Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sedic XF33 110 Instamatic: Sedic who?

I inherited this camera from my late brother years ago. The camera store where I worked got a "deal" with the distribution company who represented Sedic light meters. Seems Sedic decided to get into the camera business and chose the (then) popular 110 Instamatic film format for their first foray into the equipment world. As I remember, these suckers were not inexpensive; Sedic assumed their good name (almost unknown in North America) was worth the extra buck or two. Boy, were they wrong.

The Sedic XF33 shown here was one of several models they offered. As usual, the line was arranged along price-points for consumers. The XF33 as I remember was somewhere at the top of the line. It seems to me there were a few underneath this model and maybe one or two above. No matter. With an unknown brand name, these cameras soon found themselves in the wire basket of clearance stuff near the checkout counter. They languished for some time until my brother came along.

My brother took to this camera as it had a certain high-tech look and it allowed the addition of an add-on motor winder. That was something to have in a camera during the late 1970's. The whir of a motor winder was usually only heard on far more expensive 35mm cameras of the day. What he really liked is that it provided a much better grip for him to hold the camera. I told him that for under $5 I could get him a tripod socked grip. Nope, the motor winder was just too cool to pass up.

After a dozen or so rolls of Instamatic film through the XF33, my brother noticed that the photos produced by the camera's "Color-Balanced Lens" (aren't they all?) were not so hot, or at least no better than our father's older Kodak Instamatic 50 camera. He found out that how a camera looks and how it shoots are two different things. On top of that, setting the zone focus never matched where he happened to be standing. Soon the Sedic ended up in a drawer until it was given to me.

When presented with the Sedic, I wanted to just quickly donate it. But I kept the camera out of respect for my late brother. He loved it, though he didn't use it. Except to click off the motor winder from time to time.

And the hotshoe. Let's not forget the hotshoe. Most other 110's used Flipflash or MagiCubes. Very few offered the same interface as a "real" SLR camera. The trouble was, the hotshoe was on the side of the camera. Any flash of the day weighed about a pound. It was destined that either the flash's plastic foot or the hotshoe itself would lose-out to gravity. And no one wanted to bounce their Vivitar's flash sideways instead of the usual upward. Bit of a design error there.

I certainly had no interest in collecting a camera series from a company that didn't have either the kind of construction quality that was high enough to admire or the funky coolness of any of those lovable photo doggies out there like a Lomo or a Spartus.

Actually, the longer I have this camera, the more I like it. Sure, it's got more chrome on it than an old Chrysler, yeah the leather is flying off it daily. Worst of all, you've got to unhook the motor winder just to load another cartridge into the camera. It just looks, so . . . Disco era. Not really a camera looking camera, more like a some old sci-fi show pistol. I guess I'm drawn to the weird.

Whatever. There's room in the collection for examples of the also-rans as well as the classics. Sedic may have come and gone but I've got one piece of someone's marketing dream to prove they once existed. Excuse me, I've got to go and put some fresh AA's in the Sedic's winder now.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Petri Cameras; Bet you can collect just one!

Petri cameras are suddenly bountiful for collecting lately. Lots of models of their rangefinders and SLRs are to be found on auction sites. Which is odd for me, since you could hardly find a new model to buy back in the day. Anywhere. Petri cameras were never known for their build quality, advanced engineering, optical sharpness or even their good looks.

Back in the early 1960's, Petri had a couple of, um, competent cameras, particularly the 7S Circle-Eye 35mm rangefinder. It had a pretty good lens, reasonable fit and finish, and a fairly reliable shutter. It was an OK camera for a few years between the Kennedy and Johnson administration years. That's about it.

The company doggedly tried to stay in the world-wide 35mm SLR market, but they were always behind in features and styling. You could call them the American Motors of the Japanese camera manufacturers. All they made were Pacers and Gremlins.

By the early 1970's Petri cameras were hopelessly out of date in their technology. They couldn't keep up with the emerging electronic substructures to cameras. Without a base of rabid fans for something unique about these manual cameras (like lens quality for instance) the company finally collapsed on lack of innovation about 1977. It's had to feel too sad about that. These cameras are not great image-making tools.

Instead of using an existing lens mount for their SLR's line of interchangeable lenses, they opted for their own design. Always a fatal marketing flaw. Perhaps if they went with the universal screw-thread mount, they could have fared better for a bit longer. As it is, I've found a scant few lenses out there. I've got one 35mm lens for my Petri. The build quality is rough. That's the word. Rough. Optical quality was supposed to be OK. I haven't tested it yet.

I have a Petri Flex as my sole example of the brand in my collection. There is so little information about these cameras out there that I would have to guess that it comes from the mid-1960's. That's based on features and the looks of the unit. But that's just a guess. I'll keep looking.

This camera is an all-star Petri. The chrome finish is a bit crude (too shiny). The leather coverings are good, but they don't look like any other camera's leather. Kind of a discount leather. The controls are in odd places and come complete with odd shapes. The shutter release is on the main body in the front, not on the top like 99% of all cameras. An Alpa this isn't. This location required extra engineering to do. Why? No idea, there's no extra benefit and it's actually uncomfortable in this position. Maybe they did it just to be different. Score one for them on that count. When the shutter goes off, it sounds like the camera is in pain. You can tell there's lots of empty space in the body to resonate the shutter's noise.

I'll leave comments about styling alone. Except to say that Petri SLRs were a mash of many German and Japanese-looking exterior design features. And not any of the good ones.

Taken all together, a Petri SLR is a goofy instrument. Maybe that's why I love it. I've taken it out into the sunshine a couple of times to shoot some photos. People squint and look puzzled. It's like driving around in a Studebaker. Not an old car anyone would really want to spend money on, but they can appreciate your taking care of something weird.

Whatever, you sure can find oodles of Petri rangefinders and SLRs for sale out there these days. Most of what people bought of this brand has been junked. The failure rate on new Petris was very high years ago. What's left seems to be the cream of the crop, as it were.

Don't be fooled. Go ahead and collect Petris if you like funky-looking Japanese cameras. As an investment object, the brass inside of them is worth more in scrap than the potential collecting value. Accessories like lenses and general doo-dads are very rare in North America. We just didn't like this brand of camera when it was in its prime. I guess some things do get better with age.

Still, everyone should have at least one Petri in their collection. It helps to highlight how truly well built Nikons, Canons, Minoltas and other cameras were, and are. But keep it at one camera. You won't be sorry.