Camera Reviews

Pentax ME Super

I reach for my Pentax ME all the time because it’s small (for a 35mm SLR), light, and easy to use. It is an aperture-priority camera, meaning that after you set the aperture, the camera reads the light and sets the shutter speed. I recommend the ME because they are inexpensive and fun to use. If you want that but you simply must have full control over exposure, then the 1979-84 Pentax ME Super is for you.

Pentax ME Super

Its electronically controlled shutter operates from 4 to 1/2000 sec. — different from the ME’s 8 to 1/1000 sec. shutter. Also, if you use flash it syncs at 1/125 sec., rather than the ME’s 1/100 sec. But under use, these cameras feel and work much the same. In Auto mode, look through the viewfinder and twist the aperture ring. A dot glows next to the shutter speed the camera chooses. The dot is green-yellow at 1/60 sec. and above. It’s orange-yellow below 1/60 to caution you of shake if you’re holding the camera in your hands.

Pentax ME Super

There’s just one quirk to setting shutter speed, though. There’s no dial or ring. Instead, put it in manual mode by twisting the dial atop the camera to M. Then press the two black buttons to change the shutter speed. The viewfinder helps you get a good exposure. A red light blinks rapidly next to OVER or UNDER until you choose an aperture and shutter speed that gives good exposure. It works more intuitively in practice than that sounds like.

Pentax ME Super

That’s a good thing, because this Pentax ME Super has a fault in Auto mode: the mirror doesn’t return. The mirror returns properly in manual mode, so that’s how I shot it.

If you like compact SLRs, also see my review of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my review of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I shot my test roll while we were all hunkered down at home thanks to COVID-19. Knowing I’d want to shoot some things indoors handheld, I loaded speedy Kodak T-Max 400 into the ME Super. I developed it in Rodinal 1+50. This is a mug our son often uses for his tea.

Red cup

Our dishwasher is on the fritz, so we handwash our dishes and leave them to dry. The kitchen window is nearby, providing plenty of light.

Drying

I took the ME Super on photo walks around the neighborhood, as well. This SLR is so light that I hardly noticed it hanging over my shoulder.

Curves and lines

The mirror slap jars the camera a tiny bit. The ME Super supposedly has a mirror dampening mechanism that the ME lacked. But I was surprised to feel the camera move in my hands each time I fired the shutter. My ME doesn’t do that.

Callery pear by the fence

I adapted quickly to the ME Super’s manual mode. By the end of the roll, my fingers were finding the two buttons with my camera still at my eye.

Tulips

The ME Super offers everything I love about the original ME plus that manual mode. But I’d hardly use manual mode (if this ME Super’s Auto mode were working). I prefer aperture-priority shooting and use it nearly exclusively on every SLR I own that is so equipped.

Zionsville

If my ME disappeared, however, I could just pick up this ME Super and keep right on trucking. After a CLA and a repair of Auto mode, that is. I might even use the manual mode once in a blue moon.

At Iron's Cemetery

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME Super gallery.

It’s hard for me to be objective about the Pentax ME Super because I’ve used and loved its predecessor, the Pentax ME, for years. If you like the ME, you’ll like the ME Super, and vice versa. If you’ve never used either and you are at all curious, hie thee to eBay where bodies can regularly be had for chicken feed.

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27 thoughts on “Pentax ME Super

  1. John Stockwell says:

    Pentax ME Super was the first camera that I bought for myself.
    I started following you a few years back, when you wrote about a
    Yashica D. That was the first camera that my father bought me. I still have both!

    • Outstanding! They’re both fine shooters. If you ever want to get them overhauled, Eric Hendrickson is the man for the Pentax and Mark Hama is the man for the Yashica. Google them.

  2. Christopher May says:

    The Canon AE1 gets all kinds of praise heaped on it when discussing entry level 35mm SLRs that offer auto and manual modes. I’d take the ME Super over it every day of the week though. The Pentax’s aperture priority auto mode is a lot more intuitive and easy to use than the Canon’s shutter priority mode. As a bonus, the Pentax is smaller but still has a nicer viewfinder.

    Nice write up!

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    I had the MX manual version of this back in the late 80’s. I loved the idea that the meter was little lights, and after years of second guessing needle meters that would go out-of-whack fairly easily, it was a god-send! I still look back on some people transparencies I took with this in the late 80’s and marvel at the quality, really competitive lens quality with the “bigs”, although the robustness might not be there.

    • The lights are nice. I had a Minolta XG 1 that had lights as well, it was a sweet little shooter.

      The Pentax glass really holds its own.

  4. Darn it, Grey, there you go again making me reach for the magic plastic card after a half hour on ebay! When I was stationed in Japan in the late 1970s, I bought my dad a Pentax SpotMatic II and a couple of lenses. That is the only Pentax I am familiar with. However, Ken Rockwell’s site has a great write up for the ME and the ME Super. I need to get familiar with the Pentax lenses so I can find a short zoom for the camera provided I win the auction.

    Once again, Young James, you have tickled my interest in shooting film. Thanks.

    Rich

  5. Edwin Peter Paar says:

    Perhaps the “mirror slap” you experienced was related to the mirror lockup problem in aperture preferred mode. My ME Super does not have that issue. A trip to Eric will probably solve the problem.

    • Hm. You might be on to something. I’m sure this Super would benefit from a trip to Eric but if I do it it’s behind my KM and my ME-F.

  6. With regard to mirror slap,I wonder if the bit of foam in front of the focus screen has gone soft. On my MX and ME super it looked ok but was really soft to the touch. When removed it was actually quite gooey, easy to replace but was tricky removing it and not getting any tiny bits on the focus screen. However, once it was replaced slap seed less and was definitely quieter too.
    I love Pentax glass so much that I also shoot it pretty much exclusively on my Sony A7II. I find it difficult to tell the difference between it and modern glass most of the time.

  7. I went looking for a Pentax ME after reading your first review of the camera some years back. Couldn’t find a decent one on eBay at the time, so I ended up buying the ME Super instead. Your post and that Super got me hooked on Pentax. A whole bunch of Spotmatics, the LX, MX, K2 and so many lenses followed. Darn you cost me a lot of money Jim!

  8. Glad you are doing well with your ME and ME Super. I myself now already buried the 4th ME Super due to failure. The first three have mechanical issues and the final one is showing a non-linear deviation in the metering. Tried a Super A too … which shows the same metering deviation issue. No luck so far with this class of Pentax bodies. Now trying a P30n.

    • Is the meter consistently reading wrong but responds to light? Try dripping some alcohol into the exposure comp dial area and then rotating that dial a bit/lot and the Iso setting dial. It’s often corrosion in this area that causes a meter problem.

      • Hi Richard, the metering – compared to a digital camera meter – is dead on at 1/125 and then slowly deviates up to 1/1000 with 1 stop (1/2000 reading). So the faster the speed, the larger the deviation. 125(digital)/125(ME Super), 200/250, 400/500, 650/1000, 1000/2000 and 2000/>2000. From 1/500 on, images will be underexposed.

  9. Dan Cluley says:

    An ME Super was my last SLR before going mostly digital and I do like it mostly, but aperture-priority has never really worked for me.

    My into to photography was mostly shooting trains, specifically moving trains, and the first lesson is high shutter speeds are needed for sharp exposures. With my K-1000 I could just leave the shutter speed at 1/500, twist the f-stop ring until the meter was happy and shoot. So for me the “nicer” camera ended up being less user friendly, but I can see why it works for most people.

    • You’d probably like the Canon AE-1, then — shutter-priority autoexposure. Dial in your 1/500 and the camera chooses the aperture automatically. Canon was in love with shutter-priority.

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