Pentax P30

Pentax P30 Review – Finding Joy, Despite it not working as expected

A little while ago I picked up a Pentax P30 for £5. I’d been shooting happily with the Pentax MX, but just liked the look of the P30 as a second Pentax body and couldn’t resist it for the cash. I didn’t think much of it really, it wasn’t a camera I’ve really ever paid attention to before, but for what I wanted it for it would do the job – at least that’s what I thought…

One of the only issues I have ever found with the Pentax MX is the shutter speed dial is a little fiddly to use. It’s no real issue, as I said in my review it‘s been a camera I shoot with quite slowly and thoughtfully for the most part so I haven’t minded the very minor awkwardness I find in using it. I did fancy something with a Pentax mount that I could just snap with though, so whilst I hadn’t really thought too much into it, when the Pentax P30 appeared under my nose, it seemed perfect.

Program mode fail

The first thing that attracted me to it was that word “program” written on the dial. Program mode isn’t my first choice of shooting mode, but for snaps it’s what I’m used to when using a point & shoot so figured that with the Pentax-m 40mm f/2.8 I could have myself some point and snap fun. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. I mounted the lens when I got home and tried to turn the dial on the camera to “Program” but it wouldn’t go. It then struck me that the Pentax-M lens might not be the right type of lens… maybe I needed to mount a specific type of Pentax lens for it to somehow allow the camera to be switched to program. I was wrong, well, half wrong.

As it turns out, to use the Pentax P30 in Program mode, you need to first mount a Pentax-A lens. With a Pentax-A lens mounted, you rotate the aperture on the lens to ‘A’ and the camera then switches to Pragram mode and chooses both aperture and shutter for you (at least I think that’s the case, I haven’t got one to try). With a Pentax-M lens it will only work in fully manual mode. Finding this out, I was a little bit disappointed to start with – not that much of course, I’d only spent £5 – but I didn’t want to be buying another lens just for point and shoot kicks, so decided just to shoot it manually.

Pentax P30

It then sat on the shelf for a week or so before I finally decided to take it out. I’d got half a roll of P3200 in the MX (I still have) and wanted to shoot a recently acquired Pentax-M 135mm f/3.5 lens whilst out for a walk with Hannah. I’m not averse to shooting P3200 in daylight, but having recently shot and loved a roll of Ilford Ortho fancied something less grainy and a little more natively contrasty. So I mounted the 135 to the Pentax P30 and went to raid the fridge for a roll of JCH Streetpan 400. I haven’t shot this film much, and hadn’t shot either the lens or camera before at all so it struck me as being a combination I might get some novelty kicks out of, even if I did have to put a bit of thought into exposure.

Shooting the Pentax P30

As soon as I started using the Pentax P30 I realised that despite it not doing exactly what I wanted it to to begin with, I was still onto a little bit of a winner. The position of the shutter dial on the P30 makes for quicker and easier changes to the shutter speed than the MX. And even the light meter readout is slightly more helpful than that in the MX. The Pentax P30 meter readout is displayed up the entire left hand side of the finder and is the type that shows you both the shutter speed you’ve chosen and the one it thinks you need to choose. Whilst I really like the meter in the MX, I find the sort of information the P30 gives really easy to interpret to achieve the exact exposure I would like.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the aperture displayed in the viewfinder in the same way as the MX does. And though the viewfinder is actually very nice, I don’t think it’s up with with the quality and size of the MX. That said, I don’t think it’s not that far off as I didn’t have that much of an issue focusing even with a 135mm lens. Though, I should also add here that I think that I’m getting back to grips with SLR focusing now (at last).

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Battery Reliance

Another “con” when comparing the Pentax P30 to the MX is the battery reliance. I’m not adverse to battery reliant cameras actually, but if there’s one thing I love about the MX it’s the fact that it feels like it works perfectly with or without batteries. The P30 doesn’t do anything without batteries in as the shutter is electronically controlled. Is this a problem in real terms? Probably not I’ve had very few cameras run out of battery on me when I’m out shooting, and in a camera that I’d originally intended to use as a point & shoot, I cant really quibble with its battery reliance… but, and this is probably the caveat emptor when looking at these cameras, when the electronics fail – and they will – it’s quite likely to be game over for the camera.

