Why do I like my Leica IIIa, despite all it’s shortcomings?
It feels good, makes me want to make photos and above all it’s quite compact for a pro-grade camera. Unlike my Spotmatic…
But still it’s not really pocketable, even the IIIa with the collapsible Summitar.
Anyways, I like small cameras and specially the very small ones – looking at you, XA2!
Now I know that I said that I was down to just three cameras, but sometimes you can’t just pass up on a great deal. I managed to get hold of a Pentax MX, a camera that has always intrigued me.
It’s debut was just year or two after the diminutive Olympus OM1 and I guess the guys at Pentax were challenged to trump the dimensions of the OM1. But not only the dimensions. They also tried to equal or surpass the sheer mechanical goodness of the Olympus.
Did they manage? How small did the MX turn out to be? How good is it?
I’ll try to answer there questions here.
First, let’s talk about size. I don’t have an OM1 any more so I can’t vouch for the comparision but there are pictures around that clearly show the size advantae of the MX.
And the winner is…. The MX. By quite a good margin. Of course it looks boader, but that’s just an optical illusion. But a tiny one. The OM1 measures 136 mm and the MX just 135,8 mm. 0,2mm smaller! Not a lot but smaller!
Compared to a Leica M, how does it fare. Certainly the mirror will make for a much higher camera? Or not?
Ooops, it did it again. Barely, but it’s clearly the more compact camera. Just the prism peaking a bit above the M’s plateau.
The next comparison will be against my trusty friend Oskar the Leica IIIa.
Clearly the IIIa is tiny compared to the Pentax MX. And it’s not only the bigger SLR lenses that make the difference.
Smaller but certainly heavier! That’s the Leica feeling. Not to say that the MX is light. No way! It’s quite a heavy camera… for it’s size.
But how does such a tiny camera handle? As I love the XA2 it’s certainly not too small for me.
Compared to the MX, the XA2 is truly tiny and the only pocketable camera I have. That’s why I like to use it so often.
But the XA2 lacks all those controls that drive the MX. How does it feel to operate this camera? Short answer, GREAT! I don’t have large hands so opinions might differ with big-pawed humans. Personnaly I can reach all the controls easily and holding the camera is very comfortable.
Even the stop-down lever, integrated in the self timer is just under your index finger
Only niggle I have is that the wind lever seems a bit flimsy…. compared to my Spotmatic at least. Don’t misundestand me here. The lever is very much OK and sturdy, just not up to Spotty-level.
As for the viewfinder, the OM1 has always been praised for it’s huge, bright window to the world. Well, think again, the tiny MX’s viewfinder is in no way smaller or dimmer. As a bonus it informs you about the f-stop and the shutter speed. In a very nice manner. Exposure is indicated by bright LEDs with half and full stop over and under exposure indication.
Apart from this, both cameras offer the exact same functions. Both are entirely mechanical with batteries just powering the meter. As a bonus, the MX uses more modern LR44 or SR44 batteries. For the OM1 you need a special adapter of you’ll have to have the camera modified to accept 1.5V batteries instead of the unavailable 1.35V mercury cells.
And the MX can use all my M42 Takumar lenses with a simple adapter, albeit in stop-down metering mode!
The Pentax MX ticks a lot of boxes for me. It is compact, feels good, weighty for it’s size. Not Spotmatic good but really reassuring and solid. It manages to use a lot of excellent Pentax K-mount lenses and of course all those wonderful M42 lenses that are around, in the price range from Takumar at the upper end to Praktica at rock bottom.
Will it remain in the elite group of cameras I own? Not sure yet, the proof will be in the photos, in the walks with this camera in my hands. It’s going to take some time yet to be sure.
Will it replace the Spotmatic? Very probably not! Once the Spotty will be back from the CLA it will be used heavily. It still feels much more a serious camera than the MX.
Although…. time will tell.
As for the photos, you’ll have to wait a bit. As virtually all the eBay cameras around, my MX has completely decayed light seals, a crumbling mirror bumper and the light meter, though working, does not turn off unless you take out the batteries…
So there’s still a bit of work until I try my first film in it.
I’ll certainly get back to you as soon as I’ll have the first test film done.
Thanks for reading!