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!

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