Pentax sp1000 fp4
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Pentax SP1000 / Zeiss Jena 50mm 2.8 and Expired FP4 – By Peter Roberts

March 25, 2021

I can hardly remember a time when I have been without a camera. Fifty-eight years ago at the age of ten I splashed out all my holiday money on what I suppose was a VP Twin at Woolworths in Margate and the bug has remained with me ever since.

One of my self-imposed lockdown tasks was to rearrange my cabinet of charity and junk shop camera finds. There was a time when I would have run a film through each one to see what happened but with such occasional film usage I found that I was wasting more chemicals than I was using and so have not done this for some years.

One of the cameras in the cabinet is a well-used Pentax SP1000. While I’m not actually a Pentax person, more of a Minolta man, I couldn’t resist it because of its local connection. On the baseplate is engraved “Avery Hill College”.

SP1000 Baseplate

The house at Avery Hill was built in the late 1800s as a showcase of wealth by Colonel North, aka the Nitrate King, who made his fortune by importing guano from South America in order to extract nitrate. In addition to lavishing money on his house he also funded a local militia, hence the honorary rank of colonel of which he was inordinately proud and insisted on using.

An impressive feature of the house is its Winter Garden, the second largest glasshouse in the UK after Kew Gardens. Interestingly this was added not because the Colonel had any particular interest in tropical flora but as an afterthought as something to hide the otherwise blank wall of a large galleried ballroom which extended from the side of the house.

After Colonel North’s early death the house was eventually bought by the London County Council in 1902 for use as a Teacher Training College, initially for ladies only. It remained a Teacher Training College until becoming campus of the University of Greenwich. Its future is now uncertain as it is surplus to requirements and being touted for re-development.

As Avery Hill is within legitimate lockdown exercise walking distance it occurred to me that it would be unkind not to give the Pentax a nostalgic day out. As bought it had a Pentacon lens attached but also in my cabinet was a Zeiss Zebra 50mm. So after introducing the two to each other and digging out an expired roll of FP4 Plus we set off.

Although the Pentax’s meter appeared to be working I also took along my trusty Bertram Chrolon to ride shotgun. It was a reasonably sunny afternoon and they agreed without any argument that 1/125 at F11 would be a good starting point.

As the main building of the house has been spoiled by unsympathetic alterations and additions during the course of its use as a college, after passing under the archway of the main gate I headed down the side of the house past where a fire escape has been added to the gallery of the ballroom  towards the now abandoned stable block. In Colonels North’s time this was equipped with central heating, but probably more for the benefit of his horses than for his grooms.

Main Gate

Fire Escape

Here the stables present the traditional photogenic aspect of buildings slipping into neglect and also give some indication of how pleasantly laid out they must have originally been.

Stable Door

Stable Block
I then turned back towards the Winter Garden but halfway there I realised that I needed to retrace my steps. Learning point one: Do not stuff your exposure meter into your pocket with the cord dangling out. It will only snag on a bramble bush and get left behind.

Meter retrieved, I continued round to the Winter Garden. The tragedy is that this building has been allowed to fall into a state of serious disrepair. Not so long ago it was open to the public but is now closed, over and above Covid restrictions, for “maintenance” because of the condition of the roof. I spent some time wandering around seeking a viewpoint but nothing seemed to suit what I had in mind.

Learning point two: A “standard” lens is anything but. Over the years my eye must have got used to using at least a 35mm for this sort of thing and now I was finding a 50mm a bit restricting.

As I only had four frames left, I contented myself with the carved lintel at the top of the outside doors.

Winter Garden Lintel

So I now had a roll of exposed film. In my processing past I’d been very much a traditionalist and stuck to ID.11 as a developer. However, as I said earlier, its relatively short shelf life when made up counts against my anticipated requirement. After some research I decided that Rodinal would probably suit me and so ordered a small bottle.

The film was developed in 1-10 solution at the standard 68 degrees . Given that the film was expired I allowed 19 minutes with more agitation than I would normally have applied. This, combined with the low winter light, seems to have bought out just the sort of strong contrast that I like.

The only trouble now is that there are several other cameras in the cabinet clamouring to go walkies.


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  • Reply
    Brian Nicholls
    March 25, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Nice body of work Peter. Well done! Back in the day I owned an SP500 – the cheaper ‘poor relation’ of the ‘Spot’ family with a stated top speed of 500 sec. My friendly photo dealer pointed out that the SP500 had an extra ‘click’ on the shutter speed dial which produces 1/1000 sec – same as the SP1000. It was a hidden ‘secret’ extra – something to do with the draconian (50%) purchase tax laws on photographic equipment and the avoidance thereof by Pentax boffins.

