In my bag this week No. 17: A viewfinder and a light box

Pentax 6x7 TTL metered pentaprism
The Pentax 6×7 TTL metered pentaprism attachment, which got me the earlier “Asahi Pentax” badge I wanted in addition to the meter itself. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The actual camera in my little bag this week is the Konica EE-Matic again, but there is other news afoot including a TTL pentaprism viewfinder for the Pentax 6×7 and a fresh color-correct bulb for my JUST Normlicht light box.

I recently made a deal to trade all my remaining digital camera gear for a short shopping list of accessories for my Pentax 6×7.

I had already traded or sold a few select Canon EF lenses for Nikon film gear, and I had been thinking of unloading the rest for awhile. According to my archive, it’s been almost 18 months since I made a picture with the DSLR — and over two years since I did so outside my own home.

I still have my iPhone, so I guess I’m not quite exclusively film yet.


Pentax 6×7 TTL prism finder

Included on that list was an early-version TTL-metered pentaprism viewfinder. TTL is short for “through the lens,” probably the most common type of light meter on SLR cameras, and digital SLRs (DSLRs).

One of the biggest benefits of TTL metering is that any colored, polarizing or neutral density filters added to the lens will simply intersect the path of light traveling to the meter and automatically be accounted for. When shooting most rangefinders or other cameras without TTL metering, you’ll need to meter and then adjust for the filter factor — the amount of light reduction the filter causes.

Another of the most obvious benefits of TTL metering, or any built-in metering, is you don’t have to carry a separate light meter. Although, with the multitude of free and easy-to-use smartphone light meter apps, that might not be the bonus it once was.

The meter in the Pentax 6×7 TTL viewfinder seems generally very well regarded, and mirrors the Nikon Photomic Finder DP-1 quite closely in design.

It’s a center-weighted meter that is not easily fooled by high-contrast scenes, using a big, bright, simple needle gauge style, visible below the image in the viewfinder. The 94% coverage is identical to the unmetered pentaprism finder.

Pentax 6x7 TTL meter
A through-the-viewfinder look at the Pentax 6×7 TTL metered prism’s light meter display. You can just barely see the slightly-rotated ‘tube’ it shows through. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The meter includes a second shutter-speed selector knob that couples to the build-in knob by means of a spring-loaded pin, just like the DP-1 — although the Pentax finder includes an accessory ring that engages the original knob and embiggens it — making it easily operable by the left thumb.

A small circle of translucent plastic atop the bridge from the accessory knob to the pentaprism’s main housing guides illumination through the meter readout so it’s visible in the viewfinder. The light turns through mirrors or prisms a couple of times before being angled into the viewfinder display. Mine was listed in BGN condition at, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I discovered that one piece of that series had come loose.

I found Daren Sefcik’s guide to disassembling and adjusting the meter invaluable in locating the problem. The last prism had simply come unglued and I found it easy to replace it with a bit of super glue (I recommend the Loctite Super Glue Gel Control type – it is excellent for applications where you don’t want to make a mess). The square ‘tube’ through which the meter appears to be seen when looking through the finder is slightly cockeyed now, but the meter works perfectly well, so no big deal.

More on the rest of the contents of that shopping list next week.

JUST Normlicht light box

I actually purchased the JUST Normlicht 10×17″ Smart Light 5000 transparency viewer at a thrift store about a year ago. It replaced a much lower quality tracing box I had been using.

I saw the light box with a $7.99 slicker on it and figured it might be a decent upgrade from the hobby store junk box, so I whipped out the fancy phone and Googled it. When I saw the retail price for JUST Normlicht light boxes ($289 to $419 for others of similar size — the size I have is now discontinued), I held onto it white-knuckled until checkout. It’s in competition with my $15 Crown Graphic for best thrift store find of my life. All it needed was a new starter — I got a two-pack at a hardware store for under $5.

Why am I mentioning it today? Because I had to buy a new bulb for it. About $30 for the genuine JUST Normlicht bulb, but well worth it — it’s brighter and whiter than before, and still puts my investment at about 10% of new retail cost.

I’m also mentioning it because, even though I don’t have a darkroom to make optical prints, there’s something very instructive and fulfilling about viewing my negatives and transparencies on a decent light box. I use a 10x Rodenstock loupe (same one I use for focusing on my 4×5), but I also lay whole PrintFile pages of negatives on there in lieu of making contact sheets. I encourage others to do the same; there’s something nice about even just for a moment taking in a whole roll of film as a single unit.

JUST Normlicht light table
The JUST Normlicht Color-Control Smart Light 5000 light table, a thrift-store bargain even after a new starter and bulb. (Daniel J. Schneider)