The best thing about Pentax Spotmatics is that you can use Pentax Super-Takumar lenses natively with them. Super-Tak’s are M42 screwmount lenses, and while you can use them with an adapter on modern Pentax cameras, the adapters are a real pain. The adapter does not come off with the lens, you have to unscrew the lens and then detach the adapter separately. This extra step is especially annoying in the field and thus the reason to use a Spotmatic. Spotmatics are reasonably nice all-mechanical cameras that work great if you can find one in good condition. Usual problems are that the upper speeds (1/1000) are not accurate, mirror bumpers and light seals have deteriorated, and the meters no longer work. Speaking of the meter, according to Internet lore, the Spotmatic name came from the fact that the original Spotmatic was designed to work with a spot meter, but it was deemed to be to difficult to use and changed to a center-weighted meter too close to production for marketing to change the name. The meters also used the now defunct mercury batteries, however, due to the way the circuitry was made, silver oxide batteries can be used. I have an Energizer 394/380 in my Spotmatic and the meter works perfectly.
There were a number of different models of Spotmatics over the twelve-year production span. The original Spotmatic was one of the first cameras with a through-the-lens (TTL) exposure metering system. My Spotmatic pictured above is a Honeywell branded model, as Honeywell was the US distributor of the Spotmatics when they first came out. Other models were: Spotmatic II, IIa, Electro-Spotmatic, the Spotmatic F, and a couple of budget models: SP500 and SP1000. Differences between the models were mainly around improvements in the electronics and metering, overall handling remained pretty much the same. The Spotmatic body was also the foundation for the next generation Pentax K mount cameras like the K2 and the ever-popular K1000.
From a user perspective, Spotmatics have a nice feel to them, but they are loud, heavy and the viewfinders are rather dim. The Super-Takumar lenses are really what it is all about. Super-Tak lenses are some of the best built SLR lenses that you can find. Fifty plus years on and the focus is buttery smooth, the aperture clicks nicely and images are remarkably sharp. One of the best is the 8 element Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4. This lens can be distinguished from the more readily available 7 element version by the infrared focus mark, which is to the right of the numeral 4 on the DOF scale on the 8 element version. It has been said that Pentax lost money on every one of these lenses and was replaced with the more economical 7 element successor. The 8 element version is sharp wide open and very sharp stopped down. It has a very unique bokeh/pleasant out of focus rendering that reminds me a little of the Leica 50mm 1.5 Summarit. Other notable Super-Taks are the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 85mm f1.8 for gorgeous portraits, and the very compact Super-Takumar 35mm f3.5 for a wonderful walk-around lens. In addition to these beautiful Super-Taks, there are numerous excellent M42 mount lenses available from manufacturers like Zeiss and others. To purchase a Pentax Spotmatic on Ebay click here.
My love of Super-Takumar lenses has led to a search for a better overall body than the Spotmatic with which to use the lenses natively. The camera that I found to fit the bill is the Fujica ST801 (1972). The highlights of the ST801, other than mounting M42 lenses, are that it is a little smaller than the Spotmatic, all mechanical and will work even without the battery, much quieter, the viewfinder is much brighter and has a split-screen for focusing, top shutter speed of 1/2000, ISO up to 3200, and a LED metering system. As a result, it is the camera I always reach for when using M42 lenses. In fact, the only reason I keep the Spotmatic is as a backup in case the ST801 dies. To purchase a Fujica ST801 on Ebay click here.