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.

Links:
Here’s a link to a definitive list of Praktica lenses:
http://www.praktica-users.com/lens/mlenses.html

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!

http://www.photoethnography.com/
http://www.photoethnography.com/ClassicCameras/AsahiPentaxSpotmaticSPII.html

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/.

Comments

KarlZeiss's picture

Spotmatic is a really great camera! Very easy to use, and the Takumar lenses are incredible!

KarlZeiss's picture

By the way, I didn't know that The Beatles loved Spotmatic.. I'm a big Beatles fan.. Nice to see them holding a camera that's same as mine! :)

MrclSchprs's picture

What a great review! Great portraits as well, the Thai girl portrait is stunning!

MysteryOnion's picture

Just to point out that the model operated above and in the movie "Hard Days Night" by Ringo seems to be the pre-Spotmatic... S1a or more like the SV with the thick ring around the rewind knob.

George Harrison may be holding the S1 or S1a with the Asahi issue meter as the H1 is a Honeywell version found only in the US at the time.

 

shakmatii's picture
Thanks for the id of the Ringo Pentax - they were using the earlier models of the Pentax SLRs right before the Spotmatic came out, and at least Paul, George and Ringo seemed to like using them. It looks like they used the Spotties too, but I didn't see them using the ES models. Here's a quote from Paul on their first trip to the states: "Miami was like paradise. We had never been anywhere where there were palm trees. We were real tourists; we had our Pentax cameras and took a lot of pictures. I've still got a lot of photos of motorcycle cops with their guns. We'd never seem a policeman with a gun, and those Miami cops did look pretty groovy. We had a great time there." Thanks all for your comments! How many die hard Pentax fans are on the FPP?
MysteryOnion's picture

I'll admit that I'm a Pentax addict.

Auto 110, S1a,SV,KM,KX,K1000,MX,MEsuper,LX,6X7 and lenses.

Rog Royers's picture
With enough money to have bought not only any camera they wanted, but any camera COMPANY they wanted, it is mute testimony to the quality and reputation of Pentax that the Beatles preferred them. Do you not think they knew where to buy Leicas?
Victoria Barton's picture
I found you on facebook via the is film dead video. Wonderful video I have had an Asahi Pentax for 15 years now and I love it. best camera ever. off to peruse the blog some more.
Ken Dickinson's picture
I've enjoyed using my Pentax Spotmatics and my S1a and can attest to the quality of the Super Takumar lenses. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to break the film winding mechanism. I never did, of course, but they just felt more...delicate than my Nikkormat or my old Nikon F. There has been a lot of discussion of the Beatles' Pentax cameras on the Pentax group I'm on, including the ID of the cameras in those photos. Apparently the band members were all given black SV cameras to use free of charge.
Eirik's picture
Nice write up Michael. It and the Nikon F are the landmark SLR's, all SLR's since share the same basic blueprint. I wouldn't surprise you I have an SP1000 version would it now? I like it too, though mine needs an CLA, the mirror sticks when cold.
Shelly Sometimes's picture

I have a dinged up Asahi Pentax Spotmatic - it came with a Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 lens that is about to fall apart.  And they are STILL probably the best combination of camera + glass that I own.  :)

Michelle's picture
Hi, I see all you are Pentax lovers. I have my dad's old Asahi Pentax spotmatic SP along with a Tamron lens 80-210mm, A Super Takumar 50mm and a Soligor Wide Auto 35mm; along with Vivitar 272 Auto Thyristor and an Olympus Electronic Flash T32. I have been looking for somewhere to sell these besides having to deal with ebay or amazon. I hope its ok I have posted this but if anyone is interested in any of these please send me and email.. They are all in great condition with cases and caps on everything. Thanks
pentaxpete's picture
I have had several 'Spotmatics' -- a chrome one with early 50mm f1.4 which was 'soft' and I wore it out, then a black one with 55mm f1.8 Super-Takumar I gave to a girl who broke my heart as she went off with a divorced Policeman in 1978, then I got a free Spotmatic F from an Old Gent , with the famous 'Radio-Active' 50mm f1.4 SMC Takumar and two other SMC Lenses 28mm f3.5, 150mm f4 and I DID have a 'Electro-Spotmatic' with 55mm f1.8 SMC Takumar bought new in 1973 on a trip to Japan with advice from a Japanese Camera Magazine writer who took me to this dodgy dealer -- it came with brown leather case too -- well. worked OK for a couple of years then the exposure went 'Haywire' as I found the Cds Meter had a bad 'memory effect' and a lot of my Press photos were coming out blurred due to very long shutter speed and I couldn't get it repaired in UK as it was a Japanese 'Home-Market' camera -- the 'ES' marked one was the 'Export' one but I managed to sell it for £85-00 to a Camera Club member who had over 40 Pentaxes as it had the brown case, original box and original instruction book !
John de Bon's picture
My favourite camera, that and the Leica M. Everything about it is perfect, so natural to use, especially good viewfinder - so easy to focus. Takumar lenses are superb and mostly cheap. I must admit I am envious of your black SP. Lovely photos too.
jvo's picture

great camera!  

someone else apparently liked them too as i had 2 stolen from the trunk of my car at 43rd and lex. - in my younger days!

a beautiful machine!

jvo

Paul Ferrante's picture
I have been an avid film photographer since I was 13. I'm now nearly 71. I have had many 35mm rangefinder cameras, and many 35mm SLRs. My favorite rangefinder cameras are my Leica IIIf and my Leica M2. My favorite SLRs are my Nikon F4 and my Pentax Spotmatic SP II. I like to use the SP II without the meter, and sometimes with my Pentax Spotmeter V. The AOC Super-Takumar lenses are superb, perform at least as well an my Leitz and Nikkor lenses.
Dale60Plus's picture

As an option to replace the original meter battery, I found the 387S to be a great option.  it's a silver watch battery, so it lasts much longer compared to a zinc/air.  It fits perfectly and I didn't need a spacer. - Good luck and happy shooting.  

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