I adore mechanical cameras. I don't like fiddly cameras. I had a brief fling with a Barnack Leica. It was a jewel of camera; wonderful to look at and a dream to hold. As a shooter, it was fiddly. So many dials and levers. So much work to take a picture. Eventually, I sold it.
I'm currently having an unlikely romance with the Pentax Spotmatic line. I was wrong in my long time belief that these cameras were clunky and primitive. The Spotmatics are wonderfully simple cameras. Splendid build quality. Quiet. Precise. And they mate with a superb line of Takumar M42 lenses. Asahi Pentax was the first to bring through the lens (TTL) metering to a 35mm SLR and most of the Spotmatics use "stop down" metering. You compose your shot, focus and then slide a little switch on the side of the lens mount to "stop down" the lens to its taking aperture and activate the light meter. You then adjust aperture or shutter speed to center the needle in the viewfinder to give you an accurate exposure and fire the shutter. It sounds more complicated and time consuming writing it here than it actually is in practice. And after a roll or two, it becomes second nature to Spotmatic users, but it is a bit fiddly.
Near the end of the M42 era, Pentax offered several evolutionary open-aperture Spotmatics. These were the Electro-Spotmatic (sold almost exclusively in Japan), the ES and ESII , which also add aperture-priority auto-exposure. There was also a fully manual exposure, open aperture metering Spotmatic: the SPF. A new line of Super Multi-Coated (SMC) Takumars were also introduced with these cameras. The SMC lenses automatically "communicated" lens opening information to the camera's meter so TTL metering could be accomplished with the lens open rather than having to stop down. Yay--less fiddle! The SPF (1973-1976) would be the last of the famous Spotmatic camera line before Pentax rolled out the bayonet mount K-1000 SLR.
After having used the stop down Spotmatics and the ESII, I might have to say that the SPF might just be the ultimate, most refined Spotmatic for screw-mount Takumar lens lovers. By the time the SPF came out, Pentax had gotten this design just about perfect. And by removing the fiddle factor of having to flick that little switch on the side of the camera to meter, they produced an agile photographic tool.
This is photographic minimalism at its best. Being a 100% mechanical camera, the SPF is about as dependable as they come with the PX625A battery powering only the meter. All of the available shutter speeds are independent of battery power. And you don't even have to remember to turn the meter on. It comes to life whenever it senses light over EV2.
My Spotmatic F is a bit of a rare bird in that it has a split image focus screen. Apparently, this was an upgrade option that was available late in the Spotmatic line and not installed on many cameras. I find that this screen makes the SPF a pure delight to focus over the standard Spotmatic fresnel screen.
I headed down to the beach to get some "first roll" test shots with my SPF. I used Kodak's Portra 400, my favorite color film, and rated it at half the box speed.
I don't think you'll be using a SPF to shoot a fast moving sporting event, but this less fiddly Spotmatic allowed me to catch this horse and rider before she got too far down the beach.
I am embarrassed to think that I had so many preconceived negative notions about Pentax Spotmatic cameras. After using the SP, SPII, ESII and SPF, I can say with confidence that these are splendid cameras for anyone wanting inexpensive entry into 35mm film photography. The bodies are cheap. CLAs are widely available and inexpensive. The battery issue is a non-issue. And Takumar lenses will blow you away! And even though it's fun to work your way through this line of cameras, if you want the least fiddly, easiest to use, most dependable, easiest to fix and most modern Spotmatic--get the SPF.