Brief History of Pentax Cameras
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).
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
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.
Pentax K with a semi-automatic diaphragm.
Pentax III with a fully automatic diaphragm.
Pentax H3 with fully automatic aperture
mechanism. Shutter speeds range from 1 - 1/1,000
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.
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).
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.
Spotmatic F with an open aperture TTL light
Spotmatic II with a hot shoe. SP1000,
an economy version of the Spotmatic.
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'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).
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.
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
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,
Pentax's site now claims the ES to be the world's
first TTL aperture-priority controlled
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
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
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)