I’ve had this Steky camera (2 of them actually) in my collection for a while now. I only take them out during show and tell, and always assuming that subminiature cameras are just too obscure for me to use. But during one of our FilmFolk photography meetups, I met a lady whose private passion is re-spooling HIT cameras (Hi Genie!!), and I guess you can say I quickly gave my Steky a second look. Very little can be found about the Steky, much more look at sample shots. After some quick lazy research, I just thought hell, I’ll sacrifice a roll of 110 just to test this out.
The Steky Spy Camera falls under the subminiature category. Made is Japan by the Asahi Musen Company just after WW2, it takes double perforated cine 16mm film, stands a very cute 2.5 inches high by approximately 1 inch wide, weighs a solid 155 grams. In 1949, they retailed for $29.99 in the US.
The particular Steky I’ve shot with is the Model IIIb (check out photos). It is in extra clean condition and includes a nifty little leather case. But what really strikes me about this camera, is how well thought of and well built for what it is.
It may not be the most user-friendly, but it boasts interchangeable lenses (telephoto and wide angle), variable speeds (1/100, 1/50, 1/25 and Bulb), variable aperture (f3.5 to f160, it has a cold shoe, and filters. It has a fixed focus and mine sports the standard 25mm Stekinar Anastigmat f3.5 lens.
The Steky in use
I don’t even know where to begin with this camera. Seems simple enough but I think the nuttiest part is loading it. I am pretty sure pre-loaded cartridges were sold before, but if I were a spy using this today, I would have long failed my mission, locked up, and still haven’t loaded my film.
I used Lomography Tiger 200 110 film for this my first test. The plastic cartridge of the Lomography 110 was easy to cut with some heavy duty shears. Then I slowly started pulling the film like scotch tape in my changing bag and on the other hand, winding it on the teeny-tiny brass spools of the Steky. It is NOT a pleasant experience on the first try, ahahahha! It took quite a bit of concentration, and by the time I was pretty confident that I’ve more-or-less got enough film and returned the brass spools in their little black casings, my corgis were yelping bloody murder to go potty.
I just shot anything on my path to be honest. At this point I was more interested in knowing if the camera worked. I shot 2 “rolls” actually, as my first attempt didn’t have enough film, I merely had 4 workable shots. On my second attempt knowing that the camera worked, I spooled a lot more. So here’s the results… please note that I laid them out on photoshop in a format that will show you the misalignment of frames and some shots that landed perfectly on frame.
Retrieving the shot 110 negatives was as challenging as putting them in. First, I decided to disassemble the canisters and retrieve the films from the spools instead of sending the entire thing off to the lab. I may never see the miniature spools ever again. So back into the changing bag, and I just rolled the 110 film into a black plastic canister to be sent off to the lab. The results are all over the place with your random light leaks. I also can’t seem to align the shots with the “pre-frames” of the Lomo 110. Did I make sense? Aahaha So literally half my output is not even within the frames. But I guess it makes for some interesting “half frames”.
After some quick research, I smartened up and I ordered some real 16mm ORWO UN54 film (single perforation). It addressed a lot of issues including the misalignment of frames. As we didn’t have any 110 or 16mm film spools to process BW, I dusted off a vintage Agfa Rondix from my collection and immediately realized I could make it work. I shot the film as you would, unwound from the spool and attached it to the leader of 35mm canister. Et Voila! Yahoo!
The shots are grainy (I can probably attribute that a bit to the constant agitation one has to do with the Rondix. I used HC-110 for the ORWO).
I have to admit, shooting the Steky was really fun with its own flawed merits. Its primitive mechanisms even allow you to shoot double exposures too, hahahah! While it takes a lot of getting used to, in terms of spooling the film, I can see myself investing a few weeks learning and shooting with this for no reason at all. It makes a cool art project to satisfy creative cravings.
I hope you enjoyed seeing this! I’m sure it’s a camera that hasn’t seen any action in decades. The Steky is still quite visible today on eBay. While it isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a cool shift from the daily routine. To read more about the Steky, head to submin.com.
~ Aislinn Chuahiock
Write for EMULSIVE
EMULSIVE is all about promoting knowledge transfer across the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas to inspire others reading these pages: check out the submission guide.
If you like what you're reading you can help this passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.