Pentax MV-1

Pentax MV-1 & 40mm f/2.8 Review – A Quest For an Ideal Compact Film SLR – Part 1 – by Ed Lara

My GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) setting was kicked up a notch recently as a result of falling in love with the Olympus XA. The XA is a great camera, but despite my small hands, I still find it a bit too fiddly. So, I began looking around for compact 35mm SLRs that would be as simple and intuitive to use as the XA, but provide more real estate and purchase than the diminutive clamshell camera.

Why An MV-1?

I remembered how much I enjoyed my Pentax ME Super in college, so went to eBay to find a compact M. I debated whether I should get another ME Super, or go for the M camera I really wanted when I was in High School, the more “pro” featured MX. However,  I was a bit hesitant given both cameras were being sold on eBay for more than I wanted. I also felt that I would not fully replicate the experience of the XA with the MX since it was a full manual exposure camera. I ended up with a less well-known MV-1 for a great price, with a feature set similar to the ME Super, with the exception of  the lack of manually controllable shutter speeds. I had never heard of the MV or MV-1 before, but after a little research and perusing of a few online reviews, I decided to go ahead and bid on one.

The MV-1 In Hand

The Pentax MV-1 is exactly what I was looking for: a larger-sized version of the Olympus XA. Like the other Pentax Ms, the MV-1 is very small for a full frame SLR. Like the XA, it is primarily aperture-preferred. It also has a 1/100 manual speed and a Bulb setting which can be used without a battery. Unlike the XA, it has no backlight compensation setting. But, you can still handle tricky exposure situations by changing the ISO settings.

I’ve forgotten how easy it is to load these Ms with their interesting plastic take up “grips”. They quickly cling onto the film leader as soon as you wind the advance lever forward. And, I’ve also forgotten how short the film advance throw is, making for very fast winding. The display readout is straightforward and more rudimentary than the XA. There are Yellow, Green and Red “smears” on the left side of the viewfinder to indicate over and underexposure.  Wonderful, in my mind, because there are no other distractions to take away attention from framing the image.

Also, unlike the XA, the Pentax MV-1 is an SLR and so is nosier to shoot. It also does not have a built-in lens. I managed to get a good deal on a classic SMC Pentax-M 40mm F2.8 pancake. Mated to the Pentax MV-1,  you get a fantastic, compact combination for all around, intuitive shooting. Just like the XA, but one which feels better in hand. And, the shutter button falls nicely into place – no hunting required! The black body Pentax MV-1 I have looks quite stealthy, and a simple wrist strap makes it very handy to carry around.

The One Drawback

My biggest gripe with the Pentax MV-1 so far has been the viewfinder. I don’t recall my ME Super’s finder being as dark, nor as hard to focus on. Could it be because I use progressive lenses that are hard to use with the viewfinder? Or is there something just wonky about the MV-1 ground glass? Maybe it’s also the 40mm F2.8?  I have read in other reviews that it can be quite difficult to focus. Interestingly, I don’t have the same issue on the used Nikon EM which I bought at the same time (and which will be the subject of a separate article). Anyway, as with any camera, you make do with its limitations.  I shot my first roll, Ultrafine 400 (a no-name brand C-41 B&W film), and hoped I got most of the shots in focus.

Reassuring Real-World Results

When I downloaded the scans from my first roll, I was happy to see that all the photos I took through the viewfinder were in sharp focus.   I took a few shots using zone focusing a la the XA, and those were a bit more hit or miss.

The Pentax MV-1 meter seems to have worked well under most lighting conditions,  and the 40mm lens is decently sharp for my tastes.  It is not clinically sharp, but it does a solid job.  And, no other lens can give you the same compact profile, paired with a Pentax M body.

Conclusions… For Now

So, this happens to be one of my favorite film cameras to shoot with now, together with the Nikon EM + Winder. The Olympus XA definitely still wins for pocketability, sharpness, and stealthiness. But the Pentax MV-1, paired with the 40mm pancake, comes pretty close as a handy all-around street shooter that will not weigh you down.

If you want to see more of my photographs, please go to my Instagram feed @photoedontheweb.

Thank you for reading!

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26 thoughts on “Pentax MV-1 & 40mm f/2.8 Review – A Quest For an Ideal Compact Film SLR – Part 1 – by Ed Lara”

  1. Great article and snap! I am in the same situation, I needed a compact SLR solution for an upcoming trip to Barcelona where I want to travel light. A few months ago I acquired an MV1 body and, only this week, added a 40mm Pentax pancake lens to it. Great minds, eh?

