Old farmstead Sears KSX-P 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC Foma Fomapan 400 L110, Dilution B
The subdivision where I live used to be a farm, run by the Ottinger family. I know the family’s name only because the park at the center of our subdivision is named for the family, and a sign posted there tells a little of the story.
When you enter our subdivision at its main entrance, an old farmhouse stands on the right. A family still lives there; who knows, it might still be the Ottingers. This is their driveway and some of their outbuildings.
Sears, Roebuck and Company sold cameras under its own brands starting in the 1950s. Outside manufacturers made them all; Sears was a department store, not a manufacturer. From the late 1960s through late 1980s, if you bought a Sears 35mm SLR, Ricoh made it — with one exception. Sears turned to Chinon for its last 35mm SLR, the 1985 Sears KSX-P.
This camera differs only cosmetically from Chinon’s CP-5. It offers two program modes, hence the “Dual2 Program” label on the prism cover. It also offers aperture-priority and manual exposure modes. You can mount any of the huge range of Pentax and third-party K-mount lenses to this camera. I don’t know how they did it, but automatic exposure modes work with any K-mount lens. I mounted one of my SMC Pentax-M lenses and program and aperture-priority modes worked fine. Pentax’s autoexposure SLRs required SMC Pentax-A lenses; older SMC Pentax-M lenses worked only in manual exposure mode.
The KSX-P uses a metal, vertical-travel focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. (8 sec. in manual mode) to 1/1000 sec. It accepts films from 25 to 3200 ISO, selected using the dial around the rewind crank. Pull it up to turn it. The viewfinder features split-image and microprism focusing. The camera also chimes for various reasons mostly related to misexposure; you can turn that off with the switch next to the lens mount and under the KSX-P logo. That switch also activates the self timer. Three AAA batteries power the camera; they’re under the grip.
The two program modes are Program Action (Pa) and Program Creative (Pc), which you select with the gray lever on the mode dial. Pa chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze moving subjects, and Pc chooses smaller apertures for greater depth of field with static subjects. When using one of the program modes, put the lens at its smallest aperture. If you don’t, program mode still works, but the camera can’t choose apertures smaller than the one set on the lens.
Manual mode is unusual: you press the M button (next to the mode dial) to step through shutter speeds in ascending order. If you press the shutter button partway and then press the M button, you step through shutter speeds in descending order. It’s challenging to get both fingers in there. A flashing LED in the viewfinder appears next to the shutter speed. A second LED, glowing steady, shows the shutter speed necessary for the selected aperture. To set proper exposure, adjust aperture and shutter speed until the two LEDs become one.
The KSX-P lets you make multiple exposures on a frame. Slide the lever above the winder to the left and hold it, and wind. The film stays put but the shutter cocks so you can make a second exposure on the frame.
The rewind crank is unusual in that it is round, covering the shaft like a lid. I found the knob to be hard to hold as I rewound my test rolls. It kept slipping from my fingers, which caused the crank to close.
My Sears KSX-P came with a 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens made by Chinon, which was probably the kit lens. My Sears KS-2 had a 50/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens too, but Ricoh made it. The easiest way to tell these identically named lenses apart is that the Ricoh lens takes 52mm filters and the Chinon lens takes 49mm filters, and the lenses are marked as such right on the front.
I’ve reviewed other Sears SLRs, namely the KS-2 (here) and the KS Super II (here). These are all K-mount SLRs, shared with Pentax. Check out my reviews of the Pentax KM (here), K1000 (here), ME (here), and ME Super (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400 and shot it in Program mode at EI 200, and then developed it in LegacyPro L110 and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.
I used Pa mode when I was chasing after our little granddaughter and Pc mode otherwise. The KSX-P’s viewfinder shows which shutter speed the camera chooses by lighting an LED along a scale. You can see the lens’s selected aperture in a window at the top of the viewfinder, but in program mode that’s always 22, not the aperture the camera selected. I would have liked know the aperture so I could guess the depth of field I might be getting. The camera has no DOF preview.
The KSX-P feels plasticky, but it’s got moderate heft. The viewfinder is a little dim, but it’s plenty usable. The battery grip makes the camera comfortable in the hand.
This lens focuses down to 18 inches, which ain’t bad for a non-macro lens. I like having the ability to get in close.
This lens has mild but noticeable barrel distortion, which I find to be uncommon among 50mm primes. The lens handles easily, however, and is compact.
You’ll never mistake the KSX-P for a professional or luxury camera. The controls are sure, but aren’t hefty or silky.
I shot a roll of Fujifilm Superia Reala 100 next in this Sears KSX-P. This stuff expired in March, 2002, but it was stored frozen, so I shot it at box speed. I took the camera to Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, an enormous, sprawling place, for a warm evening walk. Every time I’ve lucked into a roll of ISO 100 Fujicolor film, which isn’t made anymore, I’ve been blown away by the color.
I started the walk with the camera in program mode, but switched to aperture-priority mode after just a few frames. The forecast for full sun proved to be wrong as clouds rolled in. Light was mixed. With such slow film I wanted more control over depth of field, and aperture-priority mode gave it to me. The window at the top of the viewfinder showed me the aperture I’d chosen, and an LED in the viewfinder lit next to the shutter speed the camera chose. Perfect.
