Pentax ME – Camera Review

Pentax ME – Camera Review

5815 3271 James Tocchio

Well, it’s finally happening. We’re reviewing a Pentax. It’s the Pentax ME, an entry-level 35mm film SLR that entices with its promises of creative photographic controls, exceptional optics, and adequate build quality, all joined with the ease of a point-and-shoot.

But does it deliver on these promises? That’s what we intended to find out when, yearning for a break from over-saturation in needlessly-complicated cameras, we decided to head for the beach, alone, with the ME.

This outwardly simple camera’s semi-automatic nature, its diminutive size, and its surprisingly good performance left us with some questions. Specifically, why is this camera so often overlooked by shooters? How’d they make this thing so small? And why doesn’t Pentax get any respect?

We can’t answer any of those questions, but to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about the Pentax ME, read on.


Brief history; originally released in 1976, the Pentax ME is an entry-level, semi-automatic 35mm film SLR camera using Pentax’s then-new K-mount lens system. Its primary shooting mode is aperture-priority (which we’ll get into later), it offers TTL open aperture center-weighted metering and a reliable vertically-traveling metal shutter capable of speeds from 1/1000 of a second to 8 seconds. Hot shoe flash is synchronized at 1/100th of a second, there’s Bulb mode for long exposures, and non-battery powered mechanical shutter speed is locked at 1/100th of a second. Good stuff for a basic camera.

Incidental tech specs include a self-timer, optional external motor drive, socket for a remote shutter release cable, frame counter, and shutter-advanced indicator. It’s available in black, or chrome.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Aesthetically, the ME is a quintessential mid-70s, entry-level SLR. It’s basic, angular, stoic, and ready for action. But where the ME most differs from its competition is in its size. This camera is simply tiny. Its closest dimensional rival would have to be Olympus’ OM system, and it gives that legendarily tiny camera a real run for its Yen. Walking about with the ME we’re pretty amazed at how small, light, and convenient it is. Compared to the iPhone 5S (the right size iPhone), the ME isn’t much larger in two dimensions.

But a camera’s size isn’t the only factor in its portability. With interchangeable-lens cameras we need also to consider the size of its lenses. Here, again, Pentax has done good things dimensionally. Most of the standard K-mount lenses are small enough to fit into a pant pocket. That’s pretty excellent, especially for shooters who want a camera to enhance their adventures, rather than weigh them down.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Build quality is surprisingly good. We don’t call it surprising as a knock on Pentax, more a reflection of what we typically expect from cameras in this segment. They’re built to a low price-point, and that often negates the use of robust materials and heavy engineering. The ME, however, is solid enough. While it’s not going to make a dent in a Nikon F, its metal construction inside and out results in a camera that’s dense and solid. Compared to similarly specced machines of its era, the Pentax is about the best built entry-level SLR we’ve encountered.

Specific areas of mechanical joy are found in its dials (which operate with a rigidity that inspires confidence), its stainless steel lens mount (which feels built to tight, exacting tolerances), and its film advance lever (which ratchets with an uncommonly precise stroke and a welcome fluidity). We also love the absence of a locking mechanism on the ME’s exposure compensation dial. Many cameras use this, and we find it to be an unnecessary precaution that often slows the flow of shooting.

Where could things be better? The self-timer lever feels a bit cheap. It’s plastic, and feels as if its mount isn’t totally reliable. The lens release lever is similarly worrying, in that it feels just a bit fragile. But on the whole, that’s about all we can find at fault in the ME’s build. Not bad!

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Functionally speaking, no one’s going to argue against the ME’s status as an ‘entry-level’ machine. There’s no denying that it was designed with the amateur shooter in mind. That said, it’s pretty damn capable, as its exceptional viewfinder and semi-automatic nature attest.

Its .97x magnification viewfinder is truly massive, and this coupled with the 92% field of view combine to endow the ME with a viewfinder that’s nearly unbeatable in its segment. The fixed focus screen is of the split-image/microprism band variety, which enables quick and accurate focusing with any focal length lens. The metered light value is shown in shutter speeds to the left of frame, with a vibrant LED light illuminating the selected speed. Selected aperture is not displayed, which is a shame, but understood in this entry-level model.


When it comes to metering and exposure, the ME offers creative control that’s uncommon in cameras typically designed for newbies. Rather than employing full auto-exposure, like some other point-and-shoot SLRs, the ME runs in dedicated aperture-priority mode. That means that while the camera will set the shutter speed to the correct value to create a properly exposed photo, the photographer is going to need to set the desired aperture value. Though this might sound technical to the amateur, it’s pretty simple stuff, and it allows the shooter to control one of the most important variables in creative photography; depth of field.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Pentax ME • SMC Pentax-A 35mm F/2.8 @ F/5.6 • Fuji Superia 400

We love shooting in aperture-priority. The simplicity of setting depth of field, manually focusing on your subject, composing your shot, and letting the camera worry about the basics of exposing the image makes for a very fluid and streamlined workflow. There’s no monitoring light-meters, no setting shutter speed, and no worries. As long as the photographer understands how aperture impacts the final shot, the ME is a joy to use. And for those who don’t understand this correlation, ten minutes reading is all that’s required to get up to speed.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Pentax ME • SMC Pentax-A 35mm F/2.8 @ F/2.8 + Exposure Comp • Kodak BW400CN

Shooters accustomed to greater control of exposure may lament the inability for manual shooting. We get that, and so did Pentax when they designed the ME. As such, there’s an exposure compensation dial for +/- 1 and 2 stops. It should also be said that for those experienced shooters who understand, it’s possible to push- or pull-process your exposure by adjusting the ISO dial. In this way the camera can be hacked into a sort of manual machine, albeit an inelegant one. In any case, for backlit subjects or at times when it’s clear that the lighting is tricky, the exposure compensation dial gives the in-the-know photographer that much more creative control. Good stuff.

All this exposure fiddling taken into account, you’ll likely never need it, since the ME is so extremely well-sorted in the metering department. Pentax’s system is quite remarkable in its execution. In more than 72 test shots we didn’t suffer a single over- or under-exposure when shooting in Auto mode. That’s outstanding. Even shooting a canopy of leaves backlit by a glorious mid-day sun resulted in a shot that’s acceptably exposed with pretty terrific tonality.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Pentax ME • SMC Pentax-A 35mm F/2.8 @ F/8 • Fuji Superia 400

We talked earlier about Pentax’s lenses when we were discussing the ME’s portability, but to wrap things up without further expounding the virtues of the K-mount system would be a bit lax. Here, again, we’re pleasantly surprised by the incredible performance of the Pentax glass.

Shooting the SMC Pentax-M 50mm F/2 and the SMC Pentax-A 35mm F/3.5 brings nothing but joy. Their build quality, optical chops, and intensely compact design are indicative of the entire SMC range, and their performance bodes well for the reputation of the K-mount. Aperture rings click with mechanical precision, and the focus rings spin with a nicely weighted resistance. They’re tight, compact, and capable, and we’re once again reminded of the way many brands in photography are criminally undervalued. To put it simply, Pentax makes real good stuff.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

Pentax ME • SMC Pentax-A 35mm F/2.8 @ F/8 • Fuji Superia 400

And if you’re worried about finding your preferred focal length and a fast aperture, worry not. There’s a complete range of lenses in the K-mount to sate any photographer’s optical appetite (we’ll have reviews of certain Pentax glass coming shortly- stay tuned).

In the hands, the ME feels great. It gives the shooter the kind of casual yet focused shooting experience that we love here at CP. It allows the photographer to explore and engage with his or her surroundings, without interposing unnecessary complexities. It’s a camera that stays out of the way while enabling the shooter to make fantastic images all the same.

Pentax ME 35mm Film Camera Review

At its intended purpose, the ME is pretty fabulous. It’s one of those rare values in the world of vintage cameras that offers a near perfect balance of assets; excellent form factor, robust construction, technical prowess, and low cost. There are similar cameras in its category that may be just as good (Nikon’s EM springs to mind), but no camera in its segment is decidedly superior to the ME.

So if you’re looking for a truly capable, beautiful, and easy-to-use 35mm film SLR the ME may be a good fit. Buy it for cheap, get some K-mount lenses, and get shooting. The ME combined with some SMC glass will instantly elevate your photography without weighing you down, and it’ll look good doing it. And, hey, if you ever outgrow it you’ll have a stellar collection of lenses to fit your next, more serious, Pentax SLR. That’s a win-win.

Want your own Pentax ME?

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • you should really review the pentax k1000, its the camera i use and i couldnt be happier, its also a classic

  • I love the Pentax ME. If you told me to pick one camera for the rest of my life, I’d have a hard time: the ME, or my Nikon F2AS. The ME wins bigtime in size and weight and ease of use. The F2AS just gives me a little more control when I want it. But truly, I could shoot my ME happily for the rest of my life. Some of my favorite work has come from my ME. I’ve got a 50/1.4, a couple 50/2s, a 28/2.8, a 135/I forget, an 80-200 zoom, all Pentax-M, plus a few Sears K-mount lenses that are surprisingly good.

    I like the ME more than the vaunted K1000. And my advice to people looking for a K1000 is to buy a KM instead — it’s a K1000 with DOF preview and mirror lockup, but you can usually get the body for less than the K1000 because it’s, well, not the K1000.

    • Isn’t it funny how more capable cameras are often undervalued compared to their lesser counterparts? The A-1 and AE-1 spring to mind.

      That’s the emotion-driven world of classic cameras for you. 🙂

    • What about the MX? it is the same size but fully manual…

      • Haven’t found one at a good price yet!

        • (Four years later!) Like Pavel, I’m not sure why anyone today would buy an ME when there are billions of ME Supers on the used market for very similar money.

          Let me add two of my favourite ME (Super) features. One is the superb loading system: a bundle of white, flexible rods on the take up spoil grabs the film leader first time, every time.

