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Spotmatic

dudler

Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

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Spotmatic

20 May 2020 6:42AM   Views : 248 Unique : 144

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My second SLR, after the quirky Exa 500 was an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. I bought it in the summer of 1972, and it cost £104.95 from Jessops, complete with f/1.4 standard lens. I sold it almost exactly four years later, in order to buy my first Contax RTS.

A few times, I’ve scanned eBay, or sampled on the shelf of a secondhand camera shop. One had the battery compartment corroded closed: another had severe shutter tapering at higher speeds.
But now, I own one. Reasonable price, mostly working OK, with the cheaper 55mm f/1.8 lens. And the original leather strap…

I’ve not had much trouble working through a test film… Even 44 years on, the controls are simple and decently ergonomic. At the time, the Asahi slogan was ‘Just hold a Pentax’, because the controls were all in the right places (unlike, say, a Nikon F, with the shutter release at the back of the top plate). A quick look as I hung the negatives up to dry suggested that everything’s working well.

Not as durable as a Nikon, or a Topcon DM, but slimmer and lighter.

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As a Contax is rather like a Seventies Porsche, everything defined by sheer performance, a Spotmatic is like an early Ford Escort: nothing will challenge you in using it, and everything works as you expect. (Actually, Austin Maxi lover as I am, that undersells it – but you get the idea!)

Pentax had introduced Super Multi Coating for their Takumar lenses the previous year: the first manufacturer to apply a 7-layer anti-reflection coating to all surfaces of all its lenses. Fairly shortly after I bought my SP II, the company introduced the Spotmatic F, with open-aperture metering, and not too many years later, they abandoned the M42 screw mount for the lens.

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Using a Spotmatic again was delightful. The viewfinder is simple, very clear, and with a central microprism spot for greater accuracy. It’s handsome in a sort of Sixties way: definitely smoother, more finely finished than a Praktica, much more modern than an Exakta. In a sense, what’s special about it is that it’s not special – it just does what you need, rather nicely. Maybe one thing: it’s all metal and glass: the only plastic visible is in the hotshoe, as insulation…

And I’ve realised that there’s a much better car analogy for the Spotmatic: it’s like my Škoda Octavia: there’s nothing flash about it, no leather seats or privacy glass. It merely does everything I want, comfortably, conveniently. And – as the Škoda makes me want to drive it, so the Spotmatic is telling me to put another film through it today…

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Why might you buy a Spotmatic, rather than the later K1000 or the ever-popular ME Super? Despite the adulation that both receive on the web, the K1000 is a trimmed-down Spotmatic F with a bayonet mount, and the ME Super operates only at one shutter speed without a battery. My perception is that 70% of the ME Super owners I’ve met have had battery-drain problems, but I don’t know whether this is a real camera issue, or a reflection of the owners’ failure to use the lock mechanism to prevent accidental drain while in storage.

Even now, the range of lenses available in screw thread is enormous: but stick to the classics – avoid the zooms (restricted apertures make the microprisms useless for focussing), and get SMC Takumars if you can, because they are delightful in every way.

The last picture shows the meter switch - you push it upwards, and it locks, closing down the aperture, and the stop-down tab on the lens, just to the left, a black arc at one o'clock.

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Comments


Oh the days when one aspired to a Pentax ... especially after reading a Sam Haskins book and realising owning a Pentax meant you got to photograph beautiful naked women

I had a KX ... but I think it was faulty ... I never got to photograph beautiful naked women

Sad

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dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
20 May 2020 9:27AM
Hmmm...

As it goes, I have recently ordered a secondhand, paperback copy of Sam Haskins' 'Cowboy Kate' - it may well feature in a future blog.

And I have to say that a Pentax 6x7 works better than a Spotmatic.

I once did a completely unscientific test of my theory that the camera you use makes a difference to the model's attitude to the pictures, shooting - at a group session - with my Contax, a Yashicamat, and a Minolta 110 SLR. The bigger the camera, all other things being equal, the more seriously the model will take you?

But... There's also something about being able to hold the camera steady, or indeed up to working height. In the Eighties, the fashionable cameras for glamour were the Mamiya RB67 and the more-developed RZ67. Photographers like Mel Grundy talked them up, and used them to wonderful effect. But, having borrowed an RB, I concluded that they should be supplied with a Benbo tripod welded to the bottom: you need hands the size of a gorilla to operate one, while the Pentax 67 is merely a Spotmatic on steroids.

