Pentax arguably defined how an SLR should look and work in the 1950s, and kept evolving the idiom through the 1980s. Along the way they introduced the seminal Spotmatic, with stop-down metering aboard. Read my updated review of the Spotmatic SP here.
I’ve wanted a Pentax Spotmatic since I rebooted my collection in 2006. It is a seminal SLR, the first to offer through-the-lens light metering. Finally, I have one.
You need to know three things about the Spotmatic’s built-in meter:
- It is a match-needle meter. A needle inside the viewfinder shows the meter’s light reading. You adjust aperture and shutter speed until the needle is horizontal, which means you have a good exposure.
- It is a stop-down meter. The meter reads light only when you turn it on by sliding the lever on the side of the lens mount housing up until it clicks. The viewfinder dims when you do this because the aperture blades engage (“stop down”) to limit the amount of light passing through the lens.
- It is NOT, however, a spot meter, despite the camera’s name. The camera measures light across the frame and sets exposure at the average reading.
Except for the light meter, the Spotmatic is entirely mechanical. And except for stopping down to meter, it works and handles just like the later Pentax K1000, which is built on the Spotmatic chassis. Unlike the K1000, however, the Spotmatic can’t use Pentax’s K-mount lenses. Instead, it uses M42 screw-mount lenses. Pentax made a very nice line of M42 screw-mount lenses, all of which had Takumar in their names. I bought a 55mm f/2 Super-Takumar for my Spotmatic. But many other manufacturers made M42 screw-mount lenses, giving the Spotmatic an incredible range of glass. I follow the blog of another collector and photographer who routinely uses his Spotmatic with a delightful Mamiya 135mm lens; see some of his work with it here.
Pentax offered a range of Spotmatics from 1964 to 1976. The SP came first, accepting film from 20 to 1600 ASA and offering a focal plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec. Other Spotmatics offered slightly different features but all worked the same, except the last in the line, the Spotmatic F, which did away with stopping down (with SMC Takumar lenses only) and was tantamount to the K1000.
The Spotmatic’s meter needs juice from a 1.35V PX-400 mercury battery that is no longer made. A 1.5V 387 silver-oxide battery is the same size, so I ordered one online. The 387 battery is just a 394 battery fitted into a removable plastic ring. The ring is durable, so I guess that next time I need a battery for my Spotmatic my options are doubled.
If you like Pentax SLRs, also see my reviews of 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.
I loaded some Arista Premium 400 black-and-white film and got busy. As usual, I started in my yard. This table and chair grace my deck in the warm months.
I visited the covered bridge and mill at Bridgeton and brought my Spotmatic. It was a blisteringly bright day and I didn’t bring a yellow filter, so I got the dreaded white sky effect. But dig that sharpness. The 55mm f/2 lens is a winner.
Here’s a photo from inside the bridge. The original 1868 bridge was destroyed by arson in 2005; locals rallied to rebuild, and the new bridge was finished in 2006. It was here my Spotmatic gave me some grief: the meter stopped registering. I whipped out my iPhone and metered using the Fotometer Pro app.
The Spotmatic later accompanied me downtown on a visit to the Indiana State Museum at White River State Park. Whatever had ailed the meter in Bridgeton had corrected itself here, and I had no more trouble.
The Indiana State Museum features sculpture all over its exterior that represent each of Indiana’s 92 counties. This is the sculpture for Henry County. Wilbur Wright was born here; hence the plane. The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame is also in Henry County.
The museum backs up to the Indiana Central Canal, a waterway built in the 1830s to connect the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River. It’s a Downtown attraction now, with walking paths on either side. I just pointed, metered, focused, and shot this without worrying about exposing for that deep shadow, and the Spotmatic managed it all right.
I forget which county this little Atlas represents. But I sure thought he was interesting, so I moved in close. Under my fingers the Spotmatic’s controls all felt solid but not luxurious. The stop-down lever was a little hard to push, but that’s nothing a proper CLA couldn’t fix.
See more photos from this camera in my Pentax Spotmatic SP gallery.
I enjoyed using my Spotmatic but for the stopping down. I might not mind it so much if my Spotmatic F didn’t offer open-aperture metering. The stop-down step eliminated, this later Spotmatic just handles more easily. But I’m glad to have experienced this Spotmatic for its historic significance.