Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Baby Brownie

1957 in Knightstown

Isn’t this thing just cute? Made of Bakelite and aluminum, this palm-sized box camera from the late 1930s is almost certainly the smallest ever made to accept 127 film.

Kodak Baby Brownie

I’ve shot this camera but once. I put my last roll of Efke 100 through it. I wasn’t wowed with the results. The lens might have been dirty; that’s been a common problem with old boxes I’ve encountered. So before shooting it this time I swabbed it clean with rubbing alcohol. Or it could just be that I don’t like the look of Efke 100. This shot of my last house was by far the best of that roll.

Home sweet home

So this time I shot Ektar, which in my experience is the best film for testing an old box. Such cameras tend to operate at 1/50 sec. at f/8, or 1/40 sec at f/11, or some other similar aperture/shutter-speed combo. On a sunny day, ISO 100 film is a good fit. Ektar in particular has wide enough exposure latitude to make up for unsunny days and exposure vagaries from box to box.

Centerville

Kodak doesn’t make Ektar or any other film in 127; nobody does. But I found a fellow on eBay who cuts various 120 films down to 127’s width and respools the stuff onto 127 spools. His film flowed flawlessly through my Baby Brownie.

Centerville

As you can see, however, light leaked everywhere onto these frames. There was evidence of leaking light on my Efke 100 roll but not as strong as here. Given the hand-rolled nature of the film I can’t be sure something wasn’t perfect with the way the film was rolled, either. But I’m betting it’s the Brownie.

Centerville

This is such a wonderful little camera to use. Pop up the viewfinder, frame, and slide the shutter lever. You get used to its front-and-center placement in no time, and it moves easily. Shooting at close range, however, you can see this simple lens’s tendency toward barrel distortion.

1957 in Knightstown

I brought the Baby Brownie onto the National Road in eastern Indiana in August; these photos are from Centerville and Knightstown, Indiana. To see more from this little box, check out my Kodak Baby Brownie gallery.

Even though my Baby Brownie outing was pleasant, I’m not that likely to shoot very much 127 going forward. If I do, I know I’ll always get out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic. It’s even more pleasant to use, its lens is better, and it leaks considerably less light (as you’ll see in an upcoming Operation Thin the Herd review). I briefly considered keeping the Baby Brownie for display, but in the end decided it’s time to let it find its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Pentax Spotmatic F

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At last: open-aperture metering on a Pentax Spotmatic.

It’s not like stop-down metering is hard. It’s just an extra step, and a quick one: flip the switch. Yet to be free of it! Exposure information in the viewfinder at all times! This feeling of ease makes the Spotmatic F more compelling than any stop-down Spotmatic that preceded it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Introduced in 1973, the Spotmatic F retained the original 1964 Spotmatic’s chassis. I expect the works are the same, too, except for changes enabling open-aperture metering. To power that meter the SPF got a bigger, more powerful battery: the dreaded, banned PX625 mercury cell. (Earlier Spotmatics used a battery that isn’t made anymore, though other special-order batteries can be adapted to fit.) But that’s not all bad, as highly available alkaline 625 cells fit and work fine despite delivering a little less juice (0.2 volts, to be precise) because Pentax added a bridge circuit to adjust voltage. It’s the only Spotmatic so equipped.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Well-known Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson cleaned, lubed, and adjusted this SPF, so it works like new. And it may well have been essentially new, serving briefly as a sales demonstrator before falling into the hands of a Pentax employee who kept it without, it seems, ever using it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

The SPF is a 35mm SLR with a cloth focal-plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec., with flash sync at 1/60 sec. The SPF takes M42 screw-mount lenses, but open-aperture metering works only with SMC Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses, which have a pin that lets the camera read the selected aperture. With those lenses, the stop-down lever (on the right of the lens barrel) provides depth-of-field preview.

SPF_TTL

Inside the viewfinder. Meter needle at right. When it’s horizontal, you have accurate exposure.

The SPF meters through the lens using a CdS cell and a match-needle system in the viewfinder; it accepts films from ISO 20 to 3200. There’s no on/off switch, but at and below 2 EV the meter deactivates. Keeping the lens capped effectively turns the camera off.

