The Significance & Probability of a New Pentax K1000

by Johnny Martyr

You’ve probably heard by now that Ricoh/Pentax have announced that they have new 35mm camera in the works.

Hopeful photographers are speculating that the product will be a re-released K1000; the classic, utilitarian, all-mechanical 35mm SLR that Pentax sold from 1976 to 1997.

The K1000 was my first proper camera and I credit it with cluing me into the the effect that shooting a manual camera has not only on the photographer but also their images. So I’d be among the many consumers who would be overjoyed to see the influential camera’s return.

But I’m sorry to say that this kind of talk is just old people yelling at clouds.

No Infrastructure

Just as the newly constructed K1000’s of the world faded away in the 1990’s, its seems to me that along with the baby went the bathwater.

There is no longer any infrastructure for mass producing fine mechanical devices in the camera industry. Skilled workers who machine and assemble precision parts by hand were all replaced with robots and less skilled workers in large-scale manufacturing facilities long ago. This shift, in just about every industry from the 1980’s through the 2000’s was a means to drive down costs while increasing features that appealed to consumers. Who themselves were programed to think that automation was going to be the future of photography. In the early throws of the so-called Digital Revolution, these bets appeared safe to all but the few of us who never stopped using our K1000’s.

But even digital photographers should have read the writing on the wall. Like when in 2013, in the wake of numerous news organizations firing their photographers and giving reporters cheap digital cameras, the CEO of Yahoo! declared that “there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.” But for those who still believed that the trajectory of our industry was safe, in 2023 only the most technocratically devout can possibly justify continual advances in automation. The collective unspoken wish for artist-free artwork has lead to the birth of AI art. I mean, we don’t even need a camera in the Metaverse, right? What once was photography will soon be nothing more than a screenshot.

If an SLR were a Rangefinder…

But there is still one camera maker who are in the business of building cameras for flesh and blood photographers. The only people who can churn out metal, mechanical cameras en masse are the ones who kinda started it all; the gangsters of gestalt… Leica.

Leica are routinely backlogged with building cameras that have no greater a feature set than the humble K1000 but sell for about 18 times the cost. So like it or not, Pentaxians have something to learn from Leicaphiles.

Leica have survived where Pentax and others have failed because they don’t invest in automated manufacturing processes and annual obsolescence to anywhere near the same degree.

Leica has instead chosen to invest primarily in people. People to build cameras designed in such a way that people can assemble them. And people to buy and use these cameras with their own two eyes and hands. Just as my 1930 Leica is fairly endlessly serviceable due to the simplicity of its design, Leica’s 35mm film camera manufacturing methods seem to be equally sustainable, at least moreso than anyone else it seems.

By outsourcing various proprietary electronics components, incorporating materials that are inaccessible outside of volume production, automating assembly of products, and allowing prices to be driven down by unscrupulous market competition, camera makers such as Pentax caused their own extinction.

The Dream

As motors replace muscles and algorithms replace artists, the unexpectedly durable K1000’s of yesteryear remain standing like ancient stone relics; reminders of all of the things that photographers lost each time they surrendered part of their process to a dispassionate gadget.

Hindsight being 20/20, re-invigorated love for the K1000 is evident in counterintuitively increasing resale prices and this popular refrain echoed in comments sections to Ricoh’s announcement; “bring back the K1000!”

And the desire is not just nostalgia. Today, many K1000’s have gremlins in their viewfinders or require repairs that cost more than people paid for the camera itself. Just as the K1000 was once the staple of student photographers, so too today could a new K1000 serve beginners who want to concentrate on shooting instead of service. Sure, there are also plenty of collectors who would buy a new K1000 just to complete their fleet from the original Asahi, to the SE, to the plastic Chinese version. And as a working film photographer, demanding reliability, I’d be happy to welcome a warrantied body to mount my 50mm 1.2 SMC onto.

No Buyers

According to Wikipedia, the MSRP of the K1000 in 1976 was $299.50. And at the height of its MSRP, from 1994 to the end of production in 1997, a K1000 still cost a mere $315 despite inflation having grown by nearly 200% in that period. This low price was the result of large scale production, and in 1990, moving production to China as well as integrating cheaper materials into the product.

From the vantage point of a consumer, it stopped making sense to pay for increasingly lower quality K1000’s of the 1990’s when you could buy an older more carefully crafted Japanese one for less than half the price used. By this time, and particularly after its life cycle, increasingly cheaper used K1000’s littered thrift stores as photographers “went digital” and shed their analog ancestry.

This precarious situation of manufacturers’ quality, vintage products competing against their new products continues to apply resistance to the sadly atrophied new film camera market. Just as inflation has caused the value of money to decrease, time and departure from traditional construction has caused the cost of high quality brass components to increase.

Would you pay $1,620.53 for a K1000? That is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the original K1000 MSRP is valued at today with inflation. But given that Pentax would have to start from scratch when tooling up an assembly line to produce far fewer all metal and mechanical cameras than the ever created in the past, a new K1000 would likely cost more than many vintage Leica’s.

While it may seem crazy to suggest spending so much on what would likely be a technically inferior iteration of the K1000, this is what I believe it would take to create a sustainable path to normalizing production of quality 35mm cameras again. So don’t be surprised if the new Pentax, though promised to be a manual wind, is more of the plastic fantastic persuasion than King of the SLR’s pedigree.

Between a return to the normal cost of such a magical camera and today’s post COVID film prices, sadly, we’re just old people. Yelling at clouds.

The best we can do in the meantime is help prove film is viable by not taking the availability of our resources, though costly, for granted – shoot lots of film and buy other new film-oriented products where possible. Support the market and maybe, just maybe, the market will support us.

