Petri F1.9 Color Corrected Super – A Clockwork Rangefinder at a Point-and-Shoot Price

Ask ten photo-geeks to make a list of their favorite rangefinders and you’ll likely find ten pretty varied lists. We can assume that most will place the Germans at the top, the Japanese at the bottom, and there may be a few wacky Eastern Europeans thrown in for variety. But even considering the typically eclectic tastes of photographers, I’d be willing to wager that none of these lists would mention the uncommon names Kuribayashi or Petri.

But the machine I found myself holding a few weeks ago was proudly engraved with these very names; Kuribayashi and Petri, two names with which I was entirely unfamiliar. I started out with low expectations. After all, if it were any good wouldn’t I have heard of it? Reining in this sudden surge of pompous arrogance, I loaded a roll of film and started shooting.

By the end of the day, Kuribayashi’s Petri F1.9 Color Corrected Super rangefinder had won me over. This relatively uncelebrated gem from a lesser-known Japanese manufacturer, while not perfect, has enough going for it to make it worthy of any photophile’s collection.

The Kuribayashi Camera Industry, as it was known at its conception, was founded around 1907. This makes it one of the earliest camera companies to ever come from Japan. Kuribayashi would later change their name to Petri, to capitalize on consumer recognition after their Petri camera achieved great sales success.

For some time, cameras made by Petri were well-regarded and sold strongly in a crowded market. Unfortunately for the small company, they were unable to compete with the marketing and popularity of the high caliber German rangefinders (Leica’s M3 would arrive just as Petri was reaching their peak), and the incoming wave of technically superior Japanese SLRs were leaps ahead of Petri’s cameras in features and brand recognition. These factors would signal the end of Petri’s ability to compete, and the company would finally file for bankruptcy in 1977.

While they weren’t technically the best, the cameras made by Kuribayashi (and the later Petri) were made to a very high standard. This emphasis on quality construction has helped to ensure that the Petri legacy lives on. Models made over half a century ago are still working flawlessly. This longevity is a testament to the engineers and designers who strove to create these wonderful, under-appreciated machines.

The model featured here, the Petri F1.9, was produced around 1958 and existed in a series of revisions for approximately four years. What it is, is a fairly simple 35mm film rangefinder camera with a relatively fast maximum aperture and a mostly-capable leaf shutter. What’s not readily apparent by its specs, is just how nice it looks, feels, and shoots.

One of the more interesting moments while testing the camera was the discovery of a sticker on the inside of the film door. This sticker embodies everything that’s so great about experiencing vintage photography gear; the small surprises that make one pause and imagine a simpler time in which quality and reliability were more highly prized than gimmicks and trends. The words on the sticker stand as a telling reminder of the confidence Kuribayashi had in their product. Their cameras were guaranteed not to break, and if they did, Petri would fix them; no questions asked.

At the time of its release, the aesthetic of the F1.9 would have been inauspiciously typical of what the Japanese were creating in the world of rangefinders. Today, it’s a striking minimalist design made all the more exciting by contrast against the ever blander offerings in modern consumer-grade cameras. It’s practically dripping with retro-chic styling. More industrial than its German, bauhaus counterparts, it’s a serious, mechanical beast in a compact, businesslike package. This thing is slim, purposeful, and timeless.

Mechanical in looks and mechanical in nature, the Petri F1.9 is, as expected, entirely mechanical. The camera uses no batteries and there’s also no built-in light meter, which may serve as a liability to some shooters. But this also means there are no batteries to replace, no need to carry spares, and no risk of acid leaks. Most importantly, the entirely mechanical nature of the camera means there’s no old circuitry to degrade and fail as the camera ages, a common problem in vintage photography. This lack of gizmos and user aids requires the photographer to understand photography, demanding all settings be adjusted manually without assistance from electronics. This camera, like the old Leicas and many others of the era, is all about the purity and essence of photography.

