Pentax K1000 Review: Is It the Best Starter Camera?

Last Updated on December 29, 2023

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In this article we will talk about one of the most popular cameras of the 70’s (even today). The Pentax K1000 is that camera that many people start with, and not for nothing, it is a very reliable camera and built to last over time.

Pentax K100 front

The Pentax K1000 is a timeless classic that has stood the test of time, thanks to its reliable build and user-friendly features. This camera has a special place in the hearts of many photography enthusiasts, both young and old.

Pentax K1000 Specs

Camera type35mm SLR with TTL exposure metering (open aperture metering)
Film format35mm 35mm 24×36mm
Shutterhorizontally running cloth shutter
Shutter speeds1s – 1/1000s + Bulb, incl. trigger lock
Self-timer6-12s lead time
ViewfinderPentaprism viewfinder with full ground glass screen with microprisms or split-image rangefinder
Viewfinder size0.88x magnification with 50mm lens
Spiegeldamped return mirror
Lens mountPentax K-Mount
Film transportRapid winding lever, switching angle 160°, 10° ready position
Ready indicatorWhen the shutter is cocked, the readiness indicator changes to red
Frame counterred marked 0, 20 and 36, every fifth digit written out
Film rewindFold-out rewind crank, rewind knob rotates visibly for inspection
Flash sync1/60s over hotshoe
Exposure meteringCdS integral measurement in the groundglass plane with an open aperture
Measuring rangeLW 3 – 18 at ASA 100 and f/1.4
ISO20 – 3200 ASA
Battery1x LR44 1.5V Battery
Dimension (L x W x H)143 mm x 83 mm x 91,4 mm
Weight620g

Back to the basics

pentax k1000 iso knob

True to the motto “Every beginning is difficult,” I would have recommended completely manual cameras without an automatic mode. After all, it’s not rocket science to calculate two variables in your head in a way that results in a correct exposure.

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Especially since, in contrast to a digital camera, the film already specifies the third variable – the ASA or ISO value. Why do cadets still learn ship knots on a ship when they later work on a high-tech aircraft carrier? What’s the point of mathematics lectures for engineering professions if everything is calculated on a computer later on?

pentax k1000 top view

Automatic? No thank you!

For this reason, I would even go so far as to recommend a camera that does not have a single automatic mode as the perfect entry-level camera. Sure, anyone can commit themselves to just not using the automatic mode, but somehow we are all human and weak by nature. So no automatic mode.

The camera should still be cheap. After all, who likes to burn through three months’ salary only to find out that it’s somehow not their cup of tea. And a currently available battery should somehow fit in. Sure, one could argue that a light meter isn’t necessary either, but let’s not overdo it. A focusing aid is also allowed.

pentax k1000 pentaprism

From Pentax to Mingca

But one question stuck in my mind. Is it still a good entry-level camera today? The Pentax K1000 was launched in 1976 as the cheapest version of the first cameras for Pentax’s new K-mount.

Like the bigger brothers K2, KX and KM, it was a successor to the famous Spotmatic F.

Although it only offered absolutely spartan equipment, it surpassed its siblings in terms of endurance. It took 22 years to build.

In between, there were always adjustments and in the end it was sold by the Mingca company under the name MINGCA MC K1000 until it was finally phased out in 1998.

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Good genes

The Pentax K1000 cannot hide its genes. Which in this case is a good thing. If you place the K1000 next to the Spotmatic, you have to look for the differences with a magnifying glass. The display on the top to remind you which film is loaded has been omitted.

Also, the small triangle that shows what shutter speed is being used is now red instead of black. Finally, the self-timer is gone. Those were the biggest differences in handling. It’s the same camera, if you will, with a few minor features less.

pentax k1000 viewfinder

Pentax K1000: New bayonet

However, there is one big difference. The change from the M42 mount to the Pentax K-mount. Modern automatic exposure systems were difficult to implement with the M42 mount, which is why Pentax decided on a clean cut. (Click here for the SMC Takumar 55mm 1.8 Review)

The K-Mount was simply better prepared for the future. After all, it is still used today. If you still had M42 lenses in stock, you could still use them with an adapter on the K bayonet.

The Pentax K1000 in hand

When shooting, the Pentax K1000 feels just as good as the Spotmatic F, although I like the Spotmatic’s metal film winding lever better. A bit of plastic is also used on the K1000. Too bad, but probably unavoidable. But we’re still a long way from the sins of the ’80s and ’90s.

The lenses also used more plastic than before. The name “SMC-Takumar“, which used to stand for quality, was now only used for the cheaper line of lenses. The first guard immediately listened to the name “SMC-Pentax“.

pentax k1000 with SMC-Pentax 50mm f/2

Concentration on the essentials

If you ask the supporters of what is probably the most polarizing camera brand in the world, Leica, what they appreciate so much about the cameras from Wetzlar, you will often get the answer: You can focus better on the essentials, namely taking pictures.

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Or: It is the shortest connection from the eye to the hand. The flowery sentences that emphasize the advantages of a Leica M sound something like this.

pentax k1000 open back shutter

A dubious comparison?

If you now compare the entry-level K-bayonet camera Pentax K1000 with perhaps the most popular Leica, the Leica M6, many will only smile wearily. You then hear “absurd” or “no comparison at all”.

But let’s take a closer look at the cameras. Both have only one film transport lever, shutter speed dial, shutter release and film rewind button. Both use a similar system for exposure indication, Leica with LEDs, Pentax with a needle. Leaving aside the lenses, the K1000 could well be described as the SLR counterpart to the Leica M6 rangefinder.

Now, of course, this comparison is flawed on various levels. On the one hand, the used Leica costs at least ten times as much. On the other hand, photos are taken through lenses and these should not be excluded.

The quality of the M lenses also speaks for itself, although the early Pentax designs were and still are great lenses for their time. Nevertheless, the comparison is appropriate. If you only look at the recording process, this is the same for both cameras.

With both models you can concentrate on the essentials. And that’s exactly why the Pentax K1000 enjoyed an excellent reputation as a beginner’s camera: Concentration on the essentials. Which student could/can afford a Leica M including a few lenses? Probably the fewest.

pentax k1000 bottom

Price

The same principle holds for the Spotmatic F; it retains the threaded M42 mount but showcases an elevated quality. While you can acquire one with a 50mm lens for $80-150, you’ll need to allocate twice that amount for the K1000.

Ultimately, the value of this investment is subjective. However, it’s worth noting that while the K1000’s price is significantly lower than that of the Leica M, its performance in everyday use is nearly comparable. Considering its merits, it’s certainly worth considering for under $200.

Buy it on KEH Camera Store

Conclusion: Still the best beginner’s camera today?

Does the camera still represent the perfect beginner’s camera today? I can answer the question asked at the beginning with yes and no at the same time.

Yes, because it still provides the same good qualities that it takes to accompany a beginner to his first sense of success. On the other hand, it’s also a no: Ironically, its reputation as the best beginner’s camera has somewhat pushed it out of that position.

Cameras that enjoy a certain reputation increase in price, while the gray mice are spared this development. The K1000 gets competition from its own warehouse. The sister models Pentax KM or KX, which offer a little more equipment, are much cheaper today than the entry-level model K1000.

Pentax K1000 Photos

Photos taken with the K1000.

Video

I recommend this video from PentaxTips with very useful information about the Pentax K1000.

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