Some of Joseph's personal Pentax ensemble, still in sporadic
Nikon User In Praise of
Whether film or digital, Pentax has long been a class act ... one that
has had a profound influence on all of comtemporary photography
no matter what camera you shoot with ...
I love independent thinkers. The ones who, in the grammatically-incorrect
promotional urging of Apple Computer, 'Think Different'. But before Apple
became The New Chic, those who adopted the deviant mindset were dismissed
as second-class outcasts of misguided non-conformity. Behavioral lepers among
the obedient. The morally corrupt Scarlet Letter soiling the space more
rightfully occupied by the Man of Letters.
And so it would be, regarding cameras. The Leica camera, magnificent as it
was (and remains), found its home principally among the rich who shuttled
through Europe with a tour bus window as their principle viewfinder. When
the bus stopped, out came the Leica. They stood firmly at the painted safety
rail, as all tour-stop Points of Interest curiously seemed to have them.
Click. The world traveler returned with magnificently sharp images of Holland,
but still, the most decisive image that Leica conjured was that of a task-free,
investment portfolio retiree wearing a felt hat, adorned with a feather.
But it would be Nikon -- and later, Canon, as well that grabbed the
headliner attention. These were the cameras used by professionals. And any
other choice was regarded even among the commoners as less
serious in tone and gestalt. Quaint, even. Yes, the peasant-like
Lilliputians, with their point-and-shoots, saw the likes of, say, Minolta
as a good camera. But, come on, they weren't Nikons, as told.
And further, most Minoltas were referred to as my dad's
Minolta. You know ... my thrifty dad. The one who wouldn't spring
for the Nikon and additionally swore by the Craftsman tools he bought at
Sears. But the otherwise cheap bastard dutifully spent the extra ten bucks
to get the protective 'UV' filter recommended by the salesman at the camera
store. Yes, the kind of dad who kept the user manual and in damn good
condition, too. Damn good. It was the obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive
twin to meticulously preserving the Passed inspection sticker
in all of its original, golden oval glory.
But your dad never knew that the Minolta SRT-101 was the principle camera
of choice for that nasty, gallery-featured purveyor of depravity,
David Hamilton, who photographed soft-focus images of barely pubescent Lolitas,
salaciously absorbed in the self-discovery of their pre-nubile, naked little
bodies. And as yet another example of ... lurid perversion,
Hamilton just used the standard 50mm lens that came with the Minolta camera,
straight out of the box, making him the most twisted little
shit of all ... Men of breeding used a Nikon and an array of lenses for more
dignified endeavors of vision, such as Hustler magazine spreads and 'The
Best of Cum', Volumes 1 through 48. But enough about me ...
Among the second-class citizens of photographic elitism, few cameras
along with their owners have been so undeservingly relegated to the
'Coach Section' like Pentax. As a line of cameras originated by the Asahi
Optical Company of Japan, the Pentax cameras in a number of incarnations
have sold in the millions. Indeed, for a long duration of their history,
they out-sold Nikon and Canon, combined just not so much to the
professional photo journalism market. And, with this, was an erroneous
implication that while the finer Pentax cameras were, perhaps, capable of
professional results, they were somehow not up to professional standards
however that may be considered or defined.
Never mind that Pentax has been the marque found on some of the most
professionally-based photographic equipment in the form of exceptional medium
format cameras (though, again, eclipsed by the reputation of the far more
use-awkward Hasselblads and Rolleis), with no such offerings from the likes
of Nikon or Canon. Or that Pentax also produced one of the reference standards
of dedicated light meters along with Minolta. But as it related to
35mm roll-film cameras and now, in the digital format, Pentax has
still been often regarded by many as 'second string' offerings for
advanced amateur or enthusiast use. And an 'enthusiast',
after all, is just one step up from the mere hobbyist. Lounge singers among
the rock stars.
In truth, Nikon and Canon along with Leica took many of their
design and engineering cues from the parent company of Pentax, Asahi Optical.
These would include the rapid-return mirror, the flip-up lever rewind crank
(previously a knurled knob), the film advance lever (again, previously just
a knob), internal light metering, multi-coated lenses, and the first mass
production of an auto-focus, 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera (albeit with
one, dedicated lens that required its own batteries). Indeed, the very layout
of SLR film cameras of all makes was defined by Asahi Optical.
Point of fact, outside of Leica (a.k.a. Leitz) introducing the 35mm still-frame
format in 1925, no other camera maker influenced 35mm photography more.
Meanwhile, Nikon and Canon owners have long been fighting a pointless war
of who possesses the best camera. This battle isn't much fought by working
pros and artists, but rather by testosterone-driven males who apply a Muscle
Car mentality to a simple paint brush and canvas. The good news for the Pentax
owner is that they never had to engage in this silly warfare. Their cameras
are immune to the battle by virtue of being summarily dismissed by the
hyper-Alphas as girlie cameras. And, in some sense, perhaps they are ...
as Pentax has long produced some of the sexiest cameras known to man
(and, presumably, bisexual women).
