Cameras, Photography

Pentax ME

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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.

Pentax ME

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).

Pentax ME

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.

Autumn over the little house

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.

Test shot

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.

No job to big

I’ve photographed this storefront in Broad Ripple several times now.

Colorful street scene

Apparently folks in the northern Indiana city of LaPorte can enjoy sudden service.

Sudden service

Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis is becoming a frequent subject. It’s a commanding presence on the city’s north side.

Second Pres

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.

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21 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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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    • 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!

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  3. ryoko861 says:

    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!

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    • 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.

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  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.

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  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!

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  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.

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  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.

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