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Pentax Auto 110: the World's Smallest SLR!

When Pentax introduced its Auto 110 SLR camera in late 1978 it caught the world by surprise. It was incredibly small, cute even, and it was a true SLR with TTL (through-the-lens) center weighted metering and interchangeable lenses.

When Kodak introduced their Pocket Instamatic Camera and the 110 film cartridge in 1972 almost all of the major Japanese camera companies jumped on board with their own 110 cameras. Most manufacturers followed the Kodak pattern of a thin, wide rectangular box-like camera and a thumb operated slide on the bottom to advance the film. Many had fixed focus lenses but the better models featured zone or even rangefinder focusing. And then there was the Pentax. Incredible as it seems, their offering was a Single Lens Reflex camera with interchangeable lenses and Through The Lens metering.

When Pentax introduced its Auto 110 SLR camera in late 1978 it caught the world by surprise. It was incredibly small, cute even, and it was a true SLR with TTL (through-the-lens) center weighted metering and interchangeable lenses. And, it was camera system (the official Pentax name for the camera and system was System 10) and is generally believed to be the smallest slr camera system ever made. Initially, there were 3 lenses: 18mm f/2.8 wide angle, 24mm f/2.8 normal, and 50mm f/2.8 telephoto. Later, in 1980, 20-40mm zoom, 70mm telephoto, and 18mm Pan Focus lenses were introduced. But, besides the lenses, what made this a camera system were all of the accessories that included UV and skylight filters, close-up lens sets, and rubber lens hoods along with 2 different flashes and a motor drive! Well—okay—maybe not a true motor drive but a motorized film advance that cranked along at 1.5 frames per second.

The exposure was fully automatic with no manual settings and the programmed exposures ranged from 1/750 second at f/13.5 to 1 second at f/2.8. There is a warning light indicating long exposure times and for those longer exposures there are tripod and cable release sockets. It is, of course, through the lens focusing, with a bright viewfinder and a split image focusing aid in the center. The lenses attach with a bayonet mount coming on and off with a ¼ turn. The film advance is right where it should be on a slr and it takes 2 strokes to advance the film and cock the shutter. The electronic flash mount is unique; it uses a threaded contact about the size of a tripod socket. The light output is controlled by a sensor in the flash.

I’ve always considered the Asahi Pentax line of cameras to be among the most attractive made and the Auto 110 is no exception. It clearly takes its design cues from its big brother the Spotmatic F and is just about as cute as cute can be. And, though it is cute and could be mistaken for a toy, it is a serious camera. It feels good in the hand and is fun to use. Though small, the camera is easy to hold and the fingers fall naturally on the shutter and focusing ring. The lenses are very sharp and give bright, vivid images. Because 110 film is getting harder to find a lot of Auto 110’s are being sold on ebay. I bought one with 3 lenses, flash, and auto winder for about 25 US dollars and another with all of the filters, lens hoods, front and rear lens caps and flash and auto winder for about 50 US dollars. One word of warning: there is a 90% chance that the battery door of the auto winder will be broken. In a phenomenal example of bad design, it’s almost impossible to figure out how to open it without breaking it.

This is just a very fun camera. I like to mount the 50mm lens and screw on the 2 close-up adapters and crawl around my garden. Who knows what I will find and photograph with this little gem?

written by kdstevens

12 comments

  1. copefan

    copefan

    its true about the battery door on the winder (i've broken two!)...... but a great review of a great camera!

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  2. stijn_b

    stijn_b

    Great review of this little gem!

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  3. paramir

    paramir

    great review, and a nifty little camera! great close-ups in your garden...

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  4. gvelasco

    gvelasco

    Nice review. One of the best I've seen.

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  5. stouf

    stouf

    Crazy little camera ! Excellent review !

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  6. mcrstar

    mcrstar

    Great story! I like it.

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  7. nicolas_noir

    nicolas_noir

    Each review of these, makes me want one more! The only issue is finding one then buying film (£5 a roll locally to myself) - no idea how much to process and whether prints are possible. Still a fantastic review and great gallery.

    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  8. Enric

    definitely cute ^_^ What format is it ? Half frame ?
    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  9. kutchiara

    kutchiara

    I concur with gvelasco -- one of the best reviews thus far.
    over 4 years ago · report as spam
  10. Richard

    Very well written. My Brother has one of these great little cameras. After years in storage we are getting it ready for use again. He carried the little Pentax to every corner of the world, while a Flight Engineer. Would a full featured 35MM, or one of the new digital offerings rendered better images? Well probably, but the Pentax in it's kit, fit in one pocket of his overalls. Better a good camera that you have with you, then the great camera, that's in the luggage. Oh, and the film. Takes a bit more of a look around, but I'm finding film and processing still offered at the drug, and large retailers around here.
    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  11. itsdebraanne

    itsdebraanne

    what kind of film does it take?

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  12. mcrstar

    mcrstar

    110 film

    about 3 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Italiano & Deutsch.