Pentax Program-A

This camera dates from 1984. This camera is clearly a development of the Pentax ME Super of 1979. Indeed, the ME Super was discontinued the year that this model was released.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Pentax KA mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E5 vertical metal electronic
  • speeds: 15 to 1/1000 seconds
  • flash: hot shoe for dedicated Pentax flash guns plus PC socket
  • film: 35 mm

The Program-A has a fully automatic exposure system which is dependent on using ‘A’ series lenses. Other K mount lenses can be used but doing so will not allow the automatic exposure system to work – automatic aperture priority exposure is still possible.

As mentioned above, this camera is a development of the ME Super which is reflected in the top plate. This camera is made from metal. There is some plastic used but it is not used structurally. The body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are black painted brass. The body measures 131 by 87 by 48 mm and weighs 490 g with no lens attached.

This camera is entirely electronic and will not do anything at all without batteries. The instruction booklet (which was nicely supplied with this second-hand camera) says that the camera takes two 1.5 volt batteries – no indication as to which style batteries. I have fitted two LR44 alkaline batteries which fit in the battery compartment nicely and the camera works well with them.

The top plate closely resembles that of the ME Super. On the right is the film advance lever. This has a stand-off position at 30º from the body. This is intended to make film advancing easier but if the photographer wishes, the lever can be kept flush with the body. To advance the film one frame the lever must be moved through 135º from the stand-off position. There is no ratchet so the lever must be moved in one movement.

In front of the film advance lever is the window to the frame counter. As is usual, this is reset when the camera back is opened. The automatic exposure system does not kick-in until the frame counter reaches 1. Before that, the shutter speed defaults to 1/1000 seconds. Even frame numbers are in white – odd numbers are dots. 0, 20, 34 and 36 are in red (34 is in red to indicate that the film is very nearly at an end.

Next along is a selector wheel. This has the options of LOCK, AUTO, MAN, 100⚡︎ and B. When this wheel is in either the LOCK or AUTO positions, it is locked in place and you need to press a grey portion of the wheel in order to turn it. In either MAN, 100⚡︎ or B positions, the wheel can be turned freely.

The lock position locks the shutter and turns off the electronics. AUTO sets the automatic exposure system. MAN allows the user to set both aperture and shutter speed – camera control of the aperture is disabled and the aperture ring on the lens must be moved from “A”. 100⚡︎ forces the shutter too 1/100 seconds for flash synchronisation. B allows the shutter to remain open while the shutter release button is depressed.

In the centre of the selector wheel is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. This shutter release button is electrical and sends a signal to the electronic shutter.

Left of this selector wheel, hard by the pentaprism hump, are two buttons, 5 by 3 mm each. These are to adjust the shutter speed in manual mode – the front button increases shutter speed and the rear button reduces speed.

The pentaprism hump is in the middle of the top plate as usual. On top of the hump is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This is synchronised for electronic flash as designated by the red X. As well as the ISO standard central contact, there are two smaller auxiliary contacts. These are for Canon’s dedicated flash guns and allow the camera to automatically set the shutter speed and lens aperture to the required values. For non-dedicated flash guns, the user must set the selector wheel to 100⚡︎ and manually calculate the required lens aperture.

On the front of the pentaprism hump is an oblong translucent panel that illuminates the meter display in the viewfinder. The rear of the pentaprism hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. This is plain ground glass with a central micro-prism spot and a split-image spot in the middle of that. These are focus aids.

Below the focus screen is the light meter readout. On the left is a window for the shutter speed. When in AUTO mode with the lens aperture set to ‘A’, the shutter speed is preceded by a ‘P’ to indicate Program mode. On the right is the window for the aperture value. This only displays in program mode (aperture set to ‘A’, wheel to AUTO). Otherwise, it gives values from -3 to +3 to indicate how far out the exposure setting is.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual fold-out crank. When pulled upwards, this crank acts as the catch for the hinged back. Around the rewind crank is a wheel to set exposure compensation. Normally, this will be set to 1x but the exposure can be adjusted from 1/4 to 4 times the value set by the exposure system. On the left of this wheel is a small button. if you press this while rotating the exposure compensation wheel, you adjust the film speed setting instead. This is in ASA (functionally the same as modern ISO speeds) and runs from 6 ASA to 3200 ASA. 3200 ISO film is still readily available (in 2020) but I think you would struggle to find 6 ISO film!

