Pentax MX SLR First Impressions
The Pentax MX is a 35mm all manual camera produced between 1976 and 1985. It is often described as the smaller, lighter, all mechanical version of the ME or ME Super. It’s 2020 though, and smaller isn’t necessarily the goal anymore, especially when making the choice to shoot old film cameras.
I got my MX at a thrift store, I probably paid $25 bucks and as usual, I wasn’t sure it would work, but that’s the risk you take.
It’s all mechanical, but it does have a light meter, which is one of the biggest things I want to talk about, and more on that in a bit.
It feels good in the hand, but the small form factor doesn’t go unnoticed. If you’ve handled 35mm cameras from the 1970s then you probably won’t find any surprises here. Everything is where you expect it, there’s just a little less room between.
I’m also a little biased because I have, in the past, used Pentax as my main 35mm setup. I had a whole line of lenses, a K1000 and an ME Super. I’m a big fan of their primes and I kept this 35mm f2.8 from that collection.
So it seems like a pretty open and shut case right? Great camera, great lens lineup, thanks for watching, stay classic……nope.
The exposure meter on this camera is the most annoying thing I have ever seen. Now of course I need to preface this by saying that part of the issue could be my specific light meter, but you’re also going to see I took properly exposed photos with it, so maybe not.
Rather than using a trusty matchstick needle to indicate whether you are over and under like in the K1000, or suggest an f-stop like the AE-1, or suggest a shutter speed like the Nikon FE, Pentax opted for what are essentially traffic lights. You have red amber green amber red, and as you guessed, it means a range of under to over exposed, and that would be fine, if it wasn’t so fussy.
I could even handle it being fussy, if there was some automation to the camera, but it’s like trying to hang a frame on a wall and you have someone behind you saying, “okay, a little to the left, no more right, right right, left, I said right, left damn you!”
In high contrast situations the slightest move throws the meter off course and at the very least, it’s distracting.
Okay, if you own one of these, or are still determined to buy one, stay tuned, I’m going to give you my personal pros and cons as well as some tips, but first, here are my favourite photos taken with the Pentax MX.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed those. Let’s talk pros and cons., first the pros.
This feels like a typical Pentax camera and if you shot one before you don’t need to jump into the user manual right away.
As a Pentax camera, it has a fantastic lineup of lenses, including ones introduced much later that will fit, but sorry, no auto aperture.
The small form factor is pretty cool, and my aging hands appreciate how light it is.
The viewfinder gives you both shutter speed and aperture setting in addition to the exposure level.
And now the cons
The shutter lock switch on this camera is sharp. Maybe my hands are delicate from all the washing and sanitizing, but these little Batman horns poke you when switching over.
The film speed only goes to 1600, so if you want to meter higher than that, you’ll need an external one, or some math.
You knew this was coming…the exposure meter. Even with all the positives, the stupid light meter is a deal breaker. I got some great photos but that’s more due to the lens, and the pros I mentioned can all be lumped to the ME or ME Super.
If you already own one or are not swayed by its meter, here are a few tips when using one.
Tip #1 is for those who are new to Pentax. Invest in prime lenses and 49mm filters. Many of the lenses use that thread size and it makes it super easy to have a circular polarizer or whatever that fits all your lenses.
Tip #2, if you have large hands, watch for the self timer, as it’s kinda crammed in there.
And Tip #3, The light meter isn’t the best, but it is accurate, when I finally got the lights to settle, I got a good exposure almost every time.
And those are my tips. I hope it makes you more prepared for using one, or avoiding one. What is the most annoying exposure meter or viewfinder you’ve ever used? Let me know in the comments.
And that’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed my first impressions of the Pentax MX. Another camera I had to poopoo on but they can’t all be winners.