The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, November 2

What is a camera collector anyway?

Iphone pic of my wee collection

It's true that I have far too many film cameras but I've never actually been a "collector" in the real sense. I'd never dream of getting a display cabinet and arranging cameras according to type, date, etc, not that there's anything at all wrong with that. And yet, I seem to have developed a collection of mainly 1960s Pentax screw mount cameras and lenses.

It's a collection in the sense that I've only ever put one film through any of the bodies so they're just sitting there "displayed" in a McDonald's cardboard fries box (it's the box that's cardboard: the fries just taste that way) behind a couch. We used the McDonald's boxes for packing stuff when we moved house since they're freely available if you ask nicely and more robust than the bona fide packing boxes you can buy.

The other night, for no good reason, I decided to have a look through the box at what I had and was surprised it was so much. It all started a few years ago (as most tales do) when I bought a cheap - about £15 if I remember correctly - Pentax S1a body and standard lens. The lens was fine but the body had a shutter fault. I bought another £10 body, a black SV, from the same website but it also had a shutter fault. Determined to cock a snook* at the famous quote about insanity usually attributed to Einstein, I bought another cheapo SV body and this one finally worked.

The black SV is a lovely-looking camera

At some stage I also bought a 135mm Auto-Takumar and a 35mm Auto Takumar - possibly off Ebay, can't remember for sure but again for peanuts - and had a nice little outfit. I fixed the seals on the SV, tried it out and was quite pleased with the results. Being meter-less, it was never the first camera I picked up when heading out the door but I liked the 35mm f3.5 lens in particular so bought an adapter so I could use it on the Pentax MX and then another one that worked with Contax SLR bodies.

That was it until earlier this year when a very nice and generous guy on the Film and Darkroom Users Group was giving away a book about the SV. A p.m. to him and the book was soon headed my way. It was followed by an email asking me if I wanted his Pentax screw equipment which he no longer had a use for. He wouldn't accept any payment for it but wanted it to go to someone who would give it a good home so that ended up in my hands as well. I remember him saying, "I've had good use out of it and it owes me nothing at all".

It comprised of an SV with a mirror that was stuck up and 24mm f3.5, 28mm f3.5, 35mm f3.5, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8 and 135mm f3.5 Takumar lenses, all in lovely condition. A few of the lenses have somewhat sticky aperture blades but I'll get them working again OK once my repair kit turns up from wherever it's hiding. A seized mirror seems to be a common complaint on the old M42 Pentaxes according to the internet but the recommended fix wasn't applicable in this case. After removing the base plate and spending a while looking carefully at everything and comparing the various functions with my operational SV, I got the mirror back down again.

The camera also had a shutter fault but some tweaking of the shutter curtain tensions rectified that so the SV was usable once more. With the knowledge gained, I got my non-working black SV out and managed to sort that as well. All three cameras could probably do with a service to get them working as smoothly as when they were new but, at least, they are now all functioning well enough.

I think they're suffering from the SLR equivalent of hardening of the arteries - "lubrico sclerosis"®. The oil and grease inside starts to gum up, slowing everything down. Increasing the shutter tension overcomes this but it's a dodgy fix at best as putting too much strain on the curtain tension shortens the life of the shutter mechanism. The answer is to have the old gunk cleaned out and newer, better lubricants applied. Two of the cameras also need their rear seals replacing, though, and that's something I'll do as soon as I can find my seals repair kit. There are so many things I can't lay my hands on that I sometimes think this house we're now in is a holiday home for The Borrowers.

You might be wondering why I'd bother with old M42 gear but the fact is that these are beautiful cameras and lenses to use, not just to look at. I've written in the past that a nice SV feels a little like a Leica rangefinder in use. Everything is well-machined and built to last. They're smooth-handling, too. The viewfinders are a little dim and the eye-point isn't very high but the ground glass fresnel focusing screens snap in and out of focus very well.

