Pentax Program-A

This camera dates from 1984. This camera is clearly a development of the Pentax ME Super of 1979. Indeed, the ME Super was discontinued the year that this model was released.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Pentax KA mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E5 vertical metal electronic
  • speeds: 15 to 1/1000 seconds
  • flash: hot shoe for dedicated Pentax flash guns plus PC socket
  • film: 35 mm

The Program-A has a fully automatic exposure system which is dependent on using ‘A’ series lenses. Other K mount lenses can be used but doing so will not allow the automatic exposure system to work – automatic aperture priority exposure is still possible.

As mentioned above, this camera is a development of the ME Super which is reflected in the top plate. This camera is made from metal. There is some plastic used but it is not used structurally. The body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are black painted brass. The body measures 131 by 87 by 48 mm and weighs 490 g with no lens attached.

This camera is entirely electronic and will not do anything at all without batteries. The instruction booklet (which was nicely supplied with this second-hand camera) says that the camera takes two 1.5 volt batteries – no indication as to which style batteries. I have fitted two LR44 alkaline batteries which fit in the battery compartment nicely and the camera works well with them.

The top plate closely resembles that of the ME Super. On the right is the film advance lever. This has a stand-off position at 30º from the body. This is intended to make film advancing easier but if the photographer wishes, the lever can be kept flush with the body. To advance the film one frame the lever must be moved through 135º from the stand-off position. There is no ratchet so the lever must be moved in one movement.

In front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. As is usual, this is reset when the camera back is opened. The automatic exposure system does not kick-in until the frame counter reaches 1. Before that, the shutter speed defaults to 1/1000 seconds. Even frame numbers are in white – odd numbers are dots. 0, 20, 34 and 36 are in red (34 is in red to indicate that the film is very nearly at an end.

Next along is a selector wheel. This has the options of LOCK, AUTO, MAN, 100⚡︎ and B. When this wheel is in either the LOCK or AUTO positions, it is locked in place and you need to press a grey portion of the wheel in order to turn it. In either MAN, 100⚡︎ or B positions, the wheel can be turned freely.

The lock position locks the shutter and turns off the electronics. AUTO sets the automatic exposure system. MAN allows the user to set both aperture and shutter speed – camera control of the aperture is disabled and the aperture ring on the lens must be moved from “A”. 100⚡︎ forces the shutter too 1/100 seconds for flash synchronisation. B allows the shutter to remain open while the shutter release button is depressed.

In the centre of the selector wheel is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. This shutter release button is electrical and sends a signal to the electronic shutter.

Left of this selector wheel, hard by the pentaprism hump, are two buttons, 5 by 3 mm each. These are to adjust the shutter speed in manual mode – the front button increases shutter speed and the rear button reduces speed.

The pentaprism hump is in the middle of the top plate as usual. On top of the hump is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This is synchronised for electronic flash as designated by the red X. As well as the ISO standard central contact, there are two smaller auxiliary contacts. These are for Canon’s dedicated flash guns and allow the camera to automatically set the shutter speed and lens aperture to the required values. For non-dedicated flash guns, the user must set the selector wheel to 100⚡︎ and manually calculate the required lens aperture.

On the front of the pentaprism hump is an oblong translucent panel that illuminates the meter display in the viewfinder. The rear of the pentaprism hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. This is plain ground glass with a central micro-prism spot and a split-image spot in the middle of that. These are focus aids.

Below the focus screen is the light meter readout. On the left is a window for the shutter speed. When in AUTO mode with the lens aperture set to ‘A’, the shutter speed is preceded by a ‘P’ to indicate Program mode. On the right is the window for the aperture value. This only displays in program mode (aperture set to ‘A’, wheel to AUTO). Otherwise, it gives values from -3 to +3 to indicate how far out the exposure setting is.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual fold-out crank. When pulled upwards, this crank acts as the catch for the hinged back. Around the rewind crank is a wheel to set exposure compensation. Normally, this will be set to 1x but the exposure can be adjusted from 1/4 to 4 times the value set by the exposure system. On the left of this wheel is a small button. if you press this while rotating the exposure compensation wheel, you adjust the film speed setting instead. This is in ASA (functionally the same as modern ISO speeds) and runs from 6 ASA to 3200 ASA. 3200 ISO film is still readily available (in 2020) but I think you would struggle to find 6 ISO film!

Moving to the front of the camera, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is Pentax’s K bayonet mount introduced in 1975 (it was originally a joint development between the German Carl Zeiss and the Japanese Asahi Optical Co, but Carl Zeiss pulled out of the arrangement and development was completed by Asahi alone). Previously, Pentax cameras used the M42 screw lens mount and to make things as simple as possible the new K mount used the same flange distance (distance from the outside of the lens mount to the film) as the M42 mount. This made using adapters for older Pentax lenses much simpler.

Originally, in 1975, the K mount was entirely mechanical. There is a ring just inside the mount that connects to a lever on the lens to tell the exposure system what the set aperture is and a lever on then other side of the mount which closes the lens’ aperture when the shutter release is pressed.

lens showing the ‘A’ setting (white dot)

The version of the K mount on this camera is known as the KA mount. The difference between the vanilla K mount and the KA mount is the presence of six electrical contacts on the surface of the KA mount, on the lower left. Five of these contacts protrude slightly and are spring loaded so they can push in as a lens is being mounted/demounted. The sixth contact (the third one down) is flush with the mount and not sprung. This is the opposite on the lens portion of the mount – five contacts on the lens are flush and one is protruding and sprung. On the lens, this protruding contact is connected to the ‘A’ position on the aperture scale. If ‘A’ is set, this contact protrudes and if an actual aperture value is set then this contact is retracted – this signals to the camera’s AE system that the camera is to control the lens’ aperture.

The lens release button is on the left of the mount (or on the right when using the camera). This is the opposite way to most SLR cameras that I have . Just above the lens release button is a second lever. This is a depth of field preview lever and needs to be pressed towards the camera body. Slightly above and behind this is switch marked ‘SELF’. pushing this switch up sets the self-timer. This gives a delay of around 12 seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter opening. A red LED flashes once the shutter release button is pressed and this flashes faster during the final two seconds of the delay.

On the other side of the lens mount is a PC socket for use with an off-camera flash gun.

The base plate of the camera has the usual items. There is a standard 1/4 inch tripod socket. The ISO standard for tripod threads was set in 1973. Previous to this, the threads were 1/4 inch Whitworth but the ISO states they should be 1/4 inch UNC. As this camera dates from 12 years after the introduction of the ISO we can be sure that this is a UNC thread. This tripod socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Next to this is the battery compartment which takes two LR44 cells. The third usual item is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. Once this button has been pressed in, there is no need to hold it in, making rewinding easier.

Also on the base plate are the paraphernalia for connecting a motor drive, two models of which were available. These consist of two locating holes, a set of four electrical contacts, a set of two electrical contacts and a clutch connected to the film advance system. Also on the base is the camera’s serial number.

As mentioned earlier, the back is released by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back can be completely removed and can then be replaced with the optional Data Back which would print the date and time on each negative. This data back uses another set of two electrical contacts on the back of the base plate.

The inside of the camera is quite normal. The chamber for the film cassette is on the left. Strangely, inside this chamber is a second serial number which is close to but not the same as there serial number on the base of the camera. The shutter is a vertically running metal focal plane shutter made by Seiko. This is the model MFC-ES shutter (detail curtesy of the printed instruction booklet) and it is entirely electronic – it does not work at all without battery power. Centrally is the film gate – this is absolutely standard. On the right is the take-up spool. This has what Pentax call Magic Needles. These are a series of loosely fitting plastic needles around the take-up spool. When you fit a new film, you just push the film leader between any two of these needles and wind the film advance.

Being a Japanese camera, the joint between the camera back and the camera body is rendered light tight by a groove with a foam light seal in it. As is also usual, these foam seals have deteriorated and will need replacing before the camera is used. One last thing that a is worth mentioning is the presence of a memo holder on the back of the camera. This is intended to hold the end of the cardboard carton the film comes in to serve as reminder as to which film type is in use. These should be on every camera to my mind but they are not so frequent, unfortunately.

A scanned copy of the instruction booklet can be found here.

Test Film.

I have now run a test film through this camera and the results are mixed. The film I used was Agfa Vista, 200 ISO – a couple of years past its best-before date so basically fine. On a positive, there are no light leaks and the shutter is moving smoothly. On the negative, quite a few of the negatives are very thin, indicating significant underexposure – I still have images from these as scanning is very forgiving but they are not really useable.

The images:

One of the thin, underexposed negatives, This was a bright but cloudy day – plenty of light around.
Well exposed, as are the next three.

Nikon F2 Photomic

Nikon F2 Photomic 35 mm film SLR camera from the early 1970s

This is my fourth Nikon camera but my first professional Nikon. My first two Nikons – the F301 and the F601 – were made from plastic and were automated. These two were strictly amateur cameras. My third Nikon – the Nikkormat EL – was metal with automatic exposure if required. Again, an amateur’s camera but a nicely made metal one. This Nikon – the F2 – is a strictly professional camera and it shows. The camera is metal, a cast aluminium chassis with brass top and base plates. The basic camera has no viewfinder but the buyer had a choice of viewfinders. This was basically a choice between a plain pentaprism finder for use with a hand light meter or the ‘Photomic’ finder with a built-in TTL light meter.

My camera has the Photomic finder – the DP1 version – which Nikon calls the head. The Interweb tells me that this model camera was made between 1971 and 1980. The Interweb also tells me the date of this particular camera. The serial number starts with 7 5xx xxx and this gives a date range of between February 1975 and April 1975. (data from www.destoutz.ch/typ_production_data_f2.html)

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Titanium foil horizontal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/2000 s plus B and T
  • flash: Hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35 mm 

When writing these articles, I frequently skim over the description of the top plate as they tend to be much of a muchness. The top plate on this camera has a number of idiosyncrasies so I shall describe it in some detail. On there far right is the film advance lever. This has two rest positions. When close to the body, the lever acts as a switch to turn off the light meter if the Photomic head is attached. At the second rest position, standing proud of the body by nearly a centimetre, the metering head is switched on and the advance lever is readily available to the user’s thumb. The lever moves through 90º to advance the film one frame and is on a ratchet so the film can be wound on by a series of short strokes. The lever is metal with a metal cover.

Right in front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. In usual SLR fashion, this is reset to S (-2) by opening the back of the camera. Even numbers are displayed in white, odd numbers by dots. 12, 20 and 36 are in red as these were the standard film lengths in the 1970s. The counter will count up to 40.

Shutter release with collar set to Lock

To the left of the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal as is the collar that it sits in. This button is not threaded for a standard cable release but the chromed collar is threaded for a Nikon proprietary cable. Around the release button is a second collar. This outer collar is black pained brass. This has two functions. If you lift it and turn it clockwise so that the notch aligns with the letter L on the top plate, the shutter is locked against accidental exposures. The second function is to set the shutter speed to T – more later.

