This is my 100th camera spotlight! To celebrate, I bought a somewhat rare, somewhat expensive camera, the Pentax MZ-S. The MZ-S is the last pro-level 35mm camera that Pentax ever made, and was released in 2001, during the twilight years of professional film photography. Listen, until only a few years ago, I actively avoided using any film camera made after 1985, as I hated the plasticy builds, LCD screens, and primitive autofocus systems of the era. This changed after I fell in love with the groundbreaking Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera, which I borrowed on a whim from my wife's grandfather. Since then, I've learned to embrace all that late-80's-to-early-2000's automatic camera goodness.
This neglect of late-century cameras is probably why I only recently heard of the excellent Pentax MZ-S. Now, I love Pentax cameras: along with Nikon, they're my favorite camera company. I own a Pentax 67, 645, MX, and an LX (which might just be the greatest 35mm camera ever made). This adoration of Pentax and a newfound interest in modern film cameras made me pretty curious about the MZ-S, which represents the pinnacle of Pentax's 35mm technology.
The Pentax MZ-S looks pretty bizarre on first glance, and maybe even a tad bit ugly. My wife scoffed at the MZ-S when she saw me using it, and called it a "crappy 90's camera." Suffice it to say she was a bit shocked when I told her how much I paid for it (about $325). The most striking feature of the MZ-S is its top panel, which is slanted at a 30 degree angle toward the photographer. This, in theory, makes exposure information easier to read when the camera is in the "ready" position. From a aesthetic standpoint, however, the slant gives the camera a kind of hunchback vibe., especially when viewed from the front. The MZ-S looks bulky, and from viewing the camera in photographs, I expected it to be massive and heavy, especially since it was touted as a professional camera. I imagined it as being similar in girth to my Nikon F4, but was pleasantly surprised when my MZ-S arrived and I found it to be astonishingly light and compact.
|The unique slanted top panel of the MZ-S|
Next to the LCD screen are panel are the metering and drive dials. For metering, there are three options: spot, center-weighted, and average. I mainly stuck to center-weighted, and got perfect exposures every time. Drive mode options include single frame, continuous (2.5 fps), self-timer, and multiple exposure. Now let me tell you, if you're a multiple exposure enthusiast like myself, you will love this camera. For multiples on the MZ-S, there's no fiddling with rewind knobs, or awkwardly holding down levers while trying to re-cock the shutter without advancing the film. All you do is flick the little multiple exposure switch, and the camera will continue to expose the same frame until you switch off of the multiple exposure setting, at which point the camera will immediately advance the film to the next frame. To remind you that you're in multiple exposure mode, the frame number on the LCD will blink. This method makes it easy to make lots of exposures on the same frame in rapid succession. It's so simple!
The MZ-S has a little pop-up flash that's hidden on top of the prism finder. It's obviously not very powerful, but it's good for fill, or capturing serendipitous indoor moments. The max sync speed is 1/180. You pop it up by pressing a little button on the side of the prism. It never automatically pops up, thank god.
|All flash photos with the MZ-S came out nicely exposed!|
The MZ-S is intended for use with auto-focus lenses. I shot my entire roll with a Pentax-FA 50mm f/1.4. Manual lenses are still usable, of course, but the all-matte focusing screen isn't conducive to manual focusing. There is a little green dot that lights up when the camera believes you've achieved correct focus with a manual lens, but I don't think it's too dependable. The focusing screen is interchangeable, but there are no official screens available with manual focusing aids (split-image or microprism). No, auto-focus is definitely the way to go with this camera. There are six focusing points to choose from, and you can even let the camera choose the point automatically if you're trusting of early 2000's algorithms. I just stuck with the center point. I do wish the points lit up, as they are hard to see if shooting in dim light. Focusing is very quick, and can even keep up with moving subjects! I had a few shots miss focus, but this may have been user error, since I'm only just getting used to the camera.
Overall I can say I'm definitely a fan of the Pentax MZ-S. I do wish it took less expensive batteries, as a the required pair of CR2 batteries set me back over twenty bucks. I'm not sure if I'll hold onto this camera or not, but the multiple exposure function alone may be worth keeping it around for a while. Below are a few more photographs I made with the MZ-S, using the FA 50mm f/1.4 lens and Ilford Delta 400 film.