Pentax S1a: Getting into film the cheap way

Posted on by Mike Evans

You hear a lot on Macfilos about Leica film cameras — the fabled M3, the workhorse M6, the very desirable MP or the all-new M3-lookalike, the M-A. But even an M3 or M2 is still an expensive camera and we often forget that film photography can be really cheap (if you do your own processing, that is, but that's another story). You don't need a Leica because there are thousands of Canons, Nikons, Pentaxes and Olympuses (just to name four leading marques) out there and available for a few pounds. Instead of spending £500 on an M3 you can pick up a nice, user Olympus or similar for between £25 and £50. Reader Stephen Jenner raised this point yesterday in a comment on Richard Alton's peace march story. 

A tidy Pentax S1a including a fast f/1.8 55mm SMC Takumar lens. All for £25 at a camera fair. Even without a service, this is a good working camera. With a CLA it will be a reliable and stylish retro workhorse for any film fan for years to come. I coveted one of these camera in their heyday but never actually owned one until now (photo Panasonic GX80 and Olympus 25mm f/1.2)

There really is a lot to choose from once you lower your sights a little from the legendary Leica. I picked up good examples of the Olympus OM10 and Pentax S1a — both with f/1.8 “standard” lenses (50mm on the Oly, 55mm on the Pentax) in good nick for around £25 each. If I wanted to use them seriously I'd probably spring for a CLA but, even so, this is bargain basement film photography. The S1a is very similar to the legendary Spotmatic but without the meter and it was a great workhorse in its day. It was a cheaper version of the S3 and was made in the mid sixties. Simon Hawketts has reviewed of his experiences with an S1a which he bought for even less — £5.50 plus postage.

Mike Johnson at The Online Photographer blog has provided more information on the early Pentaxes, in particular the iconic Spotmatic. As he says:

"Old silver Pentaxes are the quintessential 35mm film cameras. Mainstream, but iconic. Well made, but no frills. Stone classic."

Read the full article here. 

The point about all this is that getting into film photography can be really cheap if you don’t get hung up on needing a Leica. Buy a good vintage SLR and your set-up cost is peanuts, with zero depreciation in prospect. Film, and processing, is expensive of course. It’s best to do your own processing to keep down the costs because it isn’t unusual these days to spend £20 or £25 on buying and processing a black and white film. In fact, your first 36 shots could cost more than the camera. Now there's a thought......