Pentax ME Super

 HISTORICAL NOTES

In 1976 Asahi Optical Company, then owner of the Pentax brand, put on the market a new range of cameras and objectives identified by the letter “M” and characterized mainly by small size. “M” is a series that even today after decades and despite the technological evolution, stirs emotions and memories.
Dozers of new cameras generation  were the Pentax MX and the Pentax ME: mechanical and manual operated the first, electronic operated with automatic aperture priority the second. The MX remained in production with no changes or upgrades for many years (constituting de facto a system in itself, partially compatible with the subsequent LX), while the ME, although appreciated by the public, has been replaced in 1979 by the most complete and handsome Pentax ME Super.
The validity of ME project, and even more of its evolution Pentax ME Super, is underlined by the array of cameras built on its base: the Pentax ME-F the first autofocus (it was an ME Super with the addition of an electronic focus control system), the Pentax Super-A (direct descendant and highest evolution of the original) and the cheapest Program-A. Even the professional Pentax 645 partially inherit from ME Super  the speed control system in  manual mode (the famous small buttons) and, with appropriate modifications, the exposure system.

 TECHNICAL DATA

Model: Single-lens Reflex 35 mm.Automatic exposure aperture priority and manual exposure electronic system (manual buttons); manual focus.
Picture Size: 24x36mm.
Lens mount: Pentax K, also accepts all the lenses of the later series, including autofocus, provided they have an aperture ring. For M42 screw lenses plug is necessary to use an adapter and show them to stop down.
Standard Lens: SMC Pentax 50mm. f / 1.2 – SMC Pentax M 40mm. f / 2.8 – SMC Pentax M 50mm. f / 1.4 – SMC Pentax M 50mm. f / 1.7 – SMC Pentax M 50mm. F / 2; The kit consisted of the base body and the 50mm. F / 1.7.
Exposure modes: automatic aperture priority; Manual exposure with electronic control.
Shutter: Seiko MFC-E2  with vertical metallic curtains; electronically controlled automatic exposure between 4 seconds and 1/2000 of a second (without fixed points); speed values in manual set to values between 4 “and 1/2000, speed variations made by means of two control buttons; mechanical times corresponding to positions 125X and B (with these shutter speeds the camera operates without batteries).
Flash: Accessory. Automatically synchronize with flashes with dedicated selector Auto or M;flash and test flash sync lights visible in the viewfinder . With the flash sync via universal hot shoe  the function selector will set on 125X.
Self-timer: Mechanical with adjustable delay from 4 to about 10 seconds.
Metering: Measuring the light through the lens at full aperture center weighted with the cells to the GPD.  EV 1 to EV 19 Sensitivity film from 12 to 1600 ASA (ISO 12/12 ° to ISO 1600/33 °). The exposure values reading by operator is made through the data shown in the viewfinder. The lightmeter is activated by pressing the shutter release button and stays active about 25 seconds.
Exposure compensation: Possible +/- 2EV in steps of 1EV.
Viewfinder: silver treated pentaprism treatment with 92% field coverage, 0,95X magnification with 50mm lens ; eyepiece diopter correction fixed at -1 diopter correction lenses can be added.
Focus: Manual on focusing glass with central microprism and split image.
Viewfinder information: Speed scale and basic settings superimposed on frame area, with LED indication  out of the frame. Time scale: from 1/2000 to 4 seconds, the green LED for speeds between 1/2000 and 1/60, yellow LED for times between 1/30 and 4/2; the difference in color indicates whether or not to shoot handheld. Indication of under or over exposure by red LEDs. Indication of manual mode via yellow LED. Indication of activation of the exposure compensation by flashing red LED.
Film advance and rewind: fast advance lever  single-action, 135 ° and 30 ° of total advance of pre-feed. Rewind knob in the middle. Possibility of power driven by the application of external winder, maximum speed of two frames per second.
Frame counter: additive with automatic reset.
Power supply: two button batteries,  SR44 silver oxide or LR44 alkaline.
Back: Interchangeable; standard back with film memo frame.
Dimensions: Length 131.5 mm; height 83 mm; depth of 49.5 mm.
Weight: 445 gr. (Body only without batteries).

 Accessories

Pentax Winder ME II: to be applied to the bottom of the body, with handle: allows the advancement of a single frame in sequence at a rate of two frames per second.
ME Date back: provides date information within the frame, for the activation had to be connected via cable to the PC port.
Ready case.
K/M42 lens adapter.
Flash Pentax AF Pentax AF 200S and 160
Correction lenses to be applied on the eyepiece.
Available also universal winder, Soligor and others, to buy at your own risk.

