Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax H3

Reflecting in the retention pond

You might call the Pentax H3 a basic SLR, stripped of anything not strictly needed to make a photograph. But upon its 1960 introduction it was the state of the SLR art, about as good as you could get.

Pentax H3

I bought mine for a song at a used camera shop. It’s nearly in mint condition. For its first outing I screwed on my 55mm f/2 Super Takumar lens, loaded some Kodak Gold 200, and took it on a road trip.


For this outing I mounted my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens and shot Agfa Vista 200. I feel fortunate that this camera functions so well and looks so new even though it is nearly 60 years old. All of the controls operate smoothly and surely.

In the vinyl village

The only bummer was having to meter separately. This is a fully mechanical camera with no onboard light meter. The metering app on my iPhone works great. But using an SLR requires two hands, and so on every shot I had to haul the phone out, meter, put the phone away, and then set exposure on the camera. I could have made these photos with my match-needle-metered Spotmatic F in a fraction of the time.

Call the police, hurry hurry

I did shoot some of the roll in full sun at f/16 and 1/250 sec. — good old Sunny 16. But in other conditions I’m not confident enough of my ability to read light not to use a meter.


For years I’ve wanted to learn how to accurately guess exposure based on my reading of the light. But I’ve wanted to do it in the same way I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano — without all that boring practicing. As I walked about with the H3 I thought that maybe this is the right camera for learning that skill. But I can use any of my metered but otherwise mechanical SLR bodies, like my Spotmatic F or even my Nikon F2, for that. I just need to leave the battery out.


But this H3 is such a jewel. It and that SMC Takumar lent real dignity and grace to the mundane subjects I chose.

It's a grand old flag

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax H3 gallery.

I’ve now come to the cameras where it’s harder to decide whether to keep them. This H3 is just wonderful to use, despite lacking a meter. It feels good in the hand, and all of its controls operate with smooth precision. But my Spotmatic F meets my screw-mount needs completely. When I want to use one of my Takumar lenses, I know I will reach for the SPF 99 times for every one time I would reach for this H3.

Verdict: Goodbye

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17 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax H3

  1. Pentax in Britain had a good tag line back in the 60s – “Just hold it”. They felt good in the hand.
    I used to be able to read light within half a stop of a Weston meter. Not bragging, just constant practice. That was long ago, couldn’t do it now. Although you can always fix it in software, right? ;)

    • That’s a great tagline.

      With the giant exposure latitudes of most modern negative films, you can be up to two full stops off and still get an image you can fully rescue in Photoshop!

  2. I’m interested in the H3 Jim. You can send me a price and we can see if we can work something out. I’m in Indiana as well. Always enjoy your posts, including this one . Keep it up. Have a good day, Chuck.

  3. TBM3FAN says:

    I wouldn’t call the H3 stripped down being as how it was introduced in 1960 and had what was the latest at the time. Had it been introduce after the Spotmatic, of 1964, then I would call it stripped down.

  4. Very lovely pictures :) Gosh sometimes it’s so hard to let go of a good ol’ camera. I had a Canon Powershot that was my first nice camera. It was more than time for me to upgrade, but I did have a very hard time letting that one go after all the adventures we shared together! :)

    • I still shoot a Canon PowerShot all the time. It’s … I forget how many years old now. Eight? Something like that. But it still delivers well.

      • Yes it was an excellent camera! Honestly the only reason I gave it up is because I wasn’t using it as much as the SLR, and I thought it could bring camera joy to someone who would use it more! :)

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