Pentax's Modern SLR Forefather, the AP

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by allancobb, Feb 21, 2021.

  1. I've been fortunate to have recently acquired a fine example of the Pentax AP SLR, the first modern Pentax SLR after the Asahiflex series, that established the basic design for all Pentax SLR models that followed.

    From "The Asahi Optical Company released the 'Asahi Pentax' (AP) in 1957 as the replacement for their Asahiflex line of cameras. While not the first Pentaprism camera to be produced, the AP is considered by many to be the start of the modern 35mm SLR format still used today. The camera incorporated a number of features which were not typically found during this era. This was the first camera to combine eye level through the lens focusing (through a pentaprism viewfinder), an instant return mirror and a right-hand film advance/shutter cocking wind lever. The camera was so successful that the company eventually changed its name from Asahi Optical to Pentax.
    The camera had no engraved model designation but was later referred to as 'AP' (for 'Asahi Pentax'). The camera had two shutter speed dials. The one on the top plate sets the fast speeds: 1/500, 1/200, 1/100, and 1/50s, the one on the front the slow speeds (controlled by a timer): 1/25, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, and 1s."

    Amazingly, I acquired the particular body (from an excellent seller in Japan), despite a few minor cosmetic flaws, in perfect working order, all functions performing marvelously. There are a few noteworthy points concerning everyday use: the slow speed dial has priority over the fast speed dial; one must remember to set the slow speed dial to 1/25, else it will fire at the set slow speed, regardless of the fast speed dial setting. Also, there are no accessory grooves in the eyepiece, so a flash mush be mounted from the bottom. There is no mechanical interface with lenses, so diaphragm operation would be completely manual.




    But the operation is smooth and precise with a surprisingly quiet shutter, much quieter than a Spotmatic or K/M-Series body, but more like the H2 shutter and maybe even slightly more so. In all, this camera reflects a high degree of quality and craftmanship that set the stage for Pentax's future worldwide success.

    I was also fortunate to obtain a lens from the same time period (in beautiful condition from the same seller), the 35mm f/4 Takumar, Pentax's first 35mm lens that preceded their legendary 35/3.5 (whose optical formula remained unchanged from 1959 to 1977). It is also claimed to be Japan's first wide-angle SLR lens. As expected, it is completely manual with no lens to body interface that later began with the Auto-Takumars. Its compactness is remarkable and especially considering its early design, performs comparatively well to its successors. It's the perfect period match for the AP.

    A couple examples from a recent stroll through the woods with the AP 35/4 combination (Kodak 100TMX, HC-110B):



    In all, I'm very impressed with the AP, a great camera, pleasurable to use, whose legacy made it possible for Pentax to attain its future status.

    Cheers, Allan
    kklow, kmac, tom_halfhill and 7 others like this.
  2. Nice. Thanks.

    Here is the UR-Pentax, by the way. It even had an "instant return" mirror. Asahi was not good about recognizing the Dresden German cameras they 're-interpreted'
    Praktiflex I

    for sale in 1940

    Minicam Photography ad November 1940​
    LMar, kklow, luis triguez and 2 others like this.
  3. Wow, quite the remarkable similarity to the Asahiflex! Yet another dimension in the early SLR development saga, of which so many coinciding designs sprang forth nearly simultaneously.
  4. Very informative post. That 35mm f 4 is a good performer. For many years the 35mm focal length was the popular wide angle that many users added to their outfit. By the 1970's and later the 28mm was more popular. In recent years, however, I've "rediscovered" the 35mm focal length and find it useful a walking around lens. I have several 35mm lenses that I use regularly: Minolta Celtic MD f 2.8, MC Rokkor HG f 2.5, Olympus Zuiko f 2.8, and a pair of Pentax Super Takumar f 3.5s.
    Kent T, James Bryant and allancobb like this.
  5. Umm, I'm not sure how much of a "coincidence" the similarity is.:rolleyes:
  6. True, most likely not much of a "coincidence" at all. By "coinciding," I meant many similar designs occupying the same time period, although not necessarily by chance. But certainly very interesting; it goes to show that if a design or an idea is good enough, it becomes ubiquitous.
  7. Thanks Mike! I find myself doing the same thing more frequently, I use either the 35mm or its counterpart in different formats. It can be regarded as a general purpose "Goldilocks" focal length.
    Kent T and James Bryant like this.
  8. Interesting since I started using my Nikkor 35mm f1.4 ais this year. It is a good lens stopped down but is soft wide open.
    allancobb and Mike Gammill like this.
  9. Excellent discourse on an iconic camera, Alan, with lovely sample images, and I'm astonished that you acquired one in such pristine condition. Many thanks for your efforts, and I'll join the chorus of praise for the 35/3.5, one of the best 35mm lenses I've come across.
    allancobb likes this.
  10. Thanks James, I have the 28mm, 50mm, and the legendary 105mm f/2.5, but not a 35mm yet for my Nikon F... but that should be next!

