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The Trusty Spotmatic

Posted on 12-30-2012 in Influential Photo Gear

The trusty Spotmatic, I still have it, still love it

Nowadays it’s all about the acronyms, many of which I confess I’m still puzzling through and learning about, but in the beginning – my beginning – there was only one: SLR. A friend loaned a camera, its name long forgotten, that introduced me to apertures and shutter speeds, and I got The Itch to own one myself. Soon afterwards the trusty Spotmatic came into my life, and I learned to love the little match-needle in the viewfinder, the silky focusing, the reassuring soft click of the aperture ring. Advancing film rubbed a little callus that formed on the inside of my right thumb, I tried to learn patience waiting for the lab to return my film and when patience grew short I taught myself to load Paterson reels and performed the darkroom rites myself.  

In time my days moved from graduate school to the production department of a small ad agency with a professional photographer in the building. He was a Pentax guy, too, and I soaked up as much as he was willing to teach me. I let him borrow my macro lens, he loaned me some of his gear, and we chuckled conspiratorially, good-naturedly, with the New Guy and his Nikons. Every once in a great while, they’d send me out, trusty Spotmatic in hand, maybe with a borrowed lens appropriate for the assignment, to shoot something for a job. A few of my frames slipped into ads, slide programs; life was good.  

Then it wasn’t so good. A serious injury to my back curtailed most activity, and my photo buddy suffered a heart attack, retirement was obligatory. Job changes, family crises, a cross-country move with the trusty Spotmatic carefully packed against the day when I could rub that thumb-callus again, and years passed with only a few rolls of film passing through my camera. Over time, another Pentax film camera, then later a Pentax K-r, came into my life. But the trusty Spotmatic was the instigator, and I’m trying now to remember all it taught me. I don’t miss the callus but sometimes, distracted, my thumb still reaches for the film advance; I need to remind it that there’s no such thing on the K-r, it needs to make friends with the buttons instead.  

The Spotmatic in use… not much Ektachrome has survived nearly 40 years, but this image of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad’s engine 5808, rebadged as No. 1776 in its Bicentennial paint, was a “stealth” shot, captured in November of 1975 before GTW sent it out on the rails. This was my first published image; it appeared in RailFan magazine in 1976. (scanned from the original slide; for the railfans, it’s a GP38-AC).

Kodachrome, happily, aged better. Another image, this is US Coast Guard Cutter Sundew, in Charlevoix,  Michigan, in the summer of 1975. Also scanned from the original slide.

- OrchidJulie


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OrchidJulie [Delete] Dec 31st, 2012 7:26PM

Thanks, Tess and Tall guy. Yes, good memories indeed. Can't handle that camera without thinking of many good things... people, places, adventures...

tessfully [Delete] Dec 31st, 2012 3:00PM

Wonderful Blog Julie! You and your spotmatic really hit a good note with lots of good memories!

Tall Guy [Delete] Dec 31st, 2012 8:51AM

Thanks for allowing me to re-visit great memories. I started with the Spot II and I still have 3 functioning units in my collection. Digital has taken over (K10) but the Spot training, of having to take the time to compose remains.
Thanks for the great story.
Have a safe New Year.

OrchidJulie [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 7:08PM

Thanks to all for the kind words!

@jimby, yeah, well, that's technically correct, but I still call it a match needle. Centering it "matched" the correct exposure, and you could get the modern equivalent of +/- EV by positioning it off-center.

Bob from Aus [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 3:41PM

You have got me inspired. I will find somewhere to display my spotmatic. I have the ultimate excuse as it was my engagement present from my wife 40 years ago. I will say it's an anniversary reminder.

I should estimate how many rolls of film went through the spotmatic. I suspect it is around a cubic meter of slides.

RonH [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 2:53PM

A very nice snapshot of a time gone by when it seems that photography was more art than the science it is now. I never owned a Spotmatic but I've fondled this camera on numerous occasions so I know what you mean about the silky focusing and the reassuring click of the aperture ring. I might also add that it's built like a tank!

Thanks for a very nice stroll down memory lane.

bobrapp [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 1:55PM

I still have my second Spotmatic (first one was stolen). This was one camera that you could just grab, load film and go instinctively. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I was using a Pz1p that I grew some what unhappy with. I staged a shootout between it and my Spotmatic at an old stone church in Australia. The results, the Pz1p was for sale. The Takumars easily trumped the zooms of the day and I could actually focus the Spotmatic.

unixrevolution [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 1:10PM

k0og, Actually the Epson RD-1 is a digital camera with manual advance lever. The film advance cocks the shutter, which makes the camera quieter and makes the batteries last longer. I'd say we could do that with the digital K1000.

The rewind crank can be the little dynamo instead ;)

k0og [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 11:36AM

To answer skism's comment that we need a digital K-1000 with an advance lever that does something. I have an idea! How about this: The advance lever connects to little generator that provides enough power to run a minimally-featured (but high quality) digital camera for a few minutes. No batteries required (but optional).

Thanks for the nice story, fond memories, and accompanying pictures.

jimby [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 11:08AM

NIce story! One correction: the Pentax Spotmatic had a center-needle light meter, not a match-needle. Match-needle meters meters appeared on other Pentax cameras such as the K2, KX, and LX.

skism [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 8:31AM

For the first few months after getting my K-X DSLR, my thumb reflexively kept going for the advance lever. Still does occasionally. I want a digital K-1000 with an advance lever that does something, anything. If only for a special edition for us old farts.

Thanks for the story.

stbdtack [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 8:26AM

Thanks -- lovely description. I still have my very old, well-loved Spotmatic along with the complete set of Life Library of Photography. The two best things in photography ;)

unixrevolution [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 8:07AM

There may be better cameras, but you will never find a better friend than a Spotmatic.

sarabico [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 6:47AM

Also, my fisrt slr was a spotmatic. Still have it, in great shape. Only use from time to time. It´s like having a classic car that you use only on special days.

rruntsch [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 6:47AM

Thank you or the great story. My first camera was a fully manual viewfinder camera that my grandma purchased on her only visit back to "the old country" of Germany in the late 1950s. I picked it up in the mid-1970s before purchasing my first manual SLR, the Fujica STX-1, for a bit over $100. Both cameras helped to create good memories.

TomB_tx [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 6:37AM

Thanks for the nice story! I remember wreck diving in Lake Charlevoix about 1963. My first good camera was a new H1a, which I've started using again in my 2nd (3rd, 4th?) childhood.

jackassp [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 6:12AM

Thanks for a great story. My first Pentax was the SP500, I wish my K-5 had as big and bright a viewfinder.

Schmidlapper [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 5:57AM

Much like the Kodachrome, you have created a colorful picture from your story.

smf [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 5:46AM

Thanks very much, and best wishes!
My first Pentax was an H1A I no longer own. The second is an SP500.