Home Article 5 Great Pentax ME Super Lenses. Pentax me super se
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5 Great Pentax ME Super Lenses. Pentax me super se

Pentax me super se

Since I am a Pentax fanboy, I was looking for more 35mm SLR cameras with the K-mount standard. One day, I found this camera in a local listings site (like Craiglist. The most popular here in Brazil is called OLX). At first, I know nothing about the Pentax M-series, but since the price was very good, I decided to have a shot on it. For less than 30 bucks, I’ve got the ME body, the legendary Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4, and the amazing Pentax-M 200mm f/4 plus the original leather bags.

When the camera arrived, I realized what a deal (or a steal?) I’ve got. This camera is, for sure, the most beautiful I have here. It is in pristine condition but, at the time, it didn’t work. Those cameras use to have problems with the shutter mechanism over time, but most of them can be solved with regular cleaning. That was the case of mine. After some film debris removal, cleaning of the bottom mechanism, and some lube, it was in business again, and, boy… that is a fine machine!

What is great about this camera?

The things are most like on the Pentax ME are its compactness, the amazing viewfinder, and the always on-spot metering system. This is my favorite camera, for sure. Some people say it is a beginner camera because it lacks a manual mode. I say it is BS because it is always accurate and the aperture priority mode is all you need to take great photos. This camera does the job and does the job well. You can find more information on Ken Rockwell’s website, clicking here.

Some time later, I’ve bough a Pentax ME Super that had a shutter problem. It was super cheap so, why not (I don’t have a wife to prevent me doing this kind of stuff)? The difference between the regular ME and the ME Super is that the super has a manual mode, so it would be a complete beast. However, I couldn’t make it work yet. I think a latch is broken in the mirror box. That’s a shame. If it works, I will have a hard time choosing between the ME Super and the Praktica B200!

So, let’s talk about the Pentax ME, jump into this tutorial, and put this beauty to do what it is best at.

Basic controls of the Pentax ME

Since the Pentax ME is a camera intended to be easy to use, its controls are very simple and straightforward. From the front, the most important feature is the timer winder.

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Most of the useful commands, however, are placed in the top of the Pentax ME body. There, we’ll find the Mode selection dial, the shutter-release button, the frame counter, the film advance lever, the flash hot-shoe, the ISO dial, and the rewind crank.

As in all SLR cameras, the focusing, aperture and focal length settings are located in the lens barrel.

great, pentax, super, lenses

From the back, the most important feature is the viewfinder. It also has this window at the back cover that is used to hold the top of the film box, so you know what film is loaded into your camera. There are other thinks you can put in there, like custom tables and reminders.

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From the bottom, we’ll find the tripod mount, which is a regular 1/4″ thread, the spool release button, and some other features used by accessories.

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How to install batteries in the Pentax ME

So, let’s start by putting the camera to work. The first step, of course, is to install batteries in it. To install batteries in the Pentax ME, follow these steps:

  • Remove the battery cover using a penny (if you are in Europe, use a 1 cent coin. Here in Brazil, the best is the 5 cents). Rotate it counterclockwise to unscrew it from the body.
  • Insert two regular LR44 batteries with the negative poles pointing out of the camera, as in the photo below.
  • Insert the battery cover and screw it clockwise using the coin.

That’s it. Your Pentax ME should be working now!

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Focusing

Focusing on the Pentax ME is as straightforward as in all SLR cameras. It has a split-prism design. This means that there is a circle in the center of the screen that forms two images when out-of-FOCUS. Rotate the focusing ring on the lens to both sides until the two images form one continuous, smooth image at the center circle.

Also, there is another circle around the split-prism which forms a blurred image when out-of-FOCUS. When in-FOCUS, the image will also be smooth in this part, so you have to different regions to judge the focusing.

The Pentax ME lacks a depth-of-field preview button, so you can’t test how deep it is. In any case, focusing is always best achieved using the lens wide open. The viewfinder optics is also optimized for fast lenses, such as f/2, f/1.7, and f/1.4. So, it is an ideal camera for portraits, close-ups, and bokehs.

Operating Modes

Now, let’s go through the operating modes of the Pentax ME. The mode is selected using the dial around the shutter-release button. It has four settings: ‘L’, ‘Auto’, ‘100X’, and ‘B’. To switch modes, the user must press the tiny white button while rotating the dial. It is a bit annoying, but works just fine and prevents accidental switching.

The ‘L’ means ‘locked’, it prevents the camera from working, locks the shutter release, and disables the metering circuitry. Always keep your camera into the ‘L’ position when not shooting, so you’ll avoid accidents and battery draining.

Next is the ‘Auto’ position. This is the regular operating mode for this camera and it is an aperture priority mode. In the ‘Auto’ position, the user selects the aperture in the lens barrel and the camera chooses the shutter speed automatically. I’ll explain this better in a session ahead.

