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Pentax ME
35mm Electronic SLR (1976-1979)
© 2014-2008 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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Pentax ME

Pentax ME with SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. enlarge. I'd get mine at these direct links to it at Adorama or at eBay. It helps me keep adding this old stuff to this site when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

June 2014       More Pentax Reviews   Pentax Lenses   All Reviews

NEW: Pentax ME Super.


Introduction    top

Specs   Performance

Usage   Recommendations

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The Pentax ME is a classic late 1970's basic 35mm film SLR.

It has aperture-preferred automatic electronic exposure control. The only manual settings are 1/100 and Bulb. It runs on two common A76 cells. You focus and pick the aperture, and the Pentax ME picks the shutter speed automatically.

It works great. I shot a 36-expsoure roll of Fuji Velvia in an hour and had a blast. I got back 39 perfectly exposed transparencies.

The finder has a line of LED dots that light next to the corresponding shutter speeds. They read OVER and UNDER, and 1/1,000 to 8 seconds. The ME is perfectly happy exposing for much longer than its rated 8 seconds if you're shooting at night.

The Pentax ME was a direct competitor to the Nikon EM. Even the model names are the same, spelled backwards.

The Pentax ME is a very small SLR, smaller than even the eternal K1000, but it has a huge viewfinder. The finder of the Pentax ME is bigger than the finder any Nikon SLR, ever.

Pentax ME and K1000

Pentax ME and Pentax K1000. enlarge.

The Pentax ME is a much simpler version of the popular Pentax ME Super, not reviewed here.


What's Missing

The ME is a very basic camera. It has most of what you need, except it has:

No depth-of-field preview button. No display of aperture in finder.

No AE Lock (use the exposure compensation dial instead, or look at the meter and use the manual 1/100 setting).

Unlike premium cameras which use all sorts of dynamic dampers and counterbalances, the ME transmits mirror slap to the body. So what: I got sharp shots hand-held at 1/15 with a 50mm lens and at 1/8 second with a 28mm lens.


What's Nice

Huge finder.

I get 39 exposures per 36-exposure roll; I shoot frame 0 through 38.

Shutter-ready indicator (red dot on top of camera below mode dial, turns black after being fired and red when ready to fire).

Takes a standard cable release.

Hot shoe and PC sync terminal.

Exposure compensation may be set to any intermediate value.


Specifications with commentary  back to top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Lens Mount

Pentax K.



Silver-coated glass pentaprism. 92% coverage, 0.97x magnification (with 50mm lens), -0.5 diopter.

Most other SLRs only offer 0.72x magnification.


Film Wind

Single-stroke thumb lever. Optional 1.5 FPS external winder.



Type: Electronic Seiko vertical metal focal plane.

Cocked Indicator: Yes, red or black dot just below mode switch.

Shutter Speeds: 1/1,000 ~ 8 seconds on AUTO (actually runs much longer if needed at night), Bulb, 1/100 mechanical X-sync.

Sync Speed: 1/100.

Self Timer: Variable 4~10 second delay.


Exposure Meter

Type: TTL Gallium photo diode.

Pattern: Center-weighted.

ISO: 12 - 1,600.


Power and Mechanical

Battery: Two standard A76, S76, LR44, G13 or etc. cells.

Battery Life: Rated 1 year or 10,000 shots (250 rolls). In practice, batteries usually last for years.

Size: 5.16 x 3.25 x 1.95" (131 x 82.5 x 49.5mm), rated.

Weight: 16-¼ ounces, (460g), rated.


Standard Lenses (sold along with the Pentax ME)

SMC Pentax 50mm f/1.2

SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.4

SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7

SMC Pentax-M 40mm f/2.8


Performance  back to top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations


It feels good in hand. It's much smaller and more solid than digital camera users would presume.

The frame counter is easy to read, with bold, clear white numbers. 0, 20 and 36 are in bright orange, and all even numbers are listed. Dots mark the odd frame numbers.

Lenses doesn't feel as smooth mounting and unmounting as does the Nikon system.



The finder is classic 1970s. It's got a split-image in the center, a microprism surround, and ground-glass for the rest of the frame.

The finder of the Pentax ME is HUGE. It's much bigger than the finder any modern SLR.

