$7.95 NZ$9.90 Volume 70 Number 2
o b B eks We
Is FUJIFILM’S X-T1 A D-SLR Slayer? Why The NIKON Df’s Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep
From Rockets To Road Works
ROBIN HAMMOND And The Power Of Photojournalism
Byron Bay track, 1965.
RIGHT: Dawn Fraser at swimming trails at North Sydney Swimming Pool for the 1956 summer Olympics Games. BELOW:
1953 Sydenham train accident, Sydney.
On Every Tuesday The Bob Weeks Interview For somebody who originally had no intentions of pursuing a career in photography, Bob Weeks has enjoyed a remarkably diverse one, ranging from editorial to weddings to commercial assignments. Interview by Bruce Usher.
interviewed the laconic Bob Weeks at his home in Woolgoolga, northern NSW. During our three-hour meeting, Bob’s memory was slowly ticking away in resting mode, except for random moments of clarity. At the time, he didn’t tell me that he had photographed the Sydenham rail disaster in 1953, when five people died and 748 were injured. He didn’t tell me that, three years later, he photographed a young Dawn Fraser during the Olympic trials at North Sydney swimming pool. Or that he worked at the Woomera Rocket Range in 1961. Nor did he reveal that he had the first cover of Surfing World magazine in 1961 or that he was a member of Sutherland Camera Club in 1961 along with jazz musician Don Burrows. It was Bob’s photo which appeared on the cover of the Atlantics LP, Bombora, also in 1961. Weeks never thought about being a professional photographer, but it was a slow wave that enveloped him in the late 1970s. After it receded, Bob Weeks the professional photographer, was left high and dry.
All photographs copyright Bob Weeks.
Addicted Bob was just seven or eight and staying at a friend’s house when he discovered the family had a Box Brownie camera. He asked to borrow it and talked his Dad into buying him a roll of 620 film. And that was it, he was addicted to photography! When he turned ten, Bob’s Dad bought him an English-made 35mm camera with a waist-level finder, and then a developing kit and a contact printer. In 1956, with the arrival of an enlarger, Bob converted the family home’s laundry to a darkroom. One Saturday morning in December 1953, Bob was in the local store when his father rushed in and said, “Grab your camera! Come with me”. They headed to the railway line near Sydenham station in Sydney’s inner west. “I saw a train had crashed into the rear of another and people were helping passengers out of the carriages,” Bob recalls. “I wandered around and took four shots and then ran out of film.”
“There were no photo credits on any of the images. I don’t remember the payment, but I know it was small. It helped cover the cost of the film and that’s all.” ABOVE:
Cover of “Stompin’ Time” record by the Atlantics.
Hooked, Bob was keen to find anything to feed his passion for photography. “I probably read in the paper about the Olympic swimming trials for the 1956 Melbourne games being at North Sydney pool,” he says. “Any excuse to take a few shots with my Kodak Retinette 35mm camera. “I got some nice photos of Dawn Fraser who broke a number of records that day and Lorraine Crappe. I could wander anywhere around the pool… there was no drama and I don’t remember any media photographers there.” Unfortunately, Bob lost the negatives from that day, but still has a few original prints.
Cover Ups Jack Eden, the soon-to-be editor and chief photographer of Surfabout magazine, invited Bob and the artist Gary Birdsell, to visit him at his home. “Jack had the idea to start a surfing magazine. He was an upholsterer who did some photography. He started surfing and surf photography before I came on the scene. I started surfing photography in 1961 when I bought a Pentax and got a 400mm Novoflex lens and a beautiful Pentax 200mm lens. I used 25 ASA black and white film developed in a special developer.” The first issue of Surfabout was published in August 1961 and it included eight smaller images and one full-page photo taken by Bob, plus a story he had
written on surfing the big swells in the entrance to Port Hacking. “Interestingly, there were no photo credits on any of the images. I don’t remember the payment, but I know it was small. It helped cover the cost of the film and that’s all. I don’t think the mag made much money in the early days.” Bob only had one cover photo with Surfabout and still has the original Kodachromes from that morning’s shoot at Cronulla Point on Sydney’s south side. Stamped on the cardboard mount is the date, “Feb 64”. “I swam out with my camera in a heavy bulky underwater housing. The housing strap lifted over my head when I dived under a wave and fell to the reef below, but I recovered it. Later, I paddled out with my camera in a plastic bag because the 135mm lens wouldn’t fit in the housing.” Bob Evans, the future editor of Surfing World magazine visited Bob at the Caringbah camera shop where he was working at the time. Bob Evans wanted some photographs. Surfing World was published a week after Surfabout and Weeks got his picture on the cover of the first issue, but no credit and no payment. It was the same for his photo on the cover of the Atlantics record, Bombora, but he says he was “stoked” to have his picture on the cover… and he did receive a copy of the LP.
Surfer John Rhodes in 1962. RIGHT Skater, 1965. Sydneyâ€™s Circular Quay photographed in 1961.
