Camera Reviews

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

A reader offered to sell me his Pentax Spotmatic SP II with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens attached. He wasn’t sure the Spottie’s meter was reading correctly, and said that the bottom plate was a replacement after the original was damaged, but otherwise the camera was in good cosmetic and functional condition. Even if the body wasn’t fully functional, I don’t own a 50/1.4 Takumar and I’ve long wanted one. Because it’s the Super Multi Coated version, it includes the pin that lets it meter on my Spotmatic F without the need to stop down. We struck a deal, and he sent it straightaway.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

The 1971 SP II improves the original 1964 Spotmatic SP with some stouter internal parts, a hot shoe and flash sync, and the ASA range increased from 1600 to 3200. The camera otherwise looks and operates the same as the original. It uses a focal plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 second. Its onboard CdS light meter needs a 1.35-volt PX-400 mercury battery to function. Mercury batteries are no longer made. Fortunately, the silver-oxide 387 cell is the same size and shape, and it doesn’t matter that it puts out 1.55 volts because all Spotmatics include a bridge circuit that adjusts to the needed 1.35 volts.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

Except for the light meter, the SP II is entirely mechanical. It takes M42 screw-mount lenses, of which Pentax made a huge range. Even though the SP II came with the Super Multi Coated lenses that included the pins for open-aperture metering, only the Spotmatic F and the Electro Spotmatic/ES/ES II cameras could take advantage of those pins. On the SP II, you still had to stop down to meter.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

That’s what the big switch on the side of the lens mount is for. When you’re ready to meter, push it up. The needle at right in the viewfinder comes to life. Then to set exposure, adjust aperture (on the lens barrel) and/or shutter speed (with the dial atop the camera) until the needle is horizontal, or at least within the small empty space between the upper and lower black vertical lines of the meter scale. Then press the shutter button to make the image.

If you like Pentax SLRs, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), the H3 (here), the venerable K1000 (here), the KM (here), the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Pro tip: Don’t leave the stop-down switch on overnight. It kills the battery. Ask me how I know.

I tested this Spottie with two rolls of film, using the already attached 50mm f/1.4 lens. First I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50. I had occasion to be in Washington Park North cemetery in Indianapolis, which was right by my previous house. It was nice to be back. This replica of the Liberty Bell has found itself in my viewfinder dozens of times.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

The person who sold me the camera thought that one of the two CdS cells must be dead in the meter, as he didn’t get accurate readings. But I checked the camera against my phone’s light meter app, and the two meters lined up well enough. I got good exposures right down the line.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

I had a few days off from work, so one afternoon I had lunch at The Friendly, a pub that is an institution here in Zionsville. Here are some of my usual photographs from Main Street.

Black Dog Books

I’m lukewarm on T-Max 100. I love its ISO 400 brother. I shot ten rolls of that stuff in Ireland in 2016 and got gorgeous exposures. I’ve yet to make a photo on T-Max 100 that grabs me. I wish its blacks were richer. At least its sharpness is outstanding.

Downtown Zionsville

I continued with a roll of color film. Some time ago I found some expired ISO 200 Ferrania film that was branded Kroger, which is a prominent grocery chain in the US. I’m not in love with the stuff, which makes it a great choice for testing old cameras. My wife and I took a photo walk through Lockerbie, an old neighborhood in Downtown Indianapolis. This is Lockerbie Street, the only street in town still paved with cobblestones. The Spotmatic’s meter is center weighted, despite the word Spot being in the camera name. It had a little trouble with the sun on the cobblestones as it appropriately exposed the houses. No amount of Photoshoppery could save those cobblestones. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that this film is at least 10 years old.

In Lockerbie

This Spotmatic’s light seals are either missing or gummy, thanks to age. Fortunately, the channels they rest in are deep. Closing the film door creates enough of a seal that no light leaked in.

In Lockerbie

The 50mm f/1.4 lens is delightful, and I’m very happy to finally own one. If I ever pass this Spottie on to its next owner, I’m keeping the lens.

In Lockerbie

I owned an original Spotmatic SP many years ago, and back then I did not enjoy stopping down to meter. But nine years have passed. I’m considerably more skilled with an old camera now, and I don’t at all mind stopping down. This former gas station stands on the Michigan Road on the north edge of Michigantown, Indiana.

