The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (or UWS) was produced as a low cost toy camera for give-aways. They now tend to go for silly prices (reputedly one was placed on ebay with a reserve of £150) or you can seek out one of the Superheadz clones. I got my two copies for 75p each in the charity shop.

About

Unmodified UWS
Unmodified UWS

This is a small silver point and shoot camera – it is about the size of a cigarette packet, and is so light that the roll of film doubles the weight! It is often recommended to use 24 exposure film, as the winding mechanism is quite delicate, but many people have used 36 exposure film with no problems.

It has a plastic lens, with a focal length of 22mm and an aperture of f/11. It has one shutter speed of 1/125s. This focal length is wide, for 35mm film, giving a horizontal field of view of just over 78°, with obvious vignetting at the edges. The lens produces significant flare and saturated colours.

The camera is fully manual, with no flash. Winding the film is through a standard thumb turn, located oddly on the bottom left of the back plate. The viewfinder is just a simple reverse Galilean type, which is not as wide as the lens. So you do need to be mindful of fingers and the attached strap.

Exposure

Walkway - Vivitar UWS and Vivitar UWS and Kodak Ektachrome 320T EPJ
Walkway - Vivitar UWS and Vivitar UWS and Kodak Ektachrome 320T EPJ

The aperture and shutter speed combination allows for use at EV14 (weak hazy sun) at ISO 100. Folk advice suggests using ISO 400 film, and certainly from my experience I would think a push to get a good exposure in these conditions with ISO 100 film. I have managed good results in bright sun with ISO 200  – I tend to work on a ‘sunny 11’ rule in Northern England, so this is one stop out. The image to the right was taken at sunset on ISO 320 film – this is obviously more than 1 1/3 stops under exposed.

The table therefore looks like this:

ISO EV Conditions My suggestions
25 16 Bright sun over sand or snow 17 Rarely found in nature
50 15 Bright sun 16 Bright sun over sand or snow
100 14 Weak Hazy Sun. Bright sun in Northern areas. 15 Bright sun
200 13 Cloudy Bright, no shadows 14 Weak Hazy Sun. Bright sun in Northern areas.
400 12 Open Shade, Heavy Overcast 13 Cloudy Bright, no shadows
800 10 Landscapes Immediately after sunset 12 Open Shade, Heavy Overcast
1600 9 Landscapes 10 minutes after sunset, neon lights, spotlit subjects 10 Landscapes Immediately after sunset
3200 8 Bright city squares at night, Bright fluorescent lit interiors 9 Landscapes 10 minutes after sunset, neon lights
Future Condos - Vivitar UWS and Fujichrome Sensia 400
Future Condos - Vivitar UWS and Fujichrome Sensia 400

Another interesting quirk I have found is to be mindful of what you are shooting. I took a number of shots on an overcast day, looking up to use the wide-angle distortion to create some images of buildings in London. These looked slightly over exposed – the think to bear in mind here is that the exposures in the table relate to subjects under these conditions. Shooting a wide-angle lens up at the sky is going to include quite a lot of the (actually very bright) sky areas. The image to the right was shot in EV 12 to ISO 400 slide film.

Tips and Tricks

Buslingthorpe Green -  Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and (Expired) Scotch Chrome 800/3200 (Cross Processed)
Buslingthorpe Green - Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and (Expired) Scotch Chrome 800/3200 (Cross Processed)

The strength of this camera lie in its wide lens and quirky characteristics. Use them! The camera performs best in bright light, and slide film, cross processed, is a natural match as this loves light, and tends towards high contrast making the vignette more obvious. The image to the right epitomises this in my mind.

As with any wide angle lens it has a good depth of field. The hyperfocal distance is 1.45m, so assuming the lens is focused to this point this gives a near limit of 0.7m . So you can get in close.

Tulips - Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and Expired Scotch Colour 200
Tulips - Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and Expired Scotch Colour 200

This creates some lovely perspective effects if used well. Objects that are close in will loom huge in the image and distant objects appear tiny in comparison. Remember though that there will be some parallax error with these close-ups.

Another effect that is common with wide angle is lens flare. Along with the plastic lens this is quite extreme on the UWS, and can be used to good advantage. Shooting into the sun, or at an angle of about 45° works well.

Fishing Lake - Vivitar UWS and Kodak Max 400
Fishing Lake - Vivitar UWS and Kodak Max 400

The camera just cries out to be modded, due to its simplicity and the effects it gives.

I have written a ‘blog about one of the most simple mods, fitting a cameraphone fisheye lens to get some mind bending close ups. There are some more suggestions in the links section.

Some copies apparently have a fault where the shutter sticks resulting in smearing of and light leaks. Mine do not, but if the happens I would just say embrace it!

Vital Statistics

 Type: 35mm fully manual camera.
Lens: 22mm single element (?) plastic.
Shutter: Single blade mechanical leaf shutter, 1/125s.
Viewfinder: Reverse Galilean Type.

Links

Vivitar UWS on Camerapedia

Vivitar UWS flickr group

A series of hacks and mods for the UWS

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