Moving to the front of the camera, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is Pentax’s K bayonet mount introduced in 1975 (it was originally a joint development between the German Carl Zeiss and the Japanese Asahi Optical Co, but Carl Zeiss pulled out of the arrangement and development was completed by Asahi alone). Previously, Pentax cameras used the M42 screw lens mount and to make things as simple as possible the new K mount used the same flange distance (distance from the outside of the lens mount to the film) as the M42 mount. This made using adapters for older Pentax lenses much simpler.

Originally, in 1975, the K mount was entirely mechanical. There is a ring just inside the mount that connects to a lever on the lens to tell the exposure system what the set aperture is and a lever on then other side of the mount which closes the lens’ aperture when the shutter release is pressed.

lens showing the ‘A’ setting (white dot)

The version of the K mount on this camera is known as the KA mount. The difference between the vanilla K mount and the KA mount is the presence of six electrical contacts on the surface of the KA mount, on the lower left. Five of these contacts protrude slightly and are spring loaded so they can push in as a lens is being mounted/demounted. The sixth contact (the third one down) is flush with the mount and not sprung. This is the opposite on the lens portion of the mount – five contacts on the lens are flush and one is protruding and sprung. On the lens, this protruding contact is connected to the ‘A’ position on the aperture scale. If ‘A’ is set, this contact protrudes and if an actual aperture value is set then this contact is retracted – this signals to the camera’s AE system that the camera is to control the lens’ aperture.

The lens release button is on the left of the mount (or on the right when using the camera). This is the opposite way to most SLR cameras that I have . Just above the lens release button is a second lever. This is a depth of field preview lever and needs to be pressed towards the camera body. Slightly above and behind this is switch marked ‘SELF’. pushing this switch up sets the self-timer. This gives a delay of around 12 seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter opening. A red LED flashes once the shutter release button is pressed and this flashes faster during the final two seconds of the delay.

On the other side of the lens mount is a PC socket for use with an off-camera flash gun.

The base plate of the camera has the usual items. There is a standard 1/4 inch tripod socket. The ISO standard for tripod threads was set in 1973. Previous to this, the threads were 1/4 inch Whitworth but the ISO states they should be 1/4 inch UNC. As this camera dates from 12 years after the introduction of the ISO we can be sure that this is a UNC thread. This tripod socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Next to this is the battery compartment which takes two LR44 cells. The third usual item is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. Once this button has been pressed in, there is no need to hold it in, making rewinding easier.

Also on the base plate are the paraphernalia for connecting a motor drive, two models of which were available. These consist of two locating holes, a set of four electrical contacts, a set of two electrical contacts and a clutch connected to the film advance system. Also on the base is the camera’s serial number.

As mentioned earlier, the back is released by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back can be completely removed and can then be replaced with the optional Data Back which would print the date and time on each negative. This data back uses another set of two electrical contacts on the back of the base plate.

The inside of the camera is quite normal. The chamber for the film cassette is on the left. Strangely, inside this chamber is a second serial number which is close to but not the same as there serial number on the base of the camera. The shutter is a vertically running metal focal plane shutter made by Seiko. This is the model MFC-ES shutter (detail curtesy of the printed instruction booklet) and it is entirely electronic – it does not work at all without battery power. Centrally is the film gate – this is absolutely standard. On the right is the take-up spool. This has what Pentax call Magic Needles. These are a series of loosely fitting plastic needles around the take-up spool. When you fit a new film, you just push the film leader between any two of these needles and wind the film advance.

Being a Japanese camera, the joint between the camera back and the camera body is rendered light tight by a groove with a foam light seal in it. As is also usual, these foam seals have deteriorated and will need replacing before the camera is used. One last thing that a is worth mentioning is the presence of a memo holder on the back of the camera. This is intended to hold the end of the cardboard carton the film comes in to serve as reminder as to which film type is in use. These should be on every camera to my mind but they are not so frequent, unfortunately.

A scanned copy of the instruction booklet can be found here.

Test Film.

I have now run a test film through this camera and the results are mixed. The film I used was Agfa Vista, 200 ISO – a couple of years past its best-before date so basically fine. On a positive, there are no light leaks and the shutter is moving smoothly. On the negative, quite a few of the negatives are very thin, indicating significant underexposure – I still have images from these as scanning is very forgiving but they are not really useable.

