The Miranda Sensorex hit the scene in 1967 and brought with it a host of forward-thinking features that set it apart, but also made it feel just a bit off.
It wasn’t the first Miranda with a light meter, but it was the first with a through-the-lens CdS-cell meter. Thanks to the interchangeable viewfinders the Sensorex offered, the meter cell had to be incorporated into the mirror — but this meant the meter worked with any viewfinder.
While the options on the Sensorex are not revolutionary or out-of-the-ordinary, a lot of minor design quirks make it particularly difficult to adjust to.
The Sensorex is built around a horizontal-travel cloth focal-plane shutter, like so many other cameras of its day. The shutter’s fastest speed is 1/1000, and the selector knob offers speeds from that down to 1 full second, as well as Bulb mode. The knob sits on the far-right end of the top cover, over the film advance lever.
Incorporated into the shutter speed knob is a film speed selector of the typical lift-and-turn variety. The outer ring, however, is coupled by gears to the film speed dial visible through a small window on the top of the shutter speed dial. As a result, unlike many other cameras, when you lift and turn the outer ring, the film speed dial moves in the opposite direction of the ring — so when you turn the ring counterclockwise, the dial rotates clockwise, and vice versa. Film speeds from ASA 25 to 1600 (marked as “1.6M”) are available, with marks every 1/3-stop.
The film advance itself travels in an arc of 180 degrees, advancing one frame and setting the shutter, as well as sliding an orange shutter-ready flag into view in the “signal window” next to the advance. The advance also automatically increases the frame count, visible in a round window just to the right of the viewfinder housing. The frame counter resets automatically when the back cover is opened.
Once the shutter is ready, it can be released by means of the button on the front of the camera, to the right of the lens mount. Below the shutter release button is a self-timer lever, which is infinitely variable and rotates down up to 90 degrees, with a maximum delay of 10 seconds.
Loading film should look familiar to anyone who’s used an SLR camera made in the second half of the 20th century. Accessing the film, however, requires pressing a button on the left end of the back cover before you can slide up the latch. When you close the door, you’ll need to manually slide the latch back into place to lock it. More details can be found on page 5 of this manual.
Also on the left-hand end of the camera, on the back of the top cover, is the battery compartment. A cover with a knurled edge unscrews to reveal a Mallory PX625 mercury battery. Next to the battery cover is a sliding button that releases the interchangeable viewfinder.
In the viewfinder, a match-needle for the light meter is the only display. The ring needle is mechanically coupled to the aperture, film speed and shutter speed settings, and the straight needle is electronically controlled by the CdS cell.
The light meter’s sensing element is actually composed of three cells which measure an average reading over an area that covers roughly the center 60 percent of the lower half of the frame (see page 12 of the manual). This is meant to reduce or eliminate underexposure caused by the sky. The focusing screen is a rudimentary ground glass plate with a center microprism patch as the only focusing aid.
On the top cover, left of the viewfinder, the rewind knob sits above the power and flash sync selector switches. The rewind knob slides up to disengage from the film cassette, and features a flip-out crank handle. The power switch is a lever that supplies power to the light meter when switched to “ON.” The ring below the rewind knob selects between X-sync for electronic flash and FP for Forward Point flash bulbs.
On the front of the top cover, below the rewind knob, is the lens aperture setting dial. It must be set to match the maximum aperture of the lens mounted on the camera in order to enable open-aperture metering. It can be ignored and stop-down metering used by depressing the depth-of-field preview button on the top left of the lens, near the mount.
Lenses are mounted with a bayonet system, and a button on the right side of the lens, near the shutter release on the camera, unlocks the lens so it can be removed. When mounted, a tab on the lens’s aperture ring mechanically couples to a knob on the lens mount in order to relay the aperture setting to the light meter’s ring needle.
Miranda provided Sensorexes with a variety of standard 50mm lens, and the 50mm f/1.8 I used in testing has no detent stops for full-stop apertures, allowing infinite variability between stops. It is marked for apertures from f/1.8 down to a minimum f/16.
