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, Travel

On the Chicago River in wintertime

While I was in Chicago in early January, I made a whole bunch of photographs along the Chicago River on the north end of the Loop. I shot a Minolta Maxxum 5 with a 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens. I shot some Kodak Ultramax 400 and some Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, and as I share the images I’m not going to bother telling you which photos were shot on which film. I can’t tell which photos came from which roll just by looking at these scans; can you?

On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
On the Chicago River
Life ring

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Camera Reviews

Minolta Maxxum 5

When a reader offered this Minolta Maxxum 5 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, I had no idea how tiny it would be. Indeed, upon its 2001 introduction it was billed as the smallest and lightest autofocus SLR of all time. I happen to favor compact SLRs, so I was excited to give this diminutive Minolta a try.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 was introduced in 2001. Typical of late film SLRs, this camera has a list of specs as long as your arm. I’m not going to try to list them all, as the Maxxum 5 does everything you’d expect. It loads, winds, and rewinds film automatially. You get programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure modes. It has a built-in pop-up flash, and also a shoe for Minolta’s proprietary external flashes. Its shutter operates from 1/4000 second down to a full 30 seconds.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 uses a seven-point autofocus system and a 14-segment honeycomb-pattern meter that emphasizes the chosen focus point. There’s a switch on the front to turn off autofocus when you want to focus manually. There’s also a button on the back that turns on spot metering, which uses only the center metering segment.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The camera reads the film cartridge’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can override that, however, and set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. The camera even has an “eye start” feature — when your hand is on the grip, and you bring your eye to the viewfinder, it begins metering and focusing immediately. (I found that feature to be annoying, so I turned it off.) 2 CR2 batteries power this camera, without which it is inert.

It says a lot about the 2001 state of the SLR art that the Maxxum 5 was considered an amateur’s SLR. The advanced amateur Maxxum 7 and the professional Maxxum 9 offered even more functionality.

The Maxxum 5 was a ton of camera for its price — $403 for just the body. I’m sure almost all of these came with the 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Minolta AF Zoom kit zoom lens, however. Mine came to me with an almost certainly superior 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens.

If you like auto-everything Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the Maxxum 7000i (here), the original Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). I’ve also reviewed the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), as well as the delightful rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here) and later Hi-Matic AF2 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I brought the Maxxum 5 with me on a trip to Chicago in mid-January. I had three rolls of film with me, and I began with Kodak Ultramax 400.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

Temperatures were in the mid to upper teens all that weekend. I had a hotel right on the Chicago River, in the Loop but right across from the River North neighborhood. I photographed the river’s bridges and the neighborhood extensively, keeping the Maxxum 5 inside my coat until I was ready to frame a scene. The camera performed flawlessly even in such low temperatures.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

The viewfinder is small, but bright. The focus points the camera chooses light up clearly inside the viewfinder.

Ahead: Minolta Maxxum 5

I walked for a couple hours that night with Kodak T-Max P3200 in the Maxxum 5. I got uneven results. The negatives were very thin — either the Maxxum’s meter is way, way off, or the lab bollixed the development. I’m leaning toward blaming the lab; I think the Maxxum’s meter is right.

Chicago River at night: Minolta Maxxum 5

Several shots had vertical light streaks through them, like this one. Normally I develop my own black-and-white film, and I wish I had done so this time.

Down LaSalle St.: Minolta Maxxum 5

Still, a number of the shots I made turned out well enough, like this one.

Shockingly: Minolta Maxxum 5

The next day I loaded Fujicolor 200 into the camera and kept shooting. Despite all of the Maxxum 5’s modes and options, I never varied from straight-up Program mode. But then, I’m sure, neither did 95 percent of people who bought this camera new.

Fire chief: Minolta Maxxum 5

The 35-70mm zoom lens is on the small side, which befits this small camera. I have 50mm prime lenses that are almost as large. The lens offers macro mode, which I used on a couple shots. I was pleased with this lens’s sharpness.

Graffiti: Minolta Maxxum 5

I had only two minor complaints with the Maxxum 5. First, the strap lugs are right by the door hinge on one end, and the door closure on the other. Every time I loaded film, the strap got in the way of closing the door.

