Christopher J Osborne

Pentax MZ-S

Pentax MZ-S with SMC Pentax-FA 28-105mm f/3.2-4.5 AL [IF] Pentax MZ-S detail Pentax MZ-S detail

The Pentax MZ-S was launched in 2001 as the top-of-the-range model in the Pentax MZ series of autofocus 35mm SLR cameras. But although nominally part of the MZ series it's quite different from all other MZ cameras. It was Pentax's second to last film camera with only the *ist coming after it in 2003. The MZ-S also formed the basis of Pentax's first ever digital SLR, the full-frame 6mp MZ-D. Unfortunately the MZ-D proved to be something of a false start for Pentax in the digital world and they were never able to bring it to market.

The rest of the MZ series are divided into the double digit models (e.g. MZ-10, MZ-30 and MX-50) which are aimed at casual photographers and have the minimum of buttons and dials, the single digit model (eg MZ-5, MZ-5n and MZ-3) which are aimed at more sophisticated photographers and feature old-fashioned dials for things like shutter speed and aperture. The MZ-S on the other hand features an innovative user interface that is unique to this camera, though it makes use some control concepts Pentax pioneered in earlier cameras such as the Z-1.

The first thing to strike you is the unique look of this camera with its sloping top plate that angles all the controls towards the photographer. This is a very thoughtful design touch, though to be honest I've ever had any problems seeing the dials on a camera with a normal flat top plate! But it certainly gives the camera a unique look.

The top plate is dominated by two large dials: to the left of the pentaprism is a nested dial for setting ISO, exposure compensation and automatic exposure bracketing, and to the right of the pentaprism is a large unmarked dial surrounding an LCD display which Pentax calls the 'select' dial. The select dial is used to control a shutter speed most of the time, but it may be used to control variety of other settings depending on the mode. One thing you won't find is any kind of mode dial due to the MZ-S's unique approach to setting exposure modes.

The cameras 'default' mode is a fully automatic 'programmed' mode. Just set the aperture ring on the lens to 'A' to enter this mode. You enter shutter speed priority mode simply by turning the select dial to select a shutter speed. Aperture priority mode can be entered by selecting anything other than A for automatic on the len's aperture ring. And manual mode is entered automatically whenever you move the select dial with an aperture dail set to anything other than A.

At any time and in any mode you can press the 'green' button to set the camera's suggested shutter speed/aperture combination. If the aperture dial on the lens is set to A this cancels any manually set shutter speed and puts you back to fully automatic mode. If the lens is set to an F number instead of A this effective puts you back into aperture prioroty mode. The green button gives you access to what Pentax call 'hypermanual' operation… i.e. when in manual mode you can at any time you can go back to the camera's suggested settings with the simple press of a button.

If it sounds complicated that's just becuase it's so unique… with a little practice it becomes very intuitive. It's like the camera really just has a single and very convenient exposure mode that gives you exactly the amount of control you need without you ever having to explicitly select an exposure mode.

As befits the MZ-S's status as a top-of-the-range camera it has an almost never ending list of features. These include automatic exposure bracketing, a multi-exposure mode, a depth of field preview, and an amazing ability to print exposure data in between the sprocket holes on the files without it intruding on the photograph.

The only thing that may be a little disappointing for certain kinds of photography is the maximum number of frames per second for the built in motor-drive: just 2.5fps. This is somewhat behind most of this camera's contemporary competitors, most of which can hit 4 or 5fps. (Indeed Pentax's previous top-of-the-line camera, the Z-1 can shoot at 4fps.)

But for me the biggest advantage of the MZ-S over other cameras over the other MZ cameras is it's ruggedness. It is an unfortunately fact that the other cameras in the MZ series are rather flimsy. The biggest problem is the mirror mechanism which has a tendency to just stop working with not provocation at all. Indeed I bought this camera because one day I just turned on my MZ-3 to find the mirror was stuck. And this is a very common problem in MZ cameras it seems. But, if the internet at large is to be believed this is not a problem with the MZ-S.

Overall, if you can adapt to the unique control scheme and you don't need a really fast motor-drive, the MZ-S is a highly effective camera. But one thing to note about the MZ-S is that like other cameras in the MZ series, the aperture is always controlled using the aperture ring on the lens (unlike the previous Z series cameras which can control the aperture from the camera body). This means that you can’t use modern digital-era lenses without an aperture ring. I’ve actually found digital-era lenses on to be surprisingly fun and useful on my Z-1, so it is a bit of a shame that they can’t be effectively used on the MZ-S.

