Camera Reviews

Pentax IQZoom 60

When I heard that the Pentax IQZoom 60 has both a macro mode and an LED display that shows the exact focal length to which you are zoomed, I bought one as soon as I could find one. Those features would be so useful on a point-and-shoot 35mm camera! But they turned out not to be on this camera, not really. Worse, this camera was no fun to use.

Pentax IQZoom 60

The IQZoom 60 has middling specs, starting with a 38-60mm f/4.5-6.7 zoom lens of six elements in five groups. It uses an active infrared autofocus system; its autoexposure system offers no manual override. Its electromagnetic shutter operates from 1/30 to 1/250 second. A zoom range that narrow and a shutter that slow are probably fine for family snapshots and vacation photos.

Pentax IQZoom 60

To load the camera, open the door by pulling down on the lever at left, and then insert the film cartridge on the right, upside down. Pull the film across the takeup spool to the red line and close the door. Turn on the camera by sliding the slider next to the LCD to the middle position. The film winds to the first frame. The IQZoom 60 reads the film canister’s DX code to set ISO from 50 to 1600. If the film has a DX code outside that range, or has no DX code, the camera operates at ISO 100.

Pentax IQZoom 60

The IQZoom 60 focuses from 3.3 feet to infinity. In macro mode, the camera focuses only from a not-that-macro 1.8 feet. To put the camera in macro mode, move the on-off slider to the green flower. The camera zooms to 60mm and a magnifier with a green border pops into the viewfinder. If you compose a subject where nothing is in the macro range, the camera pulls the magnifier out of the viewfinder and focuses from 3.3 feet as normal. That’s a nice touch.

I don’t like the viewfinder. It’s small, and peering into it feels like looking through a toilet-paper tube with a thick piece of glass taped to its end. Inside you’ll find frame lines for normal and parallax-corrected close focusing, but they were hard to see except in blazing, direct sunlight.

To focus, put the thing you want in focus in the center of the viewfinder and press the shutter button halfway. The green light next to the viewfinder glows steady when the camera locks focus; it blinks when the camera can’t lock focus. Once you’ve focused, you can recompose if you want (but keep holding the button halfway down) and then shoot.

As usual with point-and-shoot cameras, the flash is always on and the camera uses it whenever it thinks there’s not enough light. The red lamp next to the viewfinder glows when the flash is ready to fire. You can also press the button under the on/off/macro switch to activate fill flash.

A surprisingly expensive CR-P2 battery powers the IQZoom 60.

Pentax IQZoom 60

I find it exciting that the IQZoom 60 shows you the lens’s focal length as you zoom. I like to use typical prime focal lengths, like 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, as much as I can. But given the camera’s short zoom range, the only typical prime focal length here is 50mm. I’ll throw in 38mm to be charitable as it’s close enough to 35mm. That’s it. But I’ll bet people in this camera’s target market used the zoom to replace moving closer to or farther away from the subject and didn’t care what the lens’s focal length was.

When Pentax released the IQZoom 60 in 1987, it sold for $324. That’s equivalent to north of $750 today, a lot of money for a middling point and shoot! Pentax stopped production in 1991. In some markets, the camera was called simply the Zoom 60.

If you like 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, check out my review of another in the IQZoom series, the 170SL here. It’s everything this IQZoom 60 wishes it were. Also see my reviews of the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Yashica T2 (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Kodak VR35 K40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Even though cameras like this were meant for color film, I loaded black-and-white T-Max 400 into it and took it on a walk around the Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis. I developed in LegacyPro L110 H (1+63) and scanned on my CanoScan 9000F Mark II with VueScan.

Kimmel's Shoe Repair

As you can see, the IQZoom 60 does good work. The lens is sharp and has no obvious distortion. But that doesn’t mean I liked using this camera.

Rainbow bridge in black and white

I have four complaints about the IQZoom 60. First, that viewfinder, as I described earlier. Second, it’s large for a point and shoot, about the same size as a typical 35mm SLR! Third, it felt clumsy and plasticky in my hand.

