Pentax MX
SLRs

Pentax MX – My Nuts and Bolts Review

November 11, 2019

I recently kicked off a bit of a series of posts talking about my experiences with my Pentax MX. In that first post, I talked a bit about how I didn’t want to just review the camera and move on as I so frequently do. Well, in partial contradiction to that I’ve decided to “review” the Pentax MX earlier on in the series of posts than I expected to. This won’t be the end of my relationship with this little camera though – as you’ll read, we’ve hit it off, and I intend to stick with it for a little while longer at least.

A good balance

As I mentioned in my opening post in this series, possibly the main reason I’ve found such joy with this camera is the balance of features, function and size that it gives me. My photography has been at a bit of a low ebb recently, and as such, I’ve felt that I needed a camera that gave me a sense of connection to the process of taking photos. I’ve always liked small and simple cameras that offer a clear and obvious set of features, but in the place I’m in at the moment, those factors seem all the more important to me. Fortunately – despite some slight issues with the controls and my need to shoot with my left eye – the Pentax MX seems to be fitting the bill very nicely.

The Pentax MX review

As mentioned in the first post in this series, the Pentax MX comes from the Pentax M-series of cameras released between the mid-70s and mid-80s. The whole series of cameras and lenses were marketed on their diminutive size. The Pentax MX is – at least as far as I can work out – the smallest fully mechanical metered SLR camera ever produced. And yes, before you ask, it is slightly smaller than the Olympus OM1, though there’s very little in it.

Pentax MX top

It’s fair to say that with the Pentax MX’s tiny size comes a fairly sparse set of features. In saying that, it definitely feels like the sort of camera that’s not really missing anything. That is to say, for what it does, and how it does it, it doesn’t feel like it falls short of the mark in many respects at all.

The Pentax MX was, in fact, the model in the range that was supposedly designed to appeal to the “professional” – as such, unlike all of the other cameras in the M-Series line, it is fully mechanical and therefore doesn’t require batteries for it to take a photo. Of course, the built-in light meter doesn’t work without a battery, but as I will come to, even without the meter working, not only does the Pentax MX continue to shoot but – thanks to the way the meter is displayed in the viewfinder – it doesn’t feel like anything is missing from its overall functionality.

The light meter

The light meter in the Pentax MX controlled by an inner wheel on top of the shutter dial. Press the little silver button in and the exposure index can be set between 25 and 1600. This upper limit of 1600 will likely be seen as a limitation by some, but fortunately for me, I rarely use a built-in light meter on the rare occasion I shoot as high as EI3200 or above. It’s also easy enough to work around this limitation anyway… but I’ll come back to that in a later post.

The light meter readout in the viewfinder did take me a little bit of getting used to. It’s not complicated at all, but at first glance it certainly made me scratch my head. Now I’m used to it though, it seems entirely logical.

Correct exposure

On the right-hand side of the view through the finder are displayed three shutter speeds, the selected one in the centre, with the next slowest speed below and next fastest speed above. When you half-press the shutter button – at least when there are batteries in the camera – one of a series of 5 LEDs illuminates. If the correct speed is selected a green LED glows next to the middle selected shutter speed. If the camera is about 1/2 stop out, it will glow an orange LED. And if the camera is a stop or more out it will glow a red LED to indicate which way the exposure is out.

1 stop out – the camera is set to 1/30th, but is indicating a need to change to 1/60th

More than one stop out

It’s definitely simple and a very effective solution, but as I’ve alluded, the thing I like about it the most is that when there isn’t a battery in the camera, the meter functionality completely disappears. The LEDs don’t illuminate, so you’re just left with a shutter speed readout. This differs from a lot of cameras – even ones that continue to work without the battery – that have matched needle meters or other light meter read-outs that remain visible, but non-functioning when there’s no battery.

No LEDs, the shutter and aperture are still visible

This might not sound like a big deal, but to me – someone who appreciates simplicity and neatness in camera design – it gives a real sense that the designers of the camera actually intended it to be used either with or without batteries. And since I like shooting both with and without a light meter, it feels like it quite specifically fits both my shooting needs and how my brain works.

The viewfinder

As well as the shutter speed readout, there’s also a little window at the top of the viewfinder that shows the chosen aperture on the lens. It works perfectly well in good light, but unfortunately, with it being a simple window to the settings on the lens, and there being no built-in artificial illumination, it is a little difficult to see the chosen aperture in lower-light.

The viewfinder is otherwise fairly wonderful. It feels huge to look through, and though I’m still struggling to get to grips with SLR focusing again, I’ve found the experience of shooting this particular camera to be fairly positive. The Pentax MX focusing screen that’s installed in my MX has a combination of split-prism with a micro-prism ring around it. I must admit, the micro-prism ring isn’t quite as good as some I’ve used, but as a fallback to the split-prism, I’ve still found it more than handy a couple of times. The Pentax MX also allows the user to change the focusing screen for different types, but I haven’t explored the alternatives so can’t really comment.

