Camera Reviews

Pentax ME

Who knows exactly why a person takes to one camera over another? There are certainly more fully featured and flexible SLRs than this. I own a few of them, and they’re wonderful. Yet I reach for the Pentax ME more than any other SLR I’ve ever owned.

Pentax ME

The Pentax ME is small, light, and easy to use. It’s even smaller than the Olympus OM-1, the world’s first compact SLR. The ME is an aperture-priority camera, meaning you choose an aperture and the camera measures exposure through the lens and sets shutter speed for you. It even displays the shutter speed inside the viewfinder. This ease of use comes at the expense of full control, however; the ME offers no manual mode.

Pentax ME

If you simply must have manual exposure, you might try the Pentax ME Super, which offers it on the same body. But I love aperture-priority shooting and have never seen the need to upgrade.

You’re not entirely at autoexposure’s mercy anyway – a dial around the rewind crank lets you adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction. And the ME is reasonably flexible, working with films up to 1600 ASA and allowing exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. All of this convenience relies on two LR44 button batteries. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME

This is not a luxury camera. The winder is a little ratchety. The finishes are good but not great. The shutter button has a short throw and is easy to press, but isn’t silky smooth. This all remained true even after I sent it to Eric Hendrickson, the premier Pentax repairman, for a CLA. This is how these worked when new.

The only thing the ME doesn’t have that I sometimes want is depth-of-field preview. Also, I’ve shot the ME a few times with a long zoom lens and I always wish I shot my KM or K1000 instead, as those bodies are larger and would be easier to grip with all that front-loaded lens weight.

But the ME handles so easily with one of Pentax’s great prime lenses. I use my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M and 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lenses on this camera most often, both compact enough that the ME feels well balanced in my hands.

If you like compact SLRs, also see my review of the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my review of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve put so much film through my Pentax ME and gotten such satisfying results that it’s hard to choose which images to share with you here. Here’s one from my very first roll, which was Fujicolor 200, through my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M.

Sudden service

Here’s another shot from that roll, of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. It was during this first roll that I knew I’d found a real winner. I liked how easily it handled, I knew I’d get great results through my Pentax glass, and they were inexpensively replaced if lost, damaged, or stolen.

Second Pres

Here’s my dog, Gracie, on Kodak T-Max 400 through my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax. I often load film in my ME and just leave it on the desk for impromptu shots like this one.

Shiny dog

Here’s the Orange County Courthouse in Paoli, Indiana, on Kodak Ektar 100 via my 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M. The ME is such an easy body to take along on a road trip.

Courthouse at Paoli

On another road trip I visited Columbus, Ohio, where I came upon this great old market. Kodak Tri-X 400 through my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M.

Rife's

I’ve yet to meet a Pentax 50mm lens that I didn’t love. Here’s my uncle Rick’s dog, on Fujicolor 200 via my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M.

Sweet Dog

Fast film, a fast lens, and aperture-priority autoexposure let me keep up with the action in available indoor light. These young girls are in line at a church lunch. Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 and my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens.

Sisters

If someone holds still, even medium-speed film works indoors. Here’s my wife, on Kodak Gold 200 via the 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M.

Margaret

Even the workaday 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M is a wonderful performer. Especially on extra-colorful Fujicolor 100.

Carmel Artomobilia 2017

You can walk all day with the ME slung over your shoulder — its light weight makes it an easy companion. Here I was shooting Agfa APX 100 through my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A.

On St. Clair St.

Here’s one of the times I used a long zoom lens on the little ME body. It was awfully front-heavy. Kodak Portra 400 and 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M.

Birdie

Finally, a Packard hood ornament on Kodak Tri-X 400 through my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M.

In motion

To see much, much more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME gallery.

The Pentax ME is one of the great bargains of 35mm SLR photography. I’ve owned four over the years, and I’ve never paid more than $30 for one. The one I kept, had CLA’d, and use regularly cost me just $16! If this review intrigued you at all, don’t hesitate, go get a Pentax ME.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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26 thoughts on “Pentax ME

  1. Beautiful camera and terrific photography. My knowledge of cameras is pretty limited, but I could understand what you were talking about and share your delight.