Spotted chair

Fourth, the combination shutter-zoom button was rubbery and blubbery. Sometimes I had to press the shutter button twice to get it to fire. That’s a real pet peeve with me — give me buttons that feel solid and sure under my finger.

Kilroy's

Unfortunately, the button to zoom in was dead on this camera. I worked around it by putting the camera in macro mode, which zoomed the lens to the max, and then zooming out from there.

Social distancing

The camera’s so-called macro mode works well enough, though 1.8 feet is hardly macro. I used it in the photos above and below.

Broad Ripple Village

At least the viewfinder is accurate. It’s not on so many 35mm point-and-shoots. That’s another pet peeve of mine. But on the IQZoom 60, if you can manage to see the framing lines, whatever is inside them is actually in the frame, and nothing more.

Monon Bridge

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax IQZoom 60 gallery.

Pentax’s IQZoom cameras are such a mixed bag. Some are great and others aren’t. The Pentax IQZoom 60 is not great — its negatives far outweigh its positives. I’ve tried one. Now you don’t have to.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Olympus OM-2n

I enjoy using my Olympus OM-1 from time to time. My film-photography friends all have encouraged me to get an OM-2 or OM-2n, as it offers all of the OM-1 goodness with aperture-priority exposure, my favorite way to shoot. I held off because I couldn’t find one at a price I was willing to pay. They’re not expensive, not really; you can find good ones for under $100. I’m just a cheapskate. My reticence paid off — a reader recently donated this Olympus OM-2n to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras!

Olympus OM-2n

The OM-1 came first, of course, in 1972. In 1975, Olympus introduced the OM-2, which added an electronic shutter and aperture-priority exposure. Then in 1979, Olympus released the OM-1n and the OM-2n, both of which offered a few improvements over the original models.

The OM-2n is a 35mm SLR featuring an electronic focal-plane shutter operating from 1/1000 sec. to 1 sec. in manual exposure mode and a whopping 120 sec. in aperture-priority mode. It offers through-the-lens metering with a clever inner shutter curtain imprinted with black and white blocks that mimic an average photograph. The meter reads light that bounces off those blocks.

Olympus OM-2n

You set film speed, from ISO 12 to 1,600, with a dial atop the camera next to the winder. Lift the dial and twist until your film speed appears in the window, then lower the dial and twist until the line from the window points at the tick mark. That mark can be hard to see. This dial also lets you adjust exposure by up to two stops in either direction.

Olympus OM-2n

The OM-2 is a system camera with interchangeable focusing screens (see a list here) and interchangeable backs. I know of two backs: a data back (one of which I have but have never used) and a back that lets you shoot up to 250 frames of bulk film. My OM-2n came with a 1-12 cross-hairs screen inside, but also with a smattering of other screens. I found a 1-13 microprism/split-image screen among them and swapped it in.

Unlike the OM-1, the OM-2n needs batteries to work. Without a battery, when you press the shutter button, the mirror stays in the up position. I’ll bet a lot of people think this means the camera is broken! Pro tip: insert two fresh SR-44 batteries and move the switch atop the camera to Reset. The mirror will come right down and you’ll be good to go.

Speaking of batteries, the OM-2n natively takes two silver-oxide SR-44s. It was designed for them. That alone makes the OM-2n a wonderful choice for a film photographer today. So many other old cameras take now-banned mercury batteries and/or batteries of an odd size. You’re stuck ordering silver-oxide or alkaline equivalent batteries online, which carry different voltages than the mercury originals. In theory that could mess up your exposures, although I think that worry is overblown. In contrast, you can buy SR-44 (also known as 357 or 76) batteries at any drug store!

The OM-2n is so pleasant to use! Because it’s small and light, you can sling it over your shoulder and shoot fatigue-free all day. The controls all feel precise and smooth, even luxurious. The OM-2n is solidly built.

