Best Beginner 35mm SLR in 2019? Pentax K1000 Review

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: June 17, 2019
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Pentax K1000 Camera Review

Outdated when released, the Pentax K1000 is a manual focus 35mm film SLR. It was sold from 1976 until 1997! That's more than 20 years.

The camera sold well because it was popular for beginner film photography students. Instead of fancy features, it is simple to use and durable.

Original Price

The Sears 1977-78 catalog had a chrome Pnetax K1000 with 50mm f/2 lens listed at $154.50. Adjusted for inflation, that would cost you $632.12 today. (Januaray 1978 to April 2019 via BLS.gov inflation calculator)

In the UK a Tecno catalog from August 1979, the K1000 was £98.00 and SMC 50mm f/1.7£46.00. All of those prices included a VAT of 15%. The exchange rate at that time was £1 = $1.27. (According to FX-Rate.net.)

Pentax K1000 Battery - LR44

K1000 LR44 Camera Battery

The easiest Pentax K1000 battery to find is a LR44. Power is only required for the light meter. The camera is mechanical and the shutter will fire at any shutter speed without a battery.

Battery Check

Performing a battery check is done by settings the ASA to 100 and setting the shutter to bulb mode (B). If the battery is good, the meter indicator needle will stay in the up position. If the needle does not stay steady, or is not in the up position, replace the battery.

Camera FAQ

How Much is a Pentax K1000?

A camera body only will cost between $40-$60. Paired with a 50mm f/2 lens, expect to pay $80 or more. A camera bundled with a more expensive or multiple lenses will cost more.

What lenses are compatible with Pentax K1000?

Any lens with a Pentax K mount will work with the camera. The lens mount is also often referred to as the PK mount.

What mount is a Pentax K1000?

The Pentax K mount.
This lens mount has been modified over time to allow for electronic communication to the camera body and autofocus. As long as the lens has a manual aperture ring, it can be used on the K1000.

Does Pentax K1000 need battery?

A battery is not required for the shutter speed to be set and the shutter to fire. The light meter will not work without a battery (LR44).

What size battery does a Pentax k1000 use?

A LR44 battery. These are alkaline batteries and are the easiest to find. Silver oxide batteries, 357/303, batteries can also be used.

When was my Pentax K1000 made?

The K1000 was manufactured between 1976 and 1999. The earliest versions of the camera were made in Japan from 1976-1978 and are marked "Asahi Pentax." From 1977-1990, cameras were assembled in Hong Kong and will have that marking. From 1990-1997 cameras were assembled in China and have plastic parts.

Is a LR44 the same as 357?

LR44 are alkaline batteries, while 357 are silver oxide. They have the same nominal voltage and are the same size. They can both be used interchangeably.

Shutter Speeds

Shutter Speeds, Flash Hot Shoe, Film Winder, and 50mm f/2 Lens

Shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second. The flash sync speed is 1/60 second.

There is also a bulb mode. In this mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as the shutter button is depressed.

This is a good range of shutter speeds. Anything longer than a 1 second exposure can easily be handled through the bulb mode.

If you do plan to do long exposures, a locking remote release cable will make the shot easier. The shutter button is center threaded to accept a remote release cable.

Settings ASA, ISO

ASA/ISO ranges from 20 to 3200 in 1/3 stop increments. That range covers all the standard 35mm film stocks available, including pushing them up to 3 stops.

If you want to use specialty films that fall outside of that range, there are plenty of exposure calculators online that can help you. Most of the very low speed films will include instructions to help with calculating exposure times.

Loading 35mm Film

Loading film is easier in other cameras. With the K1000, the film leader needs to be threaded through a slot in the film take-up spool. This can be difficult the first few times you try.

Loading film into other cameras is easier. Manufacturers were constantly trying to develop easier film loading systems. The cameras I have had the easiest times with have been Canons.

What Film to Use?

If you are unsure of what 35mm film you should use, I am going to suggest starting with 400 ISO film. 400 speed film will be fast enough to use in bright indoor lighting and outdoors in shade.

Slower, 100 ISO film, will produce images with less grain. However, you'll need full sun or flash to get enough light to properly expose the film.

If you are unsure of what film you should be using with the camera, here are some suggestions:

Black & White 35mm Film

  • Ilford HP5 Plus 400
  • Kodak Tri-X 400

Color 35mm Film

  • Kodak Gold Ultramax 400
  • Lomography Color 400

Viewfinder & Metering

Split Image vs Microprisms

The manual lists there being cross-microprisms and split image focusing screens. The 4 K1000's I have had have all had cross-microprisms, so I'm not sure if that is true.

I prefer split image focusing screens as I find them easier to focus. The cross-microprism is the only thing I dislike about the camera. If it have a split image focusing screen, it would be perfect.

Built-in Light Meter

The camera uses through the lens (TTL) center weighted metering. Metering is done with the lens wide open, which makes focusing easier.

If you are familiar with metering in a digital camera, the K1000 will feel similar.

