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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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME Super

I reach for my Pentax ME all the time because it’s small (for a 35mm SLR), light, and easy to use. It is an aperture-priority camera, meaning that after you set the aperture, the camera reads the light and sets the shutter speed. I recommend the ME because they are inexpensive and fun to use. If you want that but you simply must have full control over exposure, then the 1979-84 Pentax ME Super is for you.

Pentax ME Super

Its electronically controlled shutter operates from 4 to 1/2000 sec. — different from the ME’s 8 to 1/1000 sec. shutter. Also, if you use flash it syncs at 1/125 sec., rather than the ME’s 1/100 sec. But under use, these cameras feel and work much the same. In Auto mode, look through the viewfinder and twist the aperture ring. A dot glows next to the shutter speed the camera chooses. The dot is green-yellow at 1/60 sec. and above. It’s orange-yellow below 1/60 to caution you of shake if you’re holding the camera in your hands.

Pentax ME Super

There’s just one quirk to setting shutter speed, though. There’s no dial or ring. Instead, put it in manual mode by twisting the dial atop the camera to M. Then press the two black buttons to change the shutter speed. The viewfinder helps you get a good exposure. A red light blinks rapidly next to OVER or UNDER until you choose an aperture and shutter speed that gives good exposure. It works more intuitively in practice than that sounds like.

Pentax ME Super

That’s a good thing, because this Pentax ME Super has a fault in Auto mode: the mirror doesn’t return. The mirror returns properly in manual mode, so that’s how I shot it.

If you like compact SLRs, also see my review of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my review of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I shot my test roll while we were all hunkered down at home thanks to COVID-19. Knowing I’d want to shoot some things indoors handheld, I loaded speedy Kodak T-Max 400 into the ME Super. I developed it in Rodinal 1+50. This is a mug our son often uses for his tea.

Red cup

Our dishwasher is on the fritz, so we handwash our dishes and leave them to dry. The kitchen window is nearby, providing plenty of light.

Drying

I took the ME Super on photo walks around the neighborhood, as well. This SLR is so light that I hardly noticed it hanging over my shoulder.

Curves and lines

The mirror slap jars the camera a tiny bit. The ME Super supposedly has a mirror dampening mechanism that the ME lacked. But I was surprised to feel the camera move in my hands each time I fired the shutter. My ME doesn’t do that.

Callery pear by the fence

I adapted quickly to the ME Super’s manual mode. By the end of the roll, my fingers were finding the two buttons with my camera still at my eye.

Tulips

The ME Super offers everything I love about the original ME plus that manual mode. But I’d hardly use manual mode (if this ME Super’s Auto mode were working). I prefer aperture-priority shooting and use it nearly exclusively on every SLR I own that is so equipped.

Zionsville

If my ME disappeared, however, I could just pick up this ME Super and keep right on trucking. After a CLA and a repair of Auto mode, that is. I might even use the manual mode once in a blue moon.

At Iron's Cemetery

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME Super gallery.

It’s hard for me to be objective about the Pentax ME Super because I’ve used and loved its predecessor, the Pentax ME, for years. If you like the ME, you’ll like the ME Super, and vice versa. If you’ve never used either and you are at all curious, hie thee to eBay where bodies can regularly be had for chicken feed.

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Film Photography

Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal

Reeds

I’m shooting through all the film I’ve stockpiled, and a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono was next in the queue. I spooled it into my Nikon N2000 as I hadn’t shot it in a long while. My 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens is still new to me, so I mounted it to give it another spin. I developed this Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal 1+50 and I was overall happy with the results.

But first, let’s look at some photos I wasn’t too happy with. Several shots were lighter on the edges than in the middle like the one below.

Lowe's reflected

Shadow detail wasn’t great in a few photos as well, as in the photo below. Can you see the runner on the path? He was much more obvious in real life as I made the photograph.