Old gas station, Michigantown, IN

This Spottie handled beautifully. The controls felt substantial and sure. The lens focused with a feeling of heft. The shutter made a sweet click; the mirror didn’t shake the camera as it flipped. Here I was on the Michigan Road just south of the tiny town of Deer Creek. This grassy flat spot was State Road 218 a long time ago. The current path of SR 218 connects with the Michigan Road immediately north of Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic SP II gallery.

If you find a Spotmatic — any Spotmatic, the SP, SP II, 500, 1000, or F — in good condition, buy it. These cameras are supremely satisfying to shoot, and the Takumar lenses are uniformly good. I like the Spotmatics slightly better than the first K-mount cameras (e.g, the K1000) that followed them. Those cameras were heavily based on the Spotmatic, yet mysteriously they don’t feel as good under use as any Spotmatic. It’s the great Pentax mystery.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Photographs, Preservation

On Bloomington’s brick streets

On Bloomington's Brick Streets

In Bloomington, Indiana, just north of the Indiana University campus, you’ll find nine blocks where the interior streets are paved in brick. Bounded by 7th Street on the south, 10th Street on the north, Indiana Avenue on the west, and Woodlawn Avenue on the east, these streets are lined with lovely older homes.

I was in Bloomington in late July to have lunch with my son. My Nikon FA was with me, its 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens mounted. I was shooting some expired Kroger-branded, Ferrania-made ISO 200 color film I had picked up cheap. I overexposed the film by a stop to reduce the color shifts I was likely to get at box speed.

On Bloomington's Brick Streets

Brick’s heyday as a primary paving material was the 1910s and 1920s. I don’t know when these bricks were laid, but I’d be surprised if it were much earlier or later than those two decades. The occasional brick street or road was laid after then, but more for aesthetic reasons than practical ones. Concrete and then asphalt came to rule the roads.

On Bloomington's Brick Streets

These streets have been maintained, but never restored. While I’m sure these bricks were in perfect rows when they were first laid, they’ve shifted in the century or so since and look uneven now. You’ll find patches where newer bricks were laid, probably to repair deteriorated sections or to replace bricks removed to access buried utilities. Here and there, concrete was used to replace removed brick.

On Bloomington's Brick Streets

The real stars of this neighborhood’s show are the gorgeous older homes that line these brick streets. The university owns many of them and uses them as offices. The rest appear to be private residences. The rest of this post are the houses I liked best of those I photographed.

On Bloomington's Brick Streets
On Bloomington's Brick Streets
On Bloomington's Brick Streets
On Bloomington's Brick Streets
On Bloomington's Brick Streets
On Bloomington's Brick Streets

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Film Photography

Giving my Nikon FA some exercise

I said goodbye to my Nikon FA in Operation Thin the Herd. Almost immediately, someone gave me another Nikon FA. I took it as a sign from the universe that I was meant to own a Nikon FA.

Nikon FA
My first Nikon FA. I’ve never photographed the second FA.

That first FA looked nearly new while this second FA shows signs of heavy use. But it still works fine. Not long ago I mounted my 35-70mm f/3.3-5.6 Zoom Nikkor lens and loaded a roll of expired Kroger 200 color film. That film was made by Ferrania, which exited the film business in 2008. So this film is at least that old. I’ve shot enough of this film now to know that it looks best when I overexpose it. I set the FA to EI 100.

Margaret and I have been going to farmers markets on Saturday mornings this summer. I brought the FA to one.

Produce

I like this 35-70mm zoom lens for lazy photography, as it lets me move in or out a little without me having to physically move. It also offers a macro mode. My 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor is by far an optically superior lens useful for normal and macro photography, but it doesn’t let me be this lazy.

Hanging Flowers

On this Saturday we visited the Broad Ripple Farmers Market in Indianapolis. I used to go to it sometimes when I still lived in Indianapolis. It was in a large empty lot behind Broad Ripple High School. Since then it’s grown to be a vastly larger affair. It outgrew its space and now operates out of the huge parking lot at Second Presbyterian Church, which isn’t in Broad Ripple.

