Photos & Projects

Shooting Pentax Auto 110 Lenses (On film and Digital) – By Jason Foster

May 17, 2020

As a longtime Pentax shooter, I stumbled across the diminutive Pentax Auto 110 by accident. The amateur-friendly SLR is an engineering marvel. Part of what I enjoy about it is manual focusing. This camera has a simple, split-screen focusing patch without a microprism ring. It somehow defies logic that I can see better than most 35 mm SLRs shooting with a camera half the size.

The Auto 110 is like using the Pentax ME Super in auto mode, but in some way more fun. The meter is very reliable, so the Program Automatic mode doesn’t detract from its overall functionality. The size and exposure metering are like a point-and-shoot camera, but you manually focus. This moment spent focusing is enough to slow you down, think about what exactly the main element of the composition is, and, consequently, the value of the frame.

110 film cartridges are readily available from Lomography, Tiger 200 and Orca BNW. Each film stock gave nice results, but I wasn’t loving the results. Lomography recently added Metropolis film, but I have not tried it, yet. What I did try next was Fukkatsu 400 from The Film Photography Project.

On a recent trip to New York City to visit our son at college, into my coat pocket went the Auto 110. I use the wide 18 mm lens most often. This is equivalent to 36 mm in full frame terms. This wider lens naturally has more depth of field, and, therefore, more forgiveness on focusing. During bright, midday light, the aperture closes, and you get near infinity focusing.

This combination of Fukkatsu 400, the Pentax Auto 110, the sights of NYC and soft overcast light made for a great roll of film. The photos had a character that’s really pleasing to me. The shadows lean toward brown, and there is some lovely texture. What you see here is straight from the scans. It was a joy to open the files for the first time.

Fukkatsu 100 ISO Film on Pentax Auto 110

Fukkatsu 100 ISO Film on Pentax Auto 110

Fukkatsu 100 ISO Film on Pentax Auto 110

Fukkatsu 100 ISO Film on Pentax Auto 110

Fukkatsu 100 ISO Film on Pentax Auto 110

When I submitted the above, I happened to mention to Hamish that I have used the Pentax 110 lenses mounted to a Panasonic Lumix GH3. When he wrote back he suggested it might be interesting to expand the post detailing my adapting of these lenses to digital. So, here goes:

The Panasonic Lumix GH3 is the mirrorless camera I have settled into for a few reasons. As a hobbyist, the relative affordability is high on the list. However, the intuitive interface and feel of the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras are both pluses. I also do shoot some video of my boys playing soccer and riding skateboards. Most of my shooting is stills, and I find the GH3 very capable.

The ability to adapt vintage lenses to mirrorless cameras is appreciated by many photographers. I have a few different adapters for various mounts, but the lens that I enjoy shooting the most is the Pentax-M 50 mm f1.4. The color rendition is better than any of the native Micro Four Thirds lenses that I own.

Inspired by the “5 Frames” NYC photos and the 18mm Auto 110 mount, I hatched a plan to capture more architecture, but this time in my own backyard. One of the shots is looking up at a square footprint building that reminded me of the Wells Fargo Bank building in Berkeley, California. The School of Architecture at University of California Berkeley was founded over a century ago and has produced a number of noteworthy alumni resulting in a neighborhood rich in some great designs.

So, off I went to shoot some of the historic Berkeley architectural landmarks with the Pentax Auto 110 mount – 18mm f2.8 lens mounted on my GH3. Recreating the simple shooting style that I enjoy with the Auto 110, and the monochrome style of the early photos in this article was what I was hoping to achieve.

Most modern digital cameras have various Jpeg conversions built in to create different photo styles in camera. The styles in the GH3 can be fine tuned with adjustments of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. By choosing the monochrome setting, I found that the saturation adjustment can be used to warm up a black and white image slightly. As a result, my test shots resembled the shots on Fukkatsu black and white film.

Due to the current global Covid19 pandemic, we are under a Shelter in Place order, but, fortunately, we were still able to venture out for a short distance. My family had been cooped up long enough, they decided to join me. The weather was overcast, like my day of shooting in NYC.

