallest 120 negatives are 56x42mm, nearly triple the area.

Film is made of individual silver grains, so the bigger the negative, the more grains can fit within it, increasing resolution and dynamic range. I use the Mamiya M645 M1000S with an AE prism, so the camera sets the shutter speed like on my Nikon FE2, but shoots a much larger negative.

The downsides to medium format are size and weight—the Mamiya weighs about twice as much as my Leica, and takes up 3 times as much space—and film cost, since each roll only lasts 15 shots in the 6x4.5cm format that the Mamiya shoots. It could be worse, though, 6x9cm cameras only get 8 shots per roll!

The Mamiya Sekor 55mm f/2.8 stays glued on my M645 (a roughly 35mm f/2 equivalent in 35mm/“full-frame” terms, can you sense a trend?) though it’s compatible with fastest-ever (film) medium format lens, the Mamiya Sekor 80mm f/1.9—equivalent to about 50mm f/1.2, which I will some day surely buy after one too many bourbons while browsing KEH.