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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
- 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:
- 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.
How to use the flash in the Pentax ME
Too use a flash on the Pentax ME, install it in the flash hot shoe and select the ‘100X’ mode, which is the flash synchronous speed. Select the aperture according to the table of your flash.
How to use the timer in the Pentax ME
To use the timer in the Pentax ME, compose the photo, set the focusing, the aperture and pull the film advance lever to unlock the camera. Turn the rewind lever 90° cunterclowise to wind the timer. Turn it slightly up to release the timer and run!
Some photos with the Pentax ME
Here are some photos I had taken with my Pentax ME and the Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4 here in Brazil. All exposures were spot-on and photos were absolutely effortless. I just had to focus on composition, selecting an aperture and that’s it.
All color photos were made with the cheap Kodak ColorPlus 200 and the black and white with an Agfa Cinerex 50.
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!