I’ve had a bit of Pentax SLR GAS recently. I’m not going to try and sugarcoat it, the reality is, I’ve just let myself fall into the trap of buying kit to solve a problem I don’t really have. It’s even got as bad – at least in some cases – that I’ve buying even more kit before I’ve really even had a chance to try the last bit of kit I’ve added to the pile. At the stage of this path I now find myself at, I’ve just bought camera that I don’t even intend to review. This might not sound like a big deal, but this is pretty much the primary reason I buy film cameras these days… When I get to the stage that I want a camera so much that I have no intention to review it, I know the GAS has really hit a high level!
Sometimes gear acquisition syndrome is an incredibly slippery slope, and it seems – at least for me – the Pentax 35mm SLR GAS slope is a very slippy one indeed. I could probably make some argument around it being because of boredom, or Coronavirus lockdown and not having enough opportunities to go out shooting. But in truth, none of that is the case. The reality is, I’ve broken my own rules by doing the buying bit before the selling bit, and maxed out my credit card just because I wanted to play with some kit I liked the look of. But, whilst all this is quite shameful – and I’m certainly not advocating getting into debt just to play with a few extra cameras – I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been having quite a lot of fun exploring all this new-to-me Pentax SLR gear…
It all started sometime last year when I was in my photography slump. I bought a Pentax MX and decided I was going to just shoot with it for a while. With it I had the Pentax-M 40mm 2.8 pancake lens which I liked for its small size more than its image making ability. The plan to just shoot an MX didn’t work out very well. In fact, I had a little more fun by removing that self-imposed limitation by adding a Pentax P30 and a 135mm lens into the equation. I think it was shooting that P30 and enjoying it so much that made me fall down this rabbit hole.
In fact, I probably could have guessed where this path would have ended up if you’d pushed me for an answer back then as there was a bit of a white whale involved. Whenever I mentioned the 40mm lens on social media someone would mention the Pentax 43mm 1.9 Limited lens. I’ve know of the wonders of this lens for quite a while, and am aware that – alongside the 31mm and 77mm Limited lenses – it has a bit of mystic surrounding it… and me being me, I couldn’t help but be a little intrigued by that. But the path to that lens didn’t seem to be clear of hurdles to me.
One of the standout features of the 43mm is that it’s an autofocus lens that’s designed to work perfectly on both Pentax AF and older MF cameras. It has an aperture ring with an auto setting and a focus control that rotates really smoothly like an old manual focus lens. As someone who was previously quite wedded to Nikon SLR gear, this was very interesting to me. Nikon’s early AF lenses were great, but many of them didn’t feel that nice to use as manual focus lenses, and that’s despite both Nikon and Pentax using a system of controlling the autofocus with a screw-head interface between the body of the camera and the lens. I wanted to know what had Pentax done to make these lenses nicer to use in manual focus.
As I’ve alluded, I hesitated around this bit of GAS for a long time. I’d been enjoying the Pentax M series kit, and didn’t really feel that I needed another autofocus SLR in my life. I have a Nikon F80 for that role, and a couple of Nikon AF lenses that do the job perfectly well. But I couldn’t buy the 43mm if I wasn’t going to take advantage of its autofocus – it’s an expensive lens, so if I was going to be spending that money, I wanted to get the most out of it. So, rather than just put these ideas to the back of my mind, I started exploring Pentax AF cameras.
Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) I didn’t like the look of many of them. In fact, I think it’s reasonably fair to say that a lot of them look quite crap. I’m sure the likes of the PZ-1P are as good cameras as people seem to say, but they look big and and quite ugly to me. I like smaller, neater cameras. Late 90s / early 00s SLRs are a lot prettier in general than the horrible blobby things of the early 90s.
At some point in all this I discovered the Pentax ist* film camera. It is reputed to be the smallest AF SLR ever made. In discovering this I figured I might like to try the Pentax 40mm DA lens on it.
This lens was designed for crop digital cameras, but like all the various 40mm 2.8 lenses Pentax makes, it actually covers full frame (albeit with some falloff). These lenses are fairly easy to come by too, so I bought one. As it turns out, the ist* is, on the other hand, quite hard to come by – and when I did find one, it didn’t work. In fact, as well as it not working, I also discovered that it’s woefully unattractive and not particularly nice to hold. That had me looking elsewhere. I still wanted a small camera, but maybe something a little more traditional.