The images:

One of the thin, underexposed negatives, This was a bright but cloudy day – plenty of light around.
Well exposed, as are the next three.

Pentax SFX

This camera is very reminiscent of the Yashica 230-AF . They are both early attempts at electronic control of the camera – using a variety of sliders instead of the dials and buttons we expect nowadays. There are certainly no menus! Other manufacturers made very similar cameras.

P1040632lens:  n/a

focal length:  n/a

apertures: n/a

focus range: n/a

lens fitting: Pentax KAFmount

shutter: metal focal plane

speeds: to 1/2000

flash: hot shoe

film size: 35 mm

I am unable at the moment to get this camera working – it is fully electrical and will not work without a battery. The circuit board is basically OK – when I put a battery in (an expensive 2CR5 lithium battery which is still readily available) the LED screen lights up and the camera attempts to load a film. I have put a test film in the camera but it does not load although I can hear the motor running. With the back of the camera open, I can still hear the motor running but neither the sprocket shaft nor the take-up spool move. In fact, the sprocket shaft cannot even be rotated by hand which is suggesting to my non-mechanical mind that there is a mechanical problem.

Without a film loaded, very little else works. I can change the ISO setting, exposure compensation, drive mode and partially set the exposure mode but the shutter will not fire and the exposure meter does not appear to work. A further fault – probably connected with the sprocket shaft not rotating – is that the mirror is permanently raised. This is not jammed as such as I can lower it by hand but it raises itself again when I let it go.

I am going to describe the camera without going into details as what the controls do as until the camera is working I cannot tell the details.

P1040633First, the top plate (this term, top plate, is not really appropriate on a camera made form moulded plastic but I am nothing if not traditional). On the right, forward of the main moulding, is the shutter release button. This is square plastic and falls easily to my index finger when gripping the moulded grip. Just behind this is a control slider. This has a central rest position and is spring loaded so that it returns to the rest position after use. This is an advance/retard selector and is used in conjunction with other controls to be discussed shortly.

P1050011On the far right of the top is an accessory shoe. This has the standard large, central electrode and so can be used with generic flash guns. It also has three smaller electrodes for use with Pentax dedicated flash guns with TTL facilities. This accessory shoe comes with a slide-on plastic cover.

To the left of the accessory shoe is the on/off switch. This offers three position: off; on silent; on with beeps. Even when off, the LCD screen is live suggesting that the battery would run down while the camera was not being used. Actually, I think there must be a secondary battery somewhere inside the camera because when the battery is removed, the LCD screen remains live for one minute. Or is this secondary battery a capacitor?

P1050014The pentaprism hump is not then usual shape. It is fairly low with a square profile. On the top of the pentaprism at the front is a flash gun. This is activated by a white button on the left side. Behind the flash gun is the LCD screen.

P1050010

Behind the pentaprism is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is lacking the soft rubber surround on my camera. Just above the eyepiece is a slider. This is a diopter adjuster to allow for the user’s eyesight. Normally, this slider is covered b y the soft rubber surround. To the left of the eyepiece is a red LED to indicate that the flash gun is ready. On the left of the eyepiece is a white button with a black ‘C’ on it. Pressing this resets all the adjustments you might have made.

P1050013Left of the pentaprism are two sliders. The right hand one is for adjusting the program mode and drive. The left hand one is for exposure compensation and ISO. These are used in conjunction with the advance/retard selector mentioned earlier.

As you might expect, there is little on the front of the camera. In the centre is the lens mount. This is a development of the Pentax K mount – the KAF mount.The A denotes that the aperture is controlled through electrical contacts and the F denotes there is an autofocus drive shaft. These only work with the appropriate lenses. The automatic aperture lenses have a ‘A’ setting on the aperture ring (or no aperture ring) and the autofocus requires that the lens has a focus drive socket. This is backwardly computable with the original K mount and older lenses will work with this camera but only manually.

While looking at the front of the camera, there is, top left of the lens mount, a focus assist lamp. On the right of the lens mount are two items. the lower item is a focus mode selector. Options are

  1. single – to focus on a static subject
  2. servo – to focus on a moving subject
  3. manual – as it says.

Switching between single and servo is simple – just slide the selector – but to move to manual requires a button to be pressed first. Above the this focus mode selector is a small plastic cover. Behind this is a three pin electrical connector. This is for a wired remote shutter release.

P1050015The lens mount itself incorporates seven electrical contacts in the lower left quadrant. six of these are sprung contacts but one is not. In the lower right quadrant is the autofocus drive. This normally protrudes slightly and is sprung to allow lenses to be fitted. When manual focus is selected, this drive shaft is retracted. I have an earlier autofocus Pentax – the Pentax ME-F – but this is a totally different system.

This camera came without a lens so I cannot comment on the lens that would have been supplied when new.

On the far right of the camera (when in use) is the grip. This doubles as a battery chamber. The cover is fixed with a screw designed to be tightened/loosened with a small coin. The battery is a lithium 2CR5 battery chichis still readily available even if a bit expensive. An alternative grip cover was available which held four AA batteries.

P1050007Inside is broadly similar to all my 35 mm cameras. A chamber on the left for the film cassette, a central film gate with the shutter, the sprocket shaft and then the take-up spool. The cassette chamber has a sturdy chrome spring to keep the cassette in the correct position. Along the right hand edge of the cassette chamber is a row of electrical contacts.There are two large contacts and eight smaller contacts arranged in pairs. These read a code the film cassette and tell the camera about the film.There are more contacts here than is usual with DX enabled cameras. Most cameras just read the film speed (ISO) from the cassette but much more information was potentially available. This camera would seem to be able to read all the DX information. For details of the DX codes see here.

P1050009Beneath the film gate are five more contacts. I would think that these are for a data back – the supplied back is detachable which usually signifies that alternative backs were available.

This camera has (or would have if the camera worked)  an automatic film loading system. You fit the cassette in its chamber, pull the leader across the film gate to the orange mark and close the back. The camera then pulls the film onto the take-up spool and winds the film on to the first frame.

On the inside of the back is a large central pressure plate. Towards the hinge are two rollers and a spring to help guide the film onto the take-unspool and keep the film tight across the film gate. At the closure end of the back is a clear acrylic window so that the user can see the cassette incase they have forgotten which film is in use – or, indeed, if any film is in use.

The base is fairly plain. There is a standard 1/4 inch UNC tripod boss in line with the lens. There is also a recessed rewind button. As this camera does not work, I am not going to be able to test it with film.

Asahi Pentax ME-F

Pentax were the leading 35 mm SLR cameras through the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, there were a lot of technological advances (not just in photography) and Asahi (the makers of Pentax cameras) were leading the push to develop modern automatic cameras.

The act of producing cutting edge, state of the art cameras necessarily meant also making mistakes. There were a number of innovative dead-ends during this period and the result was that Asahi lost their lead as prime camera makers to Nikon and Canon.

With this particular Pentax model the innovation was auto-focus. This was the first consumer auto-focus camera but using a technique that did not prove to be very effective. Asahi’s next auto-focus camera approached the task very differently. As I only have the camera body and not the special auto-focus lens I can make no comment about how well the auto-focus worked in practice.

This Pentax ME F is a development of the Pentax ME Super – itself a development of the Pentax ME. The ME series of Pentax cameras were introduced in 1976 with the ME. The ME Super was introduced in 1980 with the added option of manually setting the shutter speed and this ME-F in 1981. Other M series Pentax cameras were the MG, MV, MV1 and MX.

The M series were smaller and lighter than the Spotmatic and K series cameras – following the lead of Olympus with the OM series of cameras. They also all had aperture-priority automatic exposure (the MX had entirely manual exposure).

lens: none supplied
focal length:  n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: Pentax Kf mount
shutter: Seiko metal focal plane
speeds: 4 seconds to 1/2000 seconds
flash: hot shoe and PC connector – X synch
film size: 35 mm

This camera measures 132 mm wide by 87.5 mm high and 50 mm deep not including the lens. It weighs 480g.

The top plate is fairly cluttered resulting in fiddly controls that my rather large fingers struggle to manipulate. On the far right, as usual, is the film advance lever. This moves through about 140 degrees to advance one frame but the first part of the motion – around 45 degrees – is required to engage the advance mechanism. The lever also has a secondary rest position which usually indicates the presence of a light meter switch – I do not know if this is the case with this camera, it could just be to make fast winding possible.

