Pentax launched the Z-1 (known as the PZ-1 in some markets) in 1991 to top their range of ‘Z’ series (‘ZP’ series in the USA) autofocus SLRs. It was replace in 1995 by the mildly updated Z-1p model, which ran until 2000. This means that while other manufactures were rapidly updating their top-of-the-line SLRs, Pentax ran with essentially the same camera for an amazing 9 years! By the end of the Z-1’s run it was significantly behind the times, but because the Z-1 started out life with a remarkably innovative control system, it still feels fresh and modern even now. The photograph to the right shows the camera from the photographers point of view. There may seem to be very few controls, but in fact the photographer has access to a full range of professional features very quickly and easily.
But for me this camera doesn’t quite work ergonomically. The problem is that is just isn’t tall enough and because the shutter button sits quite low down on the hand grip, there just isn’t enough room for all my fingers. It seems that Pentax very quickly recognised they had made a mistake because they soon released the FDP grip. This looks like a battery grip, but it isn’t… it is simply a hollow plastic grip that does absolutely nothing except make the camera a bit taller and easier to hold. The handling problems are a great shame because they spoil an otherwise superb control system.
Photographs taken with the Pentax Z-1
One great advantage of the ‘Z’ series over the later ‘MZ’ series is that the aperture is controlled on the camera body, while the later MZ cameras used a much more conventional control system with a traditional shutter speed dial on the camera and an aperture ring on the lens. This means that you can put modern Pentax lenses without an aperture ring onto the Z-1 and still have full control over the aperture. This is particularly useful for D-FA lenses that are designed for use on full-frame cameras, but it is also surprisingly useful for DA lenses that are really designed solely for use on digital SLRs. The following photos were all shot on Ilford XP-1 in my Z-1 using my 16-45mm DA zoom lens from my Pentax K-7. I found that you can shoot as wide as 21mm with almost no vignetting, and even at 16mm the vignetting obvious but oddly attractive (particularly when the lens is wide open).