On the bottom cover, a standard tripod socket and the take-up spool release button are the only features. The Sensorex has strap lugs on the front corners below the edge of the top cover. There is no accessory shoe provided, although viewfinders were sold with some models that had a cold shoe added. There is a PC-sync socket on the top of the left edge of the camera.
Getting used to it
The Sensorex is a camera I’ve heard about before, but I wasn’t fully prepared for its funky design differences when I got my hands on one. It’s not that it’s not recognizable as a camera or anything, but they made a lot of little deviations from design standards for SLR cameras in the 1960s that take a little getting-used-to.
The three main pain points in resetting your muscle memory for the Sensorex are: the shutter release button, the film and shutter speed knob, and the aperture setting. All three are relatively minor, but taken together represent virtually all the important functions an SLR camera provides to set it apart from a box camera.
Strange positioning is the biggest issue with the shutter release button. And it’s not exactly a problem; Miranda obviously knew what they were doing when they bucked tradition and put it on the front. In that position, it’s less likely to move the camera and cause shake or alter composition when depressed. The pressure required to depress the release is enough that it doesn’t happen by accident, but it’s easy enough that it can be operated very smoothly, adding to its stability-improving performance. The position, though, probably takes more adjustment than anything else on the Sensorex. I found my index finger pushing fruitlessly on the frame counter window a number of times.
The film speed and shutter speed selectors are likewise positioned oddly. For choosing a shutter speed, the knob is more difficult to activate with one finger — in part due to its having tight detents and requiring considerable force to rotate — than those positioned further inboard of the edge. The film speed selector dial turning opposite the direction of the ring works technically just fine, but runs counter to what you’ll be used to if you have used most any other SLR of this age. I turned it the wrong way and baffled myself momentarily each time I adjusted it.
Frustrating me more often than anything else, though, was the aperture setting. Because it uses a knob on the lower left of the lens to couple the lens to the body, it feels to the hand very much like the focus knobs on many period rangefinder cameras. And since it doesn’t stop at marked apertures, either, it turns fluidly. This meant I was constantly messing up my aperture when I meant to be focusing, which required a lot of readjusting to get my exposure right before recomposing and focusing correctly.
The film advance lever works smoothly and easily, and it returns strongly when released. The only problem I noted with that is the lever frequently overshoots its “open” position — about 30 degrees out from its “closed” position — and flies all the way back to sitting fully over the top cover, where it is much more difficult to get ahold of and operate. I frequently had to reach my index finger back over the top cover and push the lever out part way before I could get my thumb behind it to operate it fully.
I found the back cover latch very secure, but the difficulty of operating it with one hand — near impossibility, actually — frustrated me a little. Loading and unloading was typical and not at all difficult.
In spite of these foibles, the Sensorex has a lot to recommend it. It’s solid and weighty, and feels more like a Nikon F2 than a Pentax Spotmatic. Its gently curved edges and just-right thickness make it comfortable in the hands, and the placement of the self-timer lever — very close to the lens mount — make it less prone to accidental operation than the timer levers on many comparable SLRs of the period.
The viewfinder’s microprism patch is very contrasty and easy to use, and overall the viewfinder feels big and fairly bright. I noted the lack of shutter speed or aperture displays in the viewfinder, but I can live without them.
The 50mm f/1.8 lens requires a lot of turning to achieve focus, but that makes fine focusing easy. Optically, I’d say it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a perfectly serviceable lens. Contrast and color seemed fine to me, and I didn’t note any significant distortion or chromatic aberration.
I wasn’t able to test the meter in mine, so I can’t speak to its ease-of-use or accuracy. It may or may not be dead — CdS cells seem to have a good track record. The battery, however, is stuck in mine. The cover is seized shut and I have been unable to break it free. I expect this is because the battery has corroded so severely it has welded the cover shut. Not a problem, though, as the Miranda’s shutter is fully mechanical and it still works just fine without a meter or a battery.
Overall, I’m impressed enough to recommend trying out the Miranda Sensorex if you get the chance. But I definitely would not trade my Nikon FM2n for one.
Here are a few more photos from my test rolls: