Film Photography

Working title: The unsung Pentax ME

I’ve chosen a subject for the book I want to produce: photos from my Pentax ME. What I haven’t figured out yet is how I want to approach the subject. Reader Heather Munro (check her blog here) has been helping me think about it and she’s given me some solid leads.

Pentax ME

The Pentax ME is overlooked and underappreciated. Among manual-focus Pentax SLRs, the K1000 gets all the love. I have one and like it. I also have a pristine KM, which is a K1000 with DOF preview and a self timer, and it’s wonderful.

50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

But the ME is so small and light. It feels better in my hands than the larger K1000 and KM. When it’s slung across my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there.

Monon bridge 1
55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

It also turns out that I really like aperture-priority shooting. That’s all the ME offers — its only manual mode is 1/100 sec., meant to be used for flash sync. I can’t think of a time when I’ve wished I had full manual control of the ME.

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

But let’s say I do someday. Then I’d pick up an ME Super on eBay. It offers full manual control. Pentax cranked out these cameras by the bazillions, and they go for very little. Working ME and ME Super bodies can be had for as little as 20 bucks. My current ME body cost just $16, including shipping. And if it’s damaged or stolen, I can replace it for very little money. I take it everywhere without worry.

28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Ektar 100

The ME may be an entry-level camera, but I find it not to be as low-spec as other entry-level SLRs. Most important to me is top shutter speed. So many entry-level SLRs top out at 1/500 sec., and when I shoot them there’s always a point in the roll when I wish for 1/1000 sec. The ME goes to 1/1000 sec. Some of my SLRs go to 1/2000 sec., and sometimes I use it, but when I shoot my ME I never feel like I need it.

Military cemetery
80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom, Fujicolor 200

A major reason I shoot my ME so much is that I have so many great Pentax lenses for it. I have a 28mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.4, a 55mm f/1.8, a 135mm f/3.5, an 80-200mm f/4.5 zoom, and probably a couple others I’ve forgotten about. I also have, of all things, a Sears 80-200mm f/4 zoom for it, and it’s a solid performer.

50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X

I also frequently shoot a Nikon F2 and have several lenses for it. I’d put my Pentax glass up against my Nikon glass any day of the week.

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

One hidden reason I use my Pentax ME so much is that I don’t have an f/1.4 prime for any of my other SLR systems. I’m the unofficial photographer at my church, and that 50/1.4 with some ISO 800 film lets me work confidently in our building’s dim basement fellowship hall.

Phlox, I think
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Not that I won’t take the 50/1.4 out for other duties. It’s a great all-around lens.

Eastern Star Church
28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

I’m on my third ME body. The nut that holds down the winder disappeared from the first one. I bought the second for parts, but couldn’t get the winder nut off. It seemed to work, so I shot a couple rolls with it. I began to suspect its meter wasn’t accurate, so I bought the third body. I think I spent less than $75 on all of it.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak T-Max 400

My next step is to figure out which photos I want to include in the book and what story I want to tell using them. I’m a pretty busy fellow for the next couple months, so bear with me.

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32 thoughts on “Working title: The unsung Pentax ME

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Plus One on the lenses, I was always amazed at the quality, and even the multi-coated screw mount ones were pretty nice. I never found a Nikon wide angle that I liked except for the 28mm f/3.5. I use a 35mm lens as my ‘walk around’ lens, and I had three Nikons that were all sub-par (2.8, 2, 1.4). But every Pentax lens I ever had was at least good, and mostly stellar. I had the similar sized MX body, and you are correct, the size was perfect for carrying.

    • I want to buy a 35mm SMC Pentax-M. I just got a 35/2.8 AI Nikkor and tried it and it was okay, but it’s not like I pushed it to its limits.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        As a long time pro, that did very little 35mm work (all large format product and 120 people), I have to say that one time, I traded in everything 35mm I had and bought the Contax system to get all the Carl Zeiss lenses. I eventually let it go because every time I went to use it, the shutter controlled battery was dead (I used it that little), but I kick myself today for getting rid of it (especially before they came out with the S2 mechanical body, problem solved!). The mid-80’s Carl Zeiss Contax lenses were truly the best 35mm lenses I ever used. Every single focal length was sharp, well built, and trustworthy of fine imaging. BUT, I have to say, after that, it was Pentax! Both Canon and Nikon had ‘dogs’ in their lens ranges (like the not-so-hot Nikon wide angles). You couldn’t just buy the brand and trust you’d get a good one. It;’s funny today, becasue when you go tot he lens test site and look at modern and extremely expensive Ziess stuff (Batis? Flubis? I don’t know, they have 3 or 4 different lines), the specs are not so hot, and not worth paying 1500 dollars for lenses. I could buy used Pentax all day long and trust them…

        • Pentax lost some market share because they stuck to the M42 mount a bit too long.