Left of the shutter release button is the shutter speed dial. When the Photomic head is attached, this is covered by the head itself. This dial has speeds from one second to 1/2000 seconds. 1/60 and slower are in white, 1/125 and faster are in green. Between 1/60 and 1/125 is a red line. This is the flash sync speed and is 1/80 seconds. Between 1/1000 and 1/2000 is a pin. This is to connect the Photomic head to the shutter speed dial.

Top plate with no viewfinder

Next to the speed dial is a largish hole in the top plate. This gives on to the focus screen which is replaceable. Normally, the viewfinder fits over this hole. On either side of this hole, towards the front, are two sprung electrical contacts to provide power to the Photomic head.

On the left of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is the standard folding crank seen on nearly every 35 mm camera. This crank will pull up six millimetres to make rewinding the film easier. When the camera back is open, the crank pulls up further to ease the insertion and removal of film cassettes.

Rewind crank with flash shoe around it.

What is entirely missing on this camera is a standard, Barnack style, accessory shoe. This prevents you using non-Nikon flash guns. In order to allow you to use Nikon flash guns, there is a Nikon specific shoe around the rewind crank. This has two long springs, one either side of the crank, to keep the flash gun secure. At the rear is a single electrical contact for the flash. At this date, there is no fancy flash control so no extra contacts.

This camera had options for the viewfinder – what Nikon called heads. I shall use the term ‘head’ from now on. My camera has the light-metering head – the DP1 – which gives the model name F2 Photomic. First and foremost, the Photomic head is a pentaprism viewfinder. The pentaprism adjusts the image on the focus screen so that the viewer sees the image the right way around. It also includes a light meter, a method of reading the set aperture and a method to set the shutter speed.

The head measures 68 by 70 by 41 mm and weighs 220 g – which is a significant weight to add to a camera. Looking down on the head, on the right is a film speed dial in ASA. This runs from 6 ASA to 6400 ASA and can be set in 1/3 stop steps. Setting this is achieved by lifting and turning the outer ring of the dial. This dial is also used to set the shutter speed. In this case, you set the shutter speed by turniung the dial without lifting. This dial connects to the shutter speed dial using the pin between 1/1000 and 1/2000 mentioned earlier.

On top of the head, there is a square window. The rear portion of this is translucent grey. This provides the illumination for the meter display in the viewfinder. The front part of the square is a very small meter read-out.

On the right hand side of the head, in front of the film speed/ shutter speed dial, is a small lever. Pushing this towards the head and down at the same time releases the front of the head for removal (there is a second release for the rear of the head). On the left hand side of the head, towards the rear, is a small metal pin. This connects to the Nikon flash when fitted and provides a flash-ready signal in the head.

underside of Photomic head

Looking at the bottom of the head, the base is dominated by the base of the pentaprism. Behind this are two small pins which locate on the fastener on the body (this fastener is released by a small button on the rear of the top plate to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece). In front of the pentaprism base is a third pin which also locates in a fastener on the body and is released in the same way as the other two pins. In front of this third pin are two prongs which locate on two pins on the front of the body – these are released by the lever on the head mentioned earlier. Either side of the pentaprism base, towards the front, are two pointed pins. These connect with the two sprung electrical contacts on either side of the hole in the top plate already mentioned and provide the power for the light meter. Right at the front of the base of the head is a groove which contains a pin which locates on the rabbit ears prong on the lens. This pin relays the set aperture to the light meter.

The front of the head has the legend ‘Nikon’ in nice large letters. While looking at the front of the head, on the left is a small button. This is a test button – pressing this allows the meter needle to move across the meter window if there is sufficient battery power available and if the needle does not move much the batteries need replacing. On the lower left of the front of the head is a window which displays the maximum aperture of the lens. This gets set by the indexing process when fitting a new lens – more later. The rear of the head has the viewfinder eyepiece. This is circular and the eyepiece unscrews to allow the user to add a compensating lens if they find using the camera difficult when wearing glasses.

The front of the camera has the nice big lens mount. This is the original 1959 F mount. There is no screwdriver linkage for autofocus and no electrical contacts for automatic operation of the lens. This is where indexing the lens comes in – when fitting a lens, the aperture ring must be turned to the minimum aperture and then to the maximum aperture – the maximum aperture should then appear in the window on the front of the head. On the right of the lens mount (while looking at the front of the camera) is a button to release the lens. Above this, near the top of the camera, is a PC connector for off-camera flash.

On the other side of the lens mount, towards the bottom of the camera, is the self-timer lever. You set this by turn ing the lever to either 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 seconds. When you turn this lever, a small chrome button is revealed. Pressing this button starts the count-down. This self-timer also has another function. If you set the shutter speed to B, the collar around the shutter release button to T and then set the self-timer to 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 seconds then the shutter will stay open for that length of time. Example: shutter speed B, shutter release collar T, self-timer to 6 and then press the shutter release button (not the small self-timer button), the shutter will remain open for 6 seconds. Indefinite exposures can be achieved by setting the shutter speed to B, collar to B and then pressing the shutter release button. The shutter will then stay open until you return the collar to its normal position.

Still on the left of the lens mount, above the self-timer lever, is a combined button/lever. The button is a depth of field preview button. Pressing this closes the iris diaphragm in the lens and allows you to see how much is going to be in focus. The lever here raises the mirror before the exposure. This acts to reduce vibration during the exposure but has the side effect of blacking out the viewfinder, so a tripod is absolutely essential here. To turn this lever, you need to press the lever towards the camera body while turning the lever through 120º.

The base of the camera has six items on it. Starting at the right, there is a folding key marked O and C. This opens the back of the camera. Turn the key to O and then turn further against spring resistance and the back will pop open. When closing the back, you need to turn the key to C to lock the back closed.

Next along his the battery compartment. This holds two button batteries, either LR44 alkaline cells or A76 silver cells. This camera is entirely mechanical and works perfectly with no batteries fitted. The batteries are only required to power the Photomic metering head. Next to the battery compartment is the tripod socket. This is nearly in line with the centre line of the lens which is good for stability. I suspect that a this is the older 1/4 inch Whitworth thread rather than the ISO 1/4 inch UNC thread but I am quite happy to be contradicted.

Towards the other end of the base, near to the rear of the camera, is the button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this pressed in while rewinding the film. In front of the button is a second button. This is a secondary shutter release button which is used by a motor-drive if fitted. Right at the end of the base is the mechanical linkage for the motor-drive advance the film.

The rear of the camera has a memo holder which takes the end flap of a film carton to act as a reminder as to which film is in use. I have never understood why every film camera does not have one of these.

Inside the camera, things are as you would expect in a 35 mm SLR. In fact, it is pretty much the same as the 1949 Contax S which was the archetypical film SLR. In one respect, this camera is more like a German SLR than a Japanese SLR. This is the complete absence of any foam light seals. Light tightness is achieved by deep grooves and flanges. So, no foam to go bad and no need to replace the gooey foam seals with new ones, whichNI was fully expecting to have to do. I have new batteries installed and a film fitted – Agfa Vista 200 ASA (sorry, 200 ISO) which is actually Fuji film.

TEST FILM.

I have my test film back from the lab and all is well. The meter is clearly working well – all the negatives are well exposed. I cannot show this here as the scanning process corrects a lot of faults but visual examination of the film strips shows a good image density. There are no light leaks and I would not expect there to be any as there are no foam light seals here.

Nikkormat EL

This is my first proper Nikon camera. I have Nikon F301 and Nikon F601 cameras already but I cannot consider these ‘proper’ – made from plastic, digital readouts, nearly everything automatic. This Nikkormat EL is metal and manual (although it does have automatic exposure if I want it) even though it is from Nikon’s amateur range. (I now have a Nikon F2 Photomic as well).

It is heavy at 780g (my Zenit E is 700g which is my benchmark for 35mm camera weights) which means that it is easier to hold steady

  • lens: Cosina
  • focal length: 28-210mm
  • apertures: 3.5 to 16
  • focus range: 2.5m to infinity plus macro
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount – pre-AI
  • shutter: metal focal plane
  • speeds: 4 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC
  • film size: 35mm

The body is die cast aluminium with brass top and base plates. The whole camera is painted black with black leatherette. This camera was made between 1972 and 1976 so this camera is between 44 and 48 years old. That is a veritable age for any machine. The Interweb tells me that Nikkormat serial numbers started at 5,000,000 and that 500,000 cameras were made over five years. If we assume that production was even over the five years (not a safe assumption) that would suggest that my camera, serial number 5 208 996, was made in the second year – 1973 – but perhaps 1974.

Layout of the camera is pretty much standard for an SLR camera. Most of the controls ar eon the top plate. Starting on the right is the film advance lever. This is brass with a plastic cover on the tip (it is easy to see the materials used due to the wear in the black paint). This film advance lever has two rest positions. When the tip of the lever is flush with the body, the camera electronics are switched off and the shutter release button is locked to prevent accidental exposures.

The second rest position is when the lever is at 30º to the body. At this position, the camera is ready for use – meter is on and shutter release button is unlocked. When advancing the film, the lever moves through 105º (I got the angle from Nikon’s printed manual).There is no ratchet so the lever must be moved in one sweep – 105º is easy enough. After advancing the film, the lever returns to the 30º rest position ready for the next shot. When in the 30º position, there is a red dot revealed on the top plate. I am not sure of the point of this as the lever sticking out is easier to see than the red dot.

In front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. In standard Japanese fashion, this frame counter is reset (to S) when the camera back is opened. S is actually -2 to allow for the wastage of two frames of film to move the film past the part that is fogged when loading the new film. Even numbers are in white, odd numbers are represented by dots. Zero, 20 and 36 are in red – these were the standard lengths of films in the 1970s. Film can be advanced beyond 36 frames but the frame counter will no longer increase.

Next to the frame counter is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for an industry standard cable release. This thread is inside the button. There is a second thread around the shutter release collar. This second thread is not industry standard but, presumably, a Nikon peculiarity. Around the shutter release button is a black painted brass collar.

The next item along the top plate is the shutter speed selector dial. This offers 13 shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/1000 seconds plus B. Between 4 seconds and B is a large, unmarked gap. If you set the speed dial to the centre of this gap, you get a shutter speed of 8 seconds (timed by my watch). This must be by design but I assume that it is unmarked because either Nikon or the shutter maker (Copal) did not like it for some reason.

As well as the shutter speeds, there is the option of A. It was Nikon’s expectation that this camera would be used in A most of the time – A stands for Automatic exposure. In A mode, all the photographer does is select the aperture and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed – more later. The shutter speed dial is also used to set the flash synchronisation. This is done by lifting the dial and turning. There are two settings: a white bulb or a red lightning flash. For flash bulbs, the shutter speed can be any available speed but for electronic flash, the shutter speed must be 1/125 or slower – this speed is marked in red.

Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is an accessory shoe. This has a central contact and so is a hot shoe. At this age, there are no secondary contacts for specific flash guns. On the back of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This unscrews to allow for replacement by correction lenses for glasses wearers.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. There were two of these available. The one in my camera is plain ground glass. In the centre is a 12 mm circle. This circle does not do anything but indicates the area where the majority of the light measurement occurs – this is called centre-weighted measurement. In the middle of this 12 mm circle is a second, 3mm, circle. This has micro-prisms as a focus aid.

