When I began collecting cameras a few years ago I chose to focus on rangefinders and folders, but deliberately stayed away from SLRs. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but that I feared that once I started buying them I’d become sucked into buying the lenses and accessories, too, and it would be a pit from which I’d never emerge. But I have to admit, I’m attracted to 1970s SLRs. I like them because they’re made of metal and don’t offer fully automatic operation. It’s not that I disdain autofocus and autoexposure – I enjoy them very much on my everyday camera, a Canon PowerShot S95. I just feel a certain romance for these tough cameras that require some effort on the photographer’s part. Their charm has overwhelmed me, and my collection contains a growing number of SLRs.
I’ve had a hankering for a K-mount Pentax SLR for a long time now. Specifically, I’ve wanted a K1000, the seminal student camera. I’ll own one one day, you can count on it. But that didn’t stop me from scooping up this K-mount Pentax ME when I found it for a good price.
The Pentax ME was a remarkable camera when it was introduced in 1976. It 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.
You’re not entirely at autoexposure’s mercy – a dial around the rewind crank lets you adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction. And the ME is plenty flexible, working with films up to 1600 ASA and allowing exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic focal-plane 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 (which holds the shutter open as long as the button is pressed).
The fact that the ME takes commonly available batteries may make it my go-to film SLR. I bought a pack of LR44s around the corner at Walgreens, dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went looking for some color to shoot. This tiny house sits beneath a vast maple whose leaves turn bright red at autumn’s peak.
My ME came with a 50 mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. Pentax sold the ME with the 50 mm f/1.7 or f/1.4 lenses in the same series, so somewhere along the way my ME lost its original lens and acquired this one. No matter; the f/2 lens is a fine piece of glass. The autoexposure system isn’t so good, however, that it can overcome this photographer’s poor choices, such as photographing the back of my brightly sunlit car against a deeply shaded background. At least this photo shows that the lens is capable of producing a nice soft blurry effect.
I carried the ME everywhere with me for a few days, shooting whatever took my fancy. I found this truck’s hand-painted sign, misspelling and all, compelling and shot it through the windshield while we waited at a light.
I’ve photographed this storefront in Broad Ripple several times now.
Apparently folks in the northern Indiana city of LaPorte can enjoy sudden service.
Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis is becoming a frequent subject. It’s a commanding presence on the city’s north side.
I’m glad I bought my Pentax ME. But I’m still searching for that bargain on a K1000.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.