          Additionally, while there were a few top end cameras like the LX, they never offered the pro level bodies like Nikon and Canon did. Even if the lesser bodies equaled or surpassed the CaNikon offerings, there’s a visibility to the general public when they see brands used by photojournalists and sports shooters. There’s a perception that CaNikon must be the brand to go to since that’s what the pros use.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          What Christopher May said: even the LX was great, but it had some ‘quirks’, which might render it undependable, and it was too little, too late! They’re still expensive used, tho, I tried to buy one once, as I feel the K-1000’s aren’t as smooth and quiet as the old Spotmatics. If you didn’t have a need for the motor drive, tho, the KM’s and KX’s were considered every bit as good (I think there was a KM-DMD too, some motor drive model pre-LX).

          Strangely enough, back in my beginning years (mid-70’s), I used to get a lot of European professional large format (8X10, 4X5) photography magazines, and there were always a lot of ‘pro’ directed ads and stories about shooting smaller format, that always included Pentax; i.e. I got the feeling that they WERE considered a professional selection in Europe.

  2. I still use my Pentax ME that I bought new when it first appeared, but more often I use the Pentax M lenses on my modern Pentax MZ-S SLR where they still beat any other lens that I have for that camera

  3. I have a Pentax Me Super, haven’t used it nearly enough. I also find the Pentax lenses really good,the 50mm f1.7 and 135mm f3.5 are my favourites. My Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF is so soft in the corners even after a professional CLA that I’m going to trade it in for some nice glass for my Olympus digital. Good look with the book.

    • I don’t own a 50/1.7. I ought to put one on my to-buy list. My 135/3.5 and I haven’t got on too well – I can’t figure out the best use for it and so I haven’t been happy with my work with it so far.

  4. Back when I was a hard core Pentaxian, the ME Super was a favorite. I always went for the Super because of the manual override (though I never recall using it, it was just a security blanket for me).

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything from Mike Johnston, but he wrote a couple of pieces praising the Pentax 50mm f1.4 during his stint as the author of The Sunday Morning Photographer at The Luminous Landscape that are worth a read (LuLa now has a small subscription fee, but it’s nominal and well worth it in my opinion).

    And the 135mm f3.5 was one of my very favorite lenses for any mount. How a lens that small and cheap could be that good still baffles me to this day.

    I will confess that the K1000 still holds a place in my heart because of its history and for sentimental reasons (there were several K1000 shooters in my family and I just grew up around them), but I definitely agree about your assessments of the ME as a very capable but unsung shooter and the quality of Pentax glass.

    Good luck with the book!

    • Thanks for the tip about The Luminous Landscape and about Johnston; I just subscribed.

      I really need to give my 135/3.5 another chance; I haven’t had good luck with it so far.

      The K1000 is great. My KM (K1000 + timer and DOF preview) is wonderful and in top condition – I should shoot it more.

    • 90% sure it’ll be Blurb. Open to suggestions though. Interested in best possible quality but want shipped price of book to be <<$20.

      • We just did photobooks for our final class project, some people used services like Costco, Walgreens, etc. and they look like Blurb quality: which is to say they far under-perform as photobooks (banding, blocking of contrast, bad contrast in general). The services that did do a good job are Artifact Uprising and ZNO which are more expensive, true, but what I’m finding is that a photobook for $20 isn’t worth buying, but one for $40-50 is. The ZNO book in particular looked very nice, but it will cost, however there is a $5 trial version which is nice, you know what you’re getting.

        Just to put it in perspective, I made mine by hand and it still cost me almost $50.

        • Sorry for the delayed reply; just back from a long weekend out of town. I was plenty happy with the quality of the one Blurb book I bought, the one that kicked off this whole idea for me. For my “maiden voyage,” I want this to be as low friction as possible — for me, and for anyone who’s interested in holding the book in their hands.

          This is an experiment. I want to see what happens.

  5. I have fond memories of my Pentax MX; it was my first SLR, my first decent camera, and my ticket to becoming a pro after design school. Wonderful camera and lenses.

        • That’s the same thing I’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. Did you sell your gear via eBay or some other route? I ask because I’m a long time eBay seller, but the fees have gotten prohibitive in recent years and I was wondering what level of success people are having with other means.

        • I’ve been using eBay. It’s had its frustrations and I’m considering just sending the rest to KEH and accepting whatever they offer, just to be done with it.

  6. Excellent review with some fantastic shots! The ME always seem to be looked over in favor of the MX. In fact, that’s what I did too! Have an MX here with film in it, still unfinished. As Mitch said above, this is the problem when you have too much gear :-)

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