Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shooting with the Pentax SV

Between Christmas and New Year 2016, I was able to get out and shoot with a Pentax SV - a camera I was gifted by friends on Boxing Day. I've written about the history of the SV in my last two posts, so I won't go into great detail here. Suffice to say that it is an all-manual, M42 screw-mount, 49(ish) year old camera that was Pentax's top-of-the-line SLR before the Spotmatic introduced in-body camera metering in 1964.

I decided to shoot some black and white film so I could process the results myself (colour takes about two weeks to get back from the lab nowadays). I loaded the Pentax SV with Fomapan 100, and added a roll of Ilford Delta 100 just in case I needed it. Because the camera has no metering system, I also downloaded an exposure meter app for my phone, as well as a photo note-taking app. Fortunately, I also bought my Polaris exposure meter, figuring I would check the hand-held meter against the app and probably just use the app if they were close to each other.

Jessie relaxing. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Fomapan 100 at f1.8 @1/30th sec
Unfortunately, the day after getting the Pentax SV was drizzly and cold (despite it being summer here now), so I was somewhat confined to shooting indoors, with reasonably low light. Now that I have subconscious teenagers, my dog has become my model of choice, and if I get her at the right time, she generally stays fairly still for a photo or two :-)

The low light meant I could open the Takumar 55mm lens wide open to f1.8 (something I miss doing with my current digital Olympus mirrorless gear), and get some barely hand-holdable 1/30th sec shutter speeds. The light is a bit dull and I've missed focus - slightly targeted on the nose rather than the eyes - but I still like the above image of Jess. Especially the gorgeously soft fall-off of depth-of-field that the 55mm f1.8 produces.

Historic Brunner Mine Site. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f8 @ 1/125th sec
Fortunately, the next day was sunny and bright, and I could get outside to give the camera a proper workout. It was also fortunate that I had decided to bring my hand-held meter with me, because it quickly became apparent that the phone app I had downloaded sucked, and I much preferred using the actual meter. It was so easy to sling it around my neck, lift it up to take a reading, and then let it hang down out of the way again. I had worked like that for many years when I was using medium format cameras, and it just became a natural way to meter. It also helped that I trust the hand-held meter far more than some app on my phone.

Brunner Mine Site Foot Bridge. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th sec.
My wife went to meet a friend for the afternoon, so she dropped my son Josh and I at the Brunner Mine Site, an historic coal mine only 10 minutes from where we live. There are lots of old relics, walks into the surrounding bush, and interesting structures to photograph, especially in black and white.

In use, the Pentax SV is deceptively simple to operate. Figure out your exposure, change the shutter dial and aperture ring on the lens accordingly, compose through the completely unadorned viewfinder, and shoot. That's it really. Couldn't be simpler.

Josh in action. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th sec.
Outside in bright light, the shutter speed limit of 1/1000th meant that I couldn't open up the lens past f4 without the use of some ND filters (which I didn't have), so I confined myself to landscapes and some environmental portraiture.

Also, the SV's viewfinder is a little darkish compared to more modern finders, but with the Super Takumar lens attached and set to 'A', the aperture is always fully open at f1.8. When you trip the shutter it closes to the set aperture on the lens and then opens up to f1.8 again so you can compose the next image. Set the aperture ring to 'M' and the lens will stop-down to your chosen aperture to give you a visual of the depth-of-field available. It may not be a bright viewfinder, but man is it uncluttered. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING in the viewfinder except the image itself (and a micoprism central dot to aid in focusing). The image really does 'snap' into sharp detail once focus is achieved, although a split prism would still be helpful.

Photographer Josh. Pentax SV with Soligor 200mm f4.5. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/500th sec
In the kit with the SV and Super Takumar 55mm f1.8, I also scored a Soligor 200mm f4.5 lens.  I read a couple of quick reviews that suggested it wasn't the greatest lens in the world, and it certainly isn't quite as well made as the Pentax 55mm (mine has a little barrel wobble to it). But on the plus side; it doesn't have any mold or fungus growth, the glass has no scratches, and it was FREE - so I thought I should at least give it a try :-)

And I'm pretty happy with the results to be honest. I opened up the aperture to f5.6 to eek out a little more sharpness (and even then it's not 'tack' sharp), and made sure that Josh had lots of separation between him and the background before taking his portrait. The background blur has a freaky, circular, spinney vibe that I kinda like, and I certainly think I'll experiment a bit more with this lens.

Fern fronds. Pentax SV with Soligor 200mm f4.5. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th
I actually used the Soligor 200mm f4.5 to take my favourite shot of the day. These fern fronds were being highlighted perfectly from the dark background and I knew they'd make a great black and white image. The Soligor 200mm has absolutely nailed the shot, and it's pretty darn sharp exactly where I wanted it to be.

Derelict Coal Wagon. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/500th sec
Overall I loved shooting with the Pentax SV. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to end the year. I'm definitely going to be putting some more film through it soon, and will be looking out for some more M42 screw-mount lenses to add to the kit.

Just a quick word before I end this post about the above images. I'm happy with them - but you may have noticed that they all look a little 'muddy' - a little too 'dense'. This is my fault. I overcooked them in the developer and was left with very dense negs.

I developed them in Caffenol and for some reason I decided to ignore the suggested 12 minute development time in favour of 15 minutes (don't ask me where I got that number from?). It's a shame, but also not the end of the world. At least I know that the camera is producing an image - shutter speeds look reasonably accurate, and the lenses are giving great results. I'm looking forward to the next batch of film, processed correctly, and am itching to get out and take some more photos.  What a great start to 2017!

