It seems like I’m always testing cameras rather than shooting ones I know are good

The trouble with owning a lot of old cameras is that I’m often shooting one just to check that it’s functioning properly. Old gear is prone to failure, after all. That means I may not be shooting the camera I want, but rather the camera I must. Such was the case recently when I put a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus through a new-to-me Pentax IQZoom 170SL. Fortunately, I like shooting this camera.

Tree tunnel

Analogue Wonderland in the UK are this blog’s Official Supplier of Ilford’s traditionally grained black-and-white films, HP5 Plus and FP4 Plus. You can get your Ilford films from them, of course, but they offer film from a couple dozen other brands, both in color and in black and white.

I took this small camera along on a series of bike rides at the end of summer. Our hottest season was surprisingly temperate this year, but the sun sure was bright and direct. Where I live, I’m a few minutes away from Indiana’s signature corn and soybean fields and all of the accoutrements attendant thereunto. Like silos.


In case you missed it, I bought this IQZoom 170SL because I dropped and damaged my original one in Germany earlier this year. It still functioned, but the drop bent the film transport, creating distortion. I bought another 170SL that turned out to be a dud. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover it until after the return window had closed. So I bought my third 170SL, and by George I was going to put it through its paces in time this time. Fortunately, this one works properly.

Roadside stand

I shot this camera first at a car show, images from which I have not yet shared. A lot of the photos suffered from shake. I had turned off the automatic flash to avoid reflections in the cars’ paint. I needed to be sure that this was the cause, and not something about the camera. Hence this roll of HP5 Plus.

Wood bridge

I wish HP5 Plus and FP4 Plus weren’t so similarly named, because I get them flipped around in my head. The last time I shot FP4 Plus I derped, developing it at the HP5 Plus time. This time I did the same, developing this HP5 Plus at the FP4 Plus time. I used Clayton F76+ 1+9. Fortunately, everything turned out well enough.

Corn ready for harvest

I tested this camera’s deep zoom to be sure that the lens functioned properly fully extended.

Farmhouse up close

Here’s the same scene from the same place at the widest angle. Sure enough, all appears to be well.


Camera makers offered hundreds of models of point-and-shoot 35mm cameras from the 1980s through the mid-2000s, when digital obliterated that market. I’m sure they follow a normal distribution of performance: most are adequate, some are subpar, and some are brilliant. The Pentax IQZoom 170SL is brilliant. Get one.


Regular readers will remember that I bought a new bike this summer, finally replacing my beloved but tired Schwinn three speed. It lost its pep and verve after I rode it across Indiana on the National Road in 2021. It was 35 years old then. I shouldn’t have been surprised that such a heavy ride used it up. The new Bianchi has been a true pleasure.

Bike in the country

I have some FP4 Plus in my Nikon N2000 right now. The last time I used it, I got some blank frames toward the end of the roll. Is it malfunctioning? Only a test roll will tell me. Stand by; a report is to come.

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13 responses to “It seems like I’m always testing cameras rather than shooting ones I know are good”

  1. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    The photos look great to me, maybe the wrong dev time isn’t a bad thing? Nice bike too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think it speaks to the flexibility of this film — bugger up the developing and you still get usable images.

  2. Jerome Avatar

    I’ve spent the last year testing cameras or film, so I’ve not had time for specific projects.

    I no longer have any untested cameras, but I still have film from Lomography, ORWO, Svema, and CineStill in the queue. This means the projects will have to wait.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m about ready for a project after a year heavy in testing cameras!

  3. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    I don’t have as many cameras for testing as you do Jim, but I am gradually working through them. It can be a bit hit and miss, but it is the only way to see if a camera works properly. But I always have film in my Contax 139Qs for anything I consider important!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Even with only about 50 cameras now (down from 300), I still can’t fire them all often enough!

      1. Steve Mitchell Avatar

        Jim now I had to count them! 20 serviceable cameras, one away being serviced and a couple in the CLA queue! Probably enough for now!

  4. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, I’ve been in the position of your title here so many times with film cameras! It was a factor in pushing me towards shooting exclusively digital to be honest.

    I like testing old digital cameras and you can do an initial “does this thing actual make pictures” test very quickly with no financial outlay after the initial purchase.

    Then if you get past that first test you can look into the other features of the camera and see what else does or doesn’t work. You can do this in a much more methodical and systematic way too.

    With film cameras if you get a “bad” picture there could be multiple reasons, and it’s hard to remember what settings you used etc for each shot without making detailed notes.

    The fun of trying out different film cameras was outweighed, for me, by all the variables and cost and time involved.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      True, there are a lot of reasons a film photo can not turn out. Some of them have nothing to do with the camera or photographer, but rather some fault in processing.

  5. Kosmo Foto Avatar

    I feel your pain. So many cameras to test for Cameraburo alongside the bones that already have my vote. But then you discover overlooked/underappreciated gems. Some camers don’t have to be serious tools – they can just be fun to use. Great results from this Pentax!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      True. I think this is a draw into the hobby – what kind of images is this camera capable of?

  6. kennethwajda Avatar

    I say unless you’re testing a camera for a sale or a specific project that will use that certain camera extensively, use the ones you know work to make the photos you want to make. Otherwise your hobby is more as a camera evaluator than a photographer. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s just more of a scientific approach to dicsovering what certain items (cameras, lenses) are capable of, and using them to formulate those conclusions rather than making pictures that you will perhaps print, frame and live with as art.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      As you know I’m a hobbyist, and I got my start in the gear. I only became interested in photography itself maybe 15 years ago. I still love the gear. People like me always have to straddle this line and it’s tricky sometimes. Especially because old gear breaks, and sometimes several cameras can be found broken at once.

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