Vivitar manufactured none of its photo gear. Other companies produced lenses, flashes, and cameras for Vivitar, who just added their name. Some of Vivitar’s products were great, many were average, and some missed the mark widely. Vivitar earned their mixed reputation in the marketplace. To try to set its finest gear apart, it began using “Series 1” branding, primarily for its best lenses. Then it gave the Series 1 name to a series of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, of which one is the Vivitar Series 1 500PZ.
This camera from 1992 features an unbranded 35-70mm f/4-7.6 lens of seven elements in seven groups set in a shutter that operates from 1/300 to 1/4 second. It uses a 35-zone autofocus system. The flash fires whenever needed by default, and offers red-eye reduction, always-on, and slow-synchro. You can also turn the flash off, but you have to press the mode button a bunch of times to do it, which is annoying. It doesn’t offer macro mode and focuses only from about two feet. It reads film DX coding to set ISO from 50 to 3200, but it can’t be overridden. There’s also an electronic self timer. You could also get this camera with a data back. A CR123 battery powers the camera.
The body is 90s funky, with a prominent viewfinder and a bug-eyed flash pod. Another quirk is that the zoom rocker is transparent and sits atop the LCD that shows the frame number and flash mode. As best I can tell, this camera retailed for $309, which is about $650 today.
The PZ500 is simple enough to use. Drop in film, stretch the leader across, close the door. The 500PZ winds to the first frame and you’re good to go. Power it on, zoom, point, and shoot. I wish the power button were larger and didn’t look so similar to the button next to it. Ergonomics, people! And the zoom sounds like a screeching rodent, but at least it’s not very loud.
A few other companies sold cameras based on this camera’s chassis. Panasonic sold an identical camera as the C-2200ZM. Leica based its Mini Zoom camera on this chassis, but used a Vario Elmar lens with the same 35-70mm f/4-7.6 specs. Nikon sold two cameras based on this chassis: the One-Touch Zoom AF with a 38-70mm f/4.7-8 lens, and the One-Touch Zoom 70 (and equivalent Zoom 200 AF) camera with a 38-70mm f/4.7-8.6 lens. Even Vivitar based another camera on this chassis, the Series 1 PZ480, with a 38-70mm f/4-7.8 lens. The tell is the film door and the film chamber, which are the same on all of these cameras. In the end they’re all Panasonics, because parent company Matsushita made them all.
If you like compact point and shoot cameras, see my reviews of the Canon Snappy 50 (here) and Snappy S (here), the Kodak VR35 K12 (here) and VR35 K40 (here), the Minolta AF-Sv (here), the horrible Nikon Zoom-Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here) and Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.
The camera arrived with a CR123 battery already inside — thank you eBay seller! I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 and got to shooting. Fulltone Photo processed and scanned this roll. Sadly, this camera has a light leak. A curved leak like that often means that light is getting in from around the lens barrel, probably because a rubber gasket or seal has deteriorated.
The 500PZ also returned flare when the sun was to one side or the other of the lens.
Fortunately, I was able to edit the leak and the flare out of many of the photos.
The 500PZ handles well. I especially appreciate how well the zoom control works. On so many zoomable point and shoots, you tap to zoom just a little, but you overshoot and tap to zoom a little the other way, and so on. A tap of the 500PZ’s zoom lever zoomed the lens just a touch. It’s easy to finely control the zoom.
Like so many point-and-shoot cameras, the 500PZ’s flash is on by default. I’m sure that’s good for the average buyer of this kind of camera, but I’m a no-flash kind of guy. I shot this car’s grille twice, once with and once without flash. The flash filled in the grille’s shadows nicely. I could live without the starburst on the Nissan logo, though.
I shot this roll in February, a snowy month in Indiana. The 500PZ did a reasonable job of setting exposure when a lot of snow was in the scene.
I kept going with the Vivitar Series 1 500PZ by dropping in a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus. I developed it at home in HC-110, Dilution B, and scanned on my Plustek 8200i scanner.
With the flash off, I tried shooting the 500PZ inside. It did a good job of setting exposure in this mixed-lighting scene. The viewfinder isn’t perfect — I had placed the chairs and couch in the center of the viewfinder when I made the image.
Here’s more of that flare. This is the camera’s major flaw. It’s a shame, because it handles well and its autoexposure system is effective.
I brought the 500PZ with me everywhere I went. It’s too big to slip into my back jeans pocket, but it’s not so heavy that carrying it by the strap is any trouble.
The 35-70mm zoom range isn’t huge, but it’s fine for getting a little closer for the family snapshot. I zoomed to the max for this closeup and everything is nice and sharp. On a few other zoom point and shoots I’ve owned, things go a little soft at maximum zoom.
The lens was capable of good contrast in bright sun, but my cloudy-day shots all needed a big contrast boost in Photoshop.
See more from this camera in my Vivitar Series 1 500PZ gallery.
While this may have been a big deal camera for Vivitar, it didn’t offer anything truly special compared to other point-and-shoots of the era. It works competently, and it has a good lens. But especially in the 90s, that was plenty. I paid ten bucks for mine — if you find one for about that price, buy it and have some fun with it. But it’s not worth much more than that.