Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Nikon MD-4

My excuse? I was bored, it's raining. Britain has a couple of days of sunshine in March followed by weeks of freezing rain.

The Nikon F's F-36 motor drive seems to have been regarded at the time as a technical novelty - it had to be fitted at the factory and carefully tailored to the body - but the F2 had several popular motor drives, all of which look very unwieldy nowadays, because the batteries and motor were held in separate units. The F3 was much simpler. The MD-4 was the F3's standard and only motor drive, although there was a modified MD-4 for the rare, 13fps Nikon F3HS. It looks ridiculously imposing by modern standards although it's great to hold and, cleverly, it keeps the camera upright even if you fit a heavy lens to the F3.

Even more importantly it makes you feel like a real top photojournalist. Like in The Year of Living Dangerously or Salvador etc. Which is, strictly speaking, wrong. The vast majority of Nikons in old movies were Nikon Fs and F2s (as per this list at Petapixel), presumably because most of the dramatic stories of photographic derring-do happened during the Vietnam period. Putting on my cultural studies hat, I could furthermore argue that Hollywood in the 1980s turned away from serious contemporary drama and embraced fantasy instead - shifting abruptly from Apocalypse Now to Delta Force and Rambo: First Blood Part II - which precluded the F3 from building up much of a cinematic legacy. In the action films of the 1980s photojournalists were not heroic crusaders, they were instead turncoat traitors, stab-in-the-back fifth columnists who were conspiring with the liberal establishment to undermine all that was great and good in the world. Salvador was an exception, but for the purposes of this post it's wrong, unacceptable, because James Woods carried a Canon F-1 in that film. This is not the first time James Woods has defied me. The magnificent bastard.

Still, Vietnam, eh? Full Metal Jacket has masses of Fs:

The Nikon F and the M16, seemingly made for each other. One of them kills, the other allows the dead to live again in far-off lands. The MD-4 takes eight AA batteries or a special NiCad pack which is impossible to find in working condition nowadays. With AAs it shoots at four frames a second, and judging by the waveform my MD-4 is still spot on after all these years. The battery pack boosts it to 5.5fps. Without the MD-4 the F3 is surprisingly petite. I feel sorry for the Earl of Lemongrab, but at the same time I worry that he will discover how to make a battery out of himself. The resulting explosion of electricity would be disastrous for the Candy Kingdom.

The later F4 (1988) had a built-in motor, although adding one of the battery grips increased the frame rate from 4.0 to 5.7fps. The F5 (1996), in contrast, was a monolithic block, after which the F6 (2004) went back to the F4 way of doing things, with an optional battery pack that boosted the frame rate. And that's that.