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Thursday, 27 July 2017


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My first real camera was a black MX given to me prior to a trip to Australia, at which point the meter died in the middle of the outback (luckily Sunny-16 worked fine).

I later obtained an LX with a screw in grip, but the awkward +/- EV control made Aperture Priority less useful than imagined. While it was a fine 'system camera' with a crazy low-light capable meter for long exposures, somehow it didn't have the charm of the MX - part of said charm was the wonderful-sounding horizontal cloth shutter, a la Leica.

I owned the SMC-M 50mm 1.7 and the K series 50mm 1.2, but never the 1.4.

So I would agree with Mike, the Pentax MX is an almost ideal MMM camera. I'd imagine an Olympus OM-1 would work too, though the shutter speeds are controlled by a ring around the lens mount, like the fixed-lens rangefinders of the era.

Since I was scanning much of my film, now I have a Rolleicord from the late 50's that satisfies that need, and an OMD-D EM5 II for everything else; it's small yet hefty, and the m4/3 lenses are nicely proportionate to the body in the same way that manual primes were to the MX and OM-1.

Kinda mixed feelings here. I do own an MX. It's a nice camera. Standout feature - huge viewfinder, they don't make'em like this anymore.
But at the same time, why 35mm camera? Why not get yourself a nice Hasselblad and have even more perfect retro film-camera experience? Perfecter, if you will?

Now watch prices of Spotmatics spike on eBay !

I wholeheartedly agree. My first 35mm SLR was a lightly used SP500; I moved on from that to a pair of motorized black MXes when I was a junior in high school - heady stuff! I had to sell all my Pentax gear for Nikon when I got my first gig so I could use pool lenses.

Another classic Pentax to consider is the one I always lusted for as a kid but couldn't afford on my allowance: the H3. A few years back I managed to snare two of these in black along with a few primes. Shooting with an H3 kit makes for a pleasant diversion from modern gear, and there's no internal meter to break down.

I've often thought of picking up an MX for old times sake, but I predict this column will inflate prices for the foreseeable future. And that's OK - the MX is good enough that all the decent ones should be in the hands of people that will use them regularly.

I'm still using my Super Ikonta B camera, and developing the film in D-23. But, from there I am more up to date; scanning the negatives, using Photoshop, and having any printing done by Costco.

I just took a look at the Spotmatic after reading this - it's a beautiful camera ! I noticed that it uses 1.35V mercury batteries for the meter and that rang a bell ... years ago, when I bought my HiMatic 7sII, I paid for a CLA and to have the meter circuit adjusted to 1.5V batteries. Apparently, that's one of the things that Abilene does as part of their repair service, but just another argument to NOT skip the CLA step. BTW, those 70's era rangefinders are another nice option for anyone who wants to go this route. (Mine has been sitting in a drawer ... I'm partial to fast photography these days and my daughter will tell you I'm far from hip).


speaking of film camera and by curiosity, what happened with the Mamiya 7 you have pulled out few months ago of the closet?

Have you put a roll film in it?

Very sensible, Mike. Makes me want to get a good service on one of my old OM-1s in the closet. I always hang up and stop though when I think about pouring that silver down the utility sink again.

I agree that the MX is a fine camera and I actually picked up exactly whet you are suggesting (Albeit in black rather than chrome). I have a soft spot for the MX & 50/1.4M as my first 'good' camera and lens, bought from a secondhand cabinet while an architecture student back in about 1989. It needs a service but looking forward to shooting it when that's done.

For REALLY slow photography, go to view cameras. Film up to 4x5 is still readily available at not too exorbitant prices, and stick to B&W. Color processing isn't cheap.

Do I have to buy a Pentax, or can I use one of the 2 dozen odd film cameras that still live with me? Doesn't everyone have a few lying around?
The last time I used a Pentax was for the college newspaper, and they still said Asahi on them. I was very fond of them.

Hi Mike
Seasoned agent provocateur sitting in his garden house is at work again, firing up GAS et.al.
But seriously: At that time I nearly bought Pentax MX, but in the end I decided to go with a more rugged body for hiking and mountaineering and a complete system (e.g.bellows). That was at that time Nikon or Canon. So I bought Nikkormat FT3 etc. Even today I play with film, recently started to use my old Zone VI again. As long as it is not farther than 500m from the car...

Were I to return to those good old film cameras of yore - referred to these days as "analog" - I would do so with a touch of class, a little panache: I would go in style with my lovely old (long retired) Contax T2, with its superb Carl Zeiss lens and sleek body by Porshe . It may be the best film camera I've ever owned; it's certainly the handsomest. If I can figure out how to upload a jpeg to this post, I will show you what it looks like, or you can go to my web site:


[Body by Porsche Design Studio, you mean, which at the time the T2 came out was separate from the car maker. --Mike]

I wish you'd written this before I sold my two spotties :). I still have the 50mm 1.4 though, and am surprised how cheap it has become.

If you want the best Pentax get a Pentax 6x7. Get the mirror lock-up body with a waist level finder. With its built in magnifier and ground glass it functions like a small view camera. The 6x7 lens are great. It is said the 6x7 camera was made so the engineers could just show off there lens making ability. The big negative is a joy to work with and will even make a jewel like platinum contact print. Yes, they are heavy but I have owned three, still have two, and are the cameras I have used for 95% of my film photography.

