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Asahi Pentax S1A: Hidden Depths

A bargain-bin at a Blue Mountains junk shop leads to starred-out lights, long exposures, and shallow depth-of-field.

Hello LomoFriends! Say hello to Gladys.

When I chose the name, I was thinking of a tough-as-nails nun, the kind that smoked behind the rectory, fixed the parish bus & took absolutely no backtalk. (and, without realising it, stuck with my theme of choosing women’s names starting with G: Glory, Gretl, Gladys…)

In October last year, my parents-in-law, my wife & I were in Blackheath, New South Wales, in the depths of the Australian Blue Mountains, in an antique shop/junk shop. I busied myself taking a whole bunch of pictures.:

My wife was looking for vases, and I stumbled onto a treasure trove of old cameras, a few in a glass case (with exhorbitant prices) and many, many others jumbled together every which way:

After an incautious touch caused the entire pile to slide to the floor, I set about sorting through them. I quickly found a Pentax P30, and a beat-up-looking SLR, an Asahi Pentax S1A with a Super-Takumar 55mm/1.2 lens:

Both had “$68 w/o lens” written on the tag. I took them to the counter, and was greeted with a stern “You know we make no promises that the cameras are working, and we don’t do refunds!”

Okey-doke, thought I, then I won’t tell you the lenses weren’t meant to be included.

The Pentax P30 came with me, and the old SLR was squirreled away by my parents-in-law until Christmas. As it’s the New Year, I’ve had a go, and wow! Very impressed.

The Asahi Pentax S1A was Asahi Pentax’s attempt to make a consumer-level version of their S, S2, S1 & S3 professional SLR range in 1963. Their rather counter-productive way of accomplishing this was to remove the mark for the 1/1000 shutter speed (it’s still there, it’s just not marked, you just dial one past 1/500).

“This one goes to eleven. It’s one higher.”

Also, no light meter (once upon a time you could buy a clip-on, but no more). For this roll, I downloaded a light meter app on my iPhone, and took a general reading before I started shooting at each place.

The lens is very sharp, with quite a shallow depth of field, and is very precise in close-up. It also has an Auto setting, which allows you to view with full-aperture, or you can set it to manual and watch your view darken or lighten as you change settings. The best thing about the lens, though, is the triangular etching on the glass:

This leads to direct lights becoming spectacular starbursts in the photos. Wow!

Where I did run into some trouble was when I turned the shutter speed dial below 1/30, the prism seemed to stick, blocking the viewfinder completely. I gave the camera a shake, which seemed to knock it back. I didn’t know at the time, but this was due to all the shutter speeds below 30 being exponentially slower than they should be (30 was 15, 15 was 4, 8 was 2, and 1 was a whopping 9 seconds. This lead to some wacky long exposures and streaking lights:

So in conclusion, Gladys, and her sort are workhorses, still in good order, despite their years. If you can spot one, pick it up.

written by lokified


  1. herbert-4


    Excellent article and gallery!!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  2. stratski


    I'm jealous of that built-in starburst thingy! Though, on second glance, isn't it in fact a filter screwed onto the lens? Well, whatever, I love it.

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  3. alburnkat


    Congrats on such a great find and really nice article. And I love the photo caption “This one goes to eleven. It’s one higher.” I just heard a song from The Tap on the radio last night.

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  4. emilios


    Great gallery and camera. I have the Pentax 67 and the image quality is superb.

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  5. alex34


    This camera probably just needs a good clean, inside and out. A good CLA should get those shutter speeds closer to where they should be. I suggest it would be definitely worth it.

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  6. lokified


    @stratski You're absolutely right! It just came off when I unscrewed it and now I can use the effect on any of my 49mm screw-thread cameras (except my OM 50mm 1.8 because the screw thread was dented when I dropped the camera). What's the official name for this kind of filter anyhow?
    @alburnkat One of my favourites. :D
    @alex34 I'll check with my local guy!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  7. alburnkat


    I think it might be a CS - Cross Screen

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  8. buckshot


    Nice write up - makes me nostalgic for the Pentax Spotmatic I had 25 years ago... :-)

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  9. lokified


    @stratski @alburnkat Gadzooks! It seems it actually came with 2 filters! One is a Hoya UV(0), and the other is a Marumi 6X-Cross. Go figure!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  10. stratski


    @lokified: Haha, lucky you!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  11. gregoriobruning


    @lokified, congrats for the find! I got a Pentax Spotmatic F a few months ago and it had the same problem: mirror stuck on low shutter speeds. The tecnician just had to increase shutter´s curtain pression and now it´s working perfectly fine!

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  12. photozz


    I believe they were called starburst filters when I was selling them. There are plenty of old screw mount lenses still available for these cameras as well.
    about 2 years ago · report as spam

Read this article in another language

This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Spanish.