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Gulliver's Spotmatic
 
Pentax 6x7 and 67

Nice, uh, Jpeg artifacts (taken from Asahi Pentax 6x7 instruction manual rear cover).

Configuration and Basics: In a previous installment, I discussed the Graflex Norita 66. I don't think anymore that the Pentax is descended from it, primarily because it is built a lot differently. The Pentax 6x7 is a behemoth of an SLR, and where the Norita 66 is an elegant enlargement of a Nikon F with a standard prism, the Pentax 6x7 is a Norita on steroids.   The 67 is the second generation; essentially the same camera.

Optics: I have had three lenses for this camera -  the 55mm f/4 (newest version), 105mm f/2.4, and 165mm f/2.8.  The 55 is a terrifically sharp lens with a 28mm (on a 35mm camera) angle of view.  It is dim in the viewfinder and hard to keep level without a grid, but performs fantastically.  The 105 is the killer app of the bunch.  It has ultrshallow depth of field wide open and at f/2.4 is much sharper than the Noritar 80mm f/2 at up to about f/4.  The 165 is the portrait lens.  Best coupled with a +1 supplemental lens for working closer than 1.6mm, it is a bokeh machine.  I put the Pentax 6x7 lenses on a par with Fuji's.  The Pentax lenses come in a much wider variety and include super-teles so heavy that they have a special outer bayonet mount.

Build quality: is there any plastic on this camera at all? The whole thing is made of brass with black lacquer. It is about as solid a camera as I have ever used. Everything is precisely stamped or machined. Who would have thought that the company that brought us the K1000 could do this? It feels a lot more solid in the hand than a Norita, but a Norita is pretty solid itself.  The drawback is that the build adds a  lot of weight.  Whether this weight can be justified is hard to say.  Fuji's latest 6x9 series was pretty lightweight and there is nothing wrong with its pictures.

Design influences:  Hard to say. Probably designed by the same tech who brought us the Spotmatic.  The big difference is that the shutter speed dial is on the left.  The design of the TTL metering prism is very similar to the ones for the Nikon F; there is a coupling which fits over the shutter speed dial.

Loading: This is one of the toughest operations with the Pentax, and this is precisely why Mario Testino has four of these cameras. The loading requires you to turn and lock two keys on the spools -- and if you are in a hurry, you can jam and break the advance by not making sure they are properly folded down. The easiest way to load this camera is to load the empty spool on the right.  Then load the supply spool on the left, with the paper band still on it.  Turn the supply spool until clicks into place and its key folds down.  Then and only then should you take the band off, stretch the paper across and work it like a normal MF camera.

The winding, which is single stroke, is a huge tipoff that this mechanism is not descended from the Norita. The Norita has a double-stroke operation for 6x6 film, with the first stroke cocking the shutter and the second winding the film. Another tipoff is the lack of single/multi-exposure switches on the Pentax.

The difficult loading is related to the film tensioning system.  This puts pressure (or drag) on the supply spool so that film winds tightly onto the takeup spool and the film lies flat across the film gate.  The system works excellently, but it might make a 220 enthusiast of you yet.

Viewfinder: The Pentax has an absolutely huge 6x7cm focusing screen with 100% coverage. Mounting a pentaprism brings it down to about 95% and a TTL prism to about 90%, but the latter makes the camera a lot easier to focus. The only focusing aid is a microprism spot. The screen itself has a very fine fresnel, so you can focus anywhere.  You can have Pentax install other screens (various combinations of grids and split-prism rangefinders).  The finder is not as bright as a Norita, which has a split-image rangefinder and very coarse Fresnel.

The TTL metering prism is surprisingly easy to use. It comes with a coupling ring to the shutter speed dial so that you can move the dial with your left thumb. There are two versions: one with a permanent on-off switch, and another that is supposed to shut off after about 20 seconds. Metering is centerweighted. The TTL prism is chunky, but it is not much heavier than the normal pentaprism.

The waistlevel finder is fun, too.  It shows a full frame, reverses L to R , and has a flip-down magnifier.  The only catch is that it's difficult to focus from waist-level.  So you almost always need to look through the magnifier for critical focusing.

YOU MUST TAKE THE LENS OFF BEFORE REMOUNTING THE TTL FINDER.  OTHERWISE  YOU WILL BREAK THE METER COUPLING!  There, now I warned you.

Mirror Lockup: The original Honeywell Pentax model lacks mirror lockup; the Asahi version has it. Beware, though, since finders (which bear these names) are easily interchanged.  Looking at the front of the body, the mirror lockup is on the left side.  A similarly-shaped (but perpendicular) lever is on the right - it is the lens release.  A lot of people seem to believe that the mirror lockup is crucial to shooting slower than 1/250 second.  I think this is bunk.  I have shot this a lot with the 105/2.4 at 1/60 handheld with no problem.  I think that like many handguns, this camera has a kick to it that makes people flinch ahead of time.  I also think that many people assume that their poor eyesight (and focusing) has nothing to do with ultimate sharpness. 

Shutter release: the shutter release is incredibly small. The Pentax shutter is electromagnetic and the mechanical part of the release smooth. The shutter is electronically timed. And very accurate.

General operation: compared to the RB-67 and other 6x7 cameras, and coming from a 35mm background, the Pentax 6x7 operates... normally!

 

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