The Sears, Roebuck & Co. once aimed to sell almost everything imaginable under its own brand names but made by other companies, a practice known as white labeling. Did you know that in the 1950s Sears even sold a white-labeled car, the Allstate? It was manufactured by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, which was one of several small automobile companies in operation then.
So it should be no surprise that Sears sold white-labeled cameras. Several manufacturers made Sears-branded cameras, but through the late 1970s and 1980s, Sears partnered with Ricoh for SLRs. In the United States, we know Ricoh best for its photocopiers, but the company’s cameras were well known in most of the rest of the world. Ricoh’s XR6 SLR was the basis for a few Sears SLRs, including the 1981 KS Super II.
This entry-level SLR offers only aperture-priority autoexposure and X sync to a flash you clip onto the hot shoe. Its shutter operates from 1 to just 1/500 sec. But that shutter won’t operate at all without batteries (two LR44 or one 1/3 N). Usefully, the camera operates fine with either silver-oxide or alkaline batteries.
The KS Super II’s body is all plastic. While the camera feels light in the hands, it manages not to feel unsubstantial. The controls follow the SLR idiom of the time and so are where you expect them to be.
Even using the light meter is typical of this camera’s time. After choosing an aperture, framing, and focusing, press the shutter button partway to activate the meter. Inside the viewfinder, if a green LED lights, you’ve got good exposure. If a red LED lights, adjust aperture until you get the green LED. If the green light blinks, the shutter speed will be too low for handheld shooting. Either brace the camera so it’s steady or open up the aperture until the green light stops blinking.
Sears even went so far as to rebadge the lenses for these cameras from Ricoh to Sears. Fortunately, these Ricoh lenses were generally well regarded. These cameras used Pentax’s K mount, so I shot a few scenes with both the 50mm f/2 Auto Sears lens that came with this camera and my SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2 lens. In these shots of a school-bus yard near my home, I struggle to tell one lens from the other. The Pentax lens shot might run a little more blue, maybe. The Sears lens shot is first; the Pentax lens shot second.
In shooting these little shrubs (again, Sears lens first), the Sears lens does transmit a slightly darker shade of green and a little more richness in the gravel. The Sears lens came with a skylight filter, which I forgot to take off for this comparison and may be at play here. But these lenses seem equally sharp and offer similar abilities to blur the background. So good job Sears, by which I mean Ricoh, for making a very solid 50mm prime.
I brought the camera along when I took a Friday afternoon off. I had a busy weekend ahead, so I got a jump start on my shopping, including a visit to Kincaid’s for some of their excellent beef.
I don’t normally get highly saturated reds on Fujicolor 200, but I surely did shooting that film with this lens and camera on this bright day.
I miss fried chicken since going gluten free. That’s why the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour ended, by the way.
I also took the KR Super II to the Indiana War Memorial. I’d never been. I also didn’t know that you can go inside and look around. It’s a remarkable place.
The centerpiece of the War Memorial is the Shrine Room. It is dimly lit, making photography difficult, especially with ISO 200 film and an f/2 lens. So I braced myself against a column and aimed at the brightest point in the room: the ceiling.
Standing outside the entrance and facing north, you get a commanding view across the plaza to the Central Library. This plaza, which dates to 1919, consumes five city blocks in downtown Indianapolis. I never thought to get a photo of the War Memorial exterior, so I’ll have to go back another time.
To see more photos from this camera, see my Sears KS Super II gallery.
I’m astonished by this plastic Sears SLR. With no coaxing whatsoever it gave me great color and sharpness. It’s a mighty basic SLR offering few controls, but there’s very little I shoot that this camera could not easily capture. The only thing I might add to this camera is depth-of-field preview. I could have used it on the chair shot above.
And so now I don’t feel so silly that before I even bought this camera, I bought another Ricoh/Sears SLR, the KS-2. It is based on the same body but offers a faster shutter and manual operation. It also came with Sears 50mm f/1.7 and 135mm f/2.8 lenses. I know already that I’m going to have fun shooting it.
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