Pentax KM

I took my Pentax KM with me to West Virginia, with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens attached. I had been itching to shoot with that combo again. The KM with that lens had given me such great results with color film when I tried it last year that I wanted to see how it handled black-and-white film. I chose Kodak T-Max 400 for its fine grain, after grainier Tri-X 400 disappointed me in WV last year.

I took a number of photos at the Savage House in Charleston, where we stayed. I was really looking forward to each one of them, too, but every last photo on the roll was underexposed. I think I forgot to set the KM’s film-speed dial to 400. D’oh! Photoshop Elements revived some of the photos but couldn’t save them all. This little lion stands watch over the street.


This girl carrying a jug is in the middle of a birdbath just under the front window.

Carrying a jug

Many of the photos that wouldn’t be saved came from inside the house. The setting sun bathed my bedroom in delicious light and I shot a whole bunch of frames there trying to take advantage of it. This selfie turned out passably after I Photoshopped the bejebus out of it. It looks fine at this size, but if you blow it up to full size you can see some blotchiness and pixelation.


This is my favorite photo on the whole roll. On the way back from the family reunion in Montgomery, we passed through tiny Handley, which is the world’s Grey-family headquarters. It’s a railroad town of about 400 whose glory days, to the extent it ever had them, are 50 years past. The four-room schoolhouse my father attended there has been abandoned for decades now. Here’s dad descending the steps from the schoolhouse.

Abandoned school

This is the schoolhouse view down into the valley. The “hard road” lies between the houses and the rails; the Kanawha River between the rails and the hill that ascends beyond. Dad’s car waits there to take us away.

Handley, WV

A few shots were left on the roll when I returned home. These purple carnations were in a purple vase on my dining-room table, and when I moved them into the sunlight they made a fine subject.


This 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens is pushing 40 years old, but it still delights.

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6 responses to “You can’t go wrong with Pentax glass”

  1. Mike Avatar

    Those are all very nice. It’s possible that properly setting the film speed might have not gotten you such nice textures and chiaroscuro effects. It is good to be reminded that any given scene contains a great range of possibilities, which are sometimes only revealed in miscalculation. Coincidentally, there is a NY Times Lens exhibit this morning about the work of Ray Metzger who was a master of high contrast techniques.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Mike, and great to see you around here again. Thanks for the tip to Ray Metzker’s work. I found a good cache of his images online and enjoyed flipping through them. Yes, certainly the underexposures and subsequent post-processing helped create greater contrasts than these photos would have had, and gave them an interesting and pleasing look. But I was so looking forward to the photos from inside the bedroom at sunset, though, and I wasn’t able to do much with most of those.

  2. Derek Avatar

    Weird, I never have a problem with tri x and grain, but then I develop them myself.
    I agree, pentax glass are great. The only beef I have with pentax is that, there is no on off switch for the meter on my K1000 and i have to use a lens cap.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Tri-X is inherently more grainy than T-max, and after I shot a roll of the Tri-X with my Canonet QL17 G-III in WV last year I realized I wanted the “cleaner” look T-max gives. There’s nothing really wrong with Tri-X and I’ve used it happily in many other situations!

      I figure the LR44 batteries for the K1000 and the KM are cheap enough that I don’t worry about them running down while I’m shooting. I might have a roll in there for a few days at most. I should invest in some more caps for my lenses, though; I don’t have enough to go around.

  3. Mark O'Brien Avatar

    Fun post to read, and while I mostly use Nikon gear, I have a soft spot in my cabinet for classic Pentax. Thanks to the mirrorless cameras, prices of old Pentax glass have really gone up on eBay. Not so great if you are a buyer!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not big into buying lenses — I generally just shoot with whatever comes with the old camera I buy. But I did buy an SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4 not long ago and got it for a reasonable price, $40 I think. So maybe the deals are still out there. I just waited (for six months) until I found one at a price I was willing to pay.

      I haven’t bought a DSLR yet but if I ever do I’m thinking Pentax so I can use my existing glass (albeit not as rated because the sensor isn’t 35mm-film-sized).

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