Nikon F Photomic - Watkins Mill

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, Aug 26, 2012.

  1. This camera came to me several years ago. It was something of a guilty pleasure since I already had a couple of nice F2's. It's simply a camera I drooled over back in high school but was unobtainable back then. My parents had the misguided notion that things like books, clothes, food and rent were somehow more important to spend $600 on. I had to content myself with a fixed-lens rangefinder like most of the guys (only guys, all boys Catholic school) in my photo club. One day, one of my classmates strolled into school with this exact camera. Mouths were agape and fingers trembled as we passed that black beauty around. We later learned the camera was borrowed without permission and I never touched another until I bought this one.
    This is an early 1970's Nikon F Photomic with the FTn metering prism. Introduced in 1968, this camera, born and bred from the original 1959 F, and from the Nikon rangefinders that preceeded it, holds truly classic status in the history of photography. The FTn prism was the last metering prism offered on the F. There is so much bandwidth about this camera, one only needs a basic search to uncover a cornacopia of information.
    A good place to start is here: and here:
    In the hands, the camera is solid and heavy. It has a strong, masculine design appeal, in its chunky blackness, and one can feel the legendary ruggedness. Much of the weight comes from the massive FTn Photomic prism which yeilds a basic 60/40 center-weighted metering pattern. I think driving tent stakes into permafrost would be no problem for this camera if needed.
  2. The camera came supplied with the Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens as one of it's options. A durable camera needs a well build optic and these early Nikkors are beautifully made of all metal construction with excellent optical qualities. To say "they don't make 'em like this anymore" is an understatement.
  3. Being a system guy I, of course, wanted to assemble a small but useful outfit to use. Unfortunetly, it was soon after aquiring the F that I got on a "smaller/lighter-is-better" kick and it sat mostly unused. I figured it sat long enough and thought it was high time to take it for a spin. So I packed the camera outfit, lunch, Fujicolor 400, and a small vial of Advil, and lugged this brass and glass classic out to the rural country side.
    I had heard about Watkins' old woolen mill but had never visited even though it's only an hour away. I thought this would be a fun outing to take the F kit.
  4. Watkins Woolen Mill is located outside of Lawson, MO and is the only 19th century textile mill remaining in the United States that is complete with all the original machinery. Built by Waltus Watkins in 1860, the mill was build of handmade brick and run by steam.
    The smoke stack off the back was where the boiler was located and was fed 2.5 cords of wood per day. This provided the 60-horsepower slide-valve steam engine the power to operate the mill's looms and machines. The primary purpose was to convert raw wool into yarn and cloth. It employed 40 workers, including children, it it's heyday. The area is now a state historical site.
  5. Nice! I have the exact same model that was given to me several years ago. The black finish is almost as nice as the example you have :)
  6. Mill Door
  7. Carding Machines
  8. Spooling Machines
  9. Hand Tools
  10. I never used Nikons, but I used to love those big beasts. I had a Minolta XK at one time and a Contarex. The last of that
    line that I still own is the Contax RTS III. Beautiful camera, wonderful design, but heavy. Regrettably my back just won't
    stand for it these days.
  11. Water Wheel Loom
  12. Loom Spools
  13. Spool Loading Machine
  14. A little break time relaxation
  15. A place to wash up
    The Nikon F outfit performed perfectly with smoothnesss and precision. The FTn meter worked well and I used it to make these exposures. Although not in-line with my current camera needs, the Nikon F Photomic is a true classic professional system that was fun to use. I have to admit, however, the vial of Advil came in handy. Thanks for looking.
  16. The pictures are great. Thanks.
    I love my old, unfortunately silver, F, but I am amazed that your Photomic meter actually still works.
    I got my F for practically nothing with a non-working meter head, but ended up spending more than I did on the camera to get a plain prism head.
    One of the minor joys of rewatching Apocalypse Now (the original) is Dennis Hopper's chest full of Nikons!
  17. While in secondary school, a teacher offered me a weekend loan of one of these cameras. To say I was impressed by the responsibility would be an understatement. I treated it with the utmost care, and I believe I might have run a roll of film through it. I have no idea where that film is now, but the memory of that camera is one I'll never forget. That was the first time I used a Nikon, and as soon as I could afford one, I bought a Nikomat FTn, which I still have. I do remember being impressed by the sharpness of the images...noticeably better than whatever I was using at the time.