The Petri F1.9 uses a 45mm f/1.9 lens featuring six elements in four groups. The aperture is a step-less affair, and runs from f/1.9 to f/16. The Copal shutter is capable of speeds from 1/500th of a second to 1 second, as well as Bulb mode. The slow maximum shutter speed may lead to difficulty using the relatively fast aperture in bright light, though lens filter threads do allow for mounting of neutral density filters. And besides, you’ll likely want to shoot this thing stopped down a bit to coax the sharpest images possible.

The “orikkor” lens gets the job done, but it lacks the sharpness that some shooters can’t live without. Even with the aperture stopped down the camera produces images that aren’t super fine when compared to some other, more expensive rangefinders. It’s not a severe malady, but photographers who need clean, razor sharp images may find themselves disappointed. It also seems that this camera’s optical coatings aren’t as good as some might be accustomed to, with flaring and ghosting being an intermittent issue.

Then again, this lack of clinical perfection has its charm. Sharpness isn’t the most important thing in the world, and the Petri lens renders things in a way that many will find ambiguously pleasing. The ten-bladed aperture helps to produce decadent bokeh, and stopped down things remain delightfully imperfect. There’s a nice, soft tone to images captured by the F1.9. Prints come back looking warmer and gentler, as if the camera sees things through the comfortable haze of memory, rather than documenting cold reality. Perhaps it’s because of this optical nebulousness that the Petri has found cult popularity among enterprising street photographers.

Ergonomically the Petri presents a very nice package. The film advance lever and shutter release button are well-positioned and offer satisfying throws. The aperture ring, shutter speed selector, and focus mechanism are all concentric rings surrounding the lens. Additional lens-mounted controls are for the flash synch speed (M and X), and self-timer mechanism. Focus actuation is nice and smooth, and appropriately short for a rangefinder. It’s easy to quickly focus in on a subject without too much trouble or wasted time.

Niggling design problems are few, but comprise a self-timer lever that is positioned in such a way as to accidentally engage, causing unexpectedly delayed shutter release. Additionally troublesome is a film rewind button that needs to be continually depressed as the film is rewound. Being careless may result in damaged film. These are small issues, and don’t affect much once the photographer has become acclimated to the machine.

The top plate includes a cold shoe, as well as a visually interesting wheel to indicate the type and speed of film loaded into the camera. The shooter sets the wheel to black-and-white or color, and then sets ISO speed for a reminder of the film in the camera.

At 680g the camera is solid, but not heavy. With full-metal construction the Petri is a robust machine that can handle abuse. This is a camera that doesn’t need to be coddled. strap lugs are solid and well-positioned to avoid the awkward swinging that’s often the result of less thoughtful designs. Its fully manual nature makes single-handed operation unlikely, though if one is so inclined, scale focusing can be used to snap some surreptitious street shots on the quick.

The rangefinder and viewfinder windows are tiny. This can lead to trouble in low-light situations. Still, frame lines are visible enough, and the rangefinder patch is deeply contrasty. If shots are out of focus it’s likely not the cameras fault. A common and easily solved issue with these cameras is that the viewfinder and rangefinder windows can easily become dirty due to their tiny, recessed openings. Simple use of a Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol will have the finder optics immediately returned to like-new brightness.

One of the most impressive facets of the Petri is the cost. Holding this machine in the hand one would expect to pay hundreds. The way the camera feels, the way it operates, and the photos it takes place it in the same class with some of the more expensive vintage machines. Certainly it’s not a Leica, but it’s also not priced like a Leica. This fantastic camera, in perfect order, will cost less than $80. This is one of the great deals of the photographic world, and it’s difficult to think of a reason to pass it over.

The F1.9 is from that exceptional class of cameras that are mechanical in the most basic sense of the word. It comes from a time when electronic technology wasn’t the dominant force in photography. Build quality often trumped everything, and Petri knew how to make them. This camera harkens back to an age when manufacturers assumed their customers would practice a certain level of expertise; the camera requires a shooter to have knowledge of what makes a good photograph, and rewards those who respect the craft and hone their abilities. For budget-conscious photographers who are looking for a manual rangefinder of impeccable quality, the Petri F1.9 is pretty close to perfect.