On the left hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout – this consists of a vertical scale of shutter speeds with A at the top. As mentioned earlier, Nikon’s expectation is that you would use this camera in A mode. In this case, there is a green pointer which sits at the top of the scale, marked A. There is a second, black, pointer which points to the shutter speed that the camera has selected. You can vary this selected speed by altering the lens aperture.

When the user is using manual exposure, the green pointer indicates the shutter speed the user has selected and the black pointer indicates the shutter speed that the camera would like you to use.

On the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small foldout crank. Again as is usual on Japanese cameras, this crank double as the catch for the back. Not so usual is the presence of a catch to release the catch so the back cannot be opened accidentally. I have never seen this before but then I have not seen other Nikon cameras of this vintage. This secondary catch consists of a small black tab on the left of the rewind crank which must be pulled towards the rear as the crank is pulled up. This needs two hands so cannot be done unintentionally.

Around the rewind crank is a film speed setting ring. This is in ASA only (no DIN speeds) and runs from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. To set this, a chrome tab must be pressed in while the outer ring is turned. The selected film speed is indicated by a red dot.

On the back of the top plate, behind the rewind crank, is a small white button recessed in a chrome surround. Next to this is a small orange lamp. When the button is pressed, the lamp is lit if the battery is good. On the left end of the top plate is a PC socket for flash. This will take the usual push-in PC cords but it is also threaded for a Nikon specific flash cord. On the front corners of the top plate are strap lugs.

The front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is Nikon’s famous F bayonet mount.This mount has been in use since 1959 but has been changed subtlety in that time. The big change in the mount was AI or Automatic Indexing. I am not going to go into the (confusing) details of the various flavours of the F mount. The important part is that this camera was made before the AI system and needs to use pre-AI lenses (later lenses can be used but with varying degrees of loss of camera function).

Pre-AI lenses have ‘rabbit ears’ or a prong on the top of the mount. This prong sits by the ƒ/5.6 on the aperture ring. When fitting a lens to the camera, this prong fits around a pin on this camera’s lens mount. As the aperture of the lens is changed, this prong moves with the lens’ aperture ring and moves the camera’s pin. This tells the camera’s light meter which aperture has been selected. Because the lenses are not Automatically Indexed, this needs to be done manually every time the lens is changed. This involves turning the aperture ring to the smallest aperture and then to the largest aperture. Simple to do but slows down the changing of lenses.

When fitting a lens, the lens needs to be set to ƒ/5.6 and the pin on the camera rotated as far clockwise as it will go. When the lens is fitted to the mount, the camera’s pin will fit into the lens’ prong. The lens needs to be rotated anti-clockwise to lock the lens.

The ring that the camera’s pin is fixed to has a legend on the lower left hand side which reads 5.6—2.8—1.2 . Once a lens is fitted and manually indexed as above, a red dot indicates on this scale the largest aperture of the lens. If this is incorrect it is an indication that the manual indexing needs doing.

Inside the throat of the lens mount there is little to see.There are no electrical contacts yet at this age and there is just the one mechanical linkage. This is the lever that a closes down the lens’ aperture when the shutter release button is pressed. In the centre is the reflex mirror – the silvering on these is quite delicate and should not be touched. The battery compartment is inside the mount throat at the bottom. To get at this, you need to manually raise the mirror (details later) and flip up the battery compartment cover. This is a bit fiddly as is inserting the battery but is achievable.

While looking at the front of the camera, there are two items on the right of the mount. The top item is a knob which raises or lowers the reflex mirror. Doing this avoids some vibration when taking critical shots. Needless to say, using this requires a tripod to be used. The lower button is the lens release button.

On the left of the lens mount is another button. This is the depth of field preview button – pressing this closes the lens’ aperture to the set value. This is also required when using an AI lens to enable the meter to calculate a stopped-down exposure value.

Below the depth of filed preview button is the self-timer lever. Pulling this anti-clockwise through 90º sets the timer. When you press the shutter release button, this slowly turns and the shutter fires when it returns to its rest position. This gives, on my camera, a delay of nine seconds. This lever has a second function – it locks the automatic exposure system. So, when you are shooting with the shutter speed set to A, and you want to avoid a lot of bright sky upsetting the exposure, you point the camera down slightly (or, at least, get the bright part away from the 12mm circle in the viewfinder), push the self-timer lever towards the lens and hold, recompose your picture and press the shutter release button.

Inside the camera is very plain. The film cassette goes on the left, the film gate is in the centre followed by the sprocket shaft and then the take-up spool. At this age, there are no DX contacts or rapid load system. The inside of the back has a nice large pressure plate and springs to keep the film cassette steady.

In common with all Japanese film cameras, the back fits into a groove in the body. To keep this joint light tight there is a foam light seal in the groove. After 48-odd years, this foam has degenerated into a sticky mess – the seals will need to be replaced before this camera can be used – a simple DIY job.

Lens

This camera came as just a body – a growing trend which makes buying old cameras problematical. So – I now need a lens. I had the same problem when I bought my Nikon F301 – in that case I needed an AI-S lens with an aperture ring. That lens, unfortunately, will not work with this camera with full functionality. I now have a compatible lens which is an AI-S lens with the pre-AI ‘rabbit ears’. This means it will work on all three of my Nikon cameras.

This new lens is actually NEW – flam new as they say in Cornwall. It came in its original box and packaging. The lens is a Cosina 28-210 mm ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/5.6 MC macro lens. Cosina are a great lens maker – they subcontract to Zeiss to make Zeiss lenses – so I am more than happy with the make. The focal length range is very useful for either a carry0around lens or for landscape work. The maximum aperture is not outstanding but as I rarely use wider than ƒ/5.6 this is not an issue. The only concern here is the fact that the maximum aperture varies with the zoom setting – ƒ/3.5 @ 28 mm becomes ƒ/5.6 at 210 mm. When I fit the lens and manually index the lens (see above), the camera sees an ƒ/3.5 lens. When I zoom to 210 mm, the aperture ring still says ƒ/3.5 and the camera thinks it is ƒ/3.5 but it is actually ƒ/5.6. This must have an effect on the camera’s meter but I cannot think my way through this.

There is only two controls on the lens – a combined zoom/focus ring and the aperture ring. Zooming is achieved by pulling/pushing the ring. The 28 mm setting is with the ring close to the camera body and the 210 mm setting is with the ring away from the body.

The aperture ring is close to the mount and has two copies of the aperture range. The outer, larger, range is for the photographer when looking at the lens and the inner, smaller, range is for when looking through the viewfinder when this facility is available (not with this camera). The ‘rabbit ears’ prong is fixed at ƒ/5.6 and the aperture on the lens must be set to ƒ/5.6 when fitting or removing the lens. ƒ/8 is in blue and ƒ/22 is in green. These colours are replicated as curved lines on the lens barrel. These indicate depth of field in conjunction with the focus scale.

Focus is from 2.5 m to infinity. There is also a scale in feet. The throw of the focus ring is around 70º which makes for fast but not accurate focusing. Critical focus is quite difficult. When zoomed out to 210 mm, there is a further ‘macro’ focus range which focuses down to around 750 mm. This is not true macro which gives a life-size image, but gives an image that a is 1/4 life size at best. Still useful, mind.

Filter size is 72 mm – I hardly ever use filters and do not have any of that size. The glass is, of course, multi-coated.

TEST FILM.

I now have my test film back. Before I used this camera, I had to replace the foam light seals as the original ones had turned to sticky goo from age. It is clear that I did not do a very good job of this. The top and bottom of the frames are fine as is the short side by the hinge of the camera back. The short edge by the back’s catch , though, is leaking a lot of light. This can be seen in the following photographs as a orange to white vertical bar on the left of each picture. Remember, film negatives are reversed top to bottom and left to right so the left of the film gate appears on the right of the final print. The intensity of the light leak depends on the time between shots – the longer the time between subsequent presses of the shutter release, the more light will leak in.

I live very close to where the RAF’s Red Arrows display team are based and it is common to see them practising their displays, hence the first two photographs.

Ricoh SLX 500

This is a no-frills camera from 1975 by a smaller Japanese camera maker. In the 1970s, Ricoh was not as well known as its compatriots Nikon, Canon, Pentax et al but they have been in business making cameras since 1937. They now own the Pentax and Hoya brands.This is a no-frills camera from 1975 by a smaller Japanese camera maker. In the 1970s, Ricoh was not as well known as its compatriots Nikon, Canon, Pentax et al but they have been in business making cameras since 1937. They now own the Pentax and Hoya brands.

This is my second Ricoh camera, my other one being the Ricoh 35 Flex. The camera is basic in its functionality but is very sturdily made. The body is die-cast aluminium with aluminium top and base plates. The top and base are painted with a very textured black paint the the body and back are covered with black leatherette. The shape is very angular with no curves at all. The camera measures 143 by 82 by 50 mm and weighs 800g with the kit lens attached.This is my second Ricoh camera, my other one being the Ricoh 35 Flex. The camera is basic in its functionality but is very sturdily made. The body is die-cast aluminium with aluminium top and base plates. The top and base are painted with a very textured black paint the the body and back are covered with black leatherette. The shape is very angular with no curves at all. The camera measures 143 by 82 by 50 mm and weighs 800g with the kit lens attached.

Top plate layout is standard for Japanese SLR. On the right is the film advance lever which is black painted aluminium with a plastic top. This moves through about 180º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and so must be moved in one motion.Top plate layout is standard for Japanese SLR. On the right is the film advance lever which is black painted aluminium with a plastic top. This moves through about 180º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and so must be moved in one motion.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. In standard Japanese fashion, this is reset to -3 – or S – when the back is opened. Only the even numbers are displayed, the odd numbers being represented by a dot (the exception is the number 1 at the start and the absence of 2). The frame counter counts up to 37 and then stops but it is possible to keep winding the film should there be more than 37 frames in the cassette. Frames 12, 20 and 36 are in red as these were the common film lengths at the time that this camera was made. The rest are in white.

 Beside the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Next along is the shutter speed dial. This has speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds plus B. 1/60 is in red with a red X to signify that this is the flash synch speed. Changing shutter speeds is a simple matter of rotating the dial. This dial also sets the film speed for the light meter. This is set by pulling up on the dial and turning. Available speeds are from 25 to 800 ASA with 1/3 stop settings possible.

focus screen

In the centre of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This just has the large central contact so is not intended for any proprietary flash system. The viewfinder eyepiece is on the back of the pentaprism hump. The focus screen consists of a Fresnel lens screen with a plain ground glass disc in the centre – and in the middle of this is a micro-prism disc. There is no split-image focus aid although these were normal by 1975. On the right hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout. To set the exposure you centre the needle between the + and – by altering the shutter speed and the aperture.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small, fold-out crank the Japanese made ubiquitous. On many SLR cameras, this crank double as the catch for the hinged back but not here – the back has its own catch on the left edge of the body.

