Go to the Pentax 110 Collection indexIntroduction

"System 10 is by far the smallest and lightest SLR ever made."

" System 10 lenses are so fine and so precise, that they can render a  proper razor-sharp image on the 110 negative itself.   They are fully capable of producing colour images of outstanding quality.  Not just at 8" x 10", but at 11" x 14" also. In terms of image quality, System 10 is the first 110 camera that can honestly be favourably compared to a 35mm SLR. "      Pentax Advertising, March 1979

 

Asahi Optical Company is the maker of the Pentax line of cameras.

Pentax 110's are fantastic SLRs, in fact the smallest interchangeable lens SLR with TTL metering  ever made.  Styled like a very small 35 SLR, a body and three lenses can easily be held in the palm of your hand. Many people mistake the little Pentax  for a  toy.  They offer true SLR focusing and viewing, programmed exposure, a choice of six different lenses, two different flashes, and a "motor-drive."  On top of that, Pentax supported them with an entire system of accessories.  Perhaps making this is the largest subminiature system camera ever.  Pentax really tried to do the best job they could for the tiny new camera with a promised quality enlargements up to 11"x14". 

There isn't a whole lot of information out there concerning the Pentax Auto 110s; not published, anyway. Production dates & corresponding serial numbers from Pentax are unavailable. Specifications and such come mostly from period advertising/owners manuals. The observations of collectors has filled in most of the remaining gaps.

There were two 110 format SLRs produced by Pentax: 

  • Auto 110 
  • Auto 110 Super. 

There are 4 or 5 variants of the Auto 110, depending upon how you choose to look at them. 

The very first cameras produced had the name "ASAHI", located on the penta-prism front, filled in white epoxy/enamel just the same as the names "AUTO 110" & "PENTAX". Sometime early on this was left unfilled for the remainder of production. You can spot a "White Asahi" from a considerable distance. 

All Auto 110s have two small panhead machine screws on their backside-one on each side of the viewfinder. During the 1st year or so these screws had a slotted head & thereafter the screw heads were of the "Phillips" type-matching the 3 top & 4 bottom body screws. The size of the lettering "ASAHI OPT. CO. JAPAN" on the base of the camera was also reduced in the change from pan head to Philip screws somewhere in the range {1157431, ..., 1308039}.

The least common Auto 110 variant is the "Black Asahi Panhead"; There aren't many of these around. All "White" Asahis have panhead screws. Also the Pentax name on the very first 18mm & 50mm lens caps is different from all others.

Although of interest to collectors there is apparently no difference in the expected purchase cost of the three Auto 110 variations.

Pentax also made an Auto 110 in two tone brown plastic. Called the "Safari" or "Maroon" (brownish crimson) they were uncommon in North America but sold at retail in Hawaii & outside of the USA. They came with a suede tan coloured EV zip up case. 

At the top of the Auto 110 collectable list is the "See through"- A fully functioning dealer display with a clear plastic body. Ultra rare is a factory 24mm "DUMMY" lens.

So the 5 types are:-

All Auto 110 Supers seem to be the same. The only correct case for a Super is made of black suede.

Hard cases for Pentax Auto 110 "set" were always offered empty; as an accessory. They came in either all aluminium or aluminium/hardboard decorated in the Pentax logo. All had two keys in a black fob attached to the handle. They were not boxed but came in a cardboard sleeve. The all aluminium were made with at least two different "Pentax" name plates in the top's lower right hand corner. Soft/Hard gadget cases came in black & brown leather & leatherette & silver hardboard with Pentax logo. Interior colours and name badges differed also.

There were a number of ways to purchase an Auto 110 as offered by Pentax;

  • Camera body & 24mm lens in a red/white box with 2 piece foam interior.
  • Later in silver/black & also with a 24mm fixed focus lens.
  • The SNAP SET with 24mm, AF-100 flash, wrist strap, EV & flash case in a red box. 
  • The MAJOR COMPONENTS SET, with 18, 24, 50mm lenses, AF-130 flash, strap & the soft cases in a red box with white satin interior. 
  • Lastly, the COMPLETE SET was in a large red box with a foam interior, had everything from the Major Components set plus an auto winder, 9 close-up lenses and uv/skylight filters, 3 rubber lens hoods, body cap and a tripod adaptor. 

The most common are complete sets, major component sets, snap set and the least common is the camera in the red or silver boxes. 

The Supers came in Major and Complete Sets. The Super Major contained 2 additional filters. A Super Snap Kit may not have been made  - but that doesn't mean they do not exist. The overseas markets, especially Japan, had some stuff never offered in the States or Europe & they also had some aftermarket items that are next to impossible to obtain unless you can read Japanese & use their internet auctions. There's a lot more to these cameras and collecting them as I'm sure you now know or suspect. EJ

Pentax System 10 Design:  In 1977 a freelance Japanese camera designer named Sugaya showed his prototype Sugaya Micro F EE 110 SLR.  It was  probably the first 110 SLR with interchangeable lenses. The Sugaya  had a thread mount 33/2 lens, 1-1/500 shutter speed range, a CDS metering system, weighed 9 ounces, knob wind, and appeared to be a scaled down 35mm SLR.  Apparently the basic design was sold to Pentax.  The Pentax R&D department then improved it, under the leadership of M. Suzuki. 

Accurate ASA Film settings are a bit of a problem with Pentax 110's (and many other 110's). Both the Auto 110 and the Super had the necessary activating pin to be set for either ASA 80 film or ASA 400.  The problem is that today, the only emulsions still available are colour negative 200 and 400, and most film cartridges seem to be indexed for the lower speed film.  If you are shooting with 400 film and the camera thinks its 80,  you get an automatic 2 1/3 stop overexposure on a very small negative.  It makes for dense, grainy negatives - not what you really want if you value tonal values or sharpness. Luckily the solution is to file away part of the film cartridge, so your camera uses the higher film setting!

Film choices are getting to be thin in 110 today, though if you are dedicated enough, you can reload 110 cartridges. This is thoroughly discussed at  http://www.subclub.org/shop/110.htm. Luckily, the Pentax 110's are among the few 110's that will work with reloaded film.  The 110 negative measures 13mm x 17mm, or roughly 1/4 of the 35mm negative. 10 film is 16mm film, but with a single and different perforation pattern. Today's improved films have the capability of giving results far better than the films available when the Pentax 110 was introduced.

An interesting design point is that the ACTUAL 110 film speed setting was left up to the camera manufacturers. All Kodak did was to make standard  two ASA settings for medium and fast films.   It was up to the camera designer to decide what those film settings would actually mean to the camera. Pentax used ASA 80 and 400. Some manufacturers used 100 and 250 (the actual speed Kodak is said to have intended for the higher index). So, to get really accurate exposures, it pays to know your film cartridge and your camera. 

The Pentax Auto 110 has a couple of well documented problems:-

  • Everything seems to be working, you think you hear the shutter fire, it releases so you can wind and actually nothing has happened at all!
  • Negatives are not centred and overlapping the pre-exposed borders. This may be a fault in the manufacturing of the film, not in the camera.

For a gallery of photographs taken with the Pentax 110 Auto cameras and additional technical specifications visit http://www.amdmacpherson.com/classiccameras/index.html produced by Alan M D Macpherson, MSc CChem MRSC Larbert, Scotland, and also Rick Oleson's article on 'The most versatile little camera ever made'.

http://www.pentax110.co.uk/ is an unofficial site, based on web research and a growing collection and has no connections with with the Asahi Optical Company or Pentax.  steve@pentax110.co.uk.

 

 

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Go to the 110 index Last Updated on 10th August 2003