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Pentax S1a 35mm SLR camera

I’ve broken the rule I set a couple of months ago when I decided to concentrate on only Miranda and Topcon cameras for my collection because I saw another 35mm camera on eBay which I’ve always wanted to own and I managed to get it very cheaply. In reality it is a bit battered and worse for wear, but I’m still pleased I got it – it is the subject of this post, a Pentax S1a.

Pentax S1a Images

My Pentax S1a Camera

I paid £5.50 for it plus £5.00 postage and received the camera body and a couple of old telephoto lenses, a Hanimex 80-200mm f/4.5 in pretty poor condition and an Optimax 300mm f/5.6 with a large fungus growth in the middle of the front lens! Still, I think the camera body was worth what I paid for it and I have a Takumar 55mm f/2.0 lens which would commonly have been supplied with this camera so I can fit that to it.

In many ways this is virtually the same camera as the iconic spotmatic, the control layout and feature set being almost identical, although the S1a has no exposure meter of course.

The general condition of the camera is quite good, but it has a small dent/mark on the prism housing, the shutter curtains are sometimes a little bit sluggish to close and for some reason the B shutter speed is working as a normal shutter speed rather than remaining open until the shutter is released – I’ll try to fix that.

When I first received the camera, the mirror would not return to the correct position after the shutter was fired, but that was easily repaired. When I looked in the mirror box the spring which returns the mirror had become detached from the pin on the mirror so all I had to do there was lift it back into the correct place using a pair of tweezers.

There is quite a high level of dirt on the camera which I will need to clean off but now the return mirror is fixed the rest of it seems to be working normally.

Brief Pentax S1a Description

The S1a was a cut down version of the Pentax S3 slr (or SV in the USA), made between about 1963 and 1967. Oddly, although this is a cheaper version of a better camera, one of the ways it was cut down was to simply remove the top shutter speed markings on the shutter speed dial. Although the camera has shutter speeds marked as 1sec to 1/500sec, there is another click stop after 1/500 which is 1/1000!

Another oddity of the shutter speed is the T position which allows the shutter to be opened when the shutter button is pressed and remains open until the speed button is rotated to another position. I guess this was used to do long time exposures without having to hold the button down as you would with the B setting. I remember having a lockable cable release to do a similar thing with my Zenit B in the early 1970’s.

The other difference from the S3 is the removal of the self-timer mechanism.

Pentax S1a Specifications

  • Pentax S1a 35mm slr
  • Shutter B, T, 1sec to 1/500 (marked) + 1/1000
  • Flash sync at 1/60th
  • X & FP sync
  • Manual focus
  • M42 screw lens mount
  • 55mm SMC Takumar f/2.0 lens fitted
  • Auto aperture stop down
  • Ser No 698884
  • Manual available on-line here


I’m a software developer by profession but I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 8 years old. In that time I’ve owned cameras of all types and sizes from 120 roll film thro’ 35mm to my current Pentax K-5, Ricoh GXR + P10/S10/A12 28mm/A12 50mm, Canon S95 and recently acquired Sony NEX 6.

  1. David Murray says:

    The Pentax S1a was the first SLR I had, I bought it in 1976. The dealer dated it at 1962. I used it constantly until 1984 when I bought a Nikkormat FT from the same shop. A friends dad, noticing I was using the Nikon, asked to buy the Pentax with case, strap etc and I got my original price back for it. When said dad died in 1992, friend hunted high and low for the S1a but it could not be found. Perhaps Vin took it with him? When I sold my car a few years back after being banned on account of my eyesight, I found the Pentax lens hood. I keep it on the sitting room mantlepiece in case Vin wants to come back for it. Friend John died 1 February this year.

  2. Peter Carey says:

    I have just read this and I hope that the S1a returns to you soon. The S1a was my first camera, too and I learnt my photography with it using a hand held light meter. Some wonderful pictures resulted before I bought a Canon A1. I discovered th S1a recently, hidden at the back of a wardrobe and everything seems to be in order, including the extra 1/1000 sec click stop which I didn’t know about until I read Simon Hawkett’s article! I shall run a film through it and marvel at the results again, I hope!

    1. David Murray says:

      Have just noticed that I put lens hood, it was actually the original lens cap that I found under the car seat.

  3. Andy says:

    I just bought an S1a and I put 12 frames and although the shutter has a bit of stickiness I produced some great shots of a small gumtree in my front garden, my god the 55mm has some great glass in it.
    I shall get it CLA and it should be honkey dorey!
    I have heaps of other cameras nikons, canon, bronica, mamiya….but for what it is this might be something special.

  4. Roelf Backus (NL) says:

    I found a detail that I haven’t noticed before. The ground glass of the S1-a has no micro prisms in the center, the SV does.

  5. Chris says:

    I have one of these that I bought in 1976. Just re discovered it after a clear out.
    It not been used in over 25 years. Last time I used it it worked perfectly, but on finding it, when I look through the viewfinder, it is black with no view.
    Just wondered if anyone knows what’s wrong with it?

    1. simon says:

      It may be the mirror on your camera is stuck in the up position – the one I have was like that when I received it and I found the mirror return spring was simply dislodged from its post. Hopefully yours will be a similar simple fix.

  6. David Murray says:

    I’ve read this post again and have noticed an S1a for sale with Takumar (but no case or strap) here in the U.K. At the price, I’m tempted for old times sake. Mind you I’ll get it in the neck from my boyfriend: “not another £#{¥€§g camera!!!!!!!,” I’ll have to buy him yet another pair of Gucci loafers (size 5) to placate him or there will be no smoked salmon for Sunday lunch! It will certainly seem strange as at the moment I’m using a pair of Leica R8 black bodies (said to be the most advanced film SLR of all time) and 28/35/50/90/135/180mm lenses.

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