As with all cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This mount is the M42 screw mount introduced by East German Zeiss Ikon in 1949. M42 is also known as the Pentax, Praktica or Universal thread. The big advantage of the M42 mount is the vast number of lenses that have been made for this mount and most are still available today secondhand.

Inside the mount, at the bottom, is a bar that comes forward just before the shutter fires which closes the iris diaphragm in the lens. At the top of the mount, again just inside, is the focus screen. On the front edge of this screen is a strip of foam which acts as a soft buffer for when the reflex mirror snaps up. This foam buffer has now degenerated to a sticky mess and will need replacing before the camera is used.

The lens mount is fitted on a raised portion of the front. On the right hand edge of this raised part is a black lever. Pressing this towards the camera body does two things. Firstly, it moves that bar already mentioned to close the iris diaphragm to its set value and, secondly, it switches on the light meter. This is essentially a shutter priority system. To use it, you set your required shutter speed, hold this lever in and then adjust the aperture ring on the lens until the needle in the viewfinder is centred. This is exactly the same as Asahi introduced in 1964 with their Pentax Spotmatic.

.On the left edge of the body are two things to note. At the top of the edge is a PC socket for a flash connection. Using this instead of the hot-shoe allows off-camera flash to be used. At the bottom of the edge is a chrome catch that releases the back.

Opening the back reveals a bog-standard SLR. The film cassette goes on the left. There is a cut-away on the base to ease the insertion of the cassette. In the centre is the film gate. This is quite large – 65 mm – which helps to keep the film flat. In the film gate are the shutter curtains. These are cloth and run horizontally. As mentioned earlier, the maximum shutter speed is 1/500 seconds. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft which counts the sprocket holes in the film as the film moves and ensures that the correct amount of film is advanced. Next is the take-up spool which rotates clockwise and so winds the film emulsion side outermost.

On the inside of the hinged back is a large, 65 by 40 mm, pressure plate which keeps the film snug against the film gate. By this is a sticker advertising the retailer – Peter Hall of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. When closed, the back fits into a groove on the body. This groove is filled with a foam light seal which degenerated and needs replacing. Luckily, this is a straight forward job and replacement foam is readily available on that auction site.

The base has the usual three items.Most prominent is the battery compartment. When new, this used a mercury cell producing 1.3 volts. These are now banned internationally but 1.5 volt alkaline cells fit – there might be a bit of over-exposure as a result of using the alkaline cell. Next to the battery compartment is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket (I am assuming the UNC thread as this would conform to ISO 1222 which dates from 1973 and lays down the usage of the UNC thread). The third item on the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This only needs to be pressed in at the start of rewinding and then stays in until the film advance lever is moved. This is so much more convenient than having to have one hand holding the camera, one hand holding the button in and one hand winding the rewind crank which is the case with so many cameras.

For once, the camera came with its kit lens. This is Ricoh’s own make, an Auto Rikenon with 50mm focal length and a maximum aperture of ƒ/2. The ‘auto’ part of the name indicates that the lens aperture remains fully open until the camera’s shutter release button is pressed. There is a small pin by the screw mount which is pressed by the bar mentioned earlier. This auto system has got the advantage that the viewfinder image remains bright while you focus.

Apertures with this lens range from ƒ/2 to ƒ/16. Not an astounding range but very useful. Focusing is from 0.6m to infinity. There are two distance scales, metres in green and feet in white. Being an older lens, there is a depth of field scale by the focus scale – something I think all lenses should have. using this scale, I can determine that the hyperfocal distance at ƒ/16 is 5 metres giving a focus range from 2.5 metres to infinity.

The lens is sturdily made from aluminium with a rubber focusing grip. According to the Interweb, this lens has 6 elements in 5 groups. I could only find positive comments about the performance of this lens, but my test film might say otherwise.

Canon AT-1

I have a current Canon EOS Digital camera and a few Canon EOS film cameras (EOS 5,  EOS 50, EOS 650) but they are all a bit too modern and plasticky for my taste. I have been on the look-out for one of the Canon FD mount cameras for a few years but they are either too expensive or have not aged well. When this camera came along, I was not sure what it was – I had never heard of the AT-1. It turns out that it is a Canon AE-1 without the automatic exposure system. As I do not like automatic exposure, this made the camera ideal for me.

P1010769
  • lens: Tefnon by Kobori
  • focal length: 35-200 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1.7 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Canon FD breech-lock bayonet mount
  • shutter: cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 2 seconds to 1/1000
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

 This camera was advertised on that auction site for parts or spares. The seller stated that the camera was completely untested. The camera also came with a lens so if the camera was completely U/S I would still have a FD mount lens and could then take a punt on one of the many FD mount cameras around with no lens. Well, the camera is in excellent condition and works just fine. The only fault is that the foam light seals have expired and need replacing. As the camera is forty three years old, I had taken this as read! I also have the original manual which is a rare bonus.

P1010783At first glance, this is a very standard Japanese SLR. It is a similar size and shape to the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic series and slightly bigger than the (then) current Pentax ME Super or Olympus OM1n. The general lines of the camera are significantly cleaner than either the Spotmatic, ME Super or OM1 models. I like uncluttered so this appeals to me.

P1010765

The top plate feels like metalised plastic. On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This is anodised metal with a black plastic end. The lever is on a ratchet so the film can be advanced by a series of short movements. When not in use, the film advance lever sits over the top plate out of the way but when using the camera, the lever sits proud by 30º. The lever moves through 120º to advance the film one frame. This is both easy and fast.

Under the film advance lever is the shutter speed dial. This runs from two seconds to 1/1000 seconds plus B. 1/60 seconds is marked with a lightning flash to indicate that it is the flash synchronising speed. Beneath the shutter speed dial is the film speed dial. The is accessed by slightly lifting the shutter speed dial and turning. This is a bit awkward but doable with my large fingers. Film speeds are in ASA (which is effectively the same as ISO speeds)  and run from 25 ASA to 3200 ASA. This was a normal speed range in the mid 1970s and reflected the speeds of films in normal use. It is also a very usable range today.

To the left of the film advance lever is the shutter release button. According to the manual, this is a magnetic release so there is no mechanical link to the shutter mechanism (which is entirely electronic) so there should be less camera shake compared to those cameras with mechanically linked buttons. This button is a fairly large, black, metal button which is threaded for a standard cable release. This is showing some signs of wear as at times it does not work and sometimes it needs a very definite press. It has slightly improved with me dry-firing the shutter over the last few days.

P1010768Around the shutter release button is a three-position switch. In the A position, the camera is in its standard mode. In the L position, the shutter release button is locked so you cannot accidentally trip the shutter (this is more useful than you might think). There is also an S position. In the S position, the delay timer is activated. A red LED is exposed. When the shutter release button is pressed while in the S position, the red LED flashes for ten seconds before the shutter fires.

Behind this switch is the window for the frame counter. This counter resets to zero when the camera back is opened. It starts as S and when you have wound on the fogged part of the new film it will be at zero which is in red – all other numbers (just even numbers are displayed) are white apart from 20 and 36 which are also red. These (20 and 36) were the most common film sizes in the 1970s.

As is usual, the centre of the top plate is dominated by the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe. This is a hot shoe with an ISO standard central contact plus a single auxiliary contract specific to Canon’s range of speed light flashguns.

On the back of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is rectangular, 16 by 10 mm, and has a grove on the outside which can accept an eyecup or auxiliary lenses for glasses wearers. Inside the viewfinder is the matt focus screen. In the centre is a ring of micro-prisms to aid focusing. In the middle of the micro-prisms is a split-image spot. These work by splitting vertical lines in the image. The more out of focus the image, the further apart the parts of the split image. As you focus, the parts come together and when the two parts are fully aligned the image is in focus. If there are no strong vertical lines in the image, that is when you use the micro-prisms.

On the right hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout. This is coupled to both shutter speed and aperture. The meter needle is a straight line and there is also  another needle which has a ring on top. To use the meter, you adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture until the meter needle is in the centre of the ring. There is no indication in the viewfinder of either shutter speed nor aperture.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is a standard small folding crank. Around the rewind crank is the on/off switch. This has three positions – on, off and C. The first two are self-explanatory  – C is the battery check position. In this position, the meter needle in the viewfinder should be right at the top of its travel. If it is not, you need to replace the battery. The shutter is electronic so will not work without battery power.

mouthIn the middle of the front of the camera is the lens mount. This lens mount is the Canon FD mount. This is a three flange bayonet mount. It is unusual in that the flanges are outside the mount throat. The only other mount that I have seen like this is the Ihagee Exakta mount which has both internal and external flanges. The big advantage of external flanges is that it allows larger apertures for a given throat diameter. At the time that this camera was made, the FD mount was a breech-lock mount. What this means is that you place the lens in the mount and turn a locking ring to fix the lens in place. With most lens mounts, you turn the lens to lock it, rather than just a locking ring. Not turning the lens means that there is less (or no) wear on the linkages. Later on, Canon changed the mount so that there was no longer a locking ring and the lens turned instead as on other cameras.

P1010789The lens mount has to transmit information from the lens to the camera – and actions from the camera to the lens. At this age, the information is transmitted by levers and pins. What follows here comes from the AT-1 manual.

  1. there is a screw which does nothing but is reserved for use in future developments.
  2. a lever on the lens which transmits the set aperture to the light meter – this is mechanically connected to the lens aperture ring.
  3. a pin on the lens which transmits the lens’ maximum aperture to the light meter.
  4. a lever on the lens that closes the aperture when the shutter is fired. This is matched by a lever on the camera side of the mount which doubles as a depth of field preview.

The camera lever in 4 above can also be used with older lenses (FL series lenses which also fit this camera) or with close-up bellows or lens reversal rings. For these the meter cannot be used as intended  and using this sliding lever enables you to use stop-down metering.

Also on the right of the lens mount is a PC socket for flash. This enables you to use off-camera flash if you want to. On the left of the lens mount is the battery compartment. Opening this requires you to press a very small button recessed on the left of the battery compartment cover. This is quite awkward to do which is a fault on the good side. On either side of the camera, on the top plate, are strap lugs.

P1010771The rear of the camera has the opening back. The catch for this is released by pulling up the rewind crank. In the centre of the back, on the outside, is a holder for the end of the film carton so you can remember which type of film is in the camera. I do not understand why all film cameras did not do this. Also on the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This only needs to be pressed in as you start to rewind – there is no need to keep pressing it in. Also here is the tripod socket – 1/4 inch – either Whitworth or UNC, I am not sure of which was current in 1977.

P1010770
P1010773

The lens.

This camera did not came with the original Canon kit lens. Instead, the previous owner had replaced the kit lens with a zoom lens. This lens is marked as being a Tefnon lens. This is one of the brand names used by the lens maker Kobori. They are a mature Japanese company, founded in 1923 and still going in 2020. They have made lenses for Minolta, Sanyo, Nikon and Vivitar – that is, made the lenses for those companies, not lenses to fit their cameras. If the likes of Nikon are happy for Kobori to make Nikon brand lenses, they must be a good manufacturer.

