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09-06-2012, 10:09 AM   #1
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Pentax LX - Help me understand

I recently decided to get back into photography and purchased a K-1000, the same camera I had in college. It's great, I love it but I'm quickly longing more more features.

A friend of mine who mainly shoots digital now handed me a box of his old 35mm SLRs to try out, on loan of course.

In the box he has the following cameras:

Pentax LX
Pentax ME Super
Nikon FE
Nikon F4

I've shot with both the LX, FE and F4... haven't tried the ME Super yet.

F4 - Nice machine, tons of features, but it's like carrying around a brick and it's pretty darn big even without the batt grip. Can't imagine it for daily use. Maybe studio use.
FE - I'm pretty impressed with. Easy to use, love the double meter needle system, judas window, nice size (smaller than my K1000), quality build, great spilt focus screen. I could see buying one of these.

LX - Quality build, the swappable viewfinder is nice, about the same size as the FE. Do not like the focus screen, it's very hard to focus IMO I can't tell when it's in focus without a split, I don't understand the metering system (maybe I'm spoiled by the needle system) but I can't figure out the blinking dots...

Am I being too hard on the LX, is there something here I'm not getting? This camera is so highly regarded and goes for a pretty penny on E-bay I'm sure it's just my ignorance in using it that leaves me scratching my head. I've looked up manuals and sites on the web to try and get a better understanding of how to use it but I'm not having much luck.

Now I haven't developed any film yet, these are just my impressions while shooting.

Can you help me understand what I'm overlooking, or at least help me understand the dot metering?

09-06-2012, 10:55 AM   #2
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The LX has interchangeable finder screens. The stock screen has a split image with a microprism collar. Easy focusing with that combo. Metering - if set to "Auto" it is aperture priority. The aperture can be seen in the little window at the bottom of the VF, the meter indicates the applicable shutter speed by lighting up a diode by the speed. If you are in manual mode the shutter speed you've chosen is shown with a pointer to the speed scale, what the meter suggests by a diode as above. You thus have the choice of changing the shutter speed manually to agree with the camera's suggestion, changing the aperture, or ignoring the meter. BTW, about the only flaw with the LX is the lack of an AE lock, so while in AE you can't use the center weighted meter to, for example, meter a backlit face close up, lock the reading and then step back for an exposure with the face off center.
You'd have to go to manual, set the exposure as described above, then recompose, or whatever. The LX has one of the most sensitive metering systems ever, from - 6 ev to I think 20. You can truly shoot by moon or starlight, and with the exposure reading taken off the film during exposure changes in light during a long exposure are compensated for.

Michael Butkus has the LX manual on line here: Pentax LX user manual, instruction manual
09-06-2012, 12:53 PM   #3
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I don't have an LX, so I won't say much, but I will re-iterate that it has a user-changeable focusing screen, so it probably had a focusing screen put in that you didn't like. In fact, it will likely take a screen that is similar to what's in the Nikon.

Pentax LX - Info on Various Focusing Screens

Pentax Focusing Screens

Last edited by DSims; 09-06-2012 at 12:58 PM.
09-06-2012, 02:24 PM   #4
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Some things that may help you appreciate the LX:

It has a diopter adjustment. It may just be set wrongly for your eyes . . . And I confirm the words of the previous poster, there are all kind of screens, including split image screens.

Once you run a film through it, in automatic mode for instance, and make a contact sheet, you will be surprised by how well everything is exposed. This lightmeter does just about everything right. At first I also missed the AE lock (coming from the OM4Ti), but I have to say about 90% goes fine in automatic mode, and to switch to manual mode for the remaining 10% is totally easy.

And re blinking dots: if I am correct the dots blink continuously if the battery is done . . .

09-06-2012, 09:04 PM   #5
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About the diopter adjustment. Hilo made an excellent point! It makes a big difference, but is rather clumsy to adjust, since it is only accessible from the bottom of the VF, which needs to be removed, or at least partially slid off, to make the adjustment. I found that by sliding it just a little back I could, being careful not to drop it, make the adjustment easily. As with most such, you need to aim at a blank white or light colored area, and change the setting until the features in the screen, such as the shutter speeds, are sharp. Don't worry about any objects in the camera's field of view.

