Christopher J Osborne

Pentax MX

The Pentax MX and Pentax ME models launched Pentax’s new line of ‘M’ series ultra compact SLRs in 1976. The ME was the first first camera to offer only automatic exposure, and because it didn’t have a manual mode it also became the first SLR camera to do without a shutter speed dial. The ME was the ‘amateur’ model.

The MX on the other hand, was an all mechanical, all manual model aimed at the serious amateur, and even low end professional, markets. As such at was at the heart of a full system, including a 5fps motor drive system. It was a natural competitor to one of the most famous SLRs of the 1970s, the Olympus OM-1. Even in the 1970s, 4 years was a long time in camera development, so as expected, it improves on the OM-1 in a number of areas, the most obvious of which is the viewfinder displays: the OM1 has a simple match needle exposure system and nothing else, but the MX replaces the needles with 5 coloured LEDs and adds displays for both shutter speed and aperture.

But despite this, and despite the fact that I do love my MX, the OM-1 is a more comfortable camera to use. The problem with the Pentax is that it is very difficult to using the metering in an aperture priority fashion because the shutter speed dial is rather stiff and awkward to operate with your eye to the viewfinder. So you generally have to set the shutter speed first and then operate the aperture ring while the camera is at your eye. The Olympus on the other hand places the shutter speed dial around the lens mount, so it is just as easy to operate as the aperture ring… both can be operated easily with your eye to the viewfinder. If only Olympus and Pentax could have collaborated on designing a camera we might have had the perfect 1970s manual SLR!

I only have one lens in Pentax’s original ‘K’ bayonet: a SMC Pentax-M 40mm f/2.8 ‘pancake’ lens. This is one of those lenses that has a somewhat less than stellar optical reputation, but I love it anyway! With this lens the Pentax MX really is just about a small as a full-frame 35mm SLR can get. It slips almost un-noticed into a corner of my camera bag, making it the ideal film companion to a full DSLR outfit. And the optical quality of the 40mm is perfectly good enough for my needs!

Photographs taken with the Pentax MX

These photographs were all taken with the 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens and Fujicolor 200 film.