If you like small 35mm SLRs, also check out my review of the original Olympus OM-1 here, of the Nikon EM here, and of the Pentax ME here. If you’re an Olympus fan, see my reviews of the XA here, the XA2 here, the Stylus here, the Stylus Epic Zoom 80 here, and the mju Zoom 140 here. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

For most of my camera reviews I shoot just one roll then write up the camera. But I enjoyed the OM-2n so much that I put three rolls through it. The first one was Kodak T-Max 400 which I developed in LegacyPro L110 Dilution H (1+63).

Masked

This OM-2n came with a bunch of lenses. I tried the 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S first. It’s a delightfully thin and light lens, and it focuses from 10 inches making it almost a macro lens. It handled beautifully on the OM-2n.

I was mugged!

I shot the OM-2n while Indiana was slowly reopening after coronavirus lockdown. We decided to take a walk along Main Street in Zionsville one Thursday to find the street closed to traffic. Tables and chairs were set up for people to buy dinner at local restaurants and eat outside. It felt like too many people in too little space to us, and we didn’t linger.

Dining in the street

This camera also came to me with a 21mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-W lens — yes, that’s right, 21mm. I’ve never shot a lens so wide! I made a few photos with it but will explore it more deeply later.

Down the lane

I loaded good old Fujicolor 200 next and mounted a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro lens. This lens lets you focus from 9 inches.

Weathered wood

I shot a lot of flowers on this roll. The OM-2n continued to handle flawlessly. It achieved that holy-grail state of seeming to disappear in my hands — I composed, focused, and shot fluidly, as if the camera were an extension of my eye.

White with a touch of pink

My, but do I love moving in close with a camera. This suncatcher hangs in our back door window. My mother-in-law made it.

Suncatcher

This lens is just a peach. Look at that up-close sharpness, and look at that bokeh. Given the hexagonal shape of the light points in the background, you should not be surprised to learn that this lens has six aperture blades.

Tiki

A 50mm macro lens is fine for non-macro photography, as well. I took it on a bike ride around the neighborhood and made a few photos.

Swimming pool

Because the OM-2n offers aperture-priority shooting, it eliminates my top complaint about OM-series cameras: the shutter-speed ring is around the lens mount. Every other major camera maker made it a dial on the top plate next to the shutter button. But shooting aperture priority means I never have to change the shutter speed.

XXX

I made all of these photos during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was fortunate to keep my job and be able to work from home. But my work computer needed service while I was using the OM-2n. I had to take it to the office Downtown for IT to look at it. I loaded another roll of Fujicolor 200 and walked around Downtown after IT fixed my computer. This was a couple weeks after the riots motivated by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In Indianapolis, some windows were broken and there was some looting. Many buildings boarded up their windows as a protective measure.

I used the 40mm lens for this walk. It was a good focal length — wide enough that I didn’t have to back out into the street to get a good look at a scene.

After the protests

I’ll share more from this walk in an upcoming post. I’ll wrap up with this photo of the outside seating at the Downtown Five Guys. A Five Guys cheeseburger is such a calorie bomb, but it is so good.

Five Guys

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-2n gallery.

The Olympus OM-2n is a fantastic 35mm SLR: compact, light, precise, smooth. The Olympus Zuiko lenses are similarly fantastic optically, and are solidly built with great feel in the hand. If you could have only one manual-focus 35mm SLR, the Olympus OM-2n would be an outstanding choice.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

When someone gives me a camera, I shoot it if I can. Most of the time people give me old film cameras, but once in a great while the gift is digital. When my mom’s neighbor moved away last year he gave her a bunch of stuff, including this Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55. Mom didn’t have any use for it, so she gave it to me.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

Sony introduced this camera in 2010. It’s a “good features for the money” camera, neither top nor bottom of the line. It features a 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor that delivers 14.1 megapixels. Its 25-150mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.5 Sony lens starts wide and zooms deep. It saves images as JPEG only (no RAW option), with maximum resolution of 4,320×3,240 pixels. It saves video files as MPEG-4, 1,280×720 at 29.97 frames per second. It offers both optical and digital image stabilization. Its LCD screen is 3 inches diagonal. Its proprietary battery is good for only about 310 photos.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

The DSC-H55 sold for about $250 when new. At 4.1×2.3×1.1 inches and just 7.1 ounces, it’s very small and light. I slipped it into my back jeans pocket and forgot it was there.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

This camera offers some modes, including a panorama mode where you pan the camera and it stitches the image together. I didn’t play with any of that stuff so I can’t comment on it.