    Thank you Rick, you and me both, and I was so lucky to stumble upon on it! I guess, that's how it often happens, I wasn't actively looking for one, but as soon as the body and lens appeared, I snapped them up.

    I have the 35/3.5 Auto-Takumar (a tiny lens indeed) and its latest version, the 35/3.5 SMC Pentax K, both the same optical design (as well as all the versions in between). The 'K' version lives on my K-7 as its primary lens and is an excellent performer as you well know.
    James Bryant likes this.
  11. I also have the 105mm/f2.5 lens and find it excellent. In addition I have a weakness for the Zeiss lenses for Nikon, probably from using a Hasselblad for many years.
    allancobb likes this.
  12. "This was the first camera to combine eye level through the lens focusing (through a pentaprism viewfinder), an instant return mirror and a right-hand film advance/shutter cocking wind lever." I note how carefully that is written - there is a model of SLR, first produced in 1952. It is smaller than a Pentax ME, has a pentaprism viewfinder and right hand advance lever - it just lacks the instant return mirror. It's called a Zenit.
    allancobb likes this.
  13. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire

    No, the Zenit winds on with a knob. The Zenit 3 from 1960 has a lever. They also don't have slow speeds, and they load through the bottom; but they're among my favourite cameras. The Kristall from 1961 and the 3M from '62 have an opening back, but still no instant-return mirror.

    Thanks for the write-up Alan!
    allancobb likes this.
  14. Whoops - you're right! I don't know what I was thinking of...
  15. Absolutely, I'm sure the wording was chosen to be as unambiguous as possible; it always seems that once a declaration is made there's always a fact (obscure or not) revealed that refutes it.

    My pleasure! There seems to not be a lot of testimony regarding the AP and the 35/4 Takumar (at least within this forum); I thought it was about time to give it the attention it deserves.
  16. Practiflex I with Xeon 50mm f/2 cost $131.75 in 1940 = $2,462 in 2021
    allancobb likes this.
  17. On the coniciding and coincidence I'm reminded of the ophrase ...imitation being the highest from of flattery. But I don'T know nor care to point firsts and seconds etc. But when idea or need arisess , many just to fill the void.
    Very impressed with the pristine condition. I often find the flash shoe obtrusive to a fine clean design. I have long been a fan of 35mm focal length and additionally the well the very many "less than 50mm" lens that graced the Japanese RFs of the 70s as well as the many post war consumer models of the 50s and 60s . 38mm and 42mm respectively.
    Lucky you Alan congrats on a lovely score!
    allancobb likes this.
  18. @ Tom-halfhill... nice Avatar!!
  19. Thanks Chuck, I was lucky enough to find a great AP, but felt I had won the lottery when the 35/3.5 Tak appeared shortly after! I think that lens will stay on the AP pretty much all the time, it's definitely a kind of "jack of all trades" focal length.
  20. A note: Asahi Pentax had one major innovation in Japanese cameras, the instant return mirror. Praktica, Exakta, and others got it later on.
    allancobb likes this.

Share This Page