Cameras, Photography

Pentax Spotmatic F

At last: open-aperture metering on a Pentax Spotmatic.

It’s not like stop-down metering is hard. It’s just an extra step, and a quick one: flip the switch. Yet to be free of it! Exposure information in the viewfinder at all times! This feeling of ease makes the Spotmatic F more compelling than any stop-down Spotmatic that preceded it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Introduced in 1973, the Spotmatic F retained the original 1964 Spotmatic’s chassis. I expect the works are the same, too, except for changes enabling open-aperture metering. To power that meter the SPF got a bigger, more powerful battery: the dreaded, banned PX625 mercury cell. (Earlier Spotmatics used a battery that isn’t made anymore, though other special-order batteries can be adapted to fit.) But that’s not all bad, as highly available alkaline 625 cells fit and work fine despite delivering a little less juice (0.2 volts, to be precise) because Pentax added a bridge circuit to adjust voltage. It’s the only Spotmatic so equipped.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Well-known Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson cleaned, lubed, and adjusted this SPF, so it works like new. And it may well have been essentially new, serving briefly as a sales demonstrator before falling into the hands of a Pentax employee who kept it without, it seems, ever using it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

The SPF is a 35mm SLR with a cloth focal-plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec., with flash sync at 1/60 sec. The SPF takes M42 screw-mount lenses, but open-aperture metering works only with SMC Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses, which have a pin that lets the camera read the selected aperture. With those lenses, the stop-down lever (on the right of the lens barrel) provides depth-of-field preview.

SPF_TTL

Inside the viewfinder. Meter needle at right. When it’s horizontal, you have accurate exposure.

The SPF meters through the lens using a CdS cell and a match-needle system in the viewfinder; it accepts films from ISO 20 to 3200. There’s no on/off switch, but at and below 2 EV the meter deactivates. Keeping the lens capped effectively turns the camera off.

The focusing screen includes a microprism patch. You twist the focus ring until everything looks sharp and the patch stops shimmering. The older I get the harder it is to see the shimmer, and so I prefer split-image focusing screens. This is the only serious thing I wish were different about the SPF, because otherwise mine is just a joy to shoot.

This SPF came to me with a 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I love 35mm for everyday walking-around photography! Confident in my just-serviced camera I skipped over the inexpensive films with which I normally test cameras and loaded a roll of Ektar.

I took the SPF to Nashville, Indiana, where I attended a conference. My day was pretty packed, but I slipped away at lunch for some photography.

Nashville, IN

35mm lenses are just made for walking around and capturing scenery, of which there is plenty in Nashville. And this Takumar is sharp and renders color well.

Nashville, IN

Downtown Nashville is all little shops and restaurants. It’s a fun day out, easily reached from Indianapolis.

Madeline's

Nooks and crannies throughout Nashville provide plenty of interesting subjects.

Confusing Temptation with Opportunity

On a sunnier day I visited the cemetery near my house. This monument went up in the last year or so but I’ve already shot it many times. The Ektar handled the brown well.

Roman numerals

But wait…what’s that? Up there, in the trees? A little bokeh?

At Washington Park North

Yes, and it’s interesting bokeh, a constellation of little points. If only the subject (those leaves) was more interesting.

Bokeh

I walked through the neighborhood one afternoon with the SPF. This isn’t a neighborhood of picket fences, this one neighbor notwithstanding.

Picketing

Another neighbor recently started parking this mid-1970s Ford Thunderbird curbside. It’s not plated. In a tonier neighborhood the HOA would be all over this Bird’s owner like stink on a garbage truck. Here, we have no HOA. His car can sit there for as long as it wants.

Thunderbird

A lonesome highway makes a pretty good subject.

Old 52

To see more photographs, check out my Pentax Spotmatic F gallery.

I waited until the end to say that the Spotmatic F is essentially the same camera as the 1976 Pentax K1000, except the K1000 uses the then-new K bayonet lens mount. Every other SPF review says that up front and I didn’t want to be tiresome. But I’m mentioning it now because I’ve owned a few K1000s, fine and competent cameras the lot. But I experienced real joy shooting this SPF, a feeling I’ve found elusive with any K1000.

Perhaps some of that joy comes from my SPF’s like-new condition. Buttery operation never fails to impress. But most of it comes from an indescribable quality, something special that got lost in the K-mount translation. If you know your way around apertures and shutter speeds and want to break into film SLRs, just get a Spotmatic F. Pair it with the astonishing 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens and you’ll never fail to have great fun.

