my father's camera

A few posts back I mentioned Nikon Porn.  This is Pentax Porn.  

That is my father's camera.  Bought new in 1968 in Vietnam, it came back home with him.  For me growing up this is what the word 'camera' meant.   On every birthday, holiday, family gathering, this was the camera.  Every Christmas morning it was perched on a tripod, flash mounted on the cold shoe, cable running to the sync port on the front, self timer buzzing away.  Many, many slide boxes were filled by this camera.   For a good twenty years this took every picture that got taken in our house.   There were a few contenders which attempted to replace it... plastic 110s which didn't last,  126 instamatics which broke, there was briefly a Polaroid but nothing that came close to the quality of this camera.  This camera lived (and, except for this photo shoot still lives) in a black leather EveryReady case.  It was obviously a prized possession because it looks like it was purchased last week.  There are no dents, no scratches, no dings, no wear of any kind.  It looks brand new, even though I know it was used constantly for 20 years.

There was a black leather case which held other lenses (which lived in their own individual black leather cases) but the only lens I ever saw him use is that one, a 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar.   In the world of lenses the Super Takumars are legendary, and that one, the f1.4, is in demand even today.  It is made of metal and glass.  There is no plastic anywhere.  The focus ring turns easily and smoothly but is gently dampened.  The aperture ring snaps briskly into position with a gentle 'click'.  The glass elements are pristine.  With the exception of this photo shoot there has been a haze filter on the front of this lens at every moment since it was new.  It looks brand new.

When I got the camera I decided at first to retire it, to put it on a shelf in my house and let it just sit, but as I got back into film photography I saw it sitting up there sadly watching me use all these other cameras and I decided to freshen it up and use it.  I opened it up and replaced all the light seals. Foam deteriorates with time and becomes a sticky black tar which glues things together.  A serious scrubbing with lighter fluid and q-tips, bamboo sticks and paper towels is called for.  All the shutter speeds work perfectly, everything is just as new now.

The Pentax Spotmatic was one of the first cameras to have "through the lens" (TTL) metering. Despite the name, it uses a center weighted meter, meaning that bright things on the edge of your frame are not going to mess up your metering too much.  It meters on what you are pointing at.  The prototypes had spotmeters but it was decided that they were too difficult for amateurs to use, so they were replaced.  It also uses 'stop down' metering, which means that you open the lens all the way up, focus and compose, then push up the meter button on the side of the lens mount.  The meter turns on and the lens stops down to your selected aperture.  The meter is a single needle on the side of the frame that you center in a small gap for perfect exposure.  Too high is overexposed, too low is underexposed, really easy to use.  Except for the meter, which uses a now-discontinued mercury battery (there are newer, safer, cleaner replacements available) the camera is entirely mechanical.  Springs, levers, gears and buttons.  The shutter is a cloth horizontal two piece mechanism with a top speed of 1/1000.   This is a fairly quiet camera for an SLR.  Nothing like the BAM of the 6x7, this camera makes a soft 'snick' sound.  Altogether an ergonomically pleasing package.

This Spotmatic was originally replaced in our family by a Pentax point and shoot 35mm camera made mostly of plastic.  It wound and re-wound the film automatically AND had autofocus.  On the other hand, it used batteries for everything (an indicator of things to come, obviously) which was kind of annoying when they'd run out at just the wrong time.  It was smaller, lighter, but very plastic-y and, while more convenient to use, was certainly less pleasant to hold.  It, like all cameras, frankly, could take pretty good pictures too.  That was progress.

On the other hand, I think that point and shoot Pentax was sold in a garage sale some years ago, while the Spotmatic is still being used.  The 'Great Leslie' glint in the photo was unintentional but clearly, inevitable.


  1. Yep, a picture of part of our childhoods and young adulthoods. Very nice.


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