Nikon EM

This is my sixth Nikon camera – I already have two ‘modern’ Nikons: the F301 and the even newer F601, two Nikkormats: the FTn and the later EL and the magnificent F2 Photomic. Historically, this Nikon EM sits between the Nikkormats and the F301 and F601.

This is a fairly small camera, reminiscent of the Pentax ME range. It is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than my F2 or either of my Nikkormats. It was intended for women’s use hence the small size and lack of manual controls. All the photographs of people using the camera in the manual are of a pretty blonde to underline this idea. Back when this camera was introduced, it was good marketing to assume that women are useless, apparently.

  • lens: Kiron sold as Vivitar
  • focal length: 70-150 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.8 – ƒ/22
  • focus range: 0.9 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E metal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: Hot shoe
  • film size: 35 mm

The camera was brought to market in 1979 and was made until 1982 (and offered for sale new until 1984). So, my camera is now (2021) forty years old, give or take a single year. Early camera electronics are notorious for not lasting for decades, not that they were intended to. The automatic exposure system is still working even if I have yet to ascertain how accurately. I can tell this by pointing the camera at different parts of the room and firing the shutter. Listening to the significant differences in the time the shutter takes to open and close indicates the varying shutter speeds.

There are a couple of things that do not work on my camera. One is the battery check system. I press the check button and the LED should light. I do know that the batteries are good because they are new and are controlling the shutter. The other failed system is the meter needle in the viewfinder which does not move regardless of the light, ASA setting or aperture setting. This clearly does not affect the metering system (I suspect that the meter needle has become mechanically jammed through extended unuse) but that does mean that the photographer has no idea as to the shutter speed being used.

A third fault is the AI ring on the lens mount which is supposed to return to its designated rest position when the lens is removed. If you set the lens aperture to ƒ/22, the AI ring moves accordingly. If you then set the lens aperture to ƒ/3.5, the AI ring stays at the ƒ/22 position. I am hoping that this is a spring becoming unattached which might be an easy fix. Or it might be a broken spring which will not be fixable – spare parts for this camera have not been available for decades.

The body is made from a die-cast aluminium alloy and so is quite heavy. The top and bottom plates are made from some sort of plastic and the back is made from pressed steel. The camera body measures 135 by 86 by 52 mm and weighs 460 g. Most of the body is covered in black leatherette and the rest is painted satin black. As an automatic exposure camera with no manual options, there are few controls. In fact, there are only two controls on the camera body. Starting on the top on the right: first is the window to the frame counter. Only even numbers are shown, odd frames being represented by dots. The highest number is 36 – the camera will keep advancing the film but the frame counter will not move beyond 36. The frame counter is reset by opening the back in time-honoured manner. The frame counter resets to S which is actually -3.

Next to the frame counter is the film advance lever. This has a design that I have never seen before – the lever has a hinge halfway along. I am not sure what this achieves that more usual lever designs do not. The lever moves through 144º to advance the film one frame. This is on a ratchet so a frame can be advanced with one stroke or several short ones. Around this lever is a rotating switch – this offers the options of Auto, M90 and B.

The camera is intended to be used on Auto but this relies on good batteries so M90 is provided as the sole mechanical speed which is 1/90 seconds. M90 is also used with flash as this is the sync speed for this shutter. There is a rumour on the Interweb that the shutter will fire at 1/1000 seconds if you remove the batteries and fire on Auto. I cannot verify this but when I tried it, the shutter speed appeared to be much faster than 1/90 seconds. I shall try this with my test film. B is the Bulb setting where the shutter remains open while the shutter release is pressed.

Inside the fulcrum of the advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Partially pressing this switches on the camera electronics and starts the automatic exposure system working. On the left of the film advance lever is a soft blue button and a small red LED. This is the battery check – press the blue button and the red LED should light.

In the middle of the top is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe which is an ISO standard hot shoe with two additional contacts for use with Nikon’s Speedlite flash guns. On the back of the hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 12 by 8 mm. The image is plenty bright enough. In the centre of the focus screen is a circle of micro-prisms as a focus aid and in the centre of these is a split-image focus aid. Both of these are clear and easy to use. Around the micro-prism circle is a second, larger, circle. At first glance, this has no function but it delineates the area that the centre-weighted exposure system uses.

On the left of the focus screen is a vertical list of shutter speeds – these range from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds. There is an indication at 1/90 seconds as this is both the only available mechanical sped and also the flash sync speed. My camera has a fault as the needle that should point to the shutter speed in use is stuck above 1/1000 seconds and will not move at all. However, it is clear that the exposure system is changing the shutter speed by listening to the length of the noise by the shutter.

