PENTAX LX - the last Samurai

(c) Frank Mechelhoff August 2020
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Pentax LX (ser.3) w. FA
            1.9/43 mm lens

The PENTAX LX was a high-level Manual Focus (MF) film SLR camera sold new from 1980 for about the next 30 years.

It was introduced while the M-series (1976-1987) was sold, a family of advanced, mostly electronically controlled cameras which were the smallest SLRs of their time. The LX was a bit larger camera (but not as large as the K-series), first 35mm SLR of Pentax with interchangable finders, and as such announced as a professional grade system camera, competing against Contax RTS (introduced 1975), Nikon F3 (1979) and Canon New F-1 (1981) - being both smaller and lighther, but equal sturdy. Before the LX, since 1969 the medium format (120 film) Pentax 6x7, and the Spotmatic series (since 1964)
were highly reputated and widely used by professional photographers, although the Spotmatic-series had fixed finders.

The LX has a titanium focal plane shutter, mechanically (1/2000s - 1/75s) and electronically (1/60s - 125s) controlled, travelling horizontally like classical SLR and Leica type RF cameras do, other than the vertically travelling sectional steel blade (SEIKO) shutters of the K2 and ME/MG/MV (up to 1/125s synch time), but faster (1/75s) than older type cloth shutters of the MX and KX (1/60s), and keeps usually more reliable today.

Pentax LX - MX - KX
Pentax LX (1980), KX (1975), MX (1976) - Just 5 years, but worlds between functionally.

The Pentax LX has a aperture-priority automatic exposure (AE), no autofocus (AF) - this was introduced first with the ME-F one year later, and no Program exposure - which appeared with the Super-A camera in 1983 - requiring further connections to the lens, and contacts in the mount.

LX and K2
Picture: K2 with the K-1.4/50 (52mm filter) on the left. On the right LX with the smaller M-1.4/50 (49mm filter)

So what is the main difference to the K2 (introduced 1976), the first K-mount AE camera?

  1. Interchangable finders
  2. Manual settings from 1/2000s to 4s (1/1000s -1s)
  3. Metering incorporated in the camera (not the prism finder), Real-Time metering at the film, advanced flash metering
  4. Much more sensitive meter cell, automatic exposure from 1/2000s to 125s (EV-5.5 to EV20) making the camera very usefull at night photography
  5. Motor drive with up to 5 frames per second (fps), compared to the larger motordrive of the K2-DMD offering just 2 fps
  6. Titanium focal plane shutter
  7. Outer shell made of aluminium alloy (opposed to steel and chromed brass of K-series), making the camera lighter (570 vs. 680 g)
  8. High level of sealing against rain and dust (not the mount), this was new in any brand
  9. Data back and bulk film back (this was still available with Pentax MX)
  10. Improved dial positions and user friendlyness, special camera grips

                LX Viewfinder readout

One of the nicest and most user friendly viewfinder readouts -- okay, the Contax RTS had a similar earlier, plus aperture readout electronically, which was better to see in the dark.

Pentax LX w.

One could argue that the shutter speed dial was made too small for ordinary lettering and good grip
- at least for Non-Japanese hands.
In return, the ISO-dial with +/- compensation came back from what it was at the Pentax ES (1971) and where it is placed best and was alreday standard from the ME/ME super.

Pentax LX dials

There are 3 known maintenance versions of the LX:

First version: ISO dial to 1600 ASA
Second version: ISO dial to 3200 ASA
Third version: ISO dial toe 3200 ASA, Collar around release button for locking (as pictured above)

The last version is said to be the most long-lived one, and least-prone to "sticky mirror syndrome", a common disease in older focal plane shutter SLR's, resulting from worn mirror silencers.

(Down:) The smc Pentax 1:1.2/50mm was a lens coming from the (first) K-Lens series and seldom ordered with the LX. More often with the 1,4/50 or 1.7/50, which were both newly developed for the M-series, smaller and lighther than their predecessors, and even currently famous for size, build quality, longevity and optical performance.

On Japanese domestic market there was also an option of colored dials (colored speed dial and/or colored ISO dial). As far as I'm concerned, these colors (like the speed colors of the K2/MX) add readebility, clarity and beauty to the camera

Pentax LX Colored

Pentax LX colored
                  speed dial

Pentax LX with

Nikon launched their first professional grade camera incorporating Autofocus in 1988 (F4), Canon followed in 1989 (EOS-1).
Pentax, even had pioneered autofocus with the ME-F (1981) and upgraded the K-bayonet,
somehow missed top notch technogy in the late 1980's, and in consequence suspended production of the LX around 1997~2001) without a successor.
Given the production lifecycle of their predecessors (2-5 years), development was slowed down significantly also at the competitors.

TODAY (2020)

Since a few years film and manual focus cameras relive a comeback.
Assuming that a TTL meter and aperture priority automatic exposure - under full control of the photographer - are usefull as well as sufficient - keep it straight and simple - and given the longevity, high quality and small size/weight of Pentax cameras and lenses, it is hard to argue that there will be a better and more handy SLR camera than the Pentax LX.... or maybe, for absolute purists, who squeeze size, weight (80g), leave away AE and highest shutter speed of 1/2000s, but keep TTL-metering, the Pentax MX (pictured above)...

PENTAX 1971-1981 (ES - K2 -LX)

more Pentax: Early History of SLR cameras
more Pentax: Early Takumar lenses
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