The 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 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.
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.
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.
The office building in which I work is a frequent subject. This morning, the early sun was especially warm and golden.
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.
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.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!