This is a short and ( hopefully ) sweet review of one of the most popular 35mm film SLR cameras. At least at the time when the Spotmatic series was released. I've always been a fan of everything Pentax but hadn't really ventured before the Pentax-M series of cameras. Spotmatic came before that. Even before the K-mount that Pentax uses to this day.
SPII carries a M42 screw mount. Many lenses were created for it - including the amazing Takumar lenses made by Asahi Pentax. That means that there is no shortage of great lenses to fit on this camera.
Design & Build Quality
SPII looks like an SLR should look like. It's a simple but pleasant design. If there is one thing that symbolises Spotmatic series for me then it's the curved film advance lever. It looks great although it has an ergonomic issue that I'll write about later.
The camera has a decent weight and is built well. It doesn't have the same finesse as a more "luxury" camera ( like Leica ) would have but it definitely doesn't feel bad. Even though the camera is quite heavy, it doesn't balance well with a 55mm f1.8 Takumar lens which was one of the lenses this camera would've come with. When placed on a table the camera will fall forwards. In practice it doesn't have an impact as you don't feel it when using the camera.
There aren't many controls on the camera but what's there is nice. Exposure time dial turns with a good resistance and clicks in place with a satisfying "clunk". Film advance lever is consistent in its travel and returns with a soothing ratcheting sound. It doesn't reach the heights of an M3 film advance lever but it's definitely one of the better ones.
There isn't much to break on them as well. Light meter could die but nobody really needs a light meter. Another common problem is a sticky mirror, meaning that the mirror won't go back down after taking a photo. That means that you will not see through the viewfinder anymore. Luckily it's not a complicated fix. A CLA would fix it but you don't even need to go that far. Removing the bottom plate and cleaning + lubricating a few of the gears there should fix the issue. At least temporarily. A CLA is definitely preferred but not always needed. You can make do with a simple clean most of the time. Just don't go grinding off some parts there that I've seen recommendations for on the internet.
The viewfinder on Spotmatic SPII is plenty big and bright. It doesn't reach the same levels of size and brightness as Pentax ME Super or Pentax MX but it is the easiest 35mm SLR viewfinder to focus with for me. As long as there are decent levels of light and the lens isn't too slow.
The reason for this is a fantastic microprism aid right in the center of the focussing screen. It's the best that I've used and it makes precise focussing easy. It loves light so when the light fades, the ease of focussing will fade with it. That means problems with slower lenses ( e.g. f3.5 ) too for the same reason. Even with these drawbacks, Spotmatic viewfinders are my favourite 35mm SLR viewfinders to use. All thanks to the focussing aids.
There is also a light meter on the right side of the viewfinder. I haven't yet tested the light meter but it's simple enough to understand. Get the needle to balance in the right location and you're good to go.
There isn't a plethora of features to be found in this camera but what it has, is useful.
The shutter speeds go from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second plus a B mode. A good range.
There is a built-in light meter but I haven't used it yet. It uses a discontinued battery type although you can fit certain batteries you can buy today. I enjoy using it without a light meter so don't be discouraged if the light meter doesn't work.
Even though M42 is a very simple mount, SPII offers some nice automations for more "modern" M42 lenses. If you use Super-Takumar or later lenses then the camera will automatically stop the lens down for you when taking a photo. It's super useful as it allows you to frame and focus with a wide-open lens and you don't have to remember to close it down when taking a photo. Obviously you can still use preset lenses or lenses without any aperture automations.
Ease Of Use
The camera is a joy to use. Larger weight inspires confidence and you don't want to be too precious about the camera. It feels like it will take the abuse if you do abuse it. All the important controls are easy to use and are in no way confusing.
The iconic ( for me ) curve on the film advance lever means that it is easy to grab and advance the film. It does have a problem though. The curve means that it will stick out from the back of the camera. It doesn't cause any problems when shooting in landscape orientation with the right eye on the viewfinder. It also doesn't cause problems when shooting portrait orientation with the shutter button facing down. It will dig into your forehead when using it in landscape orientation with the left eye on the viewfinder. And it will dig in even more when shooting portrait orientation with the shutter button facing up. I don't shoot with my left eye on the viewfinder but I do sometimes shoot portrait orientation with the shutter button on the top. Well not with this camera. The film advance lever reminds me if I do forget that.
Camera is a light box. Lens and film handles the "look" of the photo. All the other words on this theme. Here are some examples.
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic cameras are easy to recommend. They are easy to use and are great to focus with. They are still very affordable. Sometimes they can go above $100 but you can often find them for $50 or even less. Even with a lens. A great price for a camera that won't require much if any investment to keep it going.
Combine it with Super-Takumar or later M42 lenses and the camera will take care of all the annoying bits for you. Or use it with other fantastic M42 lenses like the Biotar. Either way it's a win.