I would have gone with the venerable Olympus OM-1 (OM-1N). Rugged, durable with a wide variety and superb set of lenses. So many of us here learned photography on OM-1s. I used mine from 1980 through 2002. Shot everything from travel and landscape to Formula 1 with this camera.

OM-1 by X-T1...

Nigel Mansell, 1985 British Grand Prix, Williams FW10, Dingle Dell, Brands Hatch Motor Racing Circuit, UK. (Kodachrome 64)

Well that's a funny coincidence. I've been digital (with a Pentax K20D) for many years now but I've just spent a few hours going through my old colour slides, all taken with a Pentax MZ-M and most with a Pentax 50mm f1.7. I was freshly amazed by how good colour slides look on a light table. Excited by the prospect of rescanning some forgotten classics I then found out that my film scanner doesn't work anymore :-(

I dunno; I think you'd be missing half the point of "slow photography" if your shutter speeds are consistent and spot-on all the time.

These days any 35mm film camera, other than Leica or the highest end Nikons and Canons, can be had quite cheaply. I would disagree with you about the need for CLA. I've bought and sold many old 35mm SLRs from the 70s and if they work at all, they usually work just fine, except for the self timers, which are often gummed up. The cameras sometimes could use new seals, which is an easy do-it-yourself job. The main thing to watch out for is fungus in the lenses. I recently got this Fujica ST801 with two lenses for $30. This is a brand that received little attention, but it takes a modern battery, uses M42 lenses, and is comparable to a Nikon FM2 in functionality.
Fujica ST801

I have purchased a few cameras over the years on eBay from John Titterington and I believe he only sells cameras on which he has done a CLA. They are very reasonably priced too. He has Pentax, Minolta, Olympus and Canon usually and a few lenses and accessories too. I'm not sure if he does service jobs outright in the event you already have a camera.

A Spotmatic is responsible for all this photography in my life:


Yes, what some people describe as "MINT" can sometimes boggle the mind. Also, even if the foam/seals/cushions are described as "perfect," often the mere touch will reveal them to be worthless intact goo.

Eric Hendrickson at pentaxs.com does servicing/repairs of Pentax, and is highly recommended by many PentaxForums members.I used him for my K1000 and cleaning haze in a lens. Inexpensive and quite good. Believe it is about $70 to service an older film camera. If you you google his name it should come up.

I am not a Pentax guy. I favor the Minolta, with their SRT model cameras. Perfect size and weight, no muss, no fuss, and even their standard 50mm 1.7 lens is excellent.

Oh BTW the older Pentax(s) do quite well with modern batteries--does not need the same voltage as original. I do so w/ my 2 spotmatics and K1000. I am on vacation and don't have the specific information, but google/look in PentaxForums, should get the details.

For me, the emotional choice would be an OM-1, but it has the same issue mentioned above, reliance on mercury batteries.

I am surprised that you (Mike) would be shooting XP-2, instead of your beloved Tri-X? Why the change? (I have no opinion on either, I just recall your stated love for the Tri-X).


I remember lusting after the Spotmatic in the mid '60s. It was advertised in Amateur Photographer in the UK for £149 (If memory serves, I think that price included a f/1.7 50mm lens). At the time, I had a summer job from high school on the camera counter of Boots the Chemist (that's a drugstore to you Americans) and my pay was about £5 per 40 hour week. So the real cost of the Pentax was 30 weeks of my labour – completely out of sight.

It was the late '70s before I could afford anything as glamorous as a Pentax, and by that time the MX had just come out. I had mine for many years. It is indeed a terrific camera – about the same in concept and size as the Nikon FM series, which is to say, the size a 35mm camera should be. The Olympus OM series is another near perfect option. Lots of these cameras are still sitting in owners cupboards under the impression that they are worth something. Another decade and they may even be right! Buy one now! Using a Manual, Metal, Mechanical camera is an experience everyone should have.

For someone just starting out, I suggest getting the film (like Tri-X) from B&H, and sending it to a film processor (most large cities still have them) and get scans done at the same time. That way you should learn what a decent negative looks like. But if you really want to get the most fun out of film photography, then download a pdf from Ilford or many others and develop the film yourself (all chemicals, etc. at B&H again). Then you need to scan the negs. I 'scan' mine using a digital camera and macro lens. Works beautifully!

You had me at "True retro would be...."! I have an SP500 that my Dad bought new and also have an eight-element Super-Tak 50mm/1.4! I shot a couple rolls a few months ago and it all works fine. Never been "restored" but the SP never really got used much, so that helps. I haven't had battery/meter problems. I can put modern button-cells into it (have to be wrapped in a holder to make up the size difference) and the meter seems to compensate for the difference in voltage. I read somewhere that (at least some) SP's can do that. Mine seems to.

I am currently shooting B&W film and developing it myself in the basement (so, yes, "slow, slow photography") but almost all my film is shot through an Olympus OM-1 (bought recently at a very reasonable price) and a few Zuiko lenses (which are not necessarily that cheap at the moment but I have Oly digital and also a 5D with adaptor so the cost of the Zuiko lenses can be spread among a few different cameras, if you know what I mean).

I'm very happy with the performance of the OM. The decade between the SP and the OM's design certainly shows the great strides in camera design at the time. I shot with a Pentax LX and a set of SMC-Pentax lenses in the 80's so I expect an MX with Pentax lenses would be equally as satisfying.

