Is There a Gremlin Lurking In Your K1000?

One day, you feel inspired to take some photos with your trusty old K1000.  That old camera never lets you down!  You open that cool, smell old case you’ve been lovingly storing your Pentax gear in, load some film and head out the door filled with high spirits.  But when you uncap the lens and look through the finder, all that positive energy is suddenly destroyed by an evil, furry little gremlin.

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The viewfinder of a Chinese K1000 – thanks to Flora Wallace for the image and calling this issue to my attention!

In total horror, you look at the lens, take it off, mess with the aperture. No, the lens is clean.  You look inside the mirrorbox.  There’s nothing on the mirror or viewscreen.  You look in the viewfinder again and that damn little gremlin is still there.  WHAT IS GOING ON?!

Well, sadly, your camera is probably ruined.

But why?  You took such good care of it.

Actually, I’m sorry to say, you didn’t.  😦

Classic cameras need to be used.  Or they at least need to bask in sunlight like the unique and beautiful flowers they are.

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That dirty little gremlin is the silver on your pentaprism turning black, thanks to a chemical reaction caused by moisture.  Ever seen an antique mirror with grey and black patches all over it?  Same thing.  The affliction is called desilvering.

Chinese-made K1000’s seem to be prone to desilvering.  You know you’ve got a Chinese K1000 because it does not read “ASAHI” above the “PENTAX” name on the front of the camera.

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For years I was convinced that Chinese K1000’s are every bit as good as Japanese ones, despite their chromed plastic bodies.  But prism desilvering, as it turns out, is their Achilles Heel.  And it probably has only started happening in the last 10 or so years.  Expect to find many more cameras exhibiting this affliction as time passes.

So what can the proud owner of a late model K1000, do?

Well, if your prism has already desilvered, all that an be done, realistically, is to have the bad prism replaced with a good prism.

I’ve heard conflicting accounts as to if older, better built Japanese prisms can fit into newer Chinese K1000’s.  There are several versions of K1000 bodies floating around so some versions may or may not be compatible.  If they are, I imagine that replacement would be a good course of action and will likely end any future problems.  But doing this work oneself is not recommended as it involves disassembling and reassembling a good portion of your camera.  Best thing to do is to consult a reputable classic camera repair shop.  Don’t expect the service to be cheap though.  I’ve heard that it can cost around $200 for the work to be done.

Personally, if I love and use a vintage camera, I’m willing to dump some money into it to make it right.  It’s not as if we can just buy another one at Best Buy.  But given that K1000’s, even completely refurb’d examples often only command about $150, the expense may outweigh the value to some.

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If your K1000’s prism is not desilvering or has only just started, what you can do is stop hiding your camera!  USE IT FREQUENTLY!

And when you’re not shooting, I recommend keeping all your classic cameras and lenses nicely arranged in a windowed China cabinet near a source of sunlight.  Allowing your cameras and lenses to get a healthy dose of sunlight on the regular will keep moisture  from forming inside them.  This will ward off desilvering (which can happen in other camera models too) and the UV will stop potential fungus growth.  Another benefit to keeping your cameras on display is psychological; you have to walk past them frequently and be reminded of how much you love them and should be shooting!  I find that when things are tucked away, I tend to forget about them.  And in this case, lack of use can spell disaster.

I hope your K1000’s and other cameras susceptible to this problem can be nursed back to health or are nice and clear already!  Replacement K1000’s and parts may seem readily available today but who knows what tomorrow will bring if we don’t keep our cameras alive and kicking.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Contact Johnny Martyr 

      

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7 thoughts on “Is There a Gremlin Lurking In Your K1000?

  1. Looks like mine is good thankfully. But I was bummed to see recently that this is happening to my beloved FM2, and I just finished paying for service for the same issue on my Nikon F. But that was like that when I got it years ago, and as long as it was getting a tune up I figured I may as well have it done.

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      1. I’m pretty careful, but I do live in New England, which is not known for it’s dry climate. That said, I’ve not had many issues thankfully. I don’t know where that FM2 lived before I bought it ten years ago. I believe the Nikon “F” plain prisms commonly develop issues after so many years, my repair tech just replaced it with one from a Nikkormat, it wasn’t expensive. I never buy from Florida or Hawaii because of the humidity issue, and every camera or lens I’ve seen in Maine had fungus growth to some degree.

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  2. Really useful information, Jon. Thanks so much for commenting! I live in Maryland and it’s fairly humid here in the summer time. But I’ve never seen a camera with fungus and only recently began seeing this desilvering issue in Chinese K1000’s. I’ve heard scattered experiences in other cameras like Minolta 101 and it certainly happens to early Leica’s though the result is simply a dimmer finder image. I have been into vintage cameras for about 20 years and have always kept them out, in the open, ready to use. At first this was just a random choice but now I am under a strong impression that it has kept these sort of moisture related issues at bay. The de-silvering, as I’ve researched it is apparently a direct result of exposure to moisture. Not just in cameras but any aged glass mirror. Anyway, thanks again!

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  3. Thanks for the heads-up. I have a Japanese K1000 SE that lives on a bookshelf in my office.

    Early OM-1’s were prone to this problem due to the breakdown of the foam cushion between the shoe socket and prism. Fortunately, I was able to do a prism swap from a spare OM-F body that I had. The “Fix Old Cameras” channel on YouTube is an awesome resource for this sort of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for chiming in about the OM-1, Rob! I love that we’re compiling info about this issue in other cameras in the comments section. I may do a follow up blog to cover other cameras with this affliction. I’ll check out that YouTube channel too.

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