Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic...Class of 64

 eBay 'spares or repair' old Spotmatic

An occasional dip into the wonderful world of analogue (film) photography.

I recently bought an old Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera on eBay which was being sold for spares or repairs. Something in the description suggested that the problem described was down to the inexperience of the user rather than a technical problem and as it was less than fifteen pounds plus P&P, then it was worth a punt. About twenty years ago I had a Spotmatic which I sold through a free ads paper for £80 to someone who made the five hour trip up from Cardiff to buy the camera. He gave it a once over, turned around and drove straight back home. Even refusing the offer of a quick cuppa!

These days Spotmatics are still plentiful on eBay and you can pick a working model up for as little as thirty pounds. What was unique about this Single Lens Reflex camera is the fact that this chunky classic was one of the first cameras with ‘through the lens metering’. The user could work out the aperture and speed  through the on-board meter and by looking at the scene through the viewfinder, the user could frame the photograph-knowing that what was seen was exactly the self same image as that reaching the lens, courtesy of the drop down mirror behind the lens.

Manufactured between 1964 and 1976, these tough workhorse SLR’s were popular with professionals of the period and it appears that my Honeywell Pentax was made for the US market as opposed to the Asahi Pentax which was marketed in Europe.

The camera arrived and I discovered that the Takumar lens really was unusable. No worries, as early Pentax SLR’s used a screw in thread. At least I could use lenses from Praktica and Zenith cameras which also used the same screw in thread. However, when I took off the gash lens I was taken aback to discover that there was no mirror! I examined another slightly more recent Pentax and after gingerly delving inside the Spotmatic, I realised that the mirror was stuck. Having failed to drop down after taking a shot.

Thanks to the power of the internet I discovered an easy fix to this common problem. With a new battery installed it appeared that the light meter was working as well. All systems go!

With a Zeiss Pancolour 1.8 50 lens taken from an old Praktica screwed in and a 200 asa colour print film wound on, I quickly ran off a roll of film to see how it was working. As someone whose first serious camera was a Soviet Zorki 4 Rangfinder camera without a light meter, I got used to guess-timating speed and aperture rather than use a light meter. The Spotmatic’s  light meter was suggesting speed and aperture readings somewhat out from my estimates. Old camera light meters are sometimes rather less than accurate, nevertheless I went with the readings to see how in/accurate they were in this instance.

I popped the film into Boots for a standard 6x4 print off and awaited the results. When they came back, I was somewhat disappointed. As expected, the meter readings had caused over and under exposure in a lot of cases and there was a lack of sharpness and definition, but to be fair, I was using a film which was five years out of date and which hadn’t been cool stored! Out of date films are usually fine for lomography when using point and shoot compacts but perhaps not advisable for a quality SLR like the Spotmatic. I’d like to run a black and white film through it but next time, I’ll treat the light meter readings with a pinch of salt and guess-timate my own.

Verdict... a classic SLR camera but one not immune to problems common to a lot of old cameras and in this case, not helped by using an old out of date film. Requires further experimentation. 

Scanned prints taken on 2010 Kodak Colourplus 200 asa film

Camerapedia guide to the Spotmatic 

What is analogue photography

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