Camera Reviews, Photography

Miranda Sensorex II

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Underappreciated. Almost forgotten.

Nikon, Canon, and Pentax lead the list of fine, classic 1960s and 1970s SLRs. Olympus and Minolta follow closely. An easy case can be made even for Konica, Fujica, Mamiya, and Yashica.

But Miranda seldom makes the list. It’s too bad, because from 1955 to 1978, Miranda made some wonderful, but quirky, 35mm SLRs. But because Miranda is an overlooked brand, its cameras can be picked up today for a song. Meet my 1972 Miranda Sensorex II, which was delivered to my door for all of $38.50.

Miranda Sensorex II

The Sensorex II’s first quirk: the shutter button is on the face of the camera, not on the top (as with 99.9% of all SLRs). What a useful choice: as the camera is already braced against the face, pressing a button toward the face probably reduces the chance of shake. When I shot this camera, however, I frequently reached for a nonexistent button atop the camera. Old habits die hard.

A quirk you can’t see is the dual lens mount: screw and bayonet, both Miranda-specific. Miranda shipped this camera with the bayonet-mount 50mm f/1.8 Auto Miranda lens, but didn’t want to alienate any Miranda loyalists who already owned Miranda 44mm screw-mount lenses. M42/Pentax screw mount lenses don’t fit, by the way. I hear adapters were made.

Miranda Sensorex II

Miranda cameras had offered open-aperture, through-the-lens light metering for several years when the Sensorex II was introduced. Many SLR makers were still trying to catch up as late as 1972 and were still making cameras that used stop-down metering. But Miranda’s system was predictably quirky, accomplished through an odd coupling arm. You can see it in the photo above on the left of the lens barrel. Part of the system requires you to tell the camera your lens’s maximum aperture. You do that by turning the knob under the rewind knob: 1.8 for an f/1.8 lens.

The viewfinder is refreshingly bright. It’s because the lens stays wide open until you press the shutter button, when the camera closes the lens to your selected aperture.

The Sensorex II’s meter averages light readings across an odd pattern, sort of a U that fills most of the bottom 2/3 of the frame. I’m sure this means that a subject will be accurately exposed only when it’s metered in that space.

Miranda Sensorex II

This weird metering pattern was a limitation of placing the meter behind the mirror, rather than in the prism housing as in most SLRs. But keeping the prism housing free let Miranda offer its most quirky feature: interchangeable viewfinders. A range of waist-level and reflex-style viewfinders clip right in. You can even use the Sensorex II with the viewfinder removed, although the screen is far too small for my middle-aged eyes.

The Sensorex II is otherwise quite conventional, offering match-needle exposure, split-image focusing down to 17 inches, depth-of-field preview (the button on the top left of the lens barrel), a horizontal-plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec, and the ability to take film from ISO 25 to 1600.

This camera is heavy and well made. Everything works smoothly and elegantly. Seriously, this is Nikon F2 territory.

A 1.35-volt 675 mercury battery powers the meter. The manual is emphatic that other batteries must not be used. What’s one to do when the required battery has been banned for years? I used a 1.55-volt SR44 battery, as it is the same size. I shot Kodak Ektar 100. Its famed exposure latitude almost certainly covered for the exposure differences related to that higher voltage.

Meet the handlebars of my 1973 Schwinn Collegiate five-speed. It’s my favorite shot from the roll.

1973 Schwinn Collegiate

Here’s my bike, out standing in its field. That’s some wicked flare, but I was shooting toward the sun. I wasn’t going for this effect, but I liked how it turned out anyway.

1973 Schwinn Collegiate

When I moved in close to the first daylily to bloom in my front yard, I opened the lens wide to get shallow depth of field. I never anticipated such smeary bokeh. I think I like it, but I think I wouldn’t always want this effect.

Daylilies

I also shot the lens wide open to capture these peonies I had cut into a vase and placed on my coffee table.

Peonies on the coffee table

Then I moved in as close as the lens would let me to this Liberty bell replica in a cemetery near my home. The letters in STOW are knife sharp.

Pass and Stow

Bokeh is more conventional when shooting at less than wide open. I shot this at about f/4. The rake belongs to the crew that removed my ash trees. They left all sorts of equipment lying around overnight during the job, but cleaned up very well after themselves when it was over

Rake leaning

I also took the Sensorex on a walk along Georgetown Road, which is under reconstruction. This strip mall has seen happier days, but all is not lost as it recently attracted a Little Caesars. The coin laundry closed, however. I’m bummed; it’s where I used to wash my bedspread, which doesn’t fit in my home washer. The nearest coin laundry is now considerably farther away.