The ‘100X’ mode is the flash sync speed. In this mode, the camera will always shoot at 1/100s shutter speed, even without batteries. So, the Pentax ME can be used manually even without batteries, as I will cover later.

The ‘B’ is the Bulb mode, which is used for very long exposure photos. In this mode, the shutter is kept open while the shutter release is pressed. This way, exposure times of hours or even days can be achieved. Also, you can attach a shutter-release cable to the button to operate it without vibration. The Bulb mode in the Pentax ME also works without batteries.

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The Auto Mode of the Pentax ME

The Auto mode of the Pentax ME is an aperture priority mode, as the ‘A mode’ of modern DSLRs. The operation logic is that the user sets the lens aperture and the camera selects the best shutter speed based on the TTL light metering system.

The lens aperture defines the depth of field, which means how much background blur or sharpness you are going to get. So, the idea here is that the user focuses on composition rather than light metering. Once the ideal aperture for the desired composition is chosen, the camera will do the photometry job and select the shutter speed.

However, the user can still fine-tune the exposure through the ISO dial. The compensation can range two f-stops up or down. To compensate exposure on the Pentax ME, just rotate the dial without lifting it.

The selected shutter speed is displayed on a scale on the left side of the viewfinder screen. A red LED will light to indicate the speed, which ranges from 8s to 1/1000s. If there isn’t enough light, the red LED will indicate ‘under’. In this case, you may increase the aperture. If maximum aperture is reached and it still indicates ‘under’, you are going to need a flash. On the other hand, if it passes 1/1000s, it will indicate ‘over’. In this case, close the aperture until it reaches 1/1000s.

Also, be aware that too low speeds will require a tripod to avoid motion blur. As a rule of thumb, I never use a speed too much less than the focal length of the lens I am using. For example, for a 200mm lens, I wouldn’t use less than 1/125s. For a 50mm, I wouldn’t use a speed slower than 1/30s and so on.

How to load film in the Pentax ME

To load film in the Pentax ME, follow these steps:

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  • Open the back cover by pulling the rewind knob up.
  • Insert the film roll in the film chamber and push the rewind knob, so the rewind shaft will engage the roll.
  • Pass the film tip over the rails and insert its tip into the spool. The spool of the Pentax ME is great because you can insert the tip in any of the rods. So it is much easier than in most cameras.
  • Make sure the film holes are engaged with the sprockets. If not, help it your fingers. Also, turn the wheel at the bottom of the spool from right to left to stretch the film.
  • Close the back cover and pull the film advance lever.
  • Select the ‘100X’ mode and press the shutter release. Advance the film. Repeat this step until the counter reaches the ‘0’ position.
  • Select the corresponding film ISO. To do this, lift the ISO dial while rotating until the desired value is shown in the dial window.
  • Hit the street and enjoy your Pentax ME!

How to rewind and unload film in the Pentax ME

To rewind and unload film in the Pentax ME, follow these steps:

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  • Press the spool release button at the bottom of the camera body.
  • Keep the spool release pressed and rewind the film rotating the rewind crank clockwise.
  • There is a small window just below the film advance lever, see the photo below. The orange stripes move when the spool is rotating. So, while the film is rewinded, you are going to see them moving. When the film is released from the spool they will stop, indicating the film is fully rewinded.
  • Now, open the back cover and remove the film roll.

How to use the Pentax ME without batteries

The Pentax ME will work in the ‘100X’ mode even without batteries. If for some reason the Auto mode isn’t working, the camera can still be used. In this case, the shutter speed will be fixed at 1/100s.

Now, you must understand how to use the Sunny 16 rule. Simply put, you are going to use the shutter speed that equates to the ISO of the film. In this case, if you use a 100 ISO film, it will provide you the ideal shutter speed for the Sunny 16 rule.

Then, select the aperture according to the ambient condition. In a sunny day, the ideal aperture is f/16, hence the name Sunny 16 rule. Slightly overcast requires f/11, overcast f/8 and rainy f/5.6.

When using other ISOs, the aperture must be compensated as in the table below.

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great, pentax, super, lenses
great, pentax, super, lenses
great, pentax, super, lenses

Do you have great photos taken with your Pentax ME? Send it to me that I will post them here! Thank you for reading, see you soon!

Great Pentax ME Super Lenses

The Pentax ME Super is an excellent 35mm film SLR camera. This web page will go into the 5 best lenses for the Pentax ME Super, plus a handful of alternative lenses.

This is the 5 best lenses for the ME Super:

  • Kit Lens. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7
  • Wide Angle Lens. SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8
  • Portrait Lens. SMC Pentax 135mm f/2.5
  • Zoom Lens. Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5
  • Macro Lens. SMC Pentax 100mm f/4 Macro

The best Pentax K mount lenses are separated by type of photography and price. There are a number proposed alternatives to select from that have a wide range of suited to the value of the camera.