One issue with adapting Auto 110 lenses is the lack of an aperture ring. The little Pentax camera has a clever way of handling aperture, but it is built into the camera body. This is one reason that it shoots Program Auto. So, I had to shoot on the digital camera wide open. The clouds allowed for this to work out, but they were not heavy enough to allow me to add some grain through higher ISO settings as planned.

Artist Studio at Bernard Maybeck Home

These limitations did not prove to be much of a problem. The 18 mm lens is wide enough that when shooting buildings from a distance, shallow depth of field was not an issue. Further, the natural character of the lens, the relative low resolution of the camera, and the in-camera jpeg conversion produced images that I was digging.

Given the number of buildings that I planned to shoot, I treated this second phase like a “double 5-frames.” Over that afternoon, I shot 48 total frames. The ten frames here are from ten of the structures shot that day.

Generally, I shoot RAW files with digital cameras, and enjoy editing images for color and sharpness. However, it was a pleasure to shoot a series, with only selecting and sequencing to do at the end of the day. Thanks to Hamish for suggesting that I expand the project.

Campanile at UC Berkeley by John Galen Howard – Shot on GH3

Skydeck Building, Berkeley, CA – Shot on GH3

First Church – Christ Scientist, By Bernard Maybeck – Shot on GH3

The Graduate Hotel by William Weeks – Shot on GH3

Wells Fargo Bank Building By Walter Ratcliff – Shot on GH3

Residential Home by John Hudson Thomas – Shot on GH3

Livingwater Church by Bernard Maybeck – Shot on GH3

Residential Home by Bernard Maybeck – Shot on GH3

Maybeck Studio for the Performing Arts – Shot on GH3

I hope that you enjoyed my first article.
You can see more of my film and digital images on instagram.com/wdn_dog/

Jason Foster

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    John Furlong
    May 17, 2020 at 10:22 am

    You’ve inspired me to go hunting for a Pentax 110 adapter for my NEX-5 I particularly like the Maybeck building series and the detail in the church window images is VERY impressive.
    Many thanks.

    • Reply
      Jason Foster
      May 17, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you John. My digital camera is a micro four thirds sensor size. It will be interesting to use these lenses on the larger sensor of the NEX. My son held my small adapter against the mount of his full frame D800 and took a couple of interesting macro shots. Most of the time we are all adapting full from lenses onto smaller sensors. I could actually see an article about adapting in the other direction.
      Jason

    • Reply
      Terry B
      May 17, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      John, I’ve used mine on my 5N. Be prepared for very poor edge performance. The m4/3rds format is ideal as it is exactly the same as the 110 film negative. Central definition on the 5 is sharp, though.

  • Reply
    Rock
    May 17, 2020 at 11:21 am

    Very much enjoyed your set of photos, especially the Fukkatsu five. It comes in colour c41 as well if you can find some.

    • Reply
      Jason Foster
      May 17, 2020 at 3:12 pm

      Thank you Rock. I recently heard about the Fukkatsu color film from someone else. I will have to find it. I am shooting more rolls of the black and white now.
      Jason

  • Reply
    Alan Chin
    May 17, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    There is an adapter for micro 4/3 with aperture control, it’s $75 from Rj camera I believe. And yes the Pentax 110 lenses will cover APS-C sensor cameras. Cheap adapters are readily available for Fuji, Sony, and I’m sure for other smaller sensor mounts as well like Nikon 1 and Pentax Q as well.

    • Reply
      Jason Foster
      May 17, 2020 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks Alan. I checked it out. I may have to get one.
      Jason

    • Reply
      Terry B
      May 17, 2020 at 7:01 pm

      Alan, regarding performance on APS-C see my comment above. Yes, it can be done but with significant fall off at the edges.

  • Reply
    Bent_Brent
    May 18, 2020 at 1:40 am

    Great post Jason! Those digital shots have a very cool feel, but the film knocks it out of the park – I’ve never been a fan of 110 but the small neg really gives these shots of yours a unique feel, as if they were taken on uncoated lenses in the 1920s. I would never hane thought of using 110 for architecture – just fantastic.

    • Reply
      Jason Foster
      May 18, 2020 at 1:53 am

      Thank you Brent. I think the idea of ease of focusing came to me first. I have also come to fill the frame with the subject with 110 because of the lack of resolution. I guess that led to architecture.
      Jason

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