The Pentax ES – A Classic in Transition

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, Aug 22, 2010.

  1. By the early 1970’s, there were a number of cameras that began the transition from fully mechanical operation to ones that added electrical power to control some camera functions such as exposure and shutter operation. Some of these transitional configurations, in addition to electronic features, retained many of the mechanical features of their older cousins. As such, they live in a twilight zone between fully manual classics and more modern cameras that are completely dependant on electrical power. This is such a camera.
  2. This is a 1971 Pentax ES (Electronic Shutter) SLR. Descendant from a long line of Pentax Spotmatics, the ES is one of the last of this breed. Beautiful in its deep black finish, it retained the classic Spotmatic look and feel while adding new features such as aperture priority exposure and a step-less, electronically controlled shutter. The mount, however, is classic M42 screw mount. While the electronic shutter allowed shutter speeds from 1/1000 to 1 sec, as well as in-between speeds, this camera like its classic predecessors, has mechanical shutters speeds, 1/1000 to 1/60, B as well. With batteries removed this camera can still take pictures!
    In the hands, the camera is fairly compact and feels well made. The film advance lever is not that beefy but quite stiff and my thumb gives it thumbs up. The focusing screen is quite bright but like most Spotmatics, the eye relief is not that great for eyeglass wearers. I use a rubber eyecup so my glasses don’t get scratched. The protruding battery chamber that contains a 6v silver oxide battery does change your grip somewhat but after a while I didn’t notice it.
  3. The ES and the ES II are quite similar. The ESII adds a few niceties such as repositioned battery chamber to the bottom, shutter speeds to 8 seconds, a self-timer and a viewfinder shutter. For day-to-day handheld shooting, I find them fairly equal.
    These two cameras, along with a Spotmatic F, comprise my primary M42 outfit. As nice as the Pentax cameras are when I reach for this kit it is generally for one reason…
  4. The lenses! The Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses are superb. They have a clarity, crispness and color fidelity that is undeniable. When used with the ES, ESII or F, they provide full open aperture metering.
  5. For a long time I thought I was seeing a clarity in my pictures that I couldn’t explain. It reminded me of the look I get with Zeiss and Leica lenses. Then one day I discovered a test done back in 1973 by Popular Photography’s Norman Goldberg. He carefully tested the flare resistance of a number of lenses and Pentax lenses had the lowest flare of them all. You can see the results in the attached chart. I was further surprised to read in Herbert Keppler’s book “The Pentax Way” (Amphoto, 1973) where he states that the coating on Pentax SMC lenses is so good that lens hoods are not needed.
  6. Here is my clutch of Pentax S-M-C Takumar Lenses. They consist of the S-M-C 28mm f/3.5, 35mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.4, 100mm f/2.8, 135mm f/2.5 and 200mm f/4. They are not only great optically, but the build quality is top notch too. I count them as some of my most valued lenses. Here are some shots done with the ES and these lenses on Fuji Superia 400 film.
  7. Bike trail
    50mm f/1.4
  8. Sunset Fountain
    100mm f/2.8
  9. The Toss
    135mm f/2.5
  10. Morning on the Farm
    Shooting right into the sun here, excellent flare control.
    28mm f/3.5
  11. The Clique
    200mm f/4
  12. Wall Fragment
    35mm f/3.5
    Remarkable resolution and contrast with this lens
  13. White flowers and buds
    100mm f/2.8
  14. Last One
    Steeple at Sunset
    50mm f/1.4
  15. Great cameras and lenses, I am envious.
    My first 35mm camera was a Pentax that took screw type lenses. I can not remember the model, but it had no built in light meter which was good, because I had to learn how to expose with a handheld light meter.
    I "loaned" it to one of my nieces so she could take a photography class in high school, and never got it back.
    It was a joy to use.