Farmers market booths

Cloud cover diffused the light all morning. Shooting at EI 100 in that light, the large apertures I needed made it easy to limit the in-focus patch.

Eggplant

Margaret and I seldom spend more than ten dollars at a farmers market. We go to spend time together and take advantage of the many interesting photographic subjects the setting presents. If you follow me on Flickr, that’s why you’ve seen so many vegetable photographs this summer!

Produce

My goal for thinning my camera herd a few years ago was to keep a collection of gear small enough that every camera could get some use every year or two. That’s the photographic life I’m living now! It was good to enjoy my FA’s turn.

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Photographs

Hands in the Play-Doh

Did you know that when you mix all of the Play-Doh colors together, you get gray? Our granddaughter sure found out. I made these photos with my Nikon F3 and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens on expired Kroger 200 film, which is a Ferrania stock. I shot the film at EI 100 to get past the color shifts I got the last time I shot it.

Granddaughter
Hands in Play-Doh
Hands in Play-Doh
Hands in Play-Doh

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Camera Reviews

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

A Chinese company called Sunpet has had this little 35mm point-and-shoot camera in its catalog for more than 25 years now. Several companies have slapped their names on it and sold it. The best-known company is Vivitar, who may have been the first to sell it back in the mid-late 1990s. So branded, it became a well-loved, almost cult classic. That’s certainly why so many other companies have sold this camera — they’re trying to cash in. Most recently, the Reto Project in Hong Kong has reissued this camera as the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

Reto’s release of this camera created quite a buzz in 2022, especially given its $29 list price. That’s barely more than the cost of one roll of film and processing these days. I’m not normally one to jump on bandwagons, but I bought one of these the moment I could. Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy does terrific work with his Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (see some of it here), and I wanted a piece of that action.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

But I’ve buried the lede. What sets this inexpensive, fixed-focus, plastic camera apart is its extremely wide lens: 22mm at f/11. It’s set in a 1/125 second single-blade leaf shutter. The lens has a surprisingly sophisticated design, given this camera’s price, with one acrylic element in front of the shutter and another behind it. Also, baffles inside the camera’s film door forces the film to curve. This combination results in remarkably low-distortion images. The lens delivers some softness and vignetting in the corners, however.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

At 3 7/8″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″, the Ultra Wide and Slim is about the same size as the tiny Olympus XA. But the XA is a heavyweight compared to the feather-light Ultra Wide and Slim. This all-plastic, all-mechanical camera weighs just 2½ ounces!

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is available in five colors: charcoal, cream, pastel pink, muddy yellow, and murky blue. I went with the murky blue.

I’ve shot a number of point-and-shoot cameras over the years. Check out my reviews of the Canon Snappy 50 (here) and Snappy S (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here) and K12 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here) and Trip 500 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My first roll of film in the Ultra Wide and Slim was some expired ISO 200 Ferrania color negative stock with Kroger branding that I picked up cheap. The images showed the grain and color shifts consistent with expired film. But just look at how much of the scene the Ultra Wide and Slim captured!

Down the street

Here’s a look down Main Street in Zionsville. It took me a couple of rolls to start to get the hang of this wide lens, and avoid having so much uninteresting foreground in my images.

Down the brick street

Just look at how straight all the lines are in this straight-on shot.

Blue garage

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 400. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen HP5 Plus or Tri-X for the huge exposure latitude they offer. Several of the images I made on this film were badly misexposed.

Through the windshield, Downtown Indianapolis

The winder is the cheapest-feeling aspect of this camera. It makes quite a ratchety noise when you use it. On this roll of film I felt it tearing sprocket holes as it wound the first five or so frames.

Mailboxes

The film counter is hard to read. It’s not just that the numbers are small and my eyes are more than 50 years old. The plastic magnifying bubble over the numbers does more to distort those numbers than to magnify them. That bubble also reflects light, which further obscures the numbers. Finally, the numbers are printed in a faint red.

Knight

My next roll was some fresh Fujicolor 200. Some say that this camera can struggle to wind toward the end of a 36-exposure roll. I did not find that to be the case at all with this 36-exposure roll, or the 36-exposure roll of Fomapan that I shot.