In front of the film advance lever is a window to the frame counter. This counts up from one. Opening the back resets the counter to -2 – indicated by an orange dot – which encourages you to waste two frames to get to frame one. I find I get get an extra frame in by starting at -1. To be honest, I actually ignore frame counters and just shoot until I cannot advance the film anymore which gives me 26 exposures from a 24 exposure cassette in the main.

Next to these is a large black mode dial. This locks in place and it is necessary to depress a (very) small white button to be able to turn the dial. For me, this is a two handed job and is the most awkward part of using this camera. The modes available are L, Auto, M, 125X, and B – more on these later. In the centre of the mode dial is the shutter release button. This fires the Seiko metal focal plane shutter.

Between this dial and the pentaprism hump are two small buttons which alter the shutter speed when in manual mode. These buttons are actually plenty large enough even for my fingers but they are in a rather restricted space. The pentaprism is of the size needed – there is not much scope fore reducing this in size as cameras get smaller as it still has to show the full 24 x 36 mm frame. On top of the pentaprism is am accessory shoe. At this date it is basically a flash shoe and has hot-shoe connections. This is a large central contact  allowing the use of any hot-shoe flash gun. There is also a small secondary contact for Pentax specific flash guns with added functionality. It is also possible to use a cold-shoe flash as there is also a PC (Prontor-Compur) connector on the front of the camera.

On the left of the pentaprism is a switch to activate the auto-focus function. This is useful even without the dedicated auto-focus lens as the camera has a focus confirm function with any lens. This switch has three positions – off, 2.8 and 3.5 The last two relate to the maximum aperture of the lens being used. Behind this switch is a second switch which turns the audible focus-confirm on or off.

To the far left of the top plate is the folding rewind crank. Around this is the film speed setting for the light meter. This ranges from 12 to 1600 ASA (ISO). 12 ISO seems very slow by modern digital standards but films available in 1980 were very slow. This setting is set be slightly lifting the outside of the ring and turning. This ring also sets exposure compensation from x4 to x1/4 (that is, +2 stops to -2 stops) which is set by turning the ring without lifting. Pulling up on the rewind crank itself unlocks the door.

The front of the camera is uncluttered. Right of centre (looking at the front) is the Pentax K mount bayonet fitting. this is an adaptation of the original K mount known as Kf mount as it has four sprung electrical contacts and one unsprung contact. These allow the camera to communicate with the special auto-focus lens. This is the only camera with this version of the K mount. There were later variations on the K mount with electrical contacts in other parts of the mount ring. All these are backwards compatible. I am successfully using a lens with the later version of the K mount with this camera. I lose the later functionality of the lens but it still works fine as a fully manual lens.

On the right side of the mount is a PC connector which allows the use of flash off-camera. On the left of the lens mount is a delay action lever. This is not connected to the shutter release button. First  you wind the mechanism by turning the lever down in an anti-clockwise direction. Second, you start the process by pushing the lever back up very slightly. The delay is about eight seconds.

On the back of the camera (which is made from painted steel) are three items. most obviously is the viewfinder eye-piece. This is nice and large and works well for those of us who wear glasses. When looking through the viewfinder you get the expected ground glass screen. In the centre is a ring of micro-prisms and a split-image centre to aid focussing. On the left of the viewfinder image is a vertical list of shutter speeds. These range from 4 seconds to 1/2000 seconds. The selected speed is indicated by a small green or orange LED. There is also a reminder at the top of the list if you are in manual mode. At the bottom centre of the viewfinder is a green hexagonal LED flanked by two red triangular LEDs. The red LEDs light when the lens (any lens) is out of focus and the green LED lights when the lens is in focus. There is also a noise if the switch mentioned earlier is on.

On the right of the rear of the top plate is a small window revealing vertical red and black bars. These ‘dance’ when you advance or rewind the film. The idea is that if the film is not properly loaded the bars do not dance saving you taking pictures with no film in place. Personally, I always watch the rewind crank turn for the same reason. However, the dancing bars do work.

In the middle of the back is a device that all film cameras should have – a holder for the end of the film carton. If, like me, you have more than one camera on the go at a time, it is easy to forget what film is in which camera. Below this holder are two more electrical contacts for the optional data back.

