Camera Reviews

Sears KS Super II

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.

Sears 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. Usefully, the camera operates fine with either two silver-oxide SR44 or alkaline LR44 batteries.

Sears KS Super II

The KS Super II’s body is all plastic. While the camera feels light in the hands, it manages not to feel unsubstantial.

By the way, if this camera piques your interest you might also like other entry-level SLRs like the Pentax ME (here), the Canon TLb (here), and the Minolta XG 1 (here). Another Sears SLR I’ve reviewed is the KS-2 (here). Or check out all my camera reviews here.

The KS Super 2’s 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 a 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.

School Buses - Sears Lens
School Buses - Pentax Lens

In shooting these little shrubs, the Sears lens (first shot below) transmits a slightly darker shade of green and a little more richness in the mulch. 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 solid 50mm prime.

Shrubbery - Sears Lens
Shrubbery - Pentax Lens

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.

56th & Illinois

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.

Fire station

I miss fried chicken since going gluten free. That’s why the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour ended, by the way.

Fried Chicken

I also took the KS Super II to the Indiana War Memorial. I’d never been. Here’s a northerly view from the memorial’s steps, looking across to 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.

Gazing across at Central Library

I 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.

In the War Memorial

In this camera’s day, photographers probably scoffed at the Sears name. Even though the KS Super II is a basic camera with few options, it works great and its lens delivers wonderful images.

Please be seated

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. I favor aperture-priority shooting so I didn’t miss manual exposure control. The only thing I might add to this camera is depth-of-field preview. I could have used it on the chair shot above.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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25 thoughts on “Sears KS Super II

  1. Interesting review, some really nice sharp shots there from the Sears. I have a Chinon CPX which is fairly similar, I have yet to put a film through it, will give it a go next week if the weather holds up.

  2. What do you think, Jim? Is it a keeper?

    Believe it or not, the first question I had was, “are these shots film or digital?” I instantly realized what a stupid question that was, but… boy, it runs pretty deep. :)

    I’m impressed with the difference in the range between the two lenses. Remarkable and clear. Those two shots could be in a book about optics. Have you experimented with curves in PS to see if you can get the range in the second to match the first, at least virtually?

    How hard is it finding film these days? I’m all at sea about who’s making what.

    • It’s a nice little camera. It is easy to use, handles well, and returns nice photos. But I probably won’t keep it. I have other cameras I like better and I need to manage how many cameras I actually keep around here as the house is small and space is limited.

      I haven’t played with curves in PS on these shots. I present them as shot, processed, and scanned. I wonder if the slight difference in range can be explained by the sun being slightly obscured in the second shot, or something like that.

      I buy Fujicolor 200 at Meijer (kind of like Walmart) and everything else online from B&H Photo, Freestyle, and the Film Photography Project. Just got a shipment of film from FPP this week — some Kodak Ektar 100, some Kodak T-Max 400, and some expired but cold-stored Kodak Plus-X. There’s plenty of film out there, but you pretty much have to buy it online.

  3. Back in the day, you grew up in either a Montgomery Ward or Sears house. Ours was Sears. My Mom ordered everything from the Sears catalog. We’d pick it up at the little Sears Catalog Store downtown. At Christmas, we’d get the Sears Wish Book and drool over toys and later, cool Sears-branded electronics. Sears was a major retailer of white labeled electronics in the 60s and 70s. I had a Sears portable reel to reel deck that lasted me forever. I think it was a rebadged SONY.

  4. I have heard that Sears set quality standards for its suppliers. I tend to believe it because most of the Sears camera stuff that I have used has been pretty good. I had a similar experience to yours in comparing a Pentax standard lens to the Sears one. That it is in the same ballpark I think says a lot.

    • I’ve heard that too. It certainly shows here. While this camera isn’t as solidly built as a contemporary Pentax camera, it yields (for all intents and purposes) identical results. And the camera handled very well. A winner.

  5. These are some really great shots, especially from a camera with close to no control! I have came across many of these, but the ones I have found haven’t held up as well as yours… I like to stick to my AE-1, but am working on a Minolta Hi-Matic 9 with a greasy shutter. Eventually I hope to take some great photos like these!

    • Thanks! Maybe I got lucky getting such a clean KS Super II. If your Hi-Matic 9 is anything like my Hi-Matic 7, I think you will really like that camera. Great lens.

      • The 9 was the best in the series (the lens was better by like .1 of an f/stop) but the 7, 7s, and 7sII go for double the price. Its a weird cult following thing, like the K1000 or QL17, where you can get a KM or QL19 for much less.

  6. Bill Bussell says:

    You might compare prices of the Photography Film Project with Roberts. Some things might be the same or less, but I appreciate learning about this resource. I think you would enjoy a trip to Central Camera in Chicago. Run by the same family since 1899. It may be in the same location since 1899.

    • I’ve never been to Roberts. Their former location was not at all convenient for me. Their new location is much better and I do plan to visit when I’m next downtown.

    • I don’t own this camera anymore so I don’t remember for certain, but probably on the bottom. Look for a round cover with a slot in it. Use a nickel to unscrew it.

  7. Nancy Stewart says:

    All the major things at our house came from Sears back in the day. The major appliances, my beautiful J. C. Higgens bicycle, my Silveretone record player, etc.

  8. jim says:

    Hi Jim. Fun read with lots of good info. I recently got a excellent condition KS Super II with 3 lens and they are all in perfect condition. However, I cannot get the camera to fire and it wont let me advance the camera (no film in it) to take a snap. I put in a new battery, but it appears the shutter is frozen. Any suggestion to get it working would be much appreciated. Fingers crossed as it’s such a beauty.

    Thank you,
    Jim M

  9. Jim M says:

    Good news! I had the battery upside down and after I changed it, working like a charm. The 3 lenses all render beautiful images. I took the camera with me to a film photography club and everyone was fawning over it. It’s so clean that I’m betting it never had more than a few rolls shot and likely sat in it’s bag in a closet. And I can confirm that these Ricoh/Sears lenses do work fine on a Pentax, including my K50! Happy photos to all.

  10. Kent Teffeteller says:

    Some commentary. Sears also sold rebadged Japanese cameras from other brands. There were 35 mm Leica Screw Mount cameras sold as Sears offerings under the Tower brand built by Nicca in Japan. Nicca was one of the best Leica copies/Leica inspired cameras, later was purchased by Yashica for their ability to make Focal Plane shutters. Also, Sears sold Mamiya cameras as both Tower and Sears brands, both rangefinder fixed lens compacts and SLR’s, There was also one Mamiya made Sears version of the Nikkorex F which took Nikon F mount lenses, very rare. As some interesting ones. These Ricoh made Sears cameras are generally good ones.

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