Our lives are marked by firsts: First love, first car, first marriage, first kid, first heartbreak, and first camera (hopefully, not in that order). For many generations of photographers, that first “real camera” was the Pentax K1000.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp
The Pentax K1000 was not my first camera, but it was my brother’s. Dad bought him one after my brother started taking photography classes in high school. I didn’t get into real picture-taking until I was in college and thus launched into the photography world with the decidedly more modern (but ultimately far less iconic) Nikon N6006.
However, several years (and many “firsts”) later, I stumbled across a Pentax K1000 at an estate sale, in Rhode Island. Knowing I could review the K1000 for B&H (and having always wanted one of my own), I scooped it up immediately. I paired it with a Pentax 50mm lens, which I used for the photos in this review.
The History of Pentax K1000
Because of its incredibly long production run (1976-1997), and the more than three million units sold, the Pentax K1000 has carved out its place in the history of cameras and photography. It was never pressed into service as a “pro camera,” but professional shooters undoubtedly used these over the years. The Pentax K1000 is an incredibly simple and easy-to-use SLR camera—characteristics that made it ideal for students and beginners in photography.
When it comes to SLR cameras, the Pentax K1000 is as simple as you can get. There is no On/Off button or switch. The only controls are to set your shutter speed from 1 sec to 1/1000, dial-in your film ISO/ASA from 20-3200, a lever to wind said film and cock the shutter, and a button to release the shutter. Aperture will be controlled by the attached lens. The TTL light meter is built in and is as simple as simple gets—a pointer moves up and down; a break in the black strip at the right side of the viewfinder shows where the needle should rest for “proper” exposure. Just in case you forgot which way is which, a “+” sign is at the top and a “-“ is at the bottom.
The focusing screen is almost devoid of markings. There is a microprism spot focusing aid in the center (the K1000 SE had a split-image rangefinder and microprism). There are no electronic focusing aids, movable focus indicators, histogram overlays, exposure data, or anything. A tiny LR44 battery powers the light meter, which takes average readings across the viewing field. Because you cannot turn it off, leaving the lens cap off and the Pentax K1000 on a shelf will drain the battery. All other functions of the camera are manual and mechanical, so you can shoot all day and night long without electricity or batteries (if you don’t need the meter).
The first K1000 cameras were made in Japan and feature an all-metal body and the Asahi Pentax branding on the prism (Asahi Optical was the original manufacturer). In 1978, production of the K1000 shifted to Hong Kong. Following the move, many of the K1000’s metal components were replaced with plastic. The Asahi name and logo were removed. In 1990, production moved again—this time to mainland China.
The camera’s bayonet mount accepts all Pentax K-mount lenses—even the brand's latest glass.
Shooting the K1000
If you are looking to simplify your photography, but are trying to avoid disposable point-and-shoot cameras, the Pentax K1000 will give you the purest, simplest photographic SLR experience you could want. If you find the Pentax’s light meter to be a bit too much technology, you can remove the battery or pick up a Nikon F. But, let’s pretend that the light meter is something you want. Even so, with the Pentax K1000, you won’t have to worry about pixel pitch, confusing menus, autofocus modes, or high ISO noise.
Pick up the K1000 and worry about your focus, aperture, shutter speed, and composition. There is really nothing more to it. There are two sides to this coin. In one sense, the K1000 is liberating. You don’t have to worry about what you forgot in the menus, if you charged your batteries, or if you have dust on your sensor. The opposite side of this is that you constantly feel, because you have time-traveled to the olden days, that you have an anxiety feeling that you might have forgotten some piece of technology. Is the meter working? Should have I brought my Sekonic to verify? Should I just pull my DSLR out and check the exposure with that camera? Did I set the ASA correctly? Did I wind the film correctly? Does this roll of Kodak Porta 400 really only have 36 images, or can I get an extra frame or two out of it? What does that photo that I just took look like?
Also, because technology has been sidelined, there is nothing to assist your photography. There are no WYSIWYG electronic viewfinders, no depth-of-field preview, no histograms to verify exposure, and glowing LCD to show you your instantly developed image. I have been doing photography for a relatively long time, and I have shot many rolls of film, but after having spent so much time with the digital crutch, I always have some trepidation when I drop off a roll of film, especially from the innards of a camera like the Pentax K1000. “Did I get any good shots?” “Will I be able to illustrate this article with something other than crapola?” “Was the meter accurate or is everything going to be way off in exposure?” Thanks, digital photography, for making me wonder if my skills (if I have any) are owed solely to the fact that I can check my work right after I take the photo!
Regardless, I was happy with the results and I hope you enjoy the photos, as well. The Pentax K1000 is a fantastic camera that brings you back to (or to) the world where photography and making photographs was a simple pleasure—before megapixels, before blogs, before online arguments about video codex… before all of the noise that the digital photography world dumped on us and that now keeps some of us in front of our computers or staring at lens test targets instead of going out to make pictures.
If you have never shot a roll of film, or, if part of you misses those days, unearth a Pentax K1000 or buy one for $5 at an estate sale and go make 36 pictures. Develop them and hold them in your hand and show your friends. Put one on the fridge with a magnet. This is what photography is all about.
Was the Pentax K1000 your first camera? Share your K1000 story in the Comments section, below!
Gantry Plaza State Park
What a gorgeous spot! Sometimes, when you live in a big city, you get comfortable in the areas with which you are familiar. I know where I want to go to see Manhattan from Brooklyn–it is two blocks from my apartment. Exploring the city is for tourists. I live and work here and have stuff to do!
A freelance photography job took me to Long Island City and I noticed, just behind where I was photographing a waterfront building, there was a beautiful state park with unmatched views of midtown Manhattan across the East River. I abandoned the freelance shoot on three occasions to run to the water and take some photos (please don’t tell my client). I knew that I wanted to return and I figured it would be a great spot for the K1000, and it is less than 10 minutes from B&H Photo via the 7 train that now terminates in Hudson Yards.
The park’s namesakes are restored waterfront gantries that were used to load and unload rail cars onto barges—industrial art that is right in my photographic wheelhouse. The famous gantries are emblazoned with the words “LONG ISLAND.” (Yes, Queens residents, you live on Long Island.) Walking north, the park meanders a bit on the shores of the river and there are ample spaces for spreading out and relaxing on the boardwalk or in grassy fields. The famous neon Pepsi Cola sign lives here, as well.
If you are visiting New York, or a local, and you want to see the sun set behind the spectacular NYC skyline, this place easily ties with Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Promenade for the view. And, by the way, as you can see in these photos taken on a summer weekday, it is way less crowded than the Brooklyn vistas.
For more information: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/149/details.aspx