Cameras, Photography

My first book! Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME

Exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it, and I want to share some of that work with you.

That’s why I’ve assembled 30 images I made with this camera, images I like best, into a book — Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME.

BookPromo

It’s easy to forget that for most of photography’s history, a photograph was a physical, tangible object. Even now that film photography appears to be finding a new niche after years of decline, so many of us film photographers scan our negatives and work with the resulting digital images.

I wanted both to hold prints of my photographs in my hands and to share them with you. That’s why I collected them into a book. And in the book I described each photo with the same kind of words you’re used to finding here on my blog. Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one (either paper or PDF) on Blurb.com.

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Photography

Shooting the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens

In case you can’t tell, I’ve been on a jag of shooting my prime manual-focus Pentax lenses. It’s also given me a chance to shoot up some film that’s been sitting in my fridge for far too long. So: my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens went on, and a roll of Kentmere 100 went in, my Pentax ME. And I took it along when I went to visit my son at Purdue. We drove across the river into Lafayette and strolled through downtown.

Signboard

I’ve always enjoyed this f/2 prime, but after I bought my 50/1.4 it never got much play. I admit it: I liked the cachet of having that f/1.4 lens on my camera. Look at me, the photographer with the f/1.4 lens! But for everyday shooting I didn’t really need that extra stop.

I have generally not, however, enjoyed Kentmere 100. It’s soot and chalk, prone to blown highlights. But it did all right under this lens. And what a grand theater marquee that is!

Lafayette Theater

A mural down one alley featured all these faceless people. I can’t decide whether it’s cool or creepy, but either way it’s compelling.

Your face here 1

Lafayette’s downtown is lovely, chock full of old buildings that appear to have been maintained or restored. So many Indiana downtowns have not been so fortunate. My hometown of South Bend lost half its downtown buildings to urban renewal. My college town of Terre Haute saw many of its old downtown buildings torn down from neglect.

Looking up

My son and I also walked through a park on Lafayette’s east side. This shot of a tree in the park shows a little of Kentmere’s highlight-blowing tendencies.

Tree

On a different day I shot this flag. I’m a little bummed out to see that light leak in the bottom corner. A couple other shots were so afflicted. Could my ME need new seals? Is it finally time to send it out for a good CLA? The answer appears to be yes on both counts.

Flag

Finally, here’s a new McDonald’s. Actually, this is an old McDonald’s. Believe it or not, this was until recently an iconic red Mansard-roofed McDs. They tore the old skin off and put on a new one. I don’t know what is making the company remake its buildings in such generic style. Take off the golden arches and this could be any office building anywhere.

McDonald's

This lens handled flawlessly and returned sharp results, as it always does. The Kentmere mostly kept its highlight-blowing tendencies at bay. The only clinker was the light leak this roll revealed.

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Shooting the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens

I am wasting my time shooting any normal prime lens on my Pentax cameras other than this 55mm f/1.8. Just look at this! Such color, such sharpness, such sensitive detail! On workaday Kodak Gold 400 no less!

At Second Presbyterian Church

On the same day I photographed Second Presbyterian Church with a 28mm lens, I brought my Pentax K1000 with this 55mm f/1.8 lens too. While that 28mm lens really brought this giant church into the frame, this 55mm lens did a much better job of capturing the church’s detailed beauty.

At Second Presbyterian Church

That Kodak Gold 400 surely likes red. And this lens handles beautifully.

At Second Presbyterian Church

I took the K1000 and this lens to several favorite photographic haunts, including Juan Solomon Park. I’ve shot its colorful playground many times since it opened several years ago.

At Juan Solomon Park

There’s actually been a playground here since before I moved to Indy in the 1990s. The city just redid it from the ground up when they used this park site for a building that is part of an expansion of sewage services to this part of the city. The old playground was fine, but the new one is top flight. I especially love the colorful play surface of soft replaceable tiles.

At Juan Solomon Park

I also took the K1000 over to Broad Ripple one chilly day for a walk. I’ve photographed this unusual bridge railing many times. The bridge was built in 1906, but a couple years ago the railing was altered. The row of blocks below the links was added, I assume to increase the railing’s height for safety. The purist in me thinks this was a shame.