  16. Great post, Louis; you've put much worthwhile time and effort into assembling this collection of images, data and dissertation. That's a truly lovely collection of lenses, and the flare tests just go to prove what we Takumar aficionados have known all along. I have a rather well-worn ES, and I hadn't realised that the annoying battery compartment had been shifted to it's proper place on the baseplate, on the ESII. As you say, it's a curious transition of a camera, but a very capable one. Great photographs, as usual; "Steeple at Sunset" is spectacular, and I really like the moment you captured in "The Clique", a charming example of a picture being worth a thousand words. Thanks for a very fine post.
  17. Louis - Ok. You've firmly convinced me that I've got to get one of these to pair up with my Takumars. Looking forward to seeing how it stacks up against the Canon EF.
  18. Louis, again, one of your great posts with beautiful shots of the equipment. Those black cameras usually get the brassy, nicked-up and oxidized patina that some like, but I think they are just gorgeous when found pristine like yours. Love the feel of "Morning on the farm", and the colors on the "Steeple at Sunset". I bet that 100 f/2.8 produces some gorgeous portraits as well, and you do great portraits anyway.
  19. Wonderful photos of the cameras...and wonderful photos with them by the photographer!
  20. Very good article on those lenses and camera's you own and use and the information on the flare in those listed lens , the foto of the church steeple and others are very good,thank you for all that info :
  21. Many thanks for all the good feedback.
    Richard - That might have been the Pentax SV you had without a meter.
    Rick - I should have been more precise. The battery chamber was moved to the bottom of the lens mount. Also a single 6V was replaced by four, much smaller 1.3 volt hearing aid type batteries. Yeah those SMC Takumars turned in some nice numbers on that test. The Topcons look pretty good too. Odd that the Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 with the EBC, 11-layer coating didn't do better than the SMC 7-layer one. I guess there is a point of diminishing returns or perhaps the lens design itself plays a role.
    Capital Q - The Canon EF is another of those hybrid cameras. I've not shot with one but the comparison would be interesting.
    Les - It appears you did a bit of your own research. If you look up at my second paragraph you'll find the available mechanical speeds for the ES. No self-timer on that one.
    Shash - I agree about the black finish on these. Oddly enough, with this model, it's the chrome version that is the rare/hard-to-find/expensive one.
    Mark and Lauren - Thank you for your kind words
  22. I cant add anything different then others have stated, fantastic gear and even better photos, I liked all but the last was definitely the best!
  23. I have many of these lenses and a number of Pentax and other M42 bodies. The 50/1.4 SMC was added to my collection earlier this year. At some point I might look for an ESII but the reputation of the ES is not as good so I'll pass on that one. There was an attachment for one of the late Zeiss Contarex cameras which allowed for aperture priority automation. I don't remember whether that system predated the ES. My M42 equipment doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. I enjoy using the lenses more than I do the bodies so they get used with adapters on Canon, Minolta and Konica bodies.
  24. Excellent post and point well made with the PP lens review! Love the Steepl and Fountain also the Clique was intimate and so balanced! Thanks
  25. Is it just my laptop, or do your sample pics indeed have a kind of slightly dreamy surreal look about them?
  26. Some nice images of and taken with some great Pentax equipment.
    Some of the spotmatics had self-timer as a knurled ring around the film rewind knob, but I don't think the ES was one of them.
    The Pentax K2 is an obvious descendant of (replacement for) these ES bodies, and a predecessor to the LX that Les mentioned. And like the LX, it has mirror-lockup and DOF preview as well.
  27. FWIW the early models of the ES made for Japan are not quite the same as later models.They all have same designation. Much cleaner electronic circuits in export and later models. Batteries, all 4,located in base. I forgot Pentax with battery compartment in front, where self timer was.. Sure was a good idea.Leica M6 liked it! I wish my Summicron was a flare free as my Pentax lenses.
  28. Always look forward to your posts Louis, and one about a Pentax is just that much better! Is it just me, or do others think that those black Japanese cameras from the late sixties and early seventies just ooze sex appeal?