Available

All is not skittles and beer with my Sensorex II, however. Sometimes the shutter drags at one end of its travel, creating a dark area on a photo’s left end. Also, several photos had this light spotting. These artifacts appeared on about a third of the photos I took. I cropped out the dark area when I could, and used Photoshop’s spot-healing tool to remove the spotting. This shot was beyond saving because the dark area encroaches upon the W in Wrecks.

Wrecks, Inc.

See more photos in my Miranda Sensorex II gallery.

I buy and shoot old cameras because I enjoy the experience. When one I’m testing misbehaves like this Sensorex II, I usually just shrug and move on. When I shoot seriously, I have an embarrassing wealth of outstanding, fully functional cameras to choose from.

But I really liked this Sensorex II for its quirks, its solid build, and the lens’s interesting smeary bokeh. As I shot my test roll, I imagined this camera among those I keep using just for the pleasure. But no camera joins that select group if I can’t count on it. And unless a repair is dead simple, I generally don’t do it.

All is not lost. Because Miranda cameras are overlooked, they go for very little. As I write this, I find a dozen Sensorex II bodies available on eBay for less than $50, and a few for less than $25. The entry cost is low enough that if I ever want to shoot this wonderfully quirky camera again, I’ll just buy another and be off to the races.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

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31 thoughts on “Miranda Sensorex II

  1. hmunro says:

    To my shame, I’d never heard of Miranda cameras. Thank you for broadening my photographic literacy — and for inspiring me with your lovely images, to boot. Great post, Jim.

    Like

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    I like the camera but alas they are expensive over here in the UK. As a side note when the Japanese Miranda
    company went bust Dixons in the UK acquired the brand name and sold Consina made cameras with the Miranda name on them, not bad cameras but not as well made as the original Japanese models.
    here is a good site about Miranda cameras http://www.mirandacamera.com/.
    Sounds like your camera could do with CLA.

    Like

      • nick says:

        Well Jim another great old camera found by you! Nice.
        Giving it a second thought, your excpression of shutter-drag made me think.
        The picture inside the camera will be upside down and left-to-right. So the dark area on the pictures will be where the shutter courtains will be travelling to, wich is on the right as you are holding it in shooting position. This in conclusion means your second shutter courtain will be catching up with the first one, wich only matters at fast shutter speeds, since “fast-shutter-speed” are not beeing made by faster courtain travel but merely by making the gap between the two of them smaller.
        If I am right then your picture of Little Cesars has been made at f8+125/s and those with the dark edge all at faster speeds. Right?
        Finding the spring wich regulates the tension on the second shutter is the only complicated thing about it…

        Nice pictures, especially the bike!
        Nick

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        • Nick, thanks for the good thoughts about the nature of the shutter problem. I don’t keep notes of my exposure settings but I’ll bet you’re right about the Little Caesars shot being at about f/8 and 1/125, and the rest being at faster speeds.

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  3. Wes C says:

    Years ago a friend in high school had a Miranda that I always admired it. Maybe I’ll try one sometime since they are now so affordable! I had the same shutter capping issue with an Exakta Varex IIa. It only happed at the faster shutter speeds and required an adjustment to the second curtain tension to get things right. BTW, the if you ever want to try an even-quirkier yet beautiful camera, the Exakta is it.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    I have the Exacta VX1000 a beautiful camera to look at but definitely quirky and that’s part of its charm.

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  5. I have a Miranda Fv that I picked up at an antique shop a few years ago for $10. To this day it is the only Miranda that I have seen in person. For some reason a Miranda was always a camera that I liked the look of in the photos I had seen. And I wasn’t disappointed when I finally saw one. Glad you found one of your own.

    Like

  6. ambaker49 says:

    Considered a Miranda, back in the day. Bought a Yashica TL Electro-X instead. Nice to see the write-up, and images. No internet back then. If it wasn’t featured in a mag, about the time your were shopping, it probably did not get comsidation; back then.

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  7. Excellent article on the Miranda Jim! This is one brand I have not tried, indeed “overlooked” it as you said. Over the years, I have browsed upon them on eBay or KEH, but for some reason never did get one. It kind of reminds me of Topcon, which I also overlooked for years, but got a set recently. Your images out of the Miranda look fantastic, even the “smeary” bokeh is something a lot of people look for nowadays. I think I’m going to seek out one of these cameras thanks to you! :-)

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  8. Phil Green says:

    If you do get round to adjusting the shutter curtain spring tension the adjustment is in the base of the camera.
    If you get stuck I can send you the chapter on shutter speed adjustment from the service hand book which I have in PDF form, but you will need a shutter tension meter and a shutter speed meter.
    Phil.

    Like

    • Thanks Phil! If I ever decide to repair this camera, I’ll contact you. And I can see why you’d use a Sensorex II for so many years. It’s a fine camera.