On the base plate there are a number of items. on the left under a round cover is a mechanical connection for an electrical film winder. Next to this is the button to release the rewind mechanism. In line with the centre of the lens is a 1/4 inch UNC threaded tripod socket (the old standard was 1/4 inch Whitworth which is as near as dammit to the modern standard). To the right of this is the battery compartment. This holds four button batteries which are still available today. Beyond the battery cover is a release button to undo the battery cover catch.

In use.

Loading film is as easy as it can be made short of full automation. The back is opened by pulling up on the rewind crank – as was usual with cameras of this age. The film cassette goes on the left – the rewind crank is pushed back down to hold the cassette in place – and the film is pulled across the camera and the leading edge is pushed between any two of the many white bars on the take-up spool. Very simple and hard to go wrong.

Above the white bars on the take-up spool is a fairly loose plastic ring. As the film moves past this ring when advancing the film, the movement in the loose ring is transferred to the red and black dancing bars. visible through the window on the back of the top plate. Once you have loaded the film and closed the back you need to ‘waste’ two frames as these have been fogged while the back was open. At this point, the frame counter should read ‘1’ – remember to put the end of the film carton in the memo holder and you are ready to go.

The photographer needs to set his choice of aperture and focus the lens and the camera does the rest. The viewfinder is nice and clear and the split-screen centre works as it should.

This is a delightful camera to use. My only real niggle is turning the camera on. this involves pressing a very small white button on the black mode dial and turning the dial to Auto or M or 125x. The L position is off and this switches off the meter and locks the shutter release button – the shutter can still be fired in this position by using the self-times lever.

Auto reads the aperture from the lens and selects the most appropriate shutter speed – this is not restricted to the displayed speeds, any intermediate speed can be selected. The M mode requires the user to set both the aperture on the lens and the shutter speed using the two buttons next to the pentaprism – in this case only the displayed speeds may be selected.  The 125x speed is used to synchronise the shutter and the flash at 1/125 seconds. There is also a B setting which leaves the shutter open as long as the shutter release button is depressed. I find using this dial very difficult and have to use both hands. Once the mode dial is set, I leave it set until I have finished for the day.

To use this camera with the full complement of shutter speeds requires working batteries. If they are flat, the camera can still work in mechanical mode but this restricts the camera to 1/125 seconds shutter speed. This is clearly less than ideal but does mean that you can continue to take photographs if you have no spare batteries.

I do not have the auto-focus lens but the auto-focus system will give focus confirmation with any lens. this is in the form of a green LED indicating focus and two red LEDs which indicate the direction you need to turn the focus ring on the lens to obtain focus. I found these to be completely useless – they did work but the audible confirmation is rather more useful – actually, my eyes offer a faster focus confirmation.

Test photographs – Agfa Vista colour negative film.

Hand held, indoors
A nosey of twitchers

Asahi Pentax MX

This is a very nice, if rather simple, compact film SLR from Asahi. It is intended as a professional camera and gives full manual control of exposures. In fact, all the camera uses the battery for is the light meter and it works fine with no battery.

0ce09-img_8836
Pentax MX (c) John Margetts
lens: n/a
focal length:   n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: Pentax K mount
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 to 1/1000 seconds
flash: hot shoe plus 2 PC sockets
film size: 35 mm

The layout of the camera is pretty standard for SLR cameras from between 1960-ish and 1985-ish. The top plate is metal (as far as I can tell. The three ME series cameras from Asahi had metallised plastic top plates). On the right is the film advance lever. This is metal with a black plastic tip. When not in use, it returns flush with the top plate. In use, it sits slightly proud. This allows easier access for your thumb when advancing the film and also allows easier access to the shutter speed dial. In front of the film advance is a window to the frame counter. This automatically resets to -2 (shown as S) when the camera back is opened. The counter then counts up from zero – two frames being used to remove the film fogged when loading the camera.

