In my little camera bag No. 6: AKAMeter and Takumar 50mm f/1.4

Pentax Takumar 50mm lenses
The Super-Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm lenses side-by-side with the Spotmatic and a threaded lens cap that was included in the deal. So much gorgeous glass! (Daniel J. Schneider)
This week in my little camera bag it’s all about accessories. Specifically, the AKAMeter shoe-mount rangefinder and some Pentax M42 lenses.

I first saw a Walz accessory rangefinder on eBay, and immediately realized it could be an incredibly useful tool for testing older zone-focus cameras. I looked around for a couple weeks and noticed that all the Walz rangefinders in my price range were missing the actual shoe adapter; those with the shoe adapter almost always had their original case, box, and instruction manual, and were posted for (to me) outrageous prices.

So I researched alternatives and started looking at all the accessory rangefinders I could find. Eventually I spotted the AKAMeter rangefinder for about $20, so I jumped on it.

AKAMeter accessory rangefinder
Four views of the AKAMeter accessory rangefinder. The whole thing is about 3 inches long and 1.25 inches wide, and it stands about 1 inch tall when mounted in an accessory shoe. The finder and bright spot aren’t as bright as my Olympus rangefinder cameras, but they are very useable. In my informal tests so far, it seems quite accurate. (Daniel J. Schneider)

It’s a really simple tool. It’s a rangefinder just like the one built into a rangefinder camera, except it’s designed to be mounted on a hot- or cold-shoe. Instead of being coupled to the lens, however, the external rangefinder has a small dial to adjust focus. Once the bright-spot images line up, you simply read the distance on the dial to determine your focus distance and transfer that to your lens.

The AKAMeter was made in Friedrichshafen, Germany, by Apparate und Kamerabau Gmbh, which sold cameras and accessories under the Aka brand from 1946 until the mid-60s. This rangefinder’s dial is marked in feet, with a spread from 3.5 to infinity; the penultimate mark is 30 feet.

One paticularly nifty feature of the AKAMeter over many others of its day is the adjustable shoe mount, which has five positions and allows the rangefinder to be mounted centered or to either side, in case it would interfere with parts of your camera or other accessories. It got its first test on the Zeiss Ikon Colora F.

This week I slipped the Konica Auto S2 in the bag to finish up a roll I started earlier this winter while testing a Soviet camera — more on that in just a few days. I’m also still carrying the Pentax Spotmatic SP1000 I mentioned last week.

I’m still carrying it for two reasons:

  1. I’m really having a blast shooting it. I haven’t used my Nikons, my only regular-use SLRs, In several months and in the interim I’ve only been testing or using snapshot cameras and rangefinders.
  2. On a whim, I typed “Takumar” into my local Craigslist photo section, and lo-and-behold I found someone selling a really beautiful Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 for a very reasonable price.

I called and met up with the seller. This S-M-C Takumar 50mm is practically brand new; everything is clean and tight, and the focus is ridiculously smooth. I didn’t notice any scratches, mold, fungus or even cleaning marks on this nearly-50-year-old lens — it hardly even has any dust in it.

Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm
This Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens is the second version, based on the serial number. Super-Takumar lenses are not uncoated, but the coatings they have are considerably less advanced than their famous Super-Mlti-Coated successors. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Almost better, though, is the Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 the seller threw in for free. He claimed that the numbers scratched in the side were U.S. Navy markings and that he had gotten the lens from a former serviceman who’d used it in his job in the Navy, but they honestly look to me like the markings of an institutional (read: school) program. If I’m wrong, some seaman somewhere took pretty good care of this nice vintage lens and I apologize for my cynicism.

Without the more modern coatings, the Super-Takumar could be subject to more flare, especially from internal reflections. It also has a small scratch on the rear element, though I doubt it’s enough to to be noticed in the final image. It’s certainly nothing like as bad as this Kodak Retinette.

I excitedly ditched the Hanimex 35mm for the the SMC Takumar on the Spotmatic the instant I got it home and have been blasting away with it ever since. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the older version. I don’t really display lenses on my camera wall aside from those that are attached to cameras. I may just re-sell it (after I test it out, of course).

Nothing developed from the Spotmatic yet, but it probably won’t be terribly long, I’m sure. I’ve been working six days a week since our department lost a valuable team member, but I’ll find time to get some stuff processed and scanned soon.

Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm
The Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is on the Spotmatic SP100 right now. The options on the S-M-C Takumars are famous, and the more advanced coatings are legendary. (Daniel J. Schneider)