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Thursday, November 13

Prettiest camera ever?

I was sorting through some piles of stuff in boxes in a darkroom cupboard yesterday and came across what I consider to be the best-looking camera of the lot. It's my old Pentax SV from the early 1960s, a rare black model in its lovely and very high quality brown leather case.

It was sitting in a cardboard box along with a few other Pentax SV/S1 bodies only one of which is working. The others aren't really worth fixing so I've just kept them hanging around as spare parts donors.

The black one, unfortunately, isn't working either. There's nothing much wrong with it that a good service wouldn't cure, though. The shutter is sticky - sometimes firing OK and sometimes not. You're probably talking about £80 or so to put it right. I keep meaning to do so but never seem to get round to it - something that passes as the normal state of affairs for me.

The SV is in nice condition although not quite as nice as it looks in the pic. Some of the black enamel to the left of the viewfinder has tiny bubbles on it. It looks something like a camera rash, if there was such a thing. No doubt it's just what happens to enamel after sweat, nose grease, etc have worked away at it for 50 years.

I've got a few lenses for it - the one in the pic above, a 35mm f3.5 Auto-Takumar and a 135mm f3.5 Auto-Takumar. They're all great bits of glass, sharp and contrasty.

The SV is a lovely camera to use as well. I'm not going to claim that it's as well made as a Leica M3 but it's the closest to the Leica feel I've managed to get using a 35mm SLR, although I haven't handled any of the early Leica SLRs. I'm sure it would feel even smoother after a good service.

The viewfinder might not seem as bright as the best from the top SLRs of the 1970s and 1980s but it snaps into focus very easily. Overall, the fully-mechanical, meter-less and battery-free SV is a perfectly usable camera that I'd be perfectly happy wielding, along with the three lenses, as my only 35mm outfit.

But getting back to its looks: are there any better-looking cameras than this? Surely 35mm SLR design didn't peak in the early 1960s?


Regular Rod said...

Yes they are pretty cameras but don't you ever feel that 35mm cameras are all rather large for the puny size of negative we can get from them? 120 roll film cameras and sheet film cameras are seem to be proportionally much more compact in relation to their negative sizes, especially if considering folding 120 cameras that unobtrusively slip into a jacket pocket...


Lars Holte said...

The Pentax MX certainly is a contender. Same rugged good looks, but quite a bit smaller.
I aired my classic Spotmatic F, which looks oh so nice combined with a Super-Takumar 85mm F1.9, the other day and I had forgotten how nearly silent and vibration-free the mirror and shutter mechanism was. Great stuff and a pleasure to use.

JF Bonnin said...

When I was in Britain (1968-69), the Pentax ads said "Just hold a Pentax !".
It was about the Spotmatic, and I found the Pentax embodied the term "Ergonomics". At the time, dreaming of a Leica M, I could just afford a Soviet Zorki. 4 years later, I could purchase a Spotmatic. I still have (another) one.

John Carter said...

I had to wait until 1969 to get my dream: a Spotmatic. I was inspired to get one by the Beatles, they used ones like yours. Even though, I wasn't a great Beatle fan, they a least knew what a camera was.

Mike King said...

I recently picked up a chrome Heiland/Honeywell Asahi Pentax H3 (whew!) which is an S3 with USA importer badging. Pretty camera, great ergonomics and heavy brass top and bottom plates compared to it's last iteration, the Chinese K1000.

Mike King said...

I recently picked up a chrome Heiland/Honeywell Asahi Pentax H3 (whew!) which is an S3 with USA importer badging. Pretty camera, great ergonomics and heavy brass top and bottom plates compared to it's last iteration, the Chinese K1000.

Lucas said...

Personally, I think the OM1 is the most beautiful. I have both chrome and black. Recently I moved house, but before that they would both sit on my desk. The chrome one with the dead meter and the black one overhauled after discovering it was full of rust. Small and sleek. I found I would pick it up and hold it for no reason, running my fingers along the edges or around the metal rewind and shutter button. Unfortunately, I have no idea which box I packed them in...

art said...

I'm with Lucas on the OM. Mine is a 2N, in silver, with the leatherette replaced with brown lambskin. Just looking at it is an instant GAS cure.

Aoresteen said...

I have a black and a chrome Pentax SL bodies with 28mm, 50mm f/1.4, and 105mm SMC Takumars. At one point I had 11 Spotmatic bodies (including a Motor Drive body with two 250exp backs!)and lenses from 17mm to 500mm. I sold off everything but could not let the SL go. A year later I stumbled across a chrome SL and had to buy it!

BTW, Nikon F screens will fit in a Spotmatic. My black SL has a Nikon P "Apollo" screen in it. When Honeywell offered replacement screens (service center installed) for the Spotmatic they used Nikon screens.

For service of these cameras I recommend:

Eric Hendrickson knows them inside out.