Friday, December 30, 2016

More on the Pentax SV

In my last post I discussed the Pentax SV camera kit that I was given at Christmas by my good friends Nancy and Eric Holman. It's now New Year's Eve, and I've used the last few days to get a little more acquainted with my new camera.

The first thing I did (and always do) was to look on-line for a manual. Almost any camera you care to name has the manual available somewhere on-line as a download - and the SV's manual was very easy to find since it was such a popular model. It's also a pretty cool camera manual. For a start it's very nicely designed - which I appreciate. A cut above your standard camera manual design from the 60s and 70s. It also contains a very helpful guide on all the accessories that were available for the SV, and since it was Pentax's 'top' model at the time, there were (are) plenty to choose from. TradeMe (NZ's version of eBay) has a listing for an original Pentax SV manual at the moment, and I'm very tempted to get it.

Any inter-web search on the Pentax SV is also likely to bring up a few images of these four lads. The Beatles were famous Pentax users and there are many images of the fab four holding, and using, their Pentax SV's. That's pretty cool!

I also have a first edition copy of Herbert Keppler's famous book 'The Pentax Way' that I found in a second hand book store a few years back. Published in 1966, it describes the current Asahi Pentax models as; the SV (H3V in the USA), S1A (H1A in the USA) and Spotmatic (or SP).

This makes the SV the last Pentax before the release of the Spotmatic - the future of SLR design that included an exposure metering system built into the camera. Of course that also meant that the Spotmatic required a battery for the meter to function. Since the SV has no in-built meter, it requires no battery (therefore exposure needs to be calculated with an external meter or using the Sunny 16 rule).

Me using the SV. Photo by Joshua Lorimer

After all that research, all that remained was for me to load the camera with some film and take some photos with it!

I'm running pretty low on film stock, but I knew I wanted to put some Black and White through the camera first. Partly because I think that B&W film fits the pedigree of the camera, and also because I wanted to develop the film myself. I decided to use a roll of Fomapan 100 that I have had in the fridge for a while, as well as a roll of Ilford Delta 100.

Because I was going to have to meter manually, I downloaded an exposure meter app for my Samsung - as well as a note-taking app specific to film photography. As can be seen in the photo opposite - taken by my son Josh - I also have an actual light meter (a Polaris hand-held meter - very cheap but very reliable) and decided to take that along as well. I'm very glad I did, because the light meter app on my phone was horrible to use, and I ended up using my trusty hand-held meter exclusively. Wow, using a Pentax SV with a light meter slung around my neck makes me look like a real old-school photographer!

And the results? Well, that would be telling ;-)  And I will - tell all... in the next post.

Monday, December 26, 2016

An unexpected Christmas gift - The Pentax SV

It's Christmas time here in New Zealand (as I write this), and we are relaxing at home, having friends around for meals, and looking forward to a few weeks break.

Nancy and Eric Holman are a couple who we have been friends with since arriving in Greymouth 16 years ago. I worked with Nancy for a few years as part of a team with local professional photographer Stewart Nimmo (I was the graphic designer - Nancy worked in the retail shop). Her husband Eric also worked there part-time, and is a fellow Apple enthusiast and Rugby watcher. They are both retired now and run a church Op-Shop in the community.

They came around on Boxing Day for dinner (to help us eat the left-overs from Christmas) - and this time they came bearing gifts! Someone had dropped off a camera bag at the Op-Shop and they know that I am still shooting some film, so thought I might be interested in the contents of said camera bag.

I'm always keen to add to my film collection, especially when the gear is being offered for free :-)  But there is also a hint of trepidation with any old film camera acquisition, since many of them have been rather neglected over the years and can be in a terrible state of disrepair!

Much to my surprise (and delight), however, Eric pulled out a Pentax SV in very good condition - complete with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8, 2x converter and Soligor 200mm f4.5 lens. A very quick inspection only added to my excitement, since the lenses themselves looked surprisingly clean and mold-free! Bonus.

Later that evening I pulled the gear out and had a decent look. Fortunately it only confirmed my initial thoughts, and I'm now the proud owner of an excellent condition Pentax SV kit. Thanks Nancy & Eric!

There's actually quite a lot of information on the Pentax SV on the internet, since it's something of a cult classic. The last of the Pentax screw mount M42 type cameras before the bayonet mount Spotmatic was released, the Pentax SV was produced from 1962 to 1968. In 1964 the camera was re-designed slightly to accommodate a new Pentax 50mm f1.4 lens. The re-designed cameras are designated with an Orange 'R' engraved on the rewind knob (pre-1964 SVs have a green 'R'). Since mine has an orange 'R', I can date the camera to after 1964. I'd like to think that it's from around 1967 - the year I was born - making the camera at least as old as I am! That's pretty cool.

In terms of features, the list isn't large. It's an all-mechanical (no battery required) camera with shutter speeds from 1 sec to 1/100th sec plus Bulb. There is absolutely no meter (hence no need for a battery), no viewfinder information (it isn't even split screen to help with focusing), a self-timer placed under the film rewind/ASA wheel, a focal plane cloth shutter and a frame counter - and that's it. It's a 100% manual camera, using M42 screw-mount lenses. Hence its appeal and cult status among film camera enthusiasts.

My copy looks very clean, the shutter cocks smoothly, shutter speeds seem ok - and as already mentioned, the lenses look great - so I'm quietly confident that it will take some decent images. It looks and feels like a reliable, solid, no-nonsense film camera. In short- a classic Pentax. And I am really looking forward to shooting a roll of film through it. I may just have found my Christmas holiday project.