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Asahi Pentax ME-F - 1981
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• First mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR

• $994 with 35mm-70mm f2.8 zoom in 1981 ($2384 in 2010 dollars)

The Pentax ME-F was the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR--as long as you had a lens with a motor and batteries, such as the SMC AF f2.8 35-70mm Zoom, as shown in the photos below. Electronics in the camera figured out when you were in focus and provided in-focus indication with any lens. With an AF lens, the camera told the lens to focus, although the lens itself had to do the actual work with its own motor.

The ME-F was based on the 1979 ME Super. Both bodies are a bit bigger than the ME (shown in this app).

The 1977 Konica C35 AF (shown in this app) was the first mass-produced autofocus camera, and the 1978 Polaroid SX-70 Sonar (also shown in this app) was the first mass-produced autofocus SLR, so the ME-F gets some qualifiers: first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. The first autofocus camera with an in-body motor, which is the modern way to do it, was the Minolta Maxxum 7000 (also shown in this app) which, unlike the Pentax ME-F, was a huge hit. Ironically, in recent years top-of-the-line lenses now do have motors, although they take their power from the camera.

The ME-F took 8 batteries, four in the camera to power the electronics, including the autofocus sensing, and four in the lens to drive its motor (see photos below).

ME-F users report that autofocus was slow and that the AF lenses were heavy. I'm unable to check this out for myself, as my ME-F has a stuck mirror and inoperable shutter.

My take on the ME-F is that is was a bold move by Pentax, but a failure because it unbalanced things the wrong way; a small body and big, heavy, motorized lens weren't the right combination. Look at the first picture--it's just wrong. As the Maxxum 7000 showed, bodies were going to get big and heavy, and lenses were going to stay simple. (Now even the aperture ring is disappearing.) For a photographer with lots of lenses, that makes much more sense.

Pentax ME-FPentax ME-FPentax ME-FPentax ME-F
Ad from Modern Photography, April 1982Ad from Modern Photography, April 1982Article from Popular Photography, Nov. 1981Article from Modern Photography, Dec. 1981
Article from Modern Photography, Dec. 1981Article from Modern Photography, Dec. 1981Article from Modern Photography, Dec. 1981Article from Modern Photography, Dec. 1981

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