 HOW IT WORKS

Aesthetically the Pentax ME Super is the perfect daughter of his time. The body is the classic parallelepiped with solid edges on which is frontally grafted the lens mount, while on the upper cap is placed the pentaprism and few commands required to operate the camera. Surprising is the size: seems smaller and more compact than the others. It is even smaller than many current mirrorless cameras.

La baionetta K della ME Super
The K mount on ME Super

Taking it in hand  will quickly confirm the first impression: it’s small and more compact than the others co-aged cameras, even more than the legendary Olympus OM series (from the OM-1 to OM-4) which loose against ME Super for a few millimeters and / or tenths of a millimeter . Yet its minimum size is not a handicap: it is good in the hand and fingers (thumb and index) are positioned almost instinctively where it is needed; also the weight does not tire and does not feel the lack on the right side of some anatomical projection useful to improve grip. The camera was available in both classic black and silver two-tone finish that in the completely black.
As said above, the Pentax ME Super 35mm SLR is an automatic, electronic aperture priority and manual operated camera, perfectly in line with the dictates of technique addressed to a wide array of photographers. To further entice buyers the ME Super is equipped with a shutter capable of reaching the 1/2000 sec speed and 1/125  flash sync speed, respectable performance in 1979
But the real revolution is accomplished with the speed control system in manual mode: for the first time the old familiar ring is abandoned and replaced by two buttons, the action of which is controlled directly in the viewfinder. With this solution doubts and criticisms were inevitable and abundant, indeed still persist today. Doubts and misgivings contradicted both by the long-life of this camera which remained in production for eight years, the efficiency still preserved nowadays.

Pentax ME Super

 The Pentax ME Super reveals itself a easy to use camera, as much as operating in manual mode is almost unnecessary, but only  because his light metering never hurts! The manual for this camera, as typycally in those years, is a small booklet providing all the information related to the Pentax ME Super but also a series of useful knowledge to those who ventured for the first time with an SLR: the Italian version consists of 52 short pages including cover. The reading reveals itself pleasant and once you read it you can safely leave home without doubts on your camera and its skills.

Vista dell'otturatore e del sistema facilitato di caricamento
The shutter an the easy loading system

Procedure for film loading, as in other Pentax M and A series, is facilitated by the presence of plastic cylinders around the receiving spool between which the film is simply inserted and you just need to be sure that the pinion engages the film perforations. This system keeps efficient even after decades of intensive use.
On the back below loading lever there is a window that allows you to check the correct forward and rewind of film. If while rewinding you want to keep the film tail out of the canister just look at the indicator bar which will stop flashing red and black when the film comes off the receiving spool.
On top of the camera, between the function selector and the loading lever is placed a tiny porthole that lets you check the engage status of the shutter, it is ready to shoot if the window shows red. This device has a peculiarity: the red signal disappears when the secon curtains starts to move as it is synchronized to it.

Vista della calotta superiore con tutti i comandi
Top of the camera with commands

The large, bright viewfinder allows easy framing control and only the speed scale values can become illegible when shooting in low light conditions or if overlap with intense shadows. The slide-focus makes it easy to focus in any light conditions and it should be noted that the first split image and microprism can underperform with lensens with maximum opening smaller than or equal to f / 5,6 (f / 8 are practically unusable) and the focus is no nothing but rely on frosted area; let it be clear, however, that this is not a defect of the Pentax ME Super but affects, more or less, all cameras equipped with this focusing system.
The main control unit is the selector function, which, to emphasize its roots as automatic reflex, presents a mechanical lock at the AUTO position.

In automatic Aperture priority (AUTO) just manually set the aperture and the camera instructs you to choose the appropriate shutter speed depending on the brightness of the scene, a glance at the right speed scale to avoid errors (under or over exposure or the risk of camera shake) and, unless you want to use exposure compensation, you are ready to take the picture. It should be noted that the exposure compensation with the Pentax ME Super is only possible by full values ​​(EV 1) acting on the command; Instead of acting on the ring sensitivity (ASA dial), you can make starature in steps of 1/3 EV steps.
In manual mode (M) the Pentax ME Super maintains an exemplary ease of use: just set the aperture and adjust the speed by pressing one of two buttons and always coupled meter keeps control of the situation and warns promptly if you are under or over exposing. Even the highly criticized buttons have always been reliable and accurate; the extremes of the scale do not require to go back: just a pressure and you pass from 4 sec. to 1/2000, or vice versa … nothing you can do with traditional dials.
The meter is coupled only when camera is operated in AUTO or M, or only in the mode in which the shutter works electronically: no meter with mechanical shutter speed.

