SLRs don’t get any smaller than this.


Pentax ME
Pentax ME with seriously frayed original strap!

In 1972, Olympus revolutionised the design of 35mm SLR cameras by introducing the OM-1; the smallest SLR in the world. Four years later, Pentax went even smaller with the fully mechanical MX and the electronic ME.

Why is the Pentax ME a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s smallest 35mm SLR alongside the MX and ME Super.
2: The first Pentax SLR to feature aperture priority exposure only.

The User Experience

The Look

The ME is the sister camera to the MX and was introduced at the same time. Superficially similar, they are poles apart in operation. The MX was the flagship, fully mechanical camera that only required batteries for the meter. The ME is a paperweight without batteries, having an electronically controlled shutter that requires power. Together with the MX (and later ME Super), it is the smallest 35mm SLR ever made. Apart from its remarkable size, the ME is an undistinguished looking camera. It doesn’t set the pulse racing. There’s a fair amount of black plastic on the top plate and an absence of any pretty milled dials.

Olympus OM-1 and Pentax ME
Small and smaller: Olympus OM-1 and Pentax ME

The Feel

I have small hands for a six footer, so the size of the camera is okay for me. I can see large hands struggling with it though. The ME has an awkward, black plastic mode dial with a crappy little white unlocking button. This came apart on me, but I managed to fix it. I now leave it set on Auto. Needless to say, the camera feels light; light yet solid.

The Pentax ME top plate
The Pentax ME top plate

In Use

In use, the ME is a joy. Its pared back features and aperture priority only approach make for a streamlined picture taking experience. It is basic, but not agricultural like a badly assembled Praktica (not all Prackticas though, as some are excellent).

It is huge; tardisesque in its illusion. How can something this small create such a sense of space?

On the Pentax me viewfinder

There’s no depth-of-field preview button, auto exposure lock, or display of aperture in the viewfinder; but what a viewfinder. Looking through the ME eyepiece I get a similar experience to looking through my Olympus OM-1. It is huge; tardisesque in its illusion. How can something this small create such a sense of space?

Pentax ME

The ME is the perfect SLR for backpacking or long days out in the fells. It doesn’t take up much room in a rucsac and it doesn’t add greatly to the weight either, particularly with a dinky Pentax prime attached. It also feels well made enough to stand a degree of jiggling about in a bag when not in use.

Rear of the Pentax ME
Rear of the Pentax ME

One notable ‘feature’ of this camera is the way in no uncertain terms it lets you know a photograph has been taken. You feel the movement of the mirror strongly when you release the shutter. There isn’t a lot of damping going on! Nevertheless, there’s no evidence of this affecting image sharpness.

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The ME next to the later and slightly larger ME F

Photographs taken with the Pentax ME

Here’s a few taken a while back with the Pentax from a roll of Ilford FP4. I think I used Rodinal to develop the negatives.


FURTHER READING:

Ken Rockwell
Casual Photophile
Instruction manual at Mike Butkus’ site