    1. Great! Would appreciate a follow up after you Barcelona trip to hear about your experience. Are you having a similar issue with the focusing and darkness of the screen?

  2. Picked up an MV1 on Facebook Marketplace for a stupidly low price in nice condition about 6 months ago but have yet to test it out,really must get some film into it

  3. Ed, I’m not familiar with this camera, but your comment about the brightness of the v/f image prompted me to do a search.
    Ordinarily, I’d expect an f2.8/40mm lens to be just a little less precise in gauging focus owing to greater depth of field and a slightly less bright aperture. But to contrast this, I’ve an old Russian slr, the Zenit C, which has an f3.5 lens and a traditional ground glass screen and which is not as efficient as more modern resin fresnel lens screens, and this is surprisingly easy to focus.
    So my suspicions were aroused about the focusing screen Pentax used, given that this was their base line slr. And indeed I found some comments that this screen wasn’t as bright as models further up the range. This is a long shot, but given how dark you feel the screen is, is there any possibility that your lens has a problem and is not fully opening to its maximum f2.8 aperture?

    1. Terry – thanks for the additional info and research! I can check again to see whether the lens opens up fully, but the problem also is that I can feel my eyes strain very hard just to look at the ground glass image properly. I do not have this problem on any other film SLR I own, so wonder if it’s the diopter being off on the viewfinder? What I need to do is mount another lens as well to see if the issue persists. Thanks!

      1. Ed, eye strain really shouldn’t be an issue with a correctly adjusted v/f. As a generality, slr v/fs are set for roughly 1 metre, so if your eyes can clearly focus on an object 1m distant, then you should be fine. If you need corrective spectacles to do this, then use them as normal, else you should invest in a v/f correction lens.

        In your post I see that you refer to using progressive lenses. Are these what others may call vari-focal, in that the lens is designed to cover near to distant subjects depending upon which part of the lens you look through? If this is the case, then I would expect that you’d be able to position the lens at some point for best result with your camera. You also said you didn’t have the same problem using an ME-Super, so it could well be that in paring the camera down to a price, the v/f system suffered in the process.

        1. Thanks,Terry, yes, progressives are varifocals, and I have been able to position my glasses so I look through the bottom/reading ends to focus. What still strikes me as odd, to your point that film SLR viewing screes are set to roughly 1 meter, is that I do not have this problem with all the other film SLRs I have of various brands. So, ‘tis still a puzzlement!

          1. Ed, it’s looking increasingly likely that the reflex viewing has somehow become misaligned as it doesn’t appear to be the lens as from what I can tell the focus on the point of interest in your images seems fine. Sometimes this can happen as a result of a jolt and which can dislodge the pentaprism. The only thing I can suggest now is to see if others have the same problem with this camera. If they do, looks time for an upgrade, but it has been looking like this from the outset, doesn’t it?
            Staying with your PK mount and lenses, and to a budget price, a very good alternative to Pentax models is the Ricoh KR10 Super, aperture priority + full manual. I’m only suggesting this as an inexpensive alternative but can confirm it has a bright, sharp and clear screen. Aperture priority + manual, with readout of selected shutter in the v/f using a pointer against the speeds vertically aligned to the right-hand side of the screen, but no readout of aperture. The f2/50 kit lens is bit rough and ready, metal mount but plastics elsewhere. If you can pick up a fully working one cheaply, I doubt you’d be disappointed.

          2. Thanks, Terry, that makes sense, though no apparent jolt/bang marks I can see—could be a defective unit. Thankfully I have not built up a Pentax K mount set of lenses yet (most of my old film kit is Olympus OM), so am in no rush. I do like the form factor a lot, and as I rotate amongst a few film cameras, I will deal with the hassle for the occasional street shoot/walkabout with the MV-1. Really appreciate your perspective1

    1. Thanks, Nick. Will hopefully come across an inexpensive faster Pentax M mount in the near future to verify this.

  4. Kevin Eyewanders

    I’ve tried three times to get a working MV-1 and struck out all three times. Each one had dead and/or non-working meter. Best case scenario for it is a camera that can only be shot at the flash sync speed. :-/ Reinforces my fear of the circuit boards from that era. I still have one of those bodies in my “graveyard” – intend to pass it on to Eric Henderson (as I often do with nice looking “parts” cameras) whenever I next send him something to work on.
    For my part, nothing truly replaces an MX in this size ballpark; no AE mode, but it’ll keep ticking long after most others have been binned.

  5. Si no te espantan las telemètricas, una Ricoh 500G cumple perfectamente el apartado ” pequea, compacta, liviana, lente afilado 40mm f2.8, controles manuales y automàticos, etc etc…” Muy buen posteo, saludos!