My only gripe with this camera is that the shutter sounds weird and cheap: Shhhhhh-chunk-ping. It sounds the same regardless of the shutter speed, which made me wonder whether the shutter speeds were accurate. (I get a sense of shutter function by listening to it. 1/15 sounds a lot slower than 1/500.) It wasn’t until I saw my developed negatives that I was sure the shutter worked properly. I don’t know if this sound is normal for a KSX-P or not, though.
A couple times I knew I was photographing into the light, and sure enough, the lens flared. Photoshop let me tone that down.
I bought this KSX-P from its original owner, who hadn’t used it in many years. It says something about this camera that when I put batteries in it, it fired right up and functioned properly.
Yet I didn’t fall in love with this camera. I suppose my bar is high after having used so many truly wonderful SLRs over the years. I know that if someone had gifted me one of these when it was new in 1985, I would have been thrilled, and I would have made wonderful photographs with it for years.
I bought this Sears KSX-P because I’m curious about Sears SLRs and this one cost very little. It is a decent performer, but more than that, it’s truly remarkable that automatic exposure works with any K-mount lens. If you have a passel of Pentax glass a KSX-P might be worth adding to your stable for its versatility.
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Fomapan 400 is a film that’s new to me. My first time out with it I shot it at box speed, but shadows sometimes lacked detail. I thought it might help that to shoot the next roll at EI 200, so that’s what I did. I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, at the IS0 400 time. I scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.
I used fresh L110 for this roll. I’d gotten dense negatives the last couple of rolls I developed with the L110 I had been using. It’s not impossible that the cameras were to blame; they were both essentially new to me and could have been overexposing. And I know L110, like any HC-110 clone, is said to perform like new for years. Still, I decided to remove this variable from the equation.
I shot around my neighborhood to fill in some gaps for the book project I’m working on. Even though the utilities are buried in my neighborhood, these ugly utility boxes appear between every pair of houses. They remind me of crooked, broken teeth. Someone who saw these photos in my Flickr stream said they reminded him of gravestones. I made these images with my Pentax KM and my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens.
I switched to my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M lens for the rest of the roll. There were a few images I wanted to make where the long focal length would compress depth. On this first image in particular, I got shallower depth of field than I wanted. I’m trying to show the a long row of these petroleum pipeline markers.
These all turned out reasonably well. At box speed, I liked the contrast I got. These are flatter, even after boosting contrast in Photoshop. But the shadows aren’t blocked up, and the middle grays are pleasing.
I like to learn things by trying them. It would be a lot more efficient if I could learn things by reading about them, or hearing about them, and accepting the information as fact. But I always have to find out for myself.
The blogs and forums all say that Fomapan 400 looks best when shot at EI 160 or 200. But the box says 400. I’m stubborn about this: why the heck would a manufacturer rate a film at a particular ISO if they don’t mean it? Call me stubborn, but I always shoot a film for the first time at box speed. If the results demand it, the next time I shoot I adjust exposure up or down as appropriate.
It was time to give my Spotmatic F some exercise. I chose my delightful 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens for this roll. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, dilution B.
I got okay results from most of the roll. I’m pleased with my bathroom-mirror selfie above. Everything is so sharp, you can almost count the hairs on my head. I’m reasonably pleased with these next four photos. They show good detail and a reasonable tonal range, and good contrast after I boosted it in Photoshop. My Minolta ScanDual II scanner delivers mighty flat scans, so punching up the contrast is a must. If you pixel peep you’ll see lots of pleasant grain.
The main challenge I had with this film at EI 400 that shadows looked underexposed. This photo shows this reasonably well; look under the front bumper and around the wheels. The negatives looked to have good density to me, though I’m still developing my eye for that.
A few shots on the roll looked flat and lifeless, no matter what I did to them in Photoshop.
A couple of the flat shots benefited from reducing exposure in Photoshop, at cost of enhancing the grain.
It was lovely to shoot my Spotmatic F again. It’s such a wonderful SLR. Every time I use it, I wonder why I don’t use it more often. Then I remember that I own about 15 very nice SLRs at the moment, plus about 20 other lovely cameras. I’d have to shoot one roll of film every week to be able to use each of my cameras about once a year.
I bought several rolls of Fomapan 400 (and 200) when Freestyle Photo had it on sale not long ago. I’ll shoot another roll of the 400 again soon, but I’ll set my camera to EI 200 and see what happens then. Because I’m an experiential learner.
When I bought my previous house, I had next to nothing. A futon, a bunch of end tables, a TV. I had to buy everything else. I bought some lamps at Target. One of them has a wooden tripod base, which I thought was cool for what are probably obvious reasons if you’ve read my blog for more than five minutes.
For years it stood on the table next to my easy chair. Since moving in with Margaret, it’s been on a table next to my desk. Given that I usually load film into cameras while sitting here, and I usually need to burn off a shot or two after closing the film door, I photograph this lamp a lot now.
I made this particular photo in my Spotmatic F on Fomapan 400, a film I’d never shot before. This being the first photo on the roll, half of the negative was blank from being exposed to light during loading. I cropped that part out and boosted contrast in Photoshop, which brought out the lampshade’s two textures. I find the tonality, softness, and grain of this image to be pleasing.