The Pentax LX straddles that line between the mostly mechanical, metal 35mm 1970s era SLRs with dials and levers that I love and the electronic, plastic, blobby, multi-function, menu-driven cameras of the 1990s that I don't. With an amazing 21 year production run (1980-2001), it seems that during that time, the LX would have morphed into a computer-driven techno-blob at some point, but it didn't. Pentax took the best of what their Spotmatic series offered (build quality, reliability, fine lenses), combined that with the small and light M-series bodies with bayonet lens mount, added system capability with pro-level fit and finish and quietly created a SLR masterpiece in a classic design. I say "quietly" because, when you think of pro-level 35mm cameras of this era, the Pentax name rarely gets mentioned. I've been dabbling in photography since the early 1970s and I had no idea that this camera even existed until recently. Only my recent positive experiences with Spotmatics led me to discover, research and desire my own LX.
While Nikon and Canon were building beefy, heavy, robust (and well known) professional 35mm cameras, Pentax went a different route. The LX is small. Really small. With a 50mm f/1.7 lens, the LX easily slips into a jacket pocket. Don't let the tiny size of the LX fool you though. This is a pro-level camera with aperture-priority auto and manual exposure modes, interchangeable finders and focus screens, an add-on motor drive and an arsenal of fine Pentax SMC lenses. And the LX is built for professional duty with a tough metal body and controls that have rubber gasket seals to keep out moisture and dust.
This is a camera that really grows on you. I shot my first rolls of film in the Pentax over a couple of weekends, taking the LX with me on Sunday walks. By the second weekend, I was really enjoying it. The LX has a big, bright viewfinder with split image focusing and a very clean and simple display of aperture, shutter speed and exposure mode. I might go so far as to say that the presentation of information in the LX finder might be my favorite of any vintage film camera I have used. Cameras need to be designed to make you WANT to use them. The LX begs you to pick it up. It feels good in the hand and is well balanced and very comfortable to shoot, even without the add on grip. And because of its small size and light weight, I've found myself taking it with me when I normally wouldn't even grab a camera.
My first test shots were on Fuji Pro400H, a film I've not had great luck with. It was a partly cloudy day with muted sunshine. Here's the beach near where I live.
I shoot into the sun a lot, so lens flare is pretty common. Aside from that, the LX's meter did a good job with this difficult-to-meter shot. Sloppy processing at the lab, I think, is responsible for that little blob in the center near the vegetation.
Back home, I got my usual new camera selfie.
By the second weekend and with a fresh roll of Kodak Portra 160 loaded, I was getting more comfortable with the LX. As I left the house and headed towards Doran Beach Park, I saw the first signs of Spring.
l cut through the campground at Doran Beach.
And out to the Bodega Bay Coast Guard station.
No, I didn't trespass on US Government property. I went around and down to the little cove where you can see the Coast Guard dock. I was surprised to see a ship speeding away from the dock just as I arrived.
I scrambled up the banks and over to the jetty where Bodega Bay meets the Pacific. The fire department and Sonoma County Sheriff were on the scene. Apparently, two kayakers had fallen into the water. One called 911 while clinging to his overturned craft.
The all clear sounded just a few minutes after I got this shot. Both kayakers were plucked from the water safely. In my seven years living in Bodega Bay, I have watched some amazing rescues by the Coast Guard, the Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter and our fabulous little fire department. Brave and dedicated people that we are so proud of. Moments later, this boat sped by with the kayakers on board.
I'm not going to ramble on with more technical information on this camera. I will simply say that the Pentax LX is truly wonderful to shoot. It may not seem so from this blog, but I am actually beginning to whittle down my arsenal of cameras, posting the ones I don't shoot often to my eBay feed, keeping only the ones I truly love to shoot with. The LX will not be sold.
Now, the disclaimer: Membership to the LX club does not come cheap. Decent bodies go for $400-$600. Many on eBay are in Japan, so you have the added expense of shipping. Deteriorating seals and pads contribute to "LX sticky mirror syndrome," which can be cured with a CLA. A CLA for an LX isn't cheap either. If your LX doesn't come with a grip and if you want one, expect to spend a hundred bucks on that. They also make one that you can carve down with a knife for a custom fit. The LX doesn't have normal strap lugs either, just little posts to mount the proprietary Pentax strap rings. My LX was missing these. I found a set on eBay for $50. Yikes!
Now this last part is really going to make me sound like a goofy camera geek, but as I was heading back home, I took this last shot of the setting sun. After clicking the shutter, I said to myself..."Man I love this camera!"