          The other is a lock button — yes, really! The main selector dial moves freely from B to X to (in the Super) M to A, but requires unlocking to move out of A. And this is great! It means that the camera’s default state is the one most likely to get me a quick shot and get it right — and the lock is easy to release when I want to.
          To put this in context, consider the alternative. My Fuji X cameras have unlocked shutter and compensation dials, and I’ve lost shots because one has shifted from A to 4000 or from 0 to -3 as I pulled the camera from the bag.
          Locks can be fiddly — the Nikon FE’s compensation lock is a case in point — but I think Pentax got it exactly right with the ME and Super.

  • Great review! Never been much of a Pentax fan, but the way you go about testing the camera is simply a joy to read 🙂
    I would love to see some Helios reviews on the page someday by the way!

  • I’m a newcomer to being behind the lens, and am going to take your advice and try my luck shooting with an ME.

    Two quick questions:
    What’s the difference between an ME and ME Super?

    How do you upload your film photos to a computer?/What do you recommend for a low budget novice such as myself?

    Really enjoy your site!

    • Happy to hear you’re diving in. The ME Super is everything that the ME is, with the addition of an added Manual mode. So you’ll have the ability to control shutter speed as well as aperture. Also it increases the maximum shutter speed to 1/2000th of a second, which is good for bright environment shooting with fast prime lenses.

      As for scanning, there are a lot of options, but for my purposes (posting here) I just have my photo lab do it for me. It’s quick and easy, especially given how busy I am with CP.

      Alternatively, you can scan them yourself if you have any kind of flatbed scanner. Even the most basic printer/scanner combination machines made for everyday consumers are capable enough to make scans with the image quality that’s needed to post online.

      Hope this helps!

      • Exactly. In addition to 1/2000 and manual mode, ME Super can also work without batteries as fully manual camera with 1/125s. ME Super is simply a wonderful small camera. Given its affordability, I personally see no reason to go for non-super ME. My favourite part of design: the film advance lever.

  • Ahh yes the ME… In fact all Pentax of the 70’s and 80’s were pretty wonderful. My first pro’ kit was 2x MX, with the ME Super coming along as a 21st birthday present. I’ve still got em all, beautifully made, tiny, and for me, nicer than the acclaimed Olympus OM (which I also bought, enjoyed very much, but sold).
    I hope an MX gets featured here someday.

    • I used the OM2 and now own three MX. Pentax made the superior compact system. Everything the OM should have been.

      Note that the OM2 is a perfectly good camera, though.

  • the ME is a great camera! i learned photography on it, and for that i’m actually thankful it has ‘only’ aparture priority mode, as this tought me to care about aparture. to this day, even on current digital cameras i never let the camera choose the aparture – control over depth of field, sharpness, form of bokeh balls i would never leave to chance.

    also, while i understand the historical importance of the K1000, i don’t get why anybody today recommends it over the much lighter and smaller bodies like ME, ME Super and Super A. they are also super cheap today, but simply much lighter, and also much more capable.

    great camera, great memories <3

  • After reading the comments, a few clarifications.
    1. The MX is larger (slightly) than the ME. (I know as I have both).
    2. The ME is more reliable than the ME Super (button issues).
    3. The ME does work without batteries at 1/100 a second
    4. The lens Pentax made in the same year for the ME as a standard lens was the pancake 40mm F2.8. With this lens, the ME was the first version of the smallest SLR ever made. It also takes nice pictures, especially landscapes and street photography.
    5. The 8 second slowest shutter speed is wrong…..the ME will shoot much slower…..more than 30 seconds, and accurately.

    If you buy an ME used, be sure to replace the light seals. You don’t need a kit…..just get a thin felt pad with sticky backing from a craft store and cut your own. The body ones must be cut very narrow. The door ones just cut to size replacing to old ones…..the door releases with the sliding screw to make it You don’t need to replace the body seal facing the door……it is made of felt and seldom degenerates like the foam ones. The mirror one you can check, but it’s often fine.

  • I know this is an old post, but I own both ME & the Super version, but The Super version is more prone to having a shutter stuck problem than the ME. If you really need a full manual body with ME compact size, just get the MX.

    • also ME Super is famous for it’s metering problem (1-2 stops random underexposure), caused by ISO dial getting mechanism getting corroded over time.

  • Great review. Funny that a bigger brother of ME (the ME Super) doesn’t usually pass the test of time now. Almost every ME Super today underexposes randomly 1-2 stops or even more. I had 4 or 5 of these and each had this problem. Meanwhile I was buying and selling ME’s and each matched the exposure correctly. Yes, it’s limited to 1/1000s shutter sped and no manual mode, but correct and reliable metering is way more important I guess. ME is a very balanced camera for a value/price combo.

  • David Martin Pont July 14, 2023 at 12:32 pm

    Q. Anyone know if the Pentax ME comes with an automatic exposure memory lock?

  • Hello,
    I own both models, the ME and the ME Super.
    The ME Super feels a little bit “cheaper” constructed than the original ME. The ME´s top and bottom covers are metal (plated brass) whereas the covers of the ME Super are made from plastic. Just doesn´t feel quite the same. If one has to go manual, there is still the 1/100th as a basis for “sunny 16” on the ME.
    For a trip I would bring the MX (fully mechanical joy to use) and the ME along with me. Together with some fixed lenses.
    Cheers, Arno

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio