6.14.2017

Glee with Gadgets Pentax ME Super Dial Data Back

I'm not a photographer.  Though I may occasionally use my "Spidey Senses" and put forth some wonderful results, I'm not a 100% true, dyed in the changing bag cloth, "photographer."

I'd best describe my make up as one part photographer, one part history buff, one part collector, and one part "gear head."  The result is a quirky guy who likes using multiple classic old cameras to take photos.

The "gear head" aspect of this takes me down a geeky path where I find myself drawn to things that some other true photographers could care less about.  I might pay attention in particular to something as relevant as the intuitive nature of a viewfinder, but then also put an extra level of attention to the typefaces used in that viewfinder.

As I'm also a "data nerd" of sorts, I find that I like to know and keep track of things such as dates or exposure data at times, and have often looked at specific camera models that can accomplish the data recording in particular.  So when I discovered that a model for which I'd already developed a great fondness actually had such a capability, I simply had to give it a try.

And this is the story behind how I acquired a Pentax Dial Data Back ME.


The "Dial Data ME" back works by manually setting the three dials to the desired values to print, or to null values to disable printing.




An easily added accessory for the Pentax ME Super, the Dial Data ME back is in many ways similar to the "date backs" that were increasingly offered on consumer cameras as the 1990's progressed. These simple versions, pre-programmed by the user to "set it and forget it" typically just display date or a date/time combo using either a 7 segment LED number style, or in some cases, a more "dot-matrix" type display.

The Pentax version, by contrast, uses a different system in which a lamp illuminates during exposure, and actually sends light through a mask to imprint an image onto the film.  The result is a far more "analog" style of printing than modern data backs.

The remarkable advantage to this over the simpler modern style of data back is that the camera can imprint a wider range of information than simply a date or time.  Exposure data or modes can be imprinted onto the frame, sequence numbers or even a roll inventory numbers can be imprinted onto an image.  There are lots of possibilities.

A closer look reveals years from '86 to '97 as well as a wide range of aperture settings on the first dial; letters A-N, numbers 1-12, and a range of shutter speeds from 15 and up plus AUTO on the second dial; and numbers 0-36 on the last dial.  The dial at bottom right is designed for proper "burn in" of the digits with different film speeds.  Interesting to see the gap from 160-400.

The huge disadvantage to this style is that the desired data must be dialed in prior to each exposure, if it changes.  There is no automatic link between the exposure data in the camera and the dials on the data back.  This creates a very cumbersome process for using the back in its most interesting facet - recording exposure data that changes between shots.  Still, this CAN be a good thing in that it does slow you down and take note of what settings you have applied.  Or you can be lazy and simply denote the aperture while setting the shutter speed to "AUTO." if you are in AE mode.

The other disadvantage to this and nearly every other data back feature out there is the direct recording of exposure data directly upon your image.  And in the interest of ensuring it would appear in every standard machine print, the ME Super's "Dial Data ME" does encroach pretty far into the image in recording this information. It would be many years after this that camera makers found better ways of sneaking data recording between frames or sprocket holes, but in some ways, the "lo-fi" data recording is a fun reminder of just how long many of us who take photos have wanted records of our shooting settings.  In the days before digital cameras and EXIF data, this was about as good as it got.

So feel free to have a look below at a slightly different kind of photo gallery, spotlighting the ways in which the Pentax Dial Data ME back can be used!

The basic use of the back for non-date purposes, is to record exposure information as seen here.  The digits have a neat "neon sign" sort of look to them, though they do impose a lot on the subject. The number "36" is an error - I thought the last dial was set not to print, but was one slot over. 





Exposure information can be useful in lens testing as seen in the three shots above, showing increasing depth of field as the aperture gets smaller. 

On some compositions, the data imprint can be less obtrusive. On light colored areas, the imprint can tend to disappear.

Dark colored areas provide the best contrast for the digits to print. 

On light colored areas, the entire display can nearly vanish.  

My impromptu attempt at a Windows desktop.  


One suggestion with the back is that the last dial can be used to show focal length, though this only works with wider angle lenses and perspectives.  These two images are taken with a 28-80mm zoom lens. 



While shutter speed isn't as much interest to me in shooting, and I can trust the ME Super in the Auto mode, the back allows me to simply set the printing to read "AUTO."  Curiously, there is no setting for "2000," the fastest speed on the ME Super.

On occasion, the back failed to illuminate.  In the instance of this shot, I'm pretty glad that it didn't.

A 20 second bulb exposure at F11 is denoted by the kind person who put some neon letters in the grass in the foreground! :)

Despite glaring technological limitations of its era, the Dial Data ME back provides the history buff in me a neat look at what the film shooters of 3 decades ago could use to populate their images with notes concerning dates and exposure information.  While I'm not likely to often use this back to a great degree, it will be handy in point should I want to do some lens comparisons on any Pentax lens.  The letter coding would also allow me to denote shots taken on lens "A," "B," "C" and so on.

For the cheap price that I scored this back for, I'm a happy camper.  It's a neat look at 1980's technology.  Now to jump in my DeLorean to travel back to the 80's and set some photos of big-haired mall walkers.