    1. Pablo – Gracias, esa es una buena sugerencia! De hecho, tengo algunas cámaras de película compactas como la Olympus XA y la Rollei 35 SE, así como la Canon QL17. Realmente estaba buscando cámaras SLR antiguas que también fueran pequeñas y fáciles de usar, solo para probarlas. Por cierto, todo esto es a través de Google Translate, así que disculpas si la traducción no es tan buena. Gracias por tus comentarios.

  6. These basic SLRs from the pre-AF age are a bit of a puzzle to me now. Yes, an MV-1 is cheap today – but is it that much cheaper than an ME Super? That is the same size and weight, but shows actual speeds rather than smears (still colour-coded) and has both an exposure compensation dial and a superior viewfinder (numerically, at least – but mine is plenty bright enough to focus f/3.5 lenses.) It’s just as easy to use if all you want is confirmation that your speed is ‘green’. And Pentax made millions of them, so there are still plenty about.

    The cut-down SLRs made sense when there was a market for simpler and cheaper in the early days of automation – and before AF compacts provided an easier solution for most casual users. But these days, when the difference between these and the full-featured enthusiast machines is, at most, the price of buying, developing and scanning a roll or two of film, I find it hard to see the value proposition. Fine if you already have one, of course, or buy one cheap for the lens attached to it, but why would anyone go looking for an MV-1 (or a Nikon EM, to show I’m not picking on Pentax) today?

    1. Thanks, Clive. All good points. For my part, I find myself looking for variety in my film shooting experience (for the 10-15% of the images I take which are not digital). I have to admit nostalgia and curiosity for some of these old cameras, which came into the market when I first got into photography in elementary and high school, also are a big factor.

      1. I entirely get that, Ed. I do it too; my ME Super was the camera I bought in 1984 because my teenage budget wouldn’t stretch to a Nikon FE. Now I’ve got an FE as well, and a set of Nikon lenses that surpasses my Pentax kit – at least for the way I shoot today. But the Pentax still gets an outing for its excellent viewfinder, and for the LED meter display that I can read in evening light.
        Oh – and a Pentax Auto 110, because I thought it was cool in 1980. (It still kind of is – but not as a photographic tool.) And a Minolta Autocord because – well, y’know. (I’d never even heard of that one in 1980.) And still I have to resist the urge to buy an XA or a Rollei 35 or a Canonet or… or… or… , because there’s only so much film I can shoot – and afford to process – and these machines deserve to be used.

        Perhaps the Auto 110 is my MV-1. There are undoubtedly superior tools available, but it comes from a formative stage of my life, and it still makes me and other people smile. I hope you’re getting the same from your imperfect Pentax..

        1. Clive- great set! I loved using my ME Super before I gave it to my sister in the mid 80s. I do have the XA and Rollei 35 S; really like the XA for its compactness and high quality lens. Haven’t had great success with the Rollei yet. Hearing about your Auto 110 is activating my GAS again! Thanks.

  7. Pingback: A Quest for An Ideal Compact Film SLR - Part 2: The Nikon EM Plus Nikkor 35mm Lens by Ed Lara - 35mmc

  8. Interesting review, many thanks for posting it (late as I am in discovering this site!). Your comment about the dimness of the MV1’s viewfinder triggered a memory from my strange habit of collecting any free brochures displayed in camera shops back in the early eighties when these models were current (I did buy photography equipment but was always interested in the alternatives to the ones I chose!) I clearly recall from the brochures that the MV1 and the even more basic MV had their pentaprisms “silvered” with aluminium (aka aluminium) instead of actual silver, as in the more expensive models. Aluminium coating is less efficiently reflective than silver (and less expensive of course!) so that is the most likely reason for the less-bright image – there’s nothing wrong with the camera, just a symptom of Pentax saving money in production!
    As I remember, these were the only two models in the range that they did this to. Their immediate predecessor, the ME (not the ME Super, which was upmarket from these aperture priority auto-only models) had a higher specification and silvered pentaprism, and the MG which replaced them did too – it was in many ways more like the original ME (the ME and MG both had a full display of the automatically-selected shutter speed in the viewfinder).

    1. Photoedontheweb

      Thanks very much, that is very good information and confirms my suspicion that there is something fundamentally different about the MV-1’s ground glass. I did have the ME Super decades ago and never had any issue with the brightness of the image and nod difficulty focusing. Thank you!

  9. Got one of these for free but have yet to put a film through it, your review makes me feel I need to do that sooner rather than later and also look out for that 40mm

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