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Pentax MX

The MX was Pentax’s professional-type system camera, sold from 1976 to 1984. I say professional-type, as it had some nice features but quite a modest specification. It’s main feature was that it followed the radical Olympus OM-1 in being small and light.

It was a mechanical camera with a traditional horizontal-run cloth shutter. The batteries powered the meter only. The shutter gave you speeds from 1s to 1/1000 with flash sync at a 1/60. The meter’s range was ISO 25 to 1600. The meter was centre and bottom-weighted, so you could get caught out when shooting in portrait orientation. But hey, this was a simple and reliable camera that predated computers and matrix metering.

The only evident professional feature in the body was the replaceable focusing screens. Perhaps not an obvious feature, as you changed them through the mouth of the lens mount. It could also take a 5 fps motordrive and a bulk film back. Oh, and every lens Pentax had made, including the screw-mount ones using a simple adapter.

I bought mine second hand from a camera shop, back when this was possible.  The local Jessops must have de-listed the MX a while later, as they dropped a load of focussing screens in their bargain bin. I bought one of every type they had at something ridiculous like a couple of pounds each. I’ve just done a quick count on fingers and toes, and I have owned this camera for more than forty years.

One thing that has gone wrong twice with mine is the shutter speed readout in the viewfinder. What you can see is a transparent circular disk with the speed numbers on. As you turn the shutter speed dial the disk moves in sync. Or it doesn’t. The first time it happened I sent it off to Pentax for a CLA. Then it happened again a few years ago. I asked one of my favourite repair shops and they asked if I could live with it – the linkage is apparently a fine wire running over pulleys and is a fiddly pain to reset. So yes, I can live with it. If you see one like this second hand be aware that it should reduce the price but does not affect the function.

The camera itself is rock solid. It just works. It still has the original light seals and they still work too.

I took it out on a walk recently around Coventry. Of course, when you take a camera out for the day you make sure the batteries are fresh, don’t you? What I did was briefly check that the meter lit up in the viewfinder. So of course the meter stopped working on the second shot. Luckily this is a mechanical camera and I had a light meter with me. So the Pentax did what it does best – it sat discretely in one hand on a wrist strap and just quietly worked. Ive got the Pentax 24-50 zoom, which is a perfect lens for walking about, so the two together make a great package.

The viewfinder (when the meter has batteries) shows a vertical series of lights to the right side. The green central LED is correct exposure, with orange either side for +/- half a stop and then reds for a stop or more out. There is a tiny extra window on the front of the prism that shows the lens aperture at the top of the viewfinder. All very discrete and usable. The meter switches on and displays with a half-press of the shutter. If the rewind arm is pulled out from its parked position the meter will stay on. The shutter button itself has a locking collar. It makes the camera easy to hand-carry: your forefinger pushes the catch to unlock the shutter, your thumb pulls the winding lever out a bit, raise the camera and everything is ready to go. I was using the camera walking around a city centre and with the 24-50 lens it was almost as easy to use as a point-and-shoot.

Loading it is also easy, certainly compared to something like a Praktica. The take-up spool uses Pentax’s magic needles. These basically provide multiple slots to hold the end of the film, so you don’t have to fiddle about doing part wind-ons to get the slot to line up. It’s quick and reliable. And can I just say how I hate the weird bit of wire that Prakticas use? The number of times mine has failed to hold the film leader is a pain in the aperture.

The Pentax shutter and mirror are well damped, so it’s quiet for an SLR. It makes a soft clomp noise, compared to my Ricoh which sounds like I dropped it.

So what we have is a pretty basic SLR with some nice features. Everyone has heard of (and is chasing) the K1000, but I think this is the better camera. I know it should be, as it was meant to be, but things do change with time. The later LX uses the same focusing screens but has more electronics and is much more expensive to repair, as it has lots of weather-sealing gaskets. So for me, the MX is in the Goldilocks spot.


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

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