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.


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.


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.”


Son, 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:


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!

Tiny shrubs

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

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.

Film Photography

single frame: Tiny shrubs


Downtown Fishers

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

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.


single frame: Downtown Fishers



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

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.

Film Photography

single frame: Under construction


Film Photography

Shooting Ferrania P30 Alpha

What a remarkable time for film photographers, with brand new film emulsions coming to market! And I was fortunate to be among the first to receive five rolls of the first production batch of one of those films: Ferrania P30 Alpha.


Ferrania was an Italian company that produced film from 1923 to 2009. For a few decades it was a 3M subsidiary. I shot some store-branded film as a kid where the fine print on the box said it was a 3M product. I never knew it was actually made by Ferrania.

In 2013 a new company took the Ferrania name, bought the old Ferrania plant, and started a Kickstarter to help fund the return to film. Their original goal was to resume production of an old color slide film, Scotch Chrome 100.

I was an early backer of the Kickstarter. And then Ferrania experienced a litany of woes that set their plans back for months that turned into years. The pushed through, and long story short, early this year they announced that their first product would be a black-and-white negative film to be called P30. Even better, backers would be given first dibs to buy some. I plunked my money down straightaway. How often do you get to try a brand new film?

This new film is, however, based on a movie film the old Ferrania used to produce, also called P30. And it’s lovely, with no discernible grain and blacks so deep you could just fall into them.


I shot the first of my rolls in my Pentax KM with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens on it. That 55/1.8 is an astonishingly good lens and was a great choice for putting a new film through its paces. Ferrania’s advice was firm: shoot at box speed. So I did.

Railroad Signal

I shot most of the roll on strolls through downtown Fishers, Indiana, where I work. The blazing sun was directly overhead — suboptimal conditions for any film. But P30 handled it all right. I did have to pull out some of the shadow detail in Photoshop. As scanned, the lenses in the blinkers above were completely black And the bed and nightstand in the photo below were largely hidden.

Bedroom Window

Actually, P30 biases toward highlights in a high-contrast situation. I couldn’t bring out any meaningful shadow detail in this photo of a wall light in my family room. Perhaps next time I shoot P30 I will use a camera with more sophisticated metering than the KM’s center-biased averaging system, and see if that helps.


But this characteristic leads P30 to create smashing shadows in daylight. Its low grain creates crisp lines.

In Direct Sunlight

Those shadows are so good! Here are some more for you to admire.

Bike Rack

I’m also impressed with the detail P30 captures. In real life those bricks are a deep red. This rendering of red as deep black appears to be characteristic. An orange filter would probably soften the effect. But here I rather like it.


And when you get a little bokeh with the P30, it is ultra creamy.

Twigs and Tea

And I adore the grays I get on mid-toned subjects. I did, however, have to tone the highlights way down to bring out the pavement markings.


When it comes to black-and-white film, I’m a Kodak guy through and through. I love T-Max and Tri-X. I’ll probably never get over Kodak discontinuing Plus-X. I’ve tried other black-and-white films, and with a couple rare exceptions I haven’t liked any of them.

I’m deeply impressed with Ferrania’s P30 Alpha. I am eager to shoot more of it, hopefully on an overcast-bright day to see how it handles lower-contrast situations.

This film is still experimental, however. Ferrania cautions shooters not to use motorized-winding point-and-shoot cameras, for example, as they’ve been known to break the film. And given the film’s cinema heritage, it requires specific handling. Finally, Ferrania recommends home processing of the film and favors D76 or D96; full details are on this pdf. But Ferrania has worked with a handful of labs worldwide in determining best practices, and for shooters like me who don’t process their own Ferrania recommends sticking to these labs. Fortunately, one of them is Old School Photo Lab, one of my favorites. That’s who processed and scanned this roll.

Meanwhile, Ferrania is still in line to create its color slide film, and I’m still in line to receive some as part of my Kickstarter reward. All kinds of goodness is yet to come!

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