Camera Reviews

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, camera manufacturers manufactured as many compact point-and-shoot cameras as stars in the sky. Or so it seems. eBay lists billions and billions of them at any moment, at any rate. So many of them are crap, making it a crapshoot to find the good ones. So many are wildly overpriced. A tip: Pentax’s compacts in the IQZoom and Espio series are usually good, sometimes great — and are bargain priced. Like this one, the Pentax IQZoom 170SL.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The IQZoom 170SL is small: just 4.5×2.25×2 inches. But it packs a long lens, a 38-170mm f/5.6-12.8 SMC Pentax Zoom, of 8 elements in 6 groups. Did you catch that? SMC! Super Multi Coated! Just like all the great Pentax SLR lenses. Not all IQZoom/Espio cameras come so equipped. If you don’t see SMC on an IQZoom’s lens bezel, it doesn’t have an SMC lens.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The 170SL’s electronic shutter operates from 1/360 to 2 sec. It reads the film canister’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 3200. Avoid non-DX coded films, as the camera defaults to a not-useful ISO 25. It focuses automatically, using a phase-matching five-point system. At the lens’s wide end it focuses from 2.45 feet; at maximum zoom from 3.9 feet. It sets exposure automatically.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The buttons atop the camera control its functions. One is for flash and shutter modes. When you turn the camera on, it uses flash when low light demands it, unless you turn flash off with this button. It also lets you force flash on and choose long shutter speeds, including bulb mode.

The middle button controls the autofocus, including infinity focus lock and spot focus. The next button turns on the self-timer and a wireless remote shutter control. My 170SL didn’t come with the remote, so I couldn’t try it. The right button sets the camera’s date and time. Some 170SLs don’t have this button, apparently. If you set a date and time, it imprints onto the negative.

The viewfinder offers diopter adjustment, a very nice touch. Move the slider on top of the viewfinder pod until the view is crisp.

The camera loads your film, winds, and rewinds automatically. You load the film upside down from the right side, which is a little odd. A single CR2 battery powers all.

This was an expensive camera: $433 when new. You could get a Pentax 35mm SLR kit for about that then!

If you like point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, check out my reviews of the Yashica T2 (here), the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Kodak VR35 K40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I put a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the 170SL and took it to downtown Zionsville one evening. Most places were closed thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, so we had Main Street largely to ourselves. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

T-shirt in the shop window

The IQZoom 170SL was an easy companion on this walk. It is very light but feels solid. Every control fell right to hand. It took me no time at all to blow through all 24 exposures on the roll.

Window

The zoom worked smoothly but a little slowly, with a soft whirr. Winding was similarly quiet. I’m impressed with how the autoexposure system navigated mixed lighting.

Curbside carryout

I’m impressed with the sharpness and bold color I got. This camera made Fuji 400 look better than I’ve ever seen it.

Bus by the salon

Next to the viewfinder are green and red lights. The green light glows when autofocus has a lock. The red light blinks when flash is charging and glows steady when flash is ready. In this fading light the flash fired a lot. I knew when I photographed this sign the flash would reflect. So I turned flash off and the long-exposure mode on and shot it again. That shot turned out soft.

Harold's, flash
Harold's, no flash

In dim corners the 170SL gave surprisingly shallow depth of field.

Pink posies

That roll flew by so fast I barely got a feel for the camera. So I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and took the camera on a lunchtime walk through the shopping centers near my home. I was glad for a bright day, as full sun is so often a challenge for point-and-shoot cameras. Not so the 170SL. Just look at that color!

America's diner

I detect a whiff of pincushion distortion here, but overall I find this lens to suffer little from distortion. Again: just look at that color!

Old Navy

I find yellows commonly wash out on consumer color films, but the 170SL brought it in, big and bold, every time. This photo shows a little vignetting which I suppose is to be expected from a compact zoom camera.

We're open

The 170SL even rendered black impressively deep and true.

One way

I forgot to mention earlier that the 170SL has a panorama mode. A switch on the bottom moves masks in place over the film and in the viewfinder.

Panorama

That scene was too far away, so I zoomed in to the max and shot again. At 170mm it’s hard to hold the lens steady.

Close-up panorama

I did manage one decent 170mm shot. For this one, I stood square, breathed steadily, and squeezed the shutter button slowly. It’s still soft, but not due to shake this time. That’s just how maximum zoom goes on these point-and-shoot cameras, in my experience.

