Pentax ME Super

This is a very compact SLR from Pentax, Japan.  By the time of the K-mount cameras, the company had changed its name from Asahi to Pentax.  Originally, the Pentax name belonged to the East German Zeiss Ikon as a contraction of PENtaprism conTAX.  This camera is a development of the Spotmatic series.

Pentax ME Super

lens: Sirius automatic
focal length: 28mm
apertures:  n/a
focus range:  0.2m to infinity
lens fitting:  K mount bayonet
shutter:  vertical metal focal plane
speeds: 4 seconds to 1/1000 seconds
flash:  hot shoe plus PC connector
film size:  35mm

The camera has an automatic exposure system that has aperture priority, the user setting the the required aperture and the camera selecting the shutter speed.  There is also a fully manual setting, the shutter speed being set by + and – buttons.
Pentax ME Super front view showing K-mount bayonet

The top plate is rather cluttered.  Starting on the left there is a combined rewind crank, film rewind crank, film speed setting (marked ASA) and exposure compensation.  The rewind crank is standard for the age of camera.  It folds out and is nearly too small for large hands.  Around this is a slightly knurled ring to set exposure compensation in one stop steps: +2 stops to -2 stops. Lifting the slightly knurled ring allows you to set the speed of the film for the light meter.  This runs from 12 ASA to 1600 ASA. That range is pretty much standard for automatic exposure cameras.  This is adjustable in one third stops which equates to a single degree DIN – there is no DIN scale available: even the Germans had gone over to ASA only by this time, at least on export models.

Pentax ME Super – top plate
In the centre of the top plate, on top of the pentaprism, is an accessory shoe with contacts for flash. This has the central contact that has become standard, and a smaller offset contact that is specific to Pentax flashguns.  This second contract allows elementary communication between camera and flashgun and lets the flashgun set the shutter speed to 1/125 seconds (the synchronisation speed) without the user doing anything.  With other flashguns it is necessary to set the shutter speed to 1/125 manually. There is a red cross embossed in the base of the accessory shoe to indicate that it is suitable for electronic flash.

In addition to the hot shoe connections there is also a PC (Prontor-Compur) socket.  This has two uses. First, it allows you to use a simple flashgun with no hot-shoe connection.  The second use is to allow the photographer to use off-camera flashguns.  This is of particular use in a studio where the photographer might have two or three flashguns all triggered from the camera.

Next to the accessory shoe on the right are a couple of buttons.  These are not marked – the markings by them refer to the mode dial.  These two buttons are used to set the shutter speed in manual mode – one button increases shutter speed, the other decreases it.
Beside the buttons is the mode dial.  This has five settings – Lock, Auto, Manual, 1/125x and B.  To turn this mode dial, you need to press down a very small white button on the dial pointer.  This is not impossible but I find it very hard to do.
The Lock position locks the shutter release button.  There are two reasons why using this is important. First, it prevents you taking accidental photographs while handling the camera.  The second reason is that partially pressing the shutter release activates the metering system and slight accidental pressure will run the batteries down.

Auto is the expected way of using this camera.  In this mode, the user sets the required aperture on the lens and the camera will decide on the shutter speed.  Cameras of this age do not have any electronic connection between the body and lens, communication being by two small levers.  In Auto mode, the camera selects the exact shutter speed needed for a good exposure, not just they nearest standard speed. The shutter speed selected is indicated by a LED on the left side of the viewfinder.  The speed indicated will be the nearest standard speed even if the actual speed is slightly more or less.  These indicator LEDs are in different colours.  Green means OK, yellow means a slow speed and a tripod is advised and red means no good.

 

Manual mode allows for manual operation of the camera (a bit of a give away in the name there!). Here, the user must select both aperture and shutter speed.  Shutter speeds are restricted to the standard speeds in one stop steps.
1/125x is for using non-Pentax flash guns.  Shutter speed is 1/125 and the user must calculate the aperture from the flashgun’s guide number and the distance to the subject.  The reason electronic flashguns need a specific synch. speed with focal plane shutters is that the shutter exposes the film by a moving slit.  Shutter speed is determined by the width of the slit.  The flash from an electronic flash is very brief (1/10 000 seconds or so compared to 1/10 seconds for a flash bulb) and the width of the slit needs to be the width of the negative.  If you use electronic flash at a higher shutter speed, only a narrow portion of the negative will be exposed.
The last mode, B, is an extension on manual mode where the photographer must time the shutter himself – the automatic system only going as long as four seconds.
In the centre of the the mode dial is the shutter release button.  This is threaded for a standard cable release.  As already mentioned, partially pressing this button will activate the metering system.

To the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever.  This has a closed position with the lever parked over the top plate and a rest position where the lever sticks out at about thirty degrees.  The lever moves through about 130 degrees to advance the film one frame.  By the tip of this lever when in the parked position, there is a small window.  When you take a picture this turns to black.  When you wind on the film, this changes to red.  This is supposed to tell you if the camera is ready to use or no.  I find it easier to gently turn the film advance.  If it will not move, the camera is ready.  In front of the film advance is the frame counter.  Opening the camera resets this to -2 (indicated by a red dot).  On loading a film, you need to wind on the fogged start of the film which is two frames. Once you have done this, the counter will be at zero.

