The Pentax K1000 is a 35mm fully mechanical SLR released in 1976, one year after Pentax introduced the first three K mount bodies, K2, KX, and KM (not to be confused with the digital K-x and K-m). K1000 is a very basic camera, it offers only manual exposure and thus is basically a light-tight box with a focal plane shutter and a light meter coupled to the lens. The light meter has no on/off switch and there is no shutter-lock to prevent accidental firing during transport. To preserve the battery that powers the meter, the lens cap must be kept on when camera is not in use. A self-timer is also omitted and thus you will need to carry a shutter-release cable for slow shutter speeds (1/15 seconds and below) to avoid vibrations caused by pressing the shutter with your finger even the camera is already mounted on a tripod. Fortunately, there is an ISO hotshoe and X-sync terminal for electronic flash. However, since the shutter is made with rubberized silk-cloth (see photo below), the maximum sync-speed is only 1/60 seconds, making outdoor usage of flash almost hopeless.
The most valuable component of this camera is its lens mount, an original fully mechanical K mount (see photo below). Since it shares the same dimensions with the later KA, KAF, KAF2 variants, lenses with these mounts will fit and be fully coupled with the K1000. The only exceptions are those with the crippled KAF/KAF2 mounts (lenses with no aperture rings) which rely solely on electronics to couple and operate the lens diaphragms. These lenses also include the “digital only” DA series. The lens compatibility of the K1000 opens a huge arsenal of new/used high quality lenses to be used with the camera. In film photography, the only “technical hardwares” that directly affect image quaility are the film and the lens. Thus, an experienced photographer will certainly be able to capture great shots with the K1000 and make exhibition quality prints from them providing the appropiate lens and film were used.
The design of the K1000 is very clean, not just because of its limited functionality, but also because the designer has concentrated all the controls on the right-hand top of the body. As shown in the photo below, the ISO/ASA selector is integrated into the shutter speed dial and so does the frame counter being part of the winding lever. There is also a small circular indicator beside the shutter button to tell you whether shutter is cocked (orange) or not (black). Although being barebone in functionality and technologically obsolete at the time of its introdcution, the K1000 has its own place in the history of photography just like the Nikon F (first 35mm system SLR) and the Canon AE-1 (first SLR with a micro-processor). Its simple operations and basic fuunctionalities make it a great choice for student photographers. In the past, when you see a youth carrying a K1000, you can almost assume he/she is in a photo class. Many experienced photographers also use the K1000 as a reliable workhorse/backup because of its rugged but durable body and its batteryless operations. Moreover, its production run (1976-1997) is also one of the longest and according to my readings on the Internet, over 3 millions K1000 were sold! The production was discontinued by Pentax only because of high production cost (due to production lines been fully adapted to making electronic cameras), not because of reduction in demands. In fact, many photography instructors who used to hand out K1000s to students complain about their new “alternatives” (weakly constructed plastic body SLRs) being much less durable.
Of course, the K1000 is not the only mechanical SLR that is suitable to be a learning tool. There are other economical K mount mechanical bodies, like those made by Ricoh and Chinon, that can also serve as student cameras or mechanical backups. Beside the K mount platform, the older M42 universal screw mount, which was used by Pentax (before the introduction of the K mount) and many other camera manufacturers, is also a good choice because many M42 quality optics are economically and readily available in the second hand market. A comparison between the K1000 and a similarly designed mechanical M42 body, the Praktica MTL5, was discussed in an earlier post. The reason I mentioned the above is beccause the K1000 is often over priced in the second hand market due to its popularity. This is similar to many of the Toyota AE-86 (North American Corolla GT-S in the mid 1980’s) were being sold at way above its market value during the time of the “drifting heat” caused by the Initial D animated series. In other words, if the intention is not to collect a historically significant camera, then there are certainly other choices out there. My K1000 was bought mainly as a mechanical backup to my electronic ME Super and thus I had waited until I found a reasonablly priced “user grade” copy.
Where are you from?
During its 21 years long production run, K1000s were made in three different places, Japan (until 1978), Hong Kong (until 1990) and Mainland China. The reason behind the shift in production line locations is obviously labour cost. Quality-wise, the Hong Kong made K1000s are pretty much (almost exactly) the same as their Japan made brothers. The only difference is the missing of “Made in Japan” after the words “ASAHI OPT. CO.” on the back of the body. This is shown in the photo of my Hong Kong made copy below. However, things changed when the production line shifted to Mainland China. The top and bottom plates plus many parts in the winding/rewind mechanisms were replaced with plastic. To distinguish Chinese made K1000s from the others, there is no Asahi logo on their pentaprisms.
Oh, I nearly forgot to show some sample photos taken with my K1000. The one directly below was taken with a manual focus SMC-A 50mm f2 (the one shown in the photo at the top of this post). The bottom one was taken with an auto-focus FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6 zoom lens at 28mm setting. Film used was Fomapan 100 black and white negative.