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SEM-KIM (1947) – An Amazing Old Camera Shot in B&W and Color – by Jordi Fradera

July 17, 2021

My neighbor Alvar has loaned me another camera to write an article about, in this case the camera was used by his father for years, I appreciate the trust he has had in me.

The device has piqued my curiosity and I have investigated it thoroughly. The 1947 SEM-KIM, manufactured in France by Société des Établissements Modernes de Mécanique (St, Etienne) which was even dedicated to the manufacture of weapons, was a popular camera with various levels of performance. It seems that in this case it is a the most complete of the range as it has an Anastigmat Cross 43 mm / f2.9-22 lens and a Gauthier-AGC-Prontor II (# 255) shutter (B and from 1 to 1/200 sec.) with timer and connection for flash.

It was fairly advanced as an amateur camera for its time. I have seen articles and offers about the SEM-KIM, but almost none with an AGC shutter and its features. It also doesn’t seem to appear in the below price list.

14.000 FF (1947) = 812 EUR (2021)

When I held it in my hands I noticed that the lens was loose, the lens had a whitish halo, speed and diaphragm rings were very hardened, the self-timer jammed, the viewfinder disabled by dirt, and the leather case damaged. With rubbing alcohol, sewing machine oil, ear sticks, shoe polish, and a little patience and magic, she turned into a fully functional, clean and enjoyable camera.

You will see that it incorporates a “light meter” in the form of a table: If you know what time it is, what month / day you are, where you are, what the weather has been etc… you can set the shutter speed and the diaphragm. ALMOST NOTHING! On the other hand, taking a photo can be entertaining: You pass the frame while pressing the safety button, set speed / aperture / distance, arm the shutter (and the timer if needed) and with already bored people you SHOOT. There are always doubts about what will happen and if the next photo will be superimposed, but it is a JOY!

Shooting in B&W

In honor of the type of photos he must have taken in his young years, I loaded the camera with a Kodak 400TX B&W film expired in 2016 and here you can see the unedited shots taken at the Albéniz Palace (Montjuïc – Barcelona).

Shooting in Colour

Facing an “anachronistic” adventure, I decided to reload the camera with Kodak ColorPlus 200 ASA color film, forget about the camera’s “light meter” and use my Sony A37 camera as a light meter… all whilst wondering whether this SEM-KIM has even known colour photography before.

When I was little my family made color slides (6×6 cm). Colour film was developed in 1935 (Kodak-USA and Agfa-Germany) but in 1947 it would not have been very popular and this makes me think that our SEM- KIM, at least in the beginning, did not take color photos.

Here are the result of several unedited shots inside the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Montjuïc – Barcelona).


In both cases, B&W and colour, the quality is not very good, especially in the backlights and contrast – probably due to a lack of coating on the optics. In 1947 it had to be acceptable especially when family photos were small (7 x 10 cm). That said, I have tried digitally editing all the photos, and with little work it gets a good result! See the samples – this sort of editing was unthinkable at the time this camera came to market.

Garden of Acclimatization – Montjuïc – Barcelona

Old Botanical Garden –Montjuïc – Barcelona

Return to the Owner

Once the adventure was over, I had, to my regret, to return the SEM-KIM to its owner, so I decided to present it to him as a gift. A new box with the photo of the camera attached, a crib lined with red cloth, manufacturer’s labels, the instruction booklet downloaded from the internet and printed, printed documentation, and the refurbished camera and a new case was my choice. I hope Alvar will find the time to use it, at least once. I also hope he keeps and passes it on to his heirs.

To my wife Iselda for her great patience
To my neighbor Alvar for his generosity
To the dancer who posed for a shot for her kindness.
To Jomafoto for his collaboration

For my part, this has perhaps been the article that I have enjoyed writing and creating the most.

I hope this story has attracted your attention / curiosity and that you also liked it. Thanks for reading it.

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  • Reply
    Eric Norris
    July 17, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    I’m not an expert on photo finishing from the 1940s, but when I was making black and white prints in the 70s we already had the ability to boost the contrast in our prints. I think it’s fine to use modern tools to edit your images!

    • Reply
      Jordi Fradera
      July 17, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks to comment. I already used the laboratory in the 50’s using an enlarger and I could effectively modify the contrast by varying the exposure time of the paper, the development time in liquids and especially the type of paper since I remember having used a more “hard” one.
      For me it is just a memory of other times and despite my age I have been able to update myself but I do not forget.

  • Reply
    July 17, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Nice article! I like the ones you write!

    • Reply
      Jordi Fradera
      July 17, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      Thank you very much, I do what I can as an amateur and I have fun with it.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    Nice write up, Jordi.

    • Reply
      Jordi Fradera
      July 18, 2021 at 9:15 pm

      Thank you for appreciating it, I hope to make new articles in the hope that you will like them and entertain you.

      • Reply
        July 18, 2021 at 10:54 pm

        Interestingly, while the edits certainly benefited the b/w shots, I think I prefer the colour ones unedited! Keep the articles coming…

        • Reply
          Jordi Fradera
          July 19, 2021 at 11:16 am

          The SEM-KIM gave more quality than I expected and the photos have that retro flavor.
          They will keep coming …..

  • Reply
    July 18, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    How interesting. I had never heard of this camera brand before, but I am glad you were able to put it to use. The negatives are fine, well done! Are there other manufactured consumer goods from the 1940s or early 1950s that we can use day to day? Possibly some fine watches or fine firearms? Certainly very few motorcars, household appliances, or even tube radio equipment. Keep using those classic cameras!

    • Reply
      Jordi Fradera
      July 18, 2021 at 9:12 pm

      Whenever I get (borrowed from friends) an old or rare camera I can’t resist the temptation to put it to work if possible and shoot pictures with it. I’m sorry to have to return them to their owner. Indeed with other devices the same thing happens to me.

  • Reply
    July 22, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    I think the Sem kin used shutters which were part of war damage at the time of machine tools and shutters were seized in Germany as war damage, probably the flash synchro socket was added after. he apparatus with a Gauthier shutter had to be manufactured in small quantities. At the same time the French manufacturer Pontiac produced a very rare 6×9 the Pontiac metal block 145 with a French licensed shutter made of rapid war damage shutters assembled in France. Originally, Sem produced the devices in Saint Étienne when liberated, the new factory was established in the small town of Aurec, about thirty kilometers from Saint Etienne, where Paul Royer, the boss of Sem, developed the Semflex 6×6 and Orenac 24×36, , the optics of the sem kin are manufactured at Angénieux in Saint-Héand.

    • Reply
      Jordi Fradera
      July 22, 2021 at 9:37 pm

      Well, as an amateur I was only able to attach information that I found on the net. It is always good to know more details and I appreciate your contribution. Thanks.

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