Rangefinders (Fixed Lens)

Petri 1.9 Color Corrected Super Type III – A Guest review by Johnny Sisson

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.

Central Camera Company, Chicago. Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

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!

Petri and Canon rangefinders at Central Camera Co. in Chicago

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.

The Petri 1.9 Color Corrected Super Type III,  featuring the ‘Green-O-Matic’ viewfinder system

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.

All hail the Green-O-Matic System! Petri 1.9 CCS III instruction book

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
Dimensions: 134x84x70mm
Weight: 720g
Selling Price (1960): ¥16,800
Rangefinder: Coupled
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.

Petri 1.9 CCS III design details

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.

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Bergger Pancro 400 / Rodinal 1+25

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

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 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Bergger Pancro 400 / Rodinal 1+25

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.

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 1600 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

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.

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

Petri 1.9 CCS III + Fuji Superia Xtra 400 / Unicolor C-41 Kit

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.

Johnny’s Petri 1.9 CCS Rangefinder family

I started a cult on Facebook for fellow Petri Green-O-Matic rangefinders users. Get yerself a Petri RF and join us!

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 13, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Great read and lovely set of images to back up your point about the quality of the lens.
    By 1969, the current Petri equivalent camera in the UK was the Petri Color (yes, US spelling) 35 and with an f2.8 lens was a couple of £’s more expensive than the highly regarded Olympus 35SP and which sported an f1.7. The Canon QL19 was still around, priced within £1 of the Petri. So by 1969, you can see that the Petri could be seen to be quite pricey for an f2.8 equipped camera, and
    for what many would see as a second tier manufacturer, this was a problem.
    But, as you’ve shown, if you can pick up a working Petri today, and cheaply enough, it should be a rewarding camera for the lucky owner.

    • Reply
      johnny
      July 14, 2018 at 1:42 am

      Thank you, and great market perspective, Terry. I haven’t found contemporary sales figures to back this up, but I suspect the UK was a much more competitive market for fixed lens RF cameras in the late 60s/early 70s than the US, where Kodak 126 point and shoots ruled the day. The UK still seems to be awash in cameras like the Olympus Trip, which are not as common to find here in the US. I think most Petri cameras made their way to the US via military servicemen in Japan and elsewhere in Asia who had money to burn at the PX. Petri clearly had their back against the wall by the mid-60s, and I think your analysis is right about them being viewed as a lesser and pricier option.

  • Reply
    Scott Edwards
    July 13, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Beautiful stuff, pics and share…

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    July 13, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Marvelous photos!

    • Reply
      johnny
      July 14, 2018 at 1:44 am

      Thank you for taking a look, Laurence!

  • Reply
    Cheyenne Morrison
    July 13, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    This is great, after hearing so much about them on the photography with classic lenses podcast. I always liked the Petri Racer, really unusual style and shutter button placed on the front. I listened to an industrial designer on a podcast who used the Racer as a great example of good industrial design. Shame they went out of business, there was some really original design going on with the Petri cameras

    • Reply
      johnny
      July 14, 2018 at 1:51 am

      Hey, Cheyenne! Thanks for the comments, and I’d love to hear that podcast if you happen to recall where you heard the discussion about the Racer. Mike Eckman has also spoken very highly of the Racer (http://www.mikeeckman.com/2018/06/petri-racer-1966/). I’m extremely impressed with the Petri RF cameras that I’ve handled, and they seem to have an almost Maitani-level of thoughtfulness in terms of design and user experience.

  • Reply
    David
    July 14, 2018 at 1:48 am

    Oh, I love this. I’ve been a Petri CCS fan since I traded a Crown Graphic for one back in the early 90s. The dealer I traded with called it a Pyrrhic victory.
    I now have several CCS models, including the DeJur version of what you have. Lovely, underrated cameras.

    • Reply
      johnny
      July 14, 2018 at 2:16 am

      Gotta love a camera that invites comparisons to classical tragedy! Petri were definitely on to something in the design department, and they put out an amazing number of diverse models is a short period of time. No kidding: I just found a DeJur today stashed away in a box at the camera shop! I’ll be checking it out in more detail tomorrow…

  • Reply
    Three 50mm lenses that fit my needs (video) - 35mmc
    July 15, 2018 at 10:16 am

    […] times now. It’s a great podcast, very geeky; but Simon, Karl and Johnny (who recently published this review on 35mmc) make for a great set of hosts with a huge base of knowledge between them. One of the […]

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