The Asahi Pentax Spotmatic!
guest blog by Michael Sherman
The Spotmatic is at the top of my ‘if I had to take just one camera’ list, tied for first with my Kowa Six, and for good reasons. I have taken this camera everywhere and it has never let me down. Aside from being a beautiful camera that fits perfectly in the hand, its light, bouncy shutter and simple controls make it a joy to use.
Introduced by Asahi in 1964, it went through a series of changes and over the years it emerged as the SPII, Spotmatic F (with automatic open aperture metering), the ES (Electro- Spotmatic) and ESII, the first aperture priority, electronic Spotmatics. You often see this model branded ‘Honeywell Pentax’, as they were the major US importers. The Spotmatic was one of the first cameras to sell with ‘through-the-lens’ metering. Eventually the improvements in design led to the
K1000 and a change in lens mounts.
I mainly shoot portraits when I travel, and although a fully manual camera might seem like it would lose out to an autofocus workhorse like the Nikon F100, the Spotmatic holds its own. I find that with a steady hand and lots of practice, I can get consistently sharp photos without all the bells and whistles.
55mm f2 Super Takumar, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
The Spotmatic SP is a 135mm camera with shutter speeds from B to 1000, and the 50mm SMC (super-multi-coated) Takumar will open up to f1.4. It has a focal plane shutter and will flash sync at the typical 1/60th of a second, and there are two pc sockets for “FP” and “X” settings (use X with your electronic flash), and you can mount your favorite flash using a cold shoe adapter that fits nicely over the prism. If you’re a flash user you will want to pick one up on ebay, or get the SPII as it has a flash mount attached. The Spotmatic also comes with a self timer, and there’s even a dial on the film winder that you can set to help you remember what type of film you’re using.
50mm 1.4 SMC Takumar, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Its light meter was powered by a 1.35 volt PX400 mercury battery, but as those are gone you now have a choice of using a PX400 ‘Zinc Air’ cell widely available on the net, or a 394 Energizer battery. I recently had mine CLA’d and the repairman put a 394 battery in it with a little blue rubber gasket around it to help it fit better.
Taking a shot is simple. When you look through the viewfinder, you’ll notice that the aperture is wide open to allow for maximum light and easy focusing. Once you’ve got your subject in focus you flip up a switch on the side to activate the light meter. This switch also stops the lens down to the taking aperture so you can check your depth of field. Then you simply adjust your aperture and shutter speed to center the needle between the – and + signs. After you take the shot, the meter automatically switches off, helping your batteries live longer. Aside from the light meter the camera is completely mechanical.
24mm Super Takumar, Bangkok, Thailand
I prefer using the one needle to a +1, +2 or -1, -2 dial found on many other cameras. If your subject is dark or you need more detail in the shadows, just meter with the needle a little below the center mark. If you are shooting against a bright white wall or your subject is backlit, let the needle go a little higher. The later versions have a ‘match-needle’ system where you line up two needles to get the perfect exposure, but it’s basically the same animal.
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic with 105mm Super Takumar
55mm F2 Super-Takumar
The body accepts any M42 lenses, including the East German Praktica series and its Zeiss glass. The Pentax Takumar lenses are a dream to use, and in the words of Duane Polcou on an old podcast, “they have a cinematic quality”. Some of my favorites include the 17mm f4, the 24mm, the 50mm Macro Takumar, the 55mm, and the 135mm lenses.
Pick one up for yourself, get it CLA’d and enjoy it for the rest of your life.
It was good enough for the Beatles.
Beatle George Harrison impressing a stewardess with what appears to be an Asahi Pentax H1, an earlier model in the Pentax SLR series.
Here’s a link to a definitive list of Praktica lenses:
One of the best sites for information on Pentax gear: http://whitemetal.com/pentax/index_pentax_cameras.htm
Karen Nakamura’s site: lots of information on many different
film cameras. A great resource. She would make an excellent
guest host on the FPP!
By the way, I recommend getting most cameras CLA’d, or buy one that has been recently ‘cleaned, lubed and adjusted’. You wouldn’t hop into a 40 year old car and expect it to run well if it had never been serviced. It’s worth the small investment.
My favorite Pentax repairman is Eric Hendrickson at: http://www.pentaxs.com/ Check the forums – he’s a legend.
About Michael Sherman (shakmati on flickr)
Michael Sherman usually shoots with a Kowa Six, a Nikon FE and of course, his trusty Spotmatic. He's currently teaching in Asia and is jealous of everyone lucky enough to live in places with flea markets, thrift shops and used camera stores. His flickr page can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/shakmati/.