The Nikon N6006 is not a legendary camera. If a famous photo was taken with it, I do not know about it. But, the Nikon N6006 was my first “real” camera (sincere apologies to the Kodak 110 Instamatic 30 camera handed down from my Grandma).
Photographs ©Todd Vorenkamp
As high-school graduation approached, I was accepted to the US Merchant Marine Academy. Knowing I would be travelling the world while in college, I determined that I needed an SLR to document my voyages on the oceans while working on merchant ships. I headed to the library to research cameras because the Internet was not yet fully in existence. Can you imagine pouring over a handful of old-school photography magazines to read camera reviews instead of browsing the dozens and dozens that populate the Internet these days?
I narrowed down my choice to the Nikon N6006 and the latest Andre Agassi-promoted Canon Rebel. After looking at both at a local camera store, I chose the Nikon over the Canon because it had a metal lens mount and felt better to my hand. I also preferred the looks of the N6006.
The first roll
Gifted to me for graduation, my father, a fantastic photographer, took me to one of our local parks, Cotton Hollow Preserve, to show me the basics of how a camera worked—shutter speed, aperture, focus, depth of field, and film ISO.
Until I began my Master’s degree program, this short tutorial was the only photographic education I had.
The Nikon N6006 / F-601
The Nikon N6006 (known outside of the US as the F-601) was a 35mm film camera, launched in 1990. At the time, it lived in between the Nikon N4004 and Nikon N8008 in the family of Nikon SLRs. At the top of the mountain was the professional, heavy, gorgeous Nikon F4. The N8008 was the “prosumer” camera for pros and enthusiasts alike. The N6006 was targeted at advanced amateurs and the 4004 was for beginners.
The N4004 was released in 1987, and was the second consumer Nikon autofocus camera following the Nikon N2020 (F-501) from the previous year. In the design of the Nikon N2020 and N4004, you can see the beginnings of modern camera ergonomics with the progressively thicker grip, built-in electronic film advance and, with the N4004, a non-classic pentaprism housing. Also, the Nikon N4004 introduced a command dial that allowed multiple functions and adjustments without turning the dedicated dials.
Enter the Nikon N8008, in 1988, and here we have the first “push-button” Nikon camera featuring a four-button cluster on the left side of the top of the camera and the command dial on the right. This was the genesis of the Nikon control layout that exists to this day. A modern Nikon DSLR shooter can pick up a nearly 30-year-old 8008 and be very familiar with the control layout. The button interface introduced us to the PASM shooting modes that are ubiquitous today. The N8008 also included a new “matrix” metering system that evaluated and averaged exposure data, electronically, from five segments of the frame.
Two years later, the Nikon N6006 arrived and featured the same control configuration as the Nikon N8008. The N6006 included a built-in flash (the F-601M/N6000 skipped the flash and autofocus), had a slightly slower shooting speed (2 fps versus the N8008’s 3.3 fps), a slower shutter (1/2000 versus the N8008’s 1/8000), and several other changes. Even though it was marketed in a lower position than the N8008, the N6006 had an improved matrix metering system and predictive autofocus that could track moving objects. The Nikon N6006 was in production from 1990 through 1994.
The last roll
24 years later, I brought my Nikon N6006 back to Cotton Hollow Preserve to shoot a second roll of film.
Cotton Hollow is a favorite swimming hole for local kids and a great place to hike. I wasn’t a regular there as a kid, but I went a handful of times and, after 24 years, returning there was familiar. There was one other car in the parking lot when I arrived and, walking into the park, I passed that person as he was headed out. A few minutes after arriving, the entire park belonged to my Nikon N6006 and me.
Shooting the camera was like hanging out with an old friend. The camera still felt good in my hands. The camera is purely electronic, so there are no levers to crank and the motor drive for the film makes a once familiar/now foreign noise when you depress the shutter release. The Nikon N6006 has a bit of a hair trigger; I fired off a few frames before I was really ready to take a photo—not a big deal in the world of digital, but when you shoot film, an oops. Also, for some reason, I couldn’t adjust aperture (using the aperture ring on the lens—old school style) in manual or aperture priority mode, so I was forced to use Program Shift mode to adjust aperture electronically.
I had a roll of Porta 400 inside, and the digital counter on the top LCD display faithfully started counting to 36 as I looked for photos around the park.
At 36, I asked the Nikon N6006 to take one more shot to see if there was a bonus frame in this roll of film. I aimed the camera at my subject, released the shutter, and the back film door popped open. My hands were on the camera, so I shut the door as fast as I could and rewound the film immediately. The plastic latch that keeps the rear door closed had broken.
24 years of service. Hundreds and hundreds of rolls of film. Merchant ships. Sailing ships. Naval ships. Airplanes. Helicopters. Dozens of countries. Dozens of vacations. My Nikon N6006 retired itself in the very place where I first used it. Thanks for the memories, Nikon N6006.