Accept no copy, the one the only, the iconic camera that started out life as the bargain model that featured the new K-Mount (Introduced in 1975), but has since gained greater popularity, and the camera you most likely used in your High School Photography Course, is the Pentax K1000. This all mechanical marvel is the essential student camera and general beater that can be used pretty much anywhere in the world today! The wide range of top quality lenses and ease of use saw it named the Film Photography Project’s Camera of the Year for 2014 and after having several passes in and out of my collection, I finally have one that is going to stay right where it is. This all mechanical beast is probably the best-known camera, and with well over three million units sold one of the most prolific cameras out there.
Type: 35mm Single Lens Reflex
Lens: Interchangeable, Pentax K-Mount, Manual
Shutter: Rubberized Silk Horizontal Travel Focal Plane Shutter, 1″ – 1/1000″ + Bulb
Meter: 2x CdS Cells, Full Frame Averaging TTL, EV3 ~ EV18 @ ASA-100, ASA-20 – ASA-3200
Year of Manufacture: 1979-1997
To understand the Pentax K1000 you need to understand that the K1000 is actually a refresh on the Pentax Spotmatic F. The Spotmatics put Pentax’s name on the map and in 1975 they released a new lens mount, the K-Mount. Getting away from the old M42 thread mount, the K-Mount is a bayonet-style which many major camera manufacturers had been using such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Minolta. The original three K cameras were the K2, KM, and KX. The K1000 would see release a year later in 1976 and was basically a stripped-down version of the KM or an upgrade of the Spotmatic F depending on which way you look. The K1000 would be marketed to the student or budget-minded market, where the size of the camera didn’t matter as much. The K1000 remember was released at the same time as the smaller Pentax ME. Yet for a budget camera, the K1000 featured a top shutter speed of 1/1000″ and a TTL CdS meter cell with match-needle functionality, but that was about all the camera offered. There would be a SE variant which had a different focusing screen from the regular K1000 and different leatherette. Production of the K1000 ceased in 1997 after it became a difficulty to acquire the parts needed, the trouble point being the microgalvanometers that helped drive the metering function.
When it comes to cameras there are several that are as basic as they come, the K1000 is among those numbers. If you have used a Spotmatic you can use a K1000, if you’ve used a K1000 then you can use a Spotmatic. Aside from some cosmetic and form factor changes, there is little difference between them. Every function on this camera is clearly laid out, and there aren’t that many, from the shutter speed dial (which also allows you to set the film speed) the shutter release and the film advance. And while the viewfinder isn’t the brightest out there, the match needle is fairly simple to use and clearly seen in the side. And while not as small as the ME line, it remains a small camera perfect for anything you throw at the machine.
When it comes to the K1000 you won’t get a more basic experience unless you go to a Russian Zenit SLR. Now don’t get me wrong, I say basic as a compliment here. There’s nothing to distract you with the K1000, in the hand, it feels good, not too light and not too heavy either. I could probably run with this thing all day and not be worn out by the end of it, which is saying something. The controls are within easy reach and the film advance is not too long of a stroke. With practice, you can be fairly quick on the fly with the K1000. The shutter button stands out so you don’t need to hunt for the button and the sound and feel is satisfying. Loading film is simple as is changing out lenses. While the viewfinder isn’t too bright I still find it easy to work with and focus. The only feedback I get is just the match needle display, there are no windows for aperture or shutter speed, which isn’t a deal-breaker but having those settings displayed would be a nice touch. And finally there’s the matter of power, the K1000 has no on/off switch, the meter is always on, the only real ‘off switch’ is that of putting a lens cap on. On the plus side, your meter is always on, the downside is that your meter is always on. Thankfully the camera only requires a single battery to function and it does last a while.
The lenses that were released with the K-Series cameras are no slouch, while they’re not the Takumar glass followers of the Spotmatics rave about, they do a good job. The K1000 can make use of most K lenses, from the original SMC Pentax, the Pentax-M and Pentax-A lenses without any trouble. The K1000 came stock with a 50mm f/2 lens, but you can find a lot more with the f/1.7 version. My personal favourite lens options are the Pentax-M as they have a smaller profile but still look good on the larger-bodied K1000. If you’re looking for a good lens to pair, I do recommend the SMC Pentax-M 55mm 1:2, as it’s out of focus elements to look rather good! And while the K-Mount remains a choice of all Pentax cameras today, you can pick up the early lenses fairly cheap on the used market to get a decent kit to back up your K1000.
What is most surprising (well not really) is how expensive the K1000 costs on the used market today. Most are averaging above 200$ for a body and a lens on auction sites, and around the 150-180$ mark on commercial sellers. But is the K1000 all that? Well, it certainly is a viable entry-level 35mm SLR, but there are just as good if not better options out there that are far less expensive these days. A Canon AE-1, Olympus OM-1, Nikon Nikkormat, or Minolta SR-T are all excellent choices if you want a Japanese basic SLR. And if you’re dead set on Pentax, look for a KM, KX, or K2. That said, I’m lucky to have inherited my K1000 from my late Opa. So if you get your hands on one, you won’t be disappointed, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get one.
Don’t just take my word on the K1000, you can check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers!
Jim Grey – Down The Road – Updated K1000 Review
Mike Eckman Dot Com – Student Camera Showdown Canon AE-1 vs. Pentax K1000
Casual Photophile – Pentax K1000 Review
Daniel J. Schneider – Pentax K1000 SE: Why is it so Good?
Forgotten Charm – Pentax K1000 Review
I Still Shoot Film – Pentax K1000 Review