I'm looking forward to shooting a few rolls using the various Takumar lenses. The wide angles, from what I've read, seem to be OK but nothing to write home about. They're sharp in the centre but soft around the edges. The 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8 do seem to be a bit special. The 85mm promises the smoothest, creamiest out-of-focus-areas imaginable whilst the 50mm has long been known as a sharp operator.

What I could really do with are the appropriate lens hoods and caps for all the lenses. If anyone has one or more available for a reasonable price then please get in touch. Now, if only I could lay my hands on that display cabinet...

* Just out of curiosity, I tried to find the origins of this phrase but it seems nobody really knows for sure.


Raj said...

Thank you for sharing this. I have a few Pentax (and other M42 mount) lenses/bodies that I use, and they are all, as you say, beautifully made and deliver good to excellent results. And compared to other brands, the bang-to-buck ratio is top notch :)

tjen dezutter said...


this article is a mirror for me .I was asking myself what to do with the 2 Pentax Me - the MZ7- the spotmatic 1000- nion fg - nikonf 401 x - myloved Mamiya tlr C 33O F- the old aunts Exacta Varex and the Agfa Isolette L aand the little mouse 2 LOMO A...But there all loaded with film so ... I don't need to supppose I'm the private conservator of a house-museum ...
Greetings to all the readers of OD it remains a GREAT site

John Carter said...

I have a Spotmatic which is mine from new. I added a 28mm f3.5 in 1970 and it is one of my favorite lenses. I had to have the lazy leaves fixed a few years ago. My 28mm is sharp even a 3.5 and has the most beautiful vignette. Most people consider vignette a drawback but on a 28mm it is so sweet. Good luck with you 'collection.'

Andy Pearce said...

funnily enough apart from my many minolta bodies and lenses, i also have a pentax sv fitted with an old biotar 58mm, its a camera i pick up quite often, i use out of date fuji film at an iso of 200 and will always use this camera sunny 16 style, it does make a pleasant change as a grab camera, on a sunday if im away for the paper or heading into the post office, it may not be a serious piece of kit for me, but it still gives good results and with the latitude of fuji films, even shooting sunny 16 gives me great results, so while in recent years ive knocked my minoltas back to a pair of srt 303's and a pair of xd 7's, as well as my original sr7, i can honestly say ive never once considered ridding myself of my only pentax.

Kodachromeguy said...

The late-1960s to early-1970s Spotmatics were really superb cameras. They were beautifully machined and precise. The only failing, in my opinion, was the lack of a mirror lockup knob. My wife bought a Spotmatic in Boston, Massachusetts in 1971, which we still have here on the shelf. The meter works perfectly (an averaging sensor, which is fine), and we have spare brand new mercury batteries in a box. Around 1980, we had it cleaned and checked by a photo shop in Massachusetts. Then, around 2002, I sent it to the same place, and the technician said he had worked on it 20 years before. The 55mm f/1.8 Super Takumar single-coated lens is superb, better than the newer 50mm f/1.4 lenses that I have tried. The only real dud that I used was the screw-mount 200mm, and the 24mm was only so-so.

OK, now you have inspired me to put the Spotmatic into operation with some Tri-X or BW400CN.

DavidM said...

Your last comment rings a bell. I share the compulsion to have complete sets of things – a kit of lenses with hoods, filters and so on, even if I will never use them very much. Is it just a hoarding instinct or is it the feeling of being ready for anything?
Can't share this enthusiasm for Pentax, but I suppose it's my loss.
Who would have ever guessed that they would end up being bought by Ricoh?

Herman Sheephouse said...

You're not a collector Bruce, you're like me, a Camera Accumulator!
Waifs and strays, anything film-based, finds a nice wee home with people that can still appreciate them and stop them ending up in the skip of eternity, and it is great thing. I've thought quite a few times about having a clear out, but then when I handle some of them I think, well, no . . . it would be a shame . . .