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Pentax MX VS Pentax K-m

Updated on September 13, 2011

Camera Portraits

Pentax MX, Manual film based camera.
Pentax MX, Manual film based camera.
Pentax K-m, a modern digital D-slr camera.
Pentax K-m, a modern digital D-slr camera.

Pentax Cameras old and new


Pentax MX vs. Pentax K-m/ A world of difference.

There is a world of difference between the Pentax MX and the newer digital Pentax Km. They come from 2 different worlds. I want to look at just how far these 2 cameras have come in creating pictures. Although the imaging methods of image capture are different, the same basic end result is still the same. Let’s look at two different worlds of photography.

Digital imaging was still just being experimented with in labs when the Penax MX was introduced on to the world in 1976. The camera itself was down-sized version of the K-1000 camera. It was designed as a professional level all manual control camera. The batteries only powered the TTL light meter. The shutter speed range is from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second. The bulb setting allows longer time exposures. The design of the camera allows the focusing screen to be changed to other types offered for the MX. The camera followed the downsizing started by Olympus in the early 1970's. The design of the MX is as said a down-sized version of the K-1000. The camera was designed for heavy duty work-out. The camera had a self-timer as the main extra feature added on to the camera body. The design also allowed the use of a motor winder. The extra hand grip gave the camera a nice handling. I used the winder on my ME-Super, This camera design is very close in size to the MX. Even without the motor wider, the camera is light weight and easy to use. It can be carried all day without any concern.

This where some of the major design differences begin the two formats begin to take place. The medium used in the camera was film. Unlike the digital era, there was a cost every time a roll of film was taken. You did not know if some types of shoots where working out until you got the film back. The camera used what is called "magic needle" film pick-up. A series of plastic rods where placed on the film advance winder. It was to allow the leader of the film to be picked up better then with the older systems used up to that point. Otherwise, there was the change of the film not taking on the film advance and one wasted time taking pictures of air. This has happened to me many times. It is not fun when it happens.

That being said, the greatest feature of the camera is the fact that you can use it anywhere in the world and pictures regardless if the battery works in the camera or not. The all mechanical shutter works in all weather conditions, and in any working photographic conditions. As long as there is a supply of film, you get images anywhere. You still have to "think and shoot' due to limited number of frames you have when compared to digital photography.

With any type of film based camera, unless you develop your own negatives and prints, you are depending on others to see how the final print quality comes out. Slide film is still a test of how well one can get a "proper exposure" from the camera. Unlike negative film where there is a small room for exposure errors, slide film is still a real test to see how well one a can determine how well they can see light. In conditions other than average lighting conditions, this can be a challenge to get nice looking images.

The biggest challenge with film based images is the fact that until you get you film developed, you do not see how the images will come out. If you are doing work on a new project with unknown or new lighting conditions, you will not know how things are going to work out unless a Polaroid instant image is taken to see how the scene will work out. This was very commonly done in commercial picture taking in the film days of photography. For people doing their own private work, this may not be done. The lag time between getting film shoot and developed was not a big problem in the past but with the digital camera coming on to the scene, the expectations have shifted as well.

Although the early digital cameras could process pictures far faster, they lacked the resolution needed for serious photographic work. The earliest models where used in the mid 1980's but was not until the early 2000's when models that could produce quality images that meet the needs of a working pro that digital came into its own. Consumers also got a taste of getting instant imaging as well. The self-serve photo centres gave the consumer the control they wanted over their prints they made. The SLR camera enveloped into the digital era. By the mid 2000's, the SLR camera came back into being the serious camera user best pick. The great thing is that the builders of these camera types did not turn their back on the older film based lens designs. I bought my first D-SLR in 2009, about 24 years after buying my last SLR based camera, the Pentax SF-10. Pentax has designed their newest cameras to use their older film camera lenses. The model I bought is the Pentax K-m. It is an entry level D-SLR model that works well for me. It provides all I need to carry on in this new age of photography.

When compared to the older film based MX, there are world of differences. The cameras biggest change is the fact that it is all battery powered now. This has gone on for a long time now with all of the newer cameras since the late 1980's/ early 1990's on consumer level models while the pro level cameras still had a few mechanical shutter speeds on their film based models. Once the digital age came, battery powered cameras are the norm now. The K-m uses double A batteries while other companies use lithium Ion based batteries. The thing I like about the use of the AA battery is if the cameras batteries die, you can buy some at any store to keep the camera going.

Compared to the MX, the K-m is as much a mobile darkroom as it is a camera. The camera has wide range of shooting modes that can be used. It ranges from fully automatic to manual control. Included within these controls are various buit-in filter effects. These allow the photographer create images that could only be done with computer based software a decade before. The design set-up of the Pentax K-m camera is much more ergonomic then the box like MX. The batteries are placed in the handle grip. The overall weight of the camera about 2 pounds. It has a nice solid feel to it. The cameras chassis is made out of steel, not plastic that is found on other low end D-SLR's. A plastic covering is placed on the outside of the body. The camera has the feel as my older ME-Super film camera with the winder attached. It reminds me of my old film days when shooting with it. The camera uses an 18-55 mm kit lenses. It is very light weight but has been holding up well over the year I have used it. The range of shutter speeds is far greater than on the old MX design.

The camera uses an in-body shake reduction system. This allows the photographer to use shutter speeds lower than one could use on the film based 35 mm cameras while still getting sharp results. The system allows older film based lenses to use this image stabilizing along with the newest lenses built for the K-m. The CCD sensor has mounting plate that allows it to move a bit to while the exposure is made. You get very good results that one would not expected in the film days. A tripod or monopod is still the best method getting sharp pictures in low light conditions or when using a long focal length lenses. The shake reduction is a bridge to help reduce the number of blurred pictures. It can be turned off if one wants to do so.

The styling of the K-m very sleek and functional. The built-in pop-up flash can be used in a number of ways. Used at full power, the flash makes indoor picture taking an easy task. Creative uses of the flash include reducing power output and using a reduced shutter speed to allow a mix of flash and natural light. The result is controlled natural looking pictures with soft looking filled in shadow detail. This has been done for years by myself but this camera makes it very easy to do. One feature missing on the K-m is an A-F focus assisting light. Smaller less expensive bridge cameras use this feature to good effect. The Pentax K-m uses a pre-flash off the pop-up flash to help assist in focusing in low light conditions. I found that when trying to get pictures of my cat, this pre-flash caused the cats eyes to close in the final image. It is too bad that this focus light feature is not put on to an otherwise well featured camera design. The hotshot allows the use of much more powerful flash units. The Pentax dedicated flashes or other aftermarket units allow the continued use of a Pre-TTL flash metering system. Older TTL flash units from the film cameras cannot be used.

One of the main design features I like on the K-m the use of dial used to set up the cameras functions. Although the setting used are far more varied then the shutter speed setting used on the MX, the simple input of information something I like. The K-m also uses a rear mounted LCD screen to gain access to the cameras computer menu. This where the camera can be fine tuned and shows just how much control the computer chip has taken over the world of picture taking.

Although these two cameras are very different machines, they do the same basic function. They are designed as basic picture taking machines. The end result is still the same, to create a picture. The K-m came in some ways work like a portable built-in darkroom attached to the camera. It can make the MX look very primitive in compassion. The finished product off of either camera is a picture that simply tells a story of the time that either camera was used. The image is in the end more important than the camera being used in some ways. The options that the camera can use can add to an image but factors like lighting conditions, lenses being used and creating exposures to set the stage for the way you see the scene is important for a good quality picture. The camera is a tool to create the image. The foresight of the photographer to imagine the image is the most important part picture taking process. Digital imagining has just made this process far quicker to do now.

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