My MEC experiences
After reading several 'what do you think about....' posts on different reloading forums lately, I offer to you my impressions on shotshell presses....
First a little terminology,
'single-stage' means you have to move the shell through several 'stations' to get a completely reloaded shell.
A 'station' is where one (or more) steps of the reloading process occur (deprime, resize, prime, powder, wad/shot, start crimp, final crimp) - each step requires a single pull of the reloader handle.
'Progressive' presses allow for several functions to occur with a single pull of the handle. Typically , the shell is advanced through the stages automatically.
I currently have no fewer than 6 shotshell reloaders! And yes, I do shoot a lot of shotshells. And yes I am a packrat!! With that clear, I'll begin!
First off, I have a Lee 'Load - All,' but have used it very little. It is kinda flimsy and is made mostly of plastic. But the price was right at the time (free). At ~$35 from your favorite supply house, it will suffice if you want to load a few shells. I personally think that you are better off saving a few more pennies and purchasing a more-sturdy, used press, but then again that's my opinion - your mileage may vary!
My first loader was a Lyman shotshell loader (no longer made). My Dad and Uncle went in together and bought it in the early 60's. I still occasionally use it for oddball loads (buckshot, etc) because I have the dies to set it up for 20, 16 and 12 guage. At my best undisturbed pace, I could load up to four boxes per hour on it (with a few 'bloopers'). This press is discontinued and if you need additional bushings or parts for it - forget it (unless you have access to a machine shop). Still if you find one used for cheap, I would recommend it. IF all the parts are there.
About 6 years ago, I stumbled on an old roll - crimping, Pacific progressive 12 guage loader for $35 at a gunshop. The old gent was tickled to death that I even showed any interest in it. I set it up and after figuring out how to adjust it, started cranking out 1 1/8 oz 12 guage with Red Dot powder loads at a pretty good pace. I really like the positive ejection of the shell on the resizing station. It is a little faster, but still kinda labor intensive for a loader (no auto prime feature). But it is more dependable than my old Lyman single stage (fewer bloopers - problem shells). The roll-crimping dies worked OK with the star- crimped plastic hulls, but it is another discontinued reloader with hard to replace parts. Like most older presses, it is heavy and well made. For an inexpensive PROGRESSIVE press (used), you can make it work if you are a little more mechanically inclined. Still, I doubt you will find one for sale.
About 5 years ago, my wife and family decided I needed an upgrade. They gave me a MEC 650 progressive. MAN what a cadillac! With my hulls resized and deprimed, this thing will put out a case of PERFECT reloads in an hour. This was very important when I shot a lot of Skeet and sporting clays. I shoot less now, but still use this reloader as my primary. It will totally replace my old Pacific machine when I find someone who needs it more than me!! The resize station on this thing comes up lacking however, when compared to the old Pacific. It is positive on the resized case ejection, but you have to remove the primer tray and screw on the resizer, then add a special bushing to set the hull on. And it's less sturdy that the old HEAVY Pacific - which is important with work-hardened shotshell hull brass. The Sizemaster overcomes this deficiency, by utilizing a collet arrangement to resize, but the sizemaster in only singlestage, not progressive. At ~$230 it's more expensive, but a very good, fast reloader. You could buy MEC's stand alone collet-type resizer to use with this (~$80) and then have a better system.
Since my wife shoots a 20 guage, I needed a better reloader to load her shells than the old Lyman. So, about 2 years ago, I purchased a used MEC Sizemaster. It was pratically new, but the gent I bought it from was tired of reloading and sold the press (2 actually - a 20 and a 12), all his hulls and components as well as his very heavy reloading bench for $100!!
I got one of the best deals ever with this. I promptly sold the 12 guage loader and ended up with a free MEC sizemaster in 20 guage! The only thing missing is the auto primer. This will speed things up when I get around to purchasing it. Still, though a good reloader, it is a little slower and took me awhile to get used to moving the shells through the stations again. My take on this is ... it is a Very Good reloader with a very good resizing/depriming station as it uses a collet-type mechanism. New they go for ~$130.
Finally a few weeks ago I purchased a used MEC 600 jr in 20 that was missing parts for $20. It was rusty and lacking both the bottles (~$4.5 each from Midway) and the priming cup (~$7.10 from MEC), but it was cheap! Though it was an older version, MEC had the parts for it in stock. After using 2 discontinued shotshell reloaders, being able to purchase replacement parts is a BIG plus! I cleaned it up and installed the missing parts this past week. After finding a recipe for my components, I loaded up a few boxes. This thing loaded WinAA, Federal Paper base-wad and Rem-Peters unibody hulls, perfectly - everytime. I am very impressed with this reloader's ability to load virtually any shell I could find a recipe for. In fact, I enjoy using this press a little more than it's newer relative on my bench, the Sizemaster! This is easily the best Single stage press you can buy for the money! Used they go for ~$40 to $50 normally in my part of the US.
In closing (sorry for the long sermon!!), If you plan to load a few boxes now and then - a MEC 600 jr is perfect. With resized and primed hulls I can load about 4 or 5 boxes per hour. If you want to speed up the process a little with a priming attachment and a slightly better resizing stage, you can;t go wrong with a Sizemaster. If however, you plan to shoot copious quantities of shells and want to load a lot in less time, then go with a MEC 650 progressive. Out of all the reloaders I have used, MEC is the best! And no, MEC does not pay my bills - work for a power company!
As an aside - do not ever try to reload the cheap Winchester 'game' hulls on ANY reloader unless you want a nice frustrating, crushed-shell experience. The better hulls are ribbed Remington and Federal hulls. The best are the Remington 'Nitro' / 'Premier,' or Winchester AA hulls. I have reloaded some Fiocchi hulls, but they are a little difficult to resize on push-in, push-out 'bushing-type' resizers.
Once again, I apologize for my long-windedness. But I hope this information is helpful to all the newby's out there. You can reload shotshells cheaper than you can buy them at you favorite 'mart.' Plus, it's fun!!