Technical specification: Pentax MZ-S
Type:TTL autofocus, auto-exposure multi-mode 35mm SLR with built-in retractable TTL auto flash.
Film:35mm perforated cartridge DX-coded film.
Image Size:24mm x 36mm.
Lens Mount:PENTAX KAF2 Bayonet mount, compatible with KAF, KA and K Mount.
Lens mount index lamp function available.
Usable Lenses:PENTAX KAF2-, KAF-, KA- and K-mount lenses. (Autofocus possible with KA- and K-mount lenses using AF adapter).
Power zoom system (with PENTAX FA zoom power lenses):Type: Power-assisted zooming by motor built in lens.
Zoom speeds: 3 speeds adjustable by zoom ring.
Functions: (1) Power zoom; (2) Manual zoom; (3) Auto lens retraction with the power OFF.
Focusing System:Type: TTL phase-matching 6-point autofocus system (SAFOX VII)
Applicable illumination range: EV-1- EV18 (at ISO100 with f/1.4 lens)
Modes: (1) AF-Single (with focus-lock function); (2) AFContinuous (with Predictive AF mode); (3) Manual focus.
Exposure Control:Metering system: TTL open-aperture 6-segment metering (coupled with lens and AF information.)
Meter range: EV0 - 21 (at ISO 100 with f/1.4 lens).
Mode: (1) Programmed AE Mode; (2) Shutter-Priority AE Mode; (3) Aperture-Priority AE Mode; (4) Metered Manual; (5) Bulb.
TTL programmed Auto Flash available.
Exposure compensation: ±3EV (1/2EV steps).
AE Lock: 20-second AE lock with AE lock button.
Auto-bracketing: 2, 3 or 5 frames within range of ±1/2EV or ±1EV
Multiple exposure: no limit for number of frames.
Shutter:Type: Electronically controlled vertical-run focal-plane shutter.
Speed: 1) Programmed AE Mode, Aperture-Priority AE Mode: 1/6000 sec. - 30 sec. (stepless); (2) Shutter-Priority AE Mode, Metered Manual: 1/6000 sec. - 30 sec. and bulb; (3) Flash sync: 1/180 sec. - 30 sec. and bulb.
Diaphragm Control:Aperture-coupled mechanism (with FA, F and A lenses)
Viewfinder:Type: Fixed pentaprism.
Focusing Screen: Interchangeable Natural-Bright-Matte focusing screen.
Field of View: 92% vertically/horizontally.
Magnification: 0.75X (with 50mm f/1.4 at infinity, Diopter position -1m-1)
Diopter adjustment: -2.5 - -1.5m-1 (adjustable)
Viewfinder LCD Indication:(1) In-focus; (2) Flash information (flash-use recommendation, recharge completion, non-applicable lens warning and external flash status); (3) Tv (shutter speed) value, Av (aperture) value, exposure compensation and out of meter coupling-range warning; (4) Bar graph; (5) Focus point indicator; (6) AE Lock signal; (7) Auto focus frame; (8) Spot metering frame.
LCD Panel Indication:Type: multi-data LCD type with EL (Electro-Luminescence) illuminator.
Indication: (1) Exposure mode (Programmed AE Mode, Shutter-Priority AE Mode, Aperture-Priority AE Mode, Metered Manual Mode); (2) Film loading, film advance / rewind and loading error warning; (3) Exposure frame number; (4) Shutter speed and/or aperture value; (5) Manual-set film speed; (6) Audible PCV signal; (7) Auto flash function; (8) Flash use recommendation and recharge incomplete/complete; (9) Red-eye reduction flash; (10) Wireless flash mode; (11) High-speed sync mode; (12) PENTAX function; (13) Imprinting exposure data information; (14) Battery exhaustion warning.
Film Handling:Loading: Quick auto loading (automatic film advance to first frame)
Advance / rewind: Automatic (mid-roll rewind possible).
Advanced mode: (1) Single; (2) Consecutive (approx. 2.5 frames / sec)
Film Speed Setting:(1) Automatic with DX-coded film (ISO25-ISO5000); (2) Manual (ISO6 - 6400 in 1/3EV steps).
Built-In Flash:Type: Series-control retractable TTL auto flash(RTF)
Guide Number: No.12 (ISO 100/m)
Angle-of-view coverage: 24mm wide-angle lens.
Flash Synchronization:With RTF and via hotshoe.
Sync speed: 1/180 sec. set automatically with RTF or PENTAX dedicated flash unit at recharge completion.
Self-Timer:Electronically controlled type with 2 or 12 seconds delay. Cancellation possible.
Drive Mode:(1) Single advance; (2) Consecutive advance; (3) Self-timer; (4) Multiple exposure
Pentax Function:19 custom-programmable functions.
Photographic Data Imprinting:Data imprinted out of image area.
Recordable data; 1) Total number of film rolls; (2) ISO film speed; (3)Information of imprinting density; (4) Exposure mode; (5) Metering Mode; (6) Shutter speed; (7) Aperture; (8) Exposure compensation value; (9) AEB (Auto bracketing)
Date Imprinting:Five-mode switchable: "Year-Month-Day", "Month-Day-Year", "Day-Month-Year", "Day-Hour-Minute" and blank
Power Source:Two 3V lithium batteries (CR2 type)
Dimensions:136.5 (W) mm x 95.0(H) mm x 64.0(D) mm (5.4" x 3.7" x 2.5")
Weight:520 g (18.3 oz.)