Just Gathering Dust.

This camera (pictured on the left below) is a Pentax Program Plus and I guess you could say it is the first camera I ever ‘owned’, though it definitely didn't belong to me first. It was actually the 'family' SLR camera: A Single Lens Reflex body that for most of my childhood and adolescence was just one of those things we weren't allowed to play with. Of course there were occasions in which my brothers or I would be told to 'go grab the camera', an errand that subsequently felt a bit like a secret mission at times. But by and large we were asked not to fiddle with it, and rarely invited to use it outside of the odd family photo. Even during the early 2000's when we were older, and a new Panasonic Lumix GS Point and Shoot was purchased and used family gatherings, the Pentax was still off limits. Unsurprisingly, it began to endure increasingly lengthier stints in the cupboard drawer in favour of the new device. (It was also "off limits" because it had a 'Leica' lens.) If I remember correctly, the black, plastic ad metal of the Program Plus had been gathering dust for the better part of eight years before my parents gifted it to me for Christmas the first year I was away at University.

When it returned with me to Montreal in early 2015, I knew next to nothing about photography, much less shooting film. I was just using the Auto mode, unaware of the difference between film speeds, what the exposure triangle was or what 'Sunny 16' meant. What I had discovered though, was a renewed sense of mystery and romanticism cultivated during my commutes through the boroughs and the downtown core. I desperately wanted to try my hand at capturing some of it. The following summer, I brought it along on a trip to Germany and France, from which I believe there are still several undeveloped rolls. (Although I'm hoping to develop them soon, after such a long time of improper storage, I expect there's a good chance the results will be... interesting).

Mostly, I was very thankful for the opportunity to experiment, and even gladder still that it was no longer 'just gathering dust' on the shelf. In fact, one of my favourite shoots to date with this camera is a roll of film I shot while walking around in Toulouse. While awaiting a late afternoon train to Narbonne to visit my uncle, I naively popped in a roll of Fuji 400 and brought it into the city's churches, cafe's, and narrow streets tucked between rows of tan-coloured buildings (there are a couple of examples below).


Produced between 1984 and 1988, the Plus is a 35mm SLR film camera, with four modes: Automatic (the camera reads the ambient lighting and takes control of the aperture and shutter speed), Manual (the user sets the desired speed and aperture, based on the light meter reading), Flash sync (this model syncs at 1/100th of a second), and Bulb (the shutter opens when the button is pressed, and closes when it is released). The prism view finder shows you approximately 92% of the scene the user is pointing at, and the max shutter speed is 1/1000th of a second. (It's 'bigger' more expensive sibling the Pentax AE/Super Program maxed out at 1/2000th, had a top-down LCD display and a backlit viewfinder LCD.)

Although it is a film camera (ASA/ISO range 6 - 3200), unlike earlier technology popular between the 40's and early 60's, the Program Plus is not considered an 'analogue' body. This is because its construction includes electrical components for light metering, and electronic shutter speed and aperture control. Without two 1.5v button cell batteries (Energizer 375's are a modern alternative for original silver oxide batteries or SR44's), the camera cannot actually be fired. More expensive brands, such as Leica for example, were often producing concurrent products featuring at least one or two shutter speeds that could be tripped without the aid of their electronic circuitry. Therefore, and in addition to missing out on a few other functionalities, the Program Plus fits easier into the hobbyist consumer category, than the professional one.


These days, the body is usually paired with an SMC 50mm f1.7 that my father-in-law gave me (which also came with the more robust Super Program). The 50mm is a great focal length for general street photography, but can be used for thigh-high or waist-length portraits and group shots as well. I also enjoy the reach of the 28-80mm f3.5-4.5 that helped capture my time in Montreal, Europe and all those family memories back in the day. Being a short telephoto, this lens is a more versatile offering, providing greater compositional variety at the cost of a more challenging low light shooting experience. A long 70-210 f.4 telephoto rounds out my kit for this set up; A lens better suited to distance photography such as concerts and some limited wildlife shooting.

Unfortunately this unit is currently in need of a good CLA (Cleaning, Lubrication and Adjustment) before I run too many more rolls through it. The last roll of film revealed large portions of overexposure on the negatives, and I believe I am battling a shutter calibration issue. In August of 2022, it experienced a partial curtain jam while I was shooting a music festival outside of Winnipeg. Though I managed to reset it, with repair shops for film not a common entity these days, it may eventually fall upon me to have a go at a more complete repair. Fingers crossed!

Pentax Program Plus 35mm and Pentax-A 70-210mm f4

Toulousian streets #1 - Pentax Program Plus; Pentax -A 28-80mm f3.5-4.5, ISO 400

A rose by any other name; Weimar, Germany - Pentax Program Plus, Pentax-A 28-80mm f3.5-4.5, ISO 200

Toulousian streets #2 - Pentax Program Plus; Pentax-A 28-80 f3.5-4.5, ISO 400