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Travel Stories

Still Learning After 30 Years


Keywords: photo, journeys

I was about seventeen when I first found myself fascinated by the ability to capture images on film with a camera.

Three pensioners, Johannesburg probably early in 1975. Nikon F, Ilford HP5


Soon, people, places and many other things became subjects for my photographic my canvases. Those early attempts at art are long gone — discarded as being too amateurish. They seemed badly exposed, poorly developed, or crudely enlarged by my ill-skilled hands in a bathroom darkroom.


The ‘70s dawned and work replaced the student life while photography saw the rangefinder camera joined by the single lens reflex. My very first SLR was sold very quickly, replaced by a spanking new Pentax Spotmatic — the camera that (for me) first defined serious 35mm photography for the non-professional.

I used the Spotmatic for several years and even brought it to South Africa in 1974. Soon after, while walking downtown Johannesburg I came face-to-face with what would make a radical change in my photographic thinking; the Nikon F, complete with a Photomic metering head and a 50mm f/2 Nikkor lens.

It then cost about US$100 and I went without beer for a good couple of weeks to pay for it.

The image below is Copyright Nikon Inc., Garden City, New York 11530, at the time a subsidiary of Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries, Inc.
In 1981, Nipppon Kogaku, K. K. purchased Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries, Inc.

Nikon F Photomic


Where the Spotmatic was lithe and easy in the hand, the Nikon was hard, heavy and absolutely reassuring in its ability to get the job done. We made a great pair. The Nikon ensured that my amateurish fumblings looked their best regardless of how artless I’d been when framing the shot.


I still have that Nikon F, as well as an F2 with a motor drive. I also have a bag of lenses that allow me to take photographs just about anywhere. Neither camera has ever been serviced and (apart from batteries) have cost nothing in maintenance for more than thirty years.

I celebrated the arrival of digital photography by doing absolutely nothing. My interest in photography had waned for some years and apart from the odd trip to the bush in the hope of capturing that elusive “kill” picture, I’d left my cameras in the cupboard and my interest in things digital strictly in the office.

My first venture into digital photography was a very expensive Kodak camera which is now best left unmentioned. It was so useless that several years slid by before I was prepared to try my hand again. This time, I went back to a Nikon; a Coolpix 5700, the 5 megapixel digital zoom camera that completely restored my faith in where this new technology was headed.

The image below is of a Great Western Railway “Hall” class locomotive photographed at the Didcot Railway Centre (about 40 miles west of London) August 2002 

Nikon Coolpix 5700, converted to B&W in Photoshop

Click for enlargement


I have an enlarged Coolpix image hanging in my home. It has been Photoshopped to 540mm x 840mm (21x33”) and was ink jet printed in Cape Town. At this level of magnification and on very close inspection, the image shows tiny areas of artifact distortion, typical of JPEG compression, but as an image, it’s a monument to Nikon’s digital and optical technology.


I’ve trailed the Coolpix around Europe and many parts of Africa and it has performed flawlessly. It still does. It now lives in my car, ready to photograph whatever catches my eye as I go about my daily routines. I suppose you could think that it has been relegated to this role, but you’d be wrong — it’s too useful for that, it has just been replaced as my camera of choice.


Image below is of The Cape Music Project, a sponsored project to encourage young South Africans to learn and play music.

This spontaneous dance was in the middle of their year-end concert, December 2005.

Nikon D2x, Nikon 80-200 ED f/2.8 zoom at 1/80, f/4.5

Click for enlargement


What replaced it was another Nikon. A D70. The camera that re-cast the way I regard digital photography. So much so, that it is hard to go anywhere in the world and not find myself looking at a landmark — and glancing around to find someone holding a D70 of their own.


The D70 offered three things that surpassed the Coolpix; higher resolution, almost instantaneous on/off and shutter response and the ability to use existing Nikon SLR lenses. If, like me you have several expensive pieces of glass gathering dust in the cupboard, this is a real plus.

I added a 12-24mm zoom to the kit 18-55mm lens late in 2004. Happy with the transition, the D70 shot images everywhere; Europe, the U.S, and more recently, Asia.

Image below: Zambia - Australians are known to do odd things. This is the Devils Swing, alongside Victoria Falls on the Zambia side. Nikon Coolpix 5700

Click for enlargement


While I was in Singapore in September 2005, I spotted a sparkling new Nikon D2x body in a shop window. I wrangled with both my conscience and finances for a couple of days, but knew I’d have to give in. If I was happy with the D70, I am delirious with the D2x; 12 megapixels, a magnesium alloy body and a shutter that works and sounds like, well a shutter should. It’s what we call “totally fab” in my part of the world.



Home from Asia, I wondered what to do with my pictures. I’d seen a number of images on a friend’s Mac Web site and decided to give it a try on my own.

I spent a few weeks deciding which other pictures I should post. The digital colour images were easy enough to choose. So were the images I’d been experimenting with in Photoshop. There were also some digital images I’d been fooling with that I’d converted to black and white.

Image below: The top of the Franshoek Valley (south west Cape Province) obscured by smoke from raging bush fires.

31 December 2005. Nikon D2x. Nikkor 80-200 ED f/2.8 zoom at 1/500, f/11

Click for enlargement


Could I add these and some of my (by now) very old original black and white shots? A week of scanning prints and Photoshopping the digital files to remove the dust and scratches and the answer was a clear “yes.”

So, now I have four albums on the Web.

A copy of Photoshop and a Mac would have been handy when some of my earlier black and white images were first taken, but combining my film experiences with modern tools has been interesting, and it is good to know that after more than 30 years — I’m still learning.



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Originally written on July 11, 2011

Last updated on November 30, 2017

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