I follow a lot of amazing film photographers on Instagram and I’m always intrigued to see what cameras they are using. Recently I noticed that the talented Danielle Wrobleski (@girlwithtoomanycameras on Instagram) was using a Pentax K1000. Her photographs with the camera were stunning and they led me to reflect on my less than satisfying relationship with my own Pentax K1000.
I suspect that my own Pentax K1000 story begins like that of many others who have found themselves dipping their toes back into film photography. When I began to research film cameras, I found numerous articles and blog posts which lauded the Pentax K1000 as one of the best beginner cameras. This was around 2015 and prices were out of my budget at that time so I coveted the K1000 from afar. While not the most aesthetically pleasing camera, it does have that quintessential 35mm camera look that I adore with its beautiful chrome and black leather body. Ultimately I ended up with an Olympus OM2 as my first 35mm SLR and the rest as they say, is history. My camera collecting obsession had begun.
Fast forward a few years and a lot of cameras later and I would sometimes find myself looking at listings for the Pentax K1000 to see if there were any bargains to be had. Because of its cult classic status nowadays, the K1000 is very rarely found for a bargain price. I can’t even say why I wanted one so badly. I had quite a few cameras in my collection at this point and had found that medium format was my true love. But something about that beautiful metal body, the simplicity of it’s all mechanical design and the great results that it produces kept me searching for this camera. Eventually I found a K1000 that was within my budget and it was an original Japanese model. Later models of the K1000 produced in Hong Kong and China had a lot of plastic components in comparison to their Japanese predecessors. A quick click of the mouse and then I waited for my Pentax K1000 to arrive.
A brief history
Such was its popularity the Pentax K1000 35mm SLR was produced from 1976 to 1997 enjoying a 21 year production run. Commonly referred to as the ‘student’ camera, it was manufactured by the Asahi Optical Company Limited in Japan with production later moving to Hong Kong and China. The camera is renowned for being a basic but sturdy all mechanical affair. Its design descends from the original Spotmatic series of cameras but has a Pentax K mount instead. It has a through the lens metering system, rubberised silk cloth focal plane shutter with speeds from 1/1000 to 1s, BULB function and an eye level pentaprism viewfinder. Do be aware that the meter is always on through the lens so use a lens cap to stop the battery draining. There are no automatic modes on the camera, it is simplistic and minimalist. But this seems to be the key to the longevity of the K1000 and why it is so often recommended for beginners. It is a camera that forces you to focus on the actual act of photography. There are no bells and whistles to distract you.
My Pentax K1000 and I
When my Pentax K1000 arrived it was in great condition, the body was clean with only minor wear marks on the bottom plate. I know it is a Japanese model as it has the full Asahi Pentax name and AOCo logo on the pentaprism. In later models produced in Hong Kong and China you will see that the Asahi name and logo are removed. The K1000 feels solid in the hand and definitely isn’t the lightest camera in my collection. My camera came with the SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2 to f/22 lens with a metal lens barrel. Shutter speed and ASA (ISO) are set using the dial on the right of the top plate of the camera while the film exposure counter is located on top of the film advance lever. The shutter release button and cocked shutter indicator are also located on the right of the top plate. The rewind lever is located on the left of the top plate. The film rewind button, the battery chamber and tripod mount are located on the bottom plate of the camera. Aside from this, the camera is extremely minimalist in design.
I had a look through the manual for the K1000 and proceeded to load it with film. Once I had shot through my 36 frames, I developed the film and waited excitedly to see the results. But this is where my frustrations with the K1000 began. Upon removing the roll from the developing tank, I was dismayed to discover that there was only one photograph on the entire roll. What had gone wrong?
The camera appeared to be functioning fine, the shutter was firing and the film was winding on. Or so I had thought. It seems that loading film into the K1000 can be slightly tricky as the film is prone to slipping out of the take up spool. It would appear that this is what happened to me on my first roll. So even though it felt as if the film were advancing, it actually wasn’t. So my one image appeared on the only bit of film that was in front of the shutter. A hard lesson was learned. Always ensure that the film is securely in the take up spool and advance the film a few times so that you know it has caught. After this frustrating first run, it was a while before I took the K1000 out again. But I did eventually give it another go. This time I was careful to ensure the film was correctly loaded and set out (again) to see what my K1000 could do.
The only image from my first roll through the Pentax K1000
All was going well, the film was definitely advancing and it was really freeing to use a camera that had so few distractions. It really did allow you to compose your shot and not worry about much else. I was shooting away until disaster struck. Suddenly the mirror was getting stuck in the up position leaving me with a black viewfinder and unable to see anything. I would manage to get it back down by advancing the film for another exposure and then it would happen again. It was a very cold day with a bitter wind and I wondered at the time if that is what began to affect the camera and caused the mirror to freeze in the up position. I think that good CLA may also be needed. Frustrated again and freezing cold myself, I called it a day and decided to just develop what I had already shot that day. This time I at least had some usable images on the roll.
Third time lucky?
I was happy to see some examples of what the K1000 can do and I did enjoy using it while it was functioning. I liked that it had so few features to distract me and a simple effective metering system with match needle in the viewfinder. It allowed me to just think about the image that I wanted to compose and I spent less time fussing with it than I would with my TLR’s. In spite of that, my hiccups with the camera have led to it languishing on my shelf. I just haven’t felt drawn to picking it up again for fear of further issues. However, seeing the results that can be achieved with the K1000 has inspired me to give my own another chance. When using vintage cameras, it is to be expected that issues can crop up and sometimes they do not always function as we would like. I have been spoiled by having great success with the majority of my camera collection and have forgotten that it is sometimes the mishaps which teach us the most. I hope that my experience to date with my K1000 will lend itself to a better understanding of the camera and its quirks. Here’s to third time lucky for my K1000 and I.