I almost always have either an SPII or SP-F within fondling distance, with either a Tak 28mm 3.5 (my favourite lens) or the 50 1.4; the latter is currently at the repair shop, getting some oil removed from the aperture blades (a common problem with older Taks, esp. ones that have been left in a hot trunk).

It's like you are writing for me.

When the local used film camera store was finally moving out of its long time location, I picked up a Takumar 50 1.4 based on your recommendation (particular your overview article for Luminous Landscape). They are wonderfully made lenses.

I was planning to use it on digital cameras, but I thought it would be shame not to have a film body to use it with. So a few months later I picked up an SPII. It's not CLA'd but seems to work great. Except the light meter.

Now I'm most of the way through an intro to black and white film photography course and have gotten one print I really like out of the combination. Which is good, because I don't think I've gottent he hang of film scanning yet.

I also just received David Vestal's Craft of Photography from Amazon based again on something you wrote here.

So, uh, thank you. Especially for finally writing up a justification of what I've stumbled into doing.

My two most used and favourite cameras are MX and SP-F, both chrome. I even have all the lenses you mentioned! :)

I could sell each and every camera I have, except those two. Yashica Mat 124G and Minolta SR-T 101 would be next-to-last.

As a side-note, Spotmatics have built-in voltage-regulating circuitry, so they don't have metering problems when using 1.5V batteries. MXes are even better - they work with common LR44 batteries, and needs them only for the meter.

I too have the Contax T2 as my only remaining 35mm film camera.
It looks so modern people think it must be a digital without a rear display screen. I tell them I had to pay extra for the model without the screen display.

I use Dale for development and scanning but Walgreens in a pinch.

However, I admit buying and shooting an old hasselblad would be fun. Couldn't afford them new three decades ago.

Not trying to bring fanboyism into a perfectly civilized discussion, but I'd say there is a middle ground between Leica or Nikon and Pentax: the 1-digit Olympus OM. When I converted to film back in 2013, I already had some OM lenses that I used on my E-P1 via an adapter, so I can say I was tethered to Olympus. Buying an OM camera was mandatory. Surely the Nikon and Leica glass would give me that edge on sharpness and colour accuracy, but I find the OM to be a good set of compromises.
Curious you've mentioned the Pentax 50mm-f/1.7 lens is sharper than the marginally faster f/1.4. It's the same with Olympus. My 50mm-f/1.4 isn't even close to being as sharp as my other OM lenses. And it's a bitch to focus properly, even at f/8.
In other news, the current film fad is causing the prices of analogue gear to skyrocket. It's really annoying to see prices increasing up to 50% in almost every item. And it's not just gear: professional-grade 135 film rolls from Fujifilm and Kodak, such as 400H, Acros, Portra, and Tri-X, are verging on the prohibitive. Are they killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

I still shoot with my MX occasionally, mostly with an SMC Pentax M 35mm f/2 because that focal length suits me better. I've shot with the MX for over 30 years and it is still going strong. If you are thinking in this direction, a couple of points:

The colored light meter display is kind of goofy, but it works well. May take a bit of getting used to--I think a match needle is easier to use.

Not specific to the MX, but the split image viewfinder is wonderful for focusing with old eyes. I am totally dependent on auto-focus on my digital cameras, but can still focus the MX easily.

If you like that 70s B&W look, Tri_X is the way to go, but I always preferred Plus-X, which is no longer available. Try a roll of Fuji Acros 100 for a softer look with great tonality.

For what it's worth, a seller by the name of titterington overhauls a variety of vintage 35mm cameras and offers them for sale on eBay. I purchased an om1 and 50mm lens two or three years ago and I am very pleased with camera and lens.

[John Titterington. Does excellent work. I bought an ME Super from him once. --Mike]

The MX with a 50 (I think it was an ƒ/2?) was my very first camera, purchased with my own money at the age of 13ish. Wish I hadn't sold it to a pretty girl in college. :-) Been thinking about a Nikon FM2N for my son so he could use all my nikon manual focus lenses, but yeah, maybe I should be thinking about that little Pentax...

The unfortunately no longer "little known secret" is that the Pakon minilab scanners can scan a whole roll of 135mm in about 2-4 minutes, with GREAT colors for C-41. I have the high end model F335 that scans the same in about one minute. It scans up to 2000x3000 so plenty good enough for web and even prints - they are what minilabs used!!! I use them to scan C41, slides and B&W.

Bad news: they originally sold for $10K+++, then they were available for a few hundreds, but now that the secret is out, they now go for $1000.

Anyway, my latest workflow is to make Pakon for contact sheets / quick scans, and the Flextight (which I need for my 4x5 habits), and I am going to continue to shoot film for a long long time.

With both of us, post processing are minimal.

(The Pakon is out for a CLA, and the Flextight just came back from one. I expect both now will be working "as new" for a long time)

Yes, yes, yes! I still regularly use two Pentax MXs (one silver, for black and white film, one black, for colour... well, it makes sense to me) plus a recently acquired LX. First SLR was a Spotmatic, later I had one of the few Electro Spotmatics outside Japan, bought in Hong Kong about 50 yards down the mall from the camera store, having decided against it... the price kept going down until I couldn't resist. I don't need any more cameras!

