Collecting Cameras

The most expensive free camera ever

MEF

Old Camera Rule No. 1: never force anything that seems to be stuck. But I was so sure that I knew better this time. The result: a broken battery door.

This Pentax ME F is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. It came with a 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom lens that, because focus motors were in the lens itself, made this kit the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. It’s a historic camera, and until that moment mine had been in mint condition.

After I finished beating myself up for my stupidity, I bought a non-functional ME F on eBay. When it arrived I robbed it of its battery door. It’s easy: remove the three screws that secure the bottom plate and there it is. You need first remove a tiny metal clip and then the door lifts right out. I repeated the procedure on the minty ME F and then swapped in the good door.

Before I could screw the bottom plate back on I accidentally bumped the battery-door release button, a tiny piece of black plastic, and knocked it off. That revealed the ittiest-bittiest, teeniest-tiniest spring I’ve ever seen. I picked up the button with my fat fingers and gently lowered it over that spring. I must have nicked that spring, as it vanished instantly. It was there, and then it simply wasn’t. I spent a few fruitless minutes searching for it.

But no worries: the parts camera’s spring was still intact. This time I used fine needle-nose pliers to remove the button, gently grasp that spring, and gently set it in place in the good camera.

But as I released the pliers, that spring instantly disappeared as well. I didn’t even see it go. As I stared right at it, it suddenly wasn’t there. I sat dumbfounded for a minute. Then I spent an hour combing my desk, the surrounding furniture, and the floor.

I had no luck. I know those springs have to be here somewhere, but I don’t know what else I can do to find them. So I went back on eBay and bought yet another ME F for parts. It arrived last week. I haven’t mustered the courage yet to try again with that tiny spring.

Maybe I should send both cameras off to premier Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson and have him set that infernal spring. The meter needs calibrated anyway. Maybe he’ll buy both of my parts cameras to reduce my bill!

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Overexposed selfie

A lovely Pentax ME F was recently donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

This is a historically significant camera: the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. Pentax created a single autofocus lens, the pictured 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom. Its focusing motors were built in, making it almost as large as, and heavier than, the body.

The ME F’s autofocus sensor is inside the body. LEDs in the viewfinder communicate focus: red for out of focus, green for in focus.

I put a roll of Agfa Vista 200 through it recently. Focusing was slow, and sure only in bright light with obvious subjects. Much of the time the lens hunted hopelessly and I ended up focusing it manually. This is a common complaint with the camera. But upon its 1981 introduction, people were probably impressed that it worked at all.

About half the roll came back underexposed. I noticed while shooting that the camera kept choosing shutter speeds that seemed far too fast for the conditions. Just now I checked the ME F against my ME using my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens. In the light available here at my desk, at f/2.8 the ME chose 1/30 sec, while the ME F chose 1/1000 sec. The meter clearly needs a little adjustment.

I’ll put it into the queue to have it done. While as an autofocus camera the ME F isn’t all that useful, I’m keeping it for its historical significance. And since it still takes the entire range of manual-focus K-mount lenses, it will make a fine backup body to my everyday SLR, the Pentax ME.

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Film Photography

Underexposed selfie

An underexposed selfie from a historically significant camera: the first autofocus 35mm SLR. Meet the Pentax ME F.

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