The most expensive free camera ever


Old Camera Rule No. 1: never force anything that seems to be stuck. But I was so sure that I knew better this time. The result: a broken battery door.

This Pentax ME F is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. It came with a 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom lens that, because focus motors were in the lens itself, made this kit the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. It’s a historic camera, and until that moment mine had been in mint condition.

After I finished beating myself up for my stupidity, I bought a non-functional ME F on eBay. When it arrived I robbed it of its battery door. It’s easy: remove the three screws that secure the bottom plate and there it is. You need first remove a tiny metal clip and then the door lifts right out. I repeated the procedure on the minty ME F and then swapped in the good door.

Before I could screw the bottom plate back on I accidentally bumped the battery-door release button, a tiny piece of black plastic, and knocked it off. That revealed the ittiest-bittiest, teeniest-tiniest spring I’ve ever seen. I picked up the button with my fat fingers and gently lowered it over that spring. I must have nicked that spring, as it vanished instantly. It was there, and then it simply wasn’t. I spent a few fruitless minutes searching for it.

But no worries: the parts camera’s spring was still intact. This time I used fine needle-nose pliers to remove the button, gently grasp that spring, and gently set it in place in the good camera.

But as I released the pliers, that spring instantly disappeared as well. I didn’t even see it go. As I stared right at it, it suddenly wasn’t there. I sat dumbfounded for a minute. Then I spent an hour combing my desk, the surrounding furniture, and the floor.

I had no luck. I know those springs have to be here somewhere, but I don’t know what else I can do to find them. So I went back on eBay and bought yet another ME F for parts. It arrived last week. I haven’t mustered the courage yet to try again with that tiny spring.

Maybe I should send both cameras off to premier Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson and have him set that infernal spring. The meter needs calibrated anyway. Maybe he’ll buy both of my parts cameras to reduce my bill!


28 responses to “The most expensive free camera ever”

  1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    I know what you are talking about. Those damned small pieces. Tried using a magnet?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Didn’t try a magnet. The room I was working in was full of furniture — if that spring bounced off anything, who knows where it went. And it’s a large room.

      1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

        That‘s bad. Is it not hard enough and honorable to give these wonderful old technology a second life.

        I have an off topic question … how do you get the comment icon on your page? I see it in the WP Reader App. On my blog I don‘t see it in the app and I have no glue why.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Reinhold, I’m not sure what you mean by “the comment icon.” Can you explain further?

  2. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    You had better spray, or those two little springs will turn into an infestation.

    Seriously, I know how frustrating that can be. I have done the same thing with a special little decorative nuts that holds the top onto an outdoor light fixture. I keep dropping them into the soil below where they immediately burrow deep underneath. I have lost both of them and one of the two from a spare fixture. Every time a bulb burns out I wonder if this will be the day the last one goes away.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The cameras themselves are already an infestation!

      Tip: buy a new outdoor light fixture.

      1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

        But this is the new light fixture. But I suppose that having lived here for 25 years, my “new” might not be most peoples’ idea of new.

  3. Dan James Avatar

    The (very) few times I’ve tried disassembling a camera or lens it’s ended in tears, metaphorically speaking. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I just don’t have the patience or dexterity to bother anymore!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I lack the patience for camera repair. For any fine work, really. I’m also not great with eye-hand coordination, thanks to a left eye that doesn’t cooperate with the right. So I do only the repairs that I think will be easy.

      I wish I could repair cameras, though. I’d buy them on eBay for cheap, fix them, shoot them, and sell them on “tested with film!” at a tidy profit! That would be great fun.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        That has been my plan numerous times Jim, which made it even more frustrating that i lacked the skills/patience/coordination!

      2. Reinhold Graf Avatar

        Not bad … retiring and starting a second career … and having fun with old cameras and having an outcome … not bad :)

        Wait … I even don‘t get my three old ME Supers back on the track … too bad :)

      3. DougD Avatar

        On my only try at fixing a 35mm camera I broke it more, once I broke it I could see how it should have come apart but it was too late :(

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          A hard lesson learned!

  4. Michael Avatar

    I’d think most springs that old are of steel so a magnet should find it easier than your eyes.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re probably right. Unfortunately, I did the repair in the family room, with all of the furniture that implies. The spring almost certainly bounced. I’d be working with the magnet for hours.

  5. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Sorry to here of your woo’s as I’ve been there its so frustrating.
    I have one of these but not the lens as not found one cheap enough yet.
    And the moment you get yours fixed the springs will turn up when you least expect it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s how it works. I lost a contact lens in about 2008 and it appeared in the middle of my kitchen floor in 2017, all shriveled.

  6. Jeremy Avatar

    I am not too sure whether to laugh out loud or respectfully hide my amusement. Either way, I am entertained by your seeming misfortune. Mind you though, I don’t take pleasure at the expense of others, I just find it funny the way you narrated your quandary. It wouldn’t be so rib-tickling though if I was in your predicament. Damn gremlins!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah, this is worth a good chuckle at least.

  7. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Hats off for trying! Changing batteries and focusing screens is about as deep as I get on most of my classic cameras.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Stuff that should be fairly simple I’ll try, if I think I can easily figure it out. But tiny springs are always a wild card.

  8. TBM3FAN Avatar

    Have been watching a build of the USS Essex carrier in 1/350 scale from a period in late WWII trim. There are a lot of brass etched parts if you strive for realistic detail. Ever try to cut a tiny brass etch ladder or 20mm gun off a spru. As the builder says they just disappear into the ether.

    Besides cameras and cars I also like to build models. Here is detail that simply amazes people to no end. I have worked with brass etch myself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My hat is off to you – that is some fine work.

  9. TBM3FAN Avatar

    Oh, another term is “the rift”

  10. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    Sorry for your troubles Jim, I feel your pain. At least for Pentax we have Eric. Availability of competent and timely repairs is beginning to factor into my acquisitions or keepers.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s true. I considered sending my Minolta SR-T 101 for CLA but there appears to be no well-known Minolta techs out there.

  11. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    Jim, that would be John Titterington, Cheap too. Nicest guy in the world. I will never sell the cameras he has done for me….smooooth.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ooooo thanks for the tip!!

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