Classic Cameras
Just Hold A Pentax

My old black SV. The 35mm f/3.5 Takumar behind it is no bigger than the same lens would be for a rangefinder camera,because it is a preset lens with no auto diaphragm: less convenient, but look at the savings in size, weight, and cost!

Just hold a Pentax. That was the slogan, 30 and more years ago--and very clever it was. The light, svelte, elegant SV (also sold as the H3V) was so lovely that if you did hold one, you wanted it. Next to its main rival, the Nikon F, it looked like a ballet dancer beside a boxer; and it handled closer to a reflex Leica than Leica's own reflexes (remember the original monster Leicaflex?).

Admittedly, I'm biased. My first ever "serious" camera was a used SV, which my father bought for me in Bermuda in 1966: probably the finest non-metered Pentax ever made, the last model before the Spotmatic. The contemporary S1a was slightly "de-specced": no self-timer, 1/500 instead of 1/1000 top speed, and markedly harder-to-use focusing. The S1a was normally sold with a cheaper lens, too: an f/2 Super-Takumar or even f/2.2 Auto-Takumar instead of the f/1.8 or (later) f/1.4 Super-Takumars. Today, I have two SVs, and although I use them rarely, I still love them dearly.

If you've no stomach for the minutiae of Pentax model numbers, skip the next half-dozen paragraphs, as they are very confusing and of interest only to serious rivet counters. Start reading again at "Mercifully..."

A Brief History Of Asahi/Pentax
The Asahi Optical Company began with the (rather crude) Asahiflex in 1951: the first Japanese 35mm SLR. It was followed by the Asahiflex Ia (1953), IIB (1954), and IIA (1955). The IIB was the first volume-production 35mm SLR (though not the first-ever 35mm SLR) with an instant-return mirror.

The first Pentax (1957) was named for the penta-prism that replaced the waist-level finder, but the lenses were still preset (no auto diaphragm) and slow shutter speeds were set on a separate dial on the front.

The Pentax S (late 1957) had revised shutter-speed sequencing, while the Auto-Takumar lenses introduced with the Pentax K (1958) featured semiauto diaphragms: these snapped shut automatically, but had to be flipped open manually.

The S2 (1959) got all the shutter speeds on one dial, and was sold as an S1 with cheaper lens options. Changing the camera name when it was fitted with a different lens was a fine Pentax trick: a Super S2 was an S3 with a 55mm f/2 Auto-Takumar as standard, instead of a 55mm f/1.8 Super-Takumar, and was produced only for the Japanese market.

The S3 (1960) was the first to feature Super-Takumar lenses with fully auto diaphragms. Finally, the 1963 SV was a development of the S3, which replaced the manually reset film counter with an automatic one, and added a self-timer; the S1a was its "baby brother."

To add confusion, Asahi Pentax cameras were sold as Honeywell Pentax in the US, where an SV is an H3V (H for Honeywell); an S3 is an H3; and an S2 and S1 are an H2 and H1 respectively. Worse still, the earliest Pentaxes were sold as a Tower 29 (K) and Tower 26 (S). Finally, the Nocta was designed for infrared telephotography, complete with IR searchlight (though you could also use Toshiba Super R5 infrared flash bulbs) and an image converter tube on a 300mm f/3.3 lens. Specialized or what?

Back To The SV
Mercifully, there's no need for the user, as distinct from the collector, to get into all this. So let's get back to the lovely SV.

As I've already said, it is a joy to hold, and the controls are still very, very smooth: this is one of the great mechanical cameras, with a quiet, slow-running fabric focal plane shutter in the Leica mold.

The wind-on lever can't be "inched," but (a nice touch) when it reaches the end of its travel, a little red "shutter-cocked" signal appears under a window beside the shutter release. Unexpectedly, the self-timer is concentric with the rewind crank. Both the prism and the screen are fixed, and they are a bit dim by modern standards: this isn't just age, they were like that when they were new. The stop-down (depth of field preview) is on the lens itself. A slider, operated by the forefinger of the left hand (you can't really see it in the picture), can be set to A (full auto) or M (full manual).

A somewhat blocky CdS meter clipped over the penta-prism and coupled with the shutter speed dial, so the needle pointed to the appropriate aperture which you then transferred to the lens. My original SV (written off in a motorcycle accident in the 1970s) had one of these, but I've not felt the need to replace it.

The lens illustrated is a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Takumar, which was introduced during the life of the SV and can only be used with late models marked with an orange dot; I don't know what happens if you try to use it with earlier cameras. It's one of the best lenses of its era, and like the 55mm f/1.8 it still delivers results that are impressive by today's standards, especially if you are used to zooms.

Countless lenses were available in the so-called Pentax screw (which was already well established in Germany by 1957), including Takumars (preset), Auto-Takumars (semiauto), and Super-Takumars (auto). My 1968 Focal Guide lists focal lengths from 18mm (the 18mm f/11 Fisheye-Takumar) to the 1000mm f/8 Tele-Takumar, which had just three lens elements but nevertheless weighed 16 lbs, 9 oz. It is impractical to list them all, but in 1968 the widest rectilinear drawing (non-fisheye) lens in the Focal Guide was a 28mm f/3.5; there was a 35mm f/2, very fast for the period; the 85mm f/1.9 Super-Takumar was a lovely portrait lens (I have one); there was a 85mm f/3.5 Quartz-Takumar for UV photography (has anyone ever seen one of these?); and the 500mm f/5 was pretty fast for something that long.

As well as the various flavors of Takumar, innumerable other lenses were made in Pentax screw: for all I know, some are still in production. Certainly, Tamron's interchangeable-mount lenses can be used: I have an adapter for my 17mm f/3.5 Tamron SP. And I also have a monstrous preset East German 300mm f/4, which
cost me about $50--there are some bargains out there!

What lets my black SV down, rather over a third of a century after it was built, is the shutter speeds. These are well over a stop slow at the top end (a marked 1/1000 is about 1/400) and still slightly slow as low as 1/30 (actually 1/25): only 1/15 to 1 sec are accurate. The chrome one (not illustrated) is better, but 1/1000 is still only 1/500 and 1/500 is 1/320.

A repairer friend tells me that this is not unusual, and that keeping the shutters on well-worn old Pentaxes (Pentaces?) within tolerance is a fairly constant struggle: better to make a mental allowance for the inaccuracies, unless you have a camera that has seen very little use. Remember, these were cutting-edge professional cameras in their day, so many have been worked hard.

I had hoped that my two SVs were a breeding pair, but perhaps they are just too old: despite leaving them in dark cupboards, seldom disturbed, I have yet to see any evidence of Pentax eggs. But never mind. They are lovely cameras, and quite honestly, if I were just taking pictures for fun, I'd rather have one of these, even with a sluggish shutter, than any all-singing, all-dancing,battery dependent electronic wonder.