Next on the top plate, right at the front, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Around this is a moveable collar. When turned anti-clockwise, it turns off the light meter and locks the shutter release. However, the shutter itself is not locked as it can still be fired using the self-timer. In the off/locked position, a small red ‘L‘ is revealed to remind the photographer to unlock the camera.
713e1-img_8837
Pentax MX (C) John Margetts
On the left of the shutter release button is a very small window to an indicator for the shutter status :
white = not cocked/not ready
red = cocked/ready
Next along is the shutter speed/film speed selector dial. Shutter speed is set by simply turning the selector dial to position the required speed against the red mark – speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B. To select the film speed, it is necessary to press a small button on the dial and turn.
Next is the pentaprism hump. This has a hot-shoe accessory shoe on top with then usual central electrical contact. It is marked with a red ‘X‘ to signify that it is synchronised for electronic flash. For flash bulbs, there is other provision.
To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. As had become usual by the time this camera was made, the rewind crank pulls up to both unlock the rear door and to free the film cassette for removal.
The front of the top plate is graced with the letters MX which are embossed in the metal and the name Pentax above the lens mount.  The Asahi logo and the name Asahi appear on the front of the pentaprism. Immediately above the name Pentax is a small window. This allows the set aperture to appear in the viewfinder above the image. Below the letters MX is the self-timer lever. This is activated by turning it anti-clockwise (which winds up the timer spring) and then pressing the small button revealed by moving the lever. This gives an eight to ten second delay and also (as mentioned above) will fire the shutter even when locked by the collar around the shutter release button.
On the other side of the lens mount are two PC connectors. One marked FP for flash bulbs and one marked X for electronic flash. These allow for off-camera flash as well as giving provision for using flash bulbs. These come with black plastic caps to protect the contacts when not in use.
c9f38-img_8838
The rear of camera is rather plain. There is the viewfinder eye-piece and the rear door. This door is opened by pulling up on the rewind crank. The door is made from black painted steel – on my camera, much of the paint has worn off and the steel has started to rust. In the centre of the door is a holder for the end of the film carton to act as a reminder as to which film is in use – an item all film cameras should have.
The base of the camera is intended to have a rapid wind attachment fitted and to accommodate this there are two holes to act as locating devices and a covered linkage to the film advance mechanism. As I do not have this rapid wind attachment, I can say no more about it. Also on the base plate is a covered battery compartment. This holds two button batteries – those fitted to my camera are marked ‘GPA76’. Fortunately, Pentax did not rely on mercury batteries and these batteries are readily available.
94241-img_8839
The only other thing to mention is the lens mount. This is a K mount camera and any K mount lens will fit and work with the single exception of modern digital lenses with no aperture ring which, while fitting, will not be able to have their aperture adjusted. There are no electrical contacts on the MX version of the K mount as this is a fully mechanical camera but it does not mind lenses with contacts. I have three K mount lenses – a Tokina zoom, a Ricoh Riconar 55mm and a Sirius Automatic 28mm. All three work well with this camera.

Test pictures.

I am quite pleased with these – no light leaks, shutter working as it should – no pin-holes in the curtains and no hesitating curtains. In the second to last photo, there is severe vignetting. this is caused by me using a lens cap designed for a 50 mm lens with a 28 mm lens – the vignetting is actually the lens cap in view!

 

Asahi Pentax MX

 

Asahi Pentax MX

 

Asahi Pentax MX

 

Asahi Pentax MX

This next one shows the joy of using the wrong lens hood – severe vignetting!

Asahi Pentax MX

 

Asahi Pentax MX

 

Asahi Pentax SV

This is the archetypical 35 mm SLR from Asahi – marketed in the Americas as the Honeywell H3v. It wasn’t Asahi’s first 35 mm SLR – that was the Asahiflex – and there were earlier S model Pentax SLRs – but it is the direct ancestor to the famed Spotmatic.
Pentax SV with Super-Takumar lens

Mine is an early SV which is indicated by there being a green R on the rewind crank. Later models had an orange R which indicated that there was room for the 50mm f/1.4 lens which protruded further into the lens mount. It is an entirely mechanical camera: no batteries, no meter, little to go wrong. To look at, it is just about identical to my Spotmatic SP1000 – the photos will show you the differences. The price of this camera in 1965 was £110. This equates to £3,553 in 2020 values.

Pentax SV top – Pentax Spotmatic SP1000 bottom

My particular camera has been very badly treated. It has been stored somewhere very damp causing extensive corrosion of what appears to be nickel-plating on the top plate and fascia. this corrosion is bad enough to leave the surface of the metal very pitted after I have cleaned the verdigris off. This, however, does not affect the workings which are fine (as far as I can tell). Also, someone has repaired this camera and re-assembled it incorrectly. I know this for two reasons. Firstly, there was a black painted thin brass plate hanging down into the mirror cavity. While this did not obstruct the light path, it did foul on the diaphragm pin on the automatic M42 mount lens. I suspect that this plate was some sort of light baffle and should have gone upwards in front of the pentaprism rather than downwards into the mirror box. This plate was so distorted by fitting and removing the lens that it is no longer there – I just hope it was not a critical component.