The Photos – JCH Streetpan 400

So anyway, what about the photos? Well, to kick off, I’m not sure I loaded the Pentax P30 right. It has a rubbery take up spool which the film is supposed to stick to. This appears to not have worked very well for the first few frames as I had a bit of overlap that resulted in some pretty cool multiple exposures. Cool as they are though, I wouldn’t want that happening every time I used the camera.

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

From there on out though, it did a great job. The Pentax P30 reads the DX code off the film canister and has no exposure compensation or manual override so the roll of Streetpan was shot at box speed. My previous experiences of Streetpan tell me that the key to good results is fairly accurate exposure, and then to have it developed by someone who knows what they’re doing with it. Some of the labs don’t follow the guidance which often seems to result in rumours that you need to overexpose this film.

This isn’t the case, it just needs to be exposed and developed properly. The results are definitely toward the more contrasty end of the spectrum, but the look to the images here is exactly what I had in mind when I was shooting.

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

In short

I’m not entierly sure what to do about the overlapping frames issue – these cameras apparently have a skipping frame issue, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. If anyone has any insight, please feeel free to share, though I suspect I just didn’t load it properly…?

That aside, for such a low cost camera, despite it’s limitations – and it not offering me what I thought it advertised to me – I genuinly enjoyed shooting Pentax P30. It’s always nice to be reminded how cheap film thrills can be!

Probably more than anything I could say about the camera though, I’m especially chuffed with the 135mm lens so far too… but more on that another time I think…

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39 thoughts on “Pentax P30 Review – Finding Joy, Despite it not working as expected”

  1. I love the contrast and the strong blacks in these images Hamish. Exactly what I’m after, did you develop the film or did someone else do it? If so, how?

    1. It was developed in Xtol 1+1 24C 11:30mins in a Jobo autolab by Duncan at silverpan film lab.
      I meant to add that to the post – thanks for reminding me ????

  2. I used and still have a P30. I loved this camera and never found an overlapping frame issue.
    I liked the way it displayed the info in the lower viewfinder and it was very simple to alter your settings.
    I always used Fujifilm 200 as I loved the vivid reds and greens.
    I now use a KS2.

  3. It’s been a while since I shot one like that but I think you want to pinch the film and tuck the end in. And of course monitor the remind crank to make sure it’s turning all the way when advancing the film. No way to change aperture electronically without electrical contacts 😉 but there are a lot of those around. Some third party lenses from that era have electrical contacts for Pentax and Ricoh as well. Nice find and article.

    1. Thanks 🙂

      I found this elsewhere:

      “All that is required to use program auto exposure is mount a Pentax-A lens and turn the exposure ring to the A setting and press the small button on the ring to lock in place. You don’t need to set anything on the camera body itself. In Program Auto mode the shutter speed chosen by the camera is shown on the left-hand side of the viewfinder. The P30 chooses the correct exposure setting but doesn’t tell you the aperture chosen.”


      As I say, I’ve not tried it, but that sounds right …?

      1. Aleksander Warski

        Unlucky you. With P50, P30n, P30t you would have Av at least.

        I have Super A and love it. I want some P too for the look of it. I was born in the 80s.

        1. I have exactly what you listed 🙂 P50, P30n, P30t and few M series devices. The P series definitely looks cool. Also, they always have light seals and mirror dump foam in perfect condition because of their age.

  4. An interesting report as always – thanks.

    Incidentally, the later Pentax P30N and P30T models added an aperture-priority auto mode, so could provide automatic (but not program) exposure even with K or M lenses. Cleverly, Chinon managed to offer program modes (as well as manual and aperture priority) on the CP-series of cameras with any PK lens. The CP-X was a basic model with limited viewfinder information, the CP-5 and CP-6 models were more sophisticated with much better displays and (on some versions) dual programs and/or spot metering, while the CP-7M was Chinon’s first motorised model.


    Dave, HCL

    1. Thanks, Dave, I shall have a look. I’ve been looking at some other pk mount cameras on eBay, actually, and picked up a Ricoh of some sort today. I put it back down quite quickly though… it felt horrible. How are the chinons in the hand?

      1. Hi, Hamish. The Chinons of that era handle more like the contemporary Ricohs than Pentax P30s, unfortunately. While all three have a metal chassis with plastic external panels, the Pentax feels better to me with higher quality materials, fit and finish. These cameras aren’t at all bad by the standards of the day, but the Pentax seems just that little bit better. Your mileage may vary, etc.

