Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pentax Spotmatic SP: A piece of my own photographic history

I've been wandering the streets for the past week, getting in touch with my roots again, shooting with and testing my latest acquisition - A 1960s-era Pentax Spotmatic SP.

This particular model of camera has a very strong emotional component for me. I picked this particular camera through the popular auction site which shall not be named (Voldemort? Where are you?). That's not why there's significant emotion attached to it, though.

After all, I've bought several cameras on-line over the past couple years. And I've been looking for a Spotmatic for almost the entire time I've been working on The Analog Project. Why? Because the Spotmatic is really the model I learned on. It's the first camera I really remember in the hands of my father.

Sadly, Hans had sold his Spotmatic years ago. I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed when he told me he'd let it go. Thus began my search.

I even owned a Spotmatic I picked up when I was in college at the University of Iowa. I really loved that camera. But, sadly, it got destroyed one day while I was out shooting in the ice and snow of eastern Iowa. (I slipped and fell on it, Okay?) I let the guy at the camera store I frequented convince me not to repair it, a decision I've always regretted, and it was relegated to the scrap heap.

Some (most?) of my earliest memories of my father include the Spotmatic camera. It seemed he had it with him everywhere he went, when we'd go out as a family, when he was out visiting farmers on his daily rounds selling for the feed store we owned in Newton, just everywhere. I don't know for sure how many family vacations, birthday parties, dinners, etc., were recorded with the Pentax Spotmatic.

The camera played a huge role in my growing up.

A little history: The original Spotmatic was designed and manufactured by the Asahi Optical Company of Japan. It previewed in 1960 as a concept prototype at Photokina, the first camera to use a built-in spot metering system, where a very small area of the overall image frame is used to determine exposure.

Spot metering proved too difficult in practice, so the first Spotmatics were released in 1964 with the more common average metering, where an overall reading is made of the entire frame.

The cameras (there were several models before the line was discontinued in 1976) used a screw-in lens mounting system. The camera is totally analog, with the only electronics in the camera the match-needle metering system.

Over the years, Pentax Spotmatic cameras captured important images. A friend of mine here in Tyler, former Morning Telegraph Editor Dave Berry, used a Spotmatic as an Army combat photographer in the Vietnam War. He's just one of many photographers who shared the same passion for the Pentax Spotmatic camera.

For me, the Spotmatic is an elegant design. The body is substantial without being heavy or clunky. Before he got the Spotmatic, Hans shot with a Mamiya 500DTL camera, which I later inherited. Sadly, the Mamiya, too, didn't survive me. But I picked up a non-working body and lens several years ago that are still in my collection today.

As I take these little walks down amnesia lane, shooting with antique cameras, capturing images the way thousands of photographers both professional and amateur did for decades, I think the spirit of my father travels with me. I still find myself viewing images I've made, both analog and digital, and wishing I could show it to Hans, tell him about the situation, how I got the shot, share my photography with him.

I like to think, wherever he is, he can still look down and see when I get a particularly good photograph. I like to think he knows, even today, what I've done with my photography, what that little spark of passion for the craft he ignited has become.

I've seen some amazing things (and some horrible things) through the lenses of my cameras. I've been to some unbelievable places, where I never could have gone, if I hadn't chosen photography as my profession.

As always, thanks for looking. If you haven't done so yet, please check out my website at:

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