The finder of the Pentax ME is much bigger than the finder of the Nikon D3X, the Nikon F6, or any Nikon SLR ever made. It's certainly bigger than any of the crummy finders in wimpy DX cameras like the D2Xs or D90.

The finder of the Pentax ME is much bigger than the finder of the Canon 5D Mark II.

Unlike modern SLRs, the ground glass of the Pentax ME is optimized to get the most out of fast prime lenses. You'll actually see the difference in depth-of-field with an f/1.4 lens, which you can't with a modern finder.

Used with slow zooms (f/4 ~ 5.6) the finder is much dimmer than modern cameras, but used with the fast lenses typical of its day, it shows much more than the finders of today's cameras. I kid you not: modern DSLRs don't show you how little depth of field you're getting with lenses of f/2 and faster.


Exposure Accuracy

Perfect! I got 39 good exposures on a 36-exposure roll. Just try that on digital!

You need to use the exposure compensation dial, which is easy. See The Zone System.


Slow Speeds

I got great results hand-holding at 1/15 with a 50mm lens and at 1/8 with a 28mm lens.

The 8 second slow shutter rating is just for starters. If its dark enough, the Pentax ME will expose much longer, even if the UNDER light is lit.



I get 39 frames on a 36-exposure roll. I shoot frame 0.


Usage  back to top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Top, Pentax ME

Top, Pentax ME. enlarge.


The ME is easy to use. There are no surprises; it just goes.

The shutter release doesn't lock when the wind crank is pushed in. To lock the shutter release against accidental firing, turn the selector to L (lock).

Bottom, Pentax ME

Bottom, Pentax ME. enlarge. From left to right: motor drive coupler, cap, rewind button, tripod socket, battery cover, and gold motor drive electronic contacts.


Battery Check

The viewfinder LEDs should stay on for a while when you tap the shutter and the film advance lever is pulled out.

If they turn off immediately when you take your finger off the shutter with the lever out, the batteries are low.



Easy: pull up the crank to open the back. Drop in the film and stick the leader in between any of weird white slats on the take-up spool.

Close the back, waste a frame or two, and you're good. With the cap on in AUTO, the ME will try to make very long exposures. Set it to 1/100 (100X) and you won't be delayed.

Frame 00 will be half-fogged from daylight, but you can shoot frame 0. Unlike newer cameras, there is no lock-out of the early frames.

There is a little window with orange lines on the back under the film wind lever. These lines dance as you wind the film. No big deal, I always look at the rewind crank to be sure it turns as I advance the film. If neither of these move as you wind the lever, that means you goofed and the film isn't advancing. Open the camera and try again.


ASA Film Speed Setting

Set this manually. It won't read DX codes automatically.



To turn the selector dial, press the white unlock button and turn.

Select AUTO.

Pick an aperture, see the shutter speed in the finder, focus, compose, press the shutter, and wind the film for your next great shot.

100X, or the mechanical 1/100 shutter speed, is for flash.

The L (lock) setting is to keep from firing the ME by accident when it's in a case.

The frame counter counts up to 36. It stays at 36 for frames 37 and 38.



There is no AE lock. If you need it, look at the meter, and use the manual 1/100 speed.

Trick: you may set the exposure compensation dial to any intermediate position. If you need more than ±2 stops, change the ISO setting.


Self Timer

Flip the lever down. Flip it less for less time and more for more.

The self timer is a little weird. You start it by pushing it up. Pressing the shutter fires the shutter; it doesn't start the timer like on most cameras.

If you want to cancel the self timer, start it (lift it up) while the shutter isn't cocked. You can tell if the shutter isn't cocked: the little dot on the top of the Pentax ME, just below the mode dial, will be black.


Film Rewind

Press the button on the bottom of the ME and wind the crank.

Rear, Pentax ME

Rear, Pentax ME. enlarge.


Recommendations   back to top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

I wouldn't go out of my way to find this model, mostly because I like having an auto exposure lock, but If I got stuck on a tropical island with no other camera, I'd make great photos with the Pentax ME.

I got great shots when I used the ME; heck, I could use nothing but this Pentax ME for the rest of my work and no one would ever notice.

If you're buying a camera and have a choice, the newer Pentax ME Super (1979-1986) adds a manual mode and a few other features, for the same price used.



Many thanks to Keith Anderson, who sent this to my Retirement Ranch for immortalization.


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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December 2008