Bell de tacos

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax IQZoom 170SL gallery.

I’m impressed with the Pentax IQZoom 170SL. Actually I’m blown away by the bold, rich color I got on everyday color film. I plan to put a couple rolls of black-and-white film through this camera to see how they perform. If they wow me as much as these color rolls did, I might just have a keeper!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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13 thoughts on “Pentax IQZoom 170SL

  1. Impressive! Around this time Pentax, Canon, Nikon and Olympus really had point and shoots dialed in. And you are right. The good ones were very expensive!

  2. tbm3fan says:

    I personally never bought such a camera back then. Today I have some mainly for completing a collection. Now while never having bought one a friend gave me a Pentax in 1995. I then took that on many trips to the Philippines rather than the SRT-101 and assorted lenses.Way easier to pack and move around with. Yet, when I look at the photos it took they all leave me saying those could be better. Issue was that the sharpness wasn’t quite there in several hundred of pictures. I threw the camera away later making it the only camera I have ever done that to.

  3. Glad you found one of these! I got one a few months back, and like it. Like you, I was impressed with the images, especially since the “super zoom compacts” from the end of the film era are held in low esteem. And yeah, these cameras were so expensive then. But now? They can be had for practically pennies. Mine cost just $4 plus shipping, which is $429 less than that original price you quoted. (Is the $433 in 2002 or 2020 dollars?)

    With any of these cameras, there are a few quibbles. I wish it had a dial rather than those teeny buttons, especially in lower light situations. And I don’t like having to remember to turn off the flash, or hit the “mountain” mode, every time I take a shot if I don’t want it to fire. The flash can fire even when you think it shouldn’t. The other day I took a pic in the middle of a field, no shade, bright sunlight, and the flash somehow fired.

    But I dig the compactness of this unit. As pointed out somewhere, no two IQ Zooms are alike. Originally, I was looking at the 160, and the body was much bulkier than the 170SL, even though the zoom is shorter.

    I did manage to find a remote via eBay for $3, which was one dollar less than the camera (and both camera and remote together are cheaper than the battery!) So I’ve taken some long exposure shots with it while using a tripod. I got some decent results.

    I wrote a blog post about the camera here:
    https://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/2020/03/04/pentax-iq-zoom-170sl-a-compact-dad-cam-from-the-tail-end-of-the-film-era/

    • See, this is the perfect kind of camera to slip into a back pocket and then get on the bike and ride to somewhere interesting and make some photographs! I love having a couple choices that deliver good results in a compact size just for those kinds of outings.

      It is interesting to me how no two IQZooms share a common design language. I think this was Pentax’s great miss with the line. If they had figured out a good look for their cameras and carried it through the line they might have been as popular as the Olympuses.

      • It is a great “slip in a pocket and go” camera! I also find the zoom can be useful for nature and certain types of landscape photography, like when trying to capture a distant mountain. Sure, an SLR with a telephoto lens is “better”, but that’s such a big package.

        As for the differences in design: When I was looking at both the 160 and 170SL, the 160 did have the “dial”, which steered me to it first. But the slimmer package and slightly bigger zoom of the 170SL won me over. But I really wish they could have made the 170SL with the dial.

        In hindsight, the fact that Pentax couldn’t make the IQ Zoom have a “unified” aesthetic, or make one or two models that look “cool” definitely works in our advantage now. I doubt I could pick up a Stylus Zoom for the same price as I paid for my 170SL, and they’re probably equally good.

    • The 160 is one of the best specified Espios they made, and probably has the most features of any I tried. The viewfinder with its changing perspective and the mode dial are features I’ve not seen on any other Espio. But it is a chunky thing! The 170SL or my favourite, the 24EW, are much slimmer.

        • I must admit I didn’t use the 170 as much as the 160. I know the 160 adjusts the viewfinder area when up close and in panoramic mode, and changes the AF symbols depending whether you’re using spot AF, multi or landscape mode. All very intelligent. Does the 170 do that too? Either is a great option for a zoom compact and can be had for next to nothing…

        • The viewfinder “zooms” along with the camera, and I believe it’ll bracket for panorama if you switch to that mode. Not sure on the others, since I don’t really use them.

  4. Your results are no surprise Jim, I really think the Espio/IQZoom series are the nest option for a film zoom compact. Most of them are good, some are very good.

    Look forward to seeing more.

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