    There's no doubt that the Pentax is my favourite in this group (the Canon FTb is a very close second) as they just look so right. The SMC coating is really considered the best of all the multi-coatings, along with the Zeiss T*, and the smoothness of the mechanicals is also top notch as you mentioned.
    Keep up the good work!
  29. Thanks for jumping in, gang, with comments, questions and contributions. I appreciate them all.
    Before the release of the ES, an earlier model, the Electro Spotmatic, was released as a trial in Japan for a short time and was found very unreliable. They don't have the same designation. The Electro Spotmatic is written out on the front of that camera. See here:
    The later ES and ESII, as released in the US, were quite good but they carried a dark cloud of the bad press from the earlier failures with them. I can't say for others but both of mine have been working without problems for years.
    Both the ES and ESII lack traditional MLU. You can use stop-down metering with extension tubes, bellows, microscopes, telescopes or other non-open aperture metering lenses and get excellent auto exposure functionality. In this case, the stop down lever must be in the up position. The mirror raises and lowers normally and the exposure is controlled automatically.
    There is a way to lock the mirror up by putting the camera on "auto" and with the stop down lever is in the down position. The reflex mirror will remain up if you have not moved the stop-down lever up. To reposition the mirror to it's normal position you must turn the shutter dial off auto or push the stop-down lever up. No auto exposure is possible like this and Pentax says the feature is for "safety". For long manual exposures you are better off using Bulb.
    While I pointed out some of the major changes to the ESII, my understanding is that there were numerous small changes made, under the hood, to improve the design. Perhaps the ESII is the better camera, but, again, using the camera as I do, mostly handheld, the only real difference I notice is the lack of the front battery compartment on the ESII. For tripod use, the self timer, shutter blinds and extended auto exposure times of the ESII are quite desirable features.
  30. You really caught the light at the right moment with the fountain at sunset. Excellent.
  31. The earlier versions of the ES were notorious for eating batteries, I used to sell cameras for a living in those days, and we got fed up with customers returning them.
  32. That is one of the most beautiful pictures of a camera that I've seen in a long time, Louis. Great photos as always. I have a Super Takumar but I'm going to have to find an SMC Super Takumar as well, based on seeing what can be done with one. Of course having your skill may help some;)
  33. Beautiful photos Louis, just beautiful. Love those Takumars! I have a few myself. Good stuff. I left a link of this thread over on the Pentax forum.
  34. Very nice write-up and great shots.
    Had missed it when I was out of town, or I would have said earlier.
  35. mtk


    Hi Louis, I reluctantly sold off my Pentax kit about two years ago to finance my Nikon habit. I still shoot film with a vintage standard "F". Lately I have been getting the itch to jump back into the Spotmatic/Takumar fray.....I built most of my kit from KEH. Based on the catalogue there used to be long lists of M42 stuff...alot of it very inexpensive but now when I look there doesn't seem to be nearly as much and what is there seems kinda' pricey. Renewed interest in shooting film or Takumars on Pentax Digi bodies?
    Great posting and pictures!
  36. Interesting to see the poor flare results on the Topcor 200/5.6, it's known to be the dog of that line. Not surprised the Topcor 25/3.5 didn't flare well, it's a rather early retrofocus design with a lot of elements. No surprise the 35/2.8 and 100/2.8 Topcors were good, they are among the "gem" Topcors.
    I shot a lot of color pictures with my recently acquired Pentax-M, Pentax-A, and Pentax-FA lenses last week, it will be interesting to see them once processed.
  37. Nice work Louis! Among the many SLR's I have, I very much enjoy my 1964Spoty as well as my later SP2. The glass is superb and those cams can take a beating....
    The images you produced are wonderful, thanks for sharing.
  38. Louis, I found this almost 1.5-year old posting, and I really like your cameras, lenses, and the sample images.
    I have a question regarding both ES which is not answered in their official manuals (neither ES nor ESII). Does it use spot, or average, or center-weighted metering? I found a claim on the Web that it is center-weighted metering, but there was no source given.
    Once again, thank you for this informative posting.

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