Camera Reviews

Pentax ME SE

You have to wonder why Pentax went to the trouble to offer the Pentax ME SE. After all, it was the same camera as the Pentax ME save two tiny details. One of those details is obvious by inspection: smooth brown leather on the body instead of textured black leather.

Pentax ME SE

The other differing detail is inside the viewfinder: on the focusing screen, the split screen is canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split screen is horizontal. The canted split screen eliminates needing to rotate the camera when the subject’s lines are primarily horizontal, which is nice.

Pentax ME SE

Otherwise, the ME SE’s specs are identical to the ME’s. It works with films from ISO 12 to 1600 and allows exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. You can adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction by setting a dial around the rewind crank. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. Two silver-oxide SR44 button batteries power the ME SE. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME SE

Also like the regular ME, this camera operates only in aperture-priority autoexposure mode, and it lacks depth-of-field preview. This camera was aimed squarely at the amateur.

To use the Pentax ME SE, turn the dial atop the camera to AUTO. Set your aperture on the lens. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your subject, and focus. Press the shutter button down partway. A red light appears next to the shutter speed the ME SE’s meter chose. If the red light appears next to OVER or UNDER, adjust the aperture until the meter can select one of the shutter speeds. Of course, if you get a shutter speed slower than about the inverse of your lens’s focal length, you should mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

Pentax produced these cameras from 1976 to 1979, but you could buy them new out of existing stock through at least 1984. They commonly came in a kit with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens for a street price of about $120. That’s equivalent to about $330 today, making this camera a solid bargain when new.

If you like compact SLRs, see my reviews of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my reviews 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.

My regular Pentax ME has long been my favorite SLR. It’s so light and easy to carry, and I strongly favor aperture-priority shooting. When I found my ME’s meter to be dead last fall, I faced a choice. I could either have my well-used, somewhat battered body repaired, or buy a lightly-used, working body. I decided upon the latter, and soon came upon this clean and minty ME SE. The seller had even just replaced all of the light seals. I paid $105, including shipping, which is a lot more than I normally pay for any camera. But I am entering into a long-term relationship and was willing to pay for a body in very good nick.

To test the camera I mounted the delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some Kodak Ultramax 400. I set the camera’s ISO to 200 because I love the look of Ultramax 400 overexposed by a stop.

Autumn in the suburbs on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE feels just like the ME in the hand, except that the ME SE’s smooth leather feels a great deal nicer than the ME’s nubby black leather. It gives me an “ahhhhh!” moment every time I pick it up.

Metamora, Indiana on the Pentax ME SE

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200, which I rated at 125 and developed in Ilford ID-11 stock.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Just like the regular ME, the ME SE’s winder feels a little ratchety. The similarly sized Olympus OM-1 or -2’s winder is a lot smoother. The shutter button feels good, however, with a smooth, short travel.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE’s viewfinder is surprisingly large and bright, which adds to the joy of using this camera.

Brookville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Next I mounted the underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some expired Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 film. I shot it at box speed — I should have rated it at 200 or 100. This was the best-exposed image on the roll.

Construction scene on the Pentax ME SE

I shot the ME SE all over Indiana on various trips. Because of its size and weight, it’s an easy companion.

Carmel statue on the Pentax ME SE

Finally I took the ME SE along on a trip up the Michigan Road toward South Bend, fresh Fujicolor 200 aboard. I mounted a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens I had just bought.

Rees marquee on the Pentax ME SE

This fat lens made the ME SE front heavy and thus less pleasant to shoot. Mount a prime onto the ME SE (or the regular ME) and you have a light, balanced kit.

1949 Buick Super on the Pentax ME SE

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

I love the Pentax ME SE, just as I have loved the Pentax ME for many years now. I recommend these bodies every chance I get. They’re still relatively inexpensive on the used market, and they let you mount the entire range of terrific Pentax manual-focus lenses. What’s not to love?

