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You are hereHome > History > Pentax

Brief History of Pentax Cameras

        Pentax Spotmatic F, 1973

The Asahi Optical Company of Japan (the famous AOC triangular symbol you see on the prism of a Pentax SLR) created the Pentax line of cameras. The Pentax (derived from PENTAprism refleX) camera was the first camera to incorporate a pentaprism viewfinder and a reflex mirror system.

1952. Asahiflex I is the first Japanese 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. It has a cloth curtain focal plain shutter and shutter speeds range from 1/20 to 1/500 sec. (plus Bulb).

1954. Until the introduction of the Asahiflex II, professional photographers prefer 35mm rangefinder cameras over SLRs. One of the main reason that SLR cameras do not yet gain popularity is because of the "mirror blackout" problem. When the shutter release is pressed, the mirror swings up to allow the film to capture the image. The mirror remains in this up position and has to be manually brought down. This "lag" means that rapid shooting is not possible with a SLR. The Asahiflex II has the world's first instant return mirror system. Soon, all SLRs also has one and the popularity of SLRs among professional photographers soars.

1957. Another coup by Pentax with the use of a pentaprism in the viewfinder of the Asahi Pentax SLR. Before that, you held your camera at waist level and looked straight down into an open viewfinder. The pentaprism allows eye-level viewing and provides an upright and laterally correct image. It is also the first time that the name Pentax (PENTAprism refleX) is used on a camera.

1959. Pentax K with a semi-automatic diaphragm.

1959. Pentax H2.

1960. Pentax III with a fully automatic diaphragm.

1961. Pentax H3 with fully automatic aperture mechanism. Shutter speeds range from 1 - 1/1,000 sec.

1962. Pentax H3V with the first clip-on exposure meter on a Japanese camera. It also had a self-timer. The Pentax H1A is similar to the H3V but features in addition an auto diaphragm and automatic resetting film counter.

1964. Pentax Spotmatic with the world's first TTL (through-the-lens) exposure metering system. Instead of using their seperate exposure meters to take light readings, then dialing the settings into their cameras, photographers can now let the camera's internal exposure meter take the reading through the lens (i.e. using the same light that is going to strike the film).

1966. Pentax Nocta with infrared focusing system. The Pentax Spotmatic Motor Drive allows professional photographers to shoot 250 continuous frames.

1969. Pentax 6x7 medium-format professional camera. The Pentax Auto 110 is selected by NASA for use in its Constellation observation rocket. Compact and lightweight Pentax MV and Pentax ME Super offer full range of features at affordable prices.

1971. Pentax ES with the world's first SLR camera with a through-the-lens (TTL) aperture-priority (AE) control. Using aperture priority, the stepless electronically controlled shutter responds to the amount of light and chooses the appropriate shutter speed. Pentax also introduces the Super-Multi Coating (SMC) system for the Asahi Optical Takumar lens series. The SMC system reduces lens flare and ghost images. Spotmatic SP500 introduced.

1973. Spotmatic F with an open aperture TTL light metering system.


1974. Spotmatic II with a hot shoe. SP1000, an economy version of the Spotmatic.

At around this time, Pentax takes a fork in the road and begins to introduce all types of cameras that are just a blur -- to me (apologies to those of you who might think otherwise). Both in specifications and names, they just fail to stir the imagination.

Similarly, the introduction of their line of digital cameras fail to make a dent against their competitors. Readers have written and rightly pointed out the hidden value in these excellent digital cameras, but Pentax struggles to get consumers' attention.

Until they popped the 'digital camera in a tin of Altoids' surprise. I would like to believe the introduction of the Optio S signals a new change in strategy at Pentax: one based on innovation, originality, as well as uncompromising quality -- at affordable prices. If so, welcome back, Pentax!

Pentax's introduction of DSLRs continues down the strange garden path with strange naming conventions until they simplify back to the familiar and much-loved K designation. Their DSLRs provide real value with innovative features at an affordable price. I especially like the weather-resistant models.

Fans should know that, since Pentax has kept the K (KAF2) bayonet mount, most lenses, past and present, can be used. Usable lenses include: Pentax KAF2, KAF, and KA (K mount, 35mm screwmount, 645/67 med format useable w/ adapter and/or restrictions).

If you have an anecdote about any of the above cameras that you think might be interesting to share with other readers, please send them to us.

Source: Pentax History
And now to the present: Pentax Digital Cameras

Readers' Anecdotes:

The Pentax Spotmatic II was introduced in 1971 in all of the world except Japan, where it was introduced in 1974. Presumably the info on your history page is from Pentax Japan.

-- Roger Gercken (September 25, 2006)

Most of the innovations in the Pentax were originally developed in the eastern German Zeiss Jena works.

-- JDM von Weinberg (June 16, 2006)

The Maxxum-7000 was not the first auto-focus 35mm SLR; it was just the first commercially successful one. The first auto-focus 35mm SLR was the Pentax "ME F", in 1981. Only one AF lens was ever made for it, the AF 35-70/2.8. When Pentax reintroduced auto-focus in 1987 with the SF1, it was with a new auto-focus format that was incompatible with the ME F and its 35-70/2.8.

-- Greg Lovern (June 30, 2005)

Sorry guys but the Pentax ES was NOT the first automatic TTL reflex. First was the Topcon RE-Auto made between 1963and1970 and the Konica Autoreflex T made in 1968. The Canon Ex-EE in 1969. Zeiss Contaflex S in 1970. The ES was the fisrt PENTAX auto-reflex. but it was definitely NOT the world's first.

-- Jeremy Zeid (March 9, 2005)

Pentax's site now claims the ES to be the world's first TTL aperture-priority controlled SLR.

I've owned Pentax cameras for over 20 years and stand by them. Sure, I've been tempted by other brands, but when it came time to shell out the cash, it's always to Pentax.

I have an ME Super that I bought probably in the early 80's. I took it everywhere with me. It even got soaked when I got caught in a torrential downpour while riding my motorcycle through Arkansas. The mode dial rusted up, but the camera continued to work flawlessly. A few years later, I had the rust cleaned up by a coworker who was a former camera repairman. It now turns effortlessly. A few years ago, I loaned it to a friend who used it for about two years and returned it. He mentioned that he had some problems with it, but when I looked it over, it seemd to work just fine. My niece is now using it.

This, and all my other Pentax cameras, just keep on going. They don't have the marketing of Canon or Nikon, but their quality, durability, and lens clarity make them one of the best in the world. Popularity doesn't make a good camera, the ability to go the distance does.

-- Joe G. (Dec 26, 2004)

I noticed that you have a date of 1974 for the introduction of the Spotmatic II. This is not accurate -- I purchased (and still have) a Spotmatic II for a photography class I was taking in Summer 1971. Just thought you might like to know.

The top of the camera next to the rewind bears the serial number 5188873 with the mark SP II below it. This camera also has the hot shoe for flash that was introduced on the the Spotmatic II as was, I believe the 1/1000th shutter speed if I remember correctly. My camera is labeled Honeywell Pentax as Honeywell was importing them at the time. If I remember correctly the camera was ordered from a Porter's Cameras in Iowa.

-- Roger Gercken (Dec 25, 2004)

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