Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pentax ME

This is a delightful little single lens reflex camera.  Pentax excelled in ergonomic design and the ME represents one of their best efforts; the ME fits your hands like a pair of expertly tailored gloves, and it can even be stuffed into a jacket pocket.

The standard K-mount SMC 1.7 50mm lens is unbeatable.  The viewfinder is exceptionally bright and easy to focus. Accurate exposures are ensured by the electronic auto-exposure feature; you pick the f-stop and the camera adjusts the speed and shows it to you with an led display in the viewfinder.
     Aperture-priority exposure automation has always seemed a great enhancement to the picture making experience to me.  I have appreciated it in the past with a couple of my rangefinder cameras such as the XA.  Aside from the convenience, automating that one aspect of the process also seems to encourage a more adventurous approach to photography, and I find myself more ready to attempt pictures in challenging lighting than I might with fully manual film cameras.  On my first outing with the camera I did not even get out the door before I started snapping pictures.

This camera came to me with a few small issues.  I put a roll of Fuji 200 film into the ME to try it out and the back popped open on about the third exposure.  I thought I had likely not securely closed the camera after loading it, but half-way through the roll it happened again.  The latching mechanism has a couple little hooks that are supposed to mesh together; one shows some wear and may just need a little discreet bending to work properly.  Until I get that figured out I decided to just apply a couple of strips of black tape to secure the back and that worked fine for a second go with a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200.

Before I had loaded any film in the camera, I attempted to adjust the ASA dial to the 200 value and found that it would not budge.

I removed the rewind assembly from the camera, but could not see a way to fully disassemble the ASA dial.  I tried wiggling the adjusting lever, but felt some metal fatigue threatening to break the tab, so I just put the whole thing together again and replaced it in the camera.  Luckily, the ME features a two-stop under and over exposure compensation on the ASA dial, so having the setting stuck at 100 ASA actually permits using any film in the 25 to 400 ASA range.

Somehow, I neglected to take the lens off the camera before shooting the first roll.  When I did that I was shocked to see that the mirror was speckled with black dust and there was also some on the rear lens element.

The source of the dust was easy to identify; the narrow black foam mirror bumper just above the ground-glass screen was very deteriorated.  I brushed off the loose pieces and that left enough in place to do the dampening job for the mirror, but replacement of the foam is clearly in order.
     It turns out that one can easily find spare parts for the ME on ebay.  Eight or ten dollars will get about any part needed, and whole parts cameras are even available at the same price.  With a bit of luck, working examples of the ME can be found for not much more.

Given the ME's popularity, there is no shortage of good information about the camera on line.  I was particularly impressed with the quality of work done with the ME which is on display in the Flickr Pentax ME/ME Super group.  Among the laudatory articles on the ME I turned up were accounts of experiences with the camera by two of my favorite photo bloggers, JR Smith at Fogdog, and Jim Grey at Down the Road.


Jim Grey said...

I'm very happy you got an ME and enjoyed it! I think I have to be careful as I continue to extol this camera's virtues: I'd hate for too many others to find out how wonderful this little SLR is and run up the prices on them. They've remained steadily low for years.

I've never owned the 50/1.7. I wonder whether it's worth seeking one out, when I already own the 50/2 and the 50/1.4.

Mike said...

All the SMC Takumars are so good. It seems unlikely one would see a difference between normal lenses unless perhaps they were a completely different design. With the longer lenses it is certainly nice to have bigger apertures for the brightness that gives in the viewfinder.