Desert Island Cameras No. 01 – Nikon Edition

Ahoy matey. Here’s a fun post for you guys, and before you get too deep, keep in mind that we want to hear your thoughts on this one. I asked the crew here at CP to choose their “desert island” camera. After some deliberation it was clear that there are too many amazing cameras to pick just one, so we decided to turn this into a focused series in which we pick our “one-and-only” camera and lens kit from any given brand and tell you why.

More importantly, we want to hear your picks. So give it a read, give it some thought, and let’s have a conversation. Up first – we choose our desert island Nikons.


Dustin’s Pick

Desert Island Nikon? Let’s get literal. If I’m destined to spend eternity with sand between my toes, I’m packing my Nikon FM2n, Nikkor 28mm F/2.8 AIS, and as many rolls of Portra 400 as I can stow away. Here’s why.

The FM2n is a no-frills beast of a machine. Robust, durable, and handsome, it possesses everything a photographer would need in a 35mm SLR, and nothing more. The camera’s all-mechanical, relying on battery power for the meter only, so I can keep shooting when the power runs out. I don’t need aperture-priority or any other form of automation, because at this point, life will have nearly come to a halt. Speed will be the last thing on my mind as I wander the shores looking for coconuts, so manual-mode is just fine. A top shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second means I’ll be able to shoot a bit wider in the daylight, which will help to isolate those cute little hermit crabs as they waddle up and down the beach.

Assuming I’m the only one on this island, portraits are out, so I’d opt for the Nikkor 28mm F/2.8 AIS and focus my attention on landscapes and passing vessels on the horizon. The 28/2.8 AIS is arguably the most optically perfect manual focus lens Nikon has ever produced; and let’s face it, if I’ve only got one lens I might as well look for perfection. Shooting film in low light is tricky and I don’t care for it much, so the maximum aperture of F/2.8 would be plenty wide for me.

As for film, there’s no doubt that Portra 400 is my first pick. It’s wildly forgiving and can be exposed anywhere from 100 to 800 with outstanding results. As for developing my shots, that’s a completely different story. Perhaps I’d engineer a light-tight coconut shell tank and a chemical blend of local fruit and fish oil. Who knows.

Island marooning or not, the FM2n, Nikkor 28/2.8 AIS, and Portra 400 are all legendary creations in their own right. Together, they create a worry-free kit promoting pure picture taking, and I’d happily spend my remaining days shooting this kit.

Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras


Josh’s Pick

My desert island Nikon setup consists of a Nikon F3HP, a pre-AI Nikkor-S 50mm F/1.4, and Kodak Tri-X. Sure it’s a traditional setup, but this combination produces timeless, classic images. So what makes this setup tick for me?

Let’s start with the body. It’s got a proven reputation for reliability, it’s simple enough for layman yet capable enough for the most demanding professional, and it’s a masterpiece of 1980s industrial design. Some would even say it’s the greatest 35mm SLR of all time, and I would agree heartily with that sentiment. Yes, many bemoan the F3 for being an electronic body, but let’s be real here; if we can take loads of film to this hypothetical desert island, we can definitely take a whole pack of batteries.

The lens for me is the old photojournalist standby, the pre-AI Nikkor-S 50mm F/1.4. This primitive version lacks the punch and universal compatibility of more modern 50mm F/1.4s, but these very limitations are what makes it perfect for me. Some abhor the pre-AI 50/1.4’s softness wide open, but I’ve found that it has a unique, smooth look that no other lens can match at wide apertures while still offering clinical sharpness past F/2.8. Others turn up their noses at the Nikkor-S’s primitive single coating, but I’ve found that this single coating pairs incredibly well with the final component of my desert island pick – black-and-white film.

Why choose a black-and-white film for my imaginary desert island? A few reasons; it doesn’t require constant temperature control in development like color negative does, you can control the look in development, and, to me, black-and-white just looks better than any color film. And if there’s just one black-and-white film I’d choose, I’d easily choose Kodak Tri-X.

Tri-X is as classic as a film emulsion gets, and is arguably the most versatile film ever made. It’s got incredible exposure latitude, and can be pushed and pulled from ISO 100 all the way to ISO 6400, perfect for any shooting situation. And in the end, if I was stuck on a desert island with little to no hope of being found, I’d want the last moments of my life to be committed to Tri-X.

All of these components have gained fame individually, but together they form a pure symphony of photography. Simple to use, elegant in operation, and capable of producing timeless images. Who could ask for more?

Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras


James’ Pick

Those other guys are wrong. I have the best pick. Here it is.

For my desert island Nikon I’m selecting the absolute best Nikon for hard-core use – on an island or otherwise. This machine is not only weather sealed, it’s water-proof, sand-proof, shock-proof, and… shark-proof. It’s the final release in a series of manual-focus Nikons made for underwater exploration, the original design of which was conceived by none other than legendary sea explorer Jacques Cousteau. Need I say more?

Oh yeah, I need to say the name – my desert island Nikon is the Nikonos V.

Now I know “desert island” camera doesn’t necessarily mean we’re shooting this thing on an island. But speaking both literally and euphemistically, I’m picking the Nikonos V as my only Nikon in any setting. It’s interesting, robust, simple, effective, and gorgeous. It’s a fantastic machine that gets far too little talk. Shoot it in the rain, shoot it in the snow, shoot it in the sand and on a mountain. Drop it on rocks, no sweat; it’ll land with a thunk and keep on shooting. With or without batteries it’ll fire away, and when powered by batteries it offers a convenient TTL auto-exposure mode that turns the camera into, essentially, a point-and-shoot.