  18. Nice work. This camera, and those lenses were the back bone of photojournalism for 3 decades.
  19. Cameras should be judges by their results and this is clearly a winner. I have always found these Nikons to be the ugliest cameras from the era. However, they were very capable in the right hand as you have proved.
  20. Very nice work! It's hard to pick a favorite, but something about the light in the outdoor shot of the mill building appeals to me, and "Hand Tools" and "Wash Bowl" are also standouts.
    My local camera store has on consignment a really fine chrome F with the FTn finder and a Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4. I'm sorely tempted every time I see it, but I've resisted so far. I already have an F with the standard non-metering prism, but it's starting to show signs of flakiness (the advance lever locked up on me partway through a roll of film the last time I shot with it). Then again, I just bought an F3HP...
  21. Wonderful presentation, pictures, and discussion Louis. The Nikon F with a standard non-metered prism was a stunningly beautiful camera, but I always felt the various metered prisms ruined its clean lines. Regardless, the historical significance of the Nikon F to photojournalism was monumental. For professionals, celebrities, and upwardly-ambitious amateurs this was the SLR to own, to use, and to be seen with. The Nikon F and Nikon lenses could certainly deliver the goods.
  22. Louis, right you are, they don't make them like they used to. I have a 1973 black FTN and 1.4 lens, with also a 135mm Nikkor-Q, and they will easily outlast me. Nice job on the photos of the woolen mill.
  23. Brilliant as usual Louis, love that black Nikon! I only have the chrome versions, not nearly as elegant but they are still nice to use and the solidness has to be seen to be believed.
    I always reckon that you should experience a Rolleiflex, a screw Leica and a Nikon F before you die!
    The shots of the mill are fascinating as well, is this how it was left or is it a museum? Love those close ups of the tools, really well done...thanks for the post.
  24. Right up to your usual high standards, Louis, with a post that is informative, interesting and a delight to the eye. What a beautiful outfit; Nikons are missing in my life, and you remind me what I'm missing. Love the "Hand Tools" pic, especially. Thanks for another great post.
  25. I have always found these Nikons to be the ugliest cameras from the era.​
    Oh NO, Mr. Starvy! You surely are only speaking of the Photomic head. The camera with the plain prism is way up there among the most beautiful SLR cameras ever made. And it's even prettier in black!
  26. Unlike Starvy, I even like the Photomics, don't care if others find them ugly. They can send them to me. I still use them. I have three Photomic FTn's and they all work. OK, the plain prisms are prettier, and the black ones prettier yet (especially the one I got for five bucks working) but any F is fine with me. I just love them.
    The above pictures are nice, and further evidence that there's really nothing an F cannot do when used right. There aren't a lot of other things that old for which the same can be said.
    I got an F3HP, which has pushed the F's a bit off to the side, but not all the way yet.
  27. I bought a Nikon F Photomic T in Japan when I was stationed there in the USAF in 1965. It came with the 50mm f/1.4 with a hard leather case which was always provided with cameras back then. It was my first "real" camera. I paid $189.95 for it there while it was going for about $300 more in the States. I lost it a few years later on a NYC Subway with a 135mm Nikkor I bought also.
    By that time I couldn't justify the expenses of getting another top-of-the-line Nikon so I bought a Nikormat FT3 with 50mm f/2.0 which I still have. Meter still works although I've only used the lens on a m4/3 - Olympus E-PL1. Of course it acts as a 100mm lens. I think the 3-D look is pretty good. I really should use it more often. What do you think?
  28. Thank you for your replies, comments and contributions.
    Tony-The mill is as it was on the day it was closed. They do have a visitor center up the road. Also on the vast 300 acre property are barns, workers cabins, the Watkins home, a small farm, school house and a large lake. Learn more here:
    It is a fascinating place and are very pro photography. On the day of my visit I was told I could take pictures on the tour they give. Fine, I thought, even though I brought several cameras including a heavy bag of Nikon F gear. However at the time of the tour, I was the only one. After chatting with them and seeing I was armed for bear, they cut me loose and I had full run of the entire property. What a fabulous opportunity this was. Here are a few more from the trip.
  29. The Watkins Home
  30. Sitting Room Chair
  31. Hand Carved Hand Rail
  32. Tablecloth Fluttering in the Breeze
    Thanks Again All!
