Archive for March, 2018

man holding camera

Me and my Signet

Today I want to chat up the Kodak Signet 35. What a great little camera. It is small and compact, plus it features a sharp and contrasty 44mm f/3.5 lens. I really like the subtle art deco design elements that were already a bit retro by the time the 1950s rolled around and this camera was in the mainstream.  Kodak had a wide variety of these cameras including some rare military issue models that fetch over $500. For those of you that follow my twitter feed, you will find many photos of this camera as it has traveled around with me and served as a still life subject in many of my lens tests.

picture of camera on bar

My Signet 35 and my Beer at the Yardhouse in Portland, OR

The camera is very small and even reasonably light weight. The 44mm lens is plenty sharp. This model had a limited range of shutter speeds, B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300. It does stop down to f/22 for those bright sunny days. It is easy to load and fairly simple to operate. The shutter does need to be manually cocked separately from winding the film. The frame counter also needs to be manually reset after each roll.

This camera is surprisingly fun to shoot, and great for street shooting as it is an unassuming camera that can even be a bit discreet. It will however capture the attention of any hipsters in the vicinity 😉

picture of car

2015 Mustang made with Signet 35 on Ilford HP5

I really like the fact that these can be found at photo shows and on ebay for $20-$50 unless it is one of the aforementioned military models. As cool as the Air Force and Army issue models are, I really like the polished and elegant lines, along with the overall look of the standard model.

The camera is all metal and very well made. Focus is very easy but not super smooth since it isn’t a well damped helicoil. That could just be my camera and not necessarily the design. The weakest link in the camera is the rangefinder. It has a cool triangle-shaped image align, but the viewfinder is tiny and dim. To make matters worse my particular camera could stand a viewfinder cleaning. Even a mint condition version takes a bit more effort to get proper focus than say a Leica M3 or Canon 7. Neither of those cameras are sold for $25 though, right?

I shot the photo of the Mustang with my Signet 35 and you can see it makes good contrasty and sharp photos. The Ektar lens design has always been a fantastic quality lens. American made lenses have often been overshadowed by their German counterparts from Zeiss and E. Leitz, but Eastman Kodak made the Ektar line of lenses dating back to 1914 and they were their professional grade lenses. Kodak even felt like the Ektar 44mm used in this cameras was superior to the German Schneider lenses they used on the Retina models. Here is an interesting bit from a photo historical site:

Kodak Ektar f/3.5, 44 mm., This 4-element Tessar type lens was supplied on the Kodak Signet 35, and was described by Anne Ruder in Modern Photography magazine as “comparable to lenses in the most expensive 35mm cameras”. Kodak advertisements of the time claimed this lens was superior to the German lenses on their own Retinas. From the 1953 version of Kodak Data Book – Lens, Shutters and Portra Lenses, “This four-element completely Lumenized Ektar lens, especially designed for the Kodak Signet 35 Camera is one of the finest lenses ever produced for a miniature camera, regardless of price. Black-and-white negatives are crisp and needle-sharp, capable of being enlarged many diameters without loss of detail. Kodachrome transparencies have greater color purity and saturation than ever before. Focusing is consistently accurate throughout the entire focusing range from 2 feet to infinity. The lens mount is supported by 50 ball bearings, working smoothly and accurately at all seasonal temperatures.”

I always love it when something this well made, that looks and feels this good, and is still usable as a shooter, can be found for chump change prices. What a fun little camera and a delight to own, even if you just look at it on a shelf or take it to the local watering hole as a drinking buddy 😉 



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