Camera Reviews, Photography

Pentax K1000

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Pentax K1000The first 35 mm SLR camera I ever used was a Pentax K1000. My ex-wife was a professional photographer; the K1000 was her everyday camera. It was a point of personal pride that she eschewed the built-in light meter and set her own exposure. At family gatherings she would set exposure and hand me her camera so she would appear in at least a few photos. From my perspective, she was the camera’s autoexposure system!

Nostalgia fueled a desire for a K1000 of my own, but high prices kept me away. I guess I’m not the only nostalgic one! I caught a bargain last year on a Pentax ME, and when I wrote about it here I mentioned my K1000 yearnings. I forget that my brother reads my blog. His Christmas gift to me was this K1000.

Pentax K1000

Pentax made K1000s for a healthy 21 years, from 1976 to 1997. Production began in Japan, moved to Hong Kong in 1978, and moved to China in 1990. Japanese K1000s say “Asahi Opt. Co., Japan” on the back; later K1000s (like mine) just say “Asahi Opt. Co.” Collectors value the Japanese cameras more than those from Hong Kong, but cameras from either origin appear to me to be of equal quality, made almost entirely of steel. When the Chinese took over, cost-cutting measures led to internal parts made of cheaper materials and top and bottom plates made of plastic. That doesn’t make them bad cameras – they are just slightly less bulletproof than their predecessors. Chinese K1000s lack the word Asahi and the funky AOCo logo on the pentaprism cover.

The K1000 was among the first cameras to use Pentax’s then-new K lens mount. Pentax has stuck doggedly with this mount – I can snap my K1000’s SMC Pentax-M 50 mm f/2 lens right onto the latest Pentax digital SLRs. An astonishing variety of K-mount lenses are available. The lens that came with my K1000 is a typical prime lens. The SMC in the name stands for Super Multi Coating, a highly regarded lens-coating process. You’ll find a handful of prime lenses attached to K1000s you encounter – 50 mm lenses at f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.7, and f/2.0, and a 40 mm lens at f/2.8. You’ll also find lenses labeled Pentax-M, Pentax-A, and just plain Pentax. The plain Pentax lenses are generally the original K-mount lenses. The smaller and lighter M series lenses came next. The A series lenses came next, and allowed later Pentax cameras to control aperture automatically.

The K1000 brooks none of that auto-exposure nonsense, of course. Its only concession to convenience is its light meter, which is powered by a single LR44 cell available at any drug store. A needle inside the viewfinder tells you when you’ve properly exposed your shot. Adjust aperture and shutter speed until the needle moves into the gap. Above the gap, the shot is overexposed; below the gap, it’s underexposed. Pro tip: Put a cap on your K1000’s lens when you’re not using it. There’s no on-off switch; when light hits the CdS-based light meter, current is drawn and the battery is drained. Guess how I learned that. But no matter; I set exposure manually and just kept on shooting.

Pentax K1000

The top view tells the rest of this camera’s story. Its horizontal-travel focal-plane shutter operates from 1 to 1/1000 second, plus bulb. You can set it to work with films from 20 to 3200 ASA. If you put a flash on its hot shoe, it syncs at 1/60 sec.

My K1000’s winder is a little stiff and can be balky. I lost my first roll of film when winding stripped the film’s sprocket holes, so I wound more gently on my second roll. Otherwise, the K1000 performed flawlessly. It’s a large, heavy camera, but not so much so that I couldn’t hold it to my eye with one hand and focus with the other. I quickly built confidence with it, and by the end of the roll had its operation down.

I used my usual film, Fujicolor 200. This first shot is of a Jeep in the parking lot at work.

Jeep light

I don’t normally shoot with my old cameras much during the winter, but this year the weather has been unusually temperate. One sunny afternoon I drove around looking for subjects. This bear guards the reservoir at Eagle Creek Park, a real gem in the Indianapolis park system.

Bear over the water

The office building in which I work is a frequent subject. This morning, the early sun was especially warm and golden.

Anonymous office building

The abandoned house across the street has finally been put on the market. I shot this and then realized that the battery powering the light meter had died, so it’s just blind dumb luck that this shot turned out.

Sign shadow II

In these shots I see the same bokeh and rendering of color I remember in the family shots my ex took with her K1000. Given that I always liked my ex’s family shots, I call that a good thing.

See my entire Pentax K1000 gallery here.


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32 thoughts on “Pentax K1000

  1. Beautiful photos. I had a Pentax camera just like that when I was in college. Took one photography class and then sold it. I haven’t gotten any better at taking pictures since, but you’re doing quite the wonderful job with that camera. Nice photos!

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  2. Lovely. Those pictures dramatize the difference between someone with a cell phone camera (like me) and someone who really knows what he’s doing.

    A peripherally-related question: I seem to recall that “SLR” stands for “Single Lens Relfex,” but I have no idea what that means. Have you ever addressed that issue?

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  3. Lone Primate says:

    Jim, I’m not even a film enthusiast and even so I find myself excited for you. You make it sound so appealing that I’m jazzed that you got it.

    Say, do you do your own developing or anything? I’m just curious because you’re making a go of the film paradigm.

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    • Thanks, LP! No, I don’t process my own film. I did that once, as a teenager, and didn’t really enjoy it. I know that you can do a lot with an image through processing and printmaking, but so far it just hasn’t interested me.

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  4. ryoko861 says:

    I want that Jeep.

