My Petri rangefinder obsession began earlier this year when I finally saw one in person for the first time. In February, a pair of Petri 1.9 Color Corrected Super (1.9 CCS) Green-O-Matic rangefinders appeared on the shelves of Central Camera Company in Chicago, where I work selling cameras and photo equipment.
Intrigued by this fixed-lens rangefinder, I looked it up in our copy of McKeown’s at the shop. The Petri 1.9 cameras are described as “common”, having a high quality taking lens, and dating from 1960. They were made by the Kuribayashi Camera Company of Tokyo, Japan, which produced many popular fixed lens rangefinders that sold well in the early 1960s.
The Petri RFs at Central Camera Co. were in a box of broken cameras that had been gathering dust in the repair department for years. Charles Ezaki, my coworker at Central who’s been working there since the 1990s, found them during a big clean-up at the start of the year, and sent them out to a specialist for repair. Thank you, Charles!
Of the two Petri cameras, I chose the one with the most ‘character’, in the form of rust, corrosion, and some brassing on the camera body. However, the lens was crystal clear, accurate shutter, with bright rangefinder and well aligned focusing patch. Despite what it says in McKeown’s (which does not include all variants of the 1.9 CCS model) other sources suggest my Petri 1.9 CCS Type III is a less common version to encounter these days. It was made for about a year, after which the Petri 7 series of fixed-lens rangefinders were introduced. These were made in large numbers and are much more common today. They have a completely different design than the 1.9 CCS models: the Petri 7 line is a boxier (some might say sleek-looking) camera, very similar to Canon’s Canonet line in terms of looks and specification.
Few things bring such swift ridicule as buying a Petri camera when you work at a camera shop. Petri, Miranda, and Topcon cameras in particular are held in contempt by old school camera guys who’ve been working in the business since the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Struggling to survive in a competitive SLR market with the likes of Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, etc., these companies released a series of unreliable SLRs in the 1970s that ruined their reputation, despite the quality of their earlier camera products. Petri went bankrupt in 1977.
So, when I made it known I was buying one of the newly-repaired Petri cameras — rather than the Canonet QL-19 G III that was on the shelf next to it — the conversation went like this:
Johnny: I’m getting that Petri, it looks great!
Coworker: Why? The QL-19 is a better camera for the same price…
Johnny: I like the Petri: Copal shutter, 45mm f1.9 lens, bright parallax corrected viewfinder, and that green window
Coworker: Same specs on the Canonet, plus the quick load system and metered auto exposure!
Johnny: But the Petri has a green window!
Coworker: I’ll get you a highlighter, you can color the Canonet’s viewfinder window green…
Johnny: Yeah, but feel how this camera handles — it’s as heavy as a M2!
Coworker: (eyeroll & facepalm)
Johnny: Did I mention it has a green window?
Coworker: Ok, Perti-Boy…
…aaaand that’s been my nickname ever since.
Thing is, my coworker had a point: the look and feel of the Petri is what appealed to me more than the camera’s specs. Canonets are deservedly popular, but they’ve never felt quite right to me. I don’t particularly like the placement of the shutter release on the film advance lever, the boxy design, and the overall ‘thin’ feel of the construction.
By contrast, the Petri is friggin’ solid. It has the heft missing from the Canonets. The dimensions and shape of the Petri feel perfect in my hands. The fact is, I fell for the Petri as soon as I held it, and I had to have it. Only 1 other camera has every had that effect on me: the Olympus Pen FT. My relationship with that camera has been great, so I trusted my instincts and got the Petri. I’m very glad I did!
Petri 1.9 Color Corrected Super Type III Specs:
Lens: Orikkor f1.9 45mm (Planar, six elements in four groups)
Focus Range: Infinity-2.75 feet
Aperture Settings: f1.9-f16
Filter Thread: 43mm
Shutter: COPAL-SV M/X leaf shutter
Shutter Speeds: Bulb, 1-1/500 second
Aperture Blades: 5 curved blades
Selling Price (1960): ¥16,800
Viewfinder: Parallax Correcting bright line
Light Meter: None!
This is a great looking camera. The chrome finish is dull and doesn’t have the luster of higher-end cameras, but the lines and design elements are very appealing; decorative, but not to the point of being gaudy. The black-on-chrome accents are attractive, and the Green-O-Matic frame line and rangefinder patch windows give the camera a truly unique look. The angled side edges of the camera are remarkably similar to Canon LTM rangefinders, however, Petri takes it a step further and subtly curves these angles. There’s a thoughtfulness to the shape and design that makes the camera feel great in the hand.
The Petri 1.9 Color Corrected Super’s Planar-formula lens absolutely delivers image quality. It has great character, and I particularly like the way it renders on color film, which is mostly what I shoot with it. I use a shallow 43mm hood to control flare, along with a vintage 81b filter to accentuate the unique 1960’s color rendering of the lens. Image quality is classic Planar: pleasingly messy and a bit nervous wide open with moderate fall-off in the corners, nice 3d separation and subject isolation at f4-5.6, very sharp stopped down as expected. The lens has a short focus throw, and the preternatural placement of the focus tab sits perfectly under the left thumb.
Most of my photography is pedestrian: I shoot everyday while walking to and from work and on my lunch breaks in downtown Chicago. Lots of candid shots and quick street grabs. This is where the Petri’s Green-O-Matic RF/VF system proves it’s more than just a marketing gimmick. This camera is perfect for street shooting due to the high contrast frame lines. It also has a ’snapshot mode’ indicated by red markings on the shutter ring at f11 and 12 feet on the focus scale, which essentially makes the Petri a zone focus point & shoot.
Petri RF cameras are often found non-functional, with shutter problems, frozen focus helicoids, rangefinder misalignment, and oily apertures. There’s many examples online that produce soft images due to lubricants disintegrating and fouling lens elements, leading to the mistaken assumption the lens is a poor performer. My recommendation is to buy with caution, buy cheap, and plan to have your Petri serviced by someone who knows what they’re doing.
As for my Petri, I’ve put 15+ rolls through it so far this year, and it’s been mostly reliable. I lose a frame or two per roll when the shutter hangs up, but that’s mostly operator error: it’s easy to accidentally nudge the self timer lever (aka: vintage camera auto-destruct mechanism) and foul the shutter for the next exposure.
I like my Petri 1.9 CCS so much that I’ve bought 3 more of them on the cheap to be repaired. This is a camera I always want in my lineup of daily film shooters, and I’m glad to invest in having them serviced. Furthermore, I started a cult on Facebook for fellow Petri Green-O-Matic rangefinders users. Get yerself a Petri RF and join us!