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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.