Pentax LX

Pentax LX – Shooting My Wife’s Camera

The camera had been lying around in a cupboard for a long long time so, since it wasn’t being used, I sold it. “You gave me that camera as an engagement present!!!” said my wife. There are mistakes, and there are serious mistakes, this was a serious mistake. Fortunately the buyer returned the camera for a refund, the focusing screen wasn’t the one he wanted. Phew!

More than 40 years ago I used to use a Pentax ME Super. I had bought myself one soon after they were released, my first new camera and I loved it. The controls were simple and it became intuitive. I had drooled over the LX but couldn’t afford one, but I collected the sales brochure and occasionally over the following years and decades looked through it. A few years after buying the ME Super I found a serious job (i.e. decent income) and got involved in large format photography paralleled with a Leica M6. Some years later when I got engaged I wondered what to give my fiancee. We had been on many photography trips, she was using my old ME Super, so I decided to get her an LX. She used it for a while but then her interests changed and it sat in the cupboard.

A month or so ago I thought “that’s a decent camera, I’d better check it still works and try to encourage her to use it”. So I loaded it with FP4 and took it out with a Vivitar 28mm f2.8, SMC 50mm f1.4 and 120mm f2.8 lenses. The camera was completely intuitive and much to my surprise fun to use. I had forgotten one of the benefits of an SLR – put a filter on and you get a good idea of what it does, something that doesn’t happen with rangefinders or digital cameras (for colour filters). Even the SLAP-BANG of the mirror had a nostalgic and reassuring sound. But best not to take photographs in quiet streets!

I decided to develop the film in Rodinal (I had a half used 4 to 5 year old bottle) with, for the first time for me, semi-stand development. My normal developer has been Cookbook D76 but the increasing trend to make raw chemical unavailable to ordinary mortals made me think I should use Rodinal but try to reduce its characteristic graininess. Also when I have a range of different films to develop, or when I know some frames in a roll are over and some under-exposed, I use a divided bath developer, so ideally as well I wanted to try an auto-compensating developing method. It turns out I was far too aggressive with the agitation for the first films I developed (first six images below) giving 5 inversions at 20 and 40 minutes, but even so grain was not a significant problem for images with limited sky. Scanning was on my flatbed Epson GT-X900 using VueScan software with film set as ‘generic’ and the light and dark point auto levels removed. For the first time ever I think the scans were virtually all completely clean, no spotting needed, and dark and light areas captured in all the frames – no unwanted blacks or burnt out highlights. The first six images below are unedited apart from very minor cropping in a few cases.

I took another roll (images 7 to 9) but used very gentle agitation (twirling the reel a few times at 30 minutes) and included some sky shots with a red filter. One of the sky shots (8) needed spotting in several places, apart from that the images again are straight scans. I find the grain on the sky shots rather intrusive so I might give Delta 100 a try next.

1 Tap

2 The witches broom
2 The witch’s broom

3 Barrels
3 Barrels

4 Walter
4 Walter

5 Falling snow
5 Falling snow

6 Roof
6 Roof

7 Sunset
7 Sunset (taken through a double glazed window)

8 Sky
8 Sky

9 Chestnut
9 Chestnut

Perhaps it was the combination of events – the enjoyment I had out of using the camera and the end results – I was smitten. This is a brilliant camera so of course I decided to get one for myself!

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15 thoughts on “Pentax LX – Shooting My Wife’s Camera”

  1. Hello Geoff. I loved the results you got with that development. How exactly did you do it? If you can tell me, I would like to try it, thank you very much and greetings from Bs As.

    1. Thanks Miguel. I was in Buenos Aires a few years ago – my daughter in law is Paraguayan and her parents live in Bs As a lot – nice place, lots of photo opportunities! I like Rodinal (aka Adonal) for its cleanliness and ease of making up developer. I use boiled water from start to finish (purified might be better depending on your supply). 100:1 water to Rodinal, so 6ml R in 600 of water, temperature seems irrelevant but I suspect colder is better – I’ve only developed cold 15-20 deg – and your ambient temperature is high I think. I believe higher temperatures will still work but may give more grain. Pour the mix into the tank, 10 slow inversions, and goodbye for 30 mins. Then just a swish around rather than an inversion and have another cup of coffee. An hour from the start dispose of the developer, add water and 5 or so inversions, then on to the fixer and your normal completion process. Let me see the results!!

  2. Hi Geoff,

    Those little Pentax SLRs were wonderful… loved my ME Super while I had it! And your photos are lovely. In image #1, especially, the tap shadow and wall texture make for a nicely abstract graphic. And I really like the grain in #8’s clouds. Adds some pleasant character!

    Good stuff!


    1. Many thanks Dave. The tap is my favourite too and the lighting was just right. The simplest things are often the hardest to see but this one just jumped at me when I was walking along. I was a little unhappy at the level of grain in the sky shots – I like FP4 for its minimal grain – but I’m getting more comfortable with it as revealed in Rodinal.

  3. Hi Geoff
    I have 3 LXs. many lenses and accessories like every finder made, motor drives, winders and very special lenses like the Pentax 15 mm, 135 -600mm, bellows, extension tubes, macros etc. The cameras are beautifully made and very ergonomic. Small but they feel and are, very solidly built. They are truly awesome. I always seem to shoot Ilford Delta 100 Professional. Very fine grain excellent laritude, holding both the highlights and shadows. Landscape, farms and derelict buildings seem to always show up in my work. Funny, hardly ever people!! Good luck with prying the LX out of your wife’s hands. For sure you need your own!
    Dave D

    1. Dave, don’t worry. I’m wearing …. my own LX now! I repossessed my 50mm lens and bought my own 120. I’ll give delta 100 a try sometime – very expensive here in Japan – I remember I used delta 400 sometime ago but I like traditional grain. I agree the LX is indeed a very flexible professional tool whereas the Leicas are really intended for 50mm or shorter lenses.

  4. Dear Geoff
    I have a whole Pentax collection and of course I use them from time to time (among many others).
    As a developer I have been using Adonal (Rodinal) and mostly Fomapan 100 as film for years.
    When developing, I mix about 1:90 and develop for 40 minutes; after 20 minutes I turn once very slowly.
    The results are all on
    Thank you for your contribution and have fun with it.
    Andy – near Basel, Switzerland

    1. Thanks Andy. I’m currently only using 35mm and Rodinal tends to exaggerate grain so I stand develop in cold water to try to minimise the effect. For straight scans this seems to work well although if I adjust the contrast curve too much the grain becomes apparent. The best solution of course is, as you mostly do, move to MF – but I’m not a fan of the weight or bulk but I’ll give my light Yashicamat a try. Nice images on your Instagram by the way.

  5. Hi Geoff,
    Brilliant, simply brilliant!
    Nice photos made with a wonderful camera. Have one on my own, using it from time to time.
    I don‘t do the development stuff myself, better using a reliable small company since years.
    I fully understand, why you name it a „serious mistake“ 🙂

  6. Clive Prothero-Brooks

    I too recently bought a LX really like the camera everything is easy to use and well made, I just bought a K1000 mount adapter so now I can use my P6 lenses Carl Zeiss Jena lenses from 50mm to 500mm


  7. Wonderful article. I had a Pentax LX for a while. The meter, which is very similar to that of the Olympus OM-2, is amazing. Alas, mine tended to develop finicky electronics. I hear that is somewhat common if you have one of the early ones (as I did). I also have an OM-4T which does virtually everything the LX does, plus one or two other things, and is just as well built. So I decided to sell the Pentax and use the money to get more lenses for the Olympus.

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