If compact digital cameras appeal to you, also check out my reviews of the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Canon PowerShot S95 (here), and the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here). I’ve also reviewed the Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here), an early digital camera that stored images on floppy disks! My first digital camera was the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here).

I took this DSC-H55 out on a couple spring outings. I discovered right away that mine has a common fault: the LCD blanks out sometimes, turning entirely white. Since there’s no optical viewfinder, unless the screen works you can’t frame a shot. I found that pressing the buttons on the camera’s back often brought on this condition, so I used them as little as possible.

I found two ways to temporarily relieve this condition: press into the bottom right corner of the LCD, or repeatedly tap hard on the camera front between the Sony and Cyber-shot logos, until the display resets. Neither solution is great for the camera’s long-term health. But since it makes no sense to pay to repair a 2010 digital camera I did it anyway.

Sunset

Having to keep reactivating the screen was frustrating, but otherwise this camera performed well. Margaret and I made a sunset walk on a trail in a large Indianapolis park near us and the DSC-H55 delivered pleasing photos.

Margaret

Margaret was looking to practice her skill at shooting directly into the setting sun, so I did too. The lens flared, but I find the effect to be pleasing.

Margaret

The camera overexposes light colors that reflect light. I was able to tone it down in Photoshop on my wife’s jacket, above, but not on the frame of the soccer goal below.

Soccer goal

I did only a little low-light work with the DSC-H55, but I found that it tended to flatten colors that my Pentax K10D or my Canon PowerShot S95 would have captured well.

Sunset over the Toyota dealer

On gray days and when the sun is blocked, colors lose their punch in the DSC-H55. This is a sunny-day camera.

Pathside flowers

But in good light, the DSC-H55 returns accurate color. I like that. I haven’t used a ton of digital cameras in my day but among those I’ve tried I find accurate color hard to come by.

Cruze

This flower is a perfect example of the DSC-H55’s color accuracy. It perfectly captured the nuanced orange-purple gradient in this flower’s petals.

Orange flower

I also liked how the DSC-H55 could focus very close without me having to put the camera into macro mode. It’s common for digital cameras to switch to macro automatically now, but it wasn’t in 2010.

Droplets

The DSC-H55’s lens and sensor do a great job of capturing detail. Upper-tier Sony point-and-shoots boast Carl Zeiss lenses; my wife’s Sony RX100 has one and it’s wonderful. But this Sony lens holds its own.

Ash trunk

I am impressed with the camera’s depth of zoom, and its ability to get a sharp, shake-free image when zoomed to the max. I shot this early bird with its worm at maximum zoom from my front porch about 50 feet away.

The bird got the worm

I wished I could click in exact focal lengths as I zoomed, as I can on my Canon PowerShot S95. But I realize that most people use zoom to replace moving closer to the subject. I gave myself over to shooting the camera that way.

Reflecting in the pond

My one serious gripe with this camera is that the LCD reflects badly, washing out the display. In bright light, the LCD showed only my reflection, rendering me unable to compose. This is a dealbreaker.

At the pool

See more from this camera in my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 gallery.

I’m sorry to say that I’m dropping this camera into the trash. Its white-screen problem made it more frustrating than rewarding to use. Also, its battery is nearing the end of its life as I got maybe 50 shots on a full charge. That one-two punch spells this camera’s doom.

But this is a pleasant little shooter, an easy companion for everyday photography. Except for its overly reflective LCD, it would have been a great choice in its day — capable for a good price.