The use of Tefnon as a lens brand dates from 1982 and, although Kobori are still making SLR camera lenses, the name Tefnon is now redundant. The serial number of my lens is 100785.

P1010784This lens is 35 to 200 mm zoom. with a maximum aperture at 35 mm of ƒ/3.5 and at 200 mm of ƒ/4.8. The minimum aperture if ƒ/22. The iris diaphragm has six blades giving a hexagonal aperture. The is a small button at the end of the aperture scale – pressing this allows you to turn the aperture ring a bit further to engage the auto-exposure setting. On a Canon AE-1 camera, this setting will allow the camera to select the aperture rather than just stop down to the user set aperture. As the AT-1 does not have any auto-exposure ability, it is not possible to set this lens to the automatic aperture setting.

P1010789The lens is multicoated and has a ‘macro’ ability. This ‘macro’ ability offers a 1:5 reproduction ratio so an object that is 25 mm across will for an image that is 5 mm across. This is far from real macro – purists would expect a 1:1 reproduction ratio – but the lens does focus down to around 600 mm.

P1010785At the moment, the camera is not useable as I need to replace the foam light seals (not a hard job) but when I have have done so, I shall be testing this camera and lens and reporting the results here.

First Film Test.

Above, I stated that the foam light seals need replacing. In an ideal world, I would have replaced these before testing the camera with film. I got impatient and tried the camera with the old, sticky, foam seals in place. On some cameras this does work well, but not on this one. There are rampant light leaks and on a roll of 24 exposures, only three were any good. I am displaying a selection of these below. It would seem that the main light leak comes from the hinge of the back – the foam here has degenerated to virtually nothing. The evidence for this is that the light flare on the film extends vertically from one edge of the film to the other. If the light was leaking from the top or bottom edges of the back, the light flare would be horizontal.

What I can say at this point is that the lens works well, the light meter is at least reasonably accurate, the shutter moves smoothly with no sticking or juddering and, in general, all seems to be well apart from the light seals. My next job is to actually replace the seals with the foam I have on hand (it is readily available on the auction site and probably elsewhere) and test the camera again.

I have now replaced the light seals and run a second film through the camera. Everything is now working well. Here are a few of the test pictures with good light seals.

Nikon F601

This is my second Nikon - I already have a Nikon F301. This camera is one model on Nikon's road to automation. The main elements of modern DSLR controls are in place but not quite as we would expect them today. This is my second Nikon - I already have a Nikon F301. This camera is one model on Nikon's road to automation. The main elements of modern DSLR controls are in place but not quite as we would expect them today.

nikon 8
  • lens: not supplied
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: metal vertical focal plane
  • speeds: 30 seconds to 1/2000 seconds
  • flash: pop-up fast plus ISO hot shoe
  • film size: 35mm

The first thing you notice with this camera is the weight. The chassis is metal but the fascias etc are plastic. The camera measures 155 by 100 by 66 mm (including the grip but only 54 mm to the lens mount flange). It weighs xg.

NikonAs this is an automatic camera, there is no film advance lever. The far right of the top plate has a strap lug. Just to the left of this is a large (20 mm diameter) selector dial. This dial is horizontal and very slightly protrudes behind the back of the topple to give a grip for the user’s thumb. To the left of this selector dial is a LCD screen. This contains a whole host of information which I shall discuss shortly.

In front of the screen are three items. On the right is the on/off slider. To the left is an exposure compensation button which is used in conjunction with the selector dial. This can add up to 5 stops compensation – either plus or minus. To the far left is a ‘shift’ button for use in conjunction with other buttons. On its own, it acts as a flash exposure compensation button.

nikon 6

There is a grip on the right hand front of the body which houses the shutter release button. This is 12 mm diameter and is nearly flush with the top the grip. It is threaded for a standard cable release. On the back of the top plate is a slider which can be used to lock either the auto-exposure system or both the auto-exposure and auto-focus systems. This slider is easily moved by the user’s thumb while pressing the shutter release button with their fore-finger.

Almost centrally on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. This incorporates a pop-up flash so is much larger than with earlier SLR cameras. The flash is activated by pressing two small buttons on either side of the front of the pentaprism hump and lifting the flash. On top of the hump is the accessory shoe. This is an ISO hot shoe with a large central contact. There are also three subsidiary contacts which are not a part of the ISO standard (ISO 518:2006 if you are interested) and are dedicated for Nikon flash guns.

nikon 3Behind the hump is the viewfinder eye piece. This measures 16 by 12 mm.This has engraved upon it two circles. The larger circle is the area used for centre weighted metering and the smaller circle is the area used for spot metering. Inside the smaller circle are two square brackets – these eliminate the area used by the autofocus system – just the one area, right in the middle of the image.

Below the focus screen in the viewfinder is a small LCD screen with some basic information. On the left are two arrows with a spot between. These are the focus indicators – the area behind the focus brackets is in focus when the spot is lit. If focus tracking is set, both arrows and spot are lit when the subject is in focus and the shutter cannot be fired if they are not lit – this will not apply if the camera is set to manual focus.

Next along is the shooting mode – PSA or M. As I do not have an AI-P lens, only A and M are available (AI-P lenses have a processor in the lens which gives the camera information about the lens settings). Next is the shutter speed which can be from 30 seconds to 1/2000 seconds. In P art A modes, the camera can set the shutter speed anywhere in this range but in S and M modes shutter speeds can only be set in 1EV steps.

Next is aperture. Because my lens has no processor in it, apertures are not reported electronically and this display shows ‘F–‘. This is not a problem because I can see the aperture scale on the lens. On the right is a digital exposure meter display for use in M mode.

This LCD display can also display warnings; if the shutter speed flashes you might need to use a tripod; if ‘HI’ flashes, your picture will be overexposed; if ‘LO’ flashes, your picture will be underexposed; and if ‘FEE’ flashes, the lens is not set correctly for the auto-exposure system (the lens must be set to its smallest aperture).

To the right of this small LCD screen is a red ‘flash ready’ icon which comes on when the flash is ready (!).

What is missing in the viewfinder are any of the usual focus aids – no micro prisms, no split image. Already, Nikon were assuming that no sensible photographer would be manually focusing.

nikon 4

Left of the pentaprism hump are control buttons. There are six of these and each has two functions. To determine which of the two functions is used, you need to press (or not) the shift button on the right of the pentaprism hump. Fortunately, these buttons are used to set uptake camera and so are infrequently used.

There are four large buttons – Mode, ISO, DRIVE and BKT (bracket) – and two small buttons – meter mode and self timer. With the shift button pressed, these become Balanced fill flash (Mode), DX or Manual ISO (ISO), Auto focus lock (DRIVE). With Shift, the meter mode button sets slow flash and other self-timer button sets rear curtain flash.

nikon 7Moving to the front of the camera, the body, as usual, is dominated by the lens mount. This is the Nikon F mount as introduced in 1959 and which is still in use with Nikon digital cameras. It has three modifications over the original F mount. The first is the presence of an AI ring around the lens mount (AI=Aperture Indexed) – this allows the lens to communicate the set aperture to the camera body. Old, non-AI lenses can be used but only with manual exposure. The second modification is the presence of seven electrical contacts inside the throat of the lens mount at the top. Originally, there were no contacts, then five were added, this camera has seven and modern digital Nikons have ten contacts. The third modification is the presence of a ‘screwdriver’ autofocus link. The F mount standard is far from being standard!

As my one and only Nikon lens is an AI-S lens with no electronics the electrical contacts do nothing, and as my lens is strictly manual focus only the autofocus ‘screwdriver’ remains retracted into the lens mount while the camera is set to manual focus. There is one more feature of the mount and that is a lever on the left inside the throat that a engages with a lug on the lens. This lever movers down as the mirror moves up and, in so doing, closes the iris diaphragm in the lens.

On the lower right of the lens mount is a three-way switch. This sets the autofocus mode. The options are M (manual), S (single shot) or CF (continuous focus). For most purposes, you would use S but for moving subjects – sports or wildlife, for example – you would use CF. If, like me, you only have a manual focus lens you will use M.

nikon 2The base of the camera has little on it. In line with the lens is an ISO tripod socket (1/4 inch UNC thread). In the base of the grip is the battery compartment. This takes a CR-P2 battery which are not common but are still available – I found a shop in Lincoln that sells them. Also on the base is the rewind switch. Rewind is motorised and requires two actions to start it. First, slide the slider to the right and while holding it there, press the chrome button. Once rewind starts, you do not need to hold these two in place. My only gripe with this system is that the film is completely rewound into the film cassette which make retrieval for development harder.

nikon 5Loading the film is easy – you merely pull the film leader across the film gate to the orange square, close the back and press the shutter release button until the camera has loaded the film. There are electrical contacts in the cassette recess which read the DX code on the cassette and automatically set the film speed.

In use.

I have not been able to fully test this camera as my only Nikon lens is not compatible with all the camera’s functions. The parts I have tested work well. The camera is light-tight (not a given for old Japanese cameras) and the meter works well. The first picture where shows how the meter deals with a high dynamic range conditions – it copes rather well.

Nikon F601-8
high dynamic range

This second picture was taken with manual exposure but using the built-in exposure meter – again, works well.

Nikon F601-1
manual exposure

The rest of the pictures have a range of lighting conditions all of which were dealt with by the camera competently.

Nikon F601-12
Nikon F601-15
Nikon F601-22

Pentax Spotmatic SP

This is the archetypical SLR camera from 1960s Japan. Although it clearly builds on Zeiss Ikon’s precedent with the Contax S and also on Asahi’s earlier Pentax cameras (such as the SV), it is also very much its own camera. To look at, it is almost identical to the earlier Pentax SV but with the addition of a meter switch and a repositioning of the self-timer mechanism.  This photo shows the Spotmatic next to a SV for comparison.

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  • lens: none supplied
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: M42 thread
  • shutter: cloth horizontal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 seconds
  • flash: 2 x PC connectors (FP and X) 
  • film size:35 mm

P1050292The camera body measures 143 by 92 by 48 mm. It weighs 618 g with no lens attached and no film loaded. Most of the camera body is covered with black leatherette with the top plate, base plate and lens mount being satin plated metal. The top plate is almost identical to the SV’s. The film advance lever is on the right. This looks to be die-cast metal and is nicely shaped to fit the user’s thumb. In use, it rotates about 180º two advance the film one frame.

The lever is on a ratchet so it is possible to advance the film with several small movements of the lever if necessary. It goes without saying that this lever automatically sets the shutter curtains. The film advance lever also incorporates the frame counter. This resets to -2 when the back is opened and counts up. Every fifth number is displayed. Zero, 20 and 36 are in red. The two common film lengths in the 1960s were 20 frames and 36 frames. The more modern 24 frame length is much more recent.

P1050304To the left of the film advance lever and at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is a chromed metal cylinder within a chromed metal sleeve. It is threaded for a standard cable release. Between the film advance lever and the shutter release button is a very small (1.5mm diameter) window onto a red flag. This flag shows when the camera is ready to take a shot. Once the shutter has been fired, it becomes black. I don’t find these small flags useful at all – I check by attempting to advance the film – but other users might vary.