At the food truck

The Ultra Wide and Slim’s viewfinder isn’t accurate — when I framed this yellow Pontiac, the cars on either side of it were barely in the frame. But then, hardly any point-and-shoot viewfinder is accurate. I don’t know why I expect better after all these years. The viewfinder also has a fisheye effect that the lens itself does not.

Yellow Pontiac

This simple image does a great job of showing how sharp this acrylic lens is. Reto recommends using ISO 100 or 200 film on sunny days, and ISO 400 film on cloudy days, to accommodate the camera’s fixed exposure.

Ellison

Despite the lens’s ultra-wide angle, I still had to tilt the camera to bring some subjects fully into the frame. However, I don’t think I could have managed this image with the 35mm lenses that are common to point-and-shoot cameras. I would have hit the building behind me before I backed up enough.

J. W. Marriott

I had trouble rewinding the first two rolls I shot in this camera. I thought I heard and felt the film leader pass into the cartridge, but when I opened the camera I found a little film was still wound on the takeup spool. A few frames on each roll were ruined because of this. On my third roll, I discovered that the rewind crank had wiggled down a little bit. I pushed it all the way up before I rewound. This time upon rewinding I heard the same steady clicking noise as when I wound the film. When the film came off the takeup spool and was fully in the film canister, the clicking stopped. Aha! So if you rewind this camera but don’t hear that clicking, press the crank/spool firmly back up into the camera.

Statues

I am deliberately not showing you the many images I made that featured one or more of my fingers. The lens is so wide that if your fingers are on the front of the camera at all, you are likely to see them in your image. By my third roll I had built a habit of holding the camera only around the edges, to eliminate all chance of getting my finger in the lens.

To see more from this camera, check out my Reto Ultra Wide and Slim gallery.

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is a blast to use, especially after you learn how to work around its quirks. It’s the kind of camera you want to keep loaded at all times, and slip into your pocket wherever you go. On a full-sun or cloudy-bright day, load this camera with your favorite everyday color film and be ready for some fun shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Collecting Cameras

First roll impressions: Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

We had an unseasonably warm and sunny day here recently, so I loaded some film into my new Reto Ultra Wide and Slim and took it on a lunchtime photo walk.

This small, light, all-plastic camera has good structural rigidity — it doesn’t bend or flex in the hand, and under use it makes no squeaking or creaking noises. I can’t say that for some other more advanced and expensive point-and-shoot cameras I’ve owned.

The shutter button feels sure. The winder feels thin and cheap, however.

The general experience of the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is similar to a single-use camera.

I wanted to shoot ISO 400 color film in this camera, but I was out. I have heard that 36-exposure rolls can jam up, at least in the original Vivitar version of this camera. So I turned to some 24-exposure Kroger-branded ISO 200 color film I recently bought. It’s expired Ferrania stock. It was supposed to have been stored properly, but the images I got back all showed the hallmarks of expired film.

Blue garage

Images from the Reto show some vignetting and softness in the corners, kind of like an old box Brownie. Otherwise, the lens gives good sharpness.

Black Dog Books

I find it remarkable that the lens displays little to no distortion. I’d love to know how they got what’s probably a single-element plastic lens to do that.

Salon G

The viewfinder isn’t perfectly accurate. When I framed the photo below, the alley on the right wasn’t so much in the frame. This is normally a pet peeve of mine, and something that causes me to pass on a camera. But the inaccuracy isn’t terrible on this camera. I want to keep experimenting with the Reto. Perhaps I’ll learn how to compensate for its inaccurate viewfinder.

Green garage

This expired Kroger film didn’t show much exposure latitude. A few photos were so underexposed as to be useless. This one shows classic signs of underexposure — on this full-sun day, I shot a subject in the shade.

Little blue house

I very much enjoy how much context my photos from around Zionsville all have in the Reto’s lens.

On the brick street 2

None of these photos is going to win a prize. But I can tell that I’ve yet to find my groove with this camera. I have some Fomapan 400 in it now, and will keep shooting it for a while. A full review will come later, perhaps in the spring or summer.

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