This isn’t a full-on camera review (not that any of my “reviews” are), but just a discussion of the pros and cons of automation. I ran a roll of film through a Pentax ME recently and had a bunch of problems that I wouldn’t have had with a camera that has manual exposure controls (or with a digital camera…). All of the pictures in this post were taken with a Pentax ME, a Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens and Fujifilm Superia 100 film. The lens and the film pass with flying colors, but the camera was frustrating.
First, some background. Prior to automated exposure settings all SLR cameras had controls for aperture, shutter speed, and focus. After automation became all the rage (and it still is), SLR cameras had anywhere from full manual control to no manual controls. Today’s DSLR’s thankfully have lots of manual control with the added bonus of fully automated modes and instant feedback. The Pentax ME lands towards the fully automated end of the spectrum. It has manual focus and aperture settings, but shutter speed is completely controlled by the camera.
This is the problem. When the meter in the ME is working correctly, it’s a fine and easy to use camera. However, my meter was acting wonky and there was nothing I could do about it. Exposure compensation only works if the metered value is consistent. I almost always work in aperture priority mode on cameras that offer it, but I need some way of choosing the shutter speed if the brains in the camera aren’t working right. On occasion my brain works right and it wants to pick shutter speeds!
I have to cut the ME some slack because it’s over 30 years old and who knows what the condition of it’s battery is? I love the form factor and the build-quality, but I don’t feel like depending on a 30+ year-old meter with no ability to override it. Of course, the answer is the Pentax MX. It’s almost exactly the same has the ME, but with a shutter speed dial on top and a 0.97x 95% viewfinder. Anyone care to trade?