Next along is the speed selector dial. This has two functions. First is to set the film speed for the light meter. This is in ASA units only and ranges from 20ASA to 1600ASA. This is an entirely adequate range and covers most films on sale in the 1960s. This film speed is set by lifting the dial and turning until the required speed is displayed in the window. It is possible to set 1/3 stops if required. Second, this dial sets the shutter speed. This is set by turning the dial without lifting it until the required speed is against the index mark. Speeds are from one second to 1/1000 seconds plus B.

Just to the left of the speed dial is a triangular index mark to indicate the selected shutter speed. Most of the time this is black but will turn red on occasion.  This index pointer turning red indicates that the shutter speed selected is outside of the light meter’s operational range. This is dependent on the film speed set. For example, with the film speed set to 1600 ASA, the index will turn red for 1/8 and 1/4 seconds. At 800 ASA, it is red at 1/4 and 1/2 seconds. At 20 ASDA, the index is red for 1/1000, 1/500 and 1/250. The camera will still work at these shutter speeds, you just cannot rely on the light meter.

P10502941/60 has a red X beside it to indicate that this the fastest shutter speed at which the entire frame is exposed at one time, all faster speeds use a travelling slit. So this is the fastest shutter speed for using electronic flash. Flash bulbs can be used at all shutter speeds as the output of light takes place over a longer time.

The pentaprism hump is just to the left of centre. On the rear is the viewfinder eyepiece. this measures 14 by 9 mm internally which is plenty large enough even for us spectacle wearers. The outside of the eyepiece has a grove on either side to take the optional accessory shoe. The front of the pentaprism hump bears the legend “AOCo” (Asahi Optical Company). Inside the viewfinder, in the centre, is a circle of micro prisms which help when focusing the lens – when out of focus, the micro prisms exaggerate the out-of-focus of the image.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the model name (SP) and the serial number. Left of this is the rewind crank. This crank doubles as the catch for the back. Around the rewind crank is a film type reminder. This has four options – empty (very useful!) colour daylight, colour tungsten and Panchro(matic).

Looking at the front of the camera, the lens mount is the standard M42 threaded mount. This was introduced in 1949 by the East German Zeiss Ikon with the Contax S. Although this lens mount was used by very many camera makers, the popularity of the Pentax series resulted in this mount being known as the Pentax mount. This mount has a 42 mm diameter thread with a pitch of 1 mm. This mount has two flavours. The more basic form is just a thread to attach the lens to the camera. This form was used with the Soviet Zenit B and Zenit E cameras.  The more advanced form of the mount has a plate just inside the bottom of the mount. This plate moves forwards where the shutter release is pressed and pushes a pin on the lens – this causes the lens’ iris diaphragm to close to the set value. The advantage of this version is that you can compose and focus with the diaphragm fully open, giving you a brighter image in the viewfinder.

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P1050306

On the right-hand side of the lens mount (left side when using the camera) is a sliding switch marked ‘SW’. Pushing this up closes the lens’ diaphragm and switches on the internal light meter – there is a small red flag on the switch to indicate that the switch is raised (not very useful and not present on later Spotmatics). This system is shutter priority – you set the shutter speed you want and then adjust the aperture until the meter needle is centred. It is possible to set the aperture and adjust the shutter speed until the meter needle is centred but this is very awkward to do at eye-level.

P1050297

On the camera body below this light meter switch are two PC connectors for a flash gun. The top one is for fast flash bulbs and can be used any any shutter speed. The lower PC connector is for electronic flash and must be used at 1/60 seconds or slower. The difference between the two PC connectors is timing. The lower connector is switched on as soon as the first shutter curtain completes its travel – the whole film frame is now exposed. The top PC connector is switched on very slightly before the first shutter curtain moves allowing a few milliseconds for the flash bulb to burn to maximum brightness before the frame is exposed.

P1050298

The other side of the lens mount has a self-timer. This has moved from the ring around the rewind crank on the SV to this position on the front of the camera. To use this, you turn the self-timer lever anti-clockwise through up to 180º. It is activated by pressing the small stud above the lever. On my 55 year-old camera, this gives a twelve second delay before the shutter fires. If you turn the lever through less than 180º, you get a proportionally shorter delay.

P1050300

On the base plate, in line with the lens, is a tripod socket. this is the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread (or UNC? I am not clear as to when the standard changed from Whitworth to UNC). Beside this is the battery compartment. The camera was designed to take a mercury battery giving 1.3 volts but these are  no longer available. Modern alkaline or silver batteries can be used as the light meter uses a bridge circuit  so the exact voltage is not critical. The battery powers only the light meter – the rest of the camera is entirely manual.

At the other end of the base plate is the button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. On the back of the base plater on the right is what looks to be a second serial number – 23102. The only other feature on then outside worth noting is the presence of a strap lug on either front corner.

P1050295The back is opened by pulling up the rewind crank. There is not a lot to notice here – it is all rather normal. The film cassette goes on the left – the rewind crank pulls up even further to allow the cassette to be inserted and removed. On mat camera, there is a sticker in the cassette chamber – this is dated 2-28-79 which I take to be the date of a repair. The film gate is in the middle with generous amounts o9f metal on either side to help keep the film flat. The shutter curtains are very rubberised – there is no visible trace of the underlying fabric. The sprocket shaft is black plastic and the take-up spool is black painted metal. The take-up spool rotates ‘backwards’ so as to hold the film emulsion side outermost.

Around the rear of the camera is a groove. Flanges on the hinged back fit into these to keep, out light. With Japanese cameras, it was usual to have a strip of foam in this groove to ensure complete light tightness. This foam ages and will eventually deteriorate to a sticky goo. The foam on this camera has clearly aged but has not turned to goo. so I am going to leave it be while I shoot my test film.

Embedded in the groove above the take-up spool is a reset button for the frame counter. The flange on the hinged back has an additional lug which presses on this reset button while the back is closed.This allows the frame counter to work. When the back is opened, this lug no longer presses on the button and the frame counter will reset to -2. When loading a new film, you wind on the film until the frame counter reads 0.

The middle of the back has the sprung pressure plate that keeps the film flat against the film gate. At the catch end of the back is a leaf spring which stops the film cassette moving about.

Zenit 3M

Zenit 3M 35mm film SLR from the KMZ factory in Russia.

This camera is an early adaptation of the Zorki camera, turning it from a rangefinder to a Single Lens Reflex camera. So, the basic structure of the camera is that of a Leica II as improved by the FED factory and then improved a bit more by the KMZ factory and then had the reflex mirror added. KMZ made an earlier SLR – the Kristall – which was not popular and did not stay in production for long. This Zenit 3M model later developed into the Zenit E which was my first ‘serious’ camera.

The camera is entirely manual and there is no light meter. This means that the user is in complete control – this is either a good thing or a bad thing thing, depending on the user’s mindset. I only used entirely manual cameras for the first thirty years as a photographer so I am very happy with a fully manual camera. Both the camera body and the lens have serial numbers and, coming from the KMZ factory, the first two digits indicate the year of manufacture. Both the body and lens have serial numbers starting with ’65’ so this camera was made in 1965. This camera cost, in 1965, £39-19-6 (in old British money, or £39.97 in modern British money. This equates to £1,291 in 2020 money – a rather expensive camera. This included  an ƒ/2 Helios 44 lens.

The camera body measures 135 by 90 by 50 mm. It weighs 700g (including lens and film). The body is entirely metal – cast aluminium with a matt chrome plated top plate and bottom plate.  On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This is on a ratchet and the film can be advanced either with one long stroke or a number of short strokes. This lever is entirely metal and the tip curves away from the body to allow the user’s thumb to get a good hold. There is a very small black rubber pad part way down the lever to soften the return of the lever to its rest position. In the centre of the advance lever is a frame counter. This counts upwards and requires then user to set it to zero when loading a new film. Only every fifth frame has a number, the rest being represented by dots.P1050281In the centre of the frame counter is the shutter release button. This is a more convenient position than with the Zorki and Fed cameras. This button is threaded for a standard cable release. The top of the button is milled. This milling is so when using long exposures (i.e. B) you can turn the release button after pressing it which locks the button in the depressed position, allowing the user to then remove their finger for the duration of the shot. The downside here is that is quite possible to turn this release button accidentally and the camera will not work properly until you turn it back again. I speak from experience!P1050289The rest of the top plate is slightly raised above the film advance lever. The first item on the raised portion is the button which releases the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this button depressed while rewinding.P1050288Next to this is the shutter speed dial. This offers five speeds – 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 – plus B. To set the shutter speed, you lift the dial and rotate to the required position and allow the dial to drop again. This is very easy to do apart from 1/250 which is very close to 1/500 and I am never quite sure which I have set. FED, Zorki and Zenit  E cameras tell you that it is very important to set the shutter speed AFTER advancing the film and I suspect that it is the same here.Below the shutter speed selector is the flash synch selector. This has options for M (bulbs) and X (electronic). In both cases, the shutter speed must be 1/30 (the only shutter speed at which the shutter is ever fully open. At the other shutter speeds, the exposure is by a moving slit. The difference between X and M is timing. With X, the flash is fired exactly as the shutter is fully open. With M, the flash fires very slightly before the shutter is fully open to allow the bulb time to burn to maximum brightness.Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. This has a circular eye-piece. This is 20mm external diameter and unscrews to allow the fitting of a correction lens to correct the user’s eyesight. This correction lens must have a diameter of 16mm. The front of the pentaprism hump carries the camera name – Zenit 3M – in Roman script. On the other end of the rear of the top plate is the body serial number and the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it.P1050290On the left of the top plate is the rewind knob. This pulls up to allow the film cassette to be inserted and removed. In the centre of the rewind knob is a film type reminder. This offers the options of sunlight balanced colour, tungsten balanced colour or the film speed in GOST (the Soviet version of ASA or DIN in use until 1987). The film speed options are 11, 22, 45, 90, 180 which equate to ASA speeds of 16, 25, 64, 100, 200.The front of the camera is rather as you might expect. It is dominated by the lens mount. This is a peculiar mount. It is a threaded mount – 39 mm by 26 threads per inch – this is a strange combination of metric and imperial units which is a hangover from the Leica camera this was developed from. It is, actually, the same thread as is used on Leica cameras. The explanation for this is that this camera is an adaptation of the Zorki rangefinder which used Leica threaded lenses so the KMZ factory was already tooled up to produce this thread. However, the presence of the reflex mirror means that the lens mount is further away from the film than is the case with the Zorki (FED, Leica) rangefinder. So, the Zenit 3M lens will physically fit a Zorki (or FED or Leica) and vice versa but it will not be able to achieve infinity focus if you fit a Zorki/FED/Leica lens to the Zenit 3M (it will, however, work very well as a macro lens!). With the Zenit B and E, KMZ used the M42 thread (the same as the Praktica and Pentax cameras) which removed this incompatibility.P1050286On the front of the top plate beside the lens mount is a PC connector for flash. On the left of the lens mount is a self timer lever. To activate this, you turn it anti-clockwise until it is pointing down. Pressing the small button above the lever will start it into action. This has two separate actions. After about 5 seconds, the mirror lifts. After a further 3 or 4 seconds, the shutter fires – the total delay is about 8 seconds. Lifting the mirror several seconds before the shutter fires means that there is no mirror slap when the shutter fires which is useful for pictures where sharpness is critical. On either side of the front of the camera is a strap lug.P1050287The base of the camera is plain apart from a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. This socket is right at one end which is not good for stability or levelness.The hinged back is opened by a sliding catch. Inside, the shutter is a cloth focal plane shutter – the same as with the Zorki – which travels horizontally.P1050282The supplied lens is an Industar-50. This is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Tessar which means that there are four glass elements arranged in three groups. The lens body is made from machined aluminium painted black.P1050284The lens bezel has the lens name – Industar-50 – in Roman letters followed by the aperture size and focal length (f/3.5 and 50mm), the serial number starting with the production year (N6543441) and then the KMZ logo.The front of the lens turns to select the aperture (f/3.5 to f/16). The aperture scale is repeated three times so, as you focus the lens, one of the three scales will be at the top and visible. There are no click stops so it is easy to change the aperture by accident. It is also possible to set intermediate values.Around the aperture scales is a milled ring which turns to focus the lens. The focus range is from 0.65 m to infinity. The throw of the focus ring is about 310º which means that fine focus control is easy but fast focus is not. This is offset by the provision of a matt focus screen with no focus aids. However, good focus is easy to achieve.

