As you will see from my other ops, I have been into SLR photography for many years. However, my girlfriend has not, and has always been a point & shoot snapper! Last year, she took a baloon ride over Hertfordshire, and realising that her Konica APS camera would not be up to the job, she borrowed my Pentax MZ-5N. The results were breathtaking, and as a result she caught the bug - seeing the clear advantages of SLR over instant pocket cameras - such as better quality optics, interchangeble lenses with a much broader range of wide angle & zoom-in, and the ability to look into the viewfinder, and see exactly what the film will be exposed to. As such, for her birthday, I thought I would get her a simple, but quality SLR camera. As a long time Pentax user, I wanted to get her a Pentax also. There were many reasons for this; I've been using Pentax products since I was 13, and have never had a single fault with any of their cameras. I've also found their optics to be supremely well constructed, resulting in quality images, and enlargements that don't blur or lose focus at the corners. The other key reason for getting her a Pentax was so that she could use my collection of lenses and accessories. As a newcomer to SLR photography, I wanted something that could be set up to be just as easy to point & shoot camera, but also have a degree of control over the picture to help her to learn more about photography. After a bit of investigation, I decided upon the MZ-30. It is a nice light design, much lighter than the MZ-5N, and whilst it doesn't quite have the bells and whistles of the MZ-5N, what it does have is a nice easy to use setup, but with many options to override the automatic settings. It is a fully automatic SLR camera - meaning it has powered wind-on, auto-aperture, auto shutter-speed and auto-focus functions. The problem with everything being set to fully automatic, is that it is always a compromise - and what might be
right for taking a picture of a mountain range, or river scene, will be completely wrong for fast-moving objects such as motorsports, or aeroplane photography. Similarly close-ups, night time photo's, flash photography again all need different settings to produce a quality image. On the more professional models, control over pictures taken in these conditions is usually left to the photographer, who will need to disable one or more of the automatic modes. However the MZ-30 is excellent for the newcomer, as all the more popular modes are pre-programmed, such that the camera can automatically calculate the best shutter & aperture for, close-ups, scenery, night-time, flash-photography, fast-moving subjects etc. This means that my girlfriend simply has to switch from fully automatic mode, to one of the "tuned" automatic modes, and know almost nothing about aperture, compensation, shutter speed etc. However, when the time comes for her to want to learn more about these more advanced techniques, the camera can be set to manual focus, aperture priority (AV), shutter priority (TV) or fully manual modes. One of the really neat things about the MZ-30 is that all of the aperture settings are controlled by the camera's LCD display and selection buttons. The aperture ring on the lens is simply left in the "A" position (automatic) and the camera controls the desired aperture. This is great for the beginner, as they just need to learn to use the Pentax's relatively simple controls, and not have to worry about touching the lens itself. The downside is that the older Pentax lenses (without the "A" setting) simply won't work with the MZ-30, although I would suggest that as this camera is obviously aimed at a relative novice, then this would not be a problem. The other thing that this camera lacks, is compatability with powered zoom lenses. Most of these lenses have a manual override setting, for conventional zooming th
o ugh, so these lenses can still be used on the MZ-30, albeit in a slightly more manual useage. It also has a compact built-in flash, which is simple to operate, and great for short-distance photos. although propper flashguns can be used via the flash socket, for better lighting. To use the camera itself, is right up with the ergonomic excellence of the other Pentax models. More advanced users might not appreciate the lightweight construction of the body, as this will inevitably mean a steadier hand is needed for dusk or night work, but for a lady of slight build, as my other half is, it is ideally weighted. She has so far got on extremely well with this particular model. Mainly she has used the auto modes, but has already begun to experiment with some of the manual settings, as well as using filters and the suchlike. Again, to be expected, in terms of focus, and accuracy, the images are of a quality on a par with all good 35mm SLR cameras - of course more expensive models can produce more advanced images due to their more advanced facilities, but this does not necessarily mean that the quality of the photo at the end will be any sharper or better defined than the MZ-30, just perhaps have different contrast. So to sum up, if you're a relative newcomer to SLR photography, or don't want a camera which you need to carry your instruction manual around with you to use, then the MZ-30 is for you. If you are an advanced photographer, then you might find the MZ-30 a little lacking in features, and I would point you towards the better models.
I've very recently purchased an MZ-30 as a replacement for my old manual-focus Ricoh KR-10, and gave it a baptism of fire by running nine films through it at a wedding. Before buying this camera I was careful to check out the lens options. The standard Pentax lenses (35-70mm or 28-70mm, both f3.5-5.6) seem to be considered adequate, but not great for producing large-print quality shots. The lens which did seem to receive rave reviews was the now discontinued Pentax 28-70mm constant f4 lens, and a search of the Jessops secondhand list turned up a few, including a couple in A1 condition for £60. Probably worth looking into doing the same if you get one. The first noticeable thing about the camera is the ease of handling. It's light without feeling flimsy, despite the plastic body which is inevitable at this price, and the rubberised grip is very comfortable. Film loading is quick and easy. A really nice touch is that the main functions (eg aperture in Av mode or shutter speed in Tv mode) are adjusted via a jog ring around the shutter button. This means they're always instantly at hand even when looking through the shutter. In manual exposure mode the ring selects both aperture and shutter speed, using a button under your left index finger to switch between the two. The MZ-30 has a number of 'picture modes' which are effectively tuned modes of the autoexposure system (for example the action mode favours short shutter speeds whilst the landscape mode favours small apertures). I'm not totally convinced by their value - so far I've used it almost exlusively in aperture priority mode which I'm used to. In operation the camera is quiet, and is quick to focus which means you're more likely to get action shots. The autofocus struggled a little in low-light situations, but there is always the manual focus as backup. It has a motor-wind shooting mode and a multiple exposure mode, allowing for some creative
shots. The current aperture, shutter and exposure compensation settings where appropriate are displayed clearly in the viewfinder as well as on the LCD panel. I had some trouble getting it to fire my basic Cobra flash unit (it worked but not reliably), but I was trying it at the last minute and hadn't taken the time to check out why this would be. The built-in flash turns out to be more than adequate for shooting portraits in low light, but obviously doesn't match a separate unit for filling in outdoor shots. One thing which caught me out, coming from manual SLRs and fully-auto compacts, was that I was using aperture priority mode mostly at f4 with flash, which restricted the shutter speed - although fortunately I didn't get the overexposure I was expecting. And so the quality of the photos? When I got the prints back (I was using Fuji Superia Extra 800, Ilford HP5 400 and Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EC) I was more than happy. The lens quality is genuinely very good, staying crisp right to the edges. The metering is excellent as well (the main reason why I went for the Pentax). The one thing I did notice I had to be careful of was that the autofocus is a spot system, which means that it can find its way through any holes which might be in your subject. More careful attention to the viewfinder when shooting should see to this problem. In short I'm very, very pleased with the camera based on its short time with me so far - it's good enough quality to last me quite a while I think. It's off to the Alps with me next week where it will be used for landscapes and mountain biking shots, both very different to weddings, and hopefully it should perform just as well.