An A-F of the KMZ

I introduced the KMZ FT-2 swing-lens panoramic camera in an earlier post and today I would like to talk about operating the camera. Loading the camera is … let’s say interesting. I will therefore dedicate all of the next “KMZ post” to the subject. Finally, in a future post I will try to reflect on my experiences using and composing images with this camera and offer some thoughts on getting the best from the format.

First off, the top plate, which contains all the controls, looks complicated but in reality this is a very simple camera to operate. Handling and getting the best from the camera may not be simple but the mechanical operation is. Let’s look at these.

  • A – wind-on knob
  • B – shutter cocking lever
  • C – shutter release
  • D – frame counter
  • E – shutter speed selectors and aide memoire
  • F – bullseye level

So, let’s take A and D together. The wind-on knob (A) can only be turned in a clockwise direction and there’s a small arrow to remind the user which way this is. With film loaded the action of turning the wind-on also moves the indicator on the frame counter (D). Given the length of each negative three full turns are required following each exposure ro advance the film to the next frame. It’s not difficult though, before winding on, check what frame number you are on. You then turn the knob three times, each time it comes back to that starting number counts as one rotation. Do this three times and then finally twist a little more to move the dial to the next frame number. In fact, it’s easier to do than explain in writing.

Because it’s my blog post I’m going to turn now to E. Two little levers which can be set in four different configurations as displayed in the handy reference schematic. You will have noticed that there are only three configurations shown. Placing both levers horizontally gives the equivalent of 1/50th second. It’s not well documented but an open “secret” amongst users. The levers apply brakes to the rotating lens turret which in turn enables the different shutter speeds. In the vertical position the relevant brake is off so when both levers are set to vertical the brakes are truly off. More of that in a moment.

Moving to B, the shutter cocking lever. When you are ready to make your exposure, simply turn it to the right and click it in place. It needs a positive action, no namby pamby twists here. When you trip the shutter release (C) the lever will clunk back in place with a very definite thud, especially at the 1/400th setting. At this point, let’s take a short detour and talk about torque.

Having done some reading, I believe that torque is the rotational equivalent of linear force … and boy does the FT-2 have some torque, especially at 1/400th second when all the brakes are off. Pop the camera on a tripod, set it to 1/400th, cock the shutter and watch the whole thing shudder when you release the shutter. You can feel the camera kick in your hand too. All of which explains why I believe the best results from this camera come from using it on a tripod. That said, I do tend to use it handheld, especially when photographing urban locations such as my own local patch. But, let me stop before I digress even further.

Double, triple … multiple exposures are yours with the KMZ FT-2

The final item on the top of the camera is a bulls-eye spirit level (F). A bull’s eye level is a type of spirit level that allows for the leveling of planes in two dimensions — both the ‘pitch’ and ‘roll’ I’m told by those who talk in nautical terms. Standard tubular levels only consider one dimension so this is a handy addition. It takes practice but is easy to use once you get the hang of it. However, it’s only really of any use if you can see the top of the camera whilst using it, which means when using the camera at eye level, you’re on your own!

One quirk of this camera is that it doesn’t accept our usual 35mm film cassettes. Film has to be transferred into one of the special film cassettes before it can be loaded. Owing to the fact that Jon’s camera came with both of these bespoke film cassettes whereas mine has just the one, operation of the two differs slightly and I’ve also had to create some workarounds for my own circumstances. But more of that next time.

So, there we have it. A simple enough camera to operate once the film is loaded (more of that next time). It’s almost a point and shoot in some ways, albeit a very quirky one with manual exposure control. It’s biggest selling points, the 120° angle of view and triple-sized 35mm negatives, however make this a fabulous creative tool especially with some practice.

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