Pentax Spotmatic


I first got my hands on the Pentax Spotmatic (SP) about the time I was in fifth grade (ca. 1971 or so) when my dad allowed me to walk around with it in a Boy Scout camp. My first impression about it was that it was sleeker and slimmer than the Minolta SRT-101. I do not recall when my dad actually got it but it was lurking in his closet for some time. He must have acquired it later than the Minolta although I would learn later that it actually predates that by a year (1964; the SRT-101 came out 1965).

What I would discover with the Pentax was depth of field (DOF) because of the way it meters; it had the original stop-down metering that closed down the aperture whenever you turned on the light meter. That was something I never saw with the Minolta which metered wide open (although I would later learn that the SRT-101 had a DOF preview button—but in 1971 that was taken for granted). I read the manuals so I theoretically knew about DOF and aperture, but there was nothing compared to actually seeing it every time a photo had to be taken. Since I learned enough by now to know that the shutter speed can be moved away from 1/60, I was daring with exposures which required a deep DOF. My slow shutter speed also moved down to 1/30 hand held (which I would learn was the threshold for hand held shots without a tripod; my earlier 1/60 limit with the SRT-101 was because it was heavy and I was quite unsteady with it).

The simple center weighted metering was a step backwards from the Minolta’s CLC meter. My simple photos became underexposed as I kept taking photos which are backlit. My initial solution was to take photos with the Pentax with sidelighting. Photos of my friends in high school tend to be taken near a window which provided the light. The Takumar 50/1.4 handily met that condition. Along with the 28/3.5 and the 135/3.5, the creative possibilities expanded. I was soon taking sports photos in school events. These Takumars were the pre-SMC versions which happily or irritatingly flared (depending on my mood) but I began to use the flare creatively as I learned to live with them.

I began developing my own black and white film just before the senior year, buying trays, tongs, D-76, Dektol, and later, a Vivitar enlarger which would stay around for the next 10 years or so. Most of that was learned through self-study (sneaking a look at the art section of Alemar’s since I was too cheap to buy the book or magazine). I would get my technique right in time for shooting class photos (after fouling up on a couple of events prior…).

The meter of the SP was somehow slower than the SRT-101’s. The needle took its time to swing up or down as the light changes while the Minolta’s responded at the speed of light (well…it felt that way). The reverse problem with the stop down metering was trying to focus in dimly lighted condition. The workflow I grew used to (match the needle-focus-shoot) was reversed to accommodate to dim viewfinder of the stopped down SP (focus-center the needle-shoot).

This was 1976 and Pentax released the new K-series the year before and that got my attention. The K-series were touted to have the same sleek build as I have known the SP to have (remember I judged the SP in comparison the SRT-101’s size) plus automation with the K2. So as high school graduation drew nearer, I began sounding off my dad the possibility of acquiring what would be my very own camera. I had my eye on one of the K-series: the K2 was the best with automation but the KX or even the KM were definite upgrades for the SP I was using.

The die was cast: I was to receive a new camera before the year was over (1977) and I was to pass on the SP to my younger brother (the Datematic was passed on to my older sister). In the middle of 1977, the SP was passed on as the camera where the basics of photography was learned as I maxed out all its features. I was now ready for my own camera.