Thoughts on Shooting the Pentax Spotmatic F

My friend Paul that past away almost ten years ago and he left me this Pentax Spotmatic F. I was told it belonged to his dad, and he knew I would appreciate it. I immediately admired this fully manual 35mm SLR. It’s very well made and reliable. There are some things to keep in mind before buying a Spotmatic or other M42 mount cameras though.

Brief history

The Pentax Spotmatic line ran from 1964 to 1976, and there were a lot of different models over that time. The Spotmatic uses screw-mount lenses, as opposed to bayonet style mounts. The M42 lens mount was developed by Zeiss in 1938. Cameras like the Zeiss Ikon, Contax and Prakticas shared this lens mount. Pentax made the screw-mount famous, nowadays, people often refer the mount as the Pentax Screw-mount. It is also referred to as the Universal thread-mount.

Spotmatics were imported to the United States by the Honeywell company, These cameras were engraved on the front with Honeywell Spotmatic. Honeywell taking the place of the Asahi name on the Japanese and European versions. The Asahi versions seem to be more desirable. On more than one occasion someone has said to me, “too bad it’s not an Asahi.” There is no difference between the two versions. UGH.

The Camera

I have one of the later models, the Spotmatic F, the meter is not linked to the shutter or aperture. If meter doesn’t work or the batteries are dead, the camera is fully functional. I didn’t even use the meter for the first few years I owned it. If you do find a camera, it is possible the meter may still work, but they original used a PX625 mercury battery. I have been using a 675 zinc air hearing aid battery and it works well. You can also grab the Wein MRB625 1.35V zinc-air battery, they can be expensive though.

Metering with Pentax lenses is not as straightforward as you may think. Since only the Spotmatic F, Electro Spotmatic, ES, and ESII allowed for open-aperture metering, which means the aperture stays open while taking a meter reading and only closing down to take the picture. You must use lenses that allow for this feature. The older Pentax screw-mount lenses didn’t have this feature. If you have a newer Super-Takumar or Super-Multi-Coated lens it should have the tab that allows for open-aperture metering. To use stop-down metering for lenses that don’t have that option, slide the switch on the front of the camera upward to activate the stop-down meter. Adjust your aperture or shutter speed to center the needle while looking through the viewfinder. One thing to note on the Spotmatic F specifically, you must replace the lens cap to turn off the meter. Otherwise the battery will drain too quickly. With the other models, the stop-down meter switch turns on the meter and turns off the meter when the shutter is fired. Having to keep the cap on annoys me, but it’s not the end of the world.

Sliding pin for the open-aperture metering
Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f1.4

I’ve owned several M42 mount cameras and I’ve noticed that most Pentax M42 lenses that support open-aperture metering will not mount to non-Pentax, M42 cameras. The extra pin on the rear of the lens gets snagged on the lever that pushes the aperture pin on the lens. As you screw on the lens to the camera, that open-aperture metering pin snags on that lever. This is just something to keep in mind if you’re collecting a few different bodies and lenses. I’ve had Mamiya, Ricoh, and Chinon cameras and have found this to be a problem with those cameras. I can’t say if this is an issue with earlier Spotmatics without open-aperture metering though. The Spotmatic F is the only Pentax I’ve owned.

The act of changing lenses can be quite daunting. Screwing a lens off and then screwing a lens on is a slow process. I would suggest keeping the camera on a strap and hanging around your neck, because you are going to need both hands if you want to make the lens swap quickly.

Flash is also tricky on Spotmatics. Not all models have a hot shoe. For cameras without a shoe, Pentax made an accessory cold shoe bracket that would thread on to the eyepiece and mount a cold shoe above the prism. Electronic flash and flash-bulbs (flat-peak) could be used and fired using a pc cord into either the X or FP pc ports on the front of the camera. My Spotmatic F has a hot shoe that fires a traditional electronic xenon flash and has the X and FP pc ports. Flash sync is at 1/60th of a second.

This is a heavy camera, so carrying it around without a strap is not a great option. The camera weighs in at about 1.96 lbs (889g) with bottom half of the leather case and 35mm f3.5 lens. If you find one without the leather case, you should get one, it is a lot nicer to hold with one. The original leather case that came with the cameras are generally high quality and comfortable to hold. The leather case on mine is from the early seventies is by far and away nicer than the case that came with my Nikon FM2.

Closing Thoughts

Should you buy one, of course you should. Over a Pentax KX? Maybe. The bayonet mount is great on the MX and those K mount lenses still fit new cameras including Pentax DSLR cameras. There is something I find special about these Spotmatic cameras. They were built well, they look great, and they’re reliable. The Super-Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated lenses are fantastic, plentiful, and often affordable. The Spotmatics are for photographers that are deliberate in their picture taking. There’s no Aperture Priority modes and no TTL flash. A photographer that prefers to take their time can still appreciate machines like these.

Tom Chamberlain

Photographer, videographer, and lover of all things analog.

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