 

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30 thoughts on “Pentax Spotmatic F

  1. Ah, finally you’ve found “the one” Jim! I wish you many happy years together!

    Lovely photos with the F and 35/3.5 too.

    I also had a K1000 and shot it alternately with my Soptmatic F, and agree that somehow the Spotmatic is slightly more enjoyable to use and handle. Plus it looks more elegant – the silver finish seems more classy and the lettering on the prism I prefer. Minor things, but at this level that’s what it comes down to in choosing one camera over another.

    It remains my sole M42 film camera, and I can’t ever see a need for any other.

    You might like to add that of course the battery is required only for the meter – the essential operation of the camera is fully mechanical. I haven’t had one in mine for ages now and the most recent rolls I shot “Sunny 16” with good results. Arguably you can rely on the latitude of colour negative film and make the whole process of shooting even more simple than using the open aperture metering.

    Also just to mention with the Takumars, I have come across a couple of Super-Takumars that also have the extra contacts at the rear for the open aperture metering with the F. I also previously thought it was only S-M-C and SMC lenses that had them.

    I guess Pentax developed the open aperture system before the new Super-Multi-Coating and wanted to make lenses available to SP F users as soon as possible. The key when buying is just to look at the rear of the lens and see if it has those two extra metal tabs, regardless of what’s written around the front of the lens.

    Based on your pictures here I must use my 35/3.5 more. I have an older Auto-Takumar version and it’s absolutely tiny. I’ve tended to use the Super Tak 28/3.5 most lately when I’ve wanted wider than 50/55, but want to get to know the little 35mm better.

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    • It might matter that I’ve never had a like-new, just-serviced K1000. I do, however, own a KM that had previously been owned by a friend and his dad, and they took excellent care of it. I get it out every now and again and like it a lot. The KM is the K1000 with a self-timer and DOF preview. That camera came with the 55/1.8 SMC Pentax lens I own, which introduced me to the wonders of this lens design.

      I agree: I don’t need another M42 camera. I’m going to sell my SP, my SP II, and my ES II. I am on the fence about selling my H3, which I don’t need but like a lot.

      https://blog.jimgrey.net/2016/02/22/pentax-h3/

      I went back into the post and mentioned that the battery powers just the meter — thanks for mentioning that oversight.

      I didn’t know that some Super Takumars had the equipment for open-aperture metering. That’s kind of annoying, actually — one more little detail to keep track of in my lens shopping. I may just stick with SMC and S-M-C.

      I really like this 35/3.5. I am likely to just leave it on the SPF. The more I use 35mm lenses the more I feel like 50mm is too constraining.

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      • I’ve tried other Spotmatics and they’re all great, but if you’re going to have just one, it might as well be the best one, the F!

        Definitely agree re the KM, I picked up one pretty cheap, way less than K1000s were going for even then. The K1000 seems to still be increasing in value too. You really wouldn’t pay £100 for a K1000 when you can have a Spotmatic F plus 55/1.8 or 55/2 Takumar for under £50. Plus the Spotmatic F still somehow feels a little superior in build and use.

        It’d be hard to draw me away from the dream combo of the Spotmatic F and Super / S-M-C Takumar 55/1.8. The pinnacle of pure 35mm film photography!

        Though I can see what you’re saying about the H3 – I had two S1a bodies which were basically the same. They’re more elegant, smaller and quieter than the Spotmatic, and whilst the focusing screen isn’t as good, it’s very usable still, especially with a 55/1.8. If you don’t need the camera to guide you in exposure and can shoot Sunny 16 or with an external meter, then it would be easy to argue that the H3/ S1a/ SV models were the definitive Pentax M42 and indeed the definitive M42 body.

        With the different Takumars I personally don’t like the SMC versions so much as they replaced those beautiful metal knurled focus rings of the Super and Super-Multi-Coated with the waffled rubber ones. They just don’t look as good, or feel as classy, in my opinion.

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  2. Richard Armstrong says:

    Great review Jim, I agree with your comments with regards comparing the SPF to the K1000, give me the SPF any day it feels like a real camera, the K1000 as good as it is feels like what it is a budget camera. The SPF is the last Pentax that I brought new and loved it like all my previous Spotmatics. Regards Richard

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    • I wonder why the SPF feels so much better. The conventional wisdom is that the K1000 is just a K-mount SPF!