Postscript: I got out my regular ME the other day to decide what to do with it. I decided to try another fresh battery just for the heck of it — and the meter lit right up. The camera works just fine. I have no idea why I couldn’t make it work before. Now I have two working ME bodies!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Photographs

A visit to Brookville

I stayed in Brookville, a town of about 2,500 people in southeastern Indiana, while I attended the Indiana Byways conference in early November. I’d only been to Brookville once before, many years ago, and hardly stopped. This time, I made sure to set aside time to walk the town’s lovely main street with my camera.

Brookville is old compared to most other Indiana towns, as it was platted in 1808. That’s eight years before Indiana became a state! The downtown strip retains much of its 19th-century charm.

Brookville is on US 52, which was laid out along the old Brookville Road. This road was commissioned by the state in 1821 to connect Indianapolis with the Ohio border near Cincinnati.

I made these photographs with my Pentax ME SE, using my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. I shot Fomapan 200 at EI 125 and developed it in Ilford ID-11, stock solution.

Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN

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Lucy Walker

Lucy Walker
Pentax ME SE, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M

Foma Fomapan 200 @ EI 125
Ilford ID-11 stock
2021

It’s unusual for me to test a new-to-me old camera and not immediately review it here on my site, as I’ve done with this Pentax ME SE. But this isn’t the first Pentax ME I’ve owned. It’s more like the third or fourth. I’ve written two reviews of the base ME.

I find but two improvements in the ME SE over the regular ME. The first is a smooth brown leatherette covering, which feels good to the touch. The second, which I like a lot, is a split-prism viewfinder patch canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split prism is horizontal, which means tilting the camera slightly to focus horizontal subjects. It’s not a big deal to do that — but the canted split prism all but eliminates that need as next to no subjects are canted at exactly -45 degrees.

I made this photograph in the welcome center in Metamora, Indiana. It’s the most pleasing photograph I’ve made with the ME SE so far. The 50mm f/1.7 lens never disappoints. And Fomapan 200 sings in ID-11 developer.

I’m sure I’ll write a review of the ME SE in the new year, after I’ve put a few more rolls through it. I intend this ME SE to be one of my handful of go-to cameras.

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Photographs

single frame: Lucy Walker

A wooden model boat, on Fomapan 200.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon FA

Nobody could alienate photographers as well as Nikon could in the 1980s. The company did it by leading the way with automation and electronic control. We take all of this for granted today, but then serious photographers were a traditional lot. They shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras. The Nikon faithful especially looked sidelong at the Nikon FwA.

1983’s Nikon FA was, and is, the most technologically advanced manual-focus camera Nikon ever introduced. Yet it didn’t sell all that well compared to Nikon’s more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price, which was within spitting distance of the pro-level F3, helped push buyers away. But its high electronic advancement certainly did.

Nikon FA

The FA offers both programmed autoexposure and Automatic Multi-Pattern (matrix) metering controlled by a computer chip. Its vertical titanium-bladed, honeycomb-patterned shutter operates from 1 to 1/4000 second. It syncs with flash at 1/250 sec., which was pretty fast for the time. Two LR44 or SR44 batteries power the camera. Without those batteries the Nikon FA can’t do very much.

Nikon FA

The FA also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure. It hedges against your poor exposure judgment with Cybernetic Override. If the FA can’t find accurate exposure at your chosen aperture or shutter speed, it changes either setting to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

Nikon FA

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted metering. Press and hold the button on the lens housing, near the self-timer lever.

Typical of Nikons of this era, the FA was extremely well built of high-strength alloys, hardened gears, ball-bearing joints, and gold-plated switches. It was mostly assembled by hand.

By the way, if you like Nikon SLRs also check out my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), F50 (here), and N60 (here). Or just have a look at all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

This FA was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I was in a black-and-white mood when I tested this FA, so I dropped in some Fomapan 200. Given the FA’s compact size, I figured the skinny 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it. I was right.

Wet hosta leaf / Nikon FA

The FA’s winder glides on silk, and when you fire the shutter the mirror slap is surprisingly gentle. My finger always hunted to find the shutter button when the camera was at my eye, though. That surprised me, as I’m used to everything falling right to hand on Nikon SLRs.

