Sunday, December 29, 2019

Spotlight: Pentax KX

The 1975 Pentax KX is one of the first cameras to utilize Pentax's then-new bayonet K-Mount system. While a cool camera in its own right, it's difficult to discuss the KX without comparing it to Pentax's similar looking, and infinitely more iconic K1000 model. In fact, people who saw me using this camera assumed it was a K1000. Though the KX and K1000 share the same body design, the KX has more bells and whistles than the basic K1000. It's kind of like the K1000's older, beefier brother.

Like the K1000, the KX is a fully manual 35mm SLR. Batteries are only required to operate the camera's internal light meter. Activating the meter is a bit awkward: you first have to pull out the advance lever, and then half-press the shutter button. If you're a left eye user like me, pulling out the advance lever is not a comfortable action when the camera is against your face. At least you can fire the shutter without first pulling out the lever, unlike with Nikon's FM cameras.

The KX has a full-information viewfinder. All of your shutter speeds are viewable, with a blue bar next to the one you currently have selected. The meter needle will point exactly to the speed you should use based on your currently selected aperture and ISO. It's much more sophisticated than the traditional "+/-" match needle system. Your lens aperture is also viewable through a little window at the top of the finder. Unfortunately, the focusing screen is fixed; you are unable to swap it out to use different focusing aids. The screen you get with the KX is a microprism/matte screen. It's serviceable and sharp, but I'd rather have a split-image/rangefinder screen for faster focusing.

Ergonomic on the camera are solid. The KX is an all-metal camera that feels solid in the hand. Shutter speeds (1 - 1/1000 + B) are selected via a typical knob on top of the camera, and ISO (8 - 6400) is selected by turning the dial the encircles the rewind knob. You can lock the shutter by flicking a switch located around the release. Mirror lock-up is available for precision tripod work, a feature rarely seen on 35mm Pentax cameras. A self timer is also present if you don't have a cable release handy or want to be in the photograph yourself. Unfortunately, multiple exposures are not possible with the KX. Lame.

Ultimately I liked using the KX. It didn't blow me away, but it's still a solid camera, and a worthy upgrade from the K1000. Below are some photographs I made with it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Drawing: Christmas

Observational drawing of Pearson and Katie at Tom's house on Christmas. 8" x 5.5" pen on paper.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Duration: UPS

An 8x Multiple exposure of Katie walking to and from UPS on a chilly day. Made with my Nikon Df and 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Collage: Shifting Mansion

A 7"x7" collage of some old contact prints I found sitting in my dad's basement.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Drawing: Ringwood Manor

5.5" x 8" pen drawing of the now destroyed Ringwood Manor that could once be found in McHenry county, Illinois.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Spotlight: Miranda Sensorex

The Miranda Sensorex is a 35mm SLR camera from 1966. I always loved the look of this model, but never managed to find a working example until my visit to the Photorama camera show last month, where I scrounged up this functional Sensorex and 50mm lens from the bottom of a box of old accessories and darkroom easels. So after coming across countless broken Sensorexes at garage sales and antique markets, I finally get to try one out!

I'd classify the Sensorex as an advanced amateur or enthusiast level camera. It has some nice features for its time, but lacks the versatility and reliability that a professional requires. It has through-the-lens metering, which is great, but the setup is pretty clunky. After attaching a lens, you must also couple the lens to a little arm, which can be a bit cumbersome. It feels a bit like the old aperture indexing system of pre-AI Nikon bodies like the Nikkormat, but much less graceful. In addition to attaching the indexing arm, you also need to set your lens' maximum aperture using a little dial on the front of the camera. After these two steps, the camera is ready to meter! It's certainly clunky, but it works. All my exposures came out pretty accurate. Be warned, the Sensorex only accepts those hard to find 625 mercury batteries, and the meter doesn't turn off automatically, so it's extremely easy to waste expensive battery power.

