Friday, October 25, 2019

Kodak Signet 40

I have always thought Kodak did nice work with the design of the Signet 40 which appeared on the market in 1956.  I was reminded of that judgment recently when I came across some discussions of the camera on line, so I went looking for one on ebay.  There were a lot of listings at reasonable prices,  I chose the least costly at $12; the seller said everything worked, and the camera had the uncommon f3.5 46mm Ektanar lens rather than the Ektanon most often found on this camera.

The Signet 40 resembles its immediate Signet 35 predecessor with a few notable differences, the most important being a shutter with a faster top speed of 1/400.  The lever film advance, as described in the manual, requires "about" three full throws to release the double exposure prevention.  As with the Signet 35, the shutter is cocked manually.  My example came with a leather case that looked unused and a three-pronged "Midget Flashholder".  Everything did appear to be working properly as advertised.  The vertical alignment of the rangefinder was a tiny bit off, but that seemed like it would be easily corrected.

I decided to give the camera a trial run before attempting any cleaning or repairs, so I loaded up a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200.  In shooting the roll, I discovered one additional issue; the film counter was not working.

A close-up at the 2-foot minimum for the rangefinder showed good accuracy. And, a walk through Old Town to the Art Museum produced pictures with satisfying sharpness.

After processing and scanning the pictures I took the top off the camera and adjusted the vertical alignment of the rangefinder by turning a small screw which changes the angle of the half-silvered mirror.  That just took a few minutes.
    The non-working frame counter was more of a head scratcher.  I could not see any obvious problem with the operation of the counter mechanism on the top deck and I was careful in putting back the top to make sure the levers were properly engaged with the toothed wheel that rotates the counter dial.  I then opened the back of the camera to take a look at the star wheel at the bottom of the film frame which engages with the sprocket holes in the film when the film is advanced.  Poking around a dissecting needle in the narrow space next to the star wheel revealed the problem to be some tiny bits of film lodged next to the wheel.  Removing those bits freed up the mechanism and the counter then worked properly.

Sorting out Kodak lenses is always a complicated affair due to the fact that the company used product names that had little to do with actual lens designs.  The Kodak Ektar and Ektanar lenses are good examples of that custom as the names were applied to a great variety of lens designs over several decades.
    Several popular on line sites suggest that the Ektanar on the Signet 40 is a four-elment Tessar-like design.  Brian Wallen, however, exhibits a chart on his site based on a 1958 Kodak Data Book which puts the Ektanar on the Signet 40 firmly in the three-element category along with the more common Ektanon.  While it remains uncertain if the two lenses are identical, they do share the important commonalities of good lens coatings and a unit focus design which is said to yield better close focusing capabilities.  Given how the Internet works, the issue will likely not be resolved until someone actually gets around to disassembling the two lenses for comparison.


JR Smith said...

This looks like an interesting camera to try. You have inspired me to surf eBay a bit this weekend.

Mike said...

Prices have gone up a bit on ebay, but there are still some bargains out there.

JR Smith said...

Haha! That's because of your blog post I am sure!

Jim Grey said...

Nice. Happy to see another Signet 40 getting some use. I sort of regret selling mine. I am confident I would not have used it more than once every few years, so I made the right choice, but I miss mine all the same.

Mike said...

I thought it would be interesting to compare the 35 and 40. The later Signet models are not so interesting.

Lurcher1 said...

I have gone through 3 of these Signet 40s. They take great pictures, but the camera is no improvement over the Signet 35, which is a beautiful design, and compact enough to put in your pocket. My Signet 40s all developed mechanical problems, and I ended up throwng them away. It is simply not as sturdy as the 35. I also recall that there is something rather odd about winding on with the 40--it takes more than one crank of the lever.

The Signet 80 is also a good shooter, sturdier than the 40, and has a useful lightmeter. However, it is a bit of a hulk, one to hang from your shoulder.

Adam Fairclough

Mike said...

I have some film in my Signet 35 now, so will have a little more to say soon on the comparison. One question that comes to mind is why Kodak just didn't put the better shutter of the 40 on the 35. My guess is that the bean counters and the marketing people were the main driving forces behind the trajectory of the Signet line.
You are right about the film advance; it takes at least three strokes of the lever to position the next frame. That is not a big problem if you remember to advance the film immediately after making a shot. I think these issues are common to all the 50s-era cameras with manual shutter cocking.
I'm interested in exploring the question of what lenses were in the different Signet models. It seems likely to me that the f2.8 lenses were 4-element Tessars since I believe that was the maximum aperture achieved with that design.

Unknown said...

from "Kodak Lenses, Shutters and Porta Lenses" fourth edition, 1952.
page 21: "Usually consisting of four elements, the Kodak Anastar Lenses approach Ektar Lenses closley in definition and color correction at the generally used lens-to-subject distances."
pages 48 & 49 show cutaway diagrams of two focal length (48mm and 101mm)Anastar lenses and the Ektar 44mm for the Signet 35. The glass appears to be identical.
As best I can tell, the only difference is that Anastar lenses are front cell focus and the quality of the lens mount (Ektar has 50 ball bearings for smooth focus).
I can send you a jpeg of the pages if desired.
Russ Young, FRPS

Mike said...

Thanks. I have that same data book, which is part of the Kodak Photographic Notebook.
I don't see any practical difference in results from the lenses in my two Signets; both are excellent. I like the compactness of the Signet 35, but the shutter is a bit nicer in the 40 with its 1/5 to 1/400 range. Both have smooth focusing and nice rangefinder contrast.