I’ve been around cameras for as long as I can remember. Most of them were (or rather are) classic vintage cameras from my maternal grandfather’s arsenal. He wasn’t a professional photographer, but he could give most of them a run for their money. And if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t have become a professional photographer myself. The Nikon FM2 he purchased for himself in the late 80s remains my most prized camera today. It serves as a daily reminder of the wonderful times we spent together while he was around.
Where It All Started
I’m an engineer by qualification, and my folks always knew I would become one. They tell me this was because I would be tinkering around with lots of electronics as a child. Around the age of five, a lot of my time was spent trying to fix the battery door on granddad’s National Panasonic C-500AF camera. This was a camera he won in a national photography competition for an image he had planned for weeks in order to get the timing right.
I don’t know of many people today who’d part with a camera like that to let a child play around with it. But he did, probably because he saw a spark in me others have missed. And that spark grew into a passionate fire for photography that still burns brightly today. His daughters called him Papa, and that became the name everyone in the household referred to him by.
He spent countless hours teaching me about aperture and its correlation to depth of field. I learned from him how to calculate the proper exposure when using a manual flash indoors. I still remember him explaining why he used one particular film stock over another during a late-night shoot.
His Most Prized Possession
Around 1988, Papa decided to purchase a Nikon FM2 and an Ai-S Nikkor 50mm f1.4 lens. One of Nikon’s all-time best sellers and still an excellent choice for anyone wanting to dip their toes in digital photography, this became the camera he shot with the most, until he passed away in 2014. It also was the camera I learned the basics of photography on. There was no internet back then, and photography magazines and guides weren’t readily available in Dubai. Papa spent countless hours teaching me about aperture and its correlation to depth of field. I learned from him how to calculate the proper exposure when using a manual flash indoors. I still remember him explaining why he used one particular film stock over another during a late-night shoot.
Often I was his photography assistant: at other times, his student. But most importantly, I was someone to whom he wanted to pass on his knowledge of photography. And I willingly and wholeheartedly embraced it and learned as much as possible. Almost all of these outings and lessons were on his Nikon FM2 with that 50mm. He never ridiculed a question of mine; he encouraged them because they would lead to discussions about photography – the topic he loved to speak about the most. A light blue Oxford shirt, formal pants, tweed golf cap, and that Nikon FM2 in hand is how I remember him best.
We Never Completely Drifted Apart
School got a bit demanding during my teens, and I couldn’t dedicate as much time to photography as I would have liked to. But Papa and I would still participate in local photography contests as much as possible. His and my entries would both have been taken using his Nikon FM2. Competent as I was behind a camera, I would still want him to be with me when clicking a potential contest entry.
I only saw him show an interest in a DSLR when I brought home a review unit of a Nikon Df in 2013. His aging eyes twinkled as he saw the silver Df, the design of which was arguably inspired heavily by the Nikon FM2 itself.
He was probably the biggest fan of my photos and one of my biggest sources of photography inspiration. Always took the utmost care of all his cameras and lenses, but the Nikon FM2 was the jewel in his crown. Dubai wasn’t as dusty back then as it is today, yet you could always see him spending quality time poring over each corner of it with his blower brush. I learned from him how to respect and take care of my gear (any of my daily use cameras could be sold tomorrow in almost-new condition). He would never let anyone else handle that camera. Yet he wouldn’t hesitate to let me use it when I needed to. We had an incredible bond that way, and his Nikon FM2 was the glue between us on a lot of occasions.
Digital Cameras Never Really Appealed to Him…Until
By the time I began university, the digital revolution had begun. Almost anyone who had a compact film camera was now looking into getting a digital one. In my second year of university, I had an Olympus Camedia model that had a (not so) whopping four megapixels as its highest resolution. By the time I graduated, I was the proud owner of a Nikon Coolpix 8800. Barely four years passed after that, and a Nikon D300 found its way into my hands, which eventually led to the start of my sports photography career. But no one could convince Papa to make a move to digital. It wasn’t that he was stubborn; I think it was just that he felt images made with the digital medium couldn’t be trusted. “How do I know these weren’t manipulated?” was his argument.
While he respected my choice to move to DSLRs and never belittled me for it, he never made an attempt himself to switch. I only saw him show an interest in a DSLR when I brought home a review unit of a Nikon Df in 2013. His aging eyes twinkled as he saw the silver Df, the design of which was arguably inspired heavily by the Nikon FM2 itself. He spent a good few minutes trying out its features and understanding how it functioned. The retro threaded shutter button, the Nikkor Ai lens compatibility, and more – all brought a smile to his face.
By this time, the Nikon FM2 took a backseat in both my and Papa’s photography. He was too old to shoot as regularly as he used to. But it did show up on occasion at family gatherings and social functions until a bout of Parkinson’s set in during the last handful of years of his life, robbing him of the joys of holding it steadily.
How It Found Its Way Back to Me
Not long after his passing in 2014, his camera collection became mine. This was his choice. My aunt and I sifted through his possessions one day, and in his trademark, hard-leather bag was his Nikon FM2. Looking as new as the day it was purchased. Still with that QC Quality Check sticker on the prism. I didn’t have the heart to use it for a few months after that. Not just because it was emotionally painful to pick up and shoot, but also because I wasn’t sure if I could do the art of shooting film again after so many years proper justice.
He was too old to shoot as regularly as he used to. But it did show up on occasion at family gatherings and social functions until a bout of Parkinson’s set in during the last handful of years of his life, robbing him of the joys of holding it steadily.
I don’t remember what made me put a roll of film in it one day, but I’m delighted I did. It didn’t just bring back the nostalgia of shooting film; it brought back countless memories of us photographing together with the FM2. Whether it was taking pictures of fruit bats perching on banana trees at midnight or trying to shoot traffic light trails from a balcony, photography with Papa was always fun. Those experiences with him made me value each frame and it’s something I imbibe in my work each day.
Why Its Still My Favorite
I love being photographed with it. I absolutely love just holding it. It sits on my bedside table, right next to my alarm clock. A visual reminder of my childhood photography experiences. I’m a stickler for nostalgia, and looking at this camera always takes me back in time.
Sometimes these days, I just click its shutter and wind that lever when there’s no film inside it. I’ll often pick it up, look through the eyepiece, and twist the lens ring to see the focusing screen come to life. I’ll turn that shutter dial to listen to it click. Through all of those experiences, I am reminded of Papa each day.
I own close to 40 vintage cameras now. One of them is even a collector’s item that’s a lot more valuable on paper than any of the others. But none of them will ever come close to holding the space in my heart that Papa’s Nikon FM2 does. Because whenever I see it, even through the tears welling up in my eyes as I write this, I see his endearing smile.