Motormatic 35

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by coryammerman, May 6, 2015.

  1. A couple of months ago I came across an auction on eBay for this Kodak Motormatic 35. Usually, when I see the word Kodak used in conjunction with anything ending in "-matic" I just keep on scrolling, due to the likelihood of said camera having a dead selenium meter an no manual controls. Not having anything better to do that particular day, I decided to Google the Motormatic and see what it was all about.
    Produced from 1960 to 1962, the Morormatic 35's big claim to fame is, of course, the motorized film advance. The advance is operated by turning the large wheel at the bottom which winds a large spring. When you trip the shutter, the spring uncoils and advances the film to the next frame. A single complete winding is supposed to be sufficient for 10 shots.
    During my research on the camera, I came across a couple of you tube videos of actual Kodak commercials for the Motormatic.
    With it's shutter priority automation and automatic film advance, the Motormatic 35 was aimed at the casual snapshooter, although they would need to be a fairly well-off snapshooter. The original list price of the Motormatic in 1960 was $109.50. The camera is equipped with a Ektanar 44/f2.8 lens (which reportedly has radioactive elements) that focuses from 3ft to infinity. The shutter is Kodak's Automatic Flash Shutter, with limited shutter speed selections of 1/40, 1/80, 1/125, and 1/250. Flash sync is at the 1/40 setting. There is no rangefinder. focusing is by guesstimation or zone focusing. I guess Kodak didn't think that the users of a fully auto camera would want to be bothered with precise focusing.
    The the available ASA selections for the meter are from 10 to 800. The user changes the ASA by pressing down on the raised leather-covered center of the shutter speed dial and rotating the knurled ring on the outside of the dial. However, not all shutter speed and ASA settings are selectable for some reason. At the 1/40 setting, all ASA's above 160 are locked out. At 800 ASA, only the 1/250 speed is selectable. Not sure if this is just a quirk of my particular copy or if it was designed that way. Seems rather unnecessarily restrictive, if you ask me. In my case, it doesn't really matter. The meter is dead as a door nail.
    A fully automatic camera with a dead meter? So, it's worthless, right? Not so fast, my friends. While all subsequent incarnations are automatic operation only, the original versions of the Motormatic 35 and its sister model Automatic 35 have a small wheel under the viewfinder eyepiece that allows the user to disengage the auto mode and manually select the aperture.
    The user needs to press the button on the right side in the direction of the arrow and spin the thumb wheel to the left to disengage Auto mode.
    The selected aperture is displayed by a green arrow in the top plate of the lens barrel (the Automatic setting is shown in the picture above).
    The lens takes Series V filters. I just happened to have a Series V metal hood that I use on my Retina 1a.
    One last thing of note. In addition to the normal markings and detents for portrait, group, and landscape settings found on many viewfinder cameras (labeled Close, Group, and Scene in this case), words magically appear in the viewfinder depending on where the focus is set.
    The word "MAN" also appears in the bottom left corner when the camera is in manual mode. That's neat and all, but I'd rather have had a rangefinder.
    Enough about the camera. How about some sample pictures.
    I recently traveled to Hot springs Arkansas to be in a friend's wedding. I took the Motormatic along in hoes of getting some time to finish the roll I had started in it at home. The morning of the big day, I found myself with some free time and headed to downtown Hot Springs to snap some shots.
    In the 20's and 30's Hot Springs was a popular get away for the rich and famous, due to some rather warm water that bubbles out of the ground in the area. People came from all over the country to visit the bath houses. Al Capone was reportedly a frequent visitor. Nowadays, visitors still come, but they are mostly neither rich nor famous. And they mostly come for the Antique malls instead of the bath houses.
    The Downtown area is still quite nice. Lots of parks and open areas. Many of the old Art Deco buildings are still around.
    But if you look closely, many of the large buildings are only occupied on the first floor or two. And there is a good bit of property for sale.
    Still, it's a pretty interesting place. I'd like to go back sometime when I have more time.
    Might check out the Ohio club, "Arkansas's Oldest Bar."
    That's not a real person in the chair, by the way.
    So as I'm walking down the street snapping away, this random guy standing on the sidewalk stops me and asks me if I like old buildings. I'm a bit apprehensive, but I say that I do, in fact, enjoy taking picture of old buildings. He then asks me if I want to come take a look at the old bowling alley in the basement of the building he's working on. My interest is sufficiently piqued. Then he tells me that supposedly Mr. Al Capone himself used to play there under a pseudonym and points to a plaque on the wall backing up his story. I was sold.
    Unfortunately they had already torn up the lanes. All that remained were the names on the wall where they kept track of the players' high scores. This shot was taken at 1/40 and wide open. it was pretty dim in there, and this shot was fairly underexposed. The V600 managed to pull considerable detail out, considering how thin the negative was. I managed to guess the distance fairly accurately, something of a feat for me. Too bad the pole that I steadied the camera against was apparently not too straight. I looked around, but I did not see Mr. Capone's name on any of the walls.
    After chatting with the guy some more (I never did get his name) he then says the magic words. "Feel free to wander around upstairs if you want." I have a bit of a thing for abandoned buildings, so he didn't have to tell me twice.
    It turns out that the building was originally built for medical offices and later converted to a hotel in the 50's, according to the plaque on the wall outside. Not sure when it was last in use, but it was obviously a long time ago.
    It didn't take long to figure out that I had brought the wrong equipment with me.
    I quickly found myself wishing I'd brought a camera with a meter.
    and a rangefinder.
    A wide angle lens would have been nice.
    Or at least more than half a roll of 200 speed film.
    There were lots of old appliances laying around.
    Lots of peeling paint and a few broken windows. Surprisingly little graffiti, though.
    The building is U-shaped and the fire escapes were on the inside of the U. I guess if you were on the outside of the U, you were out of luck in the event of a fire.
    There was a lot more interesting stuff to shoot, but I was out of film. I did continue to wander around the building and shoot with my camera phone. If you want to see those shots, they are in my flickr account. (link)

