One of the nice aspects of having a collection of old film cameras is picking up one that you haven't shot in a while and falling in love all over again. After several months of using more modern cameras, I've just loaded some Acros in my Pentax Spotmatic SP. Whenever I shoot this camera, I marvel at its thoughtful design. Simple. Mechanical. Metal. Gears. Levers. Beautiful!
The SP was the first in a long line of Spotmatic cameras which would introduce a legion of photographers to through-the-lens light metering. Introduced at Photokina in 1960 as a prototype, the first Spotmatics hit store shelves in 1964. Pentax would produce several variations of the Spotmatic over the next ten or twelve years before giving up on the screw mount M42 lens mount in favor of the K bayonet mount system in the mid 1970s.
The SP did not have a built in flash shoe. Pentax sold an accessory slide-on cold shoe for this camera. I have always felt that flash shoes on cameras were ugly necessities and the absence of one on this camera highlights the beautiful sculpted lines of the pentaprism. The SP is a handsome camera! The finish is beginning to wear on my black body SP revealing a stunning patina of brass. The more I use this camera, the better it looks. I can only imagine what my iPhone would look like in 53 years!
Several manufacturers made M42 screw mount lenses that will work on this camera, but the original Pentax Takumars were some of the finest lenses ever manufactured for 35mm SLRs. Pick up most any 50mm f/2, f/1.8 or F/1.4 Takumar and you will have a lens that will just dazzle you. I was lucky enough to stumble across a rare 8-element 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar and this lens is absolutely amazing!
Since Pentax made so many Spotmatics over the years, these cameras are widely available on eBay. I have seen decent Spotmatics offered for as little as $10. Since the Spotmatic is a fully mechanical camera with a battery that only powers the light meter, you can easily find one that works just fine without any kind of service. If you do need service, for a very reasonable fee, Pentax master repairer Eric Hendrickson can CLA (clean-lubricate-adjust) your Spotmatic and return it to you in almost like new condition.
Spotmatics originally used 1.35v mercury batteries and those have long since been banned. However, some forward-thinking Pentax designer included a bridge circuit in the Spotmatic that allows you to use modern batteries. I use the Renata 387s in mine.
Making photographs with a Spotmatic is a very simple and straightforward affair. Load your film, set your film speed in the little window on the shutter speed knob, compose and focus. Metering is a bit tricky in the Spotmatic because almost all of these cameras use "stop down metering." To meter, flick the little switch on the side of the lens mount up and then adjust shutter speed or aperture to center the needle in the viewfinder. It's a little fumbly at first, but half a roll in, it'll become second nature. I do it now without even thinking.
If you are considering getting into film photography, a modest investment in a Spotmatic body and one or two Super Takumar lenses will provide you with a kit that will tackle most any photographic adventure. Add an Eric Hendrickson CLA and your Spottie will provide pure simple joy for many years.
You can find Eric Hendrickson here: www.pentaxs.com
Here are some shots from earlier this year with the SP and 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar 8-element lens: