Cameras, Photography

Working title: The unsung Pentax ME

I’ve chosen a subject for the book I want to produce: photos from my Pentax ME. What I haven’t figured out yet is how I want to approach the subject. Reader Heather Munro (check her blog here) has been helping me think about it and she’s given me some solid leads.

Pentax ME

The Pentax ME is overlooked and underappreciated. Among manual-focus Pentax SLRs, the K1000 gets all the love. I have one and like it. I also have a pristine KM, which is a K1000 with DOF preview and a self timer, and it’s wonderful.


50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

But the ME is so small and light. It feels better in my hands than the larger K1000 and KM. When it’s slung across my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there.

Monon bridge 1

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

It also turns out that I really like aperture-priority shooting. That’s all the ME offers — its only manual mode is 1/100 sec., meant to be used for flash sync. I can’t think of a time when I’ve wished I had full manual control of the ME.


55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

But let’s say I do someday. Then I’d pick up an ME Super on eBay. It offers full manual control. Pentax cranked out these cameras by the bazillions, and they go for very little. Working ME and ME Super bodies can be had for as little as 20 bucks. My current ME body cost just $16, including shipping. And if it’s damaged or stolen, I can replace it for very little money. I take it everywhere without worry.


28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Ektar 100

The ME may be an entry-level camera, but I find it not to be as low-spec as other entry-level SLRs. Most important to me is top shutter speed. So many entry-level SLRs top out at 1/500 sec., and when I shoot them there’s always a point in the roll when I wish for 1/1000 sec. The ME goes to 1/1000 sec. Some of my SLRs go to 1/2000 sec., and sometimes I use it, but when I shoot my ME I never feel like I need it.

Military cemetery

80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom, Fujicolor 200

A major reason I shoot my ME so much is that I have so many great Pentax lenses for it. I have a 28mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.4, a 55mm f/1.8, a 135mm f/3.5, an 80-200mm f/4.5 zoom, and probably a couple others I’ve forgotten about. I also have, of all things, a Sears 80-200mm f/4 zoom for it, and it’s a solid performer.


50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X

I also frequently shoot a Nikon F2 and have several lenses for it. I’d put my Pentax glass up against my Nikon glass any day of the week.


50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

One hidden reason I use my Pentax ME so much is that I don’t have an f/1.4 prime for any of my other SLR systems. I’m the unofficial photographer at my church, and that 50/1.4 with some ISO 800 film lets me work confidently in our building’s dim basement fellowship hall.

Phlox, I think

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Not that I won’t take the 50/1.4 out for other duties. It’s a great all-around lens.

Eastern Star Church

28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

I’m on my third ME body. The nut that holds down the winder disappeared from the first one. I bought the second for parts, but couldn’t get the winder nut off. It seemed to work, so I shot a couple rolls with it. I began to suspect its meter wasn’t accurate, so I bought the third body. I think I spent less than $75 on all of it.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak T-Max 400

My next step is to figure out which photos I want to include in the book and what story I want to tell using them. I’m a pretty busy fellow for the next couple months, so bear with me.


Broken window

Broken window
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak T-Max 400


Abandoned school

I’ve been looking through old photographs as I’ve thought about a subject for the photo book I’d like to produce. Reviewing photos from my Pentax KM, I found this 2013 photo of my dad. I used a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens and Kodak TMax 400 film — which I mistakenly shot at 100. Fortunately, Photoshop rescued it and brought out strong contrast.

Dad’s walking down the steps of the four-room schoolhouse where his education began, now abandoned and decaying, in the coal-and-railroad town of Handley, West Virginia. As I grew up, he told stories of how he had to repeat the first grade because the first time through he simply refused to speak to the teacher all year, and of how that teacher used to delight in sadistically pushing children so they’d fall down the hill on which this school stands. Oy! Visiting Handley made all these stories I’d heard since childhood so much more real.


Captured: On the schoolhouse steps


Hosta flowers

Hosta flowers
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak T-Max 400

Vintage television

Vintage TV: Garfield Goose and Frazier Thomas

Even in the 1970s, children’s television could be frenetic. Frazier Thomas and his friend, puppet Garfield Goose, were the gentle antidote.


A pleasant morning breeze upon the children’s TV landscape, Garfield Goose and Friends aired each weekday at 8 AM on WGN-TV in Chicago. The premise was that Garfield Goose thought he was the king of the United States, and he appointed Frazier Thomas as Admiral of the King’s Navy.


