Konica EE-Matic Deluxe: Good, old auto-exposure

Laurie holds the EE-Matic
The Konica EE-Matic Deluxe, modeled by my neighbor at the coffee shop, Laurie. The teal wainscoting at the cafe made for lovely contrast with her complexion. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I picked up the Konica EE-Matic Deluxe so long ago I don’t even remember the circumstances, but looking back I’m really glad I’ve had a chance to enjoy it.

The entire EE-Matic series features an early auto-exposure system, and most versions had a coupled rangefinder. It’s not particularly feature-rich or fancy, but it excels at the things it does.

I think I got the EE-Matic Deluxe before even the Konica Auto S2, but probably not long before. It sat on the shelf for a long time before I got around to trying it out, appearing in a photo of my nascent wall of cameras in early 2012.

Features

The first thing people remark on is the honeycomb matrix encircling the lens. The “EE” stands for “Electric Eye,” and the “Matic” indicates the automatic exposure made possible by the selenium cells behind that glass.

The matrix of convex “bubbles” directs light at the selenium cell or cells in a predictable way, both in terms of amount and direction. This ensures that the light being measured is actually coming from the direction of the subject, and helps ensure that the light being sampled is a consistent fraction of the light available so it can be accurately be measured every time.

Selenium, a key component in solar panels, is photovoltaic — meaning when it is exposed to light, “electrons are knocked loose from the atoms,” (NASA’s words, not mine) producing an electrical current. The current is tiny, but measurable, and is consistent for a given amount of light.

Konica EE-Matic Deluxe front view
A front view of the Konica EE-Matic Deluxe showing the selenium meter matrix and 40mm f/2.8 Hexanon lens. (Daniel J. Schneider)

What’s cool about this is that selenium light meters don’t need batteries to operate. Eventually the selenium cell wears out — essentially there is a predetermined number of photons a given amount of selenium can absorb and convert into electric current before it ceases to function — but that can be a very long time if you keep the meter matrix covered when not in use.

The EE-Matic auto-exposure system takes as input data both the light meter reading and the film speed — selectable with a dial on the top plate — and calculates an exposure utilizing both the aperture and shutter speed. It’s not well documented just how this is chosen, but it appears that it attempts to choose an appropriate shutter speed first and an aperture second, trying to keep the aperture as near the middle of its range as possible. It supports film speeds from ASA 6 to ASA 400 and the dial has DIN markings as well.

The shutter is a Seiko-LA leaf shutter similar to those in many Konica and Minolta rangefinders of the era, as well as some Olympus and Canon cameras. This version features only four shutter speeds — 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250 second. The shutter speed selected by the auto-exposure unit is indicated by a needle in the viewfinder as the shutter release button is depressed, very much like the Olympus 35RC. If the auto-exposure system doesn’t think a reasonable exposure can be made at f/2.8 and 1/30 second, it slides up a red flag in the brightline frame in the viewfinder and the shutter refuses to fire.

Konica EE-Matic Deluxe viewfinder
The viewfinder in the Konica EE-Matic Deluxe features a really clear brightline framing guide and shutter speed indicator, and raises a red flag when it doesn’t think there’s enough light to make a decent image. The indicator for Flash Mode, which looks like a little night light bulb, would appear in the lower left. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The viewfinder, in addition to being marked with the shutter speeds, has brightline framing guides with small parallax correction marks and a tiny light bulb icon that appears when the camera is set to flash mode (more below). The rangefinder patch is in the center of the finder, of course.

The EE-Matic doesn’t really have a manual mode, but it has flash mode. Flash mode is activated any time the aperture adjustment is set to anything aside from “AUTO.” You can set the shutter to Bulb by adjusting the lever all the way to the “B” at the other end of its range. In between you’ll see aperture markings from f/2.8 down to f/22.

Selecting an aperture sets the shutter to a fixed 1/30 second speed. Use the rangefinder to focus the camera and look at the aperture again — notice the numbers on the focus ring, one of which now will be aligned with the red mark in the center of the lever. Choose feet or meters and transfer the guide number to your flash unit and you’re all set.

While we’re in the neighborhood, the filter thread is 49mm and there’s a self-timer on the lens barrel. It’s relatively short, measuring pretty consistently around 6.5 seconds on mine. Below and to the left of the lens is a PC-sync socket, and there is a cold shoe on the top plate.

Konica EE-Matic flash mode controls
The aperture setting selects between Auto, Bulb and flash mode. The flash guide numbers are engraved on the focus ring, so that when it is turned to focus on the subject the red mark on the speed selector lever indicates the correct guide number for the distance to the subject. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The lens is stellar. A 40mm Hexanon f/2.8, it’s exquisitely sharp and just a little wider than a normal lens, excellent for a wide variety of photography. It doesn’t exhibit any significant chromatic aberration and seems to stay sharp right to the edges. It’s an impressive performer for being on a budget camera, especially when you see how small the front element actually is. The nearest focus distance is about two feet.

