The $50 Film Camera

Pentax K-1000

Through a various trail of sorts, I stumbled onto “The $50 Film Camera” Project on the Epic Edits blog, and decided to throw my hat into the virtual ring. Now while I am technically within the rules, I didn’t actually buy this camera. I had a Pentax K-1000 sitting around in my office. It has moved 7 times (or more) with me, and I’ve never really used it. Truth be told, I’m not even entirely positive who or where I got it from. Most likely it was from my uncle, but I’m not totally sure.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I had started toying with this camera 2 or 3 months ago. It just happend that my interest in film photography was piqued and this contest happend along.

Light Tight Box

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

I have used Ilford Super XP2 film for all my shooting. I’ve never processed film before (gasp!). I may try to delve into this later, but my wife is a big anti-chemical person so it will be a touchy subject.

For this project, I’ve used a Pentax f/3.5 135mm lens. I also have a Pentax f/2 50mm lens, but it just so happened that I did not use it on this roll of film.

The single roll of film presented for this project / review was actually taken over a 3 week period. The film was processed at a local store and the negatives scanned. Scanned photos were then level adjusted and processed into jpegs for posting. Minor dust was touched up on some pictures as well.


The Pentax K-1000 is a very basic camera. It is a fully manual camera but does provide a light meter. Per wikipedia, the K-1000 has a “full-scene averaging” meter.

The film advance is by a top mounted lever. The shutter speed also doubles as an ISO setting knob. Maximum shutter speed is 1/1000 of a second. This has been close to a hindrence when shooting in daylight with the XP2 as the film is rated at ISO400. Fortunately I’ve never quite crossed the line.

The lens aperture is controlled by a rotating ring on each lens. The 135mm lens that I had used cover f/3.5 to f/32, though I’m almost always shooting between f/5.6 and f/11.

Then and Now

I really enjoy this camera. I’ve given this quite some though recently.

My other camera is now a Canon 40D, and it was until very recently a Canon Digital Rebel XT (350D). I have been shooting for about 2 years now and I firmly believe that without a digital SLR, I wouldn’t have continued shooting. The ability to instantly recognize what I’ve done wrong, how much I can (or want) to try and fix in post-production, and simply just “closing the loop” have been key to my learning.

What applied at the beginning doesn’t necessarily apply now. There’s a business quote to the effect “what got you here won’t get you there,” and for me, that’s applicable now.

Enter the fully manual camera.

Ah, the viewfinder; what’s not to love? The viewfinder is uncluttered and seemingly expansive. I think that I get a much better view and feel for the picture in the viewfinder of the Pentax than my dSLR. I don’t know that it has any affect on my composition, but I’d like to believe it helps. Perhaps a placebo effect if nothing else.

Using the aperture ring on the lens is also a joy. I guess that (in Canon speak) I’m always shooting in Tv (shutter priority) mode, since I set my shutter speed and spin the ring until my meter tells me that I’m good to go. Okay, I’m not that beholden, but that’s the general approach. I usually check to make sure I’m not going too many stops in either direction, and certainly my determination of the scene will affect my reliance on the meter’s feedback.

But, the real key in using the manual camera is the manual focus. Here’s where speed is out the window. I just can’t seem to focus in under about 5 seconds. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid since I never get to here my little “beep” from the autofocus system.

The benefit to this long focus time: scene exploration. Since it takes me much longer to focus I spend more time just sort of checking out the scene. Part of this extra exploration will feed into my estimation of meter error, some on composition, some on focus. All of this is just a huge positive to me.

Finally I think that using prime lenses is another bonus for me. There’s no zooming. So, if I don’t think I’m close enough I have to move. Once I move I start to think about different perspectives. This leads to a quick evaluation of one or two other composition choices. Before you know it, you’ve started to work the scene almost automatically. All this from having to move your feet.

The Cost

Of course, there’s a cost everytime I trip the shutter. Once exposed, that little piece of film costs me about 20 cents to have developed at my local mega-mart.

The positive side to this is that even though it’s only 20 cents a frame, I’m much more patient. This has manifested itself most notibly when I’m shooting my kids. I will try to wait for just the right moment to trip the shutter instead of just motoring through a scene.

My Roll of Film

Okay, I’ve rambled long enough about my personal peculiarities and affinities for this camera.

Here are the pictures from my roll of film, grouped logically with a bit of explanation.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

I had been trying to shoot the clouds to play with white-on-white texture idea and see how things would generally work out.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Not entirely sure what I saw here. Perhaps this could be posted to flickr under the “Mundane Suburban Neighborhood with Partially cropped cars” group.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Ah, the garden shots. I keep wanting to take pictures of the tomato plants in our garden. Honestly I’ve no idea why. They never really seem to turn out, but there I am time and again. Probably merits further investigation.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Out for a walk with my two oldest daughters.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

My wife and youngest daughter are playing around on the piano.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

A relatively famous barn on the University of Illinois campus. I was trying different filters on the camera.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

A silo also on the UofI campus.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Visiting friends in Appleton, WI.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Various pictures of a tire (used as a boat bumper) on a dock in Shawano, WI.

From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest
From 50 Dollar Film Camera Contest

Finally, weeds in Lake Shawano, WI. Not entirely sure what I was thinking at the time, but here we are.

    • rockelita
    • September 23rd, 2008

    Nice review, nice camera, nice pictures! Good luck in the $50 Film Project.

    • natalia perez
    • August 31st, 2010

    im interested are you still selling it?

  1. September 9th, 2008
  2. September 17th, 2008

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