On the front right of the camera is a delayed action lever.  To use this, you turn it through 90 degrees to set it and then to activate it you nudge it upwards.  You then have ten seconds to get yourself in the frame.

On the bottom plate are a number of items.  In line with the lens is a tripod boss.  This is the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth.  Next to this is a battery cover.  this takes two button batteries of 400 size.  The meter electronics have a bridge circuit which means the exact voltage from the batteries is not important so when using alkaline batteries you can continue to use them safely until they are entirely flat.

At the opposite end of the base plate is what looks like another battery cover.  Under this is a mechanical connector for a motor-wind unit.  There are also three electrical contacts in a line which I assume are also for the motor-wind unit.

On the back is one of the most useful innovations in photography – a holder for the end-flap of the film carton.  Using this, you always have a reminder of the type of film in the camera.

Also on the back is a strange indicator.  This consists of a small window with black and red stripes in it. When the film moves – either advancing or rewinding – these stripes wobble.  The benefit is twofold – it tells you the film is inserted correctly and is advancing and it also tells you the film is rewinding.  When rewinding film, when these stripes stop wobbling you cans top rewinding.

Pentax ME Super back view
The lenses I am using with this camera are a Sirius 28mm macro lens and a Rokoh Riconar 55mm lens. Although Sirius lens is called a macro lens it is not really as the best reproduction ratio is 1:4 – macro is usually taken as being 1:1.
The Sirius lens focusses down to 0.2m (8 inches for my older readers) which is why Sirius call it a macro lens.  Looking on the Interweb, this lens does not have a good reputation but I shall make up my own mind when the test film is finished.  The claimed fault is that the lens is very soft.
Any softness apart, this lens is a delight to use.  Both the aperture ring and focusing ring are easy to find by feel – the aperture ring has wide ribs and the focussing ring has a coarse rubber knurling.
Focussing is through very nearly a complete circle giving very precise control over focussing.  This compares well with my modern Canon EOS lenses that only move through 80 to 90 degrees.

This lens is a prime lens and is multicoated.  The focussing scale is in both metres and feet which will benefit some although I am entirely metric.  The lens is made for a more modern K-mount standard than the camera.  The lens contains electronics (I can clearly see a resistor through the mount end) and has two electrical contacts in the bayonet.  It also has an aperture setting marked (A)P which I assume is to do with the electronics. The camera mount is plain machined, chrome-plated brass with no electrical contacts. However, this lens fits well and works well with this camera – the more modern K-mount is clearly backwards compatible with the original K-mount.

The Riconar lens is to the older standard – it has no visible electronics inside the lens and no contacts on the bayonet mount. This lens focuses down to 0.8 metres which is just under three feet.  Its aperture range is less than the Sirius lens – f2.2 to f16.  I am now using this lens with a roll of film and will post the results when I have finished the roll (the results below are for the Sirius lens only).

This camera is very small and light – it measures 130 x 45 x 85 mm – compared to most SLR cameras. It is certainly much smaller and lighter than the Spotmatic. The body of a focal plane shutter camera is always going to be longer than the body of a leaf shutter camera as the mechanism for the shutter plus the rolled shutter blinds must fit in there somewhere. Lighter will go with smaller.

Having made the camera smaller, Pentax have left enough room for my not-too-small hands to hold this camera securely. The final weight of the camera will depend on the lens attached but with no lens attached it weighs 445g. My two lenses are small prime lenses which reduces the total weight compared to using a zoom lens. On the other hand, these two lenses have metal barrels which will add weight compared to a modern polycarbonate lens. Any road, the lens/camera combination is one of the lightest of my collection.

I have created a small problem with this camera in that I have bought two lenses which focus in opposite directions. This is a camera I really like and I intend to use it as one of my go-to cameras. I am helped by the fact that I frequently change from SLR to rangefinder to viewfinder cameras and from German to Japanese so I have no instinctive expectations as to camera controls.

The only controls on the body that you use frame-to-frame is the on/off control and the shutter button. I find the on/off control hard to use as you need to press a very small white interlock while turning the knob. I am unable to do this with one hand and switching the camera on or off is a two handed affair.

The film advance lever, while the camera is not in use, sits very close to the body which is slightly awkward to use, but after the first shot it sits slightly proud which makes it much easier to use.

Walking around with this camera slung around your neck is much nicer than with most of my other SLRs – my OM10 being the exception. Both the ME Super and the OM10 are similar in size and weight. It is no hardship to use either of these two cameras on a long day out which is more than I can say for any of my German SLRs or my modern digital SLR.

Sad note: I picked up this camera today after cleaning it and the back swung open and my thumb went through the shutter – it is well passed repair.  But they are common enough so I don’t expect it to take too long to find another one in good condition.

Sample pictures.

These are taken on Agfa Vista + colour film, 200 ISO (actually made by Fuji) and the Sirius 28mm lens.  With the third picture, I have taken a detail from the centre to see how the lens performed as I have been told this Sirius lens is ‘soft’.  My test reveals very little as the scan the lab did was only a medium resolution scan but this lens does not seem to be unduly soft to me.

Cannon Street, Lincoln

 

Wheat Harvest, Lincolnshire
Broadgate, Lincoln

 

Detail from above
Posted in SLR

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