      I feel like I’m converging on the stable of 35mm SLRs I’m going to keep using, and the SPF is on the list. It will soon be time to sell off the rest of my SLRs.

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  3. Andy Umbo says:

    I always believed the “Spotmatic” series had less “clunky” shutters than the K-1000 bodies, altho I have NOT been able to get a repair person to tell me that. My SP 500 was whisper quiet and smooth compared to my K-1000. I rarely used 35mm professionally, but I got mad at Pentax because I bought a new SP500 and a few lenses back in the day, and they immediately changed to the “K” mount shortly afterwards; so I felt they “orphaned” my screw mount stuff and wouldn’t develop more screw mount lenses.

    I think the first series Pentax “K” mount bodies (KX, KM, K2) had a comparable shutter to the old Spotmatic SP500 and F, and the K-1000 had a cheaper and “clunkier” shutter than the original three “K’s”.

    The last series screw mount multi-coated Pentax lenses are exceptional, as well as almost all the “K’s”, and it’s the only film 35mm I have today!

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    • Yeah, buying a late Spotmatic must have been frustrating for all as Pentax had to be prepping the K mount and its bodies for some time before their introduction.

      I ought to look at my KM and my K1000 to see if the shutters look any different!

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      • I thought Pentax released their M42 to K mount adapter at the same time though, so they didn’t alienate their existing M42 users. I’ve always seen Pentax as a company that looked after its customers – they still today have a version of the K mount that is compatible will all K mount lenses since 1975 (42 years!) and, with that adapter, all their M42 lenses going back another, what, 15 years? That kind of compatibility I find pretty incredible. I’ve used the same M42 Takumars on an early 60s S1a, a 1973 Spotmatic F, 70s M series, 80s A series, 90s MZs, and 2000s DSLRs, with virtually the same simple method of shooting.

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        • Sure, compatibility is good. But there’s just something about having invested in an orphaned platform that doesn’t sit right. I suppose the best example of that is when Canon introduced its EOS line with an entirely new mount.

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        • Yes I think many manufacturers did this when AF came around. Pentax actually didn’t, but just modified the K mount, meaning all older K mount lenses could still be used manually. Maybe they learned from switching to M42 to K mount. They had to switch to a bayonet mount at some point, but as I said, credit to them that they’ve honoured it for the 42 years since they did! That’s an awful long time in technology!

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  4. I am late to the Pentax game, but I’ve quickly fallen head over heels for these fine cameras.

    A split image focus screen was an option on the Spotmatic F and maybe on early Spotmatics as well. My SPF has one and it makes focusing much easier for my old eyes. All of the Spotmatics can be modified to take a split screen, you just have to find one.

    I had Eric put a split in my SP as the process is well above my pay grade. Since Spotties with splits are so difficult to find, the hardest part is finding a donor camera. It is well worth keeping an eye on eBay for even a beat up body with a split focus screen.

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      • My F doesn’t have a split screen but I must say that central focusing spot is one of the best I’ve used on any camera, and my eyes aren’t what they were either. I find it at least as easy to focus than with as Pentax K10D DSLR, despite that having the standard AF screen replaced with a split image and microprism screen.

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        • Yeh I understand, and in certain situations the split works better than the shimmering. I admit on my K10D I really on a combo of split prism, the shimmering microprism, and if that fails the visible focus lock circle in the VF which is very reliable.

          Using something like a Super-A or Program-A (or P30 even) and going back to the Spotmatic you do notice a difference, especially with a slower lens like an f/3.5. I rarely use anything but the 55/1.8 Tak on my Soptmatic so obviously it’s nearly two stops brighter than a 35/3.5 from the off, I wasn’t factoring that in.

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        • Oh! I didn’t take into account that the 35/3.5 would be dimmer than the 50/1.8 in the VF. Now I’ve got to put another roll in and the 50/1.8 on and try again! Drat, such terrible luck I am having.

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        • Jim, you don’t need to shoot another roll, just mount the 55/1.8 Tak and fire some blanks around your house and garden, see what the difference is in brightness and ease of focus.

          I’ve recently decided to stick with lenses of f/3.5 max aperture or less and f/2.8 or less when possible, just for this reason. My eyes aren’t as great as they were! Using my Pentax-A 50/1.4 on any Pentax – film or digital – is a delight because of the amount of light hitting the mirror when focusing.