The top plate features the advance lever, rewind knob and shutter release, in addition to the cold shoe and the strap lugs on each end. A frame counter sits just in front of the advance lever, and it resets automatically when the back is opened. Curiously, there is also a film plane indicator.

It’s interesting that a fixed-lens camera would have an image plane indicator as these are primarily used for focusing via distance measurement — a practice usually reserved for macro photography.

Macro photographers typically calculate a working distance — the distance from the front of the lens to the subject. Since focus distances are normally calculated from the image plane, a macro photographer must know the distance from the image plane to the front of the lens in order to compensate for it.

Konica EE-Matic top plate
The top plate of the Konica EE-Matic Deluxe houses most of the simple camera’s controls, a cold shoe and a film plane indicator. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Outside macro photography, the 3-4 inches between the image plane and the front of the lens won’t make much difference since you’re more likely concerned with subjects (at least) several feet away. It’s seems most likely that this was included for use with a macro lens adapter, as lens adapters were fairly common accessories for fixed-lens rangefinders in the 1960s and 70s.

The advance lever appears to be cast aluminum and has a nicely molded “paddle” on the end. It’s smooth and zips ahead with the bright cadence of the ratcheting internals, and snaps back if you’re not careful. Just in case, there’s a small plastic stop on the back of the top plate to keep the handle from damaging the aluminum.

The shutter release is tall and skinny, and is threaded for a cable release. It has a firm, bouncy spring that’s easy to trip, but not easy to trip accidentally. Its travel distance is quite long but, as in the 35RC, the auto-exposure system uses the mechanical motion of the button to power the aperture adjustment, so it needs to be depressed relatively slowly. Around halfway down the indicator in the viewfinder will show the selected shutter speed, and the shutter will fire when the button is about 90 percent of the way down.

Grand Mesa National Forest
A break in the trees of Grand Mesa National Forest near the historic Raber Cow Camp. The views at and on the way to the Land’s End overlook are stunning. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The rewind knob has a flip-out handle as with most cameras made after 1960 or so, and it’s easy to operate. Of course, you’ll have to depress the spool release button on the bottom plate (the only other thing down there is a tripod socket). You shouldn’t have to hold the spool release in on this camera.

Film loading is fairly typical with just one little twist: The take up spool is two parts, with an internal slotted cylinder and a slotted outer sleeve that doesn’t turn on its own. Slipping film through an outer slot and an inner slot couples the two together and the film winds around the outer sleeve. I’m not sure if this is what constitutes the “New Loading System” touted on a small metal badge on the front of the camera, but it works just fine.

Inside the film door is a pressure plate and a “Sakura Color” foil sticker with a date code embossed on it. Much like other manufacturers touted their own film on a sticker inside the camera, Sakura Color was Konica’s brand name for their color film in the 1960s. Sakura, a lovely word to my ears, translates as “cherry tree” or “cherry blossom,” and what better subject to inspire beautiful color photographs?

The date code embossed on the foil sticker consists of one number and one letter. The number indicates the year of manufacture and the letter indicates a two-week period. Mine, for example, is stamped 7T, which translates to 1967 in the 20th period — or the 40th or 41st week — of the year. In 1967 this was between October 2 and 15.

All in all, the Konica EE-Matic is a fairly compact, simple rangefinder with a superb lens and solid build quality.

Diamond Joe Gulch
Before joining the main channel of the Gunnison River, the Smith Fork of the Gunnison cut the Diamond Joe Gulch into the land just north of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The gulch is about 450 feet deep here, where the Sunrise Canyon Ranch spreads across the valley floor. (Daniel J. Schneider)

In my hands

As I said, the EE-Matic has been in my collection quite a long time. It wasn’t until I decided to try it out for Redscale month earlier this year that I ever put any film in it. I regret not trying it sooner, though.

As with so many mid-range cameras of this era, it doesn’t truly distinguish itself in the way world-famous, top-shelf cameras do — but it does do a very good job of being exactly what it is.

Crested Butte alley
Almost certainly occupied by another building once upon a time, this gap between historic buildings in Crested Butte now hosts covered walks and stairways to the upstairs apartments above the downtown businesses. (Daniel J. Schneider)

It takes a few frames to really be used to the motion of the shutter release — you don’t have to go slow, but you can’t slam it down too quickly. The motion of the button is translated to the aperture inside the camera and it needs a split second to make this adjustment. What you really need to do is be steady. Pressing the shutter is (and should really always be) a lot like pulling the trigger on a gun — gentle and steady, and all about achieving a consistent speed.