I’d couple this camera to its “kit” lens, the W 35mm F/2.5. This amphibious lens can operate equally well under and above the water, unlike some of Nikon’s UW lenses, which are for underwater use only. This makes it the ideal choice for all my adventures on land and sea.

Film? I’d choose something mid-speed and versatile. Fuji’s 400 stock, for example. Nice colors, high latitude, and speedy enough for virtually anything, this stock is the perfect do-it-all film.

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And that’s that. Our ridiculous list of desert island Nikons is complete. But not really, because we only put this list together to hear your opinions. Tell us in the comments what your “one-and-only” Nikon would be, whether you’re stuck on a sandbar or not!

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    dan james
    March 29, 2017 at 9:06 am

    What a great idea! Having never owned a Nikon SLR I’ll bookmark this for future reference if I ever want one!

    My own choice would probably be my Spotmatic F with Super-Takumar 55/1.8 and FujiFilm Superia 100 film…

  • Reply
    Joe Barden
    March 29, 2017 at 9:36 am

    My deserted island camera would be the FM2/T, in hopes of extended durability, with the Voigtlander 40mm f/2 lens, which would provide a near-perfect normal view and keep things light and tidy. I would also choose the Tri-X film, for all the reasons Josh stated above.
    I’m looking forward to reading more comments!

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    March 29, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Ahem… where do you get your batteries for the F3???

    • Reply
      DVL
      March 30, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Uh, from the battery trees that grow abundantly around the island? Duh! 😉

      • Reply
        Frank Lehnen
        March 30, 2017 at 11:47 am

        Great!!! Are there Filmtrees on your island too? If so I’m coming!!

        • Reply
          DVL
          March 30, 2017 at 4:44 pm

          You bet! I’m hoping my subconscious stores this for easy retrieval because I’m really looking forward to dreaming of film and battery trees tonight 😛

  • Reply
    conspicari
    March 29, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Great article, my desert island camera would be Olympus OM1n with Zuiko 24mm f2.8 and Ilford HP5+.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      March 29, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Great camera. Be sure to catch up with us when we do Olympus!

  • Reply
    Stephane
    March 29, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Well, that’s a question I actually can answer for real (and not in a hypothetical way) as I lived for 4 years on a small Island (but not deserted…) of the French Polynesian archipelago…. and I took a part of my analog camera collection with me. The Nikon of my choice was (of course, no doubt about that) a Nikonos V, as your daily life on an island is all about the lagoon ant the sea (snorkeling, diving, kayak, windsurf…). It’s a fantastic underwater camera, and is still a very good performer on the land too! You can see a collection of my shots with the Nikonos V on the island at the following link https://www.lomography.com/search/photos?order=popular&query=nikonos+vicuna
    And if you don’t have a Nikonos, the Nikon FE is also a fantastic camera…

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      March 29, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Thanks for sharing those shots! I knew I was on to something!

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      March 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      And your shots have made my simmering pot of New England jealousy boil over. I need to move somewhere warm.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    March 29, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Hm. I know I’d use my 35mm f/2.8 lens and Tri-X. I might have to go with my F2AS just because I can shoot it without a battery.

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    March 29, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Tend to like the two non-waterproof Nikons even though the Nikonos V is the more “rational” choice.

  • Reply
    Huss Hardan
    March 29, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    The Nikonos is really the only choice. You are stranded on a desert island, with sand and water around you. The FM and F3 will be toast if accidentally dunked, and pretty bad with blowing sand. And why would you want to limit yourself to on land pics?
    I use my Nikonos V on land in bad weather, or if in hazardous conditions (e.g. taking a header while skateboarding). I used it with the 35mm lens just a few weeks ago at a shoot in the rain in LA, with Fuji Provia 400. That 35mm lens is a cracker.

    http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a249/Desmolicious/73d1547f-2f26-4874-b987-563805c02c41_zpshj4dse0h.jpg

    p.s. I prefer to use the green version of the Nikonos on land. Stealthier..

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      March 29, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      The green version of the Nikonos V is beautiful. When I stumbled onto my orange version I didn’t know the green existed. Here’s hoping one floats to me on the waves of fate.

  • Reply
    Jeb Inge
    March 29, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Love this series! I’d probably go with the Nikonos too, but my N8008 would be great for breaking open coconuts. I can tell you from my using a Weathermatic, those things are NOT impervious to waves.

  • Reply
    Johnny
    March 29, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Great choices. I also have the 50mm pre-AI f/1.4 in the later S.C version which I think is multi-coated. A beautiful piece of engineering and looks superb on my FE. Although you have to do stop-down exposure with pre-AI, I enjoy that process of getting the exposure just right. Another great and cheap lens is the f/3.5 version of the 28mm AI. A spectacularly good lens in daylight.

    • Reply
      DVL
      March 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Thanks, Johnny. I have a 50/1.4 pre-AI S.C. that was converted. I absolutely love the way that lens renders. And those knurled focusing rings…. mmmmm. Stay tuned for more.

  • Reply
    Devon
    March 29, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    I’d choose the Nikon F Photomic paired with a Nikkormat-Q 200mm lens and a 50mm 1.2 lens. No need for batteries! With the lenses I have chosen, I would have the versatility to shoot wider shots and get close ups of hermit crabs. My film of choice would be ektar 100 or ilford delta 100.

  • Reply
    Thanos
    March 30, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Polaroid land 180 would be my choice. No need for batteries or chemicals for developing my photos. Pitty that all those peal-apart films are discontinued though.

    • Reply
      Thanos
      March 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Sorry…Nikon post….i realised now. Nevertheless it would be my ultimate choice 🙂

      • Reply
        James Tocchio
        March 30, 2017 at 9:29 am

        No worries. You can bet there will be a Polaroid edition.

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