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    gabriellaswerling
    September 24, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Love this!

    • Reply
      James
      September 24, 2014 at 12:37 am

      Thank you, Gabriella.

  • Reply
    Adam Paul
    September 24, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Really like where you are going with this post in particular, finding an unheralded “gem,” and giving us the ins and outs of its history and usage. I’m sure there are hundreds of pages out that there that adore Leica and Contax rangefinders, but I can’t say I’d ever heard of a Petri! These are the finds that can make photography a really fun adventure!

    • Reply
      James
      September 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you my friend. I’m really glad you like posts like this. I like to emphasize that you don’t need a massive disposable income for photography to enrich your life. It’s possible to create amazing photos with any camera! Thanks again.

      • Reply
        Adam Paul
        September 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm

        The way I see it, less money spent on gear allows for more money to be spent on film and developing! 🙂

  • Reply
    Geezer G
    October 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    My first 35mm camera was a Petri 7s back in 1966. It had selenium cell meter wrapped around an optically adequate lens and it was accurate enough to shoot Kodachrome 25. The 7s was prone to shutter problems later on, but I learned to love photography through the lens of this camera, so there is one sitting proudly on the Nostalgia Shelf on a bookcase. I’ve never used a Petri F1.9 color, but your article makes me want to find one. Thanks!

    • Reply
      James
      October 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      Thanks again my friend. It’s worth owning, especially given how affordable they are.

  • Reply
    David Hancock
    November 12, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Hey, James, I’m working on my own YouTube review of this. On my copy the film advance lever advances even if the shutter button hasn’t been pushed. It still cocks the shutter after it has been pushed but only advances the film if the shutter button was not pushed. Does yours operate in the same manner, or is mine mildly defective?

    • Reply
      James
      November 12, 2014 at 4:06 am

      Hi David,

      That sounds weird. I seem to remember that once the film was advanced and the shutter cocked the lever wouldn’t actuate or advance the film, but I could be mistaken.

      Unfortunately the camera I used for the review has since found a new owner, or I would check for sure. If I come across another Petri F1.9 I’ll update the info here for you.

      Let me know when your review is posted. I’d love to watch it. Great little rangefinder.

      • Reply
        David Hancock
        November 12, 2014 at 5:44 am

        Thank you for the quick reply. I suspect it has a weird mechanical glitch. Amazing that the film advance still runs — a testament to how well these operate. I’ll let you know when it’s up. I’m going to be filming a bunch of videos soon and editing in the coming months.

      • Reply
        Geezer G
        November 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

        Geezer here. I’ve had that happen before. On one camera (a old Olympus Trip35), it was a worn lever that wasn’t making contact with the gear to stop it from being advanced. That was in the top of the camera and the camera wasn’t worth having repaired.

        The other time was on a Canonet QL17 and it was a problem with the film rewind button not disengaging. You can check that by putting a roll of film in the camera, advancing a few frames and then trying to rewind the film. If it will rewind without having to do anything else, then the problem is in that mechanism. I’m not familiar with that model Petri, but my Racer and 7s both have recessed buttons on the bottom of the camera.

        On some cameras, there are a lot of parts under tension that want to go flying when covers are removed, so pull that bottom plate at your own risk!

        Hope that helps.

        • Reply
          James
          November 12, 2014 at 12:21 pm

          Good info. Thanks Geezer.

    • Reply
      Philip Birch
      October 31, 2017 at 5:38 am

      That would be faulty. The film advance should not work until the shutter button has been pressed. You can download a manual for the camera from here: http://www.cameramanuals.org/petri_pdf/petri_1_9.pdf

  • Reply
    Gerri Harden
    November 12, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    the rewind thing is different … you don’t have to hold the button down while rewinding.. you put a quarter on a flat surface fitting it in the recess… then press down and rewind… ta da!

