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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


(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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


IMG_0881 sm

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

Cameras, Photography

Pentax Spotmatic SP

At last.

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.

Pentax Spotmatic SP

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.

Pentax Spotmatic SP

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.

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.

Table and Chair

I visited the covered bridge and mill at Bridgeton and brought my Spotmatic. It was a blisteringly bright day, and I didn’t think to see if I had a yellow filter to fit my lens. So I got the dreaded white sky effect. But dig that sharpness.

Bridgeton Mill

Here’s a photo from inside the bridge. The original 1868 bridge was destroyed by arson in 2005. Parke County, in which Bridgeton is located, is rich in covered bridges and celebrates them with a month-long festival every October. So you’d better believe locals rallied to build a new covered bridge on the original abutments. It was finished in 2006.

Bridgeton Bridge

The Spotmatic accompanied me downtown on a visit to the Indiana State Museum. Here’s a sculpture that sits nearby.


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.

Hoops Plane

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. Or should I say partially built – the bill that funded this and several other transportation projects in Indiana nearly bankrupted the state, and the project had to be abandoned. Fortunately, much of the canal in Indianapolis has been rebuilt as an attraction. The downtown section makes for a lovely walk.

At the Clock

I forget which county this little Atlas represents. But I sure thought he was interesting, so I moved in close.


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 Pentax K1000 and my similar Pentax KM didn’t both offer open-aperture metering. The stop-down step eliminated, these cameras just handle more easily. Moreover, the meter in my Spotmatic is no longer spot on, which I hear is a common problem among Spotmatics. At Bridgeton, the meter didn’t work at all, so I whipped out my iPhone and metered using the Fotometer Pro app. My KM’s meter is still reliable and accurate, so I’ll probably reach for it when I feel like playing match-needle with my exposures and want to use good Pentax glass. But I’m glad to have experienced this Spotmatic for its historic significance.


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