    Thanks for looking.
  2. What a coincidence, I pulled out my Motormatic this morning and it was a choice between that and my Contina for some ektar 100. Contina won but maybe next will be the motormatic. Last time I got better than expected from motormatic. Another fun camera, nice photos. Some old buildings in Radford with old ads painted on brick, I will try it on them.
    All my Kodak meters work with know problem. Just luck or do they actually last longer?
  3. I also have a Motormatic, and last time I used it the auto exposure even worked pretty well. It certainly was different. But I applaud this more than usual plunge into the Motormatic world, as after my initial roll I found myself more often choosing cameras with rangefinders and less bulk.
  4. I am not familiar with this camera Cory. But, your pictures are lively and crisp. The lens seems to have good rendering capabilities. Thanks for the post. sp.
  5. They've always attracted me, for some reason; such a typically American design, a little on the clunky side, following the Signet and the Colorsnap... Nice results, Cory, and thanks for posting stuff on another unusual camera.
  6. Don't know too much about Chicago (NYC boy myself) but to find a building frozen in time like that in Chicago is a real
    gem. Is it being torn down or rehabilitated? Nice to see those pictures be handed down to posterity.
  7. What a good way to start my morning! Neat camera and a nice story, I enjoyed that very much. I thnk I just decided how I am going to spend the afternoon.

    Rick H.
  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. I enjoyed shooting the Motormatic and will probably give it another go in a situation which it is more suited to. With all that technical innovation, I do wish Kodak had decided to give it a rangefinder, though.
  9. Agree, wonderful treat for you, and I love old buildings as lucky you. Also thanks for the article on the Motormatic, one I know nothing about, but it sure is cool looking in a very American sure like your chunky cameras!
  10. We are clunky folk we americans.. hahha. Great way to shoot . You never have the right gear.. that's a
    given! I also don't know this Kodak gem, but I will be keeping my eye out for one with the manual options!
    Thanks for a great post!

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