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Time Exposures
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All Cameras

"T" or "Time" setting

As ought to be obvious, if you are lucky enough to have a camera with a "T" or "Time" setting, use it. In the time setting the shutter opens when you press the shutter release, and stays open until you press the shutter a second time.

To avoid vibration and eliminate the need for a cable release:
1.) Cock the shutter
2.) Cover the lens with something
3.) Press the shutter button to open the shutter
4.) A few seconds later, after any vibration has damped, remove whatever you are holding in front of the lens and start your timer
5.) When you have timed the correct exposure, cover the lens and
6). Press the shutter button a second time

"B" or "Bulb" setting

Most every camera has a "B" or "Bulb" setting. The shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter button down. It got it's name from the good old days before synchronized flash. One had to open the shutter with one hand, pop off a flash with the other, and then close the shutter. The procedure is almost the same as for the T setting:

To avoid vibration, although you need a cable release:
1.) Cock the shutter
2.) Cover the lens with something
3.) Press and hold the shutter button to open the shutter
4.) If you don't want to have to hold the shutter release the whole time (typically for exposures more than a minute) then lock your cable release in the squeezed position.
4.) A few seconds later, after any vibration has damped, remove whatever you are holding in front of the lens and start your timer
5.) When you have timed the correct exposure, cover the lens and
6). Release the cable release

Nikon SLRs

The hot new SLRs are the worst thing for time exposures.

The best cameras for long exposures are mechanical film cameras. Anything with an electronic shutter becomes a pain depending on how advanced it is. The more advanced, the poorer it usually is for time exposures. The battery in my D200 dies in less than 90 minutes!

If anything is worth photographing with a tripod and a long exposure, it's probably worth photographing with a larger format then 35mm.

The F100 and many AF Nikon cameras are poor choices for making time exposures of longer than 32 seconds.

You are far better off to use an older Nikon camera (or maybe even the new plastic wonder, the N80) with a conventional cable release socket, or ideally use a camera with automatic analog internal exposure control like the FA, FE, FE-2, EM or FA. Those automatic cameras have exposure systems which can measure and make perfect automatic night time exposures for at least several minutes, even though Nikon never specified them to do that. Use the self timer on those cameras in A mode instead of a cable release because 1.) you won't need a cable release and 2.) they have automatic mirror lock-up in this mode, unlike the amateur F100.

If you insist on using your F100 for long exposures as I do, you need to buy a $100 US cable like the Nikon MC-20, hope that your batteries last as long as your exposure, need to set up a complex system correctly, and need to calculate your exposure MANUALLY because the F100 meter does not work in this mode.

You also have to try to thread the dadblasted MC-20 into the camera in the cold and dark and not lose the plastic remote cover in the muck.

The one saving grace to the cable with the timer in it is that it is a joy to be able to program the cable for, say, a 10 minute exposure, and be able to walk away and forget about it while it times itself. I do grudgingly own one of these cables, but as a conscientious objector I bought mine used.

Throw away the battery that comes in the MC-20 cable for two reasons:
1.) It's not needed with the F100; the cable powers from the camera
2.) I've confirmed this: if you leave the battery in the cable and that (unneeded) battery dies while you are in the middle of an exposure, you lose that exposure. With no battery in the cable you are immune to this problem.

Another nicety of the programmable timer cable is that it has a light built-in. OK, that's 2 saving graces.

The F100/MC-20 contraption is difficult to use properly because it is too complicated. You need to:
1.) Remove the plastic cap that covers the remote connector on the F100
2.) Put that cap away someplace you won't lose it
3.) Attach the MC-20 to the F100
4.) Set the cord itself to the correct mode (!) using the mode button
5.) Determine your exposure time manually (The F100 meter does not work in this mode)
6.) Set the exposure time on the MC-20 using about four different buttons
7.) Set the F100 to MANUAL exposure mode
8.) Set the F100 exposure time to Bulb (!)
If you forget to set all those modes on the F100 and the MC-20, you ruin your image because they do not communicate with each other to let the F100 know that the cord is connected for a time exposure. If you leave the F100 in any other exposure mode, or set the exposure time to anything other than Bulb, it totally ignores the time set on the MC-20 and just does whatever it would have done without the MC-20 attached, wasting your film.

A better way to spend the same $100 you'll have to spend on that atrocious MC cord is to buy a Nikon EM for $75, sell the 50mm lens that came with it for $25, and take the $50 you have left over and buy some more film. You can use the EM in mechanical manual Bulb mode for your time exposures and not have to worry about batteries. Even better, the Nikon EM has analog aperture-priority automation, which means that it makes long automated time exposures much longer than the one second Nikon specifies. The EM makes perfectly timed, automatically exposed time-exposures out to at least a few minutes. With the F100 you need to use an external meter or calculate in your head to determine the correct time to expose the hard way. I've tried this, and the EM is far better than my F100 for night photography. You can set the EM to a nice aperture like f/8, set the self timer, and walk away while the EM does a great job. The EM also has a virtual mirror lock-up (like a professional camera), unlike the F100 which does not. The EM also has a metal back and metal rewind fork, unlike the amateur plastic rewind fork fiasco of the F100.

Yes, the EM is usually poked fun of because it was a dinky camera compared to its siblings, the F2 and FE of the 1980s. Because less experienced photographers of today poo-poo it, you can get one for almost nothing and have a fantastic camera for night shooting that's far better than the F100. The EM has a lot of mirror slap making it a poor camera for daytime shooting. The FE, FE2 and FA are superb for everything but will cost you about $300 US used. The EM does not use its battery for BULB mode, but you will want to use it in A mode so it times and measures your exposures. The EM only draws 13.5 mA from it's S76 cells while the shutter is open, so you ought to get about ten hours of exposure time from a set. You only get a couple of hours out of the F100.

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