The viewfinder is big and pretty bright, although it has a slightly blue cast and mine is a tiny bit hazy, even when I clean the outer elements thoroughly. The rangefinder patch is yellow and easy to spot, but it’s not terrifically contrasty. It’s enough to focus in most lighting conditions, but it’s not as easy to use as the rangefinder on the Petri 7 or Olympus 35RC.

Whatever’s causing the haze could be contributing to the lack of clarity in the rangefinder patch, though; it may just need a thorough CLA, because it definitely needs new light seals. They are beyond crumbling — they are mostly just gone. In a testament to the quality of these older Konica cameras, though, it seems to still be perfectly light tight in spite of the badly deteriorated seals.

Planter and bicycle in Crested Butte
Brick sidewalks, half-barrel planters and bike racks are everywhere along historic Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, Colo. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The brightline framing guides are very bright, though, in spite of the viewfinder haze. The flash mode indicator is simple and clear, and the film speed display is useful for deciding if you’ll be able to adequately freeze motion or not in the current lighting conditions.

Focusing is easy when there is enough light, though — the focus ring turns smoothly and is more finger-friendly than most fixed-lens rangefinders, consisting of nearly the entire lens barrel so there’s plenty to grip.

The selenium meter in mine still works after all these years, and still appears to be quite accurate. All the images in this review were taken using auto-exposure mode and, as you can see, all came out very nicely exposed. The 1/30 second shutter speed in flash mode is fast enough for most things and it’s not difficult to calculate exposure for in your head.

Sun after downpour
A break in the clouds lets brilliant sunlight pour through the front windows of the now-defunct Moontower Tacos in Denver between downpours. It’s a shame their unique and creative tacos couldn’t keep them in business. (Daniel J. Schneider)

In so many ways the EE-Matic is like an oversize Olympus 35RC. That size, though, is actually kind of nice. I’ve got nothing against the size of the 35RC — it fits in most pockets! — but the EE-Matic is just ever-so-slightly meatier in the palms, and my big hands like the feel. The hard rubber coverings around the body are pretty hard, but not slick. They aren’t a rubber that’s gotten all sticky with age, but they offer just enough friction to give a solid grip. The texture is well-defined, but understated enough not to be annoying.

The whole thing, though, just feels well made. It’s really not particularly heavy for its size, but it’s strong and solid — not a single wobble after all these years. The controls, too, still feel firm and in good adjustment, turning or gliding smoothly and steadily. The evident quality is undeniable and Konica’s commitment to doing a good job, even on a mid-range camera, is admirable.

The 49mm filter thread is common, and the filters cover the meter so you don’t have to compensate for filter factor at all. That’s good, because otherwise you’d have no way to compensate aside from adjusting the film speed (although that’s still necessary when using redscale film). It’s worth noting that, when you do adjust the film speed, going really slow is an option. ASA 12 is the lowest marked speed, but if you’re paying attention you’ll realize there is one more stop marked below ASA 12, which is ASA 6.

Historic buildings in Crested Butte
Once a hardrock mining town, then an eclectic mountain destination with a bit of nearby skiing, Crested Butte preserved so many historic buildings that it increasingly draws the glitterati and threatens to become the next Aspen. Its central business district remains lovely in spite of its having been ‘discovered.’ (Daniel J. Schneider)

The film advance doesn’t travel too far and the length of the lever is short enough that advancing is quick and easy. It’s quite possible to take several frames in rapid succession with ease.

Everything about this camera is, as it was intended to be, easy and reliable. This is the kind of camera you’d have recommended to your mom in the mid 1960s, knowing that she’d have to work to take bad pictures — and that it would last her decades without any grief.

While the EE-Matic Deluxe may not be as well known or documented as some of its cousins and competitors, you really should give one a try if you have the opportunity. It won’t let you down.

Here are a few more test frames I’ll share:

Colorado State Capitol
Clouds roll in over the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, predicting another rainy afternoon in June, 2015. It was among the greenest springs I’ve seen here. (Daniel J. Schneider)
16th Street Mall rain
A light drizzle falls on Denver’s 16th Street Mall in June, 2015. This year saw overcast skies, low temperatures and rain well into summer — a jolt for natives and long-time residents. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Raber Cabin on Grand Mesa
Raber Cabin at the historic Raber Cow Camp on Grand Mesa. A second cabin and other remains of the early-20th century family ranching operation are visible along a short hiking trail. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Konica EE-Matic Deluxe camera
Author Rating
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