Standard Focal Length Lenses

Here’s an assortment of 50mm focal lengths that can be used with the ME Super. Back when the camera was sold as new, there was typically a offer available to buy a 50mm lens with the camera as a kit.

They are referred to as standard lenses since the angle of view is close to what the human eye sees.

SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7

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  • “Kit” lens for the ME Super.
  • Fantastic value.
  • Light, small, and compact.
  • 49mm front filter threads.

Check on: Amazon, eBay, Adorama or KEH

If you do not currently own it, a capable initial lens to get a hold of is the SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. The 50mm f1.7 is easy to find, is light, has fantastic photo quality, is cheap, and streamlined. It is the most used lens on the camera.

SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4

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  • Exceptional optics.
  • Optical multi-coatings to improve performance.
  • Easy to find.
  • Comparatively inexpensive.

Check on: Amazon, eBay, Adorama or KEH

At the added cost of weight and size, the SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4 is almost a stop faster than the f/1.7. Expect to pay more than you would for an f/1.7 or f/2 lens. The subsequent revision, the SMC Pentax-A, and earlier version, SMC Pentax, will both work with the ME Super.

SMC Pentax 50mm f/1.2

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Check on: eBay, Adorama or KEH

Similar to other camera companies, Pentax released a 50mm halo lens. The resulting SMC Pentax 50mm f/1.2 is a high-priced, fast, and huge hunk of glass.

The lens can be tough to get since it can be used on Pentax DSLRs so the appeal includes more than usage with 35mm film cameras. If you want to locate one you might need to check and track what’s available through weeks or months.

Wide Angles

SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8

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  • Great combination with a 50mm lens.
  • Super Multi Coating (SMC) to improve performance.
  • Many copies are available.
  • Relatively cheap.

Check on: Amazon, eBay, Adorama or KEH

Not the best option, the SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8, is still a good choice. The truth is, many people might not actually consider it a wide angle lens. However, it is substantially less expensive than any wider option.

There are plenty of wider Pentax focal lengths to select from, but they’re frequently significantly higher priced or third-party options have visible amounts of barrel distortion. Also, it is easy to see chromatic aberrations and other optical flaws in third-party lenses.

Options

When it comes to pricing, the relationship is easy to understand. As the field of view gets wider, the lens will be more expensive. Lenses with large apertures will also be more expensive.

Be aware that vintage wide angle lenses don’t have all the corrections that modern wide angle lenses have. The issue you are most likely to see with older wide angles is going to be apparent barrel distortion.

  • SMC Pentax-M 20mm f/4
  • SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2
  • SMC Pentax 18mm f/3.5
  • SMC Pentax 24mm f/2.8

Portrait Telephoto Lenses

SMC Pentax 135mm f/2.5

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  • 85mm substitute.
  • Excellent value.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Widely available.

Check on: Amazon, eBay or KEH

The 85mm focal length wasn’t as widely used as they are currently in comparison to when the ME Super was initially released back in DDATE. Thanks to being less expensive, 100mm and 135mm focal lengths were more commonly used.

You can see the price difference when you view what’s available.

Alternatives

There are plently of telephoto lenses to select from. 85mm and focal lengths longer than 135mm are going to be higher priced.

  • SMC Pentax 85mm f/1.8
  • SMC Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft
  • SMC Pentax 105mm f/2.8
  • SMC Pentax 120mm f/2.8

Zoom Lenses

Prior to the introduction of autofocus, in the 1980s, there were a small number of lenses made by third-party companies that performed better than what Pentax was offering.

A good deal of these top performers were released with the Vivitar brand name. Any zoom featuring the Vivitar Series 1 branding on it is going to have the best optics you can expect to see from an older zoom lens.

Sadly, obtaining copies of these lenses in usable condition can be extremely hard. Keep in mind, no vintage zooms offer exceptional performance. If you find a copy available for purchase that is cheap enough, it could be worth picking up.

Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5

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Check on: Amazon, eBay or KEH

Alternatives

Here are several more options that you can check out if you need a zoom for your ME Super. None of them are going to be amazing, and you’d probably be better off acquiring a couple of primes instead.

Pentax Macro Lenses

Macro lens choices for the Pentax ME Super suffer from supply problems. The supply of Pentax K mount options is small, which increases higher than you will pay for equivalent Canon FD mount or Nikon F mount options.

SMC Pentax 100mm f/4 Macro

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  • Ideal focal length for 1x magnification.
  • Widely available.
  • Mediocre value.

Check on: Amazon, eBay or KEH

Some people online have encountered balsam separation of the front doublet. This is worrying because even a little bit of separation will expand gradually and make it unusable. If you see any evidence of balsam separation, avoid that copy and keep looking.

Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro

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  • The second best vintage macro lens I’ve used.
  • An outstanding lens for close-up photography.
  • Can achieve life-size magnification without needing an extension tube.

Check on: eBay, Adorama or KEH

The best vintange macro lens I have owned, the 90mm Vivitar, was made with a variety of camera mounts. Unfortunately, it will be tough to find a copy that’s got a Pentax K mount.

The Vivitar 55mm is the best vintage standard focal length macro lens I have used. Take into account that it does have less working distance compared to the 90mm. It is great for close-up and table top photography, but a longer lens will be easier to use if you would like to capture true macro images at 1x magnification.

Both of the Vivitar macros were manufactured by Komine and were sold under several different brand names. If you search for one also look under the Panagor, Elicar, Quantaray, Spiratone, and Rokunar brand names.

There is a Vivitar 90mm Macro Review and a [/vivitar-55mm-f-2-8-macro-lens-review](Vivitar 55mm Macro Review).

For shooting photographs at life-sized magnification, focal lengths in the 90mm-105mm range are going to be the most desirable option. You will have enough working distance to be able to use flash, while avoiding substantial weight and high costs that longer focal lengths have.

Used Pentax Lens Prices

change all the time depending on interest and supply in manual FOCUS glass. Over the last several years, shooting film has gone up in popularity, which has pushed higher.

Further upwards pricing pressure is caused by Pentax DSLR users purchasing and collecting lenses. Third party companies tend not to manufacture anything for the K-mount, unlike the Nikon F or Canon EF mounts.

Marketing conditions are constantly changing, and unexpected changes can lead to big price movements. Even so, the price differences between options should stay the same.

Taking a look at a couple of sites is a very good way to get accurate pricing information. If you’re fortunate enough to discover a great deal, buy it because the best deals don’t stick around.

What Lens Mount Does the Pentax ME Super Use?

The Pentax ME Super has a Pentax K lens mount.

Released in 1975, the Pentax K mount is still used in cameras today. It replaced the M42 screw mount Which was previously used on cameras like the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic. Over time alterations have been done to add CPU contacts, electronically controlled apertures, autofocus, and metering information.

As long as a lens has a physical aperture ring, it will be compatible with Pentax film cameras. Keep in mind, it isn’t a Smart idea to waste money on expensive features that can not be used by the camera. An exception would be if you already use a Pentax DSLR.

It’s also possible to use the older M42 mount lenses with an adapter. The older Takumar lenses will be the best to use. Even so, I wouldn’t encourage doing this as finding them without a tight FOCUS ring can be tricky.

Lens Cap Size

The standard lens cap and filter ring thread diameter used on most vintage manual FOCUS Pentax K mount lenses is 49mm. Lenses were originally sold with slip on caps, not the more commonly used center-pinch design today. Looking at what is available, you’ll discover a lack of original caps sold with the lenses.

Be aware that large front elements will need larger caps and filters.

The benefit of having a standardized thread size is that you only need one set of filters.

Pentax-M vs Pentax-A

Pentax-M and SMC Pentax lenses have a a stop-down coupler that allows the camera to have a mechanical linkage to the lens. The stop-down coupler will allow the camera to know the aperture is set to so the light meter is able to meter correctly without needing to rely on stop-down metering.

The Pentax-A series introduced the ability for the camera to control the aperture in the lens. Which means cameras that support the Pentax-A changes have the ability to do aperture priority and shutter priority modes.

Having said that, due to the fact that that capability isn’t compatible with the camera, it doesn’t make financial sense to spend money on features that the camera is unable to use.

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That’s it for info regarding the best lenses for the ME Super. Here’s additional information that will give you more info about the camera can be found below:

Camera Review: Pentax ME Super (featuring Portra 400 and the SMC-M series lenses) – By Trevor Hong

I used to hate electronic cameras because people keep saying “they might break”. That was until I stumbled across the Pentax ME Super. Actually, I had the chance to use the original ME version that my boss handed down to me and I absolutely fell in love with Pentax 35mm — the ME Super is essentially an improvement of the original ME.

I have been using the Pentax 67 and we all know how great the lenses are with the legendary SMC coating. And now that I’m reading more into it, I realise that Pentax was really the frontier in both optics and camera body. Nikon might be one of the giants in the film world but back in the day, Pentax was the OG. Luckily, Nikon is taking the spotlight for today’s film camera so I really “got this camera at a thrift store for 5” (insert Jason Kummerfeldt’s joke). Heck, the BW filter I’ve got on the lens was more expensive than the whole set.

But just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s falling short. Here are some of the things that I love about the Pentax ME Super.

The high, and accurate shutter speed

The ME Super can shoot up to 1/2000th of a second, guess which camera can do the same thing but is a lot more expensive? That’s right, the Nikon F3. Also, don’t take my word for granted but there were some rumours that because the Pentax (and F3 too) uses electronic and magnet to time their shutter, that’s why they don’t usually go out of whack after a while like full-mechanical cameras; and I guess that’s somewhat true, as my camera (both the now-ex Nikon F3P and the ME Super) still produce accurate shutter speed.

Furthermore, because the ME Super is so cheap these days, I usually have 1-2 backup bodies and if it breaks, I’ll be just a nice cute-looking paperweight and I wouldn’t be so sad as to say, if an F3 breaks.

The accurate auto mode and huge viewfinder

The metering on the camera is “Super” accurate, I have never ever doubted this camera for its metering capability. For all of the shots I take, I usually get 36-38 shots of perfectly exposed images per roll. This is the only manual camera, aside from the F3, that I would trust it with my slide films.

The viewfinder is also “Super” huge with the 0.95x magnification in a compact body with metal shutter, even bigger than its rival Olympus OM-1 with only 0.92x magnification with a cloth shutter.

Here are some photos to showcase the metering of the ME Super, all shot on Kodak Portra 400 (the wedding photos) and Kodak Gold 200 (the cat photos) using the SMC-M 50mm f/1.4 and SMC-M 28mm f/2.8

Easy loading mechanism and film check

The ME Super has a mechanism where you can easily load your film, all you need to do is slide your film into one of those white slots on the left of the film bay and voila, you’re done.

I never had to worry about my film not loaded properly, as there are two other things on the camera that can also help me check to see if the film is loaded correctly. First is the rewind lever (obviously on every camera) and second the other window on the side of the film leader (see right photo above ) to let you know if your film is loaded correctly: it will start to move once you advance the film, if it’s not moving, it means that something is wrong.

You might be interested in.

The Cons

Nothing is perfect, and neither is this beloved baby.

Nightmarish manual mode

This camera is made to be used in Auto mode, thus, using Manual mode on this is a nightmare. It doesn’t have any metering needle so adjusting the shutter speed using the up/down button (yes you read that right, there’s no dial, only a button) to the desired speed is not really fun.

No AE-lock

The ME Super does not have any Automatic Exposure / AE lock function, so as you move your camera, the metering changes based on what’s in the center of the frame. So sometimes if you run into really difficult lighting situations it can mess up your metering (it’s going to lean towards the highlights). But that’s when you do metering of the highlight, mid and shadow then you change it to the manual mode, or exposure compensation (more on this in the next heading)

The Exposure Compensation is confusing

This is just me, but I think the exposure compensation on the ME Super and pretty much a lot of Pentax cameras is confusing AF. Seriously, “no compensation/zero/0” is 1x, 1 stop over is 2x, 1 stop under is 1/2x is really not easy-to-understand for a camera that was supposedly made for the average consumer.

The numbering system relates to the additional/reduced amount of light each /- stop of exposure provides and I mean, you will get used to it but it’s really annoying when you are a first-time user of this camera.

All and all, this is a “Superb” camera (sorry for all of the horrible puns). It’s tiny, compact (a little smaller than the Olympus OM-1), provides accurate metering, a high top shutter speed and is not an over-hyped film camera. Pentax lenses have always been great with their super-multi-coating that reduces flare, nice contrast and good resolution.

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Pentax ME Super Auto Sears 50mm F2 Lens

Operation Condition (操作狀態):

觀景窗菱鏡有輕微損毁 不影響使用 Other Function Fully Working

Lens Condition(鏡頭狀態):

Lenses clear with a slight amount of mold/haze which will NOT affect the shooting outcome 鏡頭清晰,有極少量霉/霞點,不會影響成像

Appearance Condition(外觀狀態):

As Photo, 實物拍攝如圖觀景窗有少許塵但不影響拍攝 Viewfinder little dusty but not affect shooting outcome

Sample Photos (相片參考):

Actual Result varies based on lighting and film

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Pentax ME Super: Full-size features, pint-size package

The title says it all: the Pentax ME Super is a full-size, full-featured 35mm SLR in the body of a much smaller camera. This one has a story to it, too.

I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw the ME Super. I probably wasn’t old enough to know what it was even if I did remember. It was my dad’s camera.

It wasn’t until I’d been using film almost exclusively for a couple of years that Dad finally decided to give me the camera. He hadn’t used it in years and wasn’t even sure it worked.

He’s told me several times since about how he’d been using a Minolta Hi-Matic 9 (he thinks) for awhile, but a coworker had brought an ME Super along to a gypsum mine they were inspecting. Dad was impressed enough to tell my mom how cool the camera was when he got home.

My mom, gift-giver extraordinaire, filed the excitement away in that way she has. Come Christmas, when Dad had all but forgotten about the Pentax, wouldn’t you know there was an ME Super under the tree. That was probably in about 1981.