The focusing screen includes a microprism patch. You twist the focus ring until everything looks sharp and the patch stops shimmering. The older I get the harder it is to see the shimmer, and so I prefer split-image focusing screens. This is the only serious thing I wish were different about the SPF, because otherwise mine is just a joy to shoot.

This SPF came to me with a 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I love 35mm for everyday walking-around photography! Confident in my just-serviced camera I skipped over the inexpensive films with which I normally test cameras and loaded a roll of Ektar.

I took the SPF to Nashville, Indiana, where I attended a conference. My day was pretty packed, but I slipped away at lunch for some photography.

Nashville, IN

35mm lenses are just made for walking around and capturing scenery, of which there is plenty in Nashville. And this Takumar is sharp and renders color well.

Nashville, IN

Downtown Nashville is all little shops and restaurants. It’s a fun day out, easily reached from Indianapolis.

Madeline's

Nooks and crannies throughout Nashville provide plenty of interesting subjects.

Confusing Temptation with Opportunity

On a sunnier day I visited the cemetery near my house. This monument went up in the last year or so but I’ve already shot it many times. The Ektar handled the brown well.

Roman numerals

But wait…what’s that? Up there, in the trees? A little bokeh?

At Washington Park North

Yes, and it’s interesting bokeh, a constellation of little points. If only the subject (those leaves) was more interesting.

Bokeh

I walked through the neighborhood one afternoon with the SPF. This isn’t a neighborhood of picket fences, this one neighbor notwithstanding.

Picketing

Another neighbor recently started parking this mid-1970s Ford Thunderbird curbside. It’s not plated. In a tonier neighborhood the HOA would be all over this Bird’s owner like stink on a garbage truck. Here, we have no HOA. His car can sit there for as long as it wants.

Thunderbird

A lonesome highway makes a pretty good subject.

Old 52

To see more photographs, check out my Pentax Spotmatic F gallery.

I waited until the end to say that the Spotmatic F is essentially the same camera as the 1976 Pentax K1000, except the K1000 uses the then-new K bayonet lens mount. Every other SPF review says that up front and I didn’t want to be tiresome. But I’m mentioning it now because I’ve owned a few K1000s, fine and competent cameras the lot. But I experienced real joy shooting this SPF, a feeling I’ve found elusive with any K1000.

Perhaps some of that joy comes from my SPF’s like-new condition. Buttery operation never fails to impress. But most of it comes from an indescribable quality, something special that got lost in the K-mount translation. If you know your way around apertures and shutter speeds and want to break into film SLRs, just get a Spotmatic F. Pair it with the astonishing 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens and you’ll never fail to have great fun.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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Wrecks Inc

Drive carefully
Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar
Kodak Ektar 100
2017

I photograph this sign a lot. I love it! And I drive by it frequently as it’s on the way to Margaret’s.

This time I photographed it from the driver’s seat of my car. The 35mm lens I used let me do that easily from the side of the road, where I had pulled over. Whenever I photograph this sign with a 50mm lens, I have to back way up from it to fit it in the frame.

The more I shoot 35mm lenses, the more I like them. It’s such a useful focal length for road-trip photography. I don’t have to back up nearly as much to get things into the frame, yet when I want to move in close I can still do so credibly.

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Drive carefully

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Old 52

Old US 52
Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar
Kodak Ektar 100
2017

I spend a lot of time on the Lafayette Road, aka Old US 52, as it is my favorite way to get to Margaret’s. It’s been a four-lane road since about the mid 1930s, but hasn’t been a U.S. highway since the 1960s when I-65 opened nearby and US 52 was routed onto it.

And so this old road, which dates to the 1830s, is empty most of the time.

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Old US 52

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Camera Reviews, Photography

Pentax ES II

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The 1964 Pentax Spotmatic, the first 35mm SLR to offer through-the-lens light metering, set the template for pretty much every popular SLR that followed. But the Spotmatic required moving a little lever to activate the meter. And you had to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself. The horror.

