Featured User Collectible Camera: The Pentax K1000

In production for over two decades, it's still the SLR students love to learn on

If 35mm SLRs were cars, the Pentax K1000 would be a Volkswagen Beetle--a simple, practical, economical, lovable classic--unpretentious but with its own distinctive character.

Indeed, this long-lived, totally manual model still has enough cachet that Pentax just named its latest digital SLR with built-in anti-shake reduction the Pentax K100D, a clear attempt to associate this new flagship consumer DSLR with the K1000 legend.

Even the styling of the K100D, while smoother and less angular, echoes the unadorned simplicity of the K1000, a camera that, incredibly, was in production virtually unchanged for 21 years, from 1976 to 1997! And of course both the K1000 and the K100D accept Pentax K-mount lenses.

A classic case of "less is more"

For a landmark camera, the K1000's features seem pretty pedestrian by current standards: K-type bayonet mount, match-needle TTL, center-weighted metering at full aperture via two CdS cells at the sides of the fixed pentaprism, a horizontal cloth focal-plane shutter with speeds of 1-1/1000 sec plus B, MX and X-sync at 1/60 sec, and a manual single-stroke film-wind lever.

Focusing aids include a central microprism surrounded by a groundglass collar and full-focusing screen. Only the vertically arrayed match-needle meter index to the right of the screen is visible in the finder no f/stops or shutter speeds as in more advanced models (e.g. the Pentax KX of 1975), no depth-of-field preview, and no motor drive compatibility.

Where the K1000 fits in

Basically the K1000 was the entry-level model in the brace of second-generation Asahi Pentax K-mount SLRs that included the hefty auto-exposure K2 DMD. Although released shortly thereafter, the compact MX and ultra-compact auto-exposure ME of 1977 really represent the third Pentax K-mount generation.

In terms of Pentax genealogy, the K1000 can be viewed either as a Pentax KM sans depth-of-field preview and self-timer, or as a Spotmatic F with bayonet mount. The "1000" in K1000 refers to the top shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, and differentiates it from the previous bottom-of-the-line Spotmatic 500, which topped out at 1/500 sec, It is significant that the K1000 was the only K-series model to survive the M-series transition.

A camera that sold itself--and defied the odds

Remarkably, the K1000 succeeded and endured despite a virtual absence of advertising on the part of Pentax a Cinderella camera if ever there was one.

While lacking the glitz, glamour, high tech features, and marketing push of its higher-priced Pentax siblings, the bare bones K1000 just continued to sell steadily, despite repeated reports of its demise.

Attractive in a Spartan way, the mid-size K1000 defied all odds by continuing to flourish in the wake of ultra-compact 35mm SLRs spurred by the Olympus OM-1, past the age of multi-mode auto-exposure SLRs exemplified by the Canon A-1, and well into the auto-focus era. It was a camera Pentax could simply not stop making, even though the company may have wanted to, because it continued to fill a profitable marketing niche.

Traditionalists and cheapskates who didn't want "all that stuff" adored the K1000, photography instructors it and recommended it to their students, who bought it in droves. To Pentax fans, it embodied the essence of the Pentax philosophy of sound basic engineering, high quality, total reliability and classic design.

The K1000 in perspective

Is the K1000 perfect? Hardly its meter needle tends to be sluggish, its shutter release is not a paragon of buttery smoothness, and its shutter is fairly loud. And while the fit and finish of its body parts is quite good, it is not built to the same standards as, say a Nikon F or a Pentax LX, and it is not designed to withstand the rigors of professional use.

In short it is a good basic camera whose very lack of features has turned it into a kind of cult classic and one that holds its value remarkably well. Part of the K1000's appeal, and its picture-taking prowess, are the result of the truly fine performance of Pentax lenses, which have always compared favorably to their more illustrious competitors, both Japanese and German.

Which K1000 for you? (Yes, there's more than one!)

As Pentax aficionados are well aware, after about 15 years of being manufactured in Japan, production of the venerable K1000 was transferred to Hong Kong, and then to mainland China in order to lower production costs for this economy-priced, mechanically based model. The Made In Japan K1000s are (except for wind-lever tips and the like) all metal, and bear the distinctive "AOCo" Asahi Optical Company logo and the Asashi Pentax name on the front of the pentaprism housing. These identifying marks are absent on the Hong Kong and China models, which are simply labeled "Pentax" and "K1000."

The Chinese and late-production Hong Kong models also have a chromed plastic top cover and bottom plate, which doesn't affect durability, but they also have a pot metal (rather than a machined alloy) wind-lever base that can bend, causing the wind lever to scrape the top cover. In addition the Chinese version has a plastic rewind knob and shaft, which can break under heavy use. While the overall performance differences and prices for Japanese, Hong Kong, and Chinese K1000s are relatively minor, collectors prefer the original Made In Japan models. As for lenses, the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax fitted to the original K1000 is very good indeed, but the 50mm f/1.7 and 50mm f/1.4 lenses often found on later models are at least its equal in performance.

Adorama's price for a Pentax K1000 in Excellent + condition with 50mm f/1.7 is $250 (the price you'd pay for used late-model 35mm SLRs with much more advanced features!), but that drops to $170 for a model in Excellent condition. Note: Neither Adorama or any other store lists Pentax K1000s by country of origin, so if you insist on the Made In Japan version you'd better specify this. Whichever Pentax K1000 you wind up with, shooting with it will make you smile because this is one no-frills camera with all the right stuff.

© Adorama

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