Camera Reviews

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

A reader offered to sell me his Pentax Spotmatic SP II with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens attached. He wasn’t sure the Spottie’s meter was reading correctly, and said that the bottom plate was a replacement after the original was damaged, but otherwise the camera was in good cosmetic and functional condition. Even if the body wasn’t fully functional, I don’t own a 50/1.4 Takumar and I’ve long wanted one. Because it’s the Super Multi Coated version, it includes the pin that lets it meter on my Spotmatic F without the need to stop down. We struck a deal, and he sent it straightaway.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

The 1971 SP II improves the original 1964 Spotmatic SP with some stouter internal parts, a hot shoe and flash sync, and the ASA range increased from 1600 to 3200. The camera otherwise looks and operates the same as the original. It uses a focal plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 second. Its onboard CdS light meter needs a 1.35-volt PX-400 mercury battery to function. Mercury batteries are no longer made. Fortunately, the silver-oxide 387 cell is the same size and shape, and it doesn’t matter that it puts out 1.55 volts because all Spotmatics include a bridge circuit that adjusts to the needed 1.35 volts.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

Except for the light meter, the SP II is entirely mechanical. It takes M42 screw-mount lenses, of which Pentax made a huge range. Even though the SP II came with the Super Multi Coated lenses that included the pins for open-aperture metering, only the Spotmatic F and the Electro Spotmatic/ES/ES II cameras could take advantage of those pins. On the SP II, you still had to stop down to meter.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

That’s what the big switch on the side of the lens mount is for. When you’re ready to meter, push it up. The needle at right in the viewfinder comes to life. Then to set exposure, adjust aperture (on the lens barrel) and/or shutter speed (with the dial atop the camera) until the needle is horizontal, or at least within the small empty space between the upper and lower black vertical lines of the meter scale. Then press the shutter button to make the image.

If you like Pentax SLRs, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), the H3 (here), the venerable K1000 (here), the KM (here), the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Pro tip: Don’t leave the stop-down switch on overnight. It kills the battery. Ask me how I know.

I tested this Spottie with two rolls of film, using the already attached 50mm f/1.4 lens. First I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50. I had occasion to be in Washington Park North cemetery in Indianapolis, which was right by my previous house. It was nice to be back. This replica of the Liberty Bell has found itself in my viewfinder dozens of times.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

The person who sold me the camera thought that one of the two CdS cells must be dead in the meter, as he didn’t get accurate readings. But I checked the camera against my phone’s light meter app, and the two meters lined up well enough. I got good exposures right down the line.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

I had a few days off from work, so one afternoon I had lunch at The Friendly, a pub that is an institution here in Zionsville. Here are some of my usual photographs from Main Street.

Black Dog Books

I’m lukewarm on T-Max 100. I love its ISO 400 brother. I shot ten rolls of that stuff in Ireland in 2016 and got gorgeous exposures. I’ve yet to make a photo on T-Max 100 that grabs me. I wish its blacks were richer. At least its sharpness is outstanding.

Downtown Zionsville

I continued with a roll of color film. Some time ago I found some expired ISO 200 Ferrania film that was branded Kroger, which is a prominent grocery chain in the US. I’m not in love with the stuff, which makes it a great choice for testing old cameras. My wife and I took a photo walk through Lockerbie, an old neighborhood in Downtown Indianapolis. This is Lockerbie Street, the only street in town still paved with cobblestones. The Spotmatic’s meter is center weighted, despite the word Spot being in the camera name. It had a little trouble with the sun on the cobblestones as it appropriately exposed the houses. No amount of Photoshoppery could save those cobblestones. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that this film is at least 10 years old.

In Lockerbie

This Spotmatic’s light seals are either missing or gummy, thanks to age. Fortunately, the channels they rest in are deep. Closing the film door creates enough of a seal that no light leaked in.

In Lockerbie

The 50mm f/1.4 lens is delightful, and I’m very happy to finally own one. If I ever pass this Spottie on to its next owner, I’m keeping the lens.

In Lockerbie

I owned an original Spotmatic SP many years ago, and back then I did not enjoy stopping down to meter. But nine years have passed. I’m considerably more skilled with an old camera now, and I don’t at all mind stopping down. This former gas station stands on the Michigan Road on the north edge of Michigantown, Indiana.

Old gas station, Michigantown, IN

This Spottie handled beautifully. The controls felt substantial and sure. The lens focused with a feeling of heft. The shutter made a sweet click; the mirror didn’t shake the camera as it flipped. Here I was on the Michigan Road just south of the tiny town of Deer Creek. This grassy flat spot was State Road 218 a long time ago. The current path of SR 218 connects with the Michigan Road immediately north of Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic SP II gallery.

If you find a Spotmatic — any Spotmatic, the SP, SP II, 500, 1000, or F — in good condition, buy it. These cameras are supremely satisfying to shoot, and the Takumar lenses are uniformly good. I like the Spotmatics slightly better than the first K-mount cameras (e.g, the K1000) that followed them. Those cameras were heavily based on the Spotmatic, yet mysteriously they don’t feel as good under use as any Spotmatic. It’s the great Pentax mystery.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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18 thoughts on “Pentax Spotmatic SP II

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Can’t say enough about all the Spottys, I have a regular spotty with a 28 and 35mm lenses f/3.5, which are supposed to be bonkers sharp. Not even multi coated, just regular coated, and still great lenses. I still say, I believe the spotmatic to have a smoother and quieter shutter than the more modern K 1000.

      • Andy Umbo. says:

        I think the first K mount cameras, the KX and KM were probably the last of the heavy duty built cameras. I had an Mx that was great, it probably not as well built as the KX and KM. When I finish getting the few K lenses I still need, I’ll try and get one of those and call it a day…

  2. Once you get used to stop-down metering, the Spotmatics are some of the most satisfying SLRs to shoot. They are really over built in terms of quality. And I have not met a Takumar I did not love.

    • I shot my Pentax KM not long after shooting this Spottie. I know the KM is basically built on the same platform but the Spottie is more satisfying to use. Must be magic.

  3. ^Everything John said! I shot my SPII for a decade, it’s a phenomenal camera and gives a beginning photographer everything he/she needs! I never minded the stop-down metering much, and having the switch to turn on the light meter is handy, I’ve found. The silver-oxide battery that I bought for it back in ~2012 still works! And of course the Takumar lenses are just wonderful.

  4. arhphotographic says:

    Nice photos from a nice camera/lens. You have wetted my appetite. I have just acquired a Honeywell Spotmatic. Sadly I don’t have the 1.4 but I do get to try the Pentax 1.7. Thank you

  5. I was given a Spotmatic SP and a couple of lenses some time back. It belonged to the late father of a friend, who was an archeologist, and was obviously used extensively in documenting his work. It is in beautiful condition. It just came back from a service, along with the 100mm macro lens which had some fungus and needed a clean. All pristine now, I am looking forward to running my first roll of film through it. Whether I use it often or not, I intend to keep it, both because of it’s history, and because it is such an iconic camera.

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