        1. Hmm, I suspect I will find similar. I have held chinons before, though no idea which, I didn’t feel enourmously inspired

  5. Hamish, these are some of the most intriguingly moody images you’ve posted in some time. Do beware of reliability with the P30: I’ve had three of these cheapo bodies (all bought at thrift stores or on eBay) fail in short order. As with Canon and Nikon, the quality and durability of Pentax’s analog SLRs fell dramatically when the sales wonks decided to automate everything but keep the selling price low. Your MX – as well as the KX, the iST, and even the humble SF10 – may be better choices for you longterm.

    1. “Intriguingly moody” I’m going to take that as a compliment I think 🙂
      I’ve been looking for and iST for ages… if you see one, let me know ????????

  6. Thank You, enjoyed the write up. Was a Pentax-guy back than (1976-2002), Spotmatic, K1000, MX, ME-Super, Program-A, Super-A, LX, 645, 6×7, 67…
    Nice to see someone still to take on the challenge and give the oldies (but goldies) a run.
    Memories….. 🙂

  7. The p30n version added aperture priority mode as a much needed workaround for pre A lenses. The lack of it was a real short sighted design “issue” though I think it’s cool that you found happiness just using it in manual. I agree, for five pounds AND the M 135 3.5? Deal! I got that lens with a sears sr2000 for five bucks. If “chuffed” is a good thing then I’m chuffed too! I use the sr2000 sometimes when I just want something brainlessly simple but the 135 gets swapped onto all my k mount cameras. And I too love the Mx. I have two and it’s my all time fave. Good to hear you more upbeat for a change!
    Happy new year!

    1. The 135 was a separate purchase at a further £30, though it still feels like an absolute bargain! I also picked up a tatty 28mm with a slightly sluggish but functional iris for £5 today, AP I still feel like I’m winning.
      And yes, definitely feeling a little more upbeat. I’m just trying not to overthink things at the moment.
      HNY to you too 🙂

  8. First off, stop copying me! I have the MX and a P30T.
    However I think there is something wrong with your camera. With my P30T programme mode works with any KA mount lenses the aperture is at minimum, any other M mount lens it works as a regular AE camera, and of course manual.

    I also don’t understand the complaining about batteries. Does your digital camera work w/o batteries? Or your car? Or your phone? Do you have a mechanical computer? What are you more likely to run out of, film or batteries? How do you prevent yourself from running out of film? How often have you run out of batteries?

    1. Mines not the T, it’s the basic one…
      also, I’m not complaining, I basically said what you said…
      it’s the nature of the reliance that bothers me. As I say in the post – it’s fine until it dies, but when it dies, it’s probably game over. That’s the issue with these sorts of cameras I think

  9. correction – apparently it was only the N and T models that could do AE exposure. But I never had overlapping frames with mine. Maybe make sure the film canister is tensioned after loading?

  10. I got one of these black plastic Pentaxes thrown in for free with another purchase; that’s how unknown and unpopular they were at one point. I think it was a P3, but I’m not sure; I think it didn’t have the protruding grip on the body, but it did have Program mode and it worked incredibly well. The orphan camera turned out out be my favorite Pentax for a few years. Light, accurate and everything just seemed to be in the right place.
    Regarding the lens, you can get a 50mm f1.7 Pentax-A for about US$30 on eBay. It’s a fine lens (assuming it hasn’t been dropped or repaired by a gorilla) and it really does make those Pentaxes into high-quality point-and shoots.

  11. Is the take up roller polished or does the rubber have a tacky feel? Either way it could cause issues as I have discovered with a couple of cameras. The good news is that it’s easily resolved. Just get a bottle of rubbing alcohol and clean the roller. As any Nikon F100 owner knows it’s a good send. Also bear in mind that as lot of the new niche films have quite thin base layers, the MJUIi struggles with loading some of the Silberra and Washi films.

  12. Definitely, you need a Pentax SMC-A not a Pentax SMC-M to use the program mode. This was my first SLR, en 1989. But the lack of exposure compensation and override DX sensibility system make me to change it for a Pentax MX.