Rainbow Bridge

I just thought the painting on this dumpster enclosure was interesting.

Dumpster Enclosure

I usually shoot my 50/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens on my K-mount cameras, but it doesn’t deliver the color or detail that 55/1.8 does. I’ll just admit it: I use that 50/1.4 partially because of that vaunted 1.4 number, as if it says something about me as a photographer. Nuts to it. I’ll let my work do the talking. And with this 55/1.8, I’ll definitely have something to say.

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(Book preview) The Pentax ME: In praise of an overlooked 35mm SLR

I haven’t forgotten, if perhaps you understandably have, that I want to publish a book of photographs from my Pentax ME. It’s an overlooked camera if ever there was one, and I think it’s high time its praises were sung. I just finished the manuscript, and I wanted to share an excerpt with you. My soft goal is to make it available for purchase by the end of the month.

Second Pres

50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Second Presbyterian

This grand church on North Meridian Street in Indianapolis is one of the places I like to go when I’m testing an old camera. It’s so photogenic! And I love how in this shot the sky’s color is like you’d find on a postcard.

This building was completed in 1960, but the congregation dates to 1837, making it one of the oldest in the city. It’s one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in the United States. It is perhaps best known for hosting the 1990 funeral of Ryan White, a boy who contracted AIDS via blood transfusion at a time when this disease was ill-understood and greatly feared. His fight to attend school in his hometown of Russiaville, about 45 minutes north of here, made the national news and was instrumental in helping our nation understand that AIDS was not just a “gay disease.”

Over 1,500 people attended White’s funeral, including then-First Lady Barbara Bush, Michael Jackson, and Elton John.

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Cameras, Photography

Working title: The unsung Pentax ME

I’ve chosen a subject for the book I want to produce: photos from my Pentax ME. What I haven’t figured out yet is how I want to approach the subject. Reader Heather Munro (check her blog here) has been helping me think about it and she’s given me some solid leads.

Pentax ME

The Pentax ME is overlooked and underappreciated. Among manual-focus Pentax SLRs, the K1000 gets all the love. I have one and like it. I also have a pristine KM, which is a K1000 with DOF preview and a self timer, and it’s wonderful.

Intersection

50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

But the ME is so small and light. It feels better in my hands than the larger K1000 and KM. When it’s slung across my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there.

Monon bridge 1

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

It also turns out that I really like aperture-priority shooting. That’s all the ME offers — its only manual mode is 1/100 sec., meant to be used for flash sync. I can’t think of a time when I’ve wished I had full manual control of the ME.

Wires

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak T-Max 400

But let’s say I do someday. Then I’d pick up an ME Super on eBay. It offers full manual control. Pentax cranked out these cameras by the bazillions, and they go for very little. Working ME and ME Super bodies can be had for as little as 20 bucks. My current ME body cost just $16, including shipping. And if it’s damaged or stolen, I can replace it for very little money. I take it everywhere without worry.

Horse

28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Ektar 100

The ME may be an entry-level camera, but I find it not to be as low-spec as other entry-level SLRs. Most important to me is top shutter speed. So many entry-level SLRs top out at 1/500 sec., and when I shoot them there’s always a point in the roll when I wish for 1/1000 sec. The ME goes to 1/1000 sec. Some of my SLRs go to 1/2000 sec., and sometimes I use it, but when I shoot my ME I never feel like I need it.

Military cemetery

80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom, Fujicolor 200

A major reason I shoot my ME so much is that I have so many great Pentax lenses for it. I have a 28mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.4, a 55mm f/1.8, a 135mm f/3.5, an 80-200mm f/4.5 zoom, and probably a couple others I’ve forgotten about. I also have, of all things, a Sears 80-200mm f/4 zoom for it, and it’s a solid performer.

Rife's

50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X

I also frequently shoot a Nikon F2 and have several lenses for it. I’d put my Pentax glass up against my Nikon glass any day of the week.

Sisters

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

One hidden reason I use my Pentax ME so much is that I don’t have an f/1.4 prime for any of my other SLR systems. I’m the unofficial photographer at my church, and that 50/1.4 with some ISO 800 film lets me work confidently in our building’s dim basement fellowship hall.