And the lenses are brilliant. I have both the faster 50s, the 35 f/2, the 28 f/3.5, the A 24/2.8, the 85/2 (a fabulous lens), 100 f/4 "macro", and the 135/3.5 which doesn't get enough joy. All but one of those are 49mm filter threads, take that Fuji! A few zooms as well, but I keep getting hooked on them and then dropping them.

The MXs are such simple intuitive, fast cameras, light but robust. I love 'em to bits. And best of all, as you once reminded us about Leicas, they are FREE, Absolutely FREE! Pretty much guaranteed to sell for what you paid for them or more. And the film and processing cost will be much less than the depreciation on any decent modern DSLR or CSC. What's not to love... ;-)

BTW I have heard that the Spotties have a balanced metering circuit, so you may not need to get a voltage adapter as long as you can make a modern battery fit.

Oh, and in the UK my friends all tend to use Miles Whitehead, who does a great CLA for less than half the price of the top notch US one you quoted.

I have a Canon Elan 7n, Canon's last film camera. It's is the only Canon film camera to use ETTL II

The BIG plus with this camera is that it looks like an early Canon digital—so there is no hipster stigma attached—but I'd still prefer to use an iPhone.

I have been considering this kind of step recently. Talk of batteries always gives me pause however; does anyone know of UK based servicing facilities who offer similar services on battery type conversion?

I used to own a beat up MX in my youth. Bought it used, and it was so nice to use. Didn't own a 50 though. Had a 35mm f/2.8 and a 100mm f/2.8 Macro.

Later I added a used LX, which was even better. That was to date my most beloved camera. Sold it when I was a student, and regretted it ever since.

I love Pentax. Still do. Got into the system again when the K7 came out.

Bought a black MX with the 40mm, 28mm, and 100mm back in '78 and used it a lot until about '99 when the film advance started acting up. Have been through scores of film and digital cameras since then, none of which I think more fondly of than that MX.
The Contax T2 and the Hasselblad 500 cm come close.

It's very clear you are a 35mm guy at heart, Mike.

A black MX was my last film slr. It was my only film slr----I had a couple of little Rollei 35's, and a terrific Minolta waterproof.

Got it used in the early '80's, and it was already a little brassed. Never failed me. It got stolen out of my studio. It was a terrific camera---but today I'd spring for an LX if I wanted to go that route.

And Pentax lenses were always considered the "poor man's" (fill in the blank...). And they were, terrific optics, build, at excellent prices. Personally, I think that ethos lives on somewhat with contemporary Pentax.

I like the casual, "and developing it yourself, making your own prints on fiber-base paper."

A bit more shopping and knowledge required there! Especially for the latter. I use commercial processing, and a scanner - which again added more expense, and a learning curve for the usage and associated software, to obtain a good scan.

Pentax was fine but I miss my Canon's. From a IVsb barnack type through my mothers AE-1 to the T-90, I have always loved them much more. FD only, EOS just never felt the same.

I really need another T-90 & a 50/1.4 SSC...

Solution to the mercury battery problem: Pentax H3v or H1a, instead. Smaller and I think, prettier, too. I certainly agree about the Super Takumars.

There is food for thought in the comparison between the revival of interest in things like film photography (and its subculture of instant film photography) and vinyl records on one hand, and on the other hand, the decline of interest in two things you mentioned recently: motorcycling and model railroading.

Another example: where I live, there is a store that does a booming business selling old-time safety razors and straight razors and similar male grooming paraphernalia that were considered outdated before my father began to shave. They have lots of customers who appear to be under 35.

I confess that I do not have any brilliant insights into why some old-time hobbies come back into popularity while others fade away. I'd like to hear what theories others might offer.

My first "real" camera was a Sears branded Ricoh with screw mount lenses. In short order, I "upgraded" to a "near mint" Spotmatic (it was 1970ish) from a pawn shop just outside the gate of a military base. I still have it, along with a stable of Super-Takumars. I bought two additional bodies along the way (including one black) and found that I could hardly give the things away when I realized I was never going to use them again. I did eventually sell the black body and a 50mm lens on it, but I still have all of the rest.

BTW, there are all kinds of references on the web to using substitute batteries in Spotties. Reportedly, the exact voltage doesn't matter, as the meter "centers". Haven't tried it. Who knows? (Well, of course, someone actually does ...)

The Spotmatics were actually one of the few cameras of that era that had voltage regulating bridge circuits so even modern 387S batteries work. That's not true for other cameras of the epoch.

I was sorry our son 'lost' my Asahi Spotmatic II with the 50mm 1.4 Super-Tak. Zonked out on arrival back home in Birmingham from a cycle ride from Koblenz via Brittany and Cornwall (and catching a bug), he left the bag with the camera outside.
Sadly an opportunistic thief removed it before he came round.
I loved that camera. The most beautiful 35mm camera ever, IMHO, and so good to use.

The Spotmatics - at least to the SPII - take a single battery and they have a bridge circuit in the metering system which makes it battery voltage independent - so it can use a modern silver battery (e,g, Energizer 394-380TS BUTTON CELL, or a SR936SW) works just fine. No need to spend $$ on getting the voltage adjusted.

Two of my old workhorses: https://australianimage.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/camera04.jpg

Don't forget that Zeiss made a few M42 lenses (designated "ZS") not too long ago.

The slowest Pentax would be the meterless SL or the earlier S2, the camera Ringo Starr had in "A Hard Day's Night." It was in black paint, BTW. Very stylish.

Great advice!!!!! I forwarded this article to several photo students who are taking their first film class in the fall. Thanks!!!!

I parted with my Pentaxes when I upgraded to the Canon Elan 7 (NFS) but I still have a Yashica FX-3 super 2000 with a Yashica 28-85mm zoom that I would part with if any retro photographer is interested. It is truly mint having had only 2-3 rolls of film through it. The batteries were taken out to prevent corrosion and it has been languishing in my equipment drawer since my daughter abandoned it.

Is there an equivalent in the Nikon world? While I have a DSLR, I obtained a pile of AI/AIS lenses, including some chipped by the guys at Legacy 2 Digital. I don't want to lug around the huge lenses Nikon puts out these days when bushwalking. And if I did go "old school", I wouldn't want to start a whole new system again. My bank balance couldn't handle the GAS, despite Mike's exhortations to the contrary :)

Be interested to know your opinion of the K1000 in this context.

I actually own a Pentax ME Super. I can see that it's a bit too automated for your taste (the manual describes this new-fangled feature called auto-exposure, which requires you to first set the aperture, and then manually adjust the shutter speed until the exposure needle is centred). Unfortunately, despite a couple of attempts to have it serviced here in Brisbane, Australia, the electronics still don't work properly. Fortunately, I can set the shutter speed to a mechanical 1/125 sec, and adjust the aperture based on the sunny-16 rule, or from a a smartphone light meter app, and still use the camera. But manual exposure *and* manual focus ... will likely be too slow for most interesting scenes.

Pentax, my first "real" camera. Lasted me for a number of years except...
most of the other people who I was photographing both railways and streetcars used Nikon and swopped lenses back and forth with aplomb. The Pentax was sold/traded for a used Nikon F with a 50 mm f1.4 piece of glass. I miss the Pentax to this day. However Pentax here in Southern Ontario used to have Cam-Tech in Hamilton. Proprietor Roger Burrow was a superb repair person. Sadly both he and his store are now gone. His problem in more recent years was finding parts; Pentax Canada was unable to supply new replacement parts. And Pentax here in Canada (now Ricoh)
is a poor cousin compared to other brands. And of course Pentax retail outlets are few and far between; sort off like trying to find a decent service facility for your Tucker Torpedo.

Might add during my employment years supplied all my secondary schools with Pentax K1000's for their photography programs. They lasted and lasted, until that damned digital appeared on the horizon.

Now as noted even try and find a Pentax dealer, that won't give you a song and dance about the product. Then too, why the heck would anybody want to purchase a brand that resembles an orphan, eh?

And forget shipping the camera outside of Canada for repair, our blessed government will consider that camera coming back from repair stateside as a new camera and charge duty and taxes on same; ti s not worth the aggravation IMO.

It is my understanding that Pentax Spotmatics have a bridge circuit in the light meter and can use modern 1.55v silver oxide batteries without re-calibration.

Being a digital native, the next best thing to having a Spotmatic (or any film camera for that matter) is owning the native lens(es) that came with it.

Pentax Macro-Takumar 4/50 M42 pre-set on my GXR MA12 mount using a vintage Novoflex "Leico" (M42-LTM) adapter combined with a Leica LTM-M adapter. I bought the lens and adapters from KEH. (You lose infinity using this adapter combo but that doesn't matter when taking macro pictures.)

The Macro-Takumar is a true 1:1 ("life-size") macro lens, my go-to lens when taking close-ups of flowers and small critters. I've also used it as a portrait lens for larger creatures (but not women!).

I also have the Pentax Tele-Takumar 5.6/200 M42 Pre-set, another Spotmatic native.

I nearly pulled the trigger on an Olympus OM-1 the other day, after getting fed up with the battery life of my OM-40. However, I thought I'd check the cost of film processing in the new town I'm moving to - A$25.75 per roll for black and white! That doesn't include prints or scanning, not even a proof sheet. The choice between the cost of professional processing and printing and the intimidating logistical challenge of a DIY darkroom is what stops me from diving deeper into film.

It's been hours so I guess I'll have to be the first to toot Minolta's horn. The X series are sturdy, reliable and cheap. There's a fine range of lenses for cheap and they run on the more modern SR-44 type battery. They have a built-in centre-weighted meter, the 500 and 700's have TTL. They were only replaced by a Canon A2 because that had modern zooms and a fragile command dial. (And the command dial was repaired by the Camera Clinic in Reno at modest cost, for your readers with an old crunchy one in the closet.)

'You can shoot color film and have it processed for you.'

Where? Certainly not anywhere near where I live. Not without driving 50+ miles one way to drop it off. Oh, just send it out in the mail you say. Now it's both very slow and very expensive photography, what with the shipping cost added to the developing price. Sure, there used to be so many one-hour labs you'd trip over them walking down the street. Now 99.9% of them are gone. No, if you want to shoot film, then B&W and develop it yourself is almost mandatory, unless you are just loaded with disposable income and unlimited time. I suppose I could get a Tetenal kit for color but darn, that one hour lab at Costco was soooo convenient.

Winging its way to me as I type is a Contax G2 with 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm Carl Zeiss lenses, plus, from another eBay seller, a 21mm CZ lens + shoe-mount finder. It's been over twenty years since I have shot film, am excited to see how it goes.

So this means I should dig out my Fujica ST-801, ST-901, AZ-1, my mothers Nikon and my Olympus XA?