  33. I don't own 1 right now but what I always loved most about my Ftn was the uncluttered viewfinder.
  34. What an excellent photo essay and written presentation. It is thoroughly enjoyable and shows what great machines those old Nikon bodies were and still are. A few years ago--well just as digital was coming out---I inherited a Nikon F with a plain prism and an F2 with the DP1 finder. I took them down to the late Pete Smith and put them back to near like new condition. I used them for a while, but as I grew older, they grew heavier, and my FE2 got a lot more use. Then digital appeared---you know the rest of the story. The "F" and "F2' now rest in a display case, but get dry fired every month---just in case get the urge again. Jerry
  35. I can't believe how good the image quality is for a 35mm camera. Sharpness and detail are phenomenal. A black F is the one Nikon I really would like to have, but don't. This isn't helping, at all.
  36. Louis,
    What a wonderful post and set of pictures. I must say that this black version is much prettier that the chrome. I could go for one of these. Thanks for posting.
  37. Hmm... Louis, those photos are wonderful. They make me want to get on an airplane to visit Watkins Mill. BTW the camera is nice too.
  38. Not one speck of dust on that gem. I can tell from looking at the pictures that the two of you make a great team. Thanks for posting. BW
  39. Looks like it just came out of the box.Beautiful
  40. Louis, are the photos of the mill captured using natural light, only?
  41. Brett- Using a tripod, and mirror lock up, helped with the sharpness. It's amazing how much they make a difference. I used them on every shot. In this situation there was simply no reason not too.
    BW - Yes, ambient light only. Lots of windows there. A tripod also helped with longish exposures using smaller apertures. Had I been on a tour with a large group I doubt there would have been time to set up a pod and do long exposures. Being alone, I could take my time.
  42. Superb photos. A most interesting place. Well illustrated. liked the tale of your use of the "F". I have 2 that saw a country undergo radical changes! My boxes carry the scratches, dings and dents as used as a shield when things were being thrown..I was younger more gung-ho. Favorite lens was the 105mm-f2.5. That was the quieter period of Fashion and Editorial.
    The camera is heavy. My FTn-meters are done.The cameras work fine..I have a similar selection of lenses. Some were added when digital appeared and they were real cheap. The 28, 35 f2 and f2.8, 45mmGN, 50mm f2 and a damaged 50mm f1.4 (elements separating). The venerable 105mm, the 135mm f3.5(not AI) and a specially adapted Pentax Takumar 200mm f3.5. It was owned by a Magnum photographer.
    I added a F3 for the working meter. It is a beautiful camera, the film advance so light, always checking the rewind knob turning! Strangely the F3, not much larger than a Leica M. The Nikon-F with prism about same size as my M3.
    They are beautiful in an industrial sense. They always work. I wish i was stronger and could drag them around..
  43. Louis, I love all of these pictures! What a great, classic shot of the mill itself, but the shots inside are excellent as well, really giving a good 'feel' of the place. The camera is beautiful and the color rendition and sharpness of the lens is impressive too. Thanks for a fantastic post.
  44. The Sitting Room Chair is my favorite - a classic view. Alan.
  45. Those are excellent interiors. I have a 1965 F with the second generation of finders on it: the one that can read incident light.
    That 50mm lens is an interesting case. I have the same model, and although faintly flare prone, it is a top performer. I have read that Nikon uses the same lens design for their current 50mm 1.4s. They never developed a fast fifty to beat it. The new ones have better lens coatings, but are almost identical to the one you have.
  46. Thank you Louis for the nudge to stop and visit. I'm about 60 miles northeast and see the signs each time I head down to Liberty or Kansas City. Another point to stop and find something to photograph. I've owned a F2a for over 32 years and it might be time to take it out of retirement and run some film through it. Fantastic photographs! Gives a good feel to the place. If I remember correct Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site is operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks and there is no charge for entrance to most state parks. Another of the many gems in Missouri.
    Jacqueline Alkula
    Chillicothe, "The Home of Sliced Bread", Missouri
  47. Yes, Jacqueline, totally worth a visit. The park and grounds are free but if you want a tour of the interior of the home and mill it's $4. A pretty cheap source of fun and it helps them keep the place open and staffed. Don't miss the church an old schoolhouse on the same property. Very cool!

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