Cameras, Photography

Sears KS Super II

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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 (two LR44 or one 1/3 N). Usefully, the camera operates fine with either silver-oxide or alkaline 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. 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.

School Buses - Sears Lens
School Buses - Pentax Lens

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.

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. I also didn’t know that you can go inside and look around. It’s a remarkable place.

Please be seated

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

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.

Gazing across at Central Library

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.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all of my old-camera reviews!

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17 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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  3. bodegabayf2 says:

    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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  5. pj931 says:

    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!

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    • 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.

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      • pj931 says:

        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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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.

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