Film Photography

Optical design of the three SMC Pentax-M 50mm lenses

We’ve discussed here a few times the qualitative differences in the photographs Pentax’s manual-focus 50mm lenses take. The general consensus is that all three lenses — f/2, f/1.7, and f/1.4 — are very good. But the f/1.7 is probably the best-liked of them for how it renders color and for its bokeh. Nobody would scoff at the f/2 if the f/1.7 wasn’t available; it imparts a wonderful warmth to color photographs and has all the sharpness anybody could ever want. While the f/1.4 is a fine lens, it tends toward clinical accuracy and so lacks the endearing character of the f/2 and f/1.7. It is also a lot more expensive than the f/1.7 for only a fractional increase in aperture.

PentaxLensBooklet.jpgWhile rummaging through my gear I found a little booklet from the 1970s SMC Pentax-M era that describes and shows the optical design of all the lenses Pentax sold then. It’s fascinating to see how these lenses are designed. All of them are some number of elements in two groups; all of them have similar front-group design. It’s the rear group that differs most among them. Check it out:

pentax 50-14pentax 50-17pentax 50-20

This book is about the SMC Pentax-M line of lenses, but I feel sure the corresponding SMC Pentax-A lenses are optically identical. The Pentax-As seem to be lighter, probably due to more plastic in the bodies, but they allow later bodies to control the aperture.

Here are three shots, one from each lens. Sure, film, lighting, processing, and scanning varied, all of which play into the final results. But really, can you tell which lens shot which? Probably not, and that’s the point: get any of these lenses and you should be quite happy.

Carmel Artomobilia 2017

Sweet Dog

GMC truck

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Film Photography

Fortunately, my first book remains available

I had so hoped to have self-published my second book by now. I have a couple ideas percolating in the back of my head. I’ve even written content for one of them, which I’ve shared here in several posts.

But life has been unexpectedly challenging and I haven’t been able to make these projects a priority. Maybe in 2018.

Fortunately, my first book remains available.

For those of you new to this blog, in April I self-published a book of photographs I’ve taken with my Pentax ME SLR. I bought it on eBay for a mere $16, showing that even the humblest SLR can produce great images.

Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one on — a paper copy you can hold in your hands for $14.99, or a PDF for $7.99. If you like the photographs I share here every day, I think you’ll enjoy my book.

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My Pentax ME is back from being overhauled!

My Pentax ME had developed a light leak, so I sent it off to Eric Hendrickson for repair and CLA (clean, lube, adjustment). It came back looking and smelling like new. There really is a new-camera smell!

Naturally, I dropped film right into it. My son had given me some Kodak Gold 200 for Father’s Day, so that’s what I used. Here is said son photographed with said film.


My sons had come over for the weekend so I invited the rest of the family for a cookout. It was early July, and I was very close to having the house ready to list for sale. So we threw a little bash to say goodbye. Naturally, my dad had to tell his stories. Here he is in mid-story, with Margaret watching me take the photo.

Dad & Margaret

My garden’s flowers were at peak, so I photographed them. I think half the exposures I’ve made all spring and summer have been of my flowers.


I didn’t know a Pentax ME could operate as smoothly as mine does now! I’ve owned three, you see. While all have worked well enough, it wasn’t until shooting this roll I understood how roughly they all operated. The controls are all supposed to feel silky smooth. Truly, this overhaul made my ME, a camera I’ve always enjoyed, twice as joyful to shoot.

I do need to double-check the meter, however. Eric’s service includes calibrating the meter, but to my surprise my daylight photos all looked a little overexposed. Thankfully, a half-stop down on Photoshop’s Exposure control is all they needed to look right. However, blazingly bright days have characterized this summer. Images I’ve taken with several other cameras have benefited from some fiddling with the Exposure control. My ME is probably fine. But if something isn’t quite right, the sooner I get it back to Eric the better.

Tiger lily

Oh, here’s one more flower shot. I’m just so pleased with my gardens this year. They’re the best they’ve ever been. I hope the person who is buying my home loves these flowers at least as much as I have, and cares well for them.


Margaret and I walked Indianapolis’s Warfleigh neighborhood to see how we liked it, as we continue to consider where we might like to settle one day. The Meridian Street bridge over the White River borders this neighborhood. I love to shoot this bridge, even if this isn’t much of a photograph.