Pentax MX shutter dial

Controls

I’ve been shooting my Pentax MX primarily with a 40mm 2.8 pancake lens. As I will come back to in a future review of the lens, it’s not without its handling foibles. I do also have the 50mm f/1.7, and though I haven’t actually shot with it yet, it feels like it would be much easier to use on this camera.

Unfortunately for me, the slight handling issues with the Pentax MX aren’t – in my case at least – limited to using it with the 40mm pancake lens, Though I should quickly add that I think a bit of this comes down to me now being a left-eye shooter.

Easy access to adjust the slightly-stiffer-to-turn-than-average shutter speed dial really requires the film advance lever to be folded out to its ready-to-be-advanced position. This would be less of an issue if I shot with my right eye, but shooting with my left eye the advance pokes into my forehead when it’s folded out.

As such – at least when using the built-in meter – I’ve developed a bit of a system of metering and selecting shutter speeds using the camera with my right eye, then framing and shooting with my left. Not perfectly ideal really, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that cameras just aren’t designed for left-eye-photographers, so I am just finding ways to live with this minor handicap.

Pentax MX DOF lever

Combined self timer and DOF preview lever

The only other control lever is found on the front right-hand face of the camera and is a combined self-timer and depth of field preview. Push it toward the lens and it previews DOF, pull and rotate it 180 degrees away from the lens, and it sets the self-timer. I actually can’t think of another camera that combines these feature into one control, but it makes so much sense and keeps the number of buttons and switches down – which I like.

The Pentax MX Mechanics

My particular Pentax MX feels wonderful to use. There aren’t many mechanical parts to interface with, but what there is feels very positive on my copy. The film advance is really smooth and nicely sprung, the shutter dial clicks positively though is a little more stiff than I would like – especially given my left-eye shooting. The depth of field preview switch feels solid, and the self-timer, well, works… which is more than can be said of a lot of self-timers.

I should caveat all this by pointing out that I might have a good copy. I have spoken to a couple of people on social media who have either had bad luck with Pentax cameras of this sort of age dying or in the case of one person on Instagram, their Pentax MX just felt a bit mechanically crap. As I say though, mine is spot on!

Loading the film

The last thing I want to talk about before I conclude is something that I rarely mention when reviewing cameras, and that’s how I’ve found it easiest to load the film. More often than not when I’m loading cameras I put the cartridge in, pull the film out, slot the film into take-up spool and wind. The Pentax MX has a take-up spool that to me feels a bit too fiddly for that method. As such, I’ve found feeding the film into the take-up spool, winding the camera slightly, then loading the cartridge to be an easier method – your mileage may vary.

A few Pentax MX photos

Pentax MX snaps

Pentax MX snaps

Pentax MX snaps

Pentax MX snaps

Pentax MX snaps

More here

Final(ish) thoughts

Of course, these won’t be my final thoughts on the Pentax MX. Really, this is just the nuts-and-bolts-review part of what I have to say. I just wanted to write this stuff down as I feel like it gets it out of the way. It also helps lead on to the other posts I have planned about it.

The main point I wanted to make here is that as someone who likes small simple mechanical cameras, the Pentax MX feels like a bit of a gem. Yes, its size does make the slightly stiff shutter speed dial a little fiddly to use, which is especially troublesome for someone who shoots with their left eye, but to me, the small size and portability entirely makes up for this shortcoming. More importantly than most other factors though, I’ve found myself not really needing to think about the Pentax MX when I’m using it, and quite often, I think that’s all that anyone really needs from a camera.

Next up, I intend to share some thoughts on the 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, and how well, and otherwise, I’ve found it to work for me…

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90 Comments

  • Reply
    Graham Coad
    November 11, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Did you know……The Pentax MX has a “secret mirror lock up” feature?
    If you wind on, then ‘flick’ the shutter release with a finger, the mirror flips up but the shutter blinds will not move till you fully depress the shutter release.
    The finger flick is the same as you might use to flick a pea across a table. It works with the MXs I have owned.

    • Reply
      Clay Taylor
      March 21, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      All – the “secret” mirror-lockup trick comes to the Pentax MX through the Pentax K1000 cameras and the family of Pentax Spotmatic cameras before that. It was taught to me back in the 1970s by legendary Pentax salesman “Harry Honeywell” Goberman, who sold Pentax cameras in the Northeastern US for three decades. (BTW – the nickname was reference to the Honeywell Corporation as the US-importer of Asahi Optical Corporation Pentax Cameras)
      Here is Harry’s technique – hold your hand above the camera and lightly rest your fingertip on the shutter button. Rotate your wrist up, so your finger raises up, then quickly and lightly flex your wrist down so that your finger “taps” the shutter button. You only want to give enough of a tap to actuate the mirror lock-up, not fire the shutter button. Keep your wrist and finger loose and flexible. Harry used to say “it’s all in the wrist”.
      This doen NOT work with the electro-mechanical shutter buttons on Pentax cameras like the ME, ME Super, nor on my Pentax LX (I just tried it to be sure).
      It is best to practice this technique with NO film in the camera, since too hard a tap will fire the shutter and there goes another $.35.

