This is a sturdy, well-made camera from Vivitar. It was not made by Vivitar but is a rebadged Cosina 35 and was available under several other camera marques as well – Cosina, GAF, Argus, Prinz, to name a few. It dates from the 1970s and some Interweb sites suggest 1976 – I cannot date it anymore accurately that that.
The camera measures 115 by 78 by 33 mm body with the lens included it is 115 by 78 by 53 mm. It weighs a hefty 410 g. The body is all black – mainly covered with black leatherette with the top and bottom plates painted black gloss. The main body is cast aluminium alloy, the top and bottom plates are brass and the back is steel.
On the far right of the top plate is the frame counter window. This resets to ‘S’ when the back is opened – effectively to -2. The numbers are in white – just the even numbers are displayed – with 12, 20, 24, and 36 displayed in red as these were the usual 35 mm film lengths. After frame 36, the counter no longer advances.
Just to the left of this window is the film advance lever. This is metal with a plastic tip and is fixed on the top of the top plate. In use, this lever sits just proud of the top plate allowing the user’s thumb a good grip. When not in use, the lever will park out of the way over the top of the plate. The shutter release button is forward of and slightly to the left of the film advance lever. This button is chrome plated and threaded for a standard cable release. The film advance and shutter release are linked together so that film cannot be advanced without firing the shutter and the shutter cannot be fired without advancing the film.
To the left of these, the top plate is slightly raised to accommodate the rangefinder mechanism. On top of this raised part is the accessory shoe. This is X synchronised for electronic flash – signified by a red ‘X‘. On the left hand edge of the top plate is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank and doubles as the catch for the back – it opens the back by being lifted.
The back of the top plate has the viewfinder window. This measures 10 by 6.7mm which is plenty for ease of use. Inside the viewfinder, the screen is larger than the image – the image is delineated by bright lines. In the top left of the viewfinder image are secondary bright lines to account for parallax with close-up photographs.
In the centre of the viewfinder image is a yellowish-green square. This is the rangefinder patch. Any part of the image within this patch that is not in focus will be split into two images. To focus the camera, you turn the focus ring on the lens until the part you want to be in focus consists of just one image. There will be more about this a bit later.
On the right hand side of the viewfinder image is the light meter readout. There are two vertical scales – the left hand one is the shutter speed and the right hand one is the aperture. There is a needle which swings up or down to the selected shutter speed/aperture pair. The slowest shutter speed is 1/30 seconds which is always coupled with ƒ/2.8 as is 1/60 seconds. 1/125 is at ƒ/4, 1/250 is between ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8 and 1/650 is always at ƒ/14. For a given light level, the user gets no say in either shutter speed nor aperture. The reason that the shutter speed and aperture are so firmly linked is that the shutter blades double as the aperture blades – opening the shutter further takes longer and gives a wider aperture. The scales have a red portion at top and bottom to indicate that light levels are outwith the camera’s capabilities.
The front of the top plate has two windows. The larger, 13 by 10 mm, is the viewfinder window. The other window has two functions. Mostly, it is covered with a translucent grey material. this provides the illumination for both the bright lines and the light meter display. In the middle of the translucent material is a transparent square. This is the rangefinder window which provides the yellowish-green patch mentioned earlier. The colour of the patch is the result of using gold to make the interior mirrors rather than silver.
The accuracy of a rangefinder depends mostly on how far apart the centre of the rangefinder window is from the centre of the viewfinder window. On this camera, the spacing is 25 mm which is rather close (for reference, my Zorki 4 has 40 mm, my FED 2 has 68 mm, and my Yashica Minister-D has 35 mm). This closeness means that this rangefinder will not be very accurate – but will still be better than most people guessing distances.
In the centre of the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The diameter of the assembly is 51 mm. There is no indication as to who made the shutter (but I have a suspicion that it was Copal). There are two control rings on the assembly. The inner most ring has an auto setting and five flash guide numbers. In normal use, this has to be set to ‘auto’ for the exposure system to work – there can be no manual operation of this camera. The outer ring is the focus ring. Normally, you would use this while looking through the viewfinder and using the rangefinder but you can set the subject distance directly on the scale on the ring.
