Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Using a Film Camera converted to Digital

Learning to use the Nikon FE with electric film

Nikon FE & Tamron SP
I have had the Nikon FE working with the Nex electric film for a few weeks now and ironed out some bugs. I have even discovered a few different ways to use it and a few surprises that I did not think possible.

My old MD11 motor drive has packed it in, but I have left it on as I prefer the handle grip and the extension of the battery compartment means I can fix a tripod or the Metz flash to the tripod mount. The camera is just more stable with the MD11 attached.

Playing around with the Nex settings I found I could custom set the centre wheel button to the ISO setting. This has made it really quick to change the ISO which needs to match the ASA on the Nikon. I shake a bit so this is handy for me to keep the Nikon speed above 125th in most conditions. The camera worked very well on 3200 ISO&ASA at an indoor conference with no flash.

Nikon FE digital with Metz flash
Speaking of using a flash, I tried the Nikon out with my old Metz 45CT flash attached. You would not want to connect this powerful flash to a DSLR as it could melt the electronics. But running off the SLR Nikon is what it is made for. The results have been terrific and setting the Nex to post process out the noise works well. Click this Lorikeet photo to see the result.

I've fixed a small raised rubber stopper to the Nex shutter button which makes it easy to trigger with my thumb knuckle without looking for it, as the Nex is inverted. I use the Nex in a couple of speed settings to electrify the sensor. If I want a bit of time to adjust focus, I set it to 6 seconds. Then I trigger the Nex, fine tune focus and fire off the Nikon before that time. The Nex then processes the shot, which can be a bit slow if the Long Exposure NR is on. The other method is to set the Nex to Bulb. I then trigger the Nex and fire off the Nikon whilst the Nex is held on. Processing can be short or long depending on the time the sensor was electrified. I keep auto Playback turned off as this slows things up. Just press the Playback button whenever I need to check a photo.

Something unexpected has turned up. Naturally the Nex is set on Manual but if I have it set on Bulb and put the Nikon on Bulb and hold the Nikon shutter open, then the Nex adjusts automatically to the light coming in and gives perfect Live View pretty much without having to adjust the lens aperture setting. But if I have the Nex set at say 6 seconds, the Live View just whites out until I start adjusting the speed on the Nex and aperture on the Nikon until the settings are close to what the Nex light meter is recording. So using the first method with both on Bulb I can frame a shot perfectly and play around with focussing using the Nex LCD and its Manual Focus assist button to zoom in. Also it's Focus Peaking Level works if you need that sort of thing.

The Nikon FE is renowned as an extremely good night time camera. It's versatile light meter will hold the shutter open for over an hour to expose an image. With good quality colour film you can get some outstanding results.
Nikon FE 200ASA film
3 minute exposure
So I thought I would try the electric film setup at night. Using a 50mm Nikkor set at 1:8, Nikon on auto speed and Nex on bulb, I put a rubber band around the Nex to hold the sensor on and tripped the Nikon shutter. It wasn't real dark so the Nikon exposed in about 60 seconds. I released the Nex and played back the shot. It was covered in multi coloured spots which I googled and found they were hot spots on the sensor commonly called noise. So I repeated the process a few times with the Long Exposure NR on. Well the Nex takes about the same time as the exposure to then process out the noise, quite a wait between shots. This did work and the photos were a lot better. But there is a chalk and cheese difference between digital and film when it comes to night time photography. I will experiment some more and might do some simultaneous photography using 2 Nikon FE's one with film and one with electric film. Should be an interesting comparison. Although I am a bit dubious whether the Nex can handle an exposure longer than a few minutes.

Another surprise was the ability to shoot movies. This just involves holding the Nikon shutter open in Bulb, adjusting the lens aperture to an average setting and focusing. Click movie and the Nex adjusts the light intake and shoots a pretty good movie with sound. So I guess this means the Nex does not need its shutter for framing in movie mode.

The Nex certainly cannot take a photo by itself though. What I mean by that is the Nikon shutter is held open whilst the Nex is triggered at a speed it's light meter is asking for. The photo is always overexposed and pretty corrupted. Obviously the sensor needs a shutter to close off the light for a brief moment to process the shot.  Anyway that's not important as the photos are excellent with the Nikon taking the shots which is the purpose of this project.

I have set up a web site that explains how to fit a Nex to an SLR and a few other tricks to make it all work. Even a page on how to make a custom rear door.  Camera conversions

Summarising this project I can qualify that it has been an outstanding success and I couldn't be happier with the way the camera works and the quality of the photos. When I started the project I was pretty sure it would take good photos but I never expected Live View or Movie to work so well. The action of triggering the Nex before the Nikon is something I am getting used to. It is a bit heavy with the MD11 attached but it feels great to hold this way and quite well balanced. If your contemplating this project then I highly recommend it as the end result is very satisfying.

Robin Guymer   Email Link

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