Phlox, I think

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Not that I won’t take the 50/1.4 out for other duties. It’s a great all-around lens.

Eastern Star Church

28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Fujicolor 200

I’m on my third ME body. The nut that holds down the winder disappeared from the first one. I bought the second for parts, but couldn’t get the winder nut off. It seemed to work, so I shot a couple rolls with it. I began to suspect its meter wasn’t accurate, so I bought the third body. I think I spent less than $75 on all of it.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro

50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak T-Max 400

My next step is to figure out which photos I want to include in the book and what story I want to tell using them. I’m a pretty busy fellow for the next couple months, so bear with me.

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I bought very few old cameras last year as I focused on shooting my Nikon F2. But as 2014 ended, I kind of went a little nuts. Call it unslaked gear thirst. Last year’s Nikon adventures showed me that I really enjoy shooting SLRs, so that’s mostly what I’ve been buying.

I know I’ve said that I’m more a photographer than a camera collector now. But I still like trying out old gear and sharing my experience with you. So now, instead of keeping every camera I try, I’ll be selling all but the ones I like most and that I’ll shoot again.

Queued up:

  • Kodak 35. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time and I finally found one at a price I was willing to pay. It’s a 35mm viewfinder camera with a 51mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens. I’ve got a roll of black-and-white film in it now. I’m more charmed by its pop-up viewfinder than I am annoyed by its odd and awkward shutter release.
  • Canon EOS 630. After shooting Nikon all last year, I’ve become Canon curious. Early EOS cameras are cheap and plentiful. I’ve got black-and-white film in it now. This one came with a 35-80mm zoom lens, but I’m shopping for a 50mm f/1.8 lens as I feel at home with 50mm primes. They’re a little pricey because they clip right onto all of Canon’s modern DSLRs.
  • Canon EOS 650. This is the first EOS camera. I really shouldn’t have bought it as it’s not that much different from the 630.
  • Canon AL-1. Canon edged toward autofocus with this 1982 camera. You twist the lens’s focusing ring, and a focusing aid reads contrast and lights an LED in the viewfinder when it thinks the subject is in focus. This camera came with a 28mm f/3.5 lens. The AL-1 takes FD-mount lenses, so the 50mm f/1.8 I have on my AE-1 will clip right onto this camera. The battery door latch is broken, but apparently that’s this camera’s Achilles heel and it’s hard to find an unbroken one. I’ll tape the door closed when I shoot it.
  • Sears KS Super II. Sears white-labeled Ricoh SLRs in the 80s. It is an aperture-priority-only camera with a Sears-branded Ricoh 50mm f/2 lens. This is a K-mount camera, so all of my SMC Pentax-M glass will clip right on. When I shoot this, I might alternate between this lens and my 50mm f/2 Pentax-M lens. Lens smackdown!
  • Pentax ES II. This is essentially the last Spotmatic, and it offered open-aperture metering with SMC Takumar lenses. A 42mm screw-mount camera, this one came with an f/3.5 135mm SMC Takumar lens. Super Takumar lenses (like the 50mm prime I have on my Spotmatic) require stopping down to meter. I bought this camera mostly to get that 135mm lens, but now that I have the body I’m shopping for a 50mm SMC Takumar too so I can shoot 50mm without stopping down.

Two cameras didn’t make this photo:

  • Canon T70. I’ve been curious about the plastic fantastic T series for a while and got a good bargain on this one. It came with an FD 50mm f/1.8 lens. I’ve already put a test roll through this camera; review forthcoming.
  • Minolta Maxxum 7000. It’s the first autofocus 35mm SLR ever. (Believe it or not, the Polaroid SX-70 was the first autofocus SLR.) A Maxxum AF 50mm f/1.7 lens came with it.

These cameras ought to keep me busy for months. Meanwhile, I still want to keep film in my Nikons, both F2 and F3, and use them as my primary cameras. Now if the weather would just warm up enough for me to want to get out and shoot.

Cameras, Photography

I may have lost my mind a little

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