The bezel of the lens has two important items on it. Just above the lenses the window to the light meter sensor. This is a CdS sensor and so needs a power source to work. This is provided by a mercury battery giving 1.35 volts. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as the environment is concerned) mercury batteries have been banned world-wide and the modern alternatives give 1.5 volts. This is going to cause the camera to get the exposure wrong. I always find that the ‘wrong’ exposure is within the exposure latitude of film and so I just use an alkaline battery. People who are fussier than I am can adjust the film speed to compensate. This light meter sensor is within the filter thread so if a coloured filter is used, the meter automatically compensates.
To get the light meter to work correctly, it is necessary to set the film speed. The film speed window is in the bezel below the lens and displays the film speed in DIN (red) and ASA (white). This can be set from 16 DIN/32 ASA to 27 DIN/400 ASA. To change the set film speed there is a knurled ring around the lens. Also on the lens bezel is the information that the camera uses 46 mm filters, the lens has a focal length of 38 mm (slightly wide of ‘normal‘) and has a max aperture of 1:2.8 (which is ƒ/8). On the b bottom of the shutter/lens assembly is a small chrome tab. This presses in to free the inner ring to allow the user to change from Auto to a flash guide number. There is a good orange index line for the auto position and an orange ‘lightening flash’ plus dot for the guide numbers.
To the left of the shutter/lens assembly is the delay action lever. To set this you turn it anticlockwise and to activate it you press the shutter release button. This provides a delay of exactly ten seconds.
The base plate of the camera is brass painted black. In the middle is a standard 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket. Beside this is the battery compartment. This should contain a mercury cell as already mentioned but this camera came with a silver cell in place and I shall leave it there. Also on the base plate is the button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound.
The leatherette on the back of the camera has a Guide Number chart. This just seems to be distances with no reference to actual guide numbers. Below this is the camera serial number – 048305795 – and the legend “Japan’ to indicate that the camera had been imported.
Opening the camera (by pulling up on the rewind crank), the back hinges well away from the body. This is a Japanese camera so there are foam light seals to keep the back light tight. This camera is over 40 years old and these foam light seals are well on their way to turning into sticky goo. They will need replacing before this camera can be used in anger. There is a groove top and bottom of the body which contains the thin strips of foam – the top groove has a small button in it at the right which resets the frame counter as the back is opened. There is also a strip of foam by the hinge and a large, thick piece of foam by the catch. This last not only provided light tightness but also keeps the film cassette in place and stops it wobbling about as the camera is used.
The film cassette goes on the left. In order to insert a new cassette or remove a used one, it is necessary to pull up the rewind crank. The film gate is nicely finished and smooth. There is a sprocket shaft just to the right of the film gate. The sprockets allow the camera to move exactly the right amount of film for each new frame. Next along is the take-up spool. This is wide so it will not tightly curl the film. There are four fixing slots around the take-up spool. The only other thing I can see inside the back of the camera is a small screw above the film gate, right on the left. This is a blanking screw. Removing it reveals a small hole which gives onto another, smaller, screw. This smaller screw is used to adjust the rangefinder for infinity focus.
I now have the camera loaded with Agfa Vista colour film to see how the camera works. I have not replaced the light seals even though they are clearly deteriorated. For the first 19 shots I forgot to set the ASA on the film speed selector and shot at 320 ASA. The photographs are all in Lincoln and the film was developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln.
So, looking at the test film results, the camera is overexposing when the meter is set to 200 ASA. I am using a 1.5 v battery instead of the 1.35 v battery that is intended for this camera. This is at least partially responsible for the over-exposure but there might be meter issues as well (and dirt on the sensor and sensor window). Fortuitously, setting the meter for 320 ASA seems to be about right – the pictures with this setting are well exposed with a good dynamic range.
The images here have had the exposure compensated for when scanning, and I am unable to actually show you the negatives over the Interweb. The first image is with the meter set to 200 ASA and the rest with the meter set to 320 ASA.
Looking at the images closely, the lens is not brilliant giving slightly soft images but at the size I am displaying them here that is not an issue. It is always worth remembering how they camera was intended to be used. This Vivitar is an amateur camera and the photographs will have never (or rarely) been printed much above 6 by 4 inches (15 by 10 cm). More positively, there is no evidence of flare in any of the images, and surprisingly no evidence of light leaks – I have not bothered renewing the light seals.