Thanks for reading. Happy shooting.

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11 thoughts on “The Significance & Probability of a New Pentax K1000

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  1. Terrific essay. I would love a new K1000 (or better, the KM or KX) for the reasons you give. My KM goes back to Eric Hendrickson every 2-4 years when yet something sles fails. Sure would be nice to own one with 25 years of new life in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m surprised to hear that the KM has failed numerous times that span but nice that you can keep it going! The very first K1000 I got, from back in college, finally developed prism desilvering. It seems like it’s not terribly uncommon to swap prisms but how soon until it happens again?


      1. The history is worth it! One of the reasons that I enjoy shooting film is the ability to use cameras with personal history attached to them. The follow you along your journey and contribute to it as you go.


  2. When another photographer I know heard that Pentax was thinking about rereleasing a film camera, his first reaction was: “…you mean there isn’t three million K1000’s floating around on the used market?” For me, People keep handing me K1000’s. People say they’re booming on the used market, but I have three Japanese era manufactured ones that I either got for free, or paid no more than twenty bucks for… Eric worked on two, and the third doesn’t seem to need work at all.

    I second the idea that an affordable, dependable newly manufactured film camera would be a boon. Something I’m not going to need worked on until way after I die! I know there’s space age gasketing material now that won’t flake, dry out, or goo up. No camera was perfect, and I’d like a Pentax K1000 with an on/off battery switch, a meter mechanism with lights instead of a shockable needle (like an MX), and for some reason, the shutter seemed smoother and less vibration prone on a Spotmatic than the K1000. Even the LX had weak points. There’s enough money in the market from the “swells” to build a camera decently made, but much less cost than a Leica. Look at the people buying $70,000 pick up trucks you can’t even get a 4×8 sheet into!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Look at the people buying $70,000 pick up trucks you can’t even get a 4×8 sheet into!”

    But it has enormous mud tires, a raised body, GPS, and a killer sound system. All the things they’ll need for maintaining their subarban lawn and flowerbeds with an occasional foray into town for a a Big Mac.


  4. One of the reasons I shoot mostly film these days is because it is different. And it is honest. More and more young photographers are seeing this as a good thing – integrity standing out in a world where images can be so manipulated they cannot be relied upon to tell the truth. I suspect film photography will continue to grow, and eventually more new film cameras will appear! Some will be terrible, some will be great, same as it has always been 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was never an artist as a photographer but became interested around age 10 when my grandmother let me use her Kodak Starflash 620 box camera, whose roles of black and white film were taken to Behan’s Pharmacy in Schenectady to get developed. My father while in the army in 1956 bought an Argus C3 at the PX in Japan where he was stationed. From the beginning he used Kodachrome and our earliest family photos after I arrived 6 years later all still have beautiful color in the slides. You will never see a scene where an American camera is bought in an Asian country anymore. Dad was very methodical and precise and studied up on the film inserts and always had excellent focus and exposure, as well as composition. He passed on those traits to me when I was around 10, and by 11 I was using his Bell and Howell Super 8 movie camera to record family events when he was away at a National Guard drill. Mom came from the “box camera side” of the family and eventually upgraded to Kodak 126 instamatics, meaning color prints from the 50s that faded badly. Yet Kodacolor negatives scan very nicely today. All through my teens and twenties I used 35 mm first with my dad’s Argus and then with my 1982 Pentax me super which I used for 15 years until the advanced mechanism broke. Never got around to fixing it, and instead move to disposable cameras. Kodak’s had a button you had to hold down for the built-in flash which you would forget once in awhile. A nice dark useless frame resulted. Fuji had the better cameras because you flipped a little lever and the Flash stayed on. I was always surprised at how good the 35mm Prince turned out on those disposables. I got into basic digital in 2007 and never really went back to film. I did loved seeing the different qualities of Kodachrome versus Fujichrome, and the mediocrity of Agfachrome when I had the misfortune of buying two rolls of it during college in 1981. At that time it was sold with processing included and you sent it back to New Jersey for that. I always bought Kodak processing mailers for the Kodak film, which used to have processing included in the price of the film until that was declared a monopoly sometime in the 1950s. Kodak had to offer the film without processing thereafter. Never experimented with GAF for either still or movie use. But I did try different speed emulsions of the 3M Focal film brand sold at Kmart in 1981 and 1982. That line included ASA 40 to 160, each with its quirks. Some of that Focal film was sourced by Ferrania. The colors tended to be overly saturated which kind of turned me on as a 20-year-old. Later I appreciated the Rock Solid reliability of Kodachrome and the nicely rendered color scheme of Fujichrome. I’m talking ASA 25 to ASA 100 speeds here, except for Ektachrome 200 which I used on occasion. The potential Revival of a Pentax 35 mm SLR intrigues me and I will certainly stay alert on the sidelines to see what happens with this. As I was never an artist, but consider myself a good documentarian with a camera, I look forward to the outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very interesting re: the Argus! My pals Dad was a doctor stationed in Japan in the early 50’s, associated with medical help for American soldiers shot up in the Korean War. He was a little bit of a photo hobbiest, and brought home two Nikon Rangefinders and a few lenses! What a weird difference in camera selection between two similar era military men….


  6. I think the more realistic version of a Pentax manual wind camera from the end of the era would the the P3 series. They were never really popular from what I’ve read, especially because you could still find a K1000 for a good price back then, and for many the nearly all plastic construction and limited features left a lot to be desired. Still, I think this would be the most realistic path for Pentax, which worries me because I don’t see this style of camera being popular nowadays (it wasn’t back then, I doubt it will be now since you can find them for less than $30 USD with a 50mm).


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