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 25, 2021 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks very much for the kind comment, Brian.
      I didn’t know that about the SP500, very interesting. I love that sort of information.

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    March 25, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    My sister-in-law did her teacher training at Avery Hill – it has produced a lot of great teachers over the years. Lovely set – I’ve lived close to the site all my life and have never investigated – but I will now.
    I guess the AVA bit relates to ‘Audio Visual Asset’ (when I was a school science technician back in the early 80s, I used to envy the AV technicians the cool kit and that they didn’t have to wash/clean up after messy class practicals…)

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 25, 2021 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks Bob.
      I was so hoping for a comment like that. I did wonder what AVA stood for.
      That Pentax was in a box in a charity shop with a couple of Prakticas similarly engraved. Wish I’d have bought them as well now!

  • Reply
    Gil Aegerter
    March 25, 2021 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you for this pleasant step back into the past — at once photographical and historical. Lucky that you have such a spot within walking distance, even in the midst of lockdown.

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 26, 2021 at 2:04 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Gil. I certainly enjoyed doing it.

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    March 25, 2021 at 11:26 pm

    Nice posting. My adventure began with a Honeywell Pentax H1a back in 1970. It came with a 50mm lens. They were great cameras. I’d compare the Pentax to a MG, and the Nikon F to a pick-up truck.

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 26, 2021 at 2:18 am

      Hi Daniel,
      Yes, I know what you mean. The Pentax does handle well and feels right. Much as I love my Minoltas they do have their eccentricities.

      • Reply
        Bob Janes
        March 26, 2021 at 11:58 am

        It was digging out a Spotmatic F and a couple of old SRT 101s last year that got me back on this analogue kick…

        • Reply
          Peter Roberts
          March 26, 2021 at 3:00 pm

          Glad to hear it, Bob.
          It’s far more satisfying than, apart from twiddling the zoom, letting the camera do all the work.
          Funnily enough I’ve just finished playing with my SRT 101b for my next offering. I do like Rokkor glass

  • Reply
    March 26, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Nice photos and I like your development of the negs. Shame about Avery Hill’s current state and future. Having lived in Eltham during the mid-80s I knew of the respected college, and later played and umpired a few hockey games there. So good memories. However, it can see how it might be viewed as prime re-development land!!!!

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

      Thanks for that, Rock.
      I pleased I’ve managed to have brought back some good memories for people. That is, after all, one of the things photography is all about.

  • Reply
    Michael Sherman
    March 26, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    Great article, and my favorite shot is the one of the lintels. Beautiful. Absolutely LOVE my Pentax Spotmatics and that Pentax glass. Can’t beat the Zeiss Zebras either. Thanks for writing!

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 26, 2021 at 5:47 pm

      Thanks for that, Michael.
      I totally agree that Zeiss Zebras are something special and still hold their own fifty years on.

    • Reply
      March 26, 2021 at 6:19 pm

      In terms of sharpness and value, you would have a hard time beating that CZJ 50mm f/2.8 Tessar. I have one of these zebra lenses myself, that I use on a steady and reliable Chinon CM-1, or adapted to my Fuji X-H1. Plus, it’s just such a pretty lens to look at.

      • Reply
        Peter Roberts
        March 26, 2021 at 6:54 pm

        Hi Lee.
        Yes, the 50mm is incredible value for money. Like you, I have also used it on digital, both full frame and cropped with equally impressive results.

  • Reply
    Clive W
    March 27, 2021 at 6:51 am

    What more could you want from an outing, Peter? Stretched legs, a bit of local history and some satisfying pictures to show for it afterwards.

    As for the loose meter cord, I’m guessing you don’t live with a cat. Those of us that do get very used to leaving nothing dangling! Glad you noticed in time.

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 27, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Hi Clive.
      Thanks for the comment.
      And yes, we do have a cat and have the wounds to prove it!!

  • Reply
    Dr. Ko
    March 27, 2021 at 7:20 am

    May I guess the Development was Rodinal 1:50 at 19 mins? 1:10 would be quite a strong brew.

    • Reply
      Peter Roberts
      March 27, 2021 at 11:14 am

      My mistake, yes it was 1:50.
      “Well done, Pike, I was wondering who would spot that.”

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