Suburban living at its best

There’s so much that goes into what a photograph looks like when you see it here. I almost always let the camera meter the scene; did my N2000 favor the highlights here? Is its meter still accurate? It was great the last time I used it. But that was more than a year ago and old cameras — this one is from about 1985 — do fail sometimes.

I used my CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software to scan these negatives. Better scanner software or a better scanner might have resolved these images better.

I’m still new to developing my own film, but I’ve built enough skill at it to get consistent results. That doesn’t mean consistently perfect results; perhaps something about this developing session wasn’t ideal. The temperature of my developer was higher than ideal: 22.8° C rather than 20° C, thanks to ambient temperature. That led me to reduce development time from 9 minutes to 7 minutes 10 seconds, as calculated using the converter at the Massive Dev Chart Web site. Maybe that played a role.

Who knows. The rest of the roll looked really good to me.

Fence and shadow

At the time I made these photos Indiana was on stay-at-home orders thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I shot the whole roll around the house and on walks I made around my neighborhood. This is what I like to call la-de-da photography — images of anything that strikes my fancy. None of this will ever hang in a museum. But I had fun shooting the roll, and that’s what matters.

Film

I like Kosmo Foto Mono. But when I’ve sent this film out to my usual labs for developing and scanning I sometimes thought the results were a touch too contrasty. My usual labs use D76 or one of its clones. Rodinal managed the contrast better. There’s a slight muddiness in some images, but a good range of tones overall.

Pine needles

It was strange to walk around the deserted streets of my subdivision, so I walked over to the nearby strip mall and it was similarly deserted. We walk over to this Mexican restaurant a lot, or at least we did before they closed thanks to the pandemic.

El Rodeo

Ah, vinyl village life. Our neighbor owns this funky Jeep with its white fenders. This shows Kosmo Foto Mono’s signature deep blacks.

Jeeeeeeep

That 35-105mm zoom lens has a macro mode. I love macro work! On a rainy day I put some small things on the kitchen windowsill and photographed them with the lens wide open (f/3.5).

Rocks

I was with Margaret when we bought this little bird sculpture, but I can’t remember where that was. The focus is a little soft.

Birb

There you have it: Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal 1+50. It’s a fine combination.

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Film Photography

Eastman Double-X 5222 in Rodinal

The conventional wisdom on the Internet is that Rodinal isn’t the best developer for Eastman Double-X 5222. But I’ve now used this combination and it’s fine.

Vee dub grille

When I loaded this roll into my Nikon N90s, Indiana’s governor had not yet shut everything down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We were just starting to talk about isolation and social distancing. Many companies, including mine, were asking people who could work from home to do so. I can, so I did. I decided to take a midafternoon walk around the area just to stretch my legs. I live right by a strip mall so I walked over there. The Lowe’s parking lot was packed.

Old Chevy truck in front of Lowe's

I didn’t encounter a soul outside while I walked, however. A few storage barns were on display at Lowe’s; here’s the window of one of them. My past experience with Double-X 5222 has been of high contrast images. But those were in full sun. I’m sure the overcast day helped manage the contrast. But could the Rodinal also have helped show more grays in the film? I really like the tones in the shutters and flower box.

Window

The Thai restaurant was still open. The Mexican restaurant next door had a sign in the window saying they’d be doing carryout orders only, and asking everyone to stay safe and healthy. They were ahead of the curve.

Sidewalk chalkboard

This being a modern subdivision, retention ponds are everywhere. They provide opportunities to photograph reflections.

Lowe's

I shot this film at EI 250 and diluted my Rodinal to my usual 1+50. I normally shoot this film at EI 200, but the Massive Dev Chart had a 1+50 recipe for EI 250 and not EI 200. The Rodinal resulted in reasonable grain and okay smoothness in the details in most shots. The photo below is an exception — when you look at it at full scan resolution, the vinyl siding looks all mottled. But at blog size it’s fine.

Vinyl village reflection

Walking back toward home, I saw that one of my neighbors had his beater Jeep parked out front. It’s black with white fenders, and sports aluminum wheels. I wondered how the Double-X would render that, so I shot it. The wheels turned out to be more of a dull gray than their real-life low-sheen silver.

