Disabled Spotmatic and Mystery Film
A few years ago I was given a black Pentax Spotmatic. I have three or four other Spotmatics – for years that was all I shot in the field and always had one for colour, one black and white and one spare. The first cameras I ever bought were Spotmatics. But all were silver and I had never even seen a black one so was glad to have it.
A recent post by Jim Grey about a Spotmatic F inspired me to get the black Spotmatic going. I had noticed that the battery cover was green around the edges from a leaking battery and the cover would not come off. There was a roll of film in the camera, with 10 frames already shot, which I wanted to finish. I was not sure if the bottom plate of the camera was essential to light tightness and could not try to repair the camera and make the light meter operational with film in it. Thus I had set the camera aside to work on some time.
Thanks to 30 months of being set aside and spurred by Jim’s article I decided to shoot the roll with the Sunny 16 rule and then try to fix the camera. To shoot it though required assumptions based on a few things I knew about the previous ownership. I was pretty sure the film had been in the camera since the 90s when digital really started to replace film. The Spotmatic has a dial on top for Color, Pancro and Empty, a note-keeping device, not otherwise functional. The camera was set to Pancro and ASA 200 so I guessed that it was most likely ISO 200 black and white film, probably 36 exposures, and nearly 20 years old. The lens on this body was a very nice 28mm/f3.5 but since it could not be adapted to my Canon 5Dii, I had given it away a year or two ago to a family member with a Canon T4i (the 5Dii has a large mirror that strikes the back of the wider Takumar m42 mount lenses).
I decided to expose it for ISO 100 to compensate for age, and because the mental math for Sunny 16 is easier :). And I mounted a Super Takumar 50/1.4 on it. The rear elements of this lens are heavily yellowed by radiation from the thorium in the glass. Yellowed to something that looks like a bit less than a 1 EV reduction in brightness. I figured if black and white film then a yellow filter in the glass was going to be good.
I shot the film on a day that varied from heavily overcast to not quite bright sun. I took some guidance from a not very accurate light meter in my phone, but mostly just guessed the exposures, figuring on some latitude in the black and white film. When I opened the camera it was pretty surprising to discover it was a roll of 24 exposure Fuji Superia XTRA 400. I am not sure when this film first came into production, but I have seen mention of people shooting expired film of this make from 2002, suggesting a manufacturing date in the late 1990’s or so. I have shot a lot of this film that expired in 2007, and all of it was in good condition – I did not even do exposure compensation for it as it was pretty much dead on with new film. This raised my expectations.
However, when I got the film back from processing, I was surprised again, this time to see that it was in pretty bad condition. Very grainy and if the exposures were in anything but the brightest sun, then they were pretty unattractive exposures. That is not to mention the yellow cast from the lens. The shutter speeds look good, so I have to blame the film and lens all the way. I guess the film was really old, perhaps as old as the film stock is, and almost certain was stored poorly, perhaps the camera was in the sun for a while.
The first 10 frames were blank; it appears the camera was loaded and stored that way, then someone later advanced the shutter a few times to see if things were working, with the lens cap on. Next time that I encounter a situation like this, the best procedure would be to wind the film back, take it out of the camera, fix the camera and then shoot the film after advancing it with lens cap on back to where it was when I started. But, had I done that, I probably would have shot the film at 200, or maybe even 400, and the images would have really suffered, and not been recoverable at all, so perhaps this was the best way thanks to blind luck.
The base plate of a Spotmatic of this vintage has no wires connecting it to the camera, so it will just come off (4 screws hold it on) and can then be worked on more easily. The battery compartment is a self contained unit with a contact on the bottom which presses on another contact inside the camera. I soaked the baseplate in a vinegar solution, which got rid of the green but did not loosen the battery cover. I then soaked it in WD40 for a couple of days, with no loosening effect. It is back in vinegar again, but I hold out little hope that will work. Next I will try heating it, but this has to be done carefully to preserve the black finish. I am hoping I can get the light meter working again, but if not then it could join my collection of Sunny 16/external light meter cameras. My fall back will be to get another baseplate, though finding a black one won’t be easy.
As to the lens, I need to get a bright light, like an LED and shine it through the lens for at least a few days and the yellow should clear up just fine. I long believed one needed UV light to reset these lenses, and the simplest fix was to leave them on a windowsill in the sun for a few weeks (with protection from the magnifying glass effect burning up your windowsill, and house). But this turns out not to be true – a strong light is all that is needed, and LEDs are cool and energy-efficient so are better suited to the task. I will keep my eyes open for the right kind of light and get on with this in the near future as it is a great lens when clear.
In the meantime I worked on the photos – they needed the white balance de-yellowed and lots of contrast added but came out on the useable side of the equation. I really like the camera, its been a while since I used one of the Spotmatics and it felt so good in my hands. I have shot hundreds of rolls through Spotmatics and their close cousin the K1000 so the handling is pretty much hardwired. I don’t have photos of the camera with its plate off, or any of that side of things, so I’ll just show you some of the photos including some before and after processing versions.
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