There are technical differences that make a Mamiya more suitable for weddings and other outdoor flash work, and they are magnificent tools, in the same sense as a 1960 Land Rover being a better working tool than a BMW X5...
dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
20 May 2020 9:28AM
P.S. If I could afford one, I'd have a Landie and might take my camera to less-accessible places: I wouldn't want an X5 at any price.
dark_lord Plus
16 2.5k 663 England
20 May 2020 11:59AM
My second SLR was a Pentax ME Super. It served me well for many years until I traded it in. I never had battery issues.
20 May 2020 12:21PM
This takes me back. I'd had a few second hand cameras: a Ricoh 35mm rangefinder, a Miranda ( can't remember if it was an F or a G, then a Praktica Super TL with a 50mm Planar lens. The Spotmatic II c/w 50mm was the first new camera and had their 135mm too. I sold them when Pentax changed to a bayonet mount. It was then a difficult choice between a Nikkormat FT2 and the Minolta SRT 101. Opted for the Nikkormat, and remain with Nikon, but I always had huge respect for Minolta. Went to a business presentation by Sony over 10 years ago when they picked up the brand. Minolta's presentations always had a slightly different character to the other brands. Confident, always innovative, and excellent communicators. Sony still had former Minolta people in the business at that time and a few ( very few ) of us recognised the character of that presentation. A bell is ringing in the far recesses of my brain, was the Contax RTS not designed by Porsche or one of their people ? Think the Nikon F3 was designed by a car designer too, although Italian. Thanks for this article & take care all.
20 May 2020 12:31PM
Praktica Nova with 50mm f2.8 then a Mamiya Sekor TL with 50mm f2.8, then a Pentax Spotmatic II purchased from a Work Colleague with a F1.8 lens, trouble was he must have dropped it as it never ever took a good photo, so it was part exchanged for a Minolta SRT101 with a f1,8 50mm and a f2.8 135mm. I still have the Praktica the Mamiya and the Minolta, and all still work fine. It is funny how a camera that suited so many people was a total disaster to me I have never owned or wanted to own a Pentax since. Paul
dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
20 May 2020 1:33PM
Allistair - yes, the Contax body was designed by Porsche, so their take on ergonomics. Lenses by Zeiss, electronics by Yashica, who'd been making electronic cameras for a few years: Canon didn't invent electronic cameras with the A series!

As I wrote above, Pentaxes weren't the most rugged cameras: I believe, at one time, the Daily Mail used them for staff photographers, replacing bodies every 18 months (that's a couple of lifetimes of ordinary use, of course). There's always one camera that gets maltreated - in my case, it was a Minolta SRT 101 bought second-hand from a branch of Dixons. Repeated (and incredibly reluctant repairs) were attempted before they gave me my money back. I've only ever heard good things about the brand, and a good friend went to be a rep for them in the early Eighties, a chap called Richard Farrer, who died suddenly a few years later.

The big exception being the 6x7, later the 67: I've had mine for nearly 30 years, and it's a good camera for street photography. If anyone objects when they hear the almighty clonk the shutter makes, you just offer to sedate them by applying the thing to their cranial area...

Keith - thanks for changing the balance: maybe you found the secret...

And everyone who's still got a classic camera - now is a good time to get it out, fire it up, and contribute to Film Friday here at EPZ...
Steve_S Plus
14 183 3 United Kingdom
21 May 2020 11:13PM
My first camera was a Pentax K1000 c/w 50mm f2? lens. I purchased it brand new around 1980 and I think it was about £100. I only used it to take snaps but swore I would never go digital.
I eventually succumbed when the Canon 350D was launched in 2005 and traded in my trusty fully working K1000.
anvilman4 18 4
22 May 2020 9:16AM
Strangely, I too had an Exacta, but when my friend Gary bought an all black Spotmatic I was screwed up with jealousy until I stealed myself to the camera shop in Singapore City and bought one for myself. You might think Singapore city is a long way to go for a camera, but I was living there at the time so it beats getting on a plane to the UK go get one! Anyway, it was a wonderful camera and I took it everywhere with me. I have been thinking recently about maybe getting a modern digital Pentax, but as I am getting such good results with my Lumix, the jury is still out on that one.
dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
22 May 2020 10:36AM
I'm glad this is stirring good Pentax memories for quite a few people...

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