Now that is food for thought, I have some rolls of Ektachrome and a roll of Fuji that have been in the fridge since 2005. Time to get them out eh? Sounds like it is time to get my inner hipster up and running again. Now that I went to the doctor today and she gave me some exercises to work on by old hip. ;) Now I wonder, what plastic storage tub did I put my "ster" in.

Spotmatics do not need any battery conversion! They use a bridge circuit for the meter that is insensitive to battery voltage. They remain accurate with current carbon-zinc replacement batteries.

Well, I'm using a Pentax K200D, so how cool am I?! Sure, I love camera nostalgia and I remember my film cameras fondly, but if your image turns into a digital file at any point it's not film photography any more. It's just photography with a different sensor. Film photography has this image of being simpler and cheaper, but at about US$ 300 for camera and CLA plus ongoing development costs it's just an artificial economic barrier to being in the cool club, not a fruitful artistic constraint.

I haven't shot any 35mm in about seven years; the film Nikon bodies sit in a camera bag; all my personal film work is in 4x5. But I do have an early Pentax, a meterless H1a that I acquired for its looks. I know its f/1.8 lens is a good one; perhaps I should get it fixed up and put some Tri-X in it.

Recently I've done something very similar, although with a different Pentax camera. My first SLR was a Pentax ME Super, which I purchased sometime in the '80's. It served me well for many years, and then was tucked away in a camera bag and almost forgotten while I moved into the digital world. A couple of years ago, I broke out the Pentax, had it serviced and bought a refurbished SMC Pentax-M 1:2 50 mm lens off of Ebay so that I could try my hand at some black and white film photography, now armed with the photography knowledge I have acquired by practicing with my digital SLR. I send my film out for processing and get the negatives back along with a high quality digital scan of each frame. I wasn't sure what to expect after spending years looking at digital photos, but overall I've been quite satisfied with the results I've gotten, which I think compare favorably with analog pictures I've seen online. Now I just need to learn how to print some of these images.

I recently received my dad's Spotmatic. It came with the Super Tak. 50 1.4. It is one of the radioactive thorium glass lenses. I got an adapter for Canon EOS and now shoot it on your old Canon 1V that you sold me before your move to NY. The lens is incredible and combining it with the "modern" 1V is magical. It blows my Canon 50 1.4 out of the water...especially at the wider apertures. My dad's Spotmatic still works minus the meter but I am spoiled on the Canon 1V goodness. I also shoot video with it on my 5D3 since the focusing is super smooth.

In the name of slow photography, don't bother rewiring the mercury battery circuit, and bring a hand held spot meter to the party. Molasses! Treacle!

Interested that you put the M50 f/1.4 slightly ahead of the f/1.7. In Pentaxian circles many put the f/1.7 ahead - true, it shows a bit more contrast wide open, but at normal working apertures I agree that the f/1.4 is marginally ahead (noticeable at the edges), with slightly nicer bokeh. Although that said, both are great lenses, fully useable on my Pentax DSLR or, with an adaptor, with the Panny GX8 (I have a good one, Mike!). And you can buy them for peanuts. And they will last for ever if you look after them.

Here in Minnesota (you remember Minnesota, Mike, your old neighbor) we're the home of Honeywell Corporation. Honeywell distributed Pentax in the US during the days of the Spotmatics. The company also awarded gifts of appreciation to employees on the occasion of their 25th anniversary of service. One of the gifts was a Spotmatic camera. The pride and love of those guys for their company and their cameras was something pretty special.

By the way, speaking of Takumar lenses, one of the neat things I see is the range of really nice lenses on the used market. They're little jewels, compact, beautifully made and excellent quality optics as a rule, and generally in very nice optical, mechanical and cosmetic condition. A secret for you, don't tell anyone else: if you're into vintage lenses on mirrorless cameras, the M42 Takumars have a diaphragm switch on them. You can open them up to full brightness for viewing and focusing, then close down to shooting aperture with the slide of a switch.

Mike, I've been thinking about picking up an MX for a few years now. But your piece convinced me to finally pull the trigger.

After a few hours carefully reviewing eBay and a few other sites (and very briefly considering an OM-1) I purchased the camera and lens combo that you linked to above. I mean literally that exact camera and lens combo.

I also added a Pentax smc M 35mm f/2.0 from the same period and in about the same condition. All for about $225. I really don't think I'll need more than that.

So thanks... I think. :)

The MX is a beautiful camera, and just the right size (for me). I acquired one a few years ago, but gave it to a friend's daughter who was studying photography at college. I did think about keeping it, but with seventy film cameras already, I decided I didn't need it!

The usual Pentax suggested to people is the K1000. However, I usually suggest the KM as it is better specified and doesn't have the K1000's cult following price.

I just took a look at the Spotmatic after reading this - it's a beautiful camera ! I noticed that it uses 1.35V mercury batteries for the meter and that rang a bell ... years ago, when I bought my HiMatic 7sII, I paid for a CLA and to have the meter circuit adjusted to 1.5V batteries

The Spotmatic will work fine on 1.5v with no modification.