    Film cameras are one more piece of culture that we’re losing to technology, along with books, slide rules, and vinyl records. For some reason, your camera made me think of the Japanese tea ceremony, a tradition that helps the Japanese hold onto a piece of their past and of their own identity. Maybe it’s the same principle.

    • Scott, thanks! I had a great time shooting with this camera. I can’t honestly say that about probably half of the cameras I own.

      For me, shooting film is not just about holding on to the past, but also about the experience of it in the present. I love using my digital camera, but there’s no mystery about it. What you see on the camera’s screen is exactly the photo you get. With film, there’s always anticipation of the result after processing, with either delight when you get it right or disappointment when you don’t. I like that.

      • Jim, your description of what you like about using a film camera sounds a bit like why I enjoy driving with a standard shift. Automatic is easier, but you feel more involved in the process — for better or for worse. It all depends on you.

  2. You can’t go wrong with Pentax glass. I seldom leave my Spotmatic behind when I feel I really need a dependable performer. My $15 K1000 is even better in some ways, though I don’t have the lenses and accessories that would make it as versatile as it could be. I nearly gave it away to a student recently, but choked at the last minute and gave up my Canon TX instead. I see the K1000 being offered often on Craigslist for astronomical prices, but they often seem to go for very modest prices on the auction sites. I’m guessing we’ll see a report here on the K1000 before long.

    • My ex-wife made her living as a photographer when I met her, and her everyday camera was a K1000. Hers was the first SLR I ever used, and while back then I didn’t really know what I was doing — she would always set exposure for me and I’d focus — I really enjoyed the experience. I have been challenged to find a working K1000 under my usual $50 limit, which is why I don’t already have one!

  3. Ok, I’m going to dig out my Minolta and find some specs on it, then take some pictures. You’ve inspired me. I may even dig out all my Kodaks from previous years like my Disc and Pocket. And my son’s vintage Polaroids!

    The Pentax takes a nice picture! Even the close ups are sharp and very clear! The church is amazing!

    I’m liking the old Ford that was next to that truck at the light on the left!

    • I hope you’ll run some film through your Minolta and share the results on your blog!

      Yeah, you don’t see too many 1st-gen Broncos on the road anymore.

  4. I do not bother much about the science of photography.But I cherish beautiful photographs. I I like all your photos, especially the one of the house and the other of the church and the autumnal foliage.

  5. Hi! Jim, nice post on the Pentax ME. If you are planning to get the K1000 in the future, why not consider the MX which is basically a K1000 with the size of a ME plus lots more (it is like a miniature Nikon FM/FM2), it will be harder to find and more expensive of course. :-) Anyway, welcome to the world of K Mount!

  6. That camera looks *extremely* familiar. My dad has/had this camera (I can’t remember if we ever recovered it after we left it behind one year in the Bahamas). After I graduated from a Kodak Disc Camera (yeah!) this is what I learned to take real photos on.

  7. hi jim. i only had a spotmatic back then and didn’t have any idea there where other pentax cameras. fast forward, i shoot with a K5, collect pentax screwmounts, yet am still unschooled with all the M cams.

    last month i rescue a working ME from a used guitar store. it had an M 40/2.8 attached. all for the princely sum of $30. it now sits proudly among my screwmount bodies.

    i need to have the light seals replaced and i just spotted a new old-stock ME winder on ebay. you’re right. there is romance with these old cams.

    • $30 is a good price for that ME! The Ms all take K-mount lenses. In theory, you should be able to attach your M 40/2.8 to your K5!

  8. Pingback: Pentax ME Super … or another version of the never-ending hunt for the Holy Grail! — reCap reCap

  9. My first film camera when I came back to the hobby was a Pentax ME. I love it and still shoot it often, even though my shelves have become cluttered with “better” cameras. The shutter is loud, mirror slap is pronounced and the film winder sounds like there is sand in the bearings. But I love it.

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