Subsequently, when his photograph was used on the cover of Now It’s Stompin’ Time, another Atlantics LP, he received the sleeve minus the record! When working at the Caringbah camera shop, Bob had every Tuesday off and so it was always on this day of the week that he took many of his iconic images. Despite these early successes, Bob didn’t envisage a career in photography. “It didn’t ever cross my mind. I was totally obsessed with the surf and surfing.”
Rocket Man Yet, not long after he had turned 20 years old, Bob Weeks saw an advertisement for a photographer at the Woomera Rocket Range in South Australia. He applied for the job and got it. He worked from a camera post – these were located a 100 miles down the range – and was there for the inaugural launch. About once a week he was required to film rocket launches with a high-speed movie camera that ran about 3000 frames per second (versus the normal 24 fps) for super slow-motion. As it happened, no still photography was involved in the job at all and Bob quickly got bored. He had an old VW and started travelling around the area with another Woomera employee whom he had befriended. This was Phil Gray who subsequently became a very successful professional photographer himself. “The silly thing is that, I had been so occupied taking surfing photos and surfing back then, that I really missed the ocean. We both left Woomera at
Cover shot, Surfabout magazine, 1964.
1963 Rocker and Clubby.
the same time and travelled around the coast from Adelaide taking photos.”
Sea Change In 1971 Bob Weeks was living not far from Cronulla when he decided to leave Sydney and move to Coffs Harbour to pursue a country lifestyle. He subsequently moved into a new home on Woolgoolga Headland. His first job was 26 kilometres back down the road in Coffs, working in retail at the Walton’s department store. After it closed down, he ended up on a
ON TRIAL sive than the D610 which means Nikon doesn’t appear to be anxious to sell vast numbers of the Df. If you can take or leave the whole idea of going back to using dials, you’re going to buy a D610… or a D800… or a D4. So the Df comes from a different direction to Fujifilm X and Olympus OM-D… it’s design brief is entirely based on paying homage to Nikon’s classic 35mm SLRs so, consequently, it’s more about making a statement than making sales (although there are no doubt targets for the latter). This makes it even more interesting in terms of its potential as a professional camera. That said, making the Df work in the hands of any photographer would still have been quite a challenge. Getting the balance of nostalgia and practicality just right can’t have been easy, especially as because, unlike any other retro-design digital camera we’ve seen so far, the former needed to take precedence over the latter. Yet the latter was still critical in achieving the stated objective of ‘photographic purity’ which dictated the use of the D4’s ‘big pixel’ sensor and, controversially, the omission of video recording capabilities. It’s undoubtedly a sign of how things have changed if we’re commenting about video not being included on a high-end D-SLR when, not so long ago, its inclusion caused consternation.
The Df’s bodyshell is a combination of magnesium alloy and GRP with sealing against dust and moisture.
Grand Design Nikon Df
Is retro-styling relevant to working cameras? Nikon has deliberately looked back for its Df so it’s a classic by design rather than default. Report by Paul Burrows.
ujifilm has built its revival in high-end cameras on classically styled designs, starting with the X100, carrying on with the X-Pro1 and now the X-T1. Olympus has tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia with its OM-D Series of compact system cameras (CSCs) and it’s tilting at the pro-market with its SLR-like E-M1. Although both brands have been somewhat forced by circumstances to do something different, both have subsequently enjoyed enormous success by ‘going retro’. Leica, of course, has never been anything else, so its latest M model (the Typ 240) is just doing what comes naturally.
Nikon is in a very different boat. Its D-SLR business is still exceptionally healthy and it has carefully pitched its CSC system to compliment it rather than cannibalise it. Nikon is selling lots of cameras to lots of people. Nikon does not need to ‘go retro’ in order to be noticed so this imperative is missing from the Df… perhaps the most unusual digital camera ever. Unlike the Fujifilm and Olympus models, it’s a D-SLR and, what’s more, a D-SLR with a full-35mm sensor. It uses the same sensor as the D4 and has pretty much the same control systems as the D610 so it’s also a high-end D-SLR… something that’s reflected in the price tag. In fact, it’s quite a bit more expen-
First up, the Df is a bit of an eyeful because it’s substantially bigger than the camera that essentially inspired its styling… the legendary FM. This was a 35mm SLR tough enough that you could hammer nails in with it, but by D-SLR standards it’s pretty compact. So, looking like an FM on steroids, the Df has a fairly commanding presence… and that’s before you get to grips with all its ‘dialness’. It’s not as big as a Pentax 67… more like a Pentacon Six for those of you who can remember that East German
The flash PC socket and lens release are pretty well in the same locations they occupied on the FM and FM2.