The front of the pentaprism hump has the legends “EM” and “Nikon” on it in off-white.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Pulling up on this crank unlatches the camera back. Around the crank is the film speed scale which is in ASA only (ASA is functionally the same as ISO film speeds). The film speed is set by lifting and turning the outer ring – there is a white index mark to indicate the selected film speed. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA (or 25 ISO) seems ridiculously slow today but in 1980 25 ASA film was still commonly available.

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is the AI version of the F mount introduced in 1959 – AI means that the lenses do not need the “rabbit ears” indexing prong. Instead, there is an indexing tab on the lens’ aperture ring which pushes a spring loaded index ring around as the set aperture is changed. This is basically what the “rabbit ears” did but the real difference is what happens inside the camera – by changing the linkage, Nikon prevented people mixing and matching the new system and the old system and getting spurious results. This index ring is faulty on my camera, as mentioned earlier. The ring needs to be spring loaded to return to its rest position when the aperture is set to its maximum but either this spring has become detached or the spring is broken so now the lens is incapable of communicating the set aperture to the automatic exposure system. At this date, there is no “screwdriver” autofocus linkage nor any electrical contacts on the mount.

On the right side of the mount (right as when looking at the mount) near the top of the body, is a small blue button. Pressing this and holding it in gives +2 times exposure compensation which is the only user input into the exposure system.

On the left side of the lens mount is the self-timer. This works by being would up (it is clockwork) by turning the lever anti-clockwise through 90º. It is activated by pressing the shutter release button. The delay is eight seconds with my camera.

On either top corner of the front of the camera there is a strap lug for a neck strap.

The base of the camera is designed to take a motor drive. This consists of a locating hole, a metal clutch connected to the film advance mechanism and two electrical contacts. In addition to the motor drive elements, there are three more usual items, There is a battery compartment which holds two off LR44 batteries to power the exposure system and electronic shutter. In line with the lens there is a tripod socket. This will be an ISO socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread – which was established in 1977. The final item is the button to disengage the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound.

The back is unlatched by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back itself is plain inside with just a pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. The edges of the back form a flange which fits into a groove on the camera body. This groove has a foam light seal in it which has degraded over the last 40 years and needs replacing. On the outside of the back is a black painted brass memo holder to take the end of the film carton as a reminder as to the type of film in use.

Inside the back of the camera, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. At this age (1980ish)there are no contacts for a DX system – it would be a few years until Kodak designed the DX system (introduced in 1983). The film gate is in the centre giving onto the vertical travel focal lane shutter. This was made by Seiko and is electronically controlled. This shutter is a Seiko MFC-E shutter – M=Metal, F=focal plane, C=compact and E=electronic – needed to help reduce both size and weight of the camera. This is the shutter that Pentax used on the slightly earlier Pentax ME camera and aan improved version on the Pentax ME super and Pentax Program A cameras. This shutter, being electronic, needs battery power to work, apart from the 1/90 second speed which is entirely mechanical.

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.

Beauty LightOmatic III

This LightOmatic III camera is an addition to my collection of 35mm rangefinder cameras. It is a fixed lens camera from Japan and is firmly from the same stable as the Yashicas (Minister III and Minister D), Petri 7s, Taron Auto EE, Mamiya EE, Minolta Uniomat. There is a consistent feel about these Japanese rangefinders which makes them distinct from, say, the German fixed lens rangefinders from the likes of Voigtländer.

Beauty started off as Taiyodo in Tokyo after WWII. Taiyodo became Beauty in 1957 and seems to have ceased trading around 1963. In that bare twenty years, they made around thirty five models of camera.

Beauty LightOmatic III
  • lens: Biokar-S
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal-SV
  • speeds: 1 sec to 1/500 sec
  • flash: PC connector, X or M sync
  • film size: 35 mm

This Beauty LightOmatic started as the LightOmatic in 1959 – it was also sold as the LM in some markets. In 1960, the LightOmatic II was introduced with some small improvements. My camera, the LightOmatic III, was introduced in 1961. The biggest change here is the light meter sensor is enlarged and moved to a ring around the lens together with a meter read-out in the viewfinder. This version was also sold as the Lightmatic III and the Lite III.

The camera measures 142 by 85 by 72 mm and weighs 693 g.

Top Plate

The top plate is fairly standard for a Japanese rangefinder. On the right is the film advance lever. This is cut from metal and appears to be aluminium, it moves through about 120º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and must move in one throw. This film advance lever also doubles as a shutter lock. With the lever in its rest position, in line with the top plate, the shutter cannot be fired. To use the camera, you must first pull out the lever slightly. When you advance the film, the lever will return to the lock position which could become annoying.

Just to the right of the film advance lever, right on the edge of the top plate, is the window for the frame counter. The numbers are in yellow – only the even numbers are displayed – with 20 and 36 in red as these were the standard film lengths available in the 1960s. This counts up from 1 – the numbers are reset to S (or minus 2) by opening the back of the camera to fit a new film. To the left of the film advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release (50 threads per inch on a taper – this would seem to be the European standard and there is a straight threaded release in America).

The rest of the top plate is slightly raised – only by a couple of millimetres. Very nearly centrally is the light meter window. This is rectangular with a black mark on the left and a moving needle on the right. Setting the exposure is a matter of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed until the needle is against the black mark.

To the left of the meter window is the accessory shoe. This is a standard design first introduced by Oskar Barnack in 1913 for the first Leica prototype. The only change in over a hundred years is the addition of electrical contacts for flash – but not on this camera, this is the original Barnack cold shoe. In front of the accessory shoe is the camera name: LightOmatic III stamped in the metal and painted black. Also by the accessory shoe is the camera serial number: V38496. On the far left of the top plate, as is usual for 35mm cameras, is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. When the crank is not being used to rewind the film it locks in place. This has the effect that it does not rotate as the film is advanced. I always use the rotating of the rewind crank as an indicator that the film is advancing properly. Not on this camera.

Back View

The back of the top plate has the viewfinder eyepiece – it measures 8 by 5 mm which is larger than had been usual in the 1950s. This eyepiece also doubles as the rangefinder eyepiece. The rangefinder spot is square and orange – the orange colour is due to gold being used to ‘silver’ the internal mirror in the rangefinder. The contrast between the rangefinder spot and the rest of the image is good and very usable. Also in the viewfinder are bright lines for composition. These are parallax corrected – as you focus nearer, the bright lines move both down and to the right. Also in the viewfinder is a second light meter window. This sits at the top right just above the bright lines. When wearing glasses, it is a bit too high for comfort but is still quite usable.

The front of the top plate has a long window divided into three. On the right is the viewfinder window which measures 18 by 12 mm. On the left is the rangefinder window which measures 5 by 6 mm. It is 40 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. This distance affects the accuracy of the rangefinder – the further apart the better. My Voigtländer CLR only has 28 mm, my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE has 25 mm, my Yashica Minister D has 35 mm and my Minolta Uniomat has 24 mm so the rangefinder on this Beauty is quite good (but not as good as my Soviet Fed 2 with 66 mm). In between these two is a grey translucent window. This provides the illumination for the bright lines.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly, as always. The shutter is a Copal-SV which is coupled to both the light meter and the rangefinder. Both the focus ring and the aperture ring have large plastic tabs on them to make adjusting them easy while the camera is at eye-level.

The focus range is from 0.8 m (2.7 feet) to infinity. The ring is quite stiff to turn. This is partly due to age but more because the whole lens moves to focus plus there is a linkage to the viewfinder to move the bright lines and a further linkage to the rangefinder.

The aperture ring is much easier to move – it has a lot less to do. Apertures are from ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16. There are no indents here so intermediate values can be set. In front of the aperture ring, on the left, is a lever to select between X and M flash synchronising. At the bottom of the ring is a lever to set the self delay timer. This gives an eight second delay between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing, according to the manual. I am not going to try this as on old shutters the timer can wreck the shutter.

Next out is the shutter speed ring. This does have indents so can only be set to the specified speeds. The speeds are from 1 second to 1/500 seconds in the usual sequence plus B. By the 1/15 speed is a small window showing the set film speed. This is in ASA and runs from 10 ASA to 1600 ASA. 100 ASA is in red (why?), all the others are in green. The film speed is adjusted by a very thin ring in front of the shutter speed ring, with a serrated portion at the bottom for grip.

 In the front of the housing is the lens. this is a Biokor-S lens. This was made by Nitto. Nitto are not a well known company – at least not in the UK – but they are still an active optical company in Japan. According to Collections Appareils, the lens has six elements but with no mention of the arrangement of the elements. The focal length of the lens is 45 mm which is ‘normal‘ for 35 mm film cameras. The lens bezel states ‘F.C.’ which I am interpreting as ‘Fully Coated’.

In a ring around the lens is the selenium sensor for the light meter. As it is a selenium sensor, no battery is required. This sensor is inside the filter thread so if a filter is fitted, the light meter automatically compensates for the light loss through the filter. Not quite TTL metering but getting close.

On the base of the camera, in line with the lens, is a standard (1/4 inch UNC thread) tripod socket. Also on the base is the button enable film rewind. This is better than with most cameras as there is no need to hold the button in once it is depressed which makes rewinding film much easier.

Most of the body of the camera is covered with a coarse leatherette. Both the top and base plate are satin plated brass. On the front of the camera there is the legend ‘Beauty’ in gold near the top and beneath is a PC socket for flash. At the top of the body, just below the the top plate, on the corners are two strap lugs.

The back of the camera is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand end of the camera. The inside of the back has a central sprung pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. Near the catch is a chromed leaf spring which keeps the film cassette secure. At the other end of the back is a chrome roller which helps to keep the film taut.

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