      Like

  9. Phil Green says:

    – and I nearly forgot, great review on the Miranda Sensorex II. I have over 50 Miranda cameras in my collection including 3 Sensorex IIs, 2 chrome ones and an all-black model. One of the chrome ones I have owned and used since 1973, only the digital arrival stopped me from using it on a regular basis.
    Phil.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Steve Miller says:

    FWIW, if I’m thinking of the same strip, that Little Caesar’s has popped up in roughly the same space where a Little Caesar’s was located 20-or-so years ago. East side of Georgetown, roughly midway between a CVS and the storage place?

    Used to find Little Caesar’s store everywhere… then nowhere, and now the chain’s resurgence sorta mirrors what’s happening with 56th & Georgetown.

    Like

    • Yeah, there was a time when Little Caesars absolutely dried up. If I weren’t a gluten-free dude, I’d love having a Little Caesars nearby. Their pizza is good enough for the money.

      Yeah, this strip is next to the CVS. When I moved here, the CVS, the Boston Market, and the storage place didn’t exist. I believe corn was growing in those lots. Georgetown Road at 56th has really matured over the past 20 years.

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  11. Andy Umbo says:

    Nice to see another plug for the Miranda Sensorex series. It’s important to know that they were certainly in the “running” for being a pro camera back in the day. It was my first “pro” 35mm, in an era where professionals didn’t use 35mm for much, just photo-journalists and magazine shooters, so there weren’t that many requirements such as huge motor drives and multi-metering. That all came later.

    In as much history as I could find and read over the years, Miranda’s original owners always felt themselves to be in competition with Leica, so their shutters were really quite quiet and vibrationless, but they were also very complicated. I used a Leica guy to fix mine a few years ago, and it took him a few swings at it before he could do it! In fact, I gave up on using mine professionally back in the early 70’s because the original Sensorex had a problem where the shutter would all of a sudden, just not open, hence no results! The problem was, it sounded just like it did when it was working, so there was no way to tell! This was the thing that made me give up on it; but I heard they fixed it on the Sensorex II; too late for me, I had moved on to Canikon (when their shutters didn’t work, you knew it!).

    It had plenty of pluses, tho: thinner than normal body, so you could adapt a lot of lenses to it; excellent meter on the mirror, which was positioned on the lower side, so it never got fooled by overcast sky, and it always worked no matter what finder you had on; front shutter release, so you weren’t pushing down on the whole body, but squeezing it. The ‘real’ Miranda lenses were pretty good too, but since the same company that eventually owned them (AIC), also owned Soligor, there were a lot of ‘Miranda-Soligors’, which I never found to be as good. If you got a ‘good’ one, they were very dependable, and I remember ads featuring people that had taken them to the jungles of New Guinea and to the arctic!

    Their downfall was, that after years of upward development, they sold themselves to their American importer, who promptly drove them into the ground through malfeasance and infighting. The story appears someplace on the web. In fact, I read that it was such a disgrace in Japan, it caused them to put a moratorium on sales of Japanese companies to foreigners! Don’t know if it’s true or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Mike Eckman says:

    Very nice review Jim. I am a huge fan of Miranda’s cameras both for their quirks and their “underdog” status amongst the SLR elites of the 60s and 70s.

    A quick clarification in your article however, is that you said that Miranda’s dual bayonet / 44mm lens mount was to maintain compatibility with Miranda’s 44mm lenses is only partially correct. Although there are some very rare early preset Miranda lenses that use the M44 mount, the reason that later models like the Sensorex II still had the 44mm screw mount was because MIranda made adapters for almost every other SLR lens mount at the time.

    The company knew that they faced an uphill battle in the market to convince existing photographers to try out a Miranda camera, so they made sure that all Miranda SLRs could be compatible with all of the popular lens systems out there. M44 -> M42, T-Mount, Exakta, Nikon F, and many others were made.

    To ensure accurate focusing to infinity, Miranda SLRs were also narrower than almost every other SLR system out there, allowing for a Flange Focal Distance of 41.5mm. The only major SLR system with a narrower distance (which means their lenses couldn’t focus to infinity) was Konica’s F/AR mount.

    By sticking with the dual mount allowed the best of both worlds, a modern and easy to use bayonet mount for dedicated Miranda/Soligor lenses, but the flexibility of a large diameter screw mount for easy adaptability with lenses for other systems.

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    • Mike, thank you so much for adding so much valuable historical detail here. In this case I saw the 44mm screw mount and drew conclusions, so it’s good to have better facts.

      You appear to have quite a wealth of such facts in your head. I would love to see a series of short posts on your blog about such things. I’m betting it would drive a lot of search your way, especially for guys like me who are researching the cameras they just bought.

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