Jeep wheel

This whole subdivision used to be someone’s farm. I remember driving out this way 20 or more years ago and finding acre after acre of cornfields. The farmhouse survives, a lonely little petunia in this onion patch. (Can you tell I’m not much of a fan of these vinyl-village subdivisions? We will move from here one day and I hope never to live in one again.)

Steps to the old house

I came inside for the last few shots on the roll. Again I photographed the Belleek ring holder that’s on our kitchen windowsill. That’s my wedding ring.

Belleek ring holder

Finally, here’s the window in our back door with a stained-glass ornament my wife’s mother made. The outer petals of this flower are bright orange. I always think it’s interesting to know when a black-and-white photo is of a colorful subject, and what colors are in the subject.

The stained glass thing is orange and white in real life

It’s interesting to see how Rodinal handled the Eastman Double-X 5222. It worked, and for my normal blog purposes it was fine. But it wasn’t spectacular. I’ve used Old School Photo Lab to develop most of my black-and-white film and they use Clayton F76 developer, which is an analog to Kodak D76. These developers are known for finer grain and better shadow detail. The scans I got back from Old School please me somewhat more than these in terms of sharpness, detail, and tonality.

I shot this film because I’m shooting up my old film, and I had a roll of it left from a purchase several years ago. If I come upon some again and I wasn’t shooting something that mattered, I’d use Rodinal again to develop it. But ultimately, I want to find some films that pair excellently with Rodinal and make those my go-to black-and-white films.

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Garrett at the bridge

My son at the old railroad bridge
Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD
Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100
2018

A lot of abandoned railroad infrastructure remains across our nation. As railroads consolidated and shed lines through the 20th century, they left a lot behind.

Some of those lines have been converted to rail-trails. The best-known one in central Indiana is the Monon, named for its former rail line. But there are others.

A short rail-trail in Zionsville ends/begins at this bridge over Eagle Creek. A ramp leads down into Starkey Nature Park below, where there are great hiking trails. I like to go over there with my sons when they visit. Hence this photo.

This line was originally part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad. The New York Central took it over in 1906; they built this bridge. In 1968 New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central, which went bankrupt in 1970. When Conrail was formed in 1976 it took over this line. I don’t know when it was abandoned.

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Film Photography

single frame: My son at the old railroad bridge

My son near an old railroad bridge in Zionsville, Indiana.

Image
Film Photography

Shooting Kosmo Foto Mono in 120

I often like the medium-format version of a film better than its 35mm counterpart. The larger negative opens up the film and shows you what it can really do. This goes for the new 120 Mono film from Kosmo Foto.

Flowers

When friend-of-the-blog Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, announced this new film, I preordered immediately. My order arrived in due course, but it took me a couple months to find a day to spool a roll into my Yashica-D. I took both on a walk up and down the lovely Main Street in Zionsville.

One Nine Five

Dowling makes no bones about it: this is an existing film, repackaged for Kosmo Foto. This classic emulsion features strong contrast and managed grain, much like black-and-white films of old. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced. If you’re curious, get yours here.

Bus

It was a full-sun summer day as I strolled Zionsville’s charming brick Main Street. A lot of classic emulsions struggle to keep highlights in check on days like this; no so Mono.

Brick street

Moving in close, as close as my TLR would let me anyway, Mono shows good resolving power.

Chickens on the wall

I don’t mind doing a little work in Photoshop to make my photos more presentable, but it sure is nice when I can use them right off the scanner. Such was largely the case with these images. The only thing I did consistently was rotate them slightly so the verticals were vertical and the horizontals were horizontal; I do struggle to hold a TLR level.

Winery

It’s not a photowalk in Zionsville unless I photograph the great Black Dog Books sign.

Black Dog Books

Rich blacks, reasonable midtones, good contrast, barely detectable grain. What’s not to like about Kosmo Foto Mono in 120?

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