    • Reply
      James
      November 12, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      That’s actually pretty clever! Thanks for the pro tip.

      • Reply
        Gerri Harden
        November 12, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        as i looked closely at the rewind pin i realized the recess is large enough to place a coin in there…. until i saw it …..i thought why is the pin surrounded by a large opening and then it hit me…. place a coin in the recess!!! neat eh?

        • Reply
          James
          November 12, 2014 at 6:23 pm

          Definitely. I just assumed it was to fit a thumb. Genius.

  • Reply
    How to Slow Down and Love Photography… Again | Casual Photophile
    January 25, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    […] bit of a long process. I’m not used to it, and I’ve not shot a rangefinder since reviewing the Petri F1.9 back in the warm days of summer. The Summicron has a pretty long throw and a minimum focus distance […]

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    August 28, 2015 at 1:21 am

    Interesting review of an obscure camera. My father-in-law had a similar Petri 35mm rangefinder camera that I used for a short time.

  • Reply
    Kristy
    December 20, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I have a Petri E.Bn Color Corrected Super camera with Petri Orikkor 1.9 f= 4.5cm lens No.210098 on it. Has leather case and looks in great condition. Does anyone know how much I could sell it for?

    • Reply
      Geezer G
      December 20, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      I’ve seen them as low as $40 and as high as $70, but I don’t know that they sold at either price. The problems with that series Petri cameras are 1) a weak shutter and 2) a selenium meter that probably isn’t working properly after this many years. Shutter problems are common to most Petri rangefinder cameras. My first 35mm camera was a Petri 7s and I really like them, but they aren’t very valuable.

      • Reply
        David
        March 29, 2016 at 1:38 am

        There is no selenium meter and I have several with shutters still shooting with no problems.

        • Reply
          Geezer G
          March 29, 2016 at 5:12 pm

          Sorry–I should have specified the selenium cell models. I have several of the old selenium light meters, including a couple of Gossen Pilots, that look great, but are quite dead. I paid $35 for my first 7s. The shutter went out in less than 2 years, so I had it repaired and that lasted about 1 year. Since the Petri 7s was my first 35mm camera, I have a certain liking for them and bought a 2nd one used. When the shutter crapped out on it, I donated it to the repair center.

          A look at some of the forums show that quite a few owners had shutter problems with Petri’s, but I had a Petri Color 35e that was excellent and still have a Petri Racer that refuses to die. I currently have a 3rd working 7s, but it sits on a shelf along with the auxiliary lens set. Why tempt fate?

          Oh, I haven’t forgotten about the Kaiser Bismark photo for you to see–I’ve just not had time to set up a copy stand to photograph it.

          • James
            March 29, 2016 at 5:13 pm

            Hey bud! That’s great. Just let me know if you find the time. Happy shooting!

    • Reply
      Gerri Harden
      December 21, 2015 at 12:05 am

      i would ask 300 to 400

  • Reply
    David
    March 29, 2016 at 1:35 am

    The camera does feature a cable release, but it’s located on the lens rather than in the shutter button.

  • Reply
    John Hudson
    July 14, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    This was my 1st 35mm camera, which I “appropriated” from my parents in the mid-60s. They bought while in Japan in the late ’50s. It kept me going until 1971 when I bought my 1st Nikkormat; It went with me to school in Mexico in 1975 because of its lightness compared with the Nikkormat and a 50mm 1.4 lens (the lens is a monster). Petri was a fine camera. Don’t even know what happened to it. Think I need to buy one.

    • Reply
      James
      July 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      I think you need to reconnect as well. 🙂 good luck!

  • Reply
    Philip Birch
    October 31, 2017 at 5:42 am

    I’m trying mine out for the first time today, I’ll let you know how I get on later.

    Point of information. The Japanese camera industry had problems selling in the UK as import taxes were severely high. The German industry was taxed to but not to the same amount hence why German cameras were more popular in UK.

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