Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pentax K1000 Review by Derek Dysart

The Pentax K1000 (originally marked the Asahi Pentax K1000) is an interchangeable lens, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, manufactured by Pentax from 1976 to 1997, originally in Japan. The Pentax K1000 is simple, and it is one of photography's greatest, most popular and longest-lived cameras, makes it a historically significant camera. According to Wikipedia, the Pentax K1000 eventually sold over three million units.

And here, a review of the Pentax K-1000 by Derek Dysart:

I picked up a used Pentax K1000 off of eBay since my previous film camera (a donated Fujica MPF105X) died. After shipping, the camera cost $56 US. I’ve shot four roll of film through the camera now and so far I’m very happy with the camera and decided to write up this review of the Pentax K-1000.

Manual all the way

When the Fujica died, I had the K1000 recommended to me by my brother who is an art professor. While he doesn’t teach photography (his MFA is in sculpture) he said every instructor he knew recommended the camera to their students because they are easy to find parts for and build like a tank. One of the big draws of the camera is it is 100% manual. Manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter speed, manual film advance, manual everything.

On the left is the frame counter, the right is the shutter speed setting. The film speed is set by lifting the shutter speed dial and turning it until the film speed is indicated. This is not necessary for operation, but it is in order for the built-in light meter to give the right reading. Above the shutter speed you can see the film advance lever. Something I haven’t seen on other cameras I’ve used is the orange dot net to the shutter release button. This indicates the shutter is cocked and ready to trip.

The aperture is set on the lens (an Asahi Pentax 50mm F/2 in my case) via a selector ring. Visible on the lens is something you don’t see much any more on modern lenses, a depth of field indicator. What this will tell you is a a particular aperture setting (say f16), what range will have an acceptable level of sharpness. In this photo, you could expect objects between roughly 2.5ft and just a bit under 3.5ft to be in focus.

There is one small button battery that goes in the bottom of the camera right next to the tripod mount to drive a built-in light meter, but it is not required for operation. When I got mine, it had no battery, so I had to install a fresh LR44 silver oxide battery. Something to keep in mind, the light meter is always on, there is no on/off switch. It really only draws current when it is metering light, so when the camera is not in use it is important to replace the lens cap to preserve the battery.

The camera offers both a standard hot shoe adapter as well as a PC sync port. To prove a point, when I took all the photos here with my 20D with some strobes set up, I put the flash trigger in the hot shoe, set the exposure to match what my DSLR was set at (albeit at a lower shutter, max sync speed is 1/60) and took this photo:


Doing a bit of research on the camera, the K1000 was manufactured by Asahi Pentax all the way up to 1997, it’s biggest draw being its simplicity. While it is no longer available new, it’s long production run and popularity make it readily available, and many copies can be found on eBay at a given time. My local camera store even had a used one in the case (though they wanted $169 for only a body). I’ve read some accounts that the design was sold to Vivitar, who continue to make full manual 35mm cameras that accept the same Pentax K-Mount lenses, but looking at even the Vivitar V3800N, there seem to be some extra features like a multi-exposure button just under the shutter release. Regardless, there is a rich supply of both bodies and K-mount lenses out there that make this a worthy purchase if you’re looking for a manual 35mm SLR.

My Experience

I’m no stranger to shooting in manual mode. I’ve understood the exposure triangle that is ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed for quite a while, and employ that knowledge even with my digital SLR when shooting in manual mode. That said, one part I struggle with in manual focus. The SLR I grew up with was the Minolta Maxxum 7000, one of the first autofocus SLR’s on the market, so I didn’t exactly grow up focusing all the time. Add to that the fact that my K1000 uses a microprism focusing system. With this sort of system there are a bunch of microprism under the ground glass of the focusing screen. When you subject is in focus, it will be sharp in the small center circle, when it is not, you’ll see small dots.

Or that’s how it is supposed to work. Truth be told, I miss the split prism focusing that the Fujica had. With that, the image split and you turned the focusing ring until it matched up. To nail your focus, you just found a vertical line in you image you wanted in focus, and got it to be one straight line. The first roll of film I got back from the lab I shot with the K1000 had a lot of images that were out of focus. I found the key is to turn the focus ring until the image looks pretty much in focus, then turn it one way until I see dots, go the other way until they disappear and reappear, then split the difference between those two points. My second roll of film was much better focus-wise.

Where this becomes a challenge is in low light situations. When there isn’t a lot of light, it is often hard to make out the little black dots. I specifically loaded a roll of ISO3200 film (Kodak TMax) to try some low light shooting, but as of this writing I haven’t gotten it back from the lab (still searching for a local lab that will process B&W film for a reasonable price).

In all fairness, the camera manual (which can be found here) indicates there was a split-image focusing version made. If you’re looking at purchasing one of these camera, I’d make sure to know what focusing screen it has.

The Verdict

All in all what I love about the camera is it makes you slow down. You have to check the exposure of your scene, set your aperture and shutter speed, then you have to focus. I have the utmost respect for sports shooters who tell stories of shooting back in the 70′s and early 80′s before autofocus. I suppose it is a learned skill that you get good at, but it hard enough trying to focus on a two year old at a state fair, I can’t imagine trying to nail focus on someone like Fran Tarkington or Rod Carew during a game. (Yes, both nods to my Minnesota heritage) All the same, this process really makes you think about the photo you are taking, which I like.

The main ding I can think of is processing film is a pain and it’s expensive. There just aren’t that many places out there that do it anymore. If you’re shooting B&W film, finding a lab to process it make it even harder (it should be noted that there is C41 film out there that can be processed like color film). Two things I might do if I start to get serious is pick up some used developing tanks off of craigslist and start processing my own B&W film (it really isn’t that hard to do) and get my own scanner. Either way, the cost of some tanks, a dark-bag to load the film reels and chemistry to develop the film would probably be the same as processing less than 10 rolls of film. The scanner is a bit more, especially if I get one dedicated to scanning film.

The Results

So what sort of images does the camera make? As I mentioned, I’ve shot four rolls of film through the camera now, 2 rolls of Fuji Velvia 100, 1 roll of Kodak TMax3200, and one roll of Ilford Delta 400. The later two are B&W film and I unfortunately had to send them out for processing, and even when I do get them back, I’ll have to scan them myself since Kodak (the processor I sent them to) would do scans of B&W. Hence the hassle of film in a digital world.

Below is one entire roll of film, Fuji Velvia 100, 36exp. This was all shot on August 28th, 2008 on a trip to the Minnesota State Fair. I dropped the film off at my closest photo lab that will process E6 (color reversal or “slide”) film and also had them scan it. Looking at the EXIF from the images, they use a Noritsu QSS-30 minilab to do their scans. The color looks a bit off to me, and I may re-scan the slides on a Nikon Coolscan that I have access to see if I can get better results. The reds look way over saturated to me. I know that Velvia is known for its highly saturated colors, but stuff I’ve seen in the past seemed lean more blue than red.

* All photographs © Derek Dysart. Dysart is a web developer & designer based out of the Milwaukee area. This original article was published on his blog here.

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