The 1964 Pentax Spotmatic, the first 35mm SLR to offer through-the-lens light metering, set the template for pretty much every popular SLR that followed. But the Spotmatic required moving a little lever to activate the meter. And you had to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself. The horror.

Pentax’s engineers worked tirelessly to relieve photographers worldwide of their lever pushing and dial twisting. They triumphed in 1971 with the Electro Spotmatic, which added open-aperture metering and aperture-priority autoexposure. The celebrating ended quickly, however: the Electro Spotmatic proved to be unreliable. Pentax followed quickly with the improved ES, but even that camera had its problems. Pentax didn’t get it right until 1973 when they released the ES II.

Pentax ES II

To make open-aperture metering work, the well-regarded M42 screw-mount Takumar lenses received a slight modification: a tab that let the camera’s exposure system read the lens’s aperture. This coincided with the introduction of Super Multi Coating, Pentax’s advanced lens-coating technology. If you shoot one of these cameras with lenses not marked Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, you lose open-aperture metering and autoexposure. The camera then works like any other Spotmatic, with all that lever pushing and dial twisting.

Pentax ES II

With non-SMC lenses you also get a narrow range of shutter speeds: 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 sec. Screw on an SMC Takumar and twist the aperture ring to A, and suddenly these cameras’ shutters fire from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec steplessly — if 1/382 sec gets the right exposure, that’s what the camera chooses.

Pentax ES II

This electro-wizardry needs four SR44 button batteries. Most other 1970s-80s aperture-priority SLRs need just one or two. And the ES II burns through those batteries fast. I forgot to turn off my ES II one time, and when I picked it up again two days later, all four batteries were dead, dead, dead.

By the way, if you like these screw-mount Pentaxes, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), and the H3 (here). You might also like the K-mount Pentaxes; see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), and the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My ES II came with two lenses: a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar and a 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. I screwed on the 55mm lens, loaded a roll of Arista Premium 400, and took the ES II out onto the road. Here’s my favorite shot from that roll, which I took in Michigantown on the Michigan Road.

300

The 55mm f/1.8 Takumar is widely regarded as a great lens, pin sharp. So I was a little let down by how soft these photos turned out. To see what this lens is capable of, check out the photos on this page.

Ganders Visitors

That softness shows up best at larger resolutions, so if you’re curious, click any of these photos to open them on Flickr and enlarge them there.

Augusta Station

I had a fine time shooting the ES II, however. It handled great. It’s a little heavy in the hands, but then this camera is made entirely of metal.

White Lion Antiques

I took a couple photos with the 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar and was even more disappointed with how soft my photos turned out. See this page to see the sharpness this lens can deliver. But do enjoy my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler.

'67 Chrysler

I wondered: did I have the lenses screwed on tight? Was there something wrong with my lenses or with the camera? I wanted to try to figure it out. So I loaded some Kodak Ektar 100 and kept shooting. Sharpness improved noticeably. I don’t know why.

Bell

I took the ES II downtown one evening for a photo walk along Massachusetts Avenue. The Old Point Tavern is an old Indianapolis bar. They make a great bowl of chili.

Old Point Tavern

Here’s another of those pedal-powered beer bars like the one I shared in this post. The fellow looking directly at the camera actually called out something unkind to me after I snapped this shot.

Pedaling for beer

You’ll find racks full of these yellow rental bikes all over downtown. I never see any of the bikes in use; the racks are always full.

Bikeshare

I’ve shot this shrub in my next-door-neighbor’s yard six or seven times now with various cameras but have never been satisfied with the photos — until now. This is exactly what I have been trying to capture about this bush. Don’t ask me to describe what it is, though; I can’t.

Shrub

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ES II gallery.

I’d like to put a roll of Kodak T-Max through my ES II to see how my Takumars like that low-grain film. That’s a good sign: I know I really like a camera when I imagine the next roll of film I’ll shoot in it. The speed with which the ES II burns through batteries bothers me a little, but not so much that I wouldn’t shoot this camera again.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Comments

34 responses to “Pentax ES II”

  1. Bill Bussell Avatar
    Bill Bussell

    I bought a Pentax H3V in 1966 while in high school, and a second H3V in the Summer of 1970 while working for the Indianapolis Star. I was convinced your Pentax was not soft focus. Good to see you established the truth. 😊

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A Pentax S or H series is on my list of cameras to find.