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Camera Reviews

Canon Snappy S

In the early 1980s camera makers finally figured out how to make loading 35mm film foolproof. Meanwhile, thanks to the 35mm SLR, 35mm film had taken on the aura of quality photography. These two things finally killed the 126 and 110 film formats and opened the floodgates for 30 years of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras from bare bones basic to highly capable and fully featured. When Canon introduced the Snappy S in 1985, it was among the earliest basic 35mm point-and-shoots.

Canon Snappy S

Canon’s rationale was simple: get Canon quality at an attractive price. On the street these could be had for $50-60, which is about $120-150 today. It offered middling specs, starting with a 35mm f/4.5 lens, a classic triplet of three elements in three groups. Everything from 1.5 feet is in focus. Exposure is automatic, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of system it uses. The shutter operates from 1/40 to 1/250 sec. Flash is integrated, and the camera automatically winds and rewinds film. A red light blinks in the viewfinder when there isn’t enough light. Two AAA batteries power everything. You could get your Snappy S in black, red, green, or yellow.

Canon Snappy S

Mine came to me with the flash broken: plastic cover missing, flash unit dangling. The seller disclosed that, but I didn’t notice it in the listing. The flash even flashed, but I didn’t try it more than once because it didn’t seem quite safe. Also, as I used the camera, the auto-winder got weaker and weaker. The batteries were fresh, so I assume this old, cheap camera is just on its last leg. But it wasn’t objectionable to use that way.

Canon Snappy S

This camera sparked no joy, but there was nothing unpleasant about it. Frame, press the button, off you go. I was a teenager when this camera was new and I would have been perfectly happy with one had I been able to afford one then. It would have been a giant step up from the truly lousy 110 camera that was my main camera.

If you like point-and-shoot cameras, also see my reviews of the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Yashica T2 (here), the Canon AF35ML (here), the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), and the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into it and took it out into my shrunken world. We were all still encouraged to stay home, or close to home, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. I spent most of my time in the nearby shopping centers looking for colorful subjects.

McAlister's

The Snappy S drank in the color and asked for more.

Wendy's

Everything’s good and sharp.

Denny's

The Snappy S weighs essentially nothing. I wrapped its long strap around my right hand and carried it about easily. In its time, I would have been very pleased to have a camera like this.

Don't order here

All was not perfect with the Snappy S, however. You have to look at the viewfinder perfectly straight on or you will misframe. Here, I thought I had the full Cracker Barrel in the frame.

Cracker Barrel

Here, I thought I had the entire awning over the gas pumps in the frame.

Marathon

Also, the viewfinder is massively inaccurate. I put just the tail end of my car in this frame. Look at how much more the Snappy S actually sees.

VW tail

Also, straight horizontal lines wind up slightly wavy. Notice the line that is the top of this wall.

Meijer

This photo shows it too, especially on the top sill of the garage on the right. Is this a lens aberration? Or does the camera not hold the film perfectly flat?

Utilities

To see more from this camera, check out my Canon Snappy S gallery.

The Canon Snappy S was a pretty good inexpensive point-and-shoot camera in its time. It wasn’t perfect, but I’ll bet most people who bought these neither noticed nor cared.

But because mine has two key issues that spell its imminent demise, I’m about to do something I’ve never done before after reviewing a camera. I’m going to put it into the trash.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Minolta Hi-Matic AF2

Camera makers tried for decades to create systems that made loading film foolproof. Kodak’s 126 and 110 cartridge formats won the race in the 1960s and 1970s. But 35mm SLR photography took off with pros and advanced amateurs in the 1970s, giving 35mm the cachet of quality. As the 1970s came to an end, camera makers figured there was a big market for 35mm cameras that operated as simply as an Instamatic. They were right. The 1981 Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 is one of the early point-and-shoot 35mm cameras and is a big step toward foolproof operation.

