The Pentax Espio 80 (also known as the IQZoom 835) is a camera that suckered me in purely because of the way it looks. To my eye, it has a bit of a Functionalist aesthetic. There’s no frills, it’s just a rectangular box with a lens, viewfinder and a few necessary buttons – this very much fits my ideal from a design point of view. Of course, what it looks like and how good it is – or indeed how well it will suit me in practice – might well be poles apart. And with me only really shooting Ektachrome E100 reversal film at the moment, I felt that it was going to be given a bit of a workout.
I suppose this post also makes up part of my Kodak Ektachome E100 series, though I will be talking about some of the images I’ve posted here in another post at some point I think. If truth be told, by the time I came to load this camera with a roll of E100, I’d become somewhat tired with the efforts and different-to-normal thought processes I’d been applying to expose this film. It’s all well and good pushing myself out of my comfort zone by using different metering methods than I usually use etc. but sometimes, it’s just nice to be comfortable again – and point-&-shooting is definitely within my comfort zone.
A lot of the time, especially when I’m on holiday, I just like snapping and don’t want to be thinking about the best possible way to expose every frame. Holidays are for breaks from things, and as someone who photographs for part of a living, and for this blog, I do enough thinking about photography in a year to need the odd bit of escape from it. As such, loading a roll into a point & shoot camera again definitely put a smile on my face – I couldn’t do very much about exposure control, and what I could do was very much within my usual shooting practices, so I just had to get on and shoot and live with the outcome… and that felt pretty good.
I must admit, I did feel a little bit of trepidation loading an unknown camera with a film that requires accurate exposure. That said, I also think that it’s easy to forget how good these sorts of cameras actually were in their day. They were designed for non-photographer use in an era that some people shot and kept slides – so of course, I had nothing to worry about… well as long as the camera still worked! Despite reminding myself of this fact a few times, there were a few moments over the course of the holiday that I felt like I was going to be losing shots due to dodgy exposure or the camera just not being up to the job of shooting such a demanding film.
A dusty viewfinder
Oddly enough, this wasn’t helped by there being a load of dust in the viewfinder. When I first bought the Pentax Espio 80 the diopter adjuster wasn’t working, so I took the back off to try and fix it. Fortunately, the switch had become disengaged from the mechanism, so it was an easy fix. Whilst I was in there, I gave the viewfinder a bit of a clean too – the rear part at least. Unfortunately, by the time I came to use it on holiday in bright sunlight, I noticed there was an accumulation of dust in the front part of the viewfinder too, and because I didn’t have any tools with me, I couldn’t do anything about it.
When I came to use the Pentax Espio 80 on the beach in the midday sun, the dust in the viewfinder made for a very hazy view. It wasn’t entirely unusable, but despite the viewfinder not having any impact on the photographic outcome, I found the hazy view to be a little distracting from the enjoyment of just snapping. Of course, this isn’t an inherent issue with these particular cameras, it just needed a clean, which I did when I got home… but it did impact on my confidence in the camera whilst using it.
My lack of confidence shooting the Pentax Espio 80, and all my concerns about the it not being up to the job were to turn out to be quite ill-founded. The shots I took whilst on the beach actually came out really well. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the little Pentax Espio 80 light meter did a very fine job of coping with the bright sun and reflective sand and sea, especially given the “unforgiving” nature of the film.
Of course, not all the shots came out great, but actually most of the time I had “issues” they were more a product of the narrow dynamic range of the film rather than the fault of the camera. No amount of control over exposure could have achieved much more out of this next frame, for example.
Lens Sharpness and Character
Ektachrome E100 isn’t just unforgiving when it comes to exposure, it’s also pretty brutal when it comes to highlighting how sharp or otherwise, a lens is. It would be daft to expect a 90’s zoom compact to have a perfectly sharp lens, but actually, I was quite pleasantly surprised.
I used the zoom a fair bit, and though I can’t remember to what degree I used the zoom in all the photos, there doesn’t appear to be too much difference in sharpness in the photos I took, even at what I’d guess are the extremes of the 35-80mm range.
In some photos, it’s also quite apparent that the Pentax Espio 80 lens is quite adequately sharp into the corners. Of course, as is often the case with compact cameras, there will likely be copy variance in the lenses, and I might just have a good copy here, but either way, I’m reasonably impressed with the results I got given the type of camera this is.
Like most compact cameras, it’s certainly not shy of a bit of a vignette – though looking at my results, this does seem to mostly be when shot at the wide end of the zoom.
Look close enough, and you might detect a bit of distortion somewhere in the zoom range too – again, this isn’t exactly unexpected for the type of camera
In most other ways, the Pentax Espio 80 is a fairly standard point & shoot. There’s the usual pair of LEDs in the viewfinder – a green one that indicates focus and a red one that indicates flash readiness. The flash settings aren’t retained when the camera is manually switched off, and the various modes are quite limited, but it does have one little trick up its sleeve in this regard.
If the Pentax Espio 80 goes to sleep rather than being switched off manually, when you switch it back on again it does remember the previous settings. The nice thing about this is that if you’re out shooting with it and carrying it around in your hand with it switched on, and you specifically don’t want the flash to fire, you have a little less fiddle-time to start shooting again.
I actually didn’t realise how much I appreciated this mode until I got back from holiday and went out shooting with a Fuji point & shoot.
The Fuji doesn’t remember the settings when it goes to sleep and so I was caught out by the damned fill-flash a couple of times auto-firing. As far as I know, this remembering-modes-on-sleep is unique to Pentax cameras too. It’s not quite as useful as a manual flash switch to turn the thing off permanently, but it comes a close second in usefulness in my opinion.
Other than the remembering of modes, and the ability to turn the flash off, the Pentax Espio 80 has bulb and flash modes, a self-timer and a panoramic crop mode, but I didn’t take advantage of any of this – it’s not like any of these particular functions are stand-out or in anyway unique…
A few more photos
So what does make the Pentax Espio 80 unique? Well, nothing really. It’s actually a fairly average point & shoot with a fairly decent 35-80 zoom lens and a pretty standard feature set. Though, as I said at the beginning of this post, I do like the way it looks, and it’s also very fair to say that it held up admirably to the test of shooting it with Ektachrome E100…
On a personal level – as I mentioned in my previous post about inspiration – I have been feeling a little flat when it comes to my photography recently. Shooting the Pentax Espio 80 – despite it having a dusty viewfinder – provided me with a welcome little reminder that photography doesn’t have to be about overthinking everything. I got some well-exposed, sharp-enough shots of my kids on holiday with a camera that I didn’t have to think much about using – and for that reason alone, I can’t really fault it.