Older cameras have more involved metering processes, or no built in light meter. The K1000 hits the sweet spot for metering technology in a 35mm film camera.

Pentax K1000 Lenses

Asahi Pentax PK Lens Mount

Pentax K-mount lenses are used. You may also see the lenses referred to as having a PK mount when buying online.

The K-mount was introduced in 1975 and is still being used on Pentax cameras. Some modifications have been made over the years to allow for shutter priority, autofocus, and auto modes.

Lens Compatibility

If the lens has a K-Mount and physical aperture ring, the lens should be compatible with the K1000. However, I would avoid autofocus lenses as they are generally not as comfortable manually focusing. No point in having a feature that cannot be used by the camera.

To get more specific, all of the lenses until the KAF4 version of the mount will work. KAF4 lenses have electronically controlled apertures, and so will not work.

Lens Availability

There is a full range of Pentax and third party lenses available, often for low prices. If there is a focal length or specialized lens you want, you will be able to buy one.

I have two lenses that I like to use on my K1000. They are both small, light, and inexpensive:

  • SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2
  • SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2.8
  • SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7
  • Pentax 105mm f/2.8
  • Pentax SMC 135mm f/2.5

There is a 85mm f/1.8, but it costs over $400.

Other systems, such as the Minolta MD, Fuji AX, or Olympus OM mounts do not have the quantity or variety of lenses available. Trying to get anything other than a 50mm with those systems gets expensive.

Camera Features

  • A PC sync port.
  • Hot shoe.

A lack of features is to be expected with a mechanical camera. Without electronics, complicated features would reduce liability.

The camera provides a pure photography experience. Anything you want to do is going to rely on your knowledge and skill.

If you want more features, without going digital, just get a newer camera. There are lots of Canon EOS's that are packed with features, have cheap lenses, and are inexpensive.

Multiple Exposures

It is possible to take multiple exposures, but the process is a bit involved. In order to cock the shutter without advancing the film the following steps need to be taken:

  1. Tighten the film by turning the rewind knob.
  2. Once the film is tight, keep a firm hold on the rewind knob.
  3. Depress the rewind release lever.
  4. Cock the shutter.
  5. The camera is now ready to take another exposure.

Accessories

The Pentax K-mount is still being used today. It has been modified for autofocus, but compatibility still remains.

As a result, any accessory that you want will have been offered by Pentax, or will be available in a K-mount. Below are some that are more likely to be used with the K1000.

Pentax AF200S Flash

In the manual, the K1000 is shown with the AF200S flash. If you want a vintage shooting experience, that would be the flash to get. A part of that experience will be waiting 10 seconds for the flash to charge.

Any center fire (almost all of them) flash, will work. Besides additional features, newer flashes will have faster recycle times.

Mount Adapter K

Asahi Pentax made an M42 to K mount adapter. There are also third party adapters available.

Two things of note with these adapters:

  1. Automatic aperture diaphragm stop down will not work. Pressing the shutter button will not close down the aperture.
  2. Full aperture metering will not function. Metering will have to be down with the lens stopped down.

Missing Features

Everything is missing and that's why the camera is known as a popular workhorse. With almost no features, there is almost nothing that can go wrong with the camera.

Price & Where to Buy

Millions of K1000's were made, so they are easy to find everywhere.

eBay tends to have the best prices. A body only can be had for $40-$50. Though those prices are more common for auctions. "Buy it Now" listings will tend to be $10-$20 more expensive.

A body with 50mm lens will be $80-$150. The most likely lens pairing is a 50mm f/2.

Try to see where the camera was made. Most cameras are labeled on the bottom plate. Try to avoid cameras made in China, as the internal components are not as good.

Buy on eBay or Buy on Amazon (affiliate links)

Conclusion

5 out of 5 Stars.

The Pentax K1000 is an excellent mechanical 35mm film camera. There's nothing that gets in your way when using the camera. I prefer it over the manual focus, electronic shutter cameras I have used.

Pricing for not only the camera, but also lenses, is attractive. The alternatives from other manufactures are more expensive.

There's a reason an outdated camera sold for 20 years. It is enjoyable to use and is a great value.

Comparable Cameras

Pentax Spotmatic

The Spotmatic is what the K1000 was based off. The key difference being the Spotmatic has a M42 screw mount.

Personally, I'm not crazy about screw mounts. Vintage lenses tend to have tighter focusing rings, which means you run the risk of unscrewing the lens from the camera body.

Pentax MX

The MX was Pentax's professional camera from 1976 to 1985. There are more features than the K1000, the focusing screen can be changed, and the build is superior.

They aren't even more expensive than a K1000. Definitely a camera that should be considered before purchasing a K1000.

Canon AE-1

This is a camera that always gets mentioned alongside the K1000 when talking about beginner film cameras. With good reason, as it is a excellent camera.

Beyond a different camera mount, the Canon AE-1 has an electronic shutter. Along with that comes automatic exposure mode.

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