4other Pentax cameras in my collection:


JapanAsahi Pentax Spotmatic F [1973 - 1976]



Spotmatic FThe Spotmatic range was introduced in 1964, and became the workhorse of many semi-professional photographers of the period. The Spotmatic F was launched in 1973, and produced for a short period before Pentax moved to a new bayonet lens mount system. It was therefore the last (and best) of the Spotmatics, and the first (mechanical) version to offer open-aperture metering, which required updated (Super Multi Coated) Takumar lenses with an aperture-position linkage.

Operation of the camera is entirely manual. The centre-the-needle exposure control is delightfully simple; the user merely needs to decide how to balance speed and aperture settings according to the subject, light, and their photographic aspirations.

The Spotmatic F is wholly mechanical, save for the exposure meter, which has no off switch. There is an automatic cut-off when the light level is at EV2 or less, but otherwise the lens cap must be kept on when the camera is not in use, in order to conserve the battery.

According to advertisements in a 1974 edition of Amateur Photographer, the typical price of a Spotmatic F body was about £100. However, the large mail order companies of the time offered this model for as low as £85! Notwithstanding, this camera body cost the equivalent of about two weeks average UK wages in its day.

Should you be wondering, Asahi is apparently pronounced Ah-sah-hee: I've spent about forty years not knowing how to say it!




Lens mount: M42 screw.

pentax viewfinderFocus: Fresnel lens and micro-prism. 0.89x magnification and 93% viewfinder coverage. DOF preview.

Shutter: Horizontal rubberised silk focal plane with speeds of 1 sec - 1/1000th + B, and self-timer.

Meter: Open aperture, Cds meter, TTL average brightness, needle visible in viewfinder.

Exposure: Manual.

Film Speed: 20 to 3200 ASA.

Flash: Standard X and FP synch, with X-synch hot shoe at 1/60.

Film Advance: Ratchet type rapid wind lever. 10° pre-advance and 160° advance angle.

Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.

Rewind: Via crank and bottom release button.

Size: 143 x 93 x 49mm (W x H x D).

Weight: 642g.

Battery: 1.35V mercury PX-625, or use the equivalent WeinCELL MRB625 zinc air cell. However, the Pentax Spotmatic F has a bridge circuit, which means that you can put in a modern 1.5 volt battery and the metering circuit will ignore the voltage and still operate normally. Silver Oxide batteries are better in a camera like this because the discharge curve is much more even. The compatible modern equivalent is the 1.55v S625PX.



My Camera

I paid £4.20 for this camera in August 2013 (body only). It was so cheap because the meter was not working, and the battery cover locked solid. I gambled that this was due to a corroded battery contact. I was able to free-up the battery cover (by removing the bottom plate and soaking it overnight in vinegar). The battery contacts were damaged, but soldering a new (made-up) contact has not fixed the meter problem. A replacement battery contact is available through UScamera, and my plan is to continue to assume that the fault lies in the power supply rather than the meter itself. Meanwhile, the camera is currently a work-in-progress (ProSeal Pentax Spotmatic replacement light seal instructions), but otherwise in good cosmetic condition.

The only thing I don't like about this Spotmatic is the fact that the meter is permanently on, but I guess it's good practice to always replace the lens cap when you are not shooting.

I believe our likes as tastes develop in our formative teens, and this model range certainly had a big influence on mine. Spotmatics were sold over a period of 12 years, and each successive model retained the same look. I wonder if this has contributed to it's enduring appeal? Photographers of a certain age have been exposed to the shape and style of the camera over a long period, leaving a lasting impression in their minds. I think it's a very attractive camera, and provides the benchmark against which all others can be judged. I'd go as far as saying the Pentax Spotmatic F was one of the best cameras ever made. Here's why.

I learned the fundamentals of correct exposure coupled to composition (i.e. how to chose between viable aperture and shutter speed combinations) using a manual viewfinder camera. What drew me to an SLR was primarily the ability to focus accurately without having to guess distances, and the absence of a parallax effect compromising close crops.