Pentax’s engineers worked tirelessly to relieve photographers worldwide of their lever pushing and dial twisting. They triumphed in 1971 with the Electro Spotmatic, which added open-aperture metering and aperture-priority autoexposure. The celebrating ended quickly, however: the Electro Spotmatic proved to be unreliable. Pentax followed quickly with the improved ES, but even that camera had its problems. Pentax didn’t get it right until 1973 when they released the ES II.

Pentax ES II

To make open-aperture metering work, the well-regarded M42 screw-mount Takumar lenses received a slight modification: a tab that let the camera’s exposure system read the lens’s aperture. This coincided with the introduction of Super Multi Coating, Pentax’s advanced lens-coating technology. If you shoot one of these cameras with lenses not marked Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, you lose open-aperture metering and autoexposure. The camera then works like any other Spotmatic, with all that lever pushing and dial twisting.

Pentax ES II

With non-SMC lenses you also get a narrow range of shutter speeds: 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 sec. Screw on an SMC Takumar and twist the aperture ring to A, and suddenly these cameras’ shutters fire from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec steplessly — if 1/382 sec gets the right exposure, that’s what the camera chooses.

Pentax ES II

This electro-wizardry needs four SR44 button batteries. Most other 1970s-80s aperture-priority SLRs need just one or two. And the ES II burns through those batteries fast. I forgot to turn off my ES II one time, and when I picked it up again two days later, all four batteries were dead, dead, dead.

My ES II came with two lenses: a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar and a 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. I screwed on the 55mm lens, loaded a roll of Arista Premium 400, and took the ES II out onto the road. Here’s my favorite shot from that roll, which I took in Michigantown on the Michigan Road.

300

The 55mm f/1.8 Takumar is widely regarded as a great lens, pin sharp. So I was a little let down by how soft these photos turned out. To see what this lens is capable of, check out the photos on this page.

Ganders Visitors

That softness shows up best at larger resolutions, so if you’re curious, click any of these photos to open them on Flickr and enlarge them there.

Augusta Station

I had a fine time shooting the ES II, however. It handled great. It’s a little heavy in the hands, but then this camera is made entirely of metal.

White Lion Antiques

I took a couple photos with the 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar and was even more disappointed with how soft my photos turned out. See this page to see the sharpness this lens can deliver. But do enjoy my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler.

'67 Chrysler

I wondered: did I have the lenses screwed on tight? Was there something wrong with my lenses or with the camera? I wanted to try to figure it out. So I loaded some Kodak Ektar 100 and kept shooting. Sharpness improved noticeably. I don’t know why.

Bell

I took the ES II downtown one evening for a photo walk along Massachusetts Avenue. The Old Point Tavern is an old Indianapolis bar. They make a great bowl of chili.

Old Point Tavern

Here’s another of those pedal-powered beer bars like the one I shared in this post. The fellow looking directly at the camera actually called out something unkind to me after I snapped this shot.

Pedaling for beer

You’ll find racks full of these yellow rental bikes all over downtown. I never see any of the bikes in use; the racks are always full.

Bikeshare

I’ve shot this shrub in my next-door-neighbor’s yard six or seven times now with various cameras but have never been satisfied with the photos — until now. This is exactly what I have been trying to capture about this bush. Don’t ask me to describe what it is, though; I can’t.

Shrub

I’d like to put a roll of Kodak T-Max through my ES II to see how my Takumars like that low-grain film. That’s a good sign: I know I really like a camera when I imagine the next roll of film I’ll shoot in it. The speed with which the ES II burns through batteries bothers me a little, but not so much that I won’t shoot this camera again.


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

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Courthouse at Paoli

Once in a while, one of my old posts gets shared on Facebook and picks up a bunch of views. So it went a couple weeks ago with a 2012 post about the great public square in Paoli, a Dixie Highway town in southern Indiana. Out of nowhere, it got about a thousand views over a few days.

That day I shot my Pentax ME with the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens. It was my first time shooting that lens — and also Kodak Ektar 100, a film that disappointed me a little on this cloudy day for the muted colors it returned. Still, I like this shot a lot, as it captures this stunning courthouse so well. Since then I’ve come to appreciate Ektar’s good qualities, especially on a bright day with vividly colored subjects.

Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

Captured: Courthouse at Paoli

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