While still very much a kid, I made the switch from Pentax to a Nikon F2.
And having used most every professional-grade Nikon made since, I came to
realize that my favorite Nikon of all was the trimmed-back and less expensive
Nikon FM -- along with the electronic 'FE' camera housed in the same form
factor. And why, you may ask? Simply because the original 'FM/FE'
series was the closest Nikon ever came to replicating the handling and feel
of ... a Pentax Spotmatic.
While Pentax really began to hit its digital stride with the introduction
of their exceptionally fine K10 cameras and others that would follow,
those long-familiar with Pentax become teary-eyed with the very mention of
the film-based, screw-mount Spotmatic, commercially introduced in 1964 and,
in truth, living on in the same basic chassis and form factor under
other model designations for 33 years, inclusive of the bayonet-mount
inceptions of the 'KM' and 'KX' cameras to, yes, the student-grade
'K1000'. This design longevity speaks to just how 'right' the camera was
to begin with. A camera still in wide use to this day. Websites, Blogs, and
User Groups remain dedicated to it. Devoted to it.
This pristine, 1972 sample of the classic Pentax
Spotmatic II was aquired for all of $60, inclusive of the attached 50mm,
f1.4 Takumar lens.
While of the 'screw-mount days', a couple hundred
of dollars can buy a versatile setup with additional lenses.
Still one of the best damn basic mechanical designs
in film cameras ... ever.
The original lenses for the Spotmatic cameras the Takumars
were, and remain, world-class. Their manual-focus, 50mm f/1.4 design is widely
regarded as one of the finest normal lenses made ever, by anyone.
Yes, even today. Additionally, the very feel of its focusing movement rivals
anything made by Leica. The Takumar 85mm lens is also legendary as the best
in its focal-length class. And as a general lens line an extensive
one, the Takumars were simply top-flight, for the most part. They could
and can be used without apology, and without feeling even slightly
diminished by the presence of Nikon or Canon lenses. In fact, there are users
of these two 'professional camera' makers who have adapted some of the old,
Takumar screw-mounts to their most modern and expensive digital cameras
in many instances offering higher resolution than their digital sensors are
actually capable of rendering.
It should be noted, in a related aside, that the 'Takumar' name, as it pertained
to the later, bayonet-mount optics would ultimately be reserved for the 'budget
lenses' from Asahi Optical - though often farmed-out by Asahi for others
to produce - while the newer 'SMC Pentax' lenses represented the in-house
quality Asahi Optical was always known for. That is, the bayonet-mount 'Pentax
SMC' lenses are more the optical and construction equivalent of the older
screw-mount 'Takumars'. How the world has changed. The very notion of 'budget
line' lenses and farmed-out production would have been conceptually inconceivable
for Asahi, years back.
But it was, perhaps, Pentax's original screw-mount lenses more than
anything else, such as interchangeable finders and screens that kept
Pentax pretty much out of the professional market, particularly as it related
to photojournalism where the faster interchange of bayonet-mount lenses was
seemingly required. This, despite the fact that, back in 'the day',
Photojournalists typically swapped out entire camera bodies flung
about necks and shoulders -- already 'loaded' with pre-determined optics,
rather than taking the seconds involved to actually change lenses in the
first place. And rapid sequence, motor-driven Pentax cameras were, indeed,
available. But there was something of a gap in the availability of fast lenses
at some popular focal lengths, alas. Most of the Takumar wide lenses, for
example, opened up to a maxed-out f/3.5, outside of the 35mm focal length
optics that were available in 2.0s. Virtually all of them were and
remain excellent lenses. They just weren't the large aperture,
'light-suckers' that Nikon had already begun to offer. For the
illustrator or artist, it probably didn't matter. For the
photojournalists, it did.
Further, it was also thought that professional Nikons were of a sturdier
build. But with countless Pentax cameras still clicking away more than 40
years later, one may be urged to reassess. After all, at the end of the day,
a fall down a rock-laden mountain just isn't good for any camera --
or photographer, for that matter. But certainly the shutter life-cycle of
the classic Pentax meets anything ever built by Nikon, it seems.
Alas, as Pentax switched to bayonet-mount cameras (while also designing some
faster lenses) and ultimately delivered a hyper-modular professional
camera in the form of the 'LX' model, Nikon and, increasingly,
Canon had become firmly entrenched in the pro market. Canon, in fact,
had made previously inconceivable inroads in a professional arena formerly
dominated almost entirely by Nikon. For Pentax, not so much. A shame.
But for those who have made Pentax their choice of 'capture' (the new and
annoyingly trendy term), whether film or digital -- if by conscious decision
or 'dumb luck', they have several reasons to be proud. And longtime Pentax
adopters can also enjoy a remarkable compatibility between the older,
manual-focus, film-era lenses and the more recent Pentax digital camera
So while Nikon and Canon may grab the daily Photo-Press headlines, Pentax
... wrote the history.