2other Pentax cameras in my collection:

 

JapanPentax ME Super [1979 - 1984]

 

Overview

In 1972 Olympus introduced their OM-1 model, and this camera set a new trend for compact SLR design. Pentax caught-up in 1977 with the launch of their ME and MX models.

The ME Super was a further development of the ME, and added:

  • a manual mode (i.e. selectable shutter speeds),
  • an altered shutter speed range (4s to 1/2000th, with X-sync at 1/125th, as against 8s to 1/1000th, with X-sync at 1/100th),
  • an additional shoe contact for dedicated Pentax flash units, and
  • a different finder magnification (0.97x reduced to 0.95x).
  • The ASAHI pentaprism housing logo was also discontinued.

In a nutshell, the Pentax ME Super is a very compact, open aperture TTL metering, aperture priority auto-exposure SLR with switchable meter guided manual override (shutter priority) capability.

The notable feature is that shutter speed selection is via push buttons, rather than a dial. This was the first SLR camera to employ such a feature, and push buttons became the way to set things in future camera designs.

The viewfinder metering arrangement is via a bank of 16 LEDs that indicate the camera (or user) selected shutter speed in green, slow speeds (under 1/30th) in yellow, plus red under and over indicators. Although the metering is aperture priority based, in use the camera is a sort of follow-the-LED system, in so far that the aperture setting can be changed to bring different shutter speeds into play.

According to advertisements in a 1981 edition of Amateur Photographer, the typical price of a Pentax ME Super was around £130 (a bit more than the average UK weekly wage). At that time, the similarly priced competitors were the Cosina CT-4, Fujica AX-3, Minolta XG-9 (the only one still using CdS metering), and Yashica FX-D Quartz. Although the others were slightly more expensive, an Amateur Photographer review of the time concluded the Fujica was the best camera overall; yet the Pentax was the runaway success in terms of sales. The only other camera in this group that I own is the Yashica FX-D Quartz (rated equal to the Pentax), and I reckon it's better than the ME Super (click here for more details) ... but only by a whisker.

 

correction1) The M cameras are commonly regarded to be the most compact 35mm SLRs ever made. The ME was the smallest of the bunch, being 0.5mm less tall and wide than the ME Super (the ME was 131mm x 82.5mm). However it wasn't actually the smallest. So far as I am aware, that title was claimed way back in 1959 by the Topcon PR, a 35mm SLR that was 130mm x 82mm!

2) While I am debunking, I might as well do the MX too. Claims that - the Pentax MX was a professional camera - abound on the Net and in eBay sales spin. The MX may have had interchangeable view screens, but it wasn't professional quality: made to work for a living. If interchangeable view screens are the measure of capability, then the Praktica VLC would qualify as professional grade ... but it doesn't ... and never did.

At launch the MX was the same price as its automated twin - the ME (dealer listing here) - and its target market was the competent amateur. By 1982, the MX typically sold for £20 less than an ME super.

The MX appears to be confused with the LX, and is often described as Pentax's top of the range camera. Its specification is most similar to the previous KX, while the top of the range K2 featured aperture priority auto exposure and manual control ... just like an ME Super.

Despite the facts, these myths are commonly accepted, with MXs being sold for as much as they cost new over 35 years ago.

A professional camera ... that could be bought in Dixons ... for less than an ME Super ... I don't think so!

 

 

Specifications

Lens mount: Pentax K bayonnet.

pentax viewfinderFocus: Silver-coated pentaprism with central split-image rangefinder and micro-prism collar. 0.95x magnification and 92% viewfinder coverage (with 50mm lens). No DOF preview. 14 LED shutter speed bank (green and yellow slow speeds), with additional red under/over warning LEDs, red exposure compensation warning manual exposure warning LED which flashes to indicate auto flash ready, and green auto flash sync at 1/125th speed position.

Shutter: Seiko MFC-E2 vertical travel metal focal-plane shutter. electronically controlled (step less variation) of 4 sec - 1/2000th, plus 14 electronically controlled manual speeds as per viewfinder info., mechanically controlled 1/125th X-speed + B, shutter button lock, and self-timer of about 4 to 10 seconds.

Meter: Centre-weighted, TTL, using GPD cells (Gallium Photo Diodes - similar to silicone with the main difference being that gallium arsenide is not sensitive to infrared light). Meter supports manual mode.

Exposure: Automatic, aperture priority with manual override (i.e. metering supports preferential selection of shutter speeds). Compensation adjustment of +2 EV (1/4x, 1/2x, 2x, and 4x).

Film Speed: 12 to 1600 ASA.

Flash: 1/125th X-sync speed, with automatic hot shoe coupling for Pentax AF 200S and AF 160 flash guns. Separate X-sync socket.

Film Advance: Single stroke lever with 30° pre-advance standoff and 135° advance angle. Also has coupling for 2 fps ME II winder.

Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.

Rewind: Via crank and bottom release button.

Size: 131.5 x 83 x 49.5mm (W x H x D).

Weight: 445g.

Battery: 2 x 1.5V LR44. LEDs in viewfinder flicker when batteries are low.

 

My Camera

I paid £5.60 for this camera, with an M series f/1.7 50mm lens in July 2015. The reason I got the camera so cheaply was because the lens had fungus and barrel damage from a (presumed) bodged attempt to disassemble it. I've often observed that the inclusion of a damage item in a bundle seems to put off potential bidders, and in this instance it did! At this time, a broken ME Super body normally costs about £10 upwards, however, the obvious can often prove elusive: just throw away the lens and you've got a cheap camera body. Hoorah!! - but it gets better. I re-sold the lens (with full condition disclosure) and an instruction manual for £3.30 (plus P&P), reducing the cost of my camera to a tiny £2.30.

My ME Super proved to be very clean, and fully working. It needs new seals and a mirror damper, but I'll do that sometime. The lens was, by contrast, a complete minger.

I bought the little Pentax because it was the most popular amateur photographer's camera in its day, when I owned and used a variant - the Pentax MG (which was like an ME with the unreliability ironed-out). The Pentax ME Super is a great little camera. It's dead easy to use, while remaining in control - whenever you want to.

Having said all that, I'm not a huge fan of the ME Super. I'm not so keen on the lack of a shutter speed dial, the black shutter release button, which looks like a shiny chrome cover might have fallen off ... oh and that teeny weeny micro-button (which resembles a blob of Tippex) that you press to shift out of auto. I think the key problem with the ME Super is that it was very affordable, and therefore not especially aspirational. I grew-up thinking a Pentax was special, and not something anyone could pop into Dixons and buy on a whim (as I did).

 

nextnextdoc

Pentax ME Super

Pentax ME Super

Pentax ME Super

Pentax ME Super

In August 2015 I got a Pentax M series f/1.7 50mm lens for my ME Super. It cost me £15.00, which is at the lower end of what they have been selling for during the past two months, plus mine came with a rather nice Agfa Selectronic 3 attached.

The end of Grey Market Imports

Towards the end of 1979, Japanese camera prices started to fall in the UK, while inflation rates were otherwise in double figures.

Up until this time, Japanese manufacturers had sold at different prices around the world. As a result, a grey market had sprung up (i.e. the trade of a commodity through distribution channels that are legal but unintended by the original manufacturer). The grey imports were legally bought abroad (often in the USA), all taxes and duties paid, and then sold at a lower cost than the authorised distributers could offer - through camera supermarkets.

Japanese manufacturers responded by lowering prices to compete with the grey imports, and had to absorb their losses by cutting manufacturing and marketing costs.