500c / Nikon FA

You have to pull out the winder to turn on the camera and make it possible to press the shutter button. I wasn’t crazy about this, especially when I turned the camera to shoot portrait, as the winder would poke me in the forehead.

Fishers Station / Nikon FA

I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took the FA to an event at church. An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t wound to the first official frame yet. Every shot until then gets a 1/250-sec. shutter, like it or not. I have other Nikons from the same era that do some version of this and it frustrates me every time. I hate wasting those first few frames!

Church event / Nikon FA

While I’m talking about the LCD panel, it reads FEE when you’re in program or shutter-priority mode but the lens isn’t set at maximum aperture, which is necessary for those modes to work.

Church event / Nikon FA

I brought the FA along on a trip to central Kentucky, where we toured some bourbon distilleries and saw the sights. I mounted the vesatile 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens and shot Arista.EDU 200. Here’s a view down into the Makers Mark distillery.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*  / Nikon FA

This is a scene from My Old Kentucky Home near Bardstown. The FA was mostly a good companion on this trip, handling easily the whole way. That infernal winder lever kept poking me in the forehead, however.

My Old Kentucky Home  / Nikon FA

I also shot some Agfa Vista 200 on that trip. That versatile 35-70mm lens can shoot macro.

Spring blooms, macro / Nikon FA

Here’s the Willett distillery, near Bardstown. I was growing increasingly annoyed with that infernal wind lever as it kept poking me in the forehead.

Willett Distillery / Nikon FA

I sold my Nikon FA during Operation Thin the Herd (in which I shrank my large collection to about 50 cameras). My collection had more Nikon bodies than I could use, and none of the others poked me in the forehead. Almost immediately, I came across another FA body with a 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens. It was missing the handgrip but was otherwise in good condition. I paid just $30 for the kit, which was an incredible bargain. I figured I’d sell the body and keep the lens.

Nikon FA with 35-105 Zoom Nikkor

But when I tested the kit with some Agfa Vista 200, I realized that I liked the Nikon FA after all. Curiously, I never noticed the winder poking me in the forehead as I tested this body. So I kept it.

Toward the Statehouse / Nikon FA

I guess I was simply meant to own a Nikon FA!

Federal Courthouse / Nikon FA

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon FA gallery.

The Nikon FA is a delightful little 35mm SLR. Its compact size, light weight, high capability, and smooth operation make it a fine choice to take along wherever you go. Working bodies usually go for far less than other contemporary Nikon bodies such as the better-known FM2. But that camera lacks the FA’s matrix metering. So why pay more for an FM2, especially now that we’ve all come to embrace the electronics in our cameras?

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Knight

Not-so-shining armor
Yashica TL Electro X
50mm f/1.7 Auto Yashinon-DX
Foma Fomapan 200
2021

This suit of armor stands watch over a shop in Zionsville that sells jewelry and watches purchased from estates. My wife knows the owners and they’re salt of the earth people.

Every time I look back at the photos I made with the Yashica TL Electro X and that 50/1.7 Yashinon, I’m impressed anew.

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Photographs

single frame: Not-so-shining armor

A suit of armor, on Fomapan 200.

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Camera Reviews

Yashica TL Electro X

A long time ago I bought a Yashica TL Electro, an M42-mount 35mm SLR built like a brick outhouse. When I got around to loading film into it, I found out that it was broken in a couple fundamental ways. I paid just five bucks for it, so I wasn’t broken up. But I’ve never forgotten it. Not long ago I came across its forebear, the Yashica TL Electro X, in very good condition. I scooped it up. This time I paid all of $35.

Yashica TL Electro X

Upon its 1968 introduction, the TL Electro X was significant as the first commercially successful 35mm SLR with an electronic shutter. That allows the shutter to operate steplessly. Shutter-speed settings from 1/1000 sec. (top speed) down to 1/30 sec. all click into place, but you can leave the shutter-speed knob in between two speeds and the camera figures out the fraction of a second to use. Shutter speed settings of 1/15 sec. and slower do not click into place; the dial operates continuously in this range.