  • Reply
    Andre
    November 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

    So it’s slightly smaller than Olympus OM1? Interesting. I think I want one 😀

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:19 am

      yes yes – no silly shutter dial around the lens mount either

  • Reply
    TrevC
    November 11, 2019 at 11:49 am

    A nuts and blots review doesn’t sound very promising for the camera…

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:18 am

      No… damned spelling check let me down there, eh?!

  • Reply
    Simon
    November 11, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    You probably don’t want another ‘buy one of these’ tips…but as you’re enjoying the MX, keep an eye out for the 30/2.8K. They are pretty scarce, but I think the rendering would be right up your street. Beautifully made too, and nicer handling than the 40.

    This is the one I mean: https://www.pentaxforums.com/lensreviews/SMC-Pentax-K-30mm-F2.8-Lens.html

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:54 pm

      Interesting. Not cheap! If I’m going to get another lens, I think it will be the 100mm Pentax-m. I looks tiny!

  • Reply
    Nick Lyle
    November 11, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    This was a useful review for me as I have long toyed with the idea of picking up an MX, however far too many SLRs and lenses from too many systems have quietly slipped into my camera cabinets and I am engaged in an obsessive process of weeding out and selling off the ones I don’t “need”. Pentax as a brand is a problem for me. I like Pentax lenses and have a good set of them, and this collection is greatly expanded by M42 lenses, which also mount on K-mount bodies. On the other hand, my perfectly good K1000 and ME Super just don’t call out to be used the way certain cameras from other brands do. I feel like I need a better K-mount camera. The K1000 I have is mechanically perfect, wonderfully simple, but somehow just seems boring in use and a bit bulky. The ME Super is tiny, solid and has a brilliant viewfinder, but the electronic shutter is very loud and the push-button manual shutter adjustment is not a good design. I like small cameras, but the OM1n, Nikon FM2 or Minolta XD5 seem to suit me much better, among the SLRs I have worked with.

    I strongly encourage you to try some lenses other than that 40/2.8 pancake. The fiddly handling may be bearable, but the top speed of f/2.8 really makes focusing harder than need be. Your 50/1.7 is a lot brighter, and is a very fine lens. The 50/2 is also worth a look; it is noticeably more compact than the 50/1.7.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:51 pm

      I find the k1000 dull too. Maybe sell both and get an MX – it’s sort of best of both of those cameras

    • Reply
      James
      November 14, 2019 at 12:49 pm

      In agreement with you, Nick. Despite my best efforts (the vast majority of my stuff is Pentax), I’m coming to the conclusion that no classic-SLR-era Pentax is able to offer me what I want. That said, I do have a lot of time for the K1000 – thought I’d hate it but it was an instant friend.

    • Reply
      Kevin R
      November 22, 2019 at 12:15 am

      Indeed what Hamish said. The MX genuinely is the perfect middle-ground of the two you have, and with a viewfinder better than either. The K1000 is fine for what it is, but in that size a KX (the MX’s big brother and contemporary of the time) is much more shooter-friendly. I’ve had and ME a couple times and always let them go. I’ve a SuperProgram now which is its successor, but it too has the electronic shutter and push-button control – just never got on with it. I keep it only because mine is a particularly mint copy.
      I’ve never quite got on with the OM-1 either – I hate its advance throw, and all the controls at the lens barrel sound good on paper, but don’t work for me and feel far too fiddly. The MX is the OM, better executed in my opinion.

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        November 24, 2019 at 8:46 am

        I don’t think I’d argue with that. I have an om1 that I’m just not drawn to, despite loving the 100mm lens I have for it

      • Reply
        Chad D
        January 13, 2020 at 4:48 pm

        I’m alittle late to the party here. I currently use a k1000, and have over the past 2 or 3 years now. It is quite a boring camera. I’ve been toying with the idea of the KX, MX, or LX. I hear that the LX can be pricy to repair and upkeep. After reading this review I do like the viewfinder, but I don’t like the idea of having to press the shutter half way in order to meter. I don’t know if the KX is the same way, but it makes me lean now more towards the KX or LX. The only thing that I really like about the MX is the viewfinder, I don’t find the size of the k1000 to be klunky, so I’m not sure that the size of the MX is a selling point for me.

