After using a Pentax ME, ME Super, MV, MX and most recently an MG, the humble MG has become my favourite.
The only two M cameras I currently have are the MG and MX, originally aimed at very different users and with different budgets. Here are some thoughts on how the MX and MG compare, and why in my eyes, the MG is king of the Ms –
The MX is tiny, but for me too tiny. Width is good, but the short height means with my forefinger on the shutter button, I can only fit one other finger on the body to hold it, which makes it feel heavier than it is, and a little unbalanced. With the MG, the extra few millimetres in height makes a bit difference, and means two fingers comfortably grip the body, and balance feels much better.
Winner – MG, it just feels right in my hands, the MX feels awkward.
The MX has a slightly larger viewfinder (VF), but to my eyes it’s no brighter than the MG (and both feel inferior to my Minolta X-700 with MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4!). Both are very good, and easy to focus. My MX has quite a bit of dust inside, whereas the MG is very clean, which does make a difference in use also, though this is obviously specific to these two examples I own.
The MX has shutter speeds on a dial in the VF to the right, which shows the current speed plus one either side, then the LEDs next to that to indicate when you’re properly exposed. Quite a neat system for a manual shutter camera. But I’ve come to realise that with fully manual and mechanical cameras, I enjoy a very simple, uncluttered VF (as with a Pentax S1a or Minolta SR-1s), then I meter externally and set the shutter speed and aperture before I put my eye to the VF to compose and focus.
With the cameras I use that have their own lightmeters, I prefer using an aperture priority (Av) system. The MG is Av, and shows the shutter speed the camera will choose up the left side of the VF. Even in poor light, the LEDs are cleverly colour coded – red at the very top or bottom to indicate over or underexposure beyond the camera’s capabilities, green for speeds from 1/60s – 1/1000s (ie fine for hand held shots) and orange for 1/30s down to 1s, indicating a warning of camera shake. It’s all just more intuitive and simple to use than the MX.
(Plus although the MG warns of underexposure with a red light, it will still open the shutter for far longer than 1s marked on the Auto dial on the top of the camera. I just put the lens on f/11 at ISO200 in a very lowly lit room, and the shutter stayed open for 45s! Which give scope for some interesting metered long exposures… )
The MX does also indicate the chosen aperture of the lens via a little window, which is a useful feature, but not essential. Again, with my style of shooting I know I’m using f/4 or f/5.6 or f/8 90% of the time so I don’t need to always be reminded of the aperture, so it’s a bit redundant for me.
Winner – MG, the VF is great, the shutter speed display near perfectly designed.
The MX is all mechanical, and only the meter is battery dependent, making it still an appealing option for someone seeking a small all mechanical camera and metering externally or using Sunny 16.
But if I want to use an all mechanical, meterless camera, I would choose my S1a or Minolta Sr-1s, because of their pure stripped down simplicity. For my uses, the MX falls between two stools – neither simple and pure enough an experience as a fully mechanical camera, nor automated enough as a electronic one.
The MG is battery dependent for the meter and all automatically selected shutter speeds. But it does have a mechanical back up speed of 1/100s, so if your batteries fail you still have a very usable camera with Sunny 16 or an external meter.
Most of my creative control with a camera comes from how I manipulate depth of field, via changing the lens aperture. With the MG I can focus on this and let the camera choose the shutter speed. The MX does have a depth of field (DOF) preview button which the MG doesn’t, which is a bonus.
However, as my shooting has evolved, I don’t rely on DOF preview like I used to – I now have a good idea of what DOF I’ll get close up at f/4, 5.6, or 8. Plus if I do need to see, I use the simple trick of unmounting the lens a few millimetres until the blades close down, adjusting aperture if necessary, then clicking the lens back into its locked position, composing and shooting.
Also, much of the time I use M42 lenses on the M cameras, like the Takumars, Pentacon Auto, Helios 44s etc. Here the DOF preview becomes redundant as the lenses become manual aperture and you get a constant view through of how the DOF looks.
Controlling shutter speed is something I rarely require. It’s more direct with the MX, but the shutter speed dial is a bit stiff and awkward, especially compared with the S1a, Spotmatic F or KM, which are all a joy to turn. With the MG if I want to shoot at a specific shutter speed I just look through the VF then turn the aperture ring until the required LED is lit up. Easy.
Winner – MG, it gives me all the creative control I need without ever getting in the way.
Both cameras are identical in the following aspects – Manual ISO dial running from 25-1600. Shutter speeds from 1s to 1/1000s (and both have Bulb mode). Small red indicator shows by wind on lever when shutter is cocked. Loading film is also identical.
The wind on lever is similar with both, though the MG is a little lighter and smoother to use, and has a shorter throw. Again, like the height difference, although this seems quite negligible, in practice it’s another aspect that just feels right with the MG, and somehow not quite right on the MX. However, for the quality of the feel of the wind on, neither come close to my S1a, Spotmatic F or KM.
The MX has a shutter button lock, which is useful as the button does protrude quite far up. The MG doesn’t, but as its button is virtually flush with the surrounding knob, it’s unlikely to get pushed accidentally anyway.
Winner – A draw, as they are near identical in these other features, though the MG again feels slightly more natural to use.
Obviously this comparison is specific to me, my likes, and the way(s) I prefer to shoot.
Also, price is not a factor, as it would have been when the camera were new(er) – Both I bought with lenses – the one with the MX I sold, meaning the camera cost me less than £10, and the MG with the lovely SMC Pentax 55/2 lens it’s pictured with at the top of this post cost £13. If I had paid full price (new) for the MX I think I might have been more disappointed, especially compared with the MG which no doubt cost vastly less.
I’m sure there are people who adore the MX and it offers them a far more satisfying experience than the relatively simple MG.
But it’s this simplicity of the MG that makes it such a winner for me. It does all I need it to, and keeps it straightforward and easy.
If I’m shooting all manual, all mechanical, my Pentax S1a or Minolta SR-1s offer the kind of minimal, pure experience I enjoy. But for most of the time, when I favour shooting aperture priority, the MG ticks every box, plus handles very naturally, and again just feels “right”.
Plus it gives me access to my Pentax K mount lenses and with a very basic adapter all the M42s too, two of my three favourite lens mounts.
So, after nearly four years of dabbling in the M game, and trying virtually all variations available, my last M(an) standing it seems is unexpectedly the humble MG…