Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax KM

In the upper room

One of my oldest friends sold me this Pentax KM. His father bought it new in 1976, the year Pentax introduced it and the famous K lens mount. In the 1980s the camera passed down to my friend; somewhere around here I have at least one college-days photo of him using it. I’m very happy to be this camera’s steward today.

Pentax KM

I never fail with this camera. Really. It’s almost magic. According to my notes I shot this tulip with the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens on Fujicolor 200. I don’t like that lens at all but just look at how lovely it rendered here.

Tulip

Most of the time I shoot the lens that came with this camera, the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax. It is almost certainly a K-mount version of the sublime 55/1.8 Takumar from Pentax’s earlier screw-mount cameras. This lens never misses. It’s just wonderful.

Under the Clock

I took this kit and a roll of T-Max 400 to Purdue for an afternoon with my son. He brought his K1000 along; we spent the afternoon taking pictures. Goodness, was that ever wonderful to me. A fast-ish lens with fast-ish film and my generally steady hand let me do reasonable work indoors. Above, the Stewart Center; below, the Purdue Memorial Union.

Purdue Memorial Union

This is a shot from a library inside Stewart Center. I was surprised that they still follow the Dewey Decimal System, which I thought was passé among libraries today.

Study tables

This is Spitzer Court, with Cary Quad in the background. Damion lives in Cary. It’s very stately. We walked around inside a little bit and its common areas have this very 1890s feel. When you look past the modern pressboard furniture in those rooms, you can almost imagine young bejacketed pipe-smoking men sitting about in high-backed chairs at mahogany tables.

Spitzer Court

You’ll also find plenty of modern architecture at Purdue, like Hampton Hall.

Civil engineering

Damion’s buddy runs the ham radio club, so we got a tour. I just love old electronic gear. Just dig that great typography on that meter.

Ham radio club

They could have just printed “µA” on the meter on the right, but they went all the way and spelled it out in a sober typeface. The space between the letters lends such gravity, such certainty. You may rest assured in this meter’s reading.

Ham radio club

Okay, this has been more about my day at Purdue than about the Pentax KM. Let me reel this back in: this camera performed flawlessly. And perhaps I’m blinded by my love for Pentax gear but I found this camera to be perfectly unobtrusive as I used it. I framed, matched the needle for exposure, focused, and shot my way through this roll in no time flat. I wished I’d brought another roll of T-Max.

Beetle bug

After our long photo walk we walked over to a favorite pub for dinner. I sat the KM on the table, strap dangling. As we got up to leave and I picked up the KM, the strap caught on the table corner and the camera tore from my hand. It landed on the stone tile floor with a sickening splat. The corner of the bottom plate was dented and the UV filter on the lens shattered. Something must have bent slightly on the lens mount, as the aperture ring on any mounted lens now turns clockwise with difficulty. Some steward I am.

Clockworks

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax KM gallery.

My Pentax KM has been such a never-miss, sure-fire performer that I simply must get it fixed. I’m just very sad that I damaged this like-new camera.

Verdict: Keep

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Film Photography

Father-son photographic bonding

My son Damion texted me before Christmas: “Dad, while I’m home on break, I’d love it if you could teach me how to use one of your film cameras.”

0mK56inSon, you could not have asked your old dad for anything better.

I had visions of us taking a photo walk together, maybe through Crown Hill Cemetery or Broad Ripple. Father and son, walking, chatting, shooting, bonding. Alas, temperatures hovered around zero all Christmas week. It was weather fit neither for man nor for aging mechanical photographic equipment.

So instead I loaded some Tri-X into my Pentax KM, mounted my sublime 55/1.8 SMC Pentax lens, and let him shoot around the house. The all-mechanical KM seemed like a great way to introduce him to the mechanics of photography, given its match-needle metering.

I explained about aperture and shutter speed and depth of field. I explained about film’s light sensitivity, the ISO scale, and exposure latitude. I showed him how to focus, match the needle, and activate the shutter. I gave him a couple composition tips. And then I let him go.

Damion and Pentax KM

I tried not to hover so he could just wander about and expose whatever subject seemed interesting. Like father like son: we both love to just follow our noses. Here are a few of his photographs:

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I love how he experimented so freely, yet he never left our family room. He shot all 36 frames within 200 square feet! I enjoyed finding that he captured his old dad responding to comments on his blog. Not everything he shot turned out as he envisioned, he told me. But he was satisfied that some of it did.