On the plus side, once set is unlikely to be accidentally moved. And yes, the lightmeter does a generally wonderful job. Couple the LX with a TTL capable flash and you have a virtually unbeatable pro-level machine, fully competitive with the Canikon offerings of its era, and superior to them in its metering capabilities. And as you've noted, smaller and lighter. Should you choose to seek out an LX you won't be disappointed.
09-07-2012, 04:20 AM   #6
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Beware of the nikon FE. They have a great tendency to lock up with the film advance/shutter cock mechanism. My mother had one(mine now) and both my brother in law and sister in law had ones that ultimately had to be scrapped, all for the same reason. My mothers only occasionally shows this problem, but to resolve costs you your film.
The FE and that era nikon, we're remakes of the old nikormat cameras, meant as consumer grade, compared to the true nikons of the time.
The only advantage was to use nikons name and glass, but then for the same price you could get a ricoh XR2s and use Pentax glass,(which is what I did)
09-07-2012, 05:45 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by SCADjacket Quote
Can you help me understand what I'm overlooking, or at least help me understand the dot metering?
Dot metering . . . The LED lights up to show you at all times the shutter speed of the scene. In aperture priority mode, this is an approximation and infinitely variable. In manual mode, this is the recommended speed and you would change the shutter speed pointer to match it as appropriate. Like match needle except LEDs.

Here are some strengths of the LX compared to all other cameras past or present.
  1. Unique to the LX is the widest single unassisted metering range ever for any camera (possibly even lightmeters?) past or present of EV -6.5 to EV +20. Coupled with off the film (IDM for Integrated Direct Metering), it will evaluate the scene in realtime - adjust shutter time + or - accordingly, for as long as it takes to "properly expose" the scene.
  2. Unlike all other cameras, you have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.
  3. Unlike all other removable viewfinder cameras, the LX will actually meter correctly with it removed.
  4. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX will correctly meter even with mirror locked up.
  5. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX has most of it's shutter speeds available - as well as self timer, available when battery is drained.
  6. Titanium shutters won't burn with MLU and facing the sun.
  7. Only camera where you can randomly go forwards or backwards to any frame on the roll with accuracy.
  8. Smallest interchangeable viewfinder 35mm camera.
  9. Exceptional build and weather sealed - randomly rain tested in production.
  10. Full system camera.
  11. Elegant strap and grip system.
Of course this doesn't mean the LX is perfect, but these unique abilities means no other camera is perfect either . . .
09-07-2012, 06:03 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by LesDMess Quote
Dot metering . . . The LED lights up to show you at all times the shutter speed of the scene. In aperture priority mode, this is an approximation and infinitely variable. In manual mode, this is the recommended speed and you would change the shutter speed pointer to match it as appropriate. Like match needle except LEDs.

Here are some strengths of the LX compared to all other cameras past or present.
  1. Unique to the LX is the widest single unassisted metering range ever for any camera (possibly even lightmeters?) past or present of EV -6.5 to EV +20. Coupled with off the film (IDM for Integrated Direct Metering), it will evaluate the scene in realtime - adjust shutter time + or - accordingly, for as long as it takes to "properly expose" the scene.
  2. Unlike all other cameras, you have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.
  3. Unlike all other removable viewfinder cameras, the LX will actually meter correctly with it removed.
  4. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX will correctly meter even with mirror locked up.
  5. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX has most of it's shutter speeds available - as well as self timer, available when battery is drained.
  6. Titanium shutters won't burn with MLU and facing the sun.
  7. Only camera where you can randomly go forwards or backwards to any frame on the roll with accuracy.
  8. Smallest interchangeable viewfinder 35mm camera.
  9. Exceptional build and weather sealed - randomly rain tested in production.
  10. Full system camera.
  11. Elegant strap and grip system.
Of course this doesn't mean the LX is perfect, but these unique abilities means no other camera is perfect either . . .
LesDMess, thanks for your detailed description. The LX it is a truly beautiful and capable camera.

09-07-2012, 06:38 AM   #9
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I bought my LX back when it was a new model, and there is a lot to like about it. I do not like the standard screen with split-image spot, and changed it for the "23" screen with just a simple microprism, but with sharper angles to work better with fast lenses. I like the cleaner look of plain ground glass (focus by sharpness) but the small prism dot is also handy. These older cameras are easier to judge sharpness on the screen than today's models, and the original 1957 Pentax was better yet.
I also don't care for the long column of LEDs in the meter display. I much prefer either a match needle or the "center green" LED of the MX. More information in a display is not always good. I prefer the MX for manual exposure.
The LX is at its best in automatic shutter-speed mode. It is amazing when you take 1-minute exposures by moonlight and it compensates for changing light conditions during exposure.
09-07-2012, 09:21 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by LesDMess Quote
Dot metering . . . The LED lights up to show you at all times the shutter speed of the scene. In aperture priority mode, this is an approximation and infinitely variable. In manual mode, this is the recommended speed and you would change the shutter speed pointer to match it as appropriate. Like match needle except LEDs.

