Single Shot Stories No. 009 – Alistair Hamilton, Bath Cat

Single Shot Stories No. 009 – Alistair Hamilton, Bath Cat

1279 2000 Guest Author

In 1983, I got my dream camera, a 1977 Nikon F2SB with a 55mm f/1.2 Nikkor [reviewed here]. This replaced a Nikon EL-2. I also had an Olympus OM-1 that I bought new in 1976, which I still own.

I loved that F2, and it is still my all-time favourite camera to use, but it was heavy! It got left at home all too often, and my Olympus XA came with me instead. Good as the XA is, its image quality is nowhere near a Nikon or Olympus SLR.

So, in 1987 I decided that the time had come for the F2 to go. I struck a deal with London Camera Exchange in Bath, where I was living at the time, to swap the F2 and 55mm for an Olympus OM-2n and 50mm Zuiko and 28mm Zuiko lenses. It was a straight swap; no money changed hands and I was happy. I used that OM-2 extensively before going digital in the 2000s, though I still use those lenses and OM cameras to this day.

On May 11, 1987, on my way to complete the swap, I still had some film in the F2, so as I walked through Bath I took a few frames more or less at random to finish the roll. Walking down Great King Street, I saw this beautiful ginger cat sitting on a window sill, perfectly framed by the window and with the shabby lace curtain behind. I took two pictures, and that was the film finished.

Bath Cat is the last photograph that I took with my F2, and it is one of my favourite pieces of work I have ever made. I love the balance of shape, tone and texture. I have made a lovely A2 digital print on Hahnemühle Barita in my studio, but it is best seen in a traditional selenium toned silver gelatin print. Sadly, I no longer have any of the darkroom prints I made – they are all sold. I must get back into the darkroom and make more.

In the ‘80s, Bath was still quite scruffy in places, although it was all just about to change, become gentrified and suffer from rocketing property prices. The cat looked immaculate, but the house it occupied still bore the black staining from a couple of centuries of domestic coal burning. These houses are now all clean, honey-coloured Bath stone.

Alistair Hamilton is a photographic artist based in Kirkcudbright in south-west Scotland. Alistair’s work and projects can be seen at his website and Flickr page.

Many thanks to Alistair for his contribution to Single Shot Stories!

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  • For comparison, the F2 with a DP-1 was 840g, a Canon 5Diii is 950g with battery.

    I had an F2, which I share fond memories of using in the 70’s, and I still have a 5Diii.

    Funny how people think of these. I love the images I get from the Canon, but man it is heavy. Odd to think that an F2 is lighter. I have not compared lens weight, but my 24-105 f/4 IS is on the Canon most of the time, and I’m sure that lens is way heavier than either the 24 2.8, or the 50 2.0 I used on the F2, exacerbating the difference.

    Didn’t mean to take this off topic-I really enjoyed what you wrote. Great story about the cat in the window! Thanks.

    • Ross

      It is amazing that what we thought was heavyweight back then is lightweight now.

      Weight and heft is why I never liked full-frame DSLRs. I did use a D750 for a while but I just could not believe how vast and heavy a DSLR was in comparison to my old F2! I went to FourThirds SLRs and then straight into mirrorless, now using Z7 and OMD-M1III, and Leica M6 and OM-1 for film.


  • Great story and I love Bath Cat, it deserves a spot on the wall! Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Great Image: love it!
    Great gear.

  • I have never owned the F2 but love(ed) the feel of the fe. Until I bought a Nikkormat a couple years back . The Nikkormat then a Nikkomat I like them so well . I got the heavier and bigger cameras and realized I cold hold the bigger body and the heft of the Nikkormats better . They feel like “Real” cameras .
    Then I’d been shooting the ais 28mm on the fe pair I have . It’s a great compact setup with a 35 f/2 and 50 f/1.4 .
    Then I decided I wanted to give the Nikkor non ai 55mm f/1.2 a go . Love it , love it ! What a lens. I don’t particularly like a 50mm fov . The 55 I like better and works great with a 28, and 35 non ai f/2 companions . The Nikkor O 35mm f/2 is one of my all time favorite lenses ever for character and this 55 mm f/1.2 is right there with it .

  • I really like this picture. The longer you look at it, the more little details you see in the window and wall. It holds your attention in a way that all good photographs do. It’s fascinating how a quick snap to burn the last of a roll can end up being so good.

    The 55mm f/1.2 is a personal favorite. One of those perfectly imperfect lenses. I know there are “better” options, but the old 55 always does just fine for me. It lives on an FE2 with motor drive. Heavy, but strangely ergonomic for such a big setup. Not exactly inconspicuous though, so a Hi-Matic AF2 usually gets tucked in my coat instead. Hopefully I’ll find a few scenes as good as the one you’ve shared.

    • Stefan Staudenmaier April 24, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      Dear Adam,
      feels the same to me – the Nikkor S 1,2/55 is something special and still gives you outstanding
      results used properly on Film or Digital Cameras !

      Stoppen down to 2,8 it is a wonderful portrait lens with paperthin depth of field and a lot of character.

  • There is something special – almost mystical – about the first and last photos you take with a particular camera.

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