My first SLR drove new wants from a camera: a TTL meter to improve exposure accuracy (and remove the step of fussing about with a separate hand-held meter), plus lenses with an automatic diaphragm, so I didn't have to stop-down pre-exposure and make the shot in relative darkness. In the mid 70s, a Spotmatic offered me everything I could have wished for in a camera (except maybe spot metering for those awkward lighting moments), and the F's open aperture metering was simply a more deluxe option.

The Spotmatic was operationally a shutter priority system, in so far that the ergonomics of centring its viewfinder meter needle favoured aperture adjustment. However, I never thought of the metering system in those terms; exposure setup was achieved by adjusting both shutter speed and aperture controls to get the best settings for the shot. It was so simple to use.

The next evolution of camera design mainly favoured aperture priority auto-exposure (like the Pentax ME), in so far that viewfinder exposure information showed a speed that would be selected for a given aperture. But, it wasn't an arduous task to manipulate the camera's setup so that shutter speeds could be selected preferentially. The step forward was that one operation simultaneously adjusted both settings, and this was a good thing. However, aligning a pointer made it easy to deliberately under/over expose, while automated systems required the user to twiddle a knob elsewhere (or adjust the film speed setting) to exposure compensate. Newer cameras did things differently rather that significantly better.

Further changes in camera design introduced the concept of programs and exposure modes, and these didn't work for me. In a nutshell, I grew up applying a process that balanced controlling depth-of-field against freezing/blurring action, but exposure programs required me to set a mode to inform the camera what my priorities were, so that it would permit me to adjust either the shutter speed or the aperture. This was a backward step.

I have to concede that there were other manufactures who produced cameras equal to the Spotmatic. I cannot say the Spotmatic was the best, but it was the camera I had experience of, and on that basis it is the model against which I judge all others (it could have been a Canon FTb or Minolta SR-T 101, if I had been exposed to these). It follows that deeming a camera one of the best and a the bench mark against which all others can be judged allows the recognition of even better cameras, and I own a few that I consider to be superior (such as the brilliant Miranda Auto Sensorex EE or Fujica ST801).



Pentax Spotmatic F

Pentax Spotmatic F

Pentax Spotmatic F

Pentax Spotmatic F

I am looking for a suitable Pentax lens for this camera, but good ones are un-common and expensive.

Mercury Batteries

The mercury battery was first patented in 1884, but did not become widely used until 1942, when mercury cells were commonly used in military equipment. The battery offered the advantages of a long shelf life (up to 10 years) and steady voltage output. After the Second World War, the battery system was widely used in small domestic electronic devices.

The sale of mercury batteries was banned in 1991 by the (dratted) European Commission, and in 1992 by the USA.

There are countless websites that describe and discuss the ins-and-outs of alternative options, which can be used to power older cameras designed to use a mercury battery: so there is no point repeating that information here. However, the bottom line appears to be three options, none of which are wholly satisfactory.
1. Use a modern silver oxide 1.55v cell and recalibrate the camera's meter either by internal tinkering, or other non-invasive manual adjustments to compensate against over exposure.
2. Use the equivalent 1.35v zinc air WeinCELL, but these are significantly more expensive than silver oxide, and have a short working life.
3. Use an MR-9 Adapter which is a PX625 size/shape container with some micro electronics that houses a silver oxide cell and drops the voltage from 1.55v to 1.35v, but these are in short supply, and pretty expensive (at least £30). Take care when shopping for these, because there is a variant with no micro electronics; it simply makes a silver oxide cell a mercury battery size/shape.

There is a fourth option ... keep using a 1.35v mercury cell. It is currently possible to buy new Russian Military, factory fresh, PX625 1.35v mercury batteries from Moscow, via www.px625.ru, or through eBay seller ostashin. They are not cheap (about £15 with P&P), and seller listings are subject to removal by eBay from time to time.

To be clear - I am not endorsing this seller - I am simply sharing information.