I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for air-cooled VWs. As a small boy I used to sit on the front stoop and watch the cars go by on the busy road at the end of our street, and count the VWs.
It was the early 1970s, and the hippie era wasn’t over yet in Indiana. I remember a family up the street that had three teenage daughters who shared a white-over-orange VW Bus of this vintage. They dressed like flower children, but their parents wouldn’t let them paint the bus like flower children did in those days with big flowers all over it.
The mother of a middle-school friend drove one of these in white over blue. I rode in it a handful of times, the only times I’ve ever been in one of these. I loved its commanding front visibility and the relatively high seating position. In those days, regular cars rode so low!
When Chrysler introduced its minivan and it became wildly popular, I remember wondering why, as VW pioneered the form factor with its Bus. But Chrysler’s water-cooled, front-engined, front-wheel-drive minivan was a mainstream vehicle and VW’s Bus would only ever serve a niche.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m impressed with the sharpness and bold color I got. This camera made Fuji 400 look better than I’ve ever seen it.
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.
In dim corners the 170SL gave surprisingly shallow depth of field.
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!
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!
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.
The 170SL even rendered black impressively deep and true.
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.
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.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
The last one-lane bridge on an Indiana highway Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (shot at 200) 2018
Indiana State Road 225 runs just four miles, from State Road 43 a few miles north of Lafayette, through the small town of Battle Ground, through Prophetstown State Park, to a road that used to be State Road 25.
This four-span Pratt through truss bridge was built in 1912, before there was any sort of state highway system here. A stoplight at either end controls traffic so nobody has to play chicken on the bridge. Given that only about 950 cars cross it every day, I’m sure the state has never been terribly motivated to build a two-lane bridge here.
But that day might need to come soon. At its last inspection, this bridge was judged to be in poor condition, its structure requiring corrective action.
I have been happy overall with the scans I get from the labs I use. I punch them up a little in Photoshop but they’re usually usable as is. But as a frugal dude I’m always looking to cut costs, and lab scans aren’t cheap.
My wife bought us a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II scanner a couple years ago. It scans both 35mm and medium-format negatives. It’s an upgrade over my previous scanner, an Epson V300, which handles only 35mm.
Life’s been stupid crazy since then and I haven’t made time to play with the CanoScan, except for the quick scans I made of my mother-in-law’s 1940s-50s Kodachromes (see some here, here, and here). They turned out well enough using the bundled ScanGear software.
I was pleased, but surprised. The software Epson bundled with my V300 was terrible, and I expected Canon’s bundled software to be, too. So the other night, too tired to sleep, I got out some recent color negatives and scanned them with the CanoScan and ScanGear. I then edited the scans in Photoshop until I was reasonably satisfied.
I was thrilled that ScanGear automatically removed the color negative’s orange mask. The Epson software couldn’t do that and it was a pain to sample and correct for the mask. I never got it right.
I’m still building my scanning skills and knowledge, so this comparison is bound to be flawed. But here goes: my first CanoScan/ScanGear image. Yashica Lynx 14e on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.
Fulltone Photo of La Grange, Kentucky, processed the film and scanned the negatives on their big Noritsu scanner. I Photoshopped those scans to my satisfaction, too. But even the base scans offered dramatically better sharpness, color, and tonality than the CanoScan.
I couldn’t resolve considerable softness in many of the images. This photo of a green house shows it best. The CanoScan/ScanGear scan:
The Fulltone scan is obviously sharper, even at blog resolution.
This negative was loaded with dust, or maybe scratches as no amount of cleaning ever cleared it up. So I turned on ScanGear’s dust and scratch removal. It cleaned up the marks, but added unsatisfying mottling on the shadowy parts of the image.
The Fulltone scan is better by a mile.
The ScanGear scans aren’t good enough. Yet. I haven’t mastered this software. If I keep experimenting, I might get better scans.
Or I could buy VueScan or SilverFast. I already own SilverFast for the Epson V300 and know it to be cumbersome and frustrating but effective. The scans still aren’t fully lab quality but they’re close enough.
Unfortunately, my copy of SilverFast works only for Epson V300 scanners. I’d have to buy a copy made to work with the CanoScan 9000F Mark II. The cheapskate within me urges me to try again with ScanGear.
I’m smitten with the great color and sharpness my Yashica Lynx 14e delivered on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 the day I walked around Zionsville.
It was a rare sunny day this extra-gray winter. After a heavy snow event the temperatures rose to near 50 degrees and so the streets were full of puddles.
I photograph Zionsville a lot now that I live here, usually the charming Main Street. This day I walked along some of Zionsville’s back streets and alleys looking for interesting compositions.
The town was chartered in 1852 and many buildings and homes from the last half of the 19th century remain. Some of them have been repurposed, like this little church that is now someone’s home.
This green house at the north end of Main Street is probably my favorite in town, and I’ve photographed it over and over. Zillow says it was built in 1918, and has 3 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms.
Zillow also says that this house is worth about a half million dollars. That’s a huge amount of money for a house in Indiana. The same house in Indianapolis would go for far, far less. “The Village” in Zionsville can command these prices because it’s such a charming place to live. Margaret and I would love to move to the Village, but unless we luck into an incredible deal its home prices put it out of our reach.
Red umbrellas at the Brick Street Inn Yashica Lynx 14e Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 2019
This isn’t one of my finest compositions, but I love how the Yashica Lynx 14e captured the light and detail of this scene. Also, the reds and blacks here are so good you’d think this was Kodak Ektar, not Fuji 400.