By Rob Turner
29 Nov 2008
The Steky III is a 16mm subminature camera made in Japan during the '50s. It has many features that make it unique, such as its use of interchangeable lenses (with a normal, wide and tele available) and the facility to have fully manual control over the camera, this also allows a bulb mode for time exposures, making it very useful for night shots. The shutter has speeds running from 1/25 to 1/100 of a second plus bulb, and the lens is a three-element f3.5, 50mm design, which is pretty sharp, especially for its size. I got my Steky as a present for my 21st birthday from my (very lovely) girlfriend. It came with the standard lens, lens cap, and a small (and very cute) every-ready case.
The film is loaded into two cartridges, rather than the cassette design common on most subminiature cameras, these are good for about 25 10x14mm frames on about 45cm of film. The cassettes are loaded with 16mm film, internet sources state that the film has to be perforated, but old cartridges I've got off of eBay have contained unperforated film, and this is the film I use (split down from ordinary 35mm). Splitting your own film also allows you to use any emulsion, rather than the limited range of films actually available in 16mm. Instructions on making a splitter can be found on the net, and even I managed to make a working one! You can shoot both colour and black and white films easily, I develop the black and white film myself using a 16mm film tank I got off of eBay, colour films can be processed by any lab that can handle 110 film (which is most), roll it up inside an opaque 35mm container and put a label on it that says something like "Warning: lose 110 film strip, open in complete darkness only".
Loading the cartridges is the biggest problem, it is rather fiddly and requires complete darkness. Instructions to do this can be found on the internet easily. The camera is used pretty much like any other manual camera: use a meter (or guess) to get the correct exposure, then set the values on the camera, the shutter is always cocked, so just compose you image in the finder and snap away! Once you've taken the shot, the small switch above the frame counter needs to be tripped, this allows the film to be advanced, but the shutter is completely uncoupled to this, and there is no multiple exposure interlock, so multiple exposures are as easy as taking another shot without advancing the film. The small size of the camera makes it an excellent street shooter, it doesn't even resemble what most people think a camera looks like, and is so small and toy-like that it is impossible to take seriously. Also, as the lens is fairly wide, it is not necessary to use the viewfinder, so the camera can be used at waist level.
The 25mm Stekinar lens is a pretty good performer, especially considering its size. It is also reasonably fast, although performance is rather poor until it is stopped down to around f8. Due to the extensive depth of field, there is no focusing on the lens, but it is unnecessary anyway. The main problem with the camera is the limited range of shutter speeds, the top speed of 1/100 of a second is rather slow, meaning slow film must be used, but this is an advantage anyway, as the grain is reduced meaning larger prints can be made from the negatives. I tent to shoot either Ilford Delta 400 (pulled to ISO 200) or Ilford FP4 (sometimes shot at ISO 125, some times at ISO 50 depending on conditions), both of these films achieve good results. The small size of the camera is also a good thing, it fits easily in my coat pocket, and is no more fiddly to operate than most larger cameras.
All in all, the Steky cameras are an excellent option for the subminature user. The feature set is pretty good, and the lack of a dependance on batteries is also very useful. This coupled with the good performance of the lenses and the general look of the camera make it my favourite of several subminiature cameras.