Wrapped in lights: Minolta Maxxum 5

Second, the button to open the camera back is in a nonstandard place: on the back, lower right, below the door. I was a little worried that this would make it easy to accidentally open the camera. But while researching to write this review, I learned that the Maxxum 5 will open only when film is not wound around the takeup spool.

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Maxxum 5 gallery.

Auto-everything SLRs from late in the film era, like this Maxxum 5, are the great bargains of film photography. You can pick these up on eBay every day for under $40, and sometimes for as low as $20, usually with a lens attached.

On the balance, Minolta made wonderful auto-everything SLRs, and the Maxxum 5 is no exception. I like them more than the contemporary Nikons and Canons that I’ve tried. The Maxxum 5’s small size and rich featureset distinguishes it from the other Maxxums I’ve used. This camera is a keeper.

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

A drive down the Michigan Road in southern Indiana

I’ve got the Michigan Road coming out my ears as I share my 2008 trip report here on Fridays. In my work with the Historic Michigan Road Association, I keep track of the Michigan Road wayfinding signs we’ve placed all along the route. I had heard that some signs were missing and had been meaning to take a sign inventory for some time so we could get missing signs made and installed.

While I was on bereavement leave in early January I spent a day by myself driving the Michigan Road in Marion, Shelby, Decatur, Ripley, and Jefferson Counties doing that sign inventory. It is always a tonic for me to drive an old road, listening to my music, stopping to make photographs when the mood strikes.

I hadn’t shot my Nikon N2000 in a while, so I mounted my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens and loaded a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400. I sent the roll to Dwayne’s for developing and scanning, and for some reason they scanned only 18 of the 36 exposures. When I got the negatives back, the rest of the strip was blank. Now I wonder if something’s wrong with my N2000. I’m pretty sure those blank shots should have been scenes around Madison. My memory is sketchy, though; it was right after Rana died and I was in a fog.

Here are the best of the images from the trip down. Many of those images come from Shelbyville, where I stopped to see their remodeled and reconfigured Public Square. I need to make a special trip down to document it properly.

Shelbyville Public Square

The Sheldon Building on Shelbyville’s Public Square is probably my favorite on the entire Michigan Road.

Sheldon building, Shelbyville

I was sad to find that Sanders Jewelers has closed. Their neon sign, which you can see here, has been removed. I’m betting that Sigler’s is the name of the store that operated here before Sanders. I don’t know what store is in here now.

Former Sanders Jewelers, Shelbyville

When I reached Napoleon, I noticed that the original Napoleon State Bank building has been repainted with a mural. See its previous paint job in this photo.

Napoleon State Bank building

I drove the original Michigan Road alignment from the south end of Napoleon. Where it crosses US 50, there’s this historic marker about the road. It’s been restored since the first time I saw it (photo here).

Michigan Road marker at US 50

Finally, I stopped at one of my very favorite places on the Michigan Road, the circa 1910 Shepard Bridge.

Shepard Bridge

I’ll need to make more trips this year to inventory the signs on the rest of the road, so stay tuned!

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Photographs, Travel

A visit to Metamora

I hadn’t been to Metamora since the late 1980s, and even then, my memory of the place was poor. So I was curious to see it again in early November when the various Indiana byway organizations, including the Historic Michigan Road Association, met there for our biennial conference. Metamora is a very small Indiana town, population less than 200 — but it is well known as a tourist destination for its shops and restaurants. It stands along three one-time major transportation corridors: the Brookville Road, the Whitewater Canal, and the Whitewater Valley Railroad.

I was testing a new-to-me old SLR, a Pentax ME SE, with my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. I’ll write a proper review of the camera after I’ve put a few more rolls through it. On this day, I shot Kodak Max 400 at EI 200. The camera’s meter seemed to be reading about a stop of overexposure, but the film’s wide latitude covered for it.

Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana
Metamora, Indiana

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Camera Reviews

Nikon N70

When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.

Nikon N70

More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.

Nikon N70

It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.

Nikon N70

The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.

Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.

The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.

To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.

All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.

  • First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
  • Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.

The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.

But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.

By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.

Getting lubricated

I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

One Way Alley

The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.

Old house in Lebanon

I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.

Boone Co. Jail

I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.

Striped pants on Kirkwood

The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.

Cafe Pizzaria

It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.

Nick's English Hut

The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.

The Von Lee

When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.

Puzzles in the window

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N70 gallery.

If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.

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