Yashica TL Electro X

The TL Electro X was one of the first SLRs to use lights in the viewfinder, rather than a needle system, to indicate exposure. Two red arrows, → and ←, sit at the bottom of the viewfinder. Press the stop-down button, which is on the side of the lens mount panel, and when exposure is not right one of the arrows lights. When you see →, turn up the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. When you see ←, turn down the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. No lit arrows means you have good exposure. It’s intuitive; you turn the aperture ring or shutter-speed dial in the direction of the arrow until the arrow disappears.

Yashica TL Electro X

Otherwise, this is a typical SLR of its period. It’s large, heavy, and solid. The shutter button is solid and sure. The winder, rewinder, and shutter-speed dial all require mild force to operate. By the late 70s, camera makers had figured out how to make SLR controls operate with a much lighter touch.

The TL Electro X was designed to take a 544 mercury battery, but those are banned. My camera came with a 28L lithium cell inside. The silver-oxide 4SR44 and alkaline 4LR44 batteries are the same size, and I hear they work fine in this camera.

Do you like classic SLRs like this one? Then check out my reviews of the Canon FT QL (here), the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), the Nikon Nikomat FTn (here), the Nikon F2A (here), the Nikon F2AS (here), and the Pentax K1000 (here) and KM (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I first loaded a roll of Kodak Max 400 into the TL Electro X, but set the ISO guide to 200. I like this film overexposed by a stop. Fulltone Photo developed and scanned the roll. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

Flower box

The TL Electro X handled a little ponderously, but that’s not uncommon with large, heavy, stop-down SLRs of this era. The controls all took deliberate action, and of course the body is large and heavy. The 50mm f/1.7 Auto Yashinon-DX lens focuses smoothly but with more effort than I’m used to. I don’t like ponderous handling, but I accepted it as endemic to this kind of camera and kept on shooting.

Whitestown

The way the lens renders things through the viewfinder delights me; it’s such a classic old-lens look. But on the scans it was clear that the lens delivers mild barrel distortion. You can see it in the parallel lines of this photo. I corrected it on other photos where it was apparent — it was a +4 correction in Photoshop.

Window

However, the lens is sharp and contrasty, and renders color well. It leaves a nice smooth background and a subtle but pleasant bokeh. It also focuses in reasonably close, to about six inches. I like that.

Red and green

In my TL Electro X, the arrows are hard to see under very bright conditions. → is noticeably dimmer than ← and can be hard to see under any conditions. Also, I find the meter to call exposure good over a fairly wide range of settings. It didn’t inspire much confidence as I used the camera. Yet my exposures were generally fine when the images came back from the processor.

Chalkboard sign

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200. Because I had more money than time, rather than developing this roll myself I sent it to Fulltone Photo. This isn’t the most interesting image from the roll, but it shows the sharpness and contrast I got. My younger son gave me both of these drinking vessels as gifts, one when he was not yet ten more than half his life ago, and the other for Father’s Day this year. The Father’s Day gift perfectly represents his offbeat sense of humor.

Drinking vessels

I coaxed a little bokeh out of the lens in this shot.

Cottage

I coaxed a little more bokeh out of the lens on this photo of an ash branch.

Branch

This tire isn’t an interesting subject, but the silky sidewall texture sure is compelling.

Eco Plus

I took the TL Electro X on a number of walks around my neighborhood and in downtown Zionsville. It’s heft made it less than an ideal companion when slung over my shoulder for a few miles.

Mail station

To see more from this camera, check out my Yashica TL Electro X gallery.

About halfway through the roll of Fomapan, I grew weary of this camera’s ponderous ways. I shot images of whatever to just get it over with. That’s my main beef with 1960s SLRs — most of them are fatiguing to use. During the 1970s, camera makers figured out how to make all-manual cameras lighter with smoother, easier controls.

But I have to hand it to this Yashica TL Electro X — it’s built like a tank, and will probably work even after I don’t anymore.

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