  13. Ah, well I have one and I had understood that it is SHUTTER priority in Program mode. I shot it last weekend, and have yet to see the scans from the lab, but I didn’t realise (because I didn’t read the manual) what the shutter speed read outs might have been telling me. I assumed they were warning me that my selected speed wasn’t right and suggesting another speed. I therefore stopped and changed the shutter speed to match the read-out in the viewfinder and I’m assuming that since it is Shutter Priority, the camera is selecting the Aperture on the A lens. I don’t think the P30 (as opposed to the P30N and P30T) will take care of both Shutter and Aperture, but I’m willing to be corrected it that’s the case! 🙂 Were that true, I could just put the Shutter Speed at 1000 and fire away, lol 🙂

  14. You’re not confined to SMC-A lenses for P mode; SMC-F and SMC-FA autofocus lenses also have the A position on the ring and so will also allow the camera to set the aperture. They’re unloved even in these nostalgic times and there are still some bargains out there. The 28-70 f/4 is one I can personally recommend, and would suit the point-and-shoot idea you have for the P30. It’s nicer to focus manually than you might expect, and you might even find one with an MZ-5n attached, which would give you a plasticky but very capable point-and-shoot rig.

    There are loads of SMC-A 50 f/1.7s about for not much, but that lens appears to have a design fault in the leaf spring that works the A button. The spring gets broken or dislodged and prevents the ring from going beyond about f/8. It remains usable at the wider apertures – but not, of course, in P on your P30. Other A lenses seem to be more solidly built – it may be the difference between a flexy plastic aperture ring and a rigid aluminium one – and not to suffer this problem.

    And yes, the M 135 f/3.5 is amazing value if you don’t mind choosing your own apertures.

  15. To load the film, have a long tail so the film goes up to the edge of the case, make sure it is sitting on the sprockets and take up any slack with the rewind crank.

  16. I was about to say that you could maybe pick up the probably cheapest Pentax-A lens, the 50mm f/2 for around £10, then I looked on ebay and saw that some people had paid over £50 for one! There still seems to be some cheap ones out there though, but like you say, what’s the point, especially with your new post about the MX-5.

    I got the 135 within the last fortnight too. Got a partial refund because of fungus, so paid £12.50 + p&p 😉

    1. Yeah the MZ-5 looks like it might be a bit of fun… though I worry I’m just taking more steps toward a 43mm … …
      Nice, are you going to have a go at cleaning it? I cleaned a 50mm 1.7 not long ago, it was easy!

  17. Hello
    I used the P30 some times – its advantage compared to mor classic ones like MX, ME or K1000 is, that the program mode allows for the use of DA and other lens w/o an aperature ring – OK … you have no real infuence to the settings , but it creates pictures with acc. to the program characteristics quite wide open apearture

      1. Use? Probably. Get good results? Not so sure. The DA lenses are designed for APS-C digitals, so while they may work mechanically and electrically on the MZ-5, you might find light falloff and lack of flat focus towards the edges of a 24×36 frame. That said, there’s probably a fair amount of safety margin designed into it, so you might well be pleasantly surprised, especially at smaller apertures.

        Simplest way to find out would be to just mount it up and look through it at something bright, flat and uniform (and I don’t mean a police officer on the graduate fast track programme) and see what you see in the viewfinder. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing you can break on either lens or camera; no Nikonesque index tabs to worry about here.

        My MZ-5n still works, although it’s not had film in it for 15 years. It wouldn’t fetch enough to be worth the bother of selling it, so it’s still here. If I still had the 43mm to go with it, it might get to go out again

        1. Have a look at my IG if you can. I’ve had the XS on a Mz-5 and now the p30. It never occurred to me to try it on the p30, but it works fine. And bit dark into the corners, but fine. It’s like a point & shoot conversion for an SLR

          1. Ah yes, I’d seen the pictures of the two 40mm combos and now I’ve read the text. A little vignetting is seldom a problem anyway – and easy to correct if you’re scanning.

            If the 40mm makes the MZ-5 slim enough to go in a coat pocket, I may have a use for one on mine by making a virtue of the MZ’s lightweight construction. The MZ already has the best after-dark viewfinder display of all my SLRs, so I’m wondering whether that and the 40 XS might be just the thing for my Cinestill adventures. (There’s a whole article in that – and the various other kit I’ve already bought to fill the same niche.) Does the MZ-5 display the aperture it’s set for the XS?

          2. It does yes, which makes choosing an aperture by choosing shutter speed readily possible… if you follow?

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