ON TRIAL beast. For the record though, it’s actually the smallest of Nikon’s ‘FX’ format D-SLRs. The pentaprism housing carries the same leatherette inserts as the FM – actually, this was a cosmetic feature Nikon introduced on the original F – and the faceplate and logo are similar in shape and typography. Nikon has located the Df’s PC flash terminal and lens release button in pretty much the same positions as they are on the FM, plus the shutter speed dial and the shutter release which has the same concentric on/off switch arrangement (although on the FM it’s a shutter lock)… it even retains a cable release socket. But as the Df does so much more than the mechanical FM, it needs more controls so the top plate is dial central and they’re employed to set the exposure mode, shutter speeds, exposure compensation and the aforementioned ISO. The last three all have locking buttons while the mode selector employs the old lift-and-turn routine to change the settings which are subsequently locked in. A selector switch below the shutter speed dial sets the ‘drive’ modes (including mirror lock-up) while the front input wheel also takes the form of stand-alone dial located on the front panel adjacent to the ‘Df’ logo. In keeping with 35mm SLR design from slightly after the FM, there’s a small LCD read-out panel on the top deck, just astern of the shutter release.
Looking The Part Viewed from directly above, then, the Df could well be a film camera; the only clue that it isn’t being that the ISO dial is marked up to 12,800 which was a sensitivity speed never attained with conventional photographic emulsions. From the front-on too, the Df does an equally convincing impersonation of a 35mm SLR (size aside, of course). At the back, though, it’s pure Nikon D-SLR with a fixed 8.1 cm LCD monitor screen, navigator pad – the “Multi-Selector” in Nikon parlance – and the various buttons relating to displays, playback and menus. Given just about everything to do with capture is tied to a dial or selector somewhere else, all that’s left to do on the back panel is selection of the image quality, white balance settings and metering modes. Incidentally, although the Df doesn’t have
Front input wheel takes the form of a dial on the front panel adjacent to the handgrip.
video, it still retains live view which is activated by pressing the ‘Lv’ button. It also retains an HDMI connector. The monitor screen has a toughened, tempered glass faceplate so there’s no need for the clip-on protector which Nikon supplies with some of its higher-end D-SLRs. There are a couple of neat touches in the control layout, most notably the ‘1/3 STEP’ setting on the shutter speed dial which switches the adjustment to one-third stop increments. Speed setting is now performed via the rear input wheel (and displayed in the small LCD panel). The shutter speed dial also has ‘B’, ‘T’ and ‘X’ positions which is really old school. ‘B’ you all know about, and ‘T’ does the same thing except the shutter doesn’t need to be locked open (of course, much simpler to do with the common-or-garden cable release) – one press of the shutter button starts the exposure and a second press concludes it. The ‘X’ setting engages the maximum flash sync speed of 1/200 second. In keeping with its design philosophy, the Df doesn’t have a built-in flash, but it retains full compatibility with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS), including on-camera control of accessory flash units.
35mm SLR with the Ai mount, but essentially the change was made to herald in a new generation of cameras starting, appropriately, with the FM. With the introduction of autofocusing, Nikon used CPUs in its lens to communicate electronically with the camera body, although the Ai (and subsequent Ai-S spec) meter coupling ‘ridge’ is still on any current Nikkor lens which retains a manual aperture collar (i.e. any model with a ‘D’ suffix after the maximum aperture designation). However, as a general rule, non-Ai lenses can’t be fitted to later bodies – including all the digital models – unless the mount is converted which is exactly what’s ‘built into’ the Df. Incidentally, while this is a first on a Nikon D-SLR, it was also available on the FM, FE, F3 and F4 plus the last of the Nikkormats. Back then, of course, a lot more photographers still had camera bags full of non-Ai lenses.
“Nikon is selling lots of cameras to lots of people. Nikon does not need to ‘go retro’ in order to be noticed so this imperative is missing from the Df… perhaps the most unusual digital camera ever.”
Nikon has restyled its current 50mm f1.8 AFS-Nikkor prime to look like a period lens, but being a G-type lens it doesn’t have a manual aperture collar so it doesn’t quite look the part. Never mind, if you do have genuine vintage Nikkors, the good news is that the Df can accept the older non-Ai types via a clever arrangement whereby the Ai coupling lever can be folded up so it can’t be damaged. While Nikon still uses the same F-mount bayonet fitting it introduced in 1959 with the original F, there have been quite a few changes over the decades to the way camera and lens communicate. The most significant came in 1977 when Nikon introduced the Ai (short for Automatic [Maximum Aperture] Indexing) mount which eliminated the need to manually ‘index’ the metering to the attached lens’s maximum aperture… a procedure Nikon SLR users had had to perform every time they put a lens on a camera body. The last of classically mechanical Nikkormats, the FT3, was the first Nikon
With the meter coupling lever folded up, a nonAi lens can be fitted and then, in the Set Up Menu, the focal length and maximum aperture is entered into the ‘Non CPU Lens Data’ listing. Additionally, within the same sub-menu, the exposure metering coupling needs to be set to Non-Ai Lens. However, because there is no actual physical coupling, it’s necessary to manually transfer the aperture setting from the lens to the Df (dialled in via the rear input wheel), but this really isn’t such a big deal consider-
As the shutter speed dial only has full-stop adjustments, it can be set to ‘1/3 STEP’ and changing speeds is then done by the rear input wheel.
The exposure compensation dial and ISO selector both have locks.