    Anyway…..

    I would say this might be one of your favorites!
    It’s hard this time of year to find something riveting to shoot. The bear was pretty cool though. I admire your wealth of knowledge on cameras. I always think of you when I see a vintage one and wonder “Does Jim have one of these?”.

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  5. Nice write-up about that camera. I found one in a thrift store some time ago. It has an excellent lens and a better view than my older Spotmatics. I was disappointed to find that the lens won’t accept the same accessories at my Spotmatics, and it seems they are not easy to find; the same is true of lenses other than the basic standard. Still, I’m having a hard time giving up the camera as it is such a fine shooter. Maybe if I see you taking enough good pictures with yours I’ll be inspired to do more with mine.

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    • I would think that K-mount lenses and accessories would be easy to come by. I haven’t looked, though.

      Since acquiring this K1000, someone I know gave me another one with three or four lenses. I also bought another friend’s KM, which is a K1000 with DOF preview and a self-timer, and it came with another few lenses. I have a couple non-Pentax zooms, plus a Pentax 28 mm lens and now three of the 50 mm f/2.

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  6. Nicole Gelinas says:

    This was the first film camera I ever used as well. It got me through high school and art college perfectly!! Such a reliable camera! Great post!

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  7. I think I would like to have one of these one day. I have a couple of Spotmatics and they are fine cameras. I remember reading an article by Herbert Keppler where there were some questions about the quality of the Chinese made K1000’s. He had the Popular Photography labs take apart and an older and a newer Pentax and they found no essential difference in quality. Some parts were made of different materials, however they didn’t believe they would compromise overall quality. They also found that the Chinese engineers had made a change in the seals that was actually an improvement.

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    • My ex’s K1000 was a Chinese one, and it felt every bit as solid in my hand as the one I have now. I hear that the winder has plastic parts and is more prone to breakage, and I hear that pot metal was used in some places rather than steel, but really, I don’t think under normal usage anybody’s ever going to find fault with this camera.

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  8. Jim – Nice post, and photos. Yes, the K1000 has probably got to be the most successful 35mm SLR, period. I have had a number of them pass through my hands over the years, and a friend of mine uses them for all of his b&w photography. I’m more in love with the Pentax ME, as I like its feel, and vertical metal shutter, along with being able to shoot in Aperture-priority. Both cameras are underestimated by those who don’t know better, and so long as people don’t abuse them, they’ll keep on clicking for a long time.

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    • Mark, thanks for stopping by. I agree with you about the Pentax ME – I liked it a little better than the K1000 just for pure shooting pleasure. It feels better in my hands, and aperture priority is nice when you just want to shoot and not worry about things.

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  9. The Pentax K1000 is indeed a lovely camera. It has the classic looks and it can take a beating. It’s biggest selling point, in our opinion, is its inherent simplicity. Gives you everything you need to take brilliant photos and none of the complications that many other cameras have.
    We created a large article on all the various tips and tricks that can be done with the Pentax K1000 (it’s not such a basic camera after all!)

    http://www.andbethere.com/2012/12/pentax-k1000-tips-and-tricks.html

    Happy Shooting!

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  10. I have two, including an original SE with the brown leather and split-image rangefinder. Mine have lasted since the early 80’s, gone many places, never let me down. One of the advantages of the match needle system is that it allows you to slightly underexpose transparency film and slightly overexpose negative film – a great control. And depth of field preview is easy – just unlock and slightly loosen the lens.

    I taught photography and always encouraged students to use the K-1000. It’s a classic example of Thoreau’s dictum: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

    A favorite memory – getting a free shutter test at a photo show. All those with Nikons and Canons had slight discrepancies in shutter speed from what the dial said. The Pentaxes were right-on at each speed.

    Thanks for these pages.

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    • I’ve become an enormous fan of Pentax glass. I’ve also become quite enamored with the Pentax ME, a compact aperture-priority-only SLR, because it’s light and easy to shoot. It’s the camera I reach for most often.

      I have two K1000s here, plus a KM, which is a K1000 with mirror lockup and DOF preview. My KM was incredibly well cared for and works like a dream; it has been my go-to match-needle SLR.

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  11. Mark says:

    I bought my first K-1000 about 1980 when I was in college, recommended by an old Arctic archaeologist, and then I bought another, and used them exclusively in my own archaeological fieldwork in pretty remote places in north Alaska, Mongolia, and India in the 1980s and 1990s. If they jammed (environments there can be dusty), I followed my old Arctic friend’s advice and just knocked the body gently on a rock, and voila! Perfect again. My generation of professional archaeologists knows the K-1000 as the best field camera ever made, a feeling shared by practitioners in numerous other field disciplines (anthropologists, geologists, wildlife biologists, etc.). Lore has it that after K-1000 production halted (1990s?), it was briefly restarted after requests by field people. I gave one of my three K-1000s to an anthropologist colleague in the early 1990s for her 2-year field project in Tanzania and Kenya, and she raved about it. I still have my remaining two cameras, and she still has hers.

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  12. Your blog is so helpful when it comes to determining which film camera is best for me. I’ve decided to start off with a Pentax k1000 and I love all the information that you’ve provided! Thanks!

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    • I’m very happy you find my blog to be useful! May I recommend widening your search to include the Pentax KM and the Pentax KX? They share the K1000’s body and offer additional features — but because they are not “cult cameras” like the K1000, they often go for less money.

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