I used to hate electronic cameras because people keep saying “they might break”. That was until I stumbled across the Pentax ME Super. Actually, I had the chance to use the original ME version that my boss handed down to me and I absolutely fell in love with Pentax 35mm — the ME Super is essentially an improvement of the original ME.
I have been using the Pentax 67 and we all know how great the lenses are with the legendary SMC coating. And now that I’m reading more into it, I realise that Pentax was really the frontier in both optics and camera body. Nikon might be one of the giants in the film world but back in the day, Pentax was the OG. Luckily, Nikon is taking the spotlight for today’s film camera so I really “got this camera at a thrift store for $5” (insert Jason Kummerfeldt’s joke). Heck, the B+W filter I’ve got on the lens was more expensive than the whole set.
But just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s falling short. Here are some of the things that I love about the Pentax ME Super.
1. The high, and accurate shutter speed
The ME Super can shoot up to 1/2000th of a second, guess which camera can do the same thing but is a lot more expensive? That’s right, the Nikon F3. Also, don’t take my word for granted but there were some rumours that because the Pentax (and F3 too) uses electronic and magnet to time their shutter, that’s why they don’t usually go out of whack after a while like full-mechanical cameras; and I guess that’s somewhat true, as my camera (both the now-ex Nikon F3P and the ME Super) still produce accurate shutter speed.
Furthermore, because the ME Super is so cheap these days, I usually have 1-2 backup bodies and if it breaks, I’ll be just a nice cute-looking paperweight and I wouldn’t be so sad as to say, if an F3 breaks.
2. The accurate auto mode and huge viewfinder
The metering on the camera is “Super” accurate, I have never ever doubted this camera for its metering capability. For all of the shots I take, I usually get 36-38 shots of perfectly exposed images per roll. This is the only manual camera, aside from the F3, that I would trust it with my slide films.
The viewfinder is also “Super” huge with the 0.95x magnification in a compact body with metal shutter, even bigger than its rival Olympus OM-1 with only 0.92x magnification with a cloth shutter.
Here are some photos to showcase the metering of the ME Super, all shot on Kodak Portra 400 (the wedding photos) and Kodak Gold 200 (the cat photos) using the SMC-M 50mm f/1.4 and SMC-M 28mm f/2.8
3. Easy loading mechanism and film check
The ME Super has a mechanism where you can easily load your film, all you need to do is slide your film into one of those white slots on the left of the film bay and voila, you’re done.
I never had to worry about my film not loaded properly, as there are two other things on the camera that can also help me check to see if the film is loaded correctly. First is the rewind lever (obviously on every camera) and second the other window on the side of the film leader (see right photo above ) to let you know if your film is loaded correctly: it will start to move once you advance the film, if it’s not moving, it means that something is wrong.
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Nothing is perfect, and neither is this beloved baby.
Nightmarish manual mode
This camera is made to be used in Auto mode, thus, using Manual mode on this is a nightmare. It doesn’t have any metering needle so adjusting the shutter speed using the up/down button (yes you read that right, there’s no dial, only a button) to the desired speed is not really fun.
The ME Super does not have any Automatic Exposure / AE lock function, so as you move your camera, the metering changes based on what’s in the center of the frame. So sometimes if you run into really difficult lighting situations it can mess up your metering (it’s going to lean towards the highlights). But that’s when you do metering of the highlight, mid and shadow then you change it to the manual mode, or exposure compensation (more on this in the next heading)
The Exposure Compensation is confusing
This is just me, but I think the exposure compensation on the ME Super and pretty much a lot of Pentax cameras is confusing AF*. Seriously, “no compensation/zero/0” is 1x, 1 stop over is 2x, 1 stop under is 1/2x is really not easy-to-understand for a camera that was supposedly made for the average consumer.
The numbering system relates to the additional/reduced amount of light each +/- stop of exposure provides and I mean, you will get used to it but it’s really annoying when you are a first-time user of this camera.
All and all, this is a “Superb” camera (sorry for all of the horrible puns). It’s tiny, compact (a little smaller than the Olympus OM-1), provides accurate metering, a high top shutter speed and is not an over-hyped film camera. Pentax lenses have always been great with their super-multi-coating that reduces flare, nice contrast and good resolution.
Thanks for reading!
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Great review, I love these little critters too. How did I come to own one? Because I was sick and tired of toting large Nikon SLR’s w/ Leica R lenses (maybe the best lenses on any SLR) on a neoprene strap to avoid shoulder pain. I knew I would be downgrading my pics, but the Pentax lenses are really good. And cheap.
You’re right, the manual metering “option” is ridiculous, they should have just not put it on the camera. This sort of thing might work w/ AE-Lock, but just try to find a Pentax camera w that! Only the later, clunky, Ricoh type Pentax cameras have that option.
The Pentax M series cameras are really cool. They’re tiny, light, well made and reliable. Mine has a butter smooth film advance, but everything on the camera is plastic fantastic. I also have the lowly MV w/ a kit 50 2.0 lens, which is the camera I usually grab when heading out the door because It’s 100% point and shoot. Quite fiddly to change the exposure, as your only option is to change the ISO setting on the top, but for $20 w/ the lens I can’t complain too much.
Excellent review covering all salient points with minimal verbage. I love my Super ME and my MX. As you note, the lenses are absolutely superb and the bodies are sooooo compact. I shot a Pentax H1a in the late 60s and everyone with a Nikon looked down their noses at it … but the prints were easily as good as from the much more expensive Nikons.
What is wrong with Pentax cameras of the era? Answer: it lacks the snob appeal and price of Nikon and Leica. Long live Pentax.
Great review of a great camera. The Pentax ME Super was the camera I wanted when I was a teenager in the 1980’s, but couldn’t afford. In the end I got myself one as a birthday present a few years ago. I too find it great in AE mode, and manual a bit of a pain. Yes, the exposure compensation is a bit confusing. All I would say is that there can be corrosion under the exposure compensation dial, leading to chronic underexposure (4 stops in my case). A mini disassemble and some contact cleaner helped, but I bought another one anyway and that was fine. Lovely camera.
That’s been my experience too. A camera that I’ve always loved since I bought my first one in 1981. It’s not proven to be the most reliable camera and that corrosion issue is on my latest model too. Easy enough to fix for a while but I think it’s time for another CLA.
Just so you know, 1X is the standard for no compensation for all aperture priority Pentaxes since the ES in 1970. The reasoning is because in mathematics, one times any figure results in the same figure.