Admiring the F again tonight; its simplicity, elegance, small footprint, lack of any type of power what so ever required to operate. All mechanical, no electronics. What a thing of beauty. Who would have thought in 1959 something was being released into the world that would have such a long lasting impact – not just on the art form of photography, but the world. Because the F ushered in the modern era of reportage photography, so many images of so many events in modern history were made with this tool and its offspring. What people can build when we put our minds to is simply astounding.
Today – 58 years later – the same device sits ready, with minimal (if any) attention required to do exactly what it was designed and built to do so many years ago.
The readers of Blue Hour Journal may not be familiar with this tool. I won’t bore you by over explaining it (but it’s difficult to come up with a fitting summary statement): The F is the first single lens reflex camera built by Nikon, paving the way for the concept of the modern SLR for years to come; giving birth to a fabled line of cameras and photographer’s works that will stretch into time for many generations.
This year marks Nikon’s 100 year anniversary. Many other companies relating to photography have gone by the way side in that 100 years. There can be no doubt photography as also changed dramatically in the span of time – especially in the last 20 or so since the advent of digital photography, and even more so in the last 10 since the advent of the smart phone. The state of Nikon as a company is unknown to me at this time. My assumption is they’ll continue to adapt, innovate and play an important role in what ever is to come. But what Nikon has accomplished can never, will never be erased.
“A camera is just a light-tight box,” some will say. Rubbish, I say. I wish everything I owned was built as well as Nikon built their old film cameras. Their endurance and legacy is not lost on this photographer. The F stands alone, having endured the rigors and scrutiny of time. It’s legacy carved in stone. And modern photography is the better for it. Bravo.
I picked up the E-702 Element shield in preparation for a trip to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It doesn’t rain much in Colorado and I’m trying to stack the deck in my favor. Ironically, the day before, while preparing to shoot football in pouring rain, I ran to the store and picked up a 2-pack of the inexpensive, disposable L-shaped baggies which worked fine stretched over the D3S for the duration of the game. After only a few hours, though, it was clear I needed something more robust to survive the elements of the Pacific Northwest. The KATA looked like a good solution but at $70 retail I decided to do some homework before actually buying one. After viewing their web demo I ran back up and snatched it up before another rain storm caused someone else to do the same thing.
When I got it home I immediately took out the Mamiya RZ67 replete with FE701 Prism finder, and 250APO behemoth lens (in other words, a BIG HONKIN’ CAMERA). You heard me right – this thing will fit my Medium Format rig as well as my DSLR’s. This feature was a main selling point for me: that I can purchase one cover and have it work across multiple systems made it a no brainer. My Nikons are very well sealed cameras to begin with. The Mamiya – having been designed more for the studio shooter – is not. One good dose of rain would effectively kill the RZ. While this article is primarily about the F6, rest assured the KATA works on other systems besides D/SLR’s.
The first thing I noticed when I took it out of the pack was the main, clear material. It’s not the slippery, hard, doomed to crack plastic I’d expected. It’s more of a clear, rubberized vinyl with a supple feel to it. The layout, seams and cuts are generous, providing plenty of room for my average sized hands – even with thin, photo gloves on. Each of the 3 orifices has a toggled draw string, and there is a bottom zippered access which allows mounting the camera – either via attachment to the body, or a foot on a telephotos lens – to a tripod or monopod, then zip the enclosure tight around it. I did borrow my D3s’ rubber hot-shoe cover for the hot-shoe of the F6 to avoid any risk of the sharp metal inadvertently scraping a hole in the top of the cover – the most vulnerable and potentially damaging place for a leak to form.
The E-702 is laid out essentially as a T. At the top cross-bar two orifices accommodate the hands from either side, and are ribbed with a stiffer yet still supple black, nylon material, complete with a draw cord. These nylon “tunnels” of fabric are long enough – and droop down enough – to accommodate the natural entry angle of someone standing behind the camera to reach up to manipulate the controls. Having used the inexpensive ones just a day earlier I immediately appreciated the room the photographer has to interact with the camera – while still maintaining a “fitted” feel and avoiding the excessive ballooning of a dramatically oversized cover. Both primary and secondary command dials are easily spun, buttons easily pushed and of course the shutter is easily accessible as well. There is plenty of room to mount the MC-30 in the front, 10-pin terminal (before inserting the camera), and reach down and interact with VR and Focus controls on the lens. There even appears to be enough room to open the camera back for unloading/reloading film while safe beneath the protection of the plastic.
The descender of the T is where the lens opening is. You are not shooting through plastic – it is open. But there’s a nice, stiff, velcro-enclosed 2-piece collar formed around the lens hood that effectively seals the barrel of the lens from the elements, while having the added bonus of extending the hood against stray weather elements landing on the front lens element. Beneath this velcro tunnel another vinyl skirt lives within the T’s terminus and draws tight against the barrel of the lens, forming a second level of protection. Think fine, blowing sand and dirt in the desert. The only downside experienced here is, when the draw-string is tightened too much against the barrel of an external focus lens, it is not free to move and thereby focus. This seems to affect only external focus barrel lenses, where the length of the lens actually changes with a turn of the focus ring. On internal focus lenses it isn’t an issue.
The only issue I can see having to get used to is looking through the plastic into the viewfinder. I can see this as a bit of a challenge, especially with rain streaking down the plastic, obscuring your vision. In such instances, however, I think simply lifting the plastic up to acquire focus, then lowering to shoot, would solve the problem. In the case of digital cameras, Live View will come in handy, though still prove an impediment to acquiring accurate focus. Especially if you’re using a lens design on which the exterior dimensions change with focus.
The Kata E-702 seems to be a very well thought-through product, and appears to be constructed well. If you’re looking for protection for your DSLR or medium format rigs, take a look at the Kata E-702. It’s designed for tele use up to a fixed 300mm lens but is easily adaptable to something as small as a 50mm 1.4D (with a hood). With the purchase of the KATA E-702, in theory I’ve done my best to prepare my gear against the elements, but the real proof is yet to come. I’ll look forward to putting it through its paces in the rainiest place in the United States and will have a full, detailed field test upon my return.