The iris diaphragm has seven blades which makes for a fairly circular aperture. For this concerned with bokeh, this will be a good thing.

P1050285
Depth of Field scale below the distance scale.

Behind the focus scale is the depth of field scale. Youngsters who have only used autofocus  won’t have seen these. They allow you to look at the focus scale – the distances on the focus scale by the set aperture give you the near and far extents of the depth of field. The depth of field scale also allows you to set the focus to the lens’ hyperfocal distance by setting infinity against your set aperture. This gives you the maximum focus range which is ideal for landscapes but not for portraits. On this Industar-50 lens, the hyperlocal distance at f/16 is 3.5 m giving a focus range  (aka depth of field) from 1.7m to infinity.A note on this particular lens: when I received this camera, the focus helical was rough in its action and binding in a couple of places. Dismantling lenses Cana be fraught and reassembling them worse. My solution – which works very well – was to lubricate the thread with clock oil diluted with naphtha (two parts naphtha to one part oil). This dilution has two advantages. First, it makes the oil running and able to wet the threads thoroughly. Second, when the naphtha evaporates only a very small amount of oil is left. Adding too much oil runs the risk of the oil moving to places where you do not want it – onto glass surfaces and aperture blades. I added the smallest possible drop of diluted oil I could manage to the end of the thread and spread this along the helical thread by repeatedly focusing the lens from minimum to maximum and back. I did this with three separate very small drops (rather than one large drop) and the lens focus action is now smooth and easy.While using this camera with my test film, it occurred to me that using a rangefinder lens with M39 threads, while not capable of achieving infinity focus, would act as a close focus lens – it focuses down to about 200mm. Accordingly, I have fitted my Zorki’s Industar-25 lens to the camera for the last half of the test film to see how well this works.

Test Film Results:

First, using the Zorki lens as a close-up lens. This is focused much closer than the camera’s standard lens would focus. Depth of field is not very great but I had to keep the lens wide open as I was photographing in the evening by artificial light. It is not quite macro as the negative image is about 1/3 life size

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This next is a close-up the fabric in the first shot. It is with the Zorki lens attached to the camera and the Zenit 3M lens hand-held against the front of the Zorki lens – so shot through two lenses. I do not claim it I to be a great photograph but it is certainly a macro shot.

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The rest were shot with the Zenit 3M’s standard Industar-50 lens.  This shot is as close as the Zenit 3M Industar-50 lens will focus. Again, not intended to be a brilliant shot but demonstrates the quality of the lens.000024550020These next two shots show the lens wide open and then stopped right down.000024550005000024550004The next three are just general shots of Lincoln on a dreary day. The lens has enough contrast to be usable in this sort of weather and will be very good in sunny weather if we get any.000024550002000024550018000024550017This is a hand-held interior shot of my favourite coffee shop – I am quite impressed with my ability to hand hold this camera with such a slow shutter speed (I cannot actually remember the shutter speed but I think it was probably 1/30).000024550012

Nikon F-301

Nikon F-301 35mm film camera from Japan. This nis a semi-automatic camera with full manual override.

I will start with a physical description before going on to describe the camera in use.

The camera is made from metal (I think aluminium) with a plastic top plate. The camera measures 144 by 93 by 46 mm and weighs xxg with no lens attached or film loaded. The top plate is rather cluttered – this is a function of automated cameras. The first thing to note is that there is no film advance lever – this function being automated. On the far right of the top plate is the frame counter. This resets to ‘S” when the back is opened. Frame numbers are in white with odd numbers as dots. frames 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in red as these were the usual film lengths in 1985.

Just left of the frame counter are two switches. The front one is a combination on/off switch and shutter release button. In the ‘L’ position the shutter button is locked and the electrics are turned off. There are two on positions. “S” is for single shots and the setting that will be used most of the time. “C” is for continuous shooting at 2.5 frames per second – 14 seconds to use up an entire 36 exposure cassette.

The rear switch of the two turns audible beeps on or off. I prefer off. To the left of this second switch is a small button marked “R”. This button releases the film advance mechanism so that you can rewind the completed film. In use, you press this button in and, while depressed, slide the slider behind it to the right. This holds the button in place while you rewind the film. Loading a new film resets this button.

The large dial to the left of the two switches is a combination shooting mode and shutter speed selector dial. There are four shooting modes: Program (P), Program HI (Phi), Aperture priority (A) and Manual. Manual offers shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/2000 seconds. In the manual mode, the shutter speeds are exactly as set but in the three auto modes the shutter speeds are continuously variable and likely to be between the indicated speeds.

In Aperture Priority mode, the camera selects the exact shutter speeds required for a good exposure with your selected aperture.

In P mode, the camera selects both shutter speed and aperture. If the P mode is going to select a low shutter speed there is an audible beep (if beeping is switched on). In this mode, the aperture must be set to its minimum value (i.e. biggest number) or the camera cannot alter the aperture.

Phi mode is much the same as P mode but the camera select as high a shutter speed as possible. This is intended for when you use a long lens or are shooting a moving subject.

You can easily switch between the manual speeds but to switch out of either A, P or Phi modes you must press a chromed release button in front of the mode selector dial.

Next along is the pentaprism hump. This has the viewfinder eyepiece on its rear (9 by 5 mm). The focus screen has a split-image focus aid in the centre surrounded by a ring of micro-prisms. Around this ring of micro-prisms is a second ring of 12 mm diameter – this second ring has nothing to do with focus but indicates the area that the light meter uses to assess exposure.

On the right of the focus screen is a vertical row of red LEDs. The numbers are shutter speeds. In the three auto modes they indicate the selected shutter speed – if two are lit, the actual shutter speed will be between the two. In manual mode, the selected shutter speed is shown steadily lit and the shutter speed that the camera thinks you should use is displayed flashing.

There are also triangles top and bottom. If the bottom triangle is lit flashing, there is insufficient light for a good exposure (the camera will still fire) and if the top triangle is lit flashing there is too much light for a good exposure (the camera will still fire). If both triangles are lit, you are in P mode and the aperture has not been set to its minimum.

On top of the pentaprism hump is an accessory shoe. This has the standard large central contact (so is a hot shoe) which allows any generic flash gun to be used. There are also three additional small contacts which are Nikon specific for their own brand of flash guns.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. This is the standard fold-out crank which also doubles as the catch for the back. Around the rewind crank is a ring with two functions. First, it sets the film speed. This is set by lifting the ring and turning. this camera was the first Nikon to utilise the DX system of encoding film speeds on the cassette. Accordingly you set the film speed to DX and let the camera do the hard work. For films not in DX encoded cassettes you must set the film speed manually. Available speeds are from 12 ASA to 3200 ASA (there are no DIN options). The film speed ring has a second ruction – allowing exposure compensation for awkward light conditions. To set this, you press the chromed release button in front of the ring and turn the ring without lifting. You can adjust this for two stops over or two stops under exposure.

The front of the camera, as always, is dominated by the lens mount. This is the famous Nikon F mount – but with the AI-S modifications. This is a three lug bayonet with no electrical contacts. The modifications of the original F mount are a ring around the mount which is rotated by a lug on the lens. This lug is attached to the aperture ring and tells the camera which aperture has been selected. This is used for aperture priority metering only. There is also a lug on the bottom of the inside of the lens which engages with a slider inside the mount. As far as I can make out, this lug tells the camera what the max aperture of the lens is. There is a second lug on the lens on the side which engages with a slider in the lens mount. This lug is rotated by the camera when the shutter is fired – it closes the lens’ aperture.

When looking at the lens mount, there is a pin at 3 o’clock which holds the lens in place. This is retracted by a large chromed button beside the lens mount when you want to remove the lens. Slightly above this locating pin is a second, sprung, pin which engages with a small recess on the lens mount. With an AI-S lens, this sprung pin pops out into the recess and tells the camera that an AI-S lens is attached. Older lenses do not have the recess on the lens mount so the pin cannot pop out – telling the camera that a non-AI-S lens is attached. I said Nikon lenses are confusing!

Still looking at the front of the camera, on the right above the lens release button, is a socket for an electrical cable release. This is 8 mm diameter, threaded and contains two electrical contact. When not in use, there is a screw-in cap.

On there left side of the lens mount is a lever. Pushing this towards the lens mount fixes the camera’s selected exposure settings to allow for when the main subject does not appear in the circle in the viewfinder. Inside this lever is a button to activate the self-timer. This does not work on my camera. To the left of this lever/button is a red LED which indicates that the self-timer is active. Right on the left of the camera is a protruding grip.

The base plate of the camera is removable, under it is a cradle to hold four AAA batteries. One set of batteries should provide the power to take 90 rolls of film according to the manual.

The back of the camera contains a window to enable you to see the film cassette to act as a reminder as to which film type you have loaded. On the right of the back is a small round window with blue and white stripes in it. When the film moves inside the camera, these lines rotate. This has two purposes. First, you can see that the film is advancing properly. Second, you can tell when you have finished rewinding the film. While you cannot see the window while you are actually taking photographs, you can tell that the film is loaded properly as the camera will advance three frames as it loads the film and these lines will be rotating as it does so. If the lines do not rotate, the film has not loaded and you need to attend to it.

Inside is normal for a modern film camera. On the left is the recess for the film cassette. This recess has a row of six electrical contacts. These press against the film cassette and read the DX code. The DX code contains information about film length and film speed. The camera uses this information to set the light meter.

Next to the cassette space is the shutter. This is a vertical travel metal bladed shutter. To the right of the shutter is the sprocket shaft. This is partially covered by a chromed plate which is a part of the film loading system. Right of this is the take-up spool. Below the sprocket shaft are four contacts. These work with the optional data back.

The inside of the back is more complex than is usual. In the middle is the pressure plate – this is nice and large. Left of this is a sprung roller – again, a part of the film loading system; the roller keeps the film against the take-up spool.

Just right of the sprung roller is another roller. This one rotates the blue and white stripes as the film moves within the camera. Being a Japanese camera, the joint between the camera body and back is rendered light tight with plastic foam. In time, this foam deteriorates and ceases to be light tight. On this camera the foam is in excellent condition.

Loading a film is easy. The cassette goes on the left, you pull the film across the film gate and leave the end off the film leader by the orange dot. When you close the back and turn the camera on the film advance activates, winding the film to the first frame. A caveat: I used a fairly old cassette of film and there was a serious kink in the film between the lever and the rolled film in the cassette. This meant that the film did not seat properly over the sprocket shaft and so would not wind onto the take-up spool. I had to remove the film cassette, trim about 50mm off the end of the film and refit into the camera. This time the film loaded correctly. I ended up with 22 shots rather than the 24 I should have got.

In use:

This is an easy camera too use – as the designers intended. As I was trying out the camera I used all the shooting modes at some point but mostly I used A – aperture priority.

I had the film speed selector set to DX and this clearly read the film speed from the cassette. I did not try setting the film speed manually.

Using P and Phi modes worked fine – you need to remember to set the lens to its smallest aperture or nothing will happen. A mode also works fine, the camera selecting the shutter speed to match the aperture the user has set.

Looking at the negatives (courtesy of Snappy Snaps in Lincoln) the negative density is as I would want it to be on all frames. Exposure is uniform indicating that the shutter is moving smoothly without any shutter bounce.

The lens (a Tokina 35-70 mm zoom lens), which is clearly a cheaper lens, performs well most of the time. When I shot into the sun, the image lost a lot of both contrast and saturation (see the first image below) but, when shooting contre-jour was avoided, both contrast and saturation were fine.

Shot into the sun – some flare, but not too much.
Nikon F-301 35mm film camera from Japan.

Ricoh 35 Flex

My impressions of my Ricoh 35 Flex SLR film camera

This is a Japanese leaf-shuttered SLR a la Contaflex or Bessamatic from Germany or Mamiya Korvette from Japan. For some reason, the German leaf shuttered SLR cameras did not have automatically returning mirrors. There was no great technological reason for this as both Copal (as in the Korvette) and Seikosha (in this Ricoh) produced leaf shutters with automatically returning mirrors. This does not really matter as far as taking photographs is concerned but I do find the Contaflexes and Bessamatics disconcerting in use.

For once, this camera came to me with the original paper manual. I have scanned this and it is available for download from my Google Drive here as are several other manuals.

Ricoh 35 Flex 
www.oldcamera.blog

lens: Ricoh
focal length:  50 mm
apertures: f/2.8 to f/22
focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Seikosha
speeds: 1/30 to 1/300 seconds
flash: PC socket
film size:  35 mm

To look at, this Ricoh 35 Flex looks pretty standard for a 35 mm camera from Japan in the early 1960s (this particular model was introduced in 1963 according to the Interweb). In 1965, this camera was on sale for £39-19-11 in old British money, or £39.99 in modern British money. This equates to £1,292 in 2020 values. Because this camera has a leaf shutter, all the exposure controls are on the lens barrel rather than on the top plate.

 Ricoh 35 Flex
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The film advance lever is on the right at the junction of the top plate and body. It moves through 130º to advance the film one frame. The lever is not on a ratchet and must be moved in one motion. It is made from folded metal with no plastic tip. Above the film advance lever is the frame counter. This resets to ‘S’ when you open the camera back – ‘S’ is actually ‘-2’: you have to wind the film on three times to get to ‘1’. The frame numbers are in silver on a black background. ‘1’ and every fifth number are there as digits with the intervening numbers there as dots. Frames ‘S’, ’20’ and ’36’ are in orange (these were the standard film sizes when this camera was made). The frame counter counts up to ’37’. You can advance the film beyond this but the frame counter will not move any further.

At the front of the top plate, near the pentaprism hump, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release.

Almost centre of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. Behind the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 10 by 14 mm. This is quite generous (compared to many cameras in my collection) and quite easy to use. The eyepiece surround has a groove to take the optional accessory shoe. As this is removable (and not present on my camera) it cannot be a hot shoe.

The image in the viewfinder is bright enough. In the centre are two focus aids – a ring of micro-prisms and a split image centre. On the right of the viewfinder image is the light meter needle. This needle does not point to anything usable – you cannot use it to take photographs in manual mode. At the top and bottom of the focus screen are red areas. So long as the needle is somewhere between the red areas, the automatic exposure system can produce a good exposure. The top red area is actually two areas. The lower of these signifies that there is insufficient light for films slower than 200 ASA and the upper part signifies that there is insufficient light for films faster than 250 ASA. The bottom red area signifies there is too much light for the automatic exposure system.

On the left side of the viewfinder image is a circular red flag. This pops up after the shutter has been fired to indicate that the film needs to be advanced. This flag is lowered out of sight as the film is advanced. As I always advance the film immediately after firing the shutter, as I assume most people do, I cannot see any great need for this flag.

To the left of the pentaprism hump, at the rear of the top plate, is a line in a circle to indicate the position of the film plane. I am not sure as to when a user of this model camera would find this useful. At the left end of the top plate is the folding rewind crank. When closed, this measures 17 mm and when opened for use, it measures 30 mm. This crank pulls up to facilitate removing the film cassette – it does not double-up as a catch for the back.

Behind this, on the back face of the top plate, is a small toothed wheel. This sets the speed of the film in use. The set film speed is displayed on the top between the rewind crank and the left edge of the top plate. Film speeds are in both DIN and ASA (no ISO on a camera of this age). DIN speeds are in red and ASA speeds are in white.The range is from 15 DIN/25 ASA to 27 DIN/400 ASA. This is not a very generous range but does reflect the range of film speeds available in 1963 – the newly introduced Kodachrome II film was 25 ASA.

The front of the camera has a rather thick black lens mount. The lens/shutter housing sits on this. The lens is not exchangeable. The shutter is made by Seikosha and is the same complicated design as the German Contaflexes and Bessamatics (and Hasselblads and Bronicas). As this is an SLR with a between-the-lens shutter, the shutter must be open while the photographer composes and focuses the image. When the shutter release button is pressed, a complicated sequence of events occur:

  1. leaf shutter closes
  2. mirror rises
  3. secondary shutter rises
  4. leaf shutter opens and then closes
  5. secondary shutter lowers
  6. mirror lowers
  7. leaf shutter opens

This all works very smoothly and is a lot less clunky than either my Contaflex or my Bessamatic.

Ricoh 35 Flex
www.oldcamera.blog

This camera is really meant for automatic exposure but can be used manually. Shutter speed and aperture are set by levers on the underside of the shutter housing. To use this camera in full auto mode, set the aperture to ‘A’ with the right hand lever. Doing this will also set the shutter speed to ‘A’. In auto mode, all you need worry about is ensuring that the light meter needle is between the two red areas in the viewfinder – it does not matter whereabouts exactly.

Ricoh 35 Flex
www.oldcamera.blog
Shutter speed and aperture levers on underside of lens barrel

It is also possible to use the camera in aperture priority mode. To do this, use the left hand lever to set the shutter speed to ‘A’ and use the right hand lever to set the required aperture – the camera will use the appropriate shutter speed to match your aperture.

Finally, to use the camera fully manually, use both levers to set the required shutter speed and aperture. In manual mode, the light meter and its display do nothing.

Shutter speeds in manual mode are 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/300 and B. Apertures are from f/2.8 to f/22. Only every other aperture value has a number on the scale, the missing values being represented by a line. There are no click stops on the aperture scale so you could potentially use intermediate values.

Ricoh 35 Flex
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The lens is a Ricoh 50 mm lens. Curiously, this is marked as a 5 cm lens which was very old fashioned by 1963. The Interweb tells me that a this is a four element lens (and presumably a Tessar clone). The iris diaphragm has a miserly four blades which produce a square aperture – this will impact on bokeh (if this bothers you).

There is a wide, black plastic, focus ring which is very easy to find by feel. This ring moves through 90º to move the focus from 0.8 m to infinity. This is probably too short a throw for critical focusing but then the buyers of this camera probably did not require critical focus. There is no depth of field scale on the lens barrel but the manual does have a depth of field chart if you are happy to carry the manual around.

Above the lens/shutter assembly is the light meter sensor. This is larger than the sensors on most cameras. As the electric current generated by this sensor is running the automatic exposure system without the benefit of a battery, such a large sensor is probably required. This is a selenium sensor which have the ability to deteriorate over time if kept exposed to light. This camera came to me in an ‘ever ready’ case which kept the light away from the sensor when the camera was not in use. My test film will show how well this light meter is working.

To the left of the lens/shutter housing (as in when using the camera) is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. As this is a leaf shuttered camera, electronic flash will work at any shutter speed. For flash bulbs, it would be necessary to set the shutter to 1/30 or 1/60 seconds. This is to allow the flash bulb time to burn to maximum brightness before the shutter closes.

The base of the camera is plain – there is a standard tripod socket (1/4 inch Whitworth thread) and the button to enable rewinding of the film.

Ricoh 35 Flex
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The inside of the camera is pretty much what you would expect from a 35mm camera apart from the film gate. On viewfinder cameras, I would expect the film gate to be just a 24 by 36 mm hole leading to the lens. On rangefinders or SLR cameras with exchangeable lenses, I would expect a focal plane shutter to cover the film gate. Here, as with other leaf-shuttered SLR cameras, there is the secondary shutter which is basically sloping at the same angle as the mirror.

Test film:     I shall be testing this camera shortly to see how it performs. I will post the results here when I have them.    

OK, test film has been shot, developed and scanned (thanks to Snappy Snaps in Lincoln). I cannot fault the operation of this camera. The lens is at least reasonably sharp and has decent contrast. I used the camera’s automatic mode for the first 20 shots and then went to manual for the last four. All are well exposed. It does not show up on the scans, but the negative density is around what I would want on all frames. This tells me that the exposure system is working well and that both aperture and shutter are working well. One image, shot into weak winter sun, has significant flare but in general the lens is behaving well. Here are a selection of images – the first two were shot with manual exposure and the rest with automatic exposure.

Ricoh 35 Flex
www.oldcamera.blog
manual exposure
Ricoh 35 Flex
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manual exposure with some flare
Ricoh 35 Flex
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Automatic exposure
Ricoh 35 Flex
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long automatic exposure in my poorly lit front room
Ricoh 35 Flex
www.oldcamera.blog
Automatic exposure
Ricoh 35 Flex
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Automatic exposure
Ricoh 35 Flex
www.oldcamera.blog
Automatic exposure
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