Some context: I started negotiating yard sales, thrift stores, Craigslist, and auctions for point-and-shoot cameras in March 2017, a month after Ren Hang’s death. The idea was to dishevel my current way of shooting things – which is to say, also, seeing things – and to unravel certain rigid approaches I’d picked up using my Nikon F2S. I anted to see what sorta dust’d shake up if a camera always accompanied me; one I could shoot the way someone blinks: automatically.
I was looking for a camera that felt right, like a pair of boots; I wasn’t much concerned with ergonomics or stealth. That was 98 cameras ago – inaccurate; I’ve lost count. That number is the amount I’ve posted about on Instagram. It’s probably around 115…? Inevitably, I’ve developed preferences, cameras that feel right, have a place in my lineup, but that first impulse remains my sole rule: shoot anything that works.
When I go to a shoot, I typically have two or three p&s cameras I haven’t yet used in tow. My “reviews” of these cameras focus less on specs, performance – canonized or cult – adequate coverage is already out there. For me it’s an experience of use, an experience of making images, that’s interesting.
That contextualizes, a bit short-handedly, why today I’m writing about a Pentax Zoom 105 Super (unbranded as such, but part of the Espio IQZoom line) – this is a thrift store find, and middle-of-the-pack compact; one of those compacts you’d call a compact without consideration for what it’s compact in relation to. You know the sort: larger than the first AF cameras, though not bulky; smaller than an Arriflex or the Hindenburg. So, it’s compact. Sure. In it’s day, it cost $400 new, and there’s a kind of muscularity to it; it feels well-made, a fact that caught my attention, as IQZooms are, more often than not, meagre in make. I’m looking at you, EZY-R. The quality of manufacture extends to the lens: 38-105mm f4-7.8 glass that transmits soft contrasts.
Feature-wise: bells and whistles, bells and whistles. All the usual, plus multiple exposure, intervalometer, and a “super macro” that’s accessed through a sliding panel on the camera’s side. The macro is decidedly un-super, maxing at a distance of a foot and a half. Exposure compensation. Portrait mode. The modes and features are easily cycled through using three buttons on the back. Did I mention bulb mode? Because that’s what caught my attention.
With few exceptions, such as with the Konica AiBorg – the only camera that cosplays as Kylo Ren, and whose features require pilot training and a steely countenance – I don’t venture far into a point-and-shoot features, as they tend to be variations on standard modes. For example, “portrait” mode amounts usually to an auto-zoom to 70mm.
Features like this are, of course, for ease of use for the consumer; the casual photographer before the advent of digital and not much use can be made of them now. When I use film – not for its predominance as a medium – but to make an image do what I want with a moment, multiple exposure, flash override, and exposure compensation are what I actively look for, but Pentax has just enough features to grant the me distinct creative latitude.
Of course, bulb mode – as a feature on a point-and-shoot – flies in the face of the AF logic of spontaneity. Sure. The option for long-exposures, though, is one I didn’t think I wanted until I realized I could have it, and I didn’t notice it – I hate to admit – until the final exposures of my first roll. Cheered by the negatives, I shot a roll of expired Ilford XP2. The bulb mode and interesting lens are a graceful combination, really making of the Pentax Zoom 105 Super a tool for a particular type of image; one with softly saturated contrasts. It wouldn’t be my first choice, nor does it qualify for my tiny pantheon of permanent point and shoots, but it’s a joy to discover that a random AF camera that allows such freedom.
Also, I’ve gotta note: I can’t tell if the fogging on some of the frames is chemical or light; not every exposure suffers from it, and the rolls were developed at different times. Yet, there’s no apparent damage to the light seals, and the long exposures – which I’d think would be most susceptible if it were light fogging – are all crisp and evenly exposed. I can’t say, but I don’t balk at unpredictability with these cameras.
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