Under the Meridian St. Bridge

While making this walk, the metal cap that covers the winder unscrewed itself and disappeared. I noticed it while we walked, so we retraced our steps in hopes of finding it. No luck. So I emailed Eric to explain. A few days later a spare cap arrived in my mailbox. Very nice.

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Time to send my Pentax ME out for CLA

My much-loved Pentax ME has developed a light leak. Much sadness.

Cincinnati Zoo

Bodies go for so cheap on eBay that I considered for a minute just buying another one. But I’m on my third body already — all three wound up with some minor problem. (Should that be telling me something?) Rather than try the camera lottery again, I’m just going to send this one to Eric Hendrickson for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment) and new seals.

Cincinnati Zoo

I first saw the leak earlier this year when I had some black-and-white film in it. I immediately went into denial. The roll I shot at the zoo came back from the processor’s with so many affected images that I couldn’t avoid reality any longer.


This also solves a mystery. You might remember a couple shots I shared several weeks ago where I couldn’t remember which camera I used to shoot them. Well, the light leak in the corner of this shot from that roll tells the story. And I had to be shooting my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens on it to get shots like this one.

Eastern Star

While my ME is out of commission, I’ll just have to fall back on my delightful and pristine Pentax KM when I want to shoot from my collection of Pentax lenses. Life is good.


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.

Collecting Cameras, Photography

I may have lost my mind a little

Camera Reviews

Pentax ME

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When I began collecting cameras a few years ago I chose to focus on rangefinders and folders, but deliberately stayed away from SLRs. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but that I feared that once I started buying them I’d become sucked into buying the lenses and accessories, too, and it would be a pit from which I’d never emerge. But I have to admit, I’m attracted to 1970s SLRs. I like them because they’re made of metal and don’t offer fully automatic operation. It’s not that I disdain autofocus and autoexposure – I enjoy them very much on my everyday camera, a Canon PowerShot S95. I just feel a certain romance for these tough cameras that require some effort on the photographer’s part. Their charm has overwhelmed me, and my collection contains a growing number of SLRs.

I’ve had a hankering for a K-mount Pentax SLR for a long time now. Specifically, I’ve wanted a K1000, the seminal student camera. I’ll own one one day, you can count on it. But that didn’t stop me from scooping up this K-mount Pentax ME when I found it for a good price.

The Pentax ME was a remarkable camera when it was introduced in 1976. It is small, light, and easy to use. It’s even smaller than the Olympus OM-1, the world’s first compact SLR. The ME is an aperture-priority camera, meaning you choose an aperture and the camera measures exposure through the lens and sets shutter speed for you. (It even displays the shutter speed inside the viewfinder.) This ease of use comes at the expense of full control, however; the ME offers no manual mode.

Pentax ME

You’re not entirely at autoexposure’s mercy – a dial around the rewind crank lets you adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction. And the ME is plenty flexible, working with films up to 1600 ASA and allowing exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic focal-plane shutter. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. All of this convenience relies on two LR44 button batteries. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb (which holds the shutter open as long as the button is pressed).

Pentax ME

The fact that the ME takes commonly available batteries may make it my go-to film SLR. I bought a pack of LR44s around the corner at Walgreens, dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went looking for some color to shoot. This tiny house sits beneath a vast maple whose leaves turn bright red at autumn’s peak.

Autumn over the little house

My ME came with a 50 mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. Pentax sold the ME with the 50 mm f/1.7 or f/1.4 lenses in the same series, so somewhere along the way my ME lost its original lens and acquired this one. No matter; the f/2 lens is a fine piece of glass. The autoexposure system isn’t so good, however, that it can overcome this photographer’s poor choices, such as photographing the back of my brightly sunlit car against a deeply shaded background. At least this photo shows that the lens is capable of producing a nice soft blurry effect.

Test shot

I carried the ME everywhere with me for a few days, shooting whatever took my fancy. I found this truck’s hand-painted sign, misspelling and all, compelling and shot it through the windshield while we waited at a light.

No job to big

I’ve photographed this storefront in Broad Ripple several times now.

Colorful street scene

Apparently folks in the northern Indiana city of LaPorte can enjoy sudden service.

Sudden service

Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis is becoming a frequent subject. It’s a commanding presence on the city’s north side.

Second Pres

I’m glad I bought my Pentax ME. But I’m still searching for that bargain on a K1000.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.