Most of my memories of the 1980s are shaded just a touch magenta, crystal clear and delightfully contrasty. Dad made them that way with his love of Kodachrome and that Pentax ME Super.

As I recalled in my EMULSIVE interview, one of the first times I remember being at all interested in photography was when my family drove up the highest paved road in North America and then walked the last hundred feet or so to the top of Mount Evans. He took most of the pictures, but he wanted to be in one, too. He showed me how to FOCUS and trusted me with his Pentax (“It’s not a camera, it’s a Pentax.”) for the first time. I think I was 10 or 11.

I don’t know where the slide is now. By then Dad wasn’t as diligent about loading them into carousels as he had been when I was a kid. But if I close my eyes I can still see Mom and my sister standing next to him through the viewfinder, the Front Range spread out thousands of feet below them, and the Great American Desert stretching hundreds of miles to the distant horizon. No picture can do the view from 14,000-plus-feet justice, of course.

I was excited to be trusted with the camera again 25 years later, and better yet, it still works just fine.

Dad gave me the body, an SMC Pentax-M 58mm f/2.0 lens, an SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8 lens, and a Pentax AF160 flashgun. He had the original boxes for the flash and the 28mm, too. I also got all the manuals and warranty cards, and the receipts. Of course, Dad decided to keep the vintage pigskin camera bag his parents had given him, and I don’t blame him — it’s a pretty sweet bag.

So let me tell you about the camera and the fun I’ve had with it.

great, pentax, super, lenses

The Particulars

Like I said, the ME Super is a full-featured SLR. It’s got aperture-priority auto-exposure, but adds a manual mode that was lacking from its predecessor, the ME. It takes commonly-available batteries, and can function adequately without them. It can handle a huge variety of K-mount lenses. And it’s brilliantly compact.

Size was obviously a a consideration from the get-go, too. Olympus’ success with its compact OM-System bodies had other manufacturers taking notice, I think. Pentax introduced the small M-series cameras in 1976, and at the same time added the SMC Pentax-M line of compact lenses, making for one of the smallest and lightest SLR packages you could buy in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The body is metal — mostly aluminum — with a few plastic parts in places that make sense. It takes two LR44 batteries, which are still available in most any drug store. Controls are pretty much where you’d expect.

Film loads in the usual way, although the ME Super has a spiffy film transport indicator on the back of the top plate, just below the advance lever. Three little fluorescent-orange lines wiggle in the indicator as long as the film is moving correctly.

When you’re wasting the first two frames on a fresh roll of film, if the camera is set to Auto mode and the lens cap is on, the camera may try to make an extremely long exposure and lock up the mirror. The owner’s manual recommends quickly flipping the mode dial to the 125x setting and then back to cancel the exposure and release the mirror.

The metal focal-plane shutter travels vertically and can go as slowly as 4 seconds, or as fast as 1/2000 of a second. In manual mode, the shutter speed is controlled by a pair of up and down buttons between the mode dial and the pentaprism housing.

The mode dial can be set to Manual, Auto, 125x (shutter-sync speed, and a mechanical 1/125-second shutter setting you can use without batteries), Bulb (also works when the batteries are dead) or Lock. The shutter release button, threaded for a standard cable release, sits in the center of the mode dial. A small, white lock button on the mode dial must be depressed to turn the dial away from Auto, though it does not engage in any of the other settings.

The film advance lever snaps out and lets you hook your thumb behind it, and a half-press of the shutter release turns on the meter and the LED display in the viewfinder. The half-press is a reliable battery check method unless the batteries are really dead.

On the front of the camera, near the mode dial, is a self-timer that runs about 10 seconds. Pull it down all or part way to set the desired delay. If you go all the way down, you’ll have to give it a push in the upward direction to start it off. Be sure the shutter is cocked first — easy to see with the tiny shutter-ready indicator, a dot behind the mode dial that is orange if the camera has been cocked, and black otherwise.

On the left-hand shoulder you’ll find the film speed dial, exposure compensation and rewind knob. Lift the ring and turn it to set film speed from ASA 12 to ASA 1600. Turn the knob without lifting to adjust exposure compensation from.2 to 2 stops in full-stop increments (though you can set the knob between detents for partial stops). Rewind knob is standard fare — flip out the crank handle to rewind (after depressing the spool-release button on the bottom plate) and pull up to open the film door.

great, pentax, super, lenses

There’s a hot shoe on top of the pentaprism housing, and a PC Sync socket on the left side of the lens mount. Aside from the standard center pin in the hot shoe, a smaller second pin allows Pentax flashguns to automatically set the camera to flash-sync speed at 1/125 regardless of whether Auto mode is selected on the mode dial. A fully-automatic frame counter is visible just forward of the film advance lever.

