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Nick's Classic Corner - No 51 - Pentax LX

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Feb 25, 2016.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    With the announcement of the new full-frame Pentax, now seems to be quite a good time to have a look back at what was a very interesting attempt to have a crack at the 35mm Pro market.

    You could argue that Pentax were largely accountable for the success of the 35mm SLR with the Spotmatic range, and a number of pros who didn't need all the extra features of the Nikon F found their way into using them a bit. However, as the 60s morphed into the 70s, the cameras became somewhat dated and Pentax responded with the K range. Included in there was the K2 (later K2 DMD), a relatively high-end model with some features that could appeal to pros. However, by this point Nikon were well in control of the pro market, and Canon now had serious competition with the F-1. Pentax's solution was to go smaller, and came up with the M series, initially the consumer-orientated auto-only ME and the all-manual and mechanical MX. The MX featured 5 fps motordrive and interchangeable screens, and was a very capable and lovely camera, but it still didn't sell much to pros. So finally Pentax decided to go the whole hog, and introduced the groundbreaking LX, a full system camera with interchangeable viewfinders (including a very clever modular one) and all sorts of technology all housed in a relatively compact body for the type of camera. In fact it's almost exactly the same size as the K2c, and on the face of it, has quite a bit in common. However, this was a completely new concept, with hybrid shutter (works mechanically from 1/75 to 1/2000), off the film metering, and a very wide range of accessories.

    So what's it like to use? Very nice, that's what. It's not too big and not too small, has a very bright viewfinder, and is sensibly laid-out.

    Mine has the grip attached - doesn't improve the looks one bit, but does improve the handling. An alternative version was available that could be carved to fit your own hand, but this one does just fine for me. The grip attaches to a stud at the top of the front of the camera, and screws in at the bottom.
    For the most part, the layout is pretty conventional. Around the rewind crank is the film speed dial (ASA only) which can be adjusted by rotation having pressed a button on the left. This dial doubles for exposure compensation, marked in multiples/fractions of the exposure - not my favourite way of displaying it, but it works. This function is engaged by a different button to the side of the pentaprism, and this button is surrounded by a lever to remove the prism or alternative finder. Of all such devices I've used, this one works the best and makes it trivially easy to change the finder, whilst keeping it on securely. More about finders later.
    On the other side of the prism is the shutter speed dial, marked from 1/2000 to 4s plus B, and a locking automatic setting. In auto, the longest shutter speed is 125 seconds, and the metering sensitivity is good for EV -6.5 - astoundingly low. Also on this side of the topplate is the shutter release, with a lovely smooth action and equally smooth locking collar, and the wind-on lever and framecounter.
    On the front of the camera is a 3 function lever - it looks like, and is, the self-timer, but push it towards the camera and it's the depth-of-field preview, and press the button and push it towards the camera and it locks up the mirror. Very clever, and keeps the number of controls down. On the other side are two flash sockets, one for X synch, the other for FP (focal plane) flashbulbs. Now by the time this camera was released, fashbulbs were already dead and pretty hard to find, so I'm not sure what the point of that was - particularly as Pentax introduced a pretty sophisticated TTL flash system. To say an FP socket was an anachronism would be putting it mildly... and there are two electronic contacts there as well, as there are on the back.

    On the base, there's the battery compartment (2 x LR44) and various sockets for the motordrive, and a tripod socket on the lens axis. And the rewind button, of course.
    Film loading is by Pentax's magic needle system, which I've always found simple and reliable.

    More viewfinder options are available for this camera than most, including a separate modular system; I just have the FA-1 standard finder, which gives a large, clear view and has a Judas window for the display of the aperture setting. Down the right, and somewhat annoyingly in the picture area, are the shutter speeds; a green flag indicates the set speed (or A), an LED outside the picture area but adjacent to the speed display shows the required speed in manual or speed set in auto. LEDs are green for the faster speeds, orange from 1/15 to 4s and red for B or long time. Multiple screens are available - mine has a ground glass circle, which I rather like.
    UPDATE: I know have a modular base and the rotating high eyepoint finder. Makes it look somewhat different, changes the weight and balance of the body a bit, but it's very good - makes it much easier to keep the non-shooting eye open, and use the finder on a tripod. Also it converts to a low-angle viewer - or WLF with a little movement of the eye. Good alternative.

    So all in all it's a camera full of technology (for the time), but that handles pretty traditionally. It feels solid but not heavy, it's compact for a "professional" SLR, and it has many tricks up its sleeve - very good metering including flashmetering, wonderful viewfinder options and so on, but it's almost pocketable. A few things I'm not wild about, but they're small things, and don't spoil the experience. I may have a new favourite Pentax.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2016
  2. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    I had one of these for a short while. A well engineered camera which was pleasant to handle with very smooth actions.
  3. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    Looking forward to it.

    As someone who started with Nikon, the main thing that has always put me off the LX is the 'wrong-way' shutter speed dial. I'm sure I could get used to it, but it would make it hard to jump from one system to the other. Also puts me off the modern Fujis, but they of course can be used with the command wheels/dials.
  4. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    It's the right way round for me - focus direction isn't, but everything else is. Seems a very nice camera so far - pretty much up there with Canon's F-1N, which is one of my favourites. Would like to try a Nikon F3 out against them, was always a camera I liked a lot too.
  5. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    I got an early model in October 1987 through a Student who worked on a camera dealers -- I quickly found that the 1/75th flash synch speed was useless for fill-in flash so used my ME Supers more as they synch at 1/125th . Then it had to go to Pentax at Harrow as the metering played up -- then they had the famous FIRE and I got sent a FREE Replacement 'later' version with a 50mm f1.4 lens which was OK for several years-- then I got a message from Harrow asking why I had not 'picked up my LX that I had paid for ' -- so I rushed there and sure enough years later there was my FIRST LX which had NOT been fire or water damaged -- so I told them I had 'been abroad for some years' and grabbed the LX and left as fast as I could back to Brentwood ----
  6. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    Waiting for these updates is like waiting for your green envelope from Truprint to arrive! ;) For me that waiting was always made worse by my dad's attempts to sing "Some Day My Prints Will Come"...o_O
  7. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

  8. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Pentax LX.jpg
  9. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Mild update on finders.

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