I bought the Spotmatic just before they switched to the bayonet mount much to my chagrin. My favourite lens was the 24mm which I often used to take selfies. I was way before my time :-)

Don’t you think it’s time now for another close look at 35mm scanners, because not every film photography lover has the space, time and money for constantly printing in the darkroom?
Maybe as a crowd survey among your readers?
I do know this is a difficult topic, especially with silver halide B&W film, but if YOUR readers wouldn’t be capable to do this which one else would be?
The internet is full with scanner nightmare reports, especially concerning banding, stripes, wrong offset points, film flatness issues etc., but I assume there must be some current, affordable !, working scanners around, but which one?
And not to forget camera scanning, which, at least in my opinion, is better than many people think.

Never had a Pentax - though my father had an ME Super for his last few years - but I have used the Canon AE1 Program (indeed, I have one, plus a 50mm f1.8 lens, but the camera is non-functional.) This was also from a good range of cameras, and of course it took Canon FD lenses of which there are still quite a few around. I'd suggest it as hitting much the same buttons as the Pentax. It's a bit heavier than the Pentax but it's broadly in the same ballpark.

My father very kindly bought me a new Spotmatic 500 body in around 1971 for £59.95 and I still have it and the box it came in. Incidentally, the shutter will will fire at 1/1000, but the dial marking was intentionally left blank to differentiate it as a less expensive model.

I couldn't afford a Pentax lens, but bought a Soligor 35mm f2.8, followed by a 135mm f2.8, both great lenses, especially the 35mm version. And that experience cemented 35mm as my favourite focal length.

I wouldn't worry too much about the battery modification because the metering on the Spotmatic series is probably the only weakpoint and the meter switch frequently fails. The original intention was to make the metering 'spot metered' but this idea was dropped in favour of centre weighted. Hence the name 'Spotmatic' which continued nonetheless.

The best book on Asahi Pentax screwmounts is probably "The Ultimate Asahi Pentax Screw Mount Guide 1952 - 1977", which I bought for £12 about ten years ago, but is now unfortunately very rare.

Hi Mike
You realise that you have just boosted eBay prices for the Pentax MX and 50mm f1.4 lens by 50% - and I don't have one!!!!!....Argggg.

If anyone in the U.S. is going to follow through on this, check out the ebay of Goodwill stores. www.shopgoodwill.com

You can snag manual, metal, mechanical cameras all day long at the above site for less than $50.

I have two Spotty cameras. Mine were, fortunately, in great working order, but I did have to replace the seals. If you do nothing else with your new old camera, replace the seals. And when you do, research the glue you use because some glues emit gases that can foul up the interior.

My first film camera was a Brownie, but because my parents were a combination of poor and cheap, there was only a limited supply of film so my creativity was not encouraged.

Digital, with its unlimited free "film" supply, is a great boon for today's creative youth.

I was a camera repairman at Brooks Camera on Kearny Street in San Francisco during the mid 1970's.
Pentax Spotmatics have a spring loaded lever under the cover used to cock the shutter, a typical problem would be this lever popping and needing to be adjusted (if my memory serves).
I received this award from my fellow repairmen after a rather unfortunate incident, forty years and a continent apart I would like to share it with the world.


And in case you get bitten by the SMC-virus (an altogether harmless disease), you may want to look out for these two darlings:

- The resolution champion (tech info). Easy to find a good copy.

- The bokeh grandmaster (tech info). Rare, never cheap, but worth every penny.

Your choice of the Pentax MX as a perfect retro camera is interesting. I once considered buying a Pentax MX in the early 1980s. I had become disenchanted with my Olympus OM-1, a fine compact SLR, which could be fiddly to work with, especially when fitted with the diminutive 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko. It also had an add-on hotshoe that had a habit of developing cracks. On paper and in ads the Pentax MX appeared to be the perfect substitute for the OM-1. Once I got the MX in hand, however, I found that it was in its own way equally fiddly, especially with that too-short shutter speed dial clustered tightly with the shutter button and film-advance lever. I kept the OM-1 until the mid-1990s when it got stolen. It was replaced by a Nikon FM2n, a fine camera with a similar heritage to the MX, and which I still have. I could almost look hip using my FM2n, except that the 50mm f/1.8 lens I have for it is a "screw drive" AF.

An alternative Nikon-based choice to your two Pentaxes could include the Nikon FM or FM2 (original or "n" version), or Nikkormat FT (n, 2, or 3), or even the Nikon F or F2. A nice AI-S Nikkor f/1.8 or f/1.4 could be fitted on any of these to provide a good-handling retro camera that should last for years and years.

I bought my Spotmatic in a USAF BX in Germany, in 1967 or 1968. Hadn't owned a camera since my Practica fell apart 5 or 6 years earlier. I made a buying decision between that and some Nikon that was sitting next to it based on feel and weight. Stopped using the Spotmatic about 20 years later when I got a Super Program and marveled at the advances in technology. Somewhere along the line I got my daughter a K1000 that introduced her to photography and led to a BFA and MFA in same. I still have the Spotmatic and have used the various screw mount lenses on my digital Pentax cameras. Great camera.

always been a classic Nikon guy (F, FM2n, FE), but years ago I tried out the Pentax cult. After about a year I went back to Nikon (luckily I never sold my stuff). Just more sturdy (at least to me). And price? The FE was $75 and the F was $25, okay I paid $200 for the FM2n. So good luck Pentax folks.

For german readers or people coming to Freiburg, Black Forest: We have a shop and repair service specialized for Slow Cameras, they have many Models with 12month warranty in their Window. Pentax, Nikon, Minolta. Wahtever you want. Also Lenses. It's called DIMAS FOTOTECHNIK


Herb Keppler, not Burt. [Herbert was his name but he went by the nickname "Burt." --Mike] Good article; Pentax were always superb instruments. I believe that sticking with the screw mount for so long really hurt their perception in the marketplace, which is a shame because their lenses were outstanding.

Buying film cameras online, especially a certain auction site, can be treacherous for the uninitiated. I heartily concur that an MMM is the best way to go for someone who is starting out. As an OM slut I would add an OM-1 to the list.

That said, for those with a long history in film, reading between the lines of descriptions can sometimes result in a "score". I recently saw a listing for an OM-4 that was priced very low. Cosmetically it looked very clean, but the seller was not a photographer or camera expert and one of the photos showed the mirror locked up.

The description also stated "the battery shown may not be good". Since the OM-4 takes two 1.5V silver-oxide batteries, that was a further clue that the camera was worth a chance.

I got it for $60 including shipping, and two fresh batteries later I unlocked the mirror and had a functioning OM-4, with accurate metering including spot readings for shadow, middle grey and highlights. Only the exposure counter wasn't working, but even that seems to have loosened up.

At some point I'll send it off to John Hermanson for a spa treatment. It deserves at least that to continue functioning for another 30 years or so.

"I'd imagine an Olympus OM-1 would work too, though the shutter speeds are controlled by a ring around the lens mount"

Yes. More perfecter! That configuration is, to me, far more ergonomic and efficient. You are holding the lens with your left hand under the lens barrel anyway, and thus can change shutter speeds without much movement. The shutter dial on the top plate requires more movement and disruption of composition, etc. In this way OMs are superior to Spotmatics.

(Ducking from Mike...)

One of my friends had her Pentax ME Super stolen recently. She's looking for a replacement. She bought it new in 1980 - 37 years of pleasure from a single camera and lens and never serviced or repaired in all that time.

I think it's worth clarifying what you mean by 'prized, rare and valuable' means in this context. I recently (last year) bought a black MX to host my 40mm pancake. It’s not mint, but has the slightly brassed thing that, in a black Leica would mean it got sold at auction, while being mechanically perfect. I am looking at it now, having had it in my hand for most of the day, and I think it may be the prettiest camera I own.

It was £65.

While vacationing in June I shot five rolls of Ilford XP2 Super. One of the places we visited was Watkins Glen. With the dark gorge and the waterfalls catching the sunlight, it's rather convenient if you can chimp your shots on a digital camera. Or, in my case, use the full automatic early 21st century film camera I had with me (Minolta Dynax 7): I decided to put the camera in P-mode and trust it to know best about exposure. It was vacation, after all.

The other, all-manual film camera only comes with me on short photo walks or the occasional business trip, at times when I know I can slow down a bit to take a picture.


Oh memory... My father had one, which he bestowed on me in the early 90s, I was in high school. It became one of my first cameras, and the first with interchangeable lenses. Not for long though : I still can't believe I simply forgot it on a table on the ferry that took us back to France, at the end of a week-long school trip to London. When I retraced my steps 15 minutes later, it had disappeared. I hope it got a good home at least. It had a 1.4/50 mm on it, I think it was the super-takumar you mentioned, I remember it had a screwmount.

"infinity"... I love it !

If for some reason I ever decide to shoot film again, I would most certainly buy a Spotmatic. I've never owned one but Pentax and I have a long history. A borrowed Pentax was the first "real" camera I ever used and it started me down this road to ruin. Here I am, 45+ years later, a hopeless addict.

In the previous post, I commented (in part) that "Some of us were even fortunate enough to do storm photography as part of our jobs during the various research programs over the years.

The first weather research program I worked with was using Pentax Spotmatic cameras. I was given the quick 30-minute lesson on how to use a SLR and sent off to board the aircraft. I actually got some useable photographs.

A few years later, we tried an experiment and circled the aircraft around a growing cumulus cloud while shooting images every few seconds. Later we assembled the images into a 3-D hologram. Pretty cool by the standards and technology of the day (ca. 1980) and using Pentax Spotmatic cameras.

'"Slow photography" is hip'

"Hip" has never stuck to me. To me photography is seeing something, capturing it on film or sensor, taking what the capture medium hath wrought and making it into something more or less like what I saw in the first place.

If I had a camera (or ACR, or PS) setting for "What Moose Saw.", I would use that. As I don't, I spend a little to a lot of time on that third step.

Sometimes, photography involves noting when the light will be right, and waiting hours to months, sometimes years, for that to occur.

It took several days of weather before the almost horizontal sunlight I saw briefly came again. Without that, nothing (Well, OK, not much at 480 px, either, but at least the color is OK.)

Other times, it is pure reaction time, as the unanticipated arrives and then is gone.

Shooting something else entirely, a shadow passed over my head, and the shot was pure reflex (and AF).

I don't see that one is slow and the other fast. Each is what was required to create the image.

All the rest, equipment choices, film development, analog or digital darkroom time, and on, and on, are just details, noise that can get in the way of the image. It's the image that matters.

If someone likes sitting around, setting up a shot for ages, losing the light, coming back tomorrow . . . More power to them. Like developing film? Nice! But that's all enjoyment of process, not the essence photography.

My personal experience is that waiting, getting it right, is more likely to lose the magic, the light, than gain much. But that's just me.

(Why won't italic turn off???)

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