Written by Lauren Keim
It took one shot from my first roll on the Nikonos-V, and I was hooked. We live by the beach, and from the time I first started shooting film, I was drawn to the beautiful underwater and beach shots I saw other photographers produce. Of course I had to start to research how to make my own. Enter the Nikonos-V. (Find at KEH Camera or on eBay)
About the Nikonos V
This beast of a 35mm camera, which was produced between 1963 and 2001, is part of Nikon’s Nikonos series and can handle anything, from surf to sand, that you throw at it. It’s an underwater camera up to 50 meters (164 feet) and is not damaged by sand, salt, or weather conditions. It’s heavy and clunky and comes in orange and camo green! When paired with its Nikkor lens, it can feel pretty intimidating, but, in truth, this camera is straightforward to use and can be super fun to play with.
How to Focus the Nikonos V
While considered a rangefinder camera, the Nikonos is actually a scale-focus camera. This means there’s no focusing aid, like you’d have with a rangefinder. Instead you focus with the assistance of a scale located on the lens. Here’s the key. That scale is tied to the aperture you chose, and the more stopped down your aperture, the wider your focusing range.
The Nikkor lenses have two dials, one for changing your aperture, which will then shift the distance within the focusing scale. The focusing scale dial will then increase or decrease the distance you can focus within, based on the aperture you choose. All of this sounds complicated, but when I first started gleaning information about shooting my Nikonos, the best piece of advice I got was, “F/8 is your friend.” If you shoot wide, like f/2.5, you’ll have a really minimal focusing range. Higher apertures will give you a wider range to work with.
Think of your favorite beach shots when you consider film for the Nikonos. Lots of photographers choose Ektar (find on Amazon) or Kodak Gold (find on Amazon), liking their saturated colors. Personally, I’m partial to Fuji Superia (find on Amazon), but I’ve seen stunning shots with black and white films too.
Shooting with the Nikonos V
But when I get this camera in my hand, all that technical stuff fades away. My mind opens, and I’m ready to experiment and play.
While I’ve seen spectacular underwater shots with this camera, my favorite way to shoot it is by simply being in the water with it. It’s such a reassuring camera to have at the beach, knowing that sand or saltwater can’t harm it. This is the camera I take with me when we have blowing water from tropical storm winds and blowing snow from our infrequent blizzards.
I’m most compelled by the play of light on water, and the Nikonos is perfect for that. Ignoring the sand sliding up my swimsuit, I’ll lie on my stomach in the shallow waves and watch the setting or rising sun. The Nikonos can be finicky, and I’m okay with that. Knowing for sure that I won’t nail every shot frees me to let the waves come and go and watch the light on the water as I shoot. Some shots will be nothing but murky green, but some will be pure magic, and that’s all that matters.