Friends Beauregard Burnside III, Chris Goose, Romberg Rabbit, and Macintosh Mouse often joined Frazier and Garfield in the fun. Once in a while, even Garfield’s mom appeared! Garfield was non-verbal; his only noise was his flapping bill, yet Frazier somehow always understood him. Here’s how the show began one morning in 1971. The show was in color, but someone recorded this on an early black-and-white home video recorder.

The theme song is “Monkey on a String” by organist Ethel Smith. As it ends, you see pure Frazier Thomas, interacting both with the puppets and his young viewers. As a small boy, I was drawn in by this adult — a man my grandfather’s age — who talked to me like a friend. That happened nowhere else on children’s TV. It was typical for Frazier to read letters that young viewers wrote, and to share crafts the youngsters sent in. Once in a while, Frazier would invite a young viewer to appear on the program to show off their hobby. You can see one such clip, in color, at this link. It shows Frazier’s genuine interest in his viewers’ hobbies.

Between bits, Frazier and Garfield showed cartoons. I have a dim memory of seeing Augie Doggie cartoons on the show, and something called The Funny Company. But more than anything else, I remember watching Clutch Cargo, an adventure cartoon of sorts. Calling it a cartoon was a stretch, actually, as it was mostly a series of drawn stills. But it was just weird, because when the characters spoke, moving human mouths were superimposed on the drawings. I never liked Clutch Cargo very much. This video shows a full, color open to the show, and then a few Clutch Cargo cartoons.

Chicago was just far enough away from my South Bend childhood home that we couldn’t pick it up over the air. Cable television was in its infancy.  In South Bend, it was nothing more than an antenna on the tallest hill in town, connected to subscribing homes via coaxial cable, providing television stations from Chicago. It cost about $3 per month then, and Dad paid it so he could watch his beloved White Sox. And so I watched Garfield Goose late in its run, from 1972 to 1976. I wasn’t able to see it every day, as I had to be off to school just after it started. But I watched it during the summers and when I was home sick or on break.

But it turns out that Garfield Goose and Friends was the longest-running children’s puppet TV show in history. It went on the air in 1952, first on WBKB (now WLS) and then on WBBM before finding a permanent home on WGN.

But Frazier created Garfield even earlier, while working for a television station in Cincinnati. He started there in radio in about 1940, and moved to television during its infancy in 1948. After he moved to Chicago, he hosted all manner of programs before settling into his role entertaining children and families. Not only did he host Garfield Goose and Friends, but he also hosted a Sunday-afternoon program called Family Classics, on which he showed family-friendly films he selected and edited for broadcast himself.


By 1976, the children’s television landscape had shifted away from the 1950s style of Garfield Goose and Friends. WGN cancelled the show in September and appointed Frazier to replace retiring Ringmaster Ned on Bozo’s Circus, another WGN kid’s show. Garfield Goose came along; the premise was that Garfield had bought the circus. I never thought the fast-paced, buffoonish Bozo show suited Frazier’s calm, warm personality. But by then, my family had given up cable, and I never saw Frazier Thomas on TV again.

Frazier Thomas died in 1985, aged 66.


Recommended reading

April’s on its way out; here comes May, Roadies! But before we throw in the towel on this month, grab a coffee (or tea, if you’re so inclined) and enjoy this week’s crop of my most-enjoyed blog posts. I’ve got six for you this week!

Mike Connealy has published another book, this time about his pinhole photography. I’ve already ordered my copy! Read New Book

I love old roads — and old photos from old roads. Paul Niedermeyer, writing for Curbside Classic, shares photos from the Lincoln Highway in 1948. Read Vintage Photos: Life On The Road – On US Hwy 30 in 1948

Jeanne Yang grew up in the U.S., but is of Taiwanese descent. She recently visited the place where her parents and grandparents grew up in Taiwan. She tells a fascinating story of the lives they lived there, as Taiwan moved from Japanese rule to Chinese rule. Read Someone Else’s Childhood (in Taiwan)

She is known online only as Peeling Walls, I’m sure because her photographic exploration of abandoned buildings usually constitutes trespassing and she doesn’t want to be too easy to find. She visited a once-lovely arts-and-crafts Detroit library building before it was torn down. The photos are heartbreaking. Read Detroit: Abatement in the Mark Twain library

Seth Godin writes about how groups, as they mature, eventually stop admitting new members. It’s not that they mean to stop, but they become so set in their ways that new members can’t break in. Does this remind you of some church congregations? Read Closing the gate

You’ve seen it: the terrible comments people leave on Facebook, or on news sites, or even on blogs. Jeff Atwood has a solid theory about why people do it. Read They Have To Be Monsters