The 125X mode is not only useful for shooting with external flash but, also comes in handy in case you run out of batteries. There is no possibility to check the charge status of the batteries and their exhaustion is not announced until the weakening of the LEDs in the viewfinder; however, a copy of alkaline batteries lasts for more than a year.
Even the B is a mechanical speed which eliminates the intensive energy consumption you could experience with an electronic shutter in long exposures.

The shutter button is coaxial with the function selector switch and by pressure will activate first the metering unit and then the shutter: button excursion has the right length and makes it almost impossible to start the shutter incidentally when just want to turn on the meter. It also features the standard thread for the classic cable release.

The exposure meter is equipped with GPD cells and after so many years maintains its reliability and its reactivity. Lends his work either in conjunction with the K lense as well with the adapted M42, in this case operating in stop-down.
The two cells are located at the sides of the eyepiece and when shooting without putting the eye in the viewfinder they can be easily influenced by the light coming from the eyepiece; the remedy consists in obscuring the eyepiece with the supplied cap or with a hand in order to avoid incorrect exposure.

Il dorso datario Digital M
The Digital data M back

The mechanical self-timer can be set with a delay of 4 to 10 seconds; once started its is not voidable officially but, the trick is: in case you change your mind just lower the lever, no longer turn it on, and continue to shoot normally, then with the switch to L or with the shutter uncocked simply start the self-timer lever and cancel its action.
There is no opportunity to raise the mirror before shooting.
According to some sources, but never checked in person, should also exists a mechanical shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.
Like all things also this machine, no matter how good and reliable, it is not perfect; just an example: to see the aperture value you have to remember which one you set, or remove your eye from the viewfinder to check directly on the lens barrel.

Drawbacks common to many ME Super are the breaking of the return spring charging lever that is likely to cause collateral damage (repair feasible without any problems) and the tendency of the sensitivity switch to oxidize and, as a result, to make metering mad and here the homemade remedy is as efficient as economic: just insert a piece of paper (such as photocopies and not glossy paper) between the ring and the body and so the contacts are cleane and the camera continues to work perfectly for many months, if not years. With time passing many Pentax ME Super, and derivatives, may bind completely to the hardening and the crumbling of some seals, or better rings, plastic forming part of the lifting mechanisms of the mirror reflex, in this case just contact a repair shop and the problem should be soon settled by ensuring you few more decades of shooting.

PRO
Compact body.
Ease of use.
Coupled light meter in automatic and manual.
Complete information in the viewfinder.
Setting the shutter speed manually thru pushbuttons.
Wide range of original and third party lenses.

CONS
Lack of aperture value indication in the viewfinder.
Shutter speed scale is not always easy to read.
Lack of ability to store the exposure automatically, you have to switch to manual mode.
Impossibility, with bayonet lenses to control the depth of field in the viewfinder.

AVAILABILITY ‘AND PRICES

The Pentax ME Super has been always available in two-tone finish while completely black finish is regarded as almost a rarity sought after by collectors in general.
Easy to find on online shops, it almost stumbles over there, but beware of the garbage cans.
Selling value averages between 50 € and 120 € approximately, for the black version I rate as fair a price premium of around € 50; the price is often also including a 50mm.
Honestly it is not worth spending more for a ME Super black, some Euro rather recommend you invest in a good SMC Pentax-M 50mm f / 1.7.

PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS

This was, and still is, my first SLR purchased in kit with the SMC Pentax-M 50mm. f / 1.7 after months of small savings in January 1984; Since then I’ve used it with all kinds of different lenses and films and never have been disappointed by the results. Opsss … have already passed 30 years !!!! I almost find it hard to believe, despite all its yearsit won’t show them and if you really have problems, even serious, just need a Repair Shop (with a capital R) to bring it back like new.
But then it’s worth it for those who do not have it and for those who are approaching the world of film photography give it a thought? I would say so! It is worth thinking seriously about a Pentax ME Super, accompanied by a nice 50mm. f / 1,7 fixed and photograph, indeed start to photograph … opsss, just not to advertise (so no one pays) the same effect is achieved with many other cameras of the same age of the ME Super, the choice is yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *