My Spotmatic let me down

Here’s when film photography isn’t very much fun: when your gear malfunctions, or doesn’t behave as you expect.

Pentax Spotmatic F

I loaded my Spotmatic F with some Ektar 100 for a few days on the National Road, a trip from which I’m just back. After I shot the 36th frame, I was able to wind to 37. That happens sometimes. But when I was able to wind to 38, I uttered a quick epithet, for I knew that the film never properly wound onto the spool in the first place. I’d shot 38 frames onto the film tail.

Thankfully, I also shot digital on the trip and so all is not lost.


42 responses to “My Spotmatic let me down”

  1. Heide Avatar

    OH NO! Smart man to carry (and use) a back-up, though. So sorry, Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, at least with digital you know as you’re shooting when something’s amiss.

  2. Dan James Avatar

    Hang on, so is something broken in the Spotmatic Jim, like the film wind on spool just freewheeling instead of the cogs locking in and winding on the film? Or you just didn’t load enough of the film leader in for the camera to grip on to at the start? Spotmatics are known for reliability and I’m pretty sure you had yours serviced recently, so this is a shockingly headline!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The camera isn’t broken. I needed to wind one more time before closing the film door. Because after I closed it and wound on, the film broke free of the spool and stayed in that spot for 38 frames. :-(

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Ah OK. Then your title is misleading, it should be “Don’t you hate it when you don’t load film properly?” 😉 Poor old Spottie getting the blame!

  3. dionyb Avatar

    This happened to me a couple weeks ago, makes me wonder sometimes why I shoot film.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I admit to doubt myself at moments like this!

    2. Johnny Martyr Avatar

      Well, this is just part of loading a camera correctly. I find that the more I shoot, and more OFTEN I shoot in the same equipment, as oppose to taking a frame here and there, the faster, more accurately and instinctively I have come to load and unload correctly. It’s like anything else, it takes practice. I feel sad to hear that some that is a matter of practice would make you question why you’re shooting film! For me, incidents like these fuel me to be a better photographer and not let them recur. I hope you can find motivation in that too!

  4. Bill Bussell Avatar
    Bill Bussell

    Always wind backwards slightly, and watch the rewind knob during your efforts. Always with Pentax…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Lesson learned to be sure!

  5. M.B. Henry Avatar

    Nooooooo!!!! Glad you have some digital backups at least!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So disappointing to lose the film shots! But yes, at least I have the digital shots.

  6. JoHawkTheWriter Avatar

    Awwww/ I feel your pain.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar
  7. Richard Armstrong Avatar
    Richard Armstrong

    Jim, You didn’t take up the tension on the rewind knob once the film was loaded and watch it turn as you wound to frame I did you? Can only ever remember doing it once when I was shooting a 21st, realized when I went to rewind. Rushed around and re-took all the people I could remember, luckily only one girl wanted to know where was the photo I took of her. – Lesson learnt.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah no, I didn’t. Bill above tipped me to the same thing. I’ve never had any trouble with my Spottie before so perhaps I got lazy!

  8. Bob Burt Avatar
    Bob Burt

    So, if you remembered not to wind the film back into the cartridge, you can re-use it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did manage not to wind it all the way back in! But I also know a trick to pull the tail back out of the canister if it had gone all the way in.

  9. Johnny Martyr Avatar

    So I wouldn’t say that your Spotmatic didn’t let you down, YOU let your Spotmatic down! Can’t blame the tools for incorrect operation!

    As others have said, you’ve gotta make a habit of checking that the rewind knob is rotating from time to time during a roll. I am not sure why people don’t emphasize this more when teaching folks to load. It’s happened to all new film shooters unfortunately. I’ve also done it with cameras that were new to me, and also, using two totally different types of cameras at the same time can slow me down/cause me some momentary confusion too.

    The takeaway: Be more careful and buy a second Spotmatic! :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never had this happen in any of my Pentaxes, and I shoot mostly Pentax. I can see that I’ve been very lucky, given how many commenters knew to watch that rewind knob.

