Going Deep with the Nikonos

Experimenting with new cameras has been a critical way for me to stay engaged with photography. I’ve messed around with he Canonet, medium formats, the Fujifilm, my Canon 6d, and of course various 35mm cameras. Mixing it up is key. There’s something I really appreciate about getting unexpected results (happy little accidents!) that helps me approach photography with a fresh eye and a beginner’s mindset.

The newest camera in my quiver is a Nikonos IV. It’s a 1980’s era underwater film camera. There’s a bit of a cult following with these things, for good reason. They’re super easy to use, take great pics, and just look at it, it looks like something Jacque Cousteau would use. Who knows, he probably did.

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I picked up a Nikonos IV on eBay for about $150. It came from Japan and is pretty much in perfect condition. The newer models are slightly more expensive (and orange), but I didn’t feel the need to spring for one.

It’s so fun swimming with one of these things for the first time. It feels almost wrong to carry a camera into the water without some kind of waterproof housing. It doesn’t feel like this vintage piece of metal could actually keep film dry, but it does! No complicated water housing needed, just some good old fashion analog technology, a good strap, and high-quality gaskets.

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The camera itself has an aperture priority mode that makes it really easy to use. The hardest part is setting the focus, but this is only difficult because it’s not the typical way we’re used to shooting. You basically set the aperture, then look at the focus ring on the lens, and then based on the distance of “in focus” you set your focus ring. In general, my approach was to use the smallest aperture that the light allows for in order to have the most forgiving depth of field.

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These images are from my first rolls shooting with it, so they were mostly shot for play and to get used to the camera. Looking at all the images, I can tell I definitely struggled with figuring out what fits in the frame. This is sort of an expected problem when you’re not always shooting through the viewfinder. I also really wanted to get shots that were half in the water and half out, and this proved a lot harder than I thought it would. Overall though, I’m of course happy to see these pics. Now I just need to get back in the water with it.

You can see more great Nikonos images at @nikons_project and learn how to shoot with one here.