Minolta Hi-Matic AF2

The Hi-Matic AF2 lacks three key features that came to define the genre: motor wind, automatic film loading, and automatic ISO setting. Lacking these things doesn’t make the Hi-Matic AF2 a bad choice today, however. It comes with a good Minolta lens, 38mm f/2.8, of four elements in three groups. It offers a limited range of film speeds, from ISO 25 to 400. You set ISO by turning the knurled wheel around the lens.

Minolta Hi-Matic AF2

Its active infrared autofocus bounces infrared light off a subject and gauges distance by how long it takes the light to return. It appears to offer two focus zones, one for closer subjects and one for farther subjects. It focuses no closer than 3.3 feet, and the camera bee-bee-beeps when your subject is closer than that. This is a nice feature most point-and-shoots lack. The viewfinder includes close-focus marks for when your subject is between 3.3 and 4 feet. The focus point is in the center of the viewfinder, marked with an oval. To focus, place the subject in the oval and press the shutter button halfway down. Then compose and press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the photo. 2 AA batteries power the camera’s automatic functions and flash.

Minolta Hi-Matic AF2

If you have earlier Hi-Matic cameras in mind when you pick up the Hi-Matic AF2, you’re in for a disappointment. This camera is nowhere near as well built. It feels light and plasticky in the hand, and it creaks as you handle it. The controls feel flimsy. When you press the shutter button, the camera coughs a sickly wheeze as it stops the aperture blades down and then activates the shutter. The winder, though it has a delightful short throw, feels like it could break right off. When you turn on the flash, thwack! — the strobe pops up.

Film loading may not be automatic but it is foolproof: stick the leader in the slot on the takeup spool and wind. The film takes right up, no fuss. And winding and rewinding follows the 35mm SLR idiom, with all the controls where you’d expect. Press the button underneath the camera, pop the rewind lever out, and crank, crank, crank.

I haven’t figured out how its autoexposure system works. My theory is that it chooses the narrowest aperture it can for best depth of field. When light is low and it can’t do a shutter speed faster than 1/40 second, it beeps continuously to tell you to turn on the flash.

The camera is also large, at 5x3x2 inches. Within a few years, the 35mm point-and-shoot would start to shrink, eventually to pocketable sizes.

If you like point-and-shoot cameras, also see my reviews of the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Yashica T2 (here), the Canon AF35ML (here), the Pentax IQZoom 170SL (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

We were still locked down thanks to COVID-19 when I shot this camera. So I loaded it with Fujicolor 200 and took it on walks to places I could get to and back during my lunch hours while I worked from home.

Wendy's

The nearby shopping centers are full of in-your-face color. They make a surprisingly good place to test a camera with color film.

Old Navy

The parking lots are mostly empty thanks to COVID-19, making it easy to approach the subjects. This also makes it far less likely for me to be accosted by shopping-center security.

Big O is Open

Red, blue yellow, orange — the Hi-Matic AF2’s lens rendered them all bold and true on Fujicolor 200.

Qdoba

Look at the lovely dusky colors I got as the sun went down outside my back door!

Evening over the Toyota dealer

I shot the rest of the roll around my neighborhood, starting on my front stoop. The too-close beep really helped me make this photo: I backed up until the camera quit beeping.

Flower pots on the stoop

One pet peeve I have with point-and-shoot cameras is inaccurate viewfinders. I centered this car in the viewfinder, but it is shifted left in the image

Red Matrix

To make this photo, I placed the backboard in the viewfinder’s center oval and pressed the shutter down halfway so the camera would focus on it. Turns out it was unnecessary, as with this much light it chose a narrow enough aperture that everything was going to be in focus.

Goal shadow

The Hi-Matic AF2 was a pleasant enough camera to carry despite its size. It was light enough to be unobtrusive. And these results are fine: sharp and colorful, with no distortion.

Clubhouse

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 gallery.

This Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 once belonged to my father-in-law. I found it in the garage while looking for something else. I shot it with Margaret’s permission. My father-in-law chose a simple camera that delivered reliably good results. But for the collector and user today, many point-and-shoot choices offer equally good lenses in smaller packages with more amenities.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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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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