      I may never know why that first test roll came out so soft. But I’m glad the roll of Ektar turned out so well. Coming up next Monday I’ll have another post of pics from the ES II, from a stroll I took in Lockerbie Square.

  2. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    I’m shooting a film at the moment with the same lens on a Spotmatic F I’ll let you know how they come out when
    I’ve finished the film your colour shots came out fine and sharp. I still like your B&W shots.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you’ll share your shots online after you process them!

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    The Spotmatics are iconic cameras. If it didn’t require me going out and buying some Pentax screw mount lenses, I’d probably try one. Since you got me hooked on the Pentax MX, ME, ME Super series, I’ve been hunting a Pentax LX.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have a spare 55/1.8 SMC Takumar I’d send you if you ever buy a screw-mount Pentax body.

      Good luck on the LX hunt. I’ve considered buying one myself. I can’t imagine how it would ever best the F2, however, so if I ever do buy one it will be because I stumbled upon one at a price I couldn’t pass up.

      1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        Agreed. Most of the LX bodies I see are very expensive.

      2. Norman Avatar
        Norman

        I would be interested in the 55/1.8 SMC Takumar lens if you could send it to me. I lost my lens some time ago while shooting in Phoenix.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’m afraid I sold it earlier this year. I’ll bet you could pick one up on eBay for a reasonable sum.

        2. Norman Avatar
          Norman

          Thanks anyway, I will check eBay as you suggested.

  4. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Strange that your Tri-X with the Tak are shots are so soft, that hasn’t been my experience.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I may never figure it out. Just glad the Ektar shots are sharp.

  5. ambaker49 Avatar
    ambaker49

    I play with way too many old cameras. For the SR44/LR44 batteries, I get them 100 at a time off the auction site. For generic, you can find them 100 for 10 bucks shipped.

    My Holy Grails are a Pentax LX, and a real S-1 Ricoh rechargeable battery for my Ricoh XR-S. The SR44s work, but not rechargeable.

    I do have to ask, do you really get up to post at 4:00 AM?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice to know I’m not alone with too many old cameras. Thanks for the tip on the SR44s.

      Heh, I write all my posts in advance and schedule them to fire off at 5 am EDT.

  6. dehk Avatar

    Now I might have to keep my eye out for one of those.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You should. It’s a pleasure to use.

      1. dehk Avatar

        Yeah coz right now I have an Pentax MG with a M42 to K adapter. Works alright but obviously yours better. Well I mean, i have a spotmatic too but that’s besides the point of making up excuses
        for a new camera.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          You need an excuse? :-)

  7. walker Avatar

    Yay, back to the old days w/ this camera.
    Btw, great things all around here.

    Best,

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I spend a lot of time in “the old days” with my cameras. :-)

  8. Jim S. Avatar
    Jim S.

    Hi, just to note that the Topcon RE Super (Super D) was actually the first SLR on the market with TTL metering, in 1963.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, that’s true. But the Spotmatic was the first introduced, as it was first shown in 1960. Don’t know why it took Pentax 4 years to bring it to market!

  9. Michael Zweifel Avatar
    Michael Zweifel

    I just picked up a ESII and everything works great but it doesn’t like the cold. I’ve been a Pentax fan from 1979 with a Pentax Auto 110, and now I own 40 plus Pentax film cameras and love them. From Asahiflex to LX

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve not had much luck with pre-K-mount Pentaxes in the cold, either. You are a serious Pentax collector with all that gear!

  10. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    The ES, which I own, is far more battery friendly. Not sure why. Mine has gone two years now without need for replacement.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Maybe mine’s an anomaly!

  11. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Ok. Time to add an ES II to my collection.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a fine camera. I like my Spotmatic F a little better, though.

      1. Khürt Williams Avatar

        I searched eBay and found exactly one unit for sale. All the rest were listed as “AS-IS” with various prism defects. Call me odd but I’d much prefer to have Asahi Optical branding. Where do you recommend I search?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I prefer the Asahi branding too. Sometimes one of these will show up on KEH or Used Photo Pro. They’re not exactly common, so you do have to just wait.

  12. […] much the same camera as my Pentax SP II. After reviews of the Asahi Optical Co. Pentax ES II by Jim Grey and Stephen Dowling and seeing some of the photography Jim captured with his camera, I became […]

  13. […] much the same camera as my Pentax SP II. After reviews of the Asahi Optical Co. Pentax ES II by Jim Grey and Stephen Dowling and seeing some of the photographs Jim captured with his camera, I became […]

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