Mixed Plate
Nikonos V Tips

My Nikonos V

The Nikonos series of cameras are made by Nikon and were originally designed for underwater (UW) scuba-type photography.  Here's a little review on the goods and bads of my Nikonos V camera, as it pertains to surf photography.

I got my Nikonos V from a Navy exchange way back around 1991.  The body and 35 mm lens cost me $515.  The price has since gone up to over $800!

First time shooting, I got something like 20 out of 25 decent shots.  I was amazed and stoked at the high percentage of "keepers".  Little did I know that this good success rate was the exception and not the rule.

On that first roll, I was shooting in good lighting, shallow water and small waves, so I could get pretty intimate with the surfers.  In the real world of bigger surf, however, I had to step back from the subject and my photos showed with tiny riders on wide-open views.

It comes with a hand strap that I still use today, girth-hitching it to my right wrist.  Thought about putting a leash on, but I never really needed one.

So the controls (focus and aperture) are made to be preset and aren't easy at all to adjust on the fly.

Although the viewfinder has through-the-lens (ttl) exposure metering, the picture frame is *not* WYSIWYG.  There's a separate viewfinder for framing pictures.  When you shoot close shots, you have to actually compensate for the lens and viewfinder disparity by tilting the camera a tad higher.

The V has quite a bit of automation, with a program mode that can adjust the shutter speed to match the available light (aperture priority).  I've found this automated exposure kind of spotty, and actually set both the aperture and shutter manually.

One time, I must've knocked the camera around too much, because the reflecting mirror in the viewfinder got knocked out of place.  I've since banged the camera around enough so that it is out of the way, but now I can't see the LED shutter settings in auto mode.  That's the main reason I
manually set the camera up.

There's a trigger lock that doesn't allow you to waste film during the paddle outs.  Problem is that I've lost more than a few epic shots because I stupidly had this engaged.  Use with caution.

The trigger itself very mechanical and not very positive.  It's hard to distinguish exactly when the shutter is engaged.  This evokes the tendency to click it quickly, but doing so too fast might cause jitter, which equates to blur.

Changing lenses is a snap--just twist and release.  Putting the lens on feels very sketchy--it doesn't seem like the seal is good enough to be watertight.  But amazingly, it is.

As far as settings, I just kind of eyeball the lighting and set the camera accordingly.  I try to make sure I get at least 1/250 speed, then minimize the aperture size (bigger numbers) to get maximum depth of field.  I preset the focus, anticipating how far the subject will be when I shoot.  Typically
this is about 15+ feet.  Think I base my settings accordingly in bright sunlight: ASA 100, F8, 1/500.

The lens has a neat configuration where it shows the focal range for any given aperture setting.  Helps in framing and waiting for the right moment.  Fairly accurate, I believe.

The camera truly is built like a tank, with a body made of metal.  The waterproof seals are established using two O-rings--one to get to the film area and one for the battery compartment.  Nikon recommends cleaning this area regularly, and applying their O-ring grease.  Knock on wood but I haven't had a major catastrophe yet, even though some sand has slipped into the seal area.

Been looking for that 80 mm lens used (I even mentioned this to George Barnes and Tom Keener on my recent trip to San Diego).  Don't know how it works--at over $500 brand new I'm not financially ready to give it a shot.

As for film, well that's a whole story in itself.  For slides, I prefer Fuji Sensia because you can get it with ASA 400.  The Provias and Velvias are too expensive and I can't handle the slow speed and short expiration period.

For print film, I used to use exclusively Fuji because of the nice blues and greens exposure.  However, I've recently tried the Kodak Max films and love the quality.

The details are great, but the proof is in the pudding.