Here are some strengths of the LX compared to all other cameras past or present.
  1. Unique to the LX is the widest single unassisted metering range ever for any camera (possibly even lightmeters?) past or present of EV -6.5 to EV +20. Coupled with off the film (IDM for Integrated Direct Metering), it will evaluate the scene in realtime - adjust shutter time + or - accordingly, for as long as it takes to "properly expose" the scene.
  2. Unlike all other cameras, you have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.
  3. Unlike all other removable viewfinder cameras, the LX will actually meter correctly with it removed.
  4. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX will correctly meter even with mirror locked up.
  5. Unlike most all other cameras, the LX has most of it's shutter speeds available - as well as self timer, available when battery is drained.
  6. Titanium shutters won't burn with MLU and facing the sun.
  7. Only camera where you can randomly go forwards or backwards to any frame on the roll with accuracy.
  8. Smallest interchangeable viewfinder 35mm camera.
  9. Exceptional build and weather sealed - randomly rain tested in production.
  10. Full system camera.
  11. Elegant strap and grip system.
Of course this doesn't mean the LX is perfect, but these unique abilities means no other camera is perfect either . . .
Oops! You left out the critical word in number 2. Unlike all other cameras, you don't have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.

In all fairness this is probably true of the Olympus OM series, since they also meter off the film.
09-07-2012, 10:52 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by grhazelton Quote
Oops! You left out the critical word in number 2. Unlike all other cameras, you don't have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.

In all fairness this is probably true of the Olympus OM series, since they also meter off the film.
And the ESII with its viewfinder blind mode...
09-07-2012, 02:05 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
The FE and that era nikon, we're remakes of the old nikormat cameras
...must be a different FE than the one I am familiar with...


Steve
09-07-2012, 10:44 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by grhazelton Quote
Oops! You left out the critical word in number 2. Unlike all other cameras, you don't have to cover the viewfinder to keep stray light from influencing the meter.

In all fairness this is probably true of the Olympus OM series, since they also meter off the film.
Thanks for the correction on number 2.

Regarding the Olympus OM series, the OM-2 actually has CDS in the viewfinder for manual metering mode and silicon blue cels in the body for off the film in aperture priority auto exposure mode -> Olympus OM-2 SLR camera - Part IV. Of course in manual mode, you are likely to have your eye covering the viewfinder while measuring and setting exposure and less likely for the stray light to influence the CDS cels. It wasn't until after the LX - with the introduction of the OM4 and OM2SP that Olympus used a similar single cel location as the LX. Unlike the LX, the autoexposure OM's limit the duration of exposure time. However, kudos to Olympus for pioneering OTF metering.

I should also further qualify that although I've tested quite a few cameras in search for the LX's unique long duration metering, I only managed to test a few models and have not accounted for all models and variations. If there is another camera out there - from any manufacturer, that embodies the seemingly unique capabilities of the LX, I am not aware of it!
09-10-2012, 06:21 AM   #14
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An easy camera to operate. Color-coded LED's tell what's-what(Green-good, Yellow-caution and Red-over or underexposed). In Manual, a red flag appears. If it's matched with the LED's, it's the same as being in Auto. Above the corresponding LED, you get underexposure, under gets overeposure. Never liked that needle garbage used by Canikon that could be get mis-aligned if the camera was jarred bad enough or having your right eye poked by the shutter lever(some Nikons have meters that activated when the lever is sticking out)a bad thing when you shoot with your left eye.

The LED's can be manipulated by the exposure compensation dial also. I bought my first in '81 and the following year an original model. The finder release button also turns the meter on on later offerings.

Last edited by tabl10s; 09-10-2012 at 06:09 PM.
09-10-2012, 08:31 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by tabl10s Quote
The finder release button also turns the meter on on later offerings.
And a good thing too! When using the winder the two stage shutter release - depress partially to turn on meter, fully to fire - doesn't apply. The shutter fires, period. At least this is true of my example. I believe that my instruction book is for the first version, since I don't recall ever seeing the finder release/meter switch combo mentioned, although it works for my LX.

The winder is nice. Power rewind, a real treat. Winders are not too hard to find. No use bothering with the data backs unless being able to imprint the date doesn't matter to you, since neither version can be set to the current year.
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