    • Reply
      andy s
      March 21, 2020 at 1:46 am

      I loved the simplicity practicality and effectiveness of this camera
      Just speed apperture and iso blended through
      ‘stop lights’ and split screen focus to create great photo’s
      I miss this instinctive photography
      I have searched for an exact digital replica but others only come close.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    November 11, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    I do like these diminutive ‘M’ cameras. I have been using the equally small ME on and off, and I have just finished roll from an ME F (that was generously given to me). Both are aperture priority only with reliable meters. If the take up spool is the same as the MX, I am with you on it. It is fiddly. Overall though, I find them a pleasure to use.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:49 pm

      We seem to be alone – other commenters seem to really like the take up spool…. 🤷‍♀️

  • Reply
    Graham Line
    November 11, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    My Pentax experience ran as far as the Spotmatic F and ESII. All were easy to handle and they were mechanically as solid as anything out there. Some of the lenses were better than others and it paid to be selective.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:47 pm

      Did you have a favourite lens?

      • Reply
        Graham Line
        November 12, 2019 at 6:39 am

        Did I have a favorite lens? Yes, the 85/1.8 SMCT. Balanced perfectly with the Spot F, extremely easy to focus in low light, and excellent resolution and contrast. Used it often in news work with a 28/3.5 on another body — The 85 was better wide open than the 28, which had to go down to f/4.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 13, 2019 at 10:15 am

          Excellent cheers!

  • Reply
    Sokol
    November 11, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    Its funny, I have the same setup, only a silver body, and this review really descrives to its core the overall feeling of the camera. by the way, I am myself a left eye shooter and the pain is real, and not only for this camera. I think the mx-40/2.8 combo is one of the best all-around setups for everyday, casual shooting. very nice review!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:48 pm

      I’d agree with that. In fact, that’s a good précis for my next post in some ways…

  • Reply
    Manfred
    November 11, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Dear Hamish,
    with a little sorry for my “Austrian English” I would like to thank you for your review. The MX is quite big! There are two things I also would like to share: You can imitate the “T” of the Pentax SV by turning the shutter speed dial to “B”, pressing the shutter button and “turn off” the little on/off lever. Then, the shutter remains open until you “turn on” again. The 2nd comment is more a question: I think there is no way of multi exposure with this little thing… am I right? Best regards from Vienna, Manfred.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:46 pm

      Turn off…? I’m not sure I understand. Are you sure you mean the MX…?

      • Reply
        Matt White
        November 12, 2019 at 7:17 pm

        I think he means that with the setting on B, you can press the shutter button and flip the shutter lock collar, which then holds the shutter open even if you release the button. At the end of your timed exposure, unlock the shutter button collar and the shutter will close.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 13, 2019 at 10:08 am

          Thanks Matt, I’ve got it now. Cheers

  • Reply
    Clive W
    November 11, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Does the MX have the same nylon-baton take-up spool as the ME Super and LX? That’s the easiest system I’ve ever used in an unmotorized 35mm camera; in 35 years I don’t think I’ve ever needed a second go at loading mine.

    I must say, I like the way it combines the meter indications with the speed display. I don’t have an MX; I have the revered Nikon FM2N, which puts the speed readout on the left and the meter LEDs on the right (and a similar now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t aperture display.)

    My other Nikon is an FE, which in most respects I prefer to the FM2N. Like the ME Super, that has the main meter display on the left. Odd that two pairs of closely-related cameras should have different layouts in such a critical place. It would be easier when carrying both and switching between them if the makers had picked a side and stick to it.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      I’ve just this of someone else. Am I missing the knack to the loading – how is it supposed to work?
      I used to be a big user of Nikon cameras – I must admit, though I loved them, I’m not sure they aver nailed it. The fm3a was my favourite, but I often missed the led system of the proper FM camera meters

      • Reply
        les sarile
        November 13, 2019 at 3:45 am

        I bet you don’t miss the fact that the film advance lever of the Nikons has to stick out in the ready position to meter and allow the shutter to be pressed . . . 😉

        To me, the most outstanding feature of the MX is it’s gigantic and bright viewfinder. The biggest of any fixed viewfinder SLR and only second to the LX when fitted with an FD-1 or FE-1. Contrast this to all Nikons with their tiny viewfinder magnifications.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 13, 2019 at 10:07 am

          Indeed. I just couldn’t shoot a Nikon now

        • Reply
          chestnut vinegar
          March 20, 2020 at 7:41 pm

          I have experience with both the ME and the LX, I found the ME Super had a larger viewfinder than the LX which was very enjoyable to use. The LX is a very good camera but I keep returning to the ME Super just because of the viewfinder. I can’t quite remember whether the MX or the ME Super had the larger though.

  • Reply
    Reinhold Graf
    November 11, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for your insights on the Pentax MX.
    I have to admit that I had some doubts when I took my MX on a sailing trip.

    I had no problems inserting a film. Pentax Quick-Load worked perfectly for me.

    I also use my left eye to focus and I also do not like when the film advance lever gets in the way.
    I’ve learned to set the shutter speed without folding out the film advance lever – it works and you get used to it.

    Overall, this camera has fully convinced me and I will definitely continue to use.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 11, 2019 at 11:41 pm

      Is there a knack to the quick loading that I’m missing then do you think…?

      • Reply
        Huss
        November 12, 2019 at 2:57 am

        You just put the film leader in between any of the quick load rods. It tensions up the moment you wind on. Easiest loading film camera I’ve ever used.

        FYI to improve the handling of the 40 2.8, just add a $5 49mm vented metal lens hood. Protects the lens, keeps your fingers away from the glass and makes it super easy to use the focus ring as your fingers are naturally placed on it as the hood prevents you from moving further forward.
        Also it provides flare resistance!

        It of course almost doubles the physical size of the lens, but there you have it.

      • Reply
        Sokol
        November 12, 2019 at 12:56 pm

        You just have to push the film into the needles until it pops out from them in another position and you’re done. be sure to insert the film heading to right of the taku up spool so that when it winds it takes the rising edge underneath it securing it.

      • Reply
        Reinhold Graf
        November 12, 2019 at 10:08 pm

        Contrary to the “old school” take up spool where you have to fiddle around to insert the film, here you simply put the film end in between any of the white lamellas (hope this is the right term), wind the film advance lever and push the shutter release several times and … film loaded. Had never an issue with this easy mechanism.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 13, 2019 at 10:07 am

          Cheers – I need to play again I think

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    November 12, 2019 at 12:01 am

    Agreed that for fans of small-bodied cameras, the MX is one of the best and most reliable SLRs ever made. That 98% viewfinder alone is worth the entry price. The availability of PK mount vintage and contemporary glass exceeds the choice of lenses in the Olympus OM mount, as well. My taste runs to larger, heavier camera bodies, so to this day I shoot a Pentax KX when I’m not wanting Nikkor glass for film images (at which time the large and heavy F2 comes out of the cabinet). Thank you for this review, Hamish.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:17 am

      Cheers Roger

  • Reply
    Marcel Mikolasik
    November 12, 2019 at 12:26 am

    Hi there, thanks for the review. I have a superb-feeling Spotmatic waiting to be CLAd, so much for the mechanical gems of Pentax. Anyway, just wanted to say that my Nikon FE2 also feature a combined DOF-preview and self-timer lever, pretty much like the one you describe on the MX.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:17 am

      You’re quite right – as someone who used to have a lot of Nikon’, I do wonder sometimes how much stuff I have forgotten…

      • Reply
        Clive W
        November 14, 2019 at 2:51 pm

        [Pauses to put on flat cap and best nasal voice] “I think you’ll find…”

        The Nikon lever combines self-timer (pull) and AE lock (push). The DOF preview is a separate control on the side of the lens mount. I’ve not tried the FE2 but the DOF is the same on the FE and the FM2N, so I’d expect it to be the same across the family.

        AE lock isn’t relevant to the MX, of course – and it’s the one major omission from the ME series, (DOF preview just makes the view dark, without offering any useful impression of DOF.) But since the MX chassis is unique to that model, there wasn’t the same need to share controls and features.

  • Reply
    Huss
    November 12, 2019 at 2:51 am

    If you have problems with the winding lever poking u on the noggin, you may want to try to get the Motor Drive MX. It is still very small, and then at least no winding issues.
    FYI it is different that the ones used for the ME Super etc.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:16 am

      That’s not a bad shout

      • Reply
        Richard Wills
        March 21, 2020 at 12:44 am

        From memory there was the winder MX at 2fps and the drive at 5fps. Neither subtle in sound.
        If you can handle a slightly larger optic, the one that sits on my MX is the 28 f2. Looks like a 135, silky smooth, and amazing clarity. Bought it for my old MX, back in the days when film lenses were short (wide) or long (tele), so many people assumed their photograph was not being taken.
        I’ve got large fat fingered hands, but the MX fits just fine – the lack of structured grip (when without a drive) means somehow it just sits in the hand fine. Unlike the FM3a, you can alsohelp to balance with the wind lever (righteyed…)

  • Reply
    Aivaras
    November 12, 2019 at 6:32 am

    Try mentioned 50mm f/1.7. Its one of the best lenses in Pentax lineup (for me). Shooting it wide open gives fantastic results!

    • Reply
      Roger B.
      November 13, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Aivaras: Agreed, along with most of the reviewers on the Pentax Forum. That’s a genius piece of glass.

  • Reply
    Dan
    November 12, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Good stuff, you’re spot on here – all in all the MX is hard to beat as a general purpose camera.

    After 2 months of shooting mine, the only hard problem I keep running into is camera shake. After some side by side tests I’ve found I can’t shoot the MX with K 85/1.8 at the same speeds as a Nikon F2 with Nikkor-H 85/1.8. I guess that with a much smaller body, something has to give – even though the bumpers on mine were replaced this year, the mirror mechanism just isn’t as well dampened. But maybe its just my copy, who knows.

    Fortunately all the good Pentax K glass is on the wider side anyway, in my opinion. Right now I have the 30/2.8 on there – it replaced the 40mm pancake for me as it still fits under my zipped up jacket with a neck strap (just about) and it might be my fave all-purpose wide angle SLR lens. Shots from it look more like a rangefinder lens in terms of pop. For something a bit tighter, the 55/1.8 is an absolute bargain.

    Oh and, the MX is one of those cameras where a half case makes all the difference in terms of stability. There’s a guy in China who makes them by hand for a fair price, he sells them on eBay. (easy to search for in case you’re interested)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:14 am

      I’ve had a few recommendations for the 30mm now – I will have to look into it…

      • Reply
        Kevin Rosinbum
        November 22, 2019 at 12:23 am

        Have to agree on the half-case mention… the lip it creates in front provides a really nice finger-ledge for various positions and camera is nearly as small but somehow much more confident with one of them on.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 24, 2019 at 8:45 am

          I’m not sure about cases myself – just a personal thing I suppose. I don’t find them comfortable

  • Reply
    Clive W
    November 12, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Hmm. Hard to describe a ‘knack’ for something that’s always seemed easy, but I suppose it is a little different so this is what I think I do. With the Nikons (and presumably others from that era) I have to locate a slot in the spool, possibly firing and winding the camera until one offers itself, then wiggle the film leader into place, being careful not to stick my thumb through the shutter blades while I fiddle. With the Pentax, I seat the cassette, pull out just enough film to loop across, then give it a firm push at the nylon batons just to the right of the spindle, so that the first wind kinks the leader and locks it in place. You can push the leader in a surprisingly long way, and then one crank of the lever before closing the back will be enough, meaning that frame 0 is always usable and frame 00 usually is too.
    If you’re finding it difficult, I suspect you’re being too tentative.

    The M viewfinders are so good that I wouldn’t worry too much about speed of lenses. I use the M 135mm f/3.5 (they’re everywhere and very cheap) and the M 24-35mm f/3.5, and have no trouble focusing even in gloomy daylight. I wouldn’t worry about ‘favourite lenses’ either; as with the Nikon system, if you choose a lens for the job you want it to do, you’ll find it plenty good enough – and there is something special about the SMC coating, especially if you like to shoot against the light.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:13 am

      This is my finding – the 40mm 2.8 doesn’t seem to give me a dull viewfinder at all – despite what some people have said

  • Reply
    Matt White
    November 12, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Hehe. Yeah, the left eye thing. Exactly the same issue prompted me to change my viewing eye many years ago when I got the MX as part of my first serious SLR kit. it was an awkward couple of months making the transition, but I’m glad I did: most cameras seem to be right-eyed to some extent. It’s just that the MX is at one end of the scale.

    On film loading, I think your method is along the right lines. I find it incredibly easy – and now, after 30+ years, completely automatic – just to feed 1-2cm of leader into the needles, pull out a short length of film, drop the canister into the other end of the camera, wind on a frame and close up. It’s basically one extended movement. I don’t find it fiddly now. I can’t recall if I ever did. It helps that my LX works exactly the same way. And they’re probably the only cameras of the many, many that I have owned where I’ve never misloaded a roll.

  • Reply
    Des McSweeney
    November 12, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    Hamish old buddy, what perfect timing as I have just put a roll in my MX which was the first camera I bought from a proper salary, 1979 I think. That makes me sound younger than I am, I took a gap year for five years before that ;-). The rubber around the mirror has fallen to bits and showing like black measles though the finder. It is off to be fettled after I take this roll. Picking it up was like meeting an old friend, it seems intuitive to me but that will be because it was the first I owned and I carted it around the world for about ten years. It is nicely battered in an old friend sort of way so no need to be too precious with it. As you know I have been using Leica film cameras for some time and I was amazed as to how pocketable this MX is, certainly overcoat pocket friendly this afternoon. Speed, ISO and aperture are a doddle as is reading the meter – speed is clear, the LED’s about a stop per colour and green for go are straightforward, seeing the aperture is a bit of a squint but modestly useful. Speeds are stiff but at 40 years old are better than my knees and unlike them I hope the service will loosen them up a tad. I have a 50 1.4 which I remember as being fantastic so we will see. A 35 seems to have disappeared but I still have an 80-200 which I also remember as being very rewarding to use, again, we’ll see.
    I thought that the spool was a doddle, just shove the leader in between any two of the white plastic things, about half an inch in should do, and wind it on a shot, close the back and wind it once or twice more depending how mean you are – and check the rewind end is going round just in case. I hadn’t picked it up in 25 years and all seemed straight forward and easy but I guess there is some historical memory kicking in. I’ll keep you posted on how things turn out with the film (HP5)!
    All the best
    Des

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:10 am

      You should do a 5 frames post when the time comes, Des!

      • Reply
        SParis
        November 14, 2019 at 10:34 pm

        So, for your American cousins, a doddle is the opposite of a faff?

