I’ll be the first to admit I am not much of a 35mm connoisseur. In the past decade my focus has been shooting landscapes and archaeology with medium format systems and the occasional 4×5. Last year, pre-Covid times, I was sitting poolside with a friend who had recently discovered her father’s old Pentax ME Super and knowing I was a film devotee, offered it to me, unsure if it even worked.
Much to my delight, it was in perfect condition and even the aged battery was providing correct voltage. I tested a roll of BW film to ensure no light leaks and we were ready to go. Mounted to the body was the ubiquitous SMC 50mm 1.7, a lens I was familiar with from my college years. The optics are delightful. To explore it’s abilities, I used a K-mount adapter for my Sony A7RIII and was stunned to find that even at 42mp and wide open, the lens was sharp, rendered beautiful colors, and operated as if it was new. Well then, maybe I could get along with 35mm film after all.
Given the strict lockdown measures in New Mexico, we have been very limited on our travels–and for good reason. New Mexico has limited resources and a vulnerable demographic meaning we are more susceptible to this virus than other, more wealthy and organized areas. Thus we have been keeping it very local and limited to just a few friends in our ‘bubble’.
New Years weather was unseasonably warm and we were itching for a night out under the stars. We headed south from Santa Fe to an area we had never spent time in and I brought along a few film cameras, a Fuji GW690II, Yashica Mat LM, Bronica S2a, (cameras I would love to write a review about) and the trusty Pentax ME Super.
Where the other cameras required a light meter, some patience, or a tripod, I slung the Pentax around my neck and shot handheld without restraint. The compact size and Aperture Priority function meant all I had to do was focus, compose, and shoot. What a joy! My selection of film was a more experimental choice. I bought a 5 pack of Kodak Pro Image 100, a film I was unfamiliar with and one that promised high-contrast, decent grain, and punchy warm tones. This sounded ideal for our desert landscape.
We spent the long weekend wandering side canyons, climbing ridgelines, and huddled at night near our campfire for warmth. The Pentax never left my side. Given its size and ease of use, I could afford to keep it with me and capture moments of spontaneity. Those of you familiar with the cycling world may know my friend John of The Radavist, a talented photographer himself and also a film geek. Him and his partner joined us alongside his trusty dog Max. My wife, Kim, carried her Yashica as well, enjoying the time out of the house and office and away from glowing screens.
While it’s not as dramatic as catching sunsets with big cameras out in Canyonlands, our trip was a fresh reminder of the importance of keeping it simple and local. The combination of run-and-gun film shooting with a new camera and film delivered results I could hang onto well into a future. While one roll I had incorrectly loaded and was blank, the other provided enough satisfaction to ensure that the Pentax will now travel with me everywhere. A positive bookmark in an otherwise unsettling and challenging year.
Thank for looking,