Time for a self-indulgent essay on something that doesn’t impact you in any way; how I finally chose my favourite SLR.
In case the title and banner image didn’t give you a hint, it’s the Pentax ME Super.
At present count I’ve used (i.e. actually shot a film through) about 40 different film cameras. I’m not very good at collecting because a) I don’t like seeing functional items sat being an ornament and b) I always end up selling something to fund buying something else (it’s a disease). Out of those 40ish about 15 or so have been 35mm SLRs and during my time using them I’ve been hoping to find ‘the one’. The all-purpose SLR that just feels RIGHT.
What didn’t work:
- Pentax K2 – Too big. Shutter sounds like it’s made of biscuits. 6/10
- Nikon FE – I used an FE for about a week. It felt cheap in the hand and the focus ring on the lens was rough as a badger’s arse. Results were flat and uninspiring (The lens was a 50mm f/1.4 AI-Something). Put me off Nikon in general. 4/10
- Canon AE-1P – My first SLR. The lenses were pretty nice, but the camera had far too much plastic going on and was a bit massive. 6/10
- Soligor TM (Miranda Sensomat) – The Soligor was pretty lovely to be fair. An absolute unit. Had beer spilled on it twice, I fell off a rock and landed on it, it didn’t even flinch. Manual only so a bit slow and the shutter went PING. 7/10
- Chinon CE-II Memotron – Fucking cool but massive and with the build quality of a packet of crisps. 5/10
- Olympus OM1n – I used this for quite a while and even got it serviced. The lenses were great and the camera was small and solid, but it just felt strangely delicate. It’s not particularly fragile but it just has a sort of jewellery-esque quality that makes you nervous around it. Hard to explain and almost certainly just me talking total shite. 6/10
- Pentax LX – Yeah I got an LX. And sold it. I loved the feel of it and the metering’s great and it’s weather sealed and all that BUT… it’s another one with a shutter that goes PING which makes it sound like a Praktica in a tiled bathroom. I also want to be able to use a camera without constantly worrying about it being stolen or dropped on the floor because it’s such a money pit. 8/10
Others include the Pentax Spotmatic, the Ihagee Exa and the Chinon CE4s but the list was getting boring so I’ll move on. I haven’t yet tried Minolta or Konica SLRs. Konica is out because shutter priority is lame, but the Minolta XD-7 does interest me… However I’m dubious it would beat the ME Super for overall appeal.
I’ve shot meterless manual for a couple of years with many cameras, and I continue to use my Yashica 635 manually via educated guess. I have no qualms using a TLR like this, especially with the Best Film In The World (XP2), because the slow shooting style is unavoidable with a camera that looks and feels like a bus. But for a small carry-around SLR, I need some automation. I want to be able to shoot on the street at a moment’s notice without worrying about exposure settings, but I also want manual exposure mode available for shooting at night.
Aperture priority is, of course, the best automation and it’s the default Auto mode for the Pentax ME Super. The Manual mode on the ME-S is controlled with some awesome early 80’s future buttons instead of a shutter speed ring. Some find this unintuitive but I really like it. The shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder as it is in Auto mode, but what I really like is that the camera remembers the last speed it was set to whether you switch to another mode or not. I set it to 1/15th for night shooting and I know that the next time I switch from Auto to Manual, it’ll be ready to go.
Contrary to some sources on the internet (*cough* Ken Rockwell *cough*), the ME Super is not entirely metal. The top plate and mount fascia are chrome plated plastic.
“But my top plate has brassing!” you screech, thrashing like a cobra.
Indeed! Pentax sneakily plated the plastic with a brass effect underneath the chromium. If you let that ‘brassing’ wear through even further you’ll encounter some hideous semi-opaque white plastic! Good news is the chassis and the door and base plate and all the other important bits are metal. And the plastic top plate is undoubtedly the most tight and solid bit of plastic ever to grace a camera. It may as well be metal, and if an unhinged plastic snob like me doesn’t obsess over it, I doubt anyone else will. Plus, it means no dented prisms!
The ME-S is the perfect size for my dainty hands and feels like there is absolutely zero empty space inside it. The ratio of toughness to weight is excellent and it feels right with either a tiny pancake lens or a chunky prime.
Oh, and the shutter doesn’t ping! It sounds precise and solid and has a nice kick to it.
If you’ve used a ridiculous behemoth like a Canon EOS-3 then imagine that but the total opposite. Tiny camera. Fucking colossal viewfinder. Almost life-size image with a 50mm. Extremely bright. LED indication of shutter speeds so you can use it at night. You get the idea.
It uses my favourite lens
One of the main selling points of the ME Super for me is that I can mount my K series 50mm f/1.4 lens. It’s the earliest K mount 1.4 with a 52mm filter ring. Optically identical to the Super Multi Coated Takumar M42 lens and even has the same thoriated glass discolouration. This lens renders in a way that is aesthetically ideal to me. Lovely 3D subject isolation, beautiful OOF areas and as sharp as I need. And of course it has the usual Pentax focus ring that’s smoother than a baby seal coated in mayonnaise.
As I feel this directionless ramble fizzling out, all I can say is that I’ve tried many SLRs and they’ve all had some element to them that made them less than ideal. The ME Super offers everything I want in a perfectly sized package with no little irritations. I’m an obsessive weirdo and struggle to get past an ugly shutter sound or a rough advance lever. After all, you have to listen to that ping or grind that pepper mill every single shot you take.
The ME Super is the SLR I keep coming back to. This is the third time during my eternal churn through old film cameras where I’ve returned to the Pentax and thought ‘why the balls do I keep trying other cameras?’. The ME Super is the one. And this time I feel like it will stay my primary camera for as long as there’s still film to shoot. They’re plentiful, affordable and serviceable. They’re functional, intuitive and beautiful.
The Pentax ME Super. I reet like it.
Addendum: Twatting it on a door frame
Whilst leaving to go on a trip with the intention of shooting the ME Super + 50mm 1.4, a friend didn’t realise the camera was in my jacket pocket when he naturally swung the coat like a medieval flail into a door frame.
Anyway, the lens was totally fucked. I’ve seen bent filter rings before, but this was a fully warped lens barrel. The focus barely turned, and only with a horrible scraping action, and the focus was off at infinity. So that bugger stayed in the rental cottage for the weekend. I was quite upset. My favourite lens was dead.
BUT LO, on coming home I decided I had nothing to lose so went at it with some pliers and got the barrel and filter ring straightened up enough to jam an empty filter on the end and file off the remaining bulge so that the lens now focuses as smoothly as always. I loosened the front element and adjusted it until infinity focus was once again correct, and held it in place with some putty.
So my 50mm f/1.4 is now quite hideous, but works as well as always. Fine with me, it beats spending £80 on a new one.
On, and the ME Super was unscathed. Another positive to add to the list.