Pentax K1000

Pentax K1000

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One of the small minority of cameras I didn’t purchase online, I got this one several years ago at the monthly photo swap in SF’s SOMA district (sponsored by the aforementioned Photo Supply). It was to be part of a two-body outfit with my old friend the P30t, but in reality I’ve never taken them both anywhere at the same time, just alternated their use.

Long known as the classic student camera, the venerable K1000 is a world-class manual SLR that is worth now as much as it ever was and takes marvelous pictures. When I say manual I mean it, manual everything. What a great camera this is, to learn on, to use. I’d say more about it but is there anyone who isn’t already familiar with it? C’mon, you learned on one too, right? Sadly Pentax stopped making them years ago, supposedly to be replaced by the ‘entry-level’ ZX-M, more of a successor to the P30t than the K1000. You can still find them in plenty on ebay, though, and if they’re in good shape they’re holding their value well right along with those old SLR Konicas, Canons and Nikons. Solid? Dependable? It’s been my go-to camera for documenting the births of two of my children, if that tells you anything.

The K series evolved from the classic Spotmatic, in fact the K1000 itself is essentially a Spotmatic with a bayonet mount. I read this somewhere and thought, OK, many cameras can trace their lineage back through cameras that came before them. But I acquired a nice blue-black velvet-lined leather Spotmatic case with an Argus C4 inside and, well, the case fits the K1000 like a glove. So there ya go. There were more full-featured K-series Pentaxes before the K1000 (for instance the popular but hard-to-find KX with aperture preview and mirror lockup), but perhaps more features means more failures? At any rate, the scaled-down but dependable K1000 outlasted its higher-end counterparts until it was finally discontinued in 1997.

I didn’t show the standard lens because you can see it on the next page, and the Vivitar is to illustrate that there are a wide variety of K-mount lenses available, not just from Pentax but from Vivitar, Ricoh, KMZ-Zenit, Cosina, and many others. However, the Pentax SMC-A 2:50 is one of the best lenses I’ve ever used. I had a 16″x20″ poster print made of a handheld shot of grapes on color print film without any loss of clarity. It’s outstanding and has excellent color correction (SMC stands for Super Multi-Coated, a coating system jointly developed with Zeiss that is called T* on Zeiss lenses).

Speaking of lenses, the Pentax K-mount in its various forms is one of the most versatile in history – with only a couple of exceptions, any K-mount body will accept any K-mount lens, and will use any features in common to both lens and body. Here’s a table on how this compatiblity works, courtesy of Bojidar Dimitriov’s K-mount Equipment Page. Example: I recently brought the K1000 to the camera store and fitted it with a brand new Pentax 80-300 autofocus FA lens. No auto modes since the K1000 doesn’t have any but the lens fit like a glove! The P30t would have gained auto-aperture modes. (No, I didn’t actually buy the lens…!)

May I just add that I think the K1000 is the perfect size for an SLR, at least for my hands. It’s balanced well enough that it’s not front-heavy, and there’s just enough width to comfortably and securely grip the camera without it feeling either too bulky or too small. By contrast, the Yashica TL Super (which I love) is just slightly longer and feels a little big while the Zenit 12CD is just smaller and heavier enough to feel comparatively unbalanced and I’ve almost dropped it a couple of times for lack of area to hold it properly.


At one point I noticed the mirror wasn’t flipping down. This was basically when I had pulled out the camera to document the birth of our second child and I wasn’t sure if I was even getting the pictures – was it a shutter problem? A mirror problem? I didn’t really have time to think about it, just shoot and hope. Turns out the foam cushion for the mirror was gummy with age and at slow speeds would stick to the mirror, preventing it from flipping back into place. I figured this out by asking advice on the now defunct AceCamera forum (and receiving it from none other than Rick Oleson). I scraped the foam out as advised, and haven’t had the trouble since. Now that I’ve some repair experience under my belt I went back and glued in some felt from a film canister and it’s like new (maybe better?).

Tips & Tricks

Something to remember: there’s no ‘on’ switch for the meter, it just reads whatever’s in front of the lens, so make sure you LEAVE THE LENS CAP ON when you’re not using the camera. Otherwise it will happily meter the wall till the battery dies…

It doesn’t bother me with my other classics but because this was my second ‘real’ camera after the P30t I was struck by the ‘dilemma’ of not having a film window to see if and what type of film was inside. For $1 or so you can get a stick-on holder for a film box back to go on the film door. I’m not recommending it, just throwing that out there. I think it looks a bit amateur. I’ve since gotten into the habit of setting the film speed immediately even if I don’t have a battery in for the meter, and if I’m not sure if a camera has film I spin the wind knob clockwise a few turns to see if there’s any resistance.

Invest in a K-mount to screw-mount or T-mount adapter to take advantage of the many nice used lenses available. Screw mount (M42) will get you your nice Takumar lenses from your old Spotmatic Pentaxes, also vintage Yashinon (Yashica), Meyer-Optik (Praktica), etc.; T-mount is more of a universal standard mount that then uses adapters for the various other mount systems (Minolta, Canon, etc.). I got a K-mount to PSM (Pentax Screw Mount) adapter so I can use my various M42 lenses if I so choose. Expect to pay $15-25 US for such an adapter.

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