A few weeks ago I added a second Pentax MX body to my collection so I thought I would write in praise of this fine compact 35mm SLR. The Pentax MX is a camera which just works. It has all of the functions I need for my type of photography, and nothing I don’t need. Focus is entirely manual – to me the idea that I would let the camera decide what part of a landscape, for instance, I want to be most in focus, is an alien concept. The large clear viewfinder makes focusing a breeze and is a real aid to composition. Aperture control is through rotating a ring on the lens – far simpler than any menu system. Shutter speed is likewise controlled through a simple dial. The shutter button is threaded for a manual cable release – far cheaper than an electronic release, and the manual cable releases can be used by any of several cameras I have that use this fitting. The lenses have a depth of field scale, so you can assess how much of the scene will be in focus at your chosen aperture; this also helps with hyperfocal focussing. The viewfinder display shows you the selected aperture through an optical window onto the lens, and the chosen shutter speed. So far, no batteries are required. If you do fit batteries, you’ll get an LED display showing green when you’ve got a “correct” exposure as judged by the built-in exposure meter. The meters seem fairly accurate on both my MX bodies, although I feel more comfortable knowing that I’ll be able to use the camera very well if the batteries die, by metering using the “Sunny 16” rule or with an external meter.
The last two features are a depth of field preview on the lens, and a self-timer. No automatic wind-on (although you can fit a separate winder if you want to), no LCD screens to get cracked, no automatic exposure modes, no wi-fi or GPs, no built-in phone.
All of this goodness comes fairly cheap. Although you can see some ridiculous “buy it now” prices on eBay, I have paid a total of £186 for two bodies and four lenses – 50mm f1.7, 35mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8, and 135mm f2.5. First I bought a body and 50mm f.17 lens for £59, then the 28mm, 35mm, and 135mm lens for about £30-35 each, and finally the second MX body for just £31 (it’s in better condition than the first and I could have got it with a 50mm lens for £42). All purchases were from dealers, not eBay.
At the moment I mainly carry around the two bodies, with different film stock in each, and the 28mm and 50mm lens, in a small bag. The 35mm lens and one body come in handy if I really want to cut down the wieght even further. The 135mm lens is a little too long for my use and doesn’t get much of an outing.
There are some cameras that I spend a lot of time looking at, playing with the controls, maybe even reading the manual … the Pentax MX isn’t like that for me – it’s just there waiting to be used when it is needed, and I don’t need to think about the camera, just concentrate on the image. There’s a small selection of photos below taken with the MX. The infrared photos at Stornoway were also made with my first MX.