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 24, 2019 at 12:48 pm

          yep

  • Reply
    Matt White
    November 12, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    One more thing I should have said about the loading system (“Magic Needle loading”, Pentax called it): I think it’s wrong to see it as a quick loading system. It’s not much quicker than the traditional spool with wider slots used in most SLRs at the time. Rather it was intended to be more secure and reliable. I still have an original MX sales brochure which emphasises the safe loading aspect of the system, rather than any time saving. As I said in my previous message, I think there’s something in this. I can’t recall any misloaded film with any of my MXs or LXs (I’ve had a few: these are the only cameras I’ve held on to through pretty much my whole photographic life, while lots of other systems have come and gone)..

  • Reply
    Nick Clark
    November 13, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Wonderful to read about the MX, still probably my favourite 35mm SLR.

    A minor quibble – the meter LEDs are at 1/2 stop increments, not full stops. Ie. amber = 1/2 EV out, red = 1 EV out

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 13, 2019 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Nick, post tweaked accordingly

  • Reply
    Ronny Persson
    November 14, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    With a Pentax MX and a 50mm lens, you will get a scale in the viewfinder 1:1 towards the actual object. Very nice!

  • Reply
    Will
    November 15, 2019 at 2:26 am

    MX is one of my favourite cameras, it has no more or less than a photographer needs. I have used several over several decades, on one the shutter dial was stiff, but all others would allow me to rotate the shutter with my forefinger as I kept the camera to my eye. It is hard to quantify why it feels so perfect, I also equally like Nikon’s F2as which has more bells and whistles but I don’t miss them on the MX. Anyway, probably the best Pentax you can get of its kind. The KX is worth a look also if you ever have an opportunity.

  • Reply
    Recommended reading : Down the Road
    November 16, 2019 at 10:00 am

    […] 📷 Hamish Gill takes a look at the Pentax MX, which for a while was the finest Pentax SLR you could buy. Read The Pentax MX – My Nuts and Bolts Review […]

  • Reply
    Kevin Rosinbum
    November 22, 2019 at 12:02 am

    I’ve never called it my “favorite” camera, but of my many upon many, it’s the one I’d keep if I could only keep one.
    Love the MX.

    And as mentioned by Matt White in another comment, the “magic needles” take some getting used to, but these days every time I load another 35mm with a traditional take-up spool I miss the needles in a big way. Make sure you pass the leader through a good ways and it very very very rarely ever slips when you wind-on.
    Also, try the secret “flick” lock-up. Once you get a feel for the timing, you’ll get it on the first try almost every time. (Though I’ve really never felt the MX needed lock-up – it’s mirror/body is very well dampened – don’t think I’ve ever had and image that made me say “Yup that’s shake”.)
    In regard the 40mm pancake, never liked it. Pick up an FA43mm Limited. Nearly as small and IQ that leaves the 40 (and most other PK lenses) far behind in the dust. It rarely leaves my MX.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 24, 2019 at 8:44 am

      Ha, to many recommendations for that 43mm I don’t need the gas! 😉

      • Reply
        Kevin Rosinbum
        November 25, 2019 at 7:43 pm

        Haha, for sure. I’ll only say that the FAs are in fact a bit of an end-of-the-road (or the very least, a lengthy and comfortable stop) for the gas journey. 😀

        • Reply
          Peter Boorman
          April 1, 2020 at 3:15 pm

          I love the MX, though it’s slightly larger cousin the LX is probably my real favourite. Anyway, I just thought I’d observe that the LX is the other camera that combines a (variable duration, cancellable) self-timer and a DoF preview into a single lever – and the LX manages to add mirror lock-up to that same multi-function lever as well.

          The varying opinions of how mechanically ‘solid’ the MX feels, and how well damped it is, may be related to its long production run. Over the model’s life Pentax made several changes, substituting metal parts with engineering plastics. This means that a late model MX is very noticeably lighter than an early one. Someone who likes silky smoothness, that ‘solid’ feeling and some mass to damp the mirror will probably enjoy an early example more; someone who wants a featherweight companion to take mountaineering should track down a late model. I have one of each 😉

          All these people saying they’ve never mis-loaded a Pentax using the magic-needle system are making me feel bad. In I don’t know how many years of using two MXs and Five LXs I’ve managed to mis-load them just twice. Naturally both were really important shoots!

          Oh, and here’s another vote for the 43/1.9…

  • Reply
    Kevin Rosinbum
    November 24, 2019 at 12:57 am

    Not certain what may have been inappropriate or unwarranted about my comments made here several days back.
    Perhaps my enthusiasm for this particular machine was overbearing. Was intended to be helpful enthusiasm.
    the MX is a fine camera. Happy shooting.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 24, 2019 at 8:48 am

      Hi Kevin, sorry I’m not sure what you mean. Is it the delay in me approving your comments. I do it all manually so I don’t miss them. Sometimes it just takes me a bit of time.