The lens mount is a Pentax K-mount, so you can use hundreds of Pentax lenses, as well as a vide variety of other makes including Cosina and Miranda. The lens release is a lever on the bottom-right of the lens mount; depress it toward the camera body and twist the lens to unlock the bayonet.

The big, 0.95x-magnification viewfinder offers 92 percent coverage, so you can frame quite tightly and expect some breathing room. The focusing screen features a split-image center, surrounded by a microprism ring, in a ground glass field.

The shutter speed indicator along the left-hand edge of the viewfinder uses a green or yellow LED to indicate the selected shutter speed in Manual mode and red Over/Under LEDs to indicate exposure. In auto mode, the LEDs will light next to the automatically-selected shutter speed; adjust until the desired speed is indicated (Over/Under illuminate only if a correct exposure isn’t possible with the selected aperture).

Speeds of 1/60 second and faster have green LEDs; slower speeds have yellow LEDs to indicate that a tripod is suggested. An “LF” LED indicates that exposure compensation has been set to something other than 0; “M” indicates Manual mode is enabled. The meter does not activate at all in 125x mode.

The gallium arsenide photodiode light meter is center-weighted and measures full-aperture through the lens, and works well all the way down to the slowest shutter speed — 4 seconds.

On the bottom plate there’s a guide pin hole and contacts for an automatic winder attachment, with the film transport coupler hidden under a cap that looks similar to the battery cover (which is nearer the middle than the end — and marked “battery” in case my description isn’t obvious enough). The spool release and a standard 1/4-inch tripod mount round out the features underneath.

The dirt

My memories of the Pentax ME Super as my dad’s “good camera” (he thinks of it as his “best ever” camera) might color my opinion a tiny bit, but I’m going to try to be as objective as I can here. I’ve waited a long time to review it, and used a lot of other cameras in the meantime — good, bad and in between — to arm myself with a broad array of comparisons. That said…

This thing is pretty fantastic.

It’s superbly compact, solid and sturdy, functional and effective. No complaints. Review over. Mic drop.

Okay, it’s not that simple. I do have complaints, though they are minor. Overwhelmingly, I can say that this camera is, honestly, a great value. I can see why it impressed Dad enough for him to rave about it to Mom.

great, pentax, super, lenses

The ME Super was made from 1979 to 1986, as far as I can tell, and appears to have sold very well all those years. As it is, you can find your own for a very reasonable price.

The size is impressive. It’s considerably smaller than even other compact SLRs like the OM-System cameras or my Fujica ST605N. Setting the ME Super next to a Nikon F2 is kind of like parking a Honda Civic next to a Cadillac (except the doomed Catera).

Despite the small frame, the ME Super is a metal workhorse camera, with stamped aluminum and steel exterior parts, and plenty of machined steel inside. It fits comfortably in the hand — even my massive mitts — and has the tangible rigidity, as well as the unmistakably deliberate polish and fluidity of a Nikon or Hasselblad.

great, pentax, super, lenses

The weight, too, is impressive. Coupled with an SMC Pentax-M lens, the whole thing would fit in a jacket or purse comfortably.

The feature set is solid. It’s not a camera loaded with useless bells and whistles by any means. It has a solid auto-exposure mode and a very usable manual mode, wide range of film speeds and competitive exposure compensation, a really impressive viewfinder, and a few unobvious features that make perfect sense once you’ve seen them. Like the shutter-cocked indicator.

Another good example is the film transport indicator. This little window with its three brilliant orange lines looks novel at first. Inside the camera, it’s coupled to the top of the take-up spool — which has a collar with a Band of rubber around its middle, and which is turns independently of the spool. With film loaded correctly and advancing, friction between the rubber and the film cause the collar to turn, which makes the lines wobble back and forth. It can only work if there’s actually film in there, actually moving.

The transport indicator is not a feature I’ve personally seen on any other camera, but it’s simple, mechanical, and eliminates a lot of guesswork about whether the film is moving. It’s also mesmerizing and fun to watch when you rewind your film really fast (which is plenty easy on this camera).

Thinking about it, I suspect it could be especially useful when rewinding, since it would stop as soon as the full-width film had left the take-up spool, just before the trimmed leader portion pulled out. This would give you a reliable way to rewind your film while leaving the leader out for easy spooling on development reels. I did not actually give that a try, but I may have to in the future. I’m just too used to winding it all the way in and using a film cassette opener (which really works well).

I’ve complained before about nonsensical decisions on the use of plastics in SLRs about the same age as this, and the ME Super has some plastic parts: the shutter release button, mode dial and shutter speed buttons. Fortunately, Pentax chose a plastic that’s solid and shiny, and doesn’t feel cheap it all. In fact, it feels comfortable and natural in the few places it’s used.

great, pentax, super, lenses

All the controls operate smoothly and easily. The advance lever only travels about 100 degrees, making it easy to manually advance frames in startlingly Rapid succession. It’s surprisingly quiet, too.

There’s just the tiniest sound of mirror bounce when the shutter fires in the middle speeds, but even that is surprisingly quiet. Of course, after pumping several score rolls of film through the 6×7, even small-caliber howitzers don’t seem very loud. The shutter itself sounds tight and fast. At 1/2000 second, it may even sound better than my Nikon FM2n. Maybe.

Here’s where we get to a complaint, though. Probably my single biggest beef with the ME Super is the shutter speed controls. It’s not hard to operate them, really. Just tap or hold and watch the LEDs move in the viewfinder. But it’s not as satisfying as a mechanical knob with detents you can snap to without much thought, and without holding the camera up to your eye and looking at the readout in the viewfinder, you can’t see what the shutter is set to.

My other complaints are similar in nature — not deal breakers, just a bit vexing. There’s no depth-of-field preview, for example — though I rarely use them anyway. You can’t see the aperture setting in the viewfinder, either. Others have complained about the lack of auto-exposure lock, but metering where you want and then transferring the auto-exposure settings to manual mode works just fine for me. And that about wraps up the drawbacks to the ME Super.

great, pentax, super, lenses

Moving to the bottom of the camera, I don’t have a motor drive to test those features, but the spool release and tripod mount both work as advertised. The battery cover, too. And the batteries last forever. Actually, there were good batteries in it when Dad gave it to me, and they’re still there, plugging away. My best guess is they are at least 10 years old.

The lens release lever could be more brilliant. Pressing it in toward the body is a somewhat unwelcome break from normal SLR lens mount options, though it works well enough. It seems to be designed so that, when holding the camera normally, you can use the third finger or pinky finger of your right hand to pull the lever in, and your left hand to rotate the lens. Lens releases are one of those things that each manufacturer has their own way of doing, and none are really bad. Just as I had to get used to Nikon’s lenses rotating the wrong way after using a Canon DSLR for years, I think this is an idiosyncrasy I’d get used to quickly with more use.

The take-up spool is interesting. It has a dozen or so white rods standing next to each other around the spool, and the film leader must be slipped between two of them. It’s fairly brilliant from the perspective that you don’t have to nudge the film advance a couple times to find a good spot to wind on your leader — there’s always another slot.

This isn’t a review of the lenses, but the SMC Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/2 are both very solid performers, as we’ve all come to expect from Pentax. Little-to-no visible distortion or chromatic aberration is visible in images made with either one. They’re fairly sharp and exhibit excellent contrast. They’re not on a par with my 6×7 lenses, but for compact lenses, they’re a great value.

So there you have it. It’s not perfect — but it’s darn close. Don’t miss a chance to try one out — I’m fairly confident you won’t be disappointed.

Now if I could just convince dad to get back to making pictures with it. Although, then I’d have to give it back…

Footnotes

A note on the example photos: As much as I’ve enjoyed this camera, I still managed to underexpose my black-and-white example shots by a couple stops, and, apparently, overdevelop them. It was a heavily-clouded day, though, and I’m not totally unhappy with the gloomy look the photos have. It’s on me — I went from ASA 200 color negative to ASA 50 black and white and back, but forgot to adjust the film speed on the camera in the middle. In addition, I seem to have lost one of my test rolls, which left me less options for examples than I’d intended. But I’m tired of waiting on this review (and so is Dad), so I’m hitting Publish.

A note on the subject matter: Castlewood Canyon is a small, uneventful state park in many ways, but the story of the slapdash damming of Cherry Creek, and the resulting flood when the dam failed, is a fascinating one. Read more in Patty Horan’s “The Night the Dam Gave Way: A Diary of Personal Accounts,” (PDF) which includes construction history and historic news about the dam, a number of first-hand accounts of the flood, and numerous historic photos. Well worth the fifteen minutes.

I also found a 1933 Associated Press story with the headline, “Dam break causes heavy loss in Denver,” which reported estimated damages of 1 million — nearly 20 million adjusted for inflation. The roar of water as the dam broke was reportedly heard as far as two miles away.

A note on the Kodachrome: The roll of Kodachrome featured in the lead image above is unopened and was given to me by a new film photographer friend whom I met through the EMULSIVE Secret Santa. He told me it came from an unopened wedding gift given to a the parents of a friend of his when they were married around 1946. The box has an expiration date of 1949 marked on it, and a price tag from The Denver for 3.49.

The Denver, as The Denver Dry Goods Company was known, operated some of the largest and most successful department stores in Colorado from their inception in 1876 until 1987, when the remaining stores were renamed “May-DF” by new owners The May Company. 3.49 in 1946 was the equivalent of about 42 today — and the wedding present included an Argus camera and five more rolls of Kodachrome. Thanks for this great gift, Mike!

Author

Goltilar

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