Secondly, when I removed the fascia (to aid removing the jammed lens) the screws, while not loose, were surprisingly easy to remove for screws that had been in place for over 50 years.
As I said earlier, this camera has a standard Pentax layout. On the far right is the film advance lever. this advances the film one frame with one easy movement. As was usual by the 60s, it also cocks the shutter. There is a frame counter built into the film advance which automatically resets to -2 when you open the back. Next to the film advance lever and slightly forward of it is the shutter release button. this is threaded for a standard cable release. Next to this is the shutter speed selector. This goes from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B. It also has a T setting. With T, you press the shutter once to open the shutter and then a second time to close the shutter again. This was normal on most cameras in the first half of the 20th century but rather unusual in the second half. The T setting has a large groove cut into the dial. This is a locating device for the optional light meter, allowing the meter to ‘read’ the selected shutter speed.
Next to the shutter speed selector is the pentaprism viewfinder. This is good and clear with a bright micro-prism centre spot for accurate focussing. Outside the central spot is a Fresnel lens area to give even illumination of the image.
Left of the viewfinder is the rewind crank. This is a typical fold-out small crank the same as just about every Japanese camera. Below the rewind crank is a film speed reminder. This has two scales – one silver for monochrome films and one green for colour films. The silver one goes from 25 to 1600 ASA and the green scale goes from 12 to 400 ASA (ASA is broadly the same as ISO, but technically different).
Below the ASA reminder is a delay action timer. You set this by turning the knurled ring clockwise. If turned as far as it will go, you get a ten second delay, but you can choose a shorter delay by only turning the knurled ring part way. There is a ‘V’ on the ring (V = Vorlaufwerk which is German for a delay timer and is the reason for the V in the name Pentax SV) and supposedly the shutter will fire when the V reaches the front of the camera. This is another reason I know the camera has been “repaired” as this camera fires when the V is at the back of the camera – it does, though, still work well. The front of the camera has the lens which is almost central. To the right of the lens (as in looking at the lens) are two PC sockets for flash synchronisation. The top one is for fast flash bulbs and the lower one for electronic flash a M flash bulbs. Synchronisation shutter speed is 1/50 seconds marked on the speed selector as a red X.
The base of the camera has little on it – a tripod boss (1/4 inch Whitworth) behind the lens and a button to release the internal mechanisms for rewinding then film.

In use.

The camera is a delight to use as all the controls fall easily to hand. Focusing is easy with the micro-prisms clearly showing when the image is in focus. The camera came without a lens and for my test film I mostly used my Soviet Helios 44M lens.  While testing the camera, I bought a Super-Takumar f/2 55 mm lens. This is not the lens supplied with the SV but was supplied with the sister model S1. I used this Super-Takumar for the last three frames of the test film.

Although it does not seem to be a design feature, the camera almost has mirror lock-up. I initially thought this might be due to wear on my own camera but I have seen it mention elsewhere on the Interweb. If you press the shutter release button half way, the mirror will come up but the shutter will not fire. You can then press the shutter release all the way and the shutter will fire. This allows you to have a second or so delay for vibrations to die away before the shutter opens.

A selection from the test film are below. Indications are good. I can see no real problems with the camera at all. The lack of the lack of the mysterious black plate I mentioned at the start and had to remove does not seem to have caused any problems.

Pentax SV, Helios 44M lens. Southwell Minster
Rowan leaves and berries
A flower
Ragwort flowers
Vetch flowers
Grazing bullock
Messingham gravel pit
Child’s bike – Super-Takumar lens
Busker, Lincoln city centre – Super-Takumar lens

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 1/2000 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
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
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 to free the dial.  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.

Pentax ME Super

 

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 (or UNC).  Next to this is a battery cover.  This takes two button batteries of LR44 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
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 the 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 or less.

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.

Pentax ME Super
Cannon Street, Lincoln

 

Pentax ME Super
Wheat Harvest, Lincolnshire
863e8-pentax
Broadgate, Lincoln

 

5942c-pentaxdetail
Detail from above
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