      • Reply
        Kevin Rosinbum
        November 25, 2019 at 7:40 pm

        Oh my apologies, Hamish. I’d assumed it was the some algorithm (not you) in the spam filtering for some WP sites (i’d run into issues with them in the past myself with multiple quick posts) just because they went from “awaiting approval” to simply not appearing at all. No worries – disregard. 🙂

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          November 25, 2019 at 8:01 pm

          👍👍
          I do have a spam filter too, of course, but you have to try and sell me viagra or a Thai bride to get caught in that 🤣

  • Reply
    The Pentax-M 40mm f/2.8 and Pentax MX - imperfect, but pocketable! - 35mmc
    November 25, 2019 at 10:01 am

    […] my recent Pentax MX review I touched on the fact that I’d only really been shooting it with the Pentax-M 40mm f/2.8 pancake […]

  • Reply
    Steven Louth
    November 25, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    Interestig article Hamish. I too am a left eye shooter and find the MX lever a nuisance. However, I just love the compact size, the large viewfinder image and the metering LEDs. I have been using mine for 6 or 7 years now, and I like it so much I had it CLA’d. I also use a Pentax ME Super, another compact beauty from the same M series. It can be used in manual mode by setting shutter speeds with two buttons, and the lever doesn’t get in the way like it does on the MX. Maybe worth a try.

  • Reply
    The Most Read and Commented upon Posts Published on 35mmc in 2019 - 35mmc
    December 31, 2019 at 10:02 am

    […] The Pentax MX – My Nuts and Bolts Review […]

  • Reply
    Kosmopedia: Pentax MX - Kosmo Foto
    January 4, 2020 at 12:36 am

    […] a recent post on 35mmc, Hamish Gill wrote of his recent experience shooting on an MX. Part of the charm of the MX, at least […]

  • Reply
    Finding joy in a Pentax P30 (Despite it not doing working as expected) - 35mmc
    January 20, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    […] little while ago I picked up a Pentax P30 for £5. I’d been shooting happily with the Pentax MX, but just liked the look of the P30 as a second Pentax body and couldn’t resist it for the cash. […]

  • Reply
    Pentax KX review: My first. My favorite? - by Aaron Gold - 35mmc
    February 28, 2020 at 10:00 am

    […] lb 13 oz (828g) with a 50 mm lens and no strap or film. That’s nearly 5 oz (129g) heavier than my Penatx MX with the same lens. I only realized what an anvil the KX is when I finally started using the […]

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    March 20, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    The self-timer DoF preview is on some other cameras that pre-date the MX – certainly the Konica Autoreflex T3 has the same feature. The MX focusing screen was a useful substitute when I was looking for a screen with focus aids for a Minolta 9000AF – the edge of the MX focusing screen only needs a bit of trimming on the rear edge to fit very well.

  • Reply
    Pete rBudd
    March 20, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    This was my first Pentax camera. I had a 50mm F1.2 lens and really loved it .I always regret selling it .

  • Reply
    Paul
    March 20, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    I believe the Canon FT-QL and similar Canons combine the depth of field and the self timer into a single lever, just like on your MX. As I recall, a third function of the lever on the Canon is to lock up the mirror.

  • Reply
    Alan Millar
    March 21, 2020 at 10:13 am

    I feel like something that’s always left out of Pentax MX reviews: as far as I know, it has the biggest viewfinder of any SLR ever produced. Magnification 0.97x with a 50mm and 95% coverage. That magnification is the highest I’m aware of – marginally higher even than the Olympus OM1 with which the MX must vie as the best fully mechanical 35mm SLR ever (the OM1 has mirror lockup, probably more robust, arguably aesthetically perfect – the MX has the better meter for modern shooters and the great takeup spool and viewfinder info).

    So yeah. If you’re not a spectacle wearer and love a huge SLR viewfinder, you literally can do no better. The microprism focusing screen is awful. But there are some wonderful alternatives that should be sought out by the MX user.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 21, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      Yeah, for sure – both eyes open shooting with a normal lens is pretty cool with an SLR

    • Reply
      Dave Wyman
      March 23, 2020 at 12:03 am

      I had a free extra focusing screeens for my MXs. I loved that camera model until digital SLR photography became affordable for me.

  • Reply
    Mark
    March 22, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Hello! It’s me!

    The 43mm 1.9 you’ve been looking for!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 22, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      HA

  • Reply
    Alan Kirkby
    March 26, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Praktica BX20 also had a combined dOF preview and self timer.

  • Reply
    Henry Marts
    March 29, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    After many years using a K1000, few years ago I bought two MXs a black and a silver. I love them very much! I am very proud of shooting with my two pentax mx!!

  • Reply
    Jack Carden
    May 1, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Good review. I have an up to date Nikon digital camera and for some odd reason I can’t resist tinkering with film. I have a refurbished Pentax Spotmatic, and refurbished Nikkormat both of which I love. Probably the SLR I have loved most and regret selling was the Pentax LX. I picked up a slightly scruffy F2 recently and discovered the prism will fit my old Fs. Hog heaven. I tell myself I am more thoughtful when I shoot film. Slower, yes. It reminds my of my school days in the late 60s when I saved my skimp salary and bough a used Nikkormat for $168 real money then.

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