My Uncle’s Camera—No Meter, No Battery, No Problem


Going home to New Zealand is a chance for me to step back in time, to reacquaint myself with family history and to revisit old memories. And so, exploring an old wardrobe worthy of a Narnia portal, I found my uncle’s 1964 Pentax Spotmatic. My uncle was an avid amateur photographer who used the camera to document his trips in New Zealand and overseas and his Pentax has sat unused in a wardrobe for almost 20 years.

Visually, camera was in great condition and a check of the shutter speeds and aperture ring suggested that everything worked. Everything that didn’t require a battery that is—which meant no working light meter. The light meter is what determines the proper exposure of a photograph, and in these digital days it’s easy to forget that with a film camera there is no way to preview the pictures. Without a light meter, photos taken on a sunny day at the beach could come out black as night or depicting a polar bear in a snow storm.

So, what to do? I decided to take a chance and use the sunny F.16 rule and shoot by “guessing” the exposure. The sunny F.16 rule outlines the relationship between the type of light (sunny, overcast) and the exposure setting of the camera. It sounds geeky, but it’s not. It’s how the old school photographers like Capa and Cartier-Bresson did it. Loading up with Ilford XP2 film, I headed off to the beach to test the rule.

In all my years of photography, I have never shot purely manually. After a bit of practice guessing exposures and then verifying with a digital camera, I was away. The results speak for themselves. The sunny F.16 rule works, although I also bracketed my exposures for insurance.  All the shots were taken at 1/500th of a second with varying apertures. Would I chance my luck once the light got really low? Probably not. Carefully resettled in my uncle’s wardrobe, the Pentax will be my “go to” film camera for NZ.

And while the shots below attest to the reliability of sunny F.16, the developing was a different story. Something akin to the ghost in the machine appeared in some of the shots. Was my uncle collaborating with me from the Great Beyond? That’s a story for the next post.



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