Pentax K1000

Most photography graduates of the past 35 years used one at some point in their college careers, and many had one bought for them. The story really began in 1975. This was a big year for the hugely successful Pentax SLR THE PENTAX K1000 was first announced in 1976. It was a straightforward, 35mm, fixed-pentaprism, single-lens reflex camera with full-aperture, CdS, through-the lens (TTL), match-needle exposure measurement and a horizontally running, cloth, focal-plane shutter providing speeds from 1-1/1000sec. It was much like other SLRs of the time, with similar specification and broadly similar value for money, although maybe higher reliability than most. Yet it was one camera that stayed in production, in three successive versions, for more than 20 years and outlasted all its contemporaries. Pentax K1000 cameras, especially the original  Made in Japan’version with  Asahi Pentax’on the front of the prism, still fetch good money on eBay and at camera fairs. So why do these cameras still command good prices? The answer is because the K1000quality, value for money and universally standard specification made it an ideal camera for teaching photography to generation after generation of students, in Europe, Asia, the USA and many other name, which, since Asahi Kogaku launched its first Pentax models in 1957, had always used the 42x1mm M42 screw lens mount. This mount was originated by Zeiss Ikon for the East German Contax S in 1948, utilised by the Praktica cameras of KW and then Pentacon in the 1950s, ’s and 70s. It was also used by Wirgin for its Edixa SLRs, Yashica for its SLRs until the 1970s and for the Soviet Zenith cameras in the  60s and 70s. Yet the M42 screw mount was, at that time, almost universally called the  Pentax mount . There was little logic to this. It was just that the impact of Pentax image quality upon the British camera market in the early to mid-1960s had been so great that it seemed right to think of the 42mm screw lens mount as the Pentax mount. Although the coming of the Nikon F in 1959 was the beginning of the downfall of the once-dominant German camera industry in the professional 35mm camera market, it was the optical quality of Pentax that began that downfall in the British amateur camera market and among cash-strapped freelance professionals. Pentax K1000A BIG STEP The big problem faced by Asahi with the Pentax brand in the early to mid-1970s was the development of exposure automation, led by Canon, Nikon and then Olympus. Although Asahi launched the Pentax ES in 1972 and the improved ESII in 1973, both with electronically controlled shutters and the M42 lens mount, they proved unreliable and did the Pentax reputation no good at all. Fundamentally, the screw lens mount did not make possible the positional accuracy necessary for communicating exposure data from lens to body. The advent of the much smaller, lighter and technically brilliant Olympus OM-1 in 1973/74, and the even cleverer OM-2 with automatic exposure in 1975, excited the amateur market and changed photographers  aspirations from big and chunky to small, lightweight and automatic. Pentax began urgent research and development, which was to culminate in the much smaller ’range from 1976 onwards, but first the company set about updating its existing Spotmatic F and Spotmatic ESII designs to have a precision bayonet lens mount. Thus were born, in 1975, the first Pentax cameras with the Pentax K-bayonet lens mount, the Pentax K2, KX and KM, all of approximately similar size to the preceding Spotmatics. The K2 was the most innovative of these, providing aperture-priority automatic exposure or manual match-needle metering, plus all sorts of useful features, including mirror lock-up, depth of field preview, ±2 over/under exposure compensation and a very wide range of settings from ASA 8-6400. Pentax finally caught up with the Nikkormats of almost ten years earlier by providing flash synchronisation at 1/125sec, a function of the fact that the K2 was the first Pentax SLR with a vertically travelling metal focal-plane shutter. The K2 DMD variant of this camera featured a motordrive and data backs as well as an aperture display in the viewfinder. The Pentax KX was the high-specification, all-manual alternative at a time when automatic exposure was regarded with suspicion, particularly among professionals, by those who had learned photography the hard way by making mistakes. The Pentax KX displayed both shutter speed and aperture setting in the viewfinder, albeit by optical and mechanical means rather than