The Pentax SFX is Filmosaur’s equivalent of Don Rickles on the old Tonight Show: the regular guest who’s been around forever, the one you go to when you need a reliable performance. I’ve had this camera for about two decades, and aside from needing occasional batteries at inconvenient times it has never let me down. Sure, there have been long periods of inactivity from time to time, but it’s always there when I need it, waiting to take the stage and kill.
The SFX (SF1 in the U.S. market; mine came straight from Japan) was one of the first autofocus, autoexposure SLRs available. It offers a fully automatic Program mode, along with a couple of special settings for motion and landscape shooting. It can also be operated in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and fully manual exposure modes. Focus can be automatic or manual as well. The last point is important; the autofocus system works at exactly the same rate as the average speed of Alaskan glaciers, so manual focusing is fairly important if your subject is moving. At all. I cannot begin to tell you how many pictures came out blurry when a young and ignorant future Filmosaur relied upon this whiz-bang newfangled Reagan-era technological marvel.
That said, all the other features work nicely. Exposure compensation is available in half-steps, ISO can be manually set if you’re not happy with the DX-coded setting, and shutter speeds run up to 1/2000; apertures are of course lens-dependent. Film loading and advance are automated, and the camera can be set to shoot multiple frames in sequence. All the options are accessed through an LCD display on top of the camera; it’s pretty rudimentary by modern standards, but it was quite advanced in its day. It’s a pretty clunky system, in all honesty; a couple of old-fashioned dials would have been a better choice, but that would have been so 1960s. It’s fairly noisy in operation as well, but it works predictably and reliably.
My collection of lenses is not large, nor is it particularly distinguished. The basic 35-70mm (plus Macro) f/3.5 kit lens and a Sigma 100-300mm f/4.5 give a great deal of flexibility, if not much in the way of low-light capability or super high quality resolution (for those picky enough to notice or care). I also have a 2x teleconverter, which sees little use due to the severe loss of light it imposes (three stops’ worth), and a fisheye lens, which is fun to play with occasionally, but more of a party trick than anything else. I suppose I really should get a couple of primes for it – I think 28, 50, and 135mm lenses are readily available – and see what it can do, but I’ve managed with the zooms for this long, and I’ve got other cameras with primes that are better suited in some ways for close-in work.
These days the SFX is my go-to camera for motorsports and wildlife film photography. Sure, others take precedence at times, and as the collection has grown, it only stands to reason that the old-timer (this is an ironic identification, as all the other film cameras I own are actually older than the SFX, but I haven’t had them nearly as long) rests a little longer between outings than it used to. But it’s still there on the shelf, just waiting for the call.