A New Camera & A New Film

My first camera review of 2018 has me walking a bit on the wild side; shooting a new camera with a film stock I've never used.

The camera is the Pentax K2 and the film stock is Kodak Pro Image 100.

The Pentax K2

 Pentax K2 with SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.2

Pentax K2 with SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.2

The Pentax K2 is a pro-level 1975 vintage camera body. The K-Series of SLRs were introduced as a bayonet mount replacement to the wonderful M42 mount Spotmatic line. There were several variants including the KX, KM and very popular K1000. The K2 was the top of the line in the series, offering up mid-70s automation in the form of aperture-priority auto exposure. The K2 would only last a few years on the market as Pentax was nearing debut of their first truly pro body, the amazing LX, which would be the flagship Pentax film body well into the 1990s.

The K2 is nearly the same in features as the M42 mount Spotmatic ES with several important improvements. On the ES, the metering system is disabled if you take the camera out of automatic mode. The K2 offers the aforementioned auto-exposure mode and a fully manual mode with match-needle metering. In addition, the classic Pentax fabric shutter has been replaced by a metal blade Copal/Seiko shutter. The K2 is powered by two modern S76 button cells.

I bought my K2 from a friend who is a retired Pentax employee. The camera he sold me was from his personal collection and is new/old stock. I thought twice about using the camera and considered for a moment just leaving it in its original condition. But I am a user, not a collector, so off came the wrapper and protective inserts.

 Plastic pressure-plate protector on the K2

Plastic pressure-plate protector on the K2

Having never cut my photographic teeth on the K1000 like so many photographers, this is my first K body. First impressions mean a lot and I have to admit that the K2 felt very good from the moment I picked it up. Even when I mounted my large and heavy 50/1.2 lens, the camera felt comfortable and well balanced. I can see why so many legions of photographers bonded with their K-1000s and why so many still use them today.

The only unusual feature of the K2 is that the ASA setting control is around the lens mount, very similar to the way Olympus positioned the shutter speed control on the OM series. Figuring out how to change the setting required reading the owners manual. Pushing a little black button on the lens mount and grasping the control ring in the right places was the trick, but the control was also unusually stiff from lack of use.

The internet warns of using cameras that have been sitting idle for 40 years, recommending a good CLA prior to use. My experience with Pentax SLRs however gave me the confidence that this camera would work just fine. I inserted two batteries, mounted my fast normal 50 and loaded up some Kodak Pro Image 100 color print film.

Kodak Pro Image 100

 Kodak Pro Image Pro-Pak

Kodak Pro Image Pro-Pak

Kodak Pro Image 100 is a C-41 process color print film that is primarily sold in Mexico and India. The internet is full of conflicting information on this film. One theory is that it is re-packaged Portra 160. Another is that it is Kodak Gold 200 film that for some reason or another, Kodak is recommending you shoot at 100 ISO. Perhaps this is due to their concern about the film's storage conditions in warmer temperatures in these markets?  Still another says it is Ektar 100 that got messed up in the manufacturing process, producing less saturated color. I am not sure and honestly, after shooting my first roll of this stuff, I don't care. It's a wonderful film. Here's my first shot with Pro Image in the K2, available light of my Kodak retro t-shirt.

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A few shots around the house, sunlight and shadows.

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As you can tell by the sun streaming into the house, it was a nice day. I headed to the beach.

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I found some blooms.

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And sunlight through the leaves.

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To my eye, Pro Image 100 sits somewhere between Ektar 100 and Portra 160. I haven't shot enough Gold 200 to compare, so it's hard for me to tell. Kodak makes a Gold 100 as well, so maybe this film is a repackaged version of their 100 speed consumer film. That makes the most sense.

What is a bit perplexing is that when I got back my usual end of the roll selfie, it had a greenish tint.

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I've made this same shot, under this same fluorescent light source on Ektar, Portra 160, Porta 400 and Gold 200 and have never had the greenish tint. Hmmmm.

I bought tens rolls of this stuff, so I'll be shooting it up this year. It's an interesting enough film stock to get me excited about trying it under different conditions. And it's fairly cheap, about six bucks a roll for 36 exposures.

As for the Pentax K2, other than the weird ASA setting ring, there really isn't anything unusual or annoying about the camera. And that's what makes this Pentax so pleasant to use. Everything felt so natural and comfortable, I forgot about the camera, concentrated on the photographs and had a blast! And that's what a camera is supposed to do--make you want to take pictures with it!

Because my K2 sat in suspended animation for so long, its film advance was a little stiff and the film counter kept sticking. Shutter speeds seemed pretty good though and the center-weighted metering is nearly flawless. As I write this, my K2 is off to Eric Hendrickson for a well deserved spa vacation at the Hendrickson Pentax ranch in Knoxville, TN. He tells me that all of the issues I've noted here are common and cured with cleaning and lubrication.

I think if I were looking for a K1000, I'd browse the K2s first. They're less well known and typically cheaper. The K2 does everything the K1000 does plus it offers aperture-priotiy auto exposure. And as the Pentax flagship camera from the era, you're really getting the best the company could build at the time.