I was recently given a Pentax 110 Auto, it is in lovely condition and it fired up happily with a new set of batteries. I remember in the early 80’s being jealous of a friend who had bought the 110 Auto in a set with extra lenses. My camera is from 1981 and only has the 24mm standard lens (48mm equivalent in 35mm).
Here’s what I cover in this article:
Table of contents
The Pentax 110 Auto SLR camera was launched in 1979 as a full system with interchangeable lenses, flashguns, motor drive and a range of accessories. Mr Sugaya of the Sugaya Optical Company designed the prototype 110 SLR and then sold the design and prototype to Pentax.
The bright viewfinder has a split image focusing screen and TTL light metering. Its program exposure system works from 1 sec at f/2.8 to 1/750sec at f/13.5, with automatically set film speeds of 100 and 400ASA, according to the camera manual. However the service manual says the actual speeds used are 80ASA and 320ASA. The setting is done with a flange on the cassette acting on a button in the camera.
An upgraded Pentax 110 Auto Super was available from 1982 with a brighter viewfinder, electronic self-timer and single stroke film advance.
Pentax had a range of six lenses for the 110 family, a 2x zoom, two wide-angle lenses, two telephoto lenses and the standard lens, all f/2.8 maximum aperture. These were complimented with filters, close-up lenses and lens hoods.
The Pentax 110 Auto is claimed to be the smallest SLR camera ever made and is even small enough to fit into the Lomography Color Tiger 200 film 3 pack box! To give an idea of scale I put the Pentax next to my Zenit B (the Zenit E was still available in the early 80’s).
The camera body has combined shutter and aperture blades and for the programmed exposure metering to work the Pentax 110 lenses are all f2.8 with no mechanical connections to the body.
When the shutter button is pressed the shutter closes, the mirror raises and the exposure is made.
After exposure, the mirror lowers and becomes a rear shutter to protect the film as the shutter/aperture blades behind the lens open again for focusing.
You can see, two blades form the central square behind the lens mounting plate, which form a square opening. The two curved corners of the square form the aperture. There is a crude exposure indicator in the viewfinder which uses two LEDs, green for exposures down to 1/30 at f2.8, yellow to warn of camera shake from 1/30 to 1 sec at f2.8.
You have no idea what aperture is in use until the yellow led lights; and the electrics run on two LR44 button batteries. The body is mainly plastic with metal top and bottom, the shutter is mounted in a metal frame. The tiny 24mm lens has a plastic body.
The film: Lomography Color Tiger 200 110
What film to use? Manufacturing of 110 film by the big players stopped around 2012. There are plenty of expensive out of date films available on eBay offered for the “Lomo” experience. Fortunately in 2012 Lomography reintroduced us to 110 photography with a new range of cameras and films.
The film I used was a 3-pack of Lomography Color Tiger 200 negative film. They also have “Lomography B&W Orca 100” black and white negative film, Lomography Lobster Redscale 110, which is red biased colour print film and Lomography Peacock 200, which is a blue-green-yellow biased slide film.
Lomography film is widely believed to be manufactured by the China Lucky Film Corporation. I had three Tigers to put in the 110’s tank! (sorry, that was pinched from the mid 60’s ESSO advertising campaign and yes, for those of you old enough to remember, we had a tiger tail hanging from the car aerial.)
The Tiger was exposed at the 80ASA setting as the film speeds are fixed by the camera. I had no idea how accurate the exposure metering would be and hoped the films latitude would cope with any issues.
On a side note, there are a surprising number of photo laboratories who can process 110 films in the UK.
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Pentax Auto 110 advertising
Pentax created a wonderful advertising photograph aimed at 1980’s sophisticated, wealthy man and woman. Pipe smoking man, driving an expensive Mercedes and cigarillo smoking woman with her pearls, the suggestion of visits to the casino and hinting at an exotic lifestyle.
I put on my shades, filled my pipe, picked up my bus pass and set off looking for an exciting adventure with my camera in downtown Manchester, England.
The camera (again)
The Pentax Auto 100 is simple to use: load the film cassette and wind on until No.1 appears in the rear exposure number window (much like 120 film). Focusing is easy through the surprisingly large viewfinder.
The lens is tiny and my hands are big so the odd stray fingertip appeared on a few shots when focusing. Check for green or yellow led, fire the shutter then give two cranks to the lever and the camera is ready for the next shot.
Checking my negs I discovered the camera was underexposing by about a stop, so well out of kilter. That said, because I had exposed at the 80 ISO setting, the negs were mostly nicely exposed, good thing I’d used an ISO 200 film. The metering is pretty basic and had the problem of all Program exposure systems with no override, bright objects or overcast skies were underexposed.
Thoughts on Lomography Color Tiger 200
The film was grainy, which is expected on such small negative size. I would suggest that it benefits from a healthy exposure. You’re not going to get large prints from this size of negative, so I chose 5×4 inches and the images looked fine. I printed a few of the best at 8×6 inches.
The underexposed negs were very grainy but the resolution is good despite the grain. I found the colour generally very pleasant, as the images below show (click for the larger version)
I’d read about these so was expecting some. I don’t know if these are intentional or problems in the film manufacturing. The strongest two are shown. The engine is blowing golden steam bubbles whilst the angel seems to be sending some miasma up to heaven. The orbs were randomly distributed over the film. However, they are in the spirit of Lomography, where you never know quite what to expect.
I shot a wide variety of subjects and have tweaked the images to get the best from the negs. I need to sort out the under exposure problem, which will be tricky. The lens seems sharp at any aperture (whatever they were) with no sign of flare. Focusing was accurate but the lens and tiny negative would benefit from a superfine film like Ektar 100 or even FILM Ferrania P30 (Hint, Hint!).
Not knowing the depth of field was interesting but I guess with time you get an idea of what to expect in different strengths of light and focusing distances. Lovers of grainy film will enjoy Lomography Color Tiger 110, with it’s added bonus of little Golden UFO’s floating around when you least expect them.
Above all was the pleasure from using such a tiny 36 year old camera!
~ Philip Harrison
Pentax Auto 100 specifications
|Camera name||Pentax 110 Auto|
|Camera type||Single Lens Reflex|
|Manufacturer||Asahi Pentax (Japan)|
|Viewfinder coverage||Split image focusing with 87% coverage|
|Shutter / aperture||Programmed electronic behind the lens, 1sec - 1/750sec, f2.8 – f13.5|
|Accessories||Ranging from 18mm wide-angle to 50mm telephoto. 7 in total|
Lens hoods and filters
|Flash||Pentax 110 flashguns only: AF100P and AF130P|
|Power||2x LR44 batteries|
|Size||99mm x 55mm x 45mm (W x H x D)|
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