Monday, 14 April 2014

An engineeering masterpiece- the 1963 Asahi Pentax SV.


I have grown up around cameras all of my life. My brothers had a dedicated darkroom at our house when I was five. They had new-fangled SLR cameras, an East German Praktica and a more respectable Japanese Cosina.

I grew up in the same vein, buying and selling stuff as a teenager and finally getting a Vivitar which I used and quickly resold, and then an Olympus OM-10. I traded it in on a Pentax P30 when I was about 21, and proceeded to begin my love affair with Pentax cameras.

Fast forward a quarter of a century, and I managed to acquire a classic Pentax SV almost by accident, but I'm glad it happened. The second I brought it home and placed it amongst my arsenal of Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Mamiya, Ihagee and many other cameras, my wife said "Ooh, that looks cool. I'll use that."

The Japanese made a half a million of these. It's ancient. It is heavy. The metal used in it, painted silver or black, is actually brass. It has absolutely no modern technology in it by today's standards (like metering and automatic exposure), but Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) invented a few things for the mass market that reportedly made them come from relative obscurity to a manufacturing powerhouse in the camera world. The film cocking lever on the right hand side was a first, as was a pentaprism. The film rewind lever on the top left, with a winding handle, was also a first. 

Other firsts included a film speed reminder on a dial under the film rewind crank. Ingeniously, this dial also acts as a retractable self-timer. Wind it around, press the secondary shutter release next to it, and when the big "V" engraved on the dial's edge comes around to the front of the camera, the shutter fires. The coolest thing I've seen on a camera.




Picture nabbed from an old instruction manual. There's no plastic in this sucker, except for a film take up spool. That's all I could see. The rest, precision brass, metal and glass.

The thing I really love about this is it's simplicity. There is no battery or electronics of any kind in this camera. Everything works from the cocking of the shutter, the clicking of a precision dial, and the press of a button. In a modern camera, there's a myriad of choices available to get the perfect shot. On the Pentax SV, there are only four things to adjust: the film speed, the aperture of the (screw-mount) lens, the shutter speed, and the focus. 

Why muck around with film, you may ask? Well, a full frame 35 mm DSLR body and 50mm lens runs at between 2500 and 3500 dollars in 2014. A 35 mm film camera  IS the equivalent to full frame digital quality. With a 50mm lens, a really good camera that may have cost the equivalent to 5 grand in today's dollars can be had for between 150 to 250 dollars. I will still utilise my digital cameras for 98 percent of the time for cost and speed, sure. However, I will use a film camera for certain occasions, because it's fun and is a valuable self-teaching tool on how light actually works. And in a world of instant gratification, its good to take things slow. It calms the mind. Who knows, I may even set up a dark room some day.

Stay tuned to how the photos actually turn out. Also, stay tuned because I want to get a "mint" Pentax SV or "newer" Spotmatic for myself now, and with a trip to Tokyo coming up in a couple of weeks, it will sure make life interesting to scour the used camera shops over there...

I mean, half the fun is tracking one down, yeah?