For me, the most striking aspect of the Miranda Sensorex is its viewfinder. Most companies just slap their name on the front of a camera's finder and call it a day, but the crosshair/star design on the Sensorex is 100% class. Unlike on most amateur cameras, the viewfinder on the Sensorex is removable. There are waist-level finders available out there for the Sensorex, but they're pretty difficult to find these days. Of course you can just remove the prism and not use a waist-level finder, but critical focus is hard to achieve in that manner. Unlike the finder, the focusing screen is not interchangeable. You're stuck with a serviceable matte/microprism screen. It works, but the screen is a bit dim by modern standards and not easy to focus with in low light.

Shutter speeds (1 ~ 1/1000 + B) are selectable via a knob on top of the film advance lever. The release is not located on the top of the camera, but rather on the front. I think this setup makes vertical exposures slightly easier to perform, but for horizontal shots the front-facing release just feels awkward.

The 50mm f/1.8 lens that came with my Sensorex performed well in my experience with it. I'm guessing mine had been stored in a damp basement someplace, because there was a bit of fungus in the glass, but this did not seem to affect the sharpness much, if at all. Since Miranda was a smaller company, there isn't a huge variety of lenses available for the system. One cool thing about the Sensorex is that it has two mounts in one: The outer part of the mounting ring is a bayonet mount for newer lenses, while the inner part of the mounting ring accepts old 44mm screw mount Miranda lenses. Pretty unique!

Overall I like the Sensorex. It's easy enough to operate and looks cool. I took my Sensorex with me to some estate sales, and on a trip to Galesburg, Illinois. I used T-Max 400 film. Below are my results.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Spotlight: Kodak Signet 35

The beautiful and tiny Kodak Signet 35 was first made available in 1951.  Despite its diminutive size, it's a relatively capable full-frame 35mm rangefinder with some cool features. Be warned, though, it can be difficult to find one of these in complete working order. In my experience, almost all of the Signet 35 cameras I've come across have had sticky shutters. Thankfully, my friend Tom gifted me this functional example, so I can finally test one out!

So tiny!

The main draw of the Signet 35 is its (coat) pocketable, symmetrical design. Whoever designed the aesthetics for this little guy deserved a raise. It's one of the best looking cameras out there, along with the Kodak Bantam Special. It's so cute, strangers on the street couldn't help but smile when they saw me using it. Even though it's dwarf sized, the Signet 35 is still fairly comfortable to use, with some downsides. The shutter button is oversized and easy to operate, and the shutter/aperture settings are quick to adjust. I love the look and feel of the identical advance and rewind knobs, and the frame counter looks great nestled between them. Only four shutter speeds are available (25, 50, 100, 300, plus bulb), but they're enough if you just plan on hand-holding the camera.

The viewfinder is awful. It's uncomfortably small, and rather dark. Combine that with a focusing lever that feels like a slippery fish fin, and it's safe to say that the Signet 35 is not a camera suited for quick action. The fixed 44mm f/3.5 Ektar lens is also pretty slow, and with no easy way to attach a modern flash, this is not a camera you can really use indoors, either. One cool thing about the lens, though, is that it focuses down to two feet. Most other standard rangefinder lenses that I've seen only go down to about a meter. Will you want to focus down to two feet with the Signet 35's terrible viewfinder that has zero parallax correction? Probably not (I tried anyway). Lens sharpness is not too impressive, but the optical quality is comparable to other cameras of the late 40's, early 50's era of cameras.

Look how small that finder is!

One thing the Signet 35 is well-suited for is multiple exposures. You can make as many exposures as you want by flipping the itty bitty switch below the lens of the camera in-between each shot. The shutter is cocked separately from the film advance knob, so there's no chance of your film moving between exposures.

In conclusion, though a capable camera for mid-century amateur photographers, today the Signet 35 is probably best left to be admired on a shelf. That being said, I did have some fun shooting a roll with my copy. Take a look below for some sample photographs. I used Kodak Ektar 100 film.