Close up of Pentax MG
5 frames with...

5 Frames with the Pentax MG – Provence in Black & White – by Richard Wilford

October 14, 2020

This Pentax MG was a lockdown purchase. I loaded it with Ilford FP4+ but was only halfway through the film when travel restrictions were (temporarily) lifted and we left for France. So the camera was untested. I also packed a roll of Kodak T-Max 100, and took a chance. I was lucky, the camera and photos turned out fine.

We travelled to Provence, in southern France, a captivating region that yearns to be shot in colour. I have been to Provence a few times but using black and white film made me look at it in different way. I also had my DSLR and a couple of rolls of colour film so I could still make the most of the colours, the clear blue sky, the window boxes and brightly painted shutters in honey-coloured walls. But the textures and patterns are also appealing, and so is the contrast of sun and shade. Many villages in Provence have huge plane trees that provide relief from the heat, and ancient narrow streets where you can hide from the sun. All this meant there was plenty to photograph without being distracted by the colours.

I bought a Pentax MG because I was looking for a Pentax ME! Most of my film photography has been with a Minolta X300, which I have written about here before but when I bought a DSLR I chose Pentax. I had also acquired a couple of old manual focus lenses, so I wanted to try a film-era Pentax and was drawn to the small M-series cameras from the 1970s and early 1980s, about the same age as my Minolta. A working ME turned out to be a bit too expensive, and the ME Super even more so. I didn’t need a new camera, I just wanted to have a go with one of these little Pentaxes, so when an MG turned up for a good price, I went for it.

Pentax MG camera and lens

The Pentax MG with the 50mm f1.7 on the camera and the 28mm f3.5, the lenses I took to Provence

The Pentax MG was released in 1981. Like the ME it is an aperture priority only camera with no full manual mode. The shutter speed is shown in the viewfinder. It is a cheaper version of the ME so the build quality, although good, is not as good as the ME and the viewfinder is smaller. The body is 1 mm wider and 2.5 mm taller than the ME, so hardly noticeable. The only way to take control of the exposure is by adjusting the ASA dial underneath the rewind crank, using it as an exposure compensation dial, or you can set the shutter mode dial to 100X and use the ‘sunny 16’ rule. This 1/100s setting is mechanical so will still work without batteries. The only other settings on the mode dial are B, for long exposures, and Auto. There isn’t even an exposure lock.

Top view of the Pentax MG camera

The ASA dial on the left, shutter button and mode dial on the right. Below the mode dial is the orange indicator showing the film is wound on.

It’s also worth noting that there is no on/off switch or shutter lock. The meter will turn off automatically after a few seconds but if you’ve wound the film on, and therefore cocked the shutter, you can inadvertently take a photo with a careless press of the shutter button, or if, as I did, you knock the self-timer lever as you reach for the camera. Helpfully, there is a ‘shutter-cocked’ indicator so at least you can tell if the film is wound on. I have a habit of winding the film on after taking a photo, ready for the next shot but with the Pentax MG it is safer to wind on only when you are ready to take a picture. Too often, when I did remember to not wind on, I promptly forgot and the shutter wouldn’t work when I lined up and carefully focussed the next shot! So there are some annoyances but it is a lovely small SLR to carry around. It easily slips in a bag or larger coat pocket and I think it looks good, and the shutter has a satisfying clunk. I enjoyed using it, which is surely the most important thing.

As for the photos, I am very pleased with them. Exposures were generally good on Auto setting, despite the high contrast of bright sun and shade. I think these black and white shots evoke the spirit of Provence, for me anyway.

French village pond surrounded by plane trees

The village Cucuron, with plane trees providing the shade. Kodak T-Max 100, 28mm lens.

People sitting outside a French village bar

The bar in Villes-sur-Auzon, Ilford FP4+, 28mm lens.

Narrow village street with people

Life in the narrow streets of Cucuron, Kodak T-Max 100, 50mm lens

French vilage street with cafe

Taking the shade in Venasque. Ilford FP4+, 50mm lens

Town houses in France

Uzes, not in Provence, but very near! Kodak T-Max 100, 50mm lens

Thanks for reading.

You can see some occasional film and digital shots on Instagram here.
Much more popular, and all digital, garden and plant photos, are here.

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Jasper
    October 14, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    Nice review! The 28/3.5 kicks ass and blows the 28/2.8 out of the water.

    • Reply
      Richard Wilford
      October 14, 2020 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks. Yes I read the f3.5 was better, and it also tends to be cheaper! So far I have been very pleased with it.

    • Reply
      Phil Snaps
      October 16, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      Note that there are several 28/3.5 lenses. The one everybody raves about is the SMC Pentax 28mm F3.5 (sometimes called
      Pentax-K 28mm F3.5). It is bigger and more expensive than the other variants (M and A series) which are both closer to the 28/2.8 in terms of image quality.

  • Reply
    Michael J
    October 14, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    Oh yes, yearning for an apero in the Provençal shade.
    Oh no, another desirable Pentax lens that I don’t have!
    Thanks for sharing your lovely pics.

    • Reply
      Richard Wilford
      October 14, 2020 at 6:57 pm

      Thank you. My wish to return only gets stronger as the weather here gets colder!

  • Reply
    Clive W
    October 15, 2020 at 8:09 am

    Nice evocation of a beautiful place. Striking that you can depict the heat without needing colour.

    ME Supers do seem to be getting more expensive — this after I’ve seen dozens at bargain prices and resisted buying one as a spare to the one I’ve had from new. I think I’d find an MG or ME too restricted but you’ve shown that needn’t be an obstacle.

    • Reply
      Richard Wilford
      October 15, 2020 at 9:00 am

      Thanks, I’m glad you like the photos. I mostly shoot aperture priority anyway so didn’t find the MG too restrictive, although I would like an exposure lock as I find it easier to use than fiddling with the ASA dial to compensate for deep shade or bright sunlight.

      • Reply
        Clive W
        October 15, 2020 at 12:29 pm

        Yes, AE lock was a Pentax blind spot for a long time — not even the LX has it. The best Pentax camera I’ve tried in that respect is the much later MZ-5n, which puts the lock button neatly under my right thumb — much easier to operate there than on the front of my various Nikons. I still have mine, but somehow don’t feel drawn to use it the way I still do my older, MF cameras. Daft, really — it’s more capable than any of them!

        • Reply
          Richard Wilford
          October 15, 2020 at 1:30 pm

          Ha ha, yes, I think it’s the build quality of those older cameras. I briefly (before it broke) had a Pentax P30t, which does have an exposure lock function, but the camera was all plastic and the shutter/mirror had a nasty twang!

          • Huss
            October 16, 2020 at 8:52 pm

            How did your P30T break? I have one and it has been very nice to use. Love the fact that I cannot lose the battery ‘cap’! I also use the ME, MX, K2, SuperA and LX…
            I really recommend the SuperA and K2. And the ME is just delightful. The MX’s film advance throw is much longer than the others, which I find very disappointing.

          • Richard Wilford
            October 16, 2020 at 9:43 pm

            Winding on didn’t cock the shutter so you had to wind on again – could end up getting through a film very quickly! Tried to fix it but I think I made it worse. I got it cheap so not a big deal but I prefer the solid and compact MG.

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