      1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

        Yeah Jim, I know you’re a big Pentax shooter! But as noted, it has nothing at all to do with the brand of camera. In your case, it may just be how comfortable you are with this camera. I have been clicking away on my 1930 Leica for nearly two years then, a month ago, I accidentally loaded it incorrectly. I spotted it before shooting but was amazed that I did it on something so familiar to me!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I thought I was comfortable with that Spotmatic — I can see it was false familiarity. I mostly shoot my Pentaxes ME and KM and perhaps I felt like my knowledge of those cameras transferred to the Spottie.

          The ME’s film-loading system is odd but surprisingly foolproof. Or at least it’s never not worked for this fool.

          1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

            Oh right, the ME series has that special take-up reel.

            I can see how moving from that to a conventional take-up would cause some confusion. Maybe this is the cause for this issue being particularly common with Pentax shooters since different popular models have different loading systems.

            Another odd but effective load is Canon’s Quick Load system which can be found in their FT SLR’s and some of the newer Canonet RF’s. With that, you don’t even have to insert the tip of the leader into the take-up. I imagine folks who normally shoot those bodies have loading issues on other bodies as well!

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          Ah, the Canon QL system! I’ve owned two cameras with it (the FT QL and the Canonet QL17 G-III) and I managed to screw up loading the film in both of those cameras!

  10. Sam Avatar

    Sorry to hear Jim it was bound to happen I guess.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can see that I’ve been fortunate that it took this many years to happen to me.

  11. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    Jim, I keep hearing about this with Spotmatics, so I don’t think you are alone. It happened to me recently with a Nikon Rangefinder, luckily the Darkroom was really nice and sent me a coupon.

    1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

      Doesn’t matter if it’s a Spotmatic or a Leica. It’s been the same principle since the 1930’s on nearly all 35mm cameras!

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve had this happen with other cameras a few times, generally ones with primitive loading/winding systems. I can see from other comments here that I’ve been extremely fortunate never to have this happen on my Pentaxes.

  12. windswept007 Avatar

    After doing that a couple of times, I now do the tension and watching thing where possible. Sucks though.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Given the number of people who know this, I wonder how I’ve escaped this fate for so long.

  13. karenshootsfilm Avatar

    This has happened to me before with my Pentax but I have learnt to make sure I can feel tension when I wind it onto the next frame. There is definitely a difference in how it feels when you haven’t got it loaded quite right.

    1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

      Feel the tension yes, but what’s recommended and even less mistakable is to look at the rewind knob during the first several shots when winding.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      This is only the third or fourth time I’ve shot this Spotmatic so I haven’t completely gotten its feel yet. I don’t know if I can tell the difference between film tension and not film tension yet! I know I can do it in my Pentax ME, which I’ve shot a bajillion times.

  14. Johnny Martyr Avatar

    “The ME’s film-loading system is odd but surprisingly foolproof. Or at least it’s never not worked for this fool.”

    They all have their quirks, really. No single method is better, we just get good at the ones we use the most.

  15. mellonicoley Avatar

    Ah my worst nightmare! I’ve only had this happen to me once before, with a new camera that I wasn’t used to loading. Have been fortunate so far, as I didn’t normally check to make sure the rewind knob was rotating until recently! It’s only with my Nikon FG-20 that I started doing the tension and watching thing. Thank goodness you had your digital camera with you, I guess digital does have its positives after all :O :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I must have had incredibly good luck all these years for this to be the first time this happened to me (on an SLR). I’m equal opportunity digital and film — some things I shoot, I don’t want to wait for the film to come back before I share the images!

  16. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I tend to wind an extra time or two while the back is still open just to make sure everything is moving along as it should. I know I am wasting an extra frame or two, but I’ll take the trade off. I also keep an eye on the rewind crank during shooting–a good habit I’ve picked up over the years.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I do too. But this time I saw the takeup spool take that film so confidently that I just closed the back and moved on. Never again. Still stinging from the loss.

  17. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Jim, not to bust your chops too much but it’s a poor workman who blames his tools. That said it’s happened to me twice, once 4-5 years ago when using my Minolta SRT-MCII, and just recently when shooting a roll of Double-X in my Canon AE-1, both when I hadn’t shot that particular camera in a while. The last time really kills me because it was my brother’s wedding, but I wasn’t the official photographer and my shots weren’t crucial. In both cases I was just trying to get an extra frame instead of making sure the film was properly secured on the spool. Doh!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sure sure. I wrote this in a moment of frustration. I learned something from the comments about the way to make sure a Pentax is loaded properly.

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