          Do you have the Tak 50/1.4, I suspect you do. Try that on the Soptmatic F, might just be the ultimate combo in terms of ease of focusing.

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  5. Christopher Smith says:

    Nice review Jim and great photos I would have a SPF over a K1000 any day, the SPF is a far superior camera. I love mine and I have taken some off my best photos with it, and you can pick up one far cheaper than a K1000 it just shows what a myth has been created about the K1000 which was at the bottom of the pile in the Pentax K range of the time.

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  6. Great review Jim and thanks for your blog. I read it religiously. The Takumar M42 lenses are the equal or better than any I have used, and I have used lots of lenses. The Spotamatic just feels right. Not heavy and bulky like the Nikon F2, another camera that I adore. The 135 F 3.5 is an astounding lens as is the 28 F 3.5. The best thing is that they are small and light and so well built. 35mm nirvana.

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    • The subsequent Pentax, -M, and -A lenses are all fine, almost clinically accurate, where the Takumars have a je ne sais quoi that makes them special.

      I have two F2s and an F3 and love them! But they are beasts compared to the SPF.

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  7. This was an interesting read as I did not have any real idea of the difference between the earlier SPs and the SPF. I cut my teeth on Spotmatics – my first camera in the 70’s was a used Spotmatic, and I soon got a second body so I could have colour and b&w going at the same time. I used them for fieldwork, and they never let me down, even after a good soaking or being dropped.
    I used the K1000s at work, and like you never felt the same attachment to the camera as to the Spotmatics. That might have been lens related too, as I loved my 50/1.4 and 1.8, 35/3.5 and 100/4 macro lenses, and the work cameras tended to only have 55/2 or similar lenses.
    I still have all those lenses, (and many more purchased more recently), and have adapted them to my EOS film and digital cameras (the 35/3.5 needs a bit of filing around the rear element to avoid mirror strikes on the 5Dii).
    Another thing I learned from this post, or the comments, is that there was a split screen for the SP. I wish I had known that possibility since focusing was my one complaint about the Spotmatics – due to my astigmatism and glasses frequently not worn, but when worn not much help with the shimmering screen. Especially in low light, such as cave photography, where I pretty much had to rely on the lens markings for focus.
    And all this reminds me that someone gave me a black SP that still has film in it, and a seriously corroded battery compartment (so corroded I can’t open it). I have been meaning to shoot the rest of the film and then take the bottom off the camera to see if I can get the compartment open. So, I have the camera out now, and will shoot sunny16 over the next few days and have a go at fixing it. The lens is a seriously yellow 50/1.4, but I think the film is probably b&w, so that will probably be just fine. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    • The first 35mm SLR I ever used was a K1000. It belonged to my first wife, who was a pro photograhper when we met. It was her personal camera. I really enjoyed it. But now that I’ve owned a couple dozen SLRs I have experienced greater refinement and also a greater “fit” for me in other SLRs.

      It’s much like when I was in college I thought Maker’s Mark bourbon was the bomb. I still enjoy sipping it occasionally today, but for only a little more money I’d rather drink Woodford Reserve as it’s richer and more refined.

      I’m not anti-K-mount. I adore my Pentax ME; it’s my favorite camera. The SMC Pentax-M and -A glass is more clinically accurate, I guess, than the older screw-mount Takumar glass, which means they lack the special Takumar character, but the lenses are still lovely.

      I’ve worn contacts for 30 years so glasses at the VF isn’t a problem for me, but the more farsighted I go in middle age the more I need a sure way to focus. With the SPF I compensated by avoiding razor-thin DOF where focus accuracy is critical.

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  8. What an absolutely beautiful camera you got yourself there, Jim!! Absolutely spotless looking like new, a true keeper for sure!
    I got no experience with the F model, but my father got reunited with his old Spotmatic from the mid 60s not too long ago. I ran a couple of films through that one, and it’s simply just a simple and great camera. Butter smooth shutter, and with a more or less unlimited selection of glass you can attach to the thing.
    I need to check out the possibility to get a couple of wider lenses for it, it seems. Your 35mm Takumar will certainly have to be on the list.
    Thanks for a great review of a truly nice camera.

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  9. Pingback: Disabled Spotmatic and Mystery Film | burnt embers

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