When he was done shooting I asked if he’d like to take a camera and some film back to Purdue with him. “Well, sure! If you don’t mind,” he said. I did mind about my KM and that 55/1.8 — I use that combo often enough that I’d miss it. So I handed him my Pentax K1000 and my 50/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. This combo had extra significance because his mom, who was a professional photographer when we met, used her own K1000 and 50/2 to photograph our family while we were married.

I also gave him a couple rolls of fridge-fresh Agfa Vista 200 and encouraged him to get out when the weather was nice, walk in the park or the woods, and photograph whatever he found to be interesting. I told him that if he enjoyed it and wanted to keep going, I’d let him keep the camera and lens — after I send them to Eric Hendrickson for a mechanical overhaul. I said that the gear would come back in like-new condition, ready for 20 or 30 years of pleasure. He was suitably impressed.

I’m dying to hear whether film photography “takes” in him!

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Tiny shrubs

Tiny shrubs
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Fujicolor 200
2012

Here’s one more photo from Juan Solomon Park, when the landscaping was still new. Unfortunately, the landscaping is the one part of the project that has not succeeded. Most of the original plants died and have been replaced, sometimes more than once.

Let me also explain that yesterday’s post about this park was the first in a series of Favorite Subjects posts I’m writing. Several places near my home have become favorite places to test cameras, and now that I’m getting ready to move away I’m looking back at my favorite photos from these places.

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Photography

single frame: Tiny shrubs

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Downtown Fishers

Downtown Fishers
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2017

Do people actually like apartments like these? I know I’m biased against new construction. I feel like it’s all made with Balsa wood and Elmer’s glue. Give me a sturdy older home any day. Except that within every older home lurks half-assed homeowner repairs and renovations that at some point you’re going to have to tear out and do right.

Photography

single frame: Downtown Fishers

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Construction

Under Construction
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2017

Downtown Fishers, Indiana, is under construction.

This was once a sleepy little downtown of a few older buildings alongside a railroad track. Fishers started out as just a place to stop along the Nickel Plate Railroad. Now its burgeoning downtown is called the Nickel Plate District. It’s modern urban density, except that it’s in one of Indianapolis’s most popular suburbs.

I rather miss the little houses that used to dot Fishers’s narrow streets.

Photography

single frame: Under construction

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Photography

The Meridian Street bridge over the White River in Indianapolis

meridiannorth

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google Maps.

In Indianapolis, Meridian Street is aptly named as it divides the Westside from the Eastside. For many years, it served as US 31 on the Northside. And what a lovely drive it is, lined all the way with luxurious and often historic homes.

Meridian Street and US 31 have an interesting history on Indianapolis’s Northside, as this street didn’t extend north of the Central Canal and Westfield Boulevard, about a mile to the south, when the US highway system was instituted in 1926. That year, a bridge was built over the canal and Meridian Street was presumably extended. But the bridge over the White River wouldn’t come until 1933, and so US 31 followed Westfield Boulevard until then.

In the map excerpt, Meridian Street curves sharply north of Kessler Boulevard on its way to the White River. But notice the street that extends straight where Meridian starts to curve. That’s Meridian Street West Drive, which sure looks to me like Meridian Street’s original alignment until the bridge was built.

Meridian St. bridge over White River

I shot the above photo in 2007; this is the bridge’s southeast end. This bridge was in sorry shape then. In 2012, it underwent a much needed renovation. Here’s a photo I made of the bridge that year while hiking through nearby Holliday Park. The work was well underway; notice the condition of the arches and the new railing.

Bridge

Recently I explored around and under this bridge on its north end, my Pentax KM and a 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens along for the ride. I was shooting Kodak Tri-X that day.

Meridian St. Bridge

This seven-span concrete-arch bridge is about 784 feet long. The White River is under only its threecentral spans. Its southmost span covers Riverview Drive, and the span immediately north of it goes over a levee. The northmost span covers a trail that links to Holliday Park. The arch to the south of it simply spans earth.

Meridian St. Bridge

I explored the bridge from its north end this day. It still looks good after its 2012 renovation.

Meridian St. Bridge

I just love being under a concrete bridge’s arch to see the slats from the original formwork in the concrete.

Meridian St. Bridge

And of course it takes no time at all for graffiti to find its way onto a bridge’s nether regions. I wish I’d thought to photograph it just after it reopened, when it was still perfectly clean. But I also rather like finding graffiti under a bridge. It feels to me like a kind of communication among souls who find something compelling about such a place. I can’t imagine ever personally marking a bridge, but because I’m at home under a bridge I feel a certain kinship with people who would wield a rattle can here.

Meridian St. Bridge

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