The Bitter – Sweet experience with the Sigma Mark 1

I have a few examples of cameras that Sigma built. This is one of the first they produced. When I first picked up the Sigma Mark 1 I had high hopes. On paper it ticked all the right boxes.

All manual camera from the mid 1970’s – tick.

Requires a single 625 battery for through the lens metering which is of the match needle variety – tick.

Reasonably bright viewfinder with a helpful miro prism screen to aid focusing – tick.

Sigma Mark 1

In the hand it is a substantial 2 lbs of solid camera just the way I like them. It has a nice smooth clockwork sounding film wind-on mechanism that travels about 135°, along with an equally satisfying all metal shutter clunk.

Sigma Mark 1 top

The top plate is sparse with film wind-on, shutter release and film rewind. The film rewind has a dial below it which acts as a film memo featuring the following – Empty, D-color-T and a rather unusual, at least to me, Panchro written on the dial.

Sigma Mark 1 Light Meter

Going back to the front of the camera. in the photo above you can see the light meter button that is pushed up to activate it. It does stay up until you pull it down. Then in the photo below you can see the film speed dial which doubles as the shutter speed selector.

Sigma Mark 1 Shutter:Fil Speed

However the last two items would prove to be a source of irritation on my first outing with it. The light meter was erratic, sometimes coming on and at other times refusing to move. Secondly I found the shutter speed selector just too big to be able to hold the camera in the way I am accustomed. In addition the lens that came with the camera, a Paragon 35mm 3.5, just wouldn’t let me get close enough to my subject. Arghhhh! These ‘faults’ almost caused me to take the film out and put it away!

One thing about these old cameras is that they are..well.. old. As such they need a little time to settle into their ways again.(Don’t we all!) This was the case with my Mark 1. After a while the meter functioned properly, and more consistently. Regarding the shutter speed dial, I found I could move it with my index and middle fingers when holding the camera up to my eye. When it came to actually taking the picture, my middle finger naturally rested inside the dial while my index finger pushed the shutter button.

But what about that lens? Simple solution was to use another lens. In fact I got to use a lens I had forgotten all about, a Chinon 135mm f2.8

Having resolved these issues my hopes were rekindled and I went about my picture taking with renewed enthusiasm.

Sigma Mark 1 Tulips

As is true with cameras of this type I had to first get the correct exposure by turning the meter on, and then choosing what aperture/shutter speed combination I wanted. When the meter is on, by closing/opening the aperture the viewfinder would darken/lighten accordingly. With the light meter off I could then focus with the viewfinder at its brightest.

Sigma Mark 1 white flowers

Sigma Mark 1 SIngle White

During the course of using the camera I did miss getting pin sharp images on more than one occasion. This may have been due to the fact that the view through the finder is obscured by a line of gunk, not helpful at all. I may have to ‘operate’ on the camera to remove that sometime in the future, if I can be bothered.

Sigma Mark 1 Cup ot Tea

Sigma Mark 1 Quince

Sigma Mark 1 Pylon

Given the problems I had with the light meter I’m really pleased with how the camera handled what was thrown at it .

For the first time since using 35mm film cameras I can honestly say that I nearly gave up on this camera. However as a result of persevering and trying to resolve the issues I had, I have ended up liking the Mark 1 and really pleased with the images it produced.

I couldn’t help but remember the words on many a school report I received….”has the potential and could do better.”


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