electronic. It had a horizontally running, rubberised, silk, focal-plane shutter, plus silicon-cell, full-aperture, through-the-lens (TTL), match-needle metering and also mirror lock-up. Flash synchronisation speed was only 1/60sec. The KM was the mechanical budget version of the KX, with older-technology, CdS, full-aperture, TTL metering and only the meter needle visible in the viewfinder, with no viewfinder information display of shutter speed or aperture. Effectively, it was a Spotmatic F in a different overcoat and with the K-bayonet lens mount. That first 1975 family of Pentax K-mount cameras introduced the Pentax K-series lenses, the standard lenses being a choice of 55mm f/1 8, f/1.4 or f/1.2 specifications. These were essentially bayonet-mount versions of the SMC Takumars supplied for the late Spotmatics. Only a year after the launch of the first K-series cameras, the announcement of the much smaller and lighter M-series cameras ushered in the similarly smaller and lighter M lenses, and as a result, K-series lenses of focal lengths other than 55mm rather went out of favour only a year or so after their introduction, and are now few and far between. ENTER THE K1000 The Pentax K1000 first appeared in 1976 and remained in production until 1997. Even more basic than the Pentax KM, it had no delay action, but as many reviewers remarked, it had everything anybody needed to be an effective photographer Perhaps more importantly, it had everything a college needed to be able to teach photography. As the era of multi-mode camera automation began, with the announcement of the Canon A-1 in 1978 and a rush among manufacturers to compete in the complex multi-mode market that was soon to be made even more complicated with the advent of autofocus technologies in the late 1980s, colleges worldwide bought the Pentax K1000 as a reliable workhorse camera. Pentax began to move on in the conventional amateur camera market with the successful aperture-priority automatic Pentax ME and manual Pentax MX, both of 1976 and both newly compact SLRs, followed by the hugely successful ME Super, made from 1979-1984. The ME Super added a manual mode to the specification of the ME and also had a wider range of shutter speeds from 4-1/2000sec. By 1978, there was not really room at the Pentax factory in Japan to manufacture the Pentax K1000, so the project was outsourced to Hong Kong, where, from 1978-1990, a slightly modified K1000, still with an all-metal body, was manufactured. In 1979, a edition’K1000SE was announced, with a split-image rangefinder, as well as microprism focusing and brown camera covering instead of black. Finally, in 1990, manufacture of a version of the K1000, by this time with top and bottom plates moulded in a plastic (probably ABS), was transferred to China, where production finally ended in 1997. PENTAX K-MOUNT LENSES In 1976, the enthusiast market shifted its allegiance to a new generation of smaller, lighter SLRs, and the emphasis at Asahi shifted sharply away from the K-series cameras. Only one new K model, the K1000, and four new K-series lenses were introduced. In 1977, only two K-series zoom lenses were introduced, while the M-series range picked up speed with 17 new lenses. At the outset, in 1976, the K1000 was usually sold with a K-series 55mm f/2 lens. The 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M standard lens, usually supplied with the K1000 after 1978, was actually the budget Pentax standard lens of the time with five elements in five groups —the more expensive 50mm f/1.7 had six elements in five groups. The 50mm f/1.7 M was the normal standard lens of the Pentax ME and of the later ME Super, at least when sold in the UK. A much talked-about lens when the M cameras were introduced was the 40mm f/2.8 M-series pancake lens, notable mainly for its small size and low profile. The performance of the 40mm f/2.8 is not particularly good, but they are still sold on eBay and elsewhere at premium prices because of their alleged  rarity’and cult status. I would advise against the 40mm f/2.8 unless you have a practical reason for wanting small size —a Pentax ME fitted with a 40mm f/2.8 is genuinely pocketable. Overall, the K-mount, manual-focus lens range was and is of high quality both optically and mechanically, with all the options from the exotic to the ordinary of other leading ranges. ACCESSORIES Asahi produced a full range of accessories for the K-series cameras from their announcement in 1975, and most of the K accessories fit the K1000.

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