It was then that my wandering eye was caught by the Pentax MZ series. There are a few cameras in this range but the MZ-5 and MZ-3 with their traditional shutter dial interested me the most. I soon found an MZ-5 in my local camera London camera exchange. In fact, finding this camera sent me down another path of Pentax discovery.
Knowing the 40mm DA worked well on full frame cameras, I wondered which other APS-C lenses would work. I’ve since found a bit of a guide to that thought process on the Pentax Forums website, but prior to that l discovery I did my own bit of experimentation with a Pentax 18-55 DA lens which (obviously) came with a Pentax DSLR stuck to the back. That experiment went ok, you can see the results here. In fact, ultimately it turned out quite nicely as I gave that DSLR and lens to Connie who has had a great deal of pleasure so far. But, none of this slowed down my GAS.
I quite enjoyed the MZ-5 – it’s a bit plasticky, and the autofocus is a bit pants, but I felt it was going to be good enough to give me a sense of how the 43mm was to use on an AF camera alongside using it on my MX. It was then – after a few drinks – that I bought the 43mm Limited. I must admit, this was the point that I knew I had passed the point of no return. Up until then, I’d been loving Pentax gear for how inexpensive a lot of it is. The 43mm is not an inexpensive lens.
When it arrived, I discovered why. All the reviews about how it feels are quite correct. The focusing is smooth in manual and – though a little noisy – the AF worked quite well on the MZ-5. Of course, now I had an expensive lens on a very cheap camera. It felt better on the MX, but that wasn’t autofocus. I felt like I wanted to try a nicer AF camera – something I justified by talking myself into the idea that slightly quicker autofocus might be nice. Funnily enough, at this stage I hadn’t clocked that the MZ-3 was actually an upgraded MZ-5n. The MZ-5n has better autofocus the the MZ-5 and the MZ-3 has the same AF system as the 5n. Despite not knowing this, I still managed to talk myself into the MZ-3. The alternative was the Pentax MZ-S, and I just didn’t want to spend that sort of money…
Then, I blinked, and somehow Gareth from London Camera Exchange had talked me into buying a 77mm that he’d taken in part exchange. I say talked me into it – what I mean is, I happened to mention to him that I’d finally bought the 43mm and he responded to me by telling me that me he had a 77mm for sale. That was enough to convince me.
This all takes us full circle back to the comment I made about buying a camera that I didn’t intend to review. The Pentax MZ-S was reviewed alongside the 31, 43 and 77mm Limited lenses by Aivaras back in October 2018. I must admit, I’m quite often put off from buying cameras that have already been reviewed for this website as a lot of my purchasing these days is simply motivated by a desire to explore cameras for the benefit of reviewing them or otherwise writing about the experiences I have with them. It’s this that makes me know I have fallen deep into a very deep gear acquisition spiral, as – despite the MZ-S already being reviewed for 35mmc – and before I even put a roll of film through the MZ-3 – I bought an MZ-S… In fact, more precisely, I’ve now bought two MZ-S cameras! (though the second is yet to arrive)
Now, you might be wondering why two? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. The first is because all of the MZ series – including some, but not all MZ-S cameras – have a known issue with a weak nylon sprocket that moves mirror. Eventually it wears, and the cameras stops working. Some MZ-S cameras have a brass sprocket that doesn’t wear, but short of taking the camera apart, there’s no way of telling of it has a brass or nylon one. So I decided – and this is despite knowing there is a company in the UK that can repair them – that I wanted to buy myself some contingency.
That wasn’t my only justification though. I also wanted one with all of the bits that the MZ-S is supposed to come with. There’s an eye cup and a little cap that covers the flash sync port on the side and a little rubber bit to cover over the contacts that connect it to the accessory grip (that I also wanted). Buying two meant I could have all these extras… And being fair to me, the second one I bought was listed as spares/repair, and was cheap, and came with a lens that I want to try, so that justifies it right?!
Who am I trying to kid..? The point is, I have definitely fallen into a whole world of GAS the likes of which I can’t remember the last time I experienced! But you know what, it hasn’t failed to put a smile on my face. There is often a lot of scorn poured on buying kit – especially when it’s bought and not used. And sometimes, I would agree… I’m just not sure it’s always a bad thing…?
I’ve talked about this on 35mmc before – I am a photographer, I like taking photos, but I also like playing with cameras to the degree in fact that it almost feels like a second hobby. Is there really anything wrong with that…?
And anyway, if nothing else, I’ve just been doing my bit to keep the economy going… … I do need to sell some stuff though now!
(Keep an eye on the shop if you’re interested on what I might be parting with – I’ll be listing stuff over the next few days)