Advanced Compact (AF)

The Pentax Espio 115M Gold Mini Review – by Phil Harrison

Many years ago, well to be precise around 1998, I owned a 115M. I had just taken redundancy after 25 years as a photographer and was fed up with carrying heavy bags of gear. I just wanted a simple camera that did a reasonable job. My expectations weren’t high and the 115M fitted the bill.

There were a plethora of small compact plastic fantastic cameras available at the time, with the manufacturers all trying to produce the smallest with the most functions. The 115M has a 38–115mm f3.9–f10.5 zoom lens, five point autofocus with infinity lock, built in flash and some control over functions with a few buttons and an lcd screen. Pentax provided an excellent operating manual with plenty of tips on how to get the best out of the camera, they also recommend 400 or 800ASA film, when you look at the max lens aperture you can see why. It even comes with a neat leather belt pouch. My current version has the posh gold bodywork, the 115M’s can be bought for £20 from the usual auction website.

What’s it like to use, put a film in the back and it auto-loads, switching on is accompanied by a loud whirring grunchy noise, pressing the shutter creates a mass of noise and zooming is noisier still. It is fair to say it is not stealthy, this is quite normal and not a busted camera! You quickly realise that the camera is in no hurry to take a picture, we are talking early autofocus, a couple of seconds after you press the shutter an exposure is made. Forget about fast moving subjects like children, they’ve long gone before the camera decides it’s ready to expose the film. You have to be patient, half press the shutter, wait for the green focus lock light then fully press the shutter and hope. The exposure system is set up for transparency film and is DX coded only.

I popped some Portra 400 into the 115M but had it pushed a stop at the lab, which turned out to be spot on with nicely exposed negs. The focus, however, was a bit hit and miss, about a third being completely out of focus or focusing in the wrong place, this could just be the age of the camera or I might have put my big fingers over one of the many sensors on the front, I don’t remember having a focusing problem in 1998 with my first camera. Not surprisingly the lens vignettes, it being so small and close to the film on the wide angle setting. The Portra images were scanned from the negatives. The lens definition is very good, at the widest aperture at wide angle it has good depth of field. When the conditions are right you can get very nice A4 size images, when not, it’s best to stick to 5×7’s.

I took my original camera on my only exotic holiday to Bali in 1999 and got some memorable photos, all shot on Fuji Superia 400. I’ve added some of these images, all scanned from the original enprints for your delectation, or not. I’ve had a lot of fun with this camera and for £20 what’s not to like.

Thank you for reading and looking at my images. I don’t do social media but you’ll find other articles and images on emulsive.

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  • Avatar
    April 25, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    I had the Pentax Espio with a 35-70mm zoom few years before your camera (1994/1995). My wife to be bought as an engagement present. I used mine so much the back door broke; but Pentax fixed it quickly. It was a very small and lightweight camera, ideal for trips out.

    • Avatar
      Phil Harrison
      April 26, 2019 at 9:37 am

      Hi MarkB, I happily used mine for a while then got the Espio 105SW, which had a 28-105mm f5.6-11.6 lens, definitely a bright sunshine camera and not as good as the 115M. My Dad continued to use my 115M for years with no problems.

  • Avatar
    April 25, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    The imagery is great. The extending lens would have to take some getting used to especially at F10.5 on the long end. Yes, having a small camera to make things easy, it’s a good thing. Well done Phil. L.

    • Avatar
      Phil Harrison
      April 28, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you Lasousa.

  • Avatar
    April 26, 2019 at 2:27 am

    Great snaps – first train shot is fatastic.

    • Avatar
      Phil Harrison
      April 26, 2019 at 9:14 am

      Thank You Ham-and-eggs.

  • Avatar
    April 30, 2019 at 12:45 am

    Thank you for that nice Pentax Espio review as i’d never thought I’d ver see one what with all the Leica & Contax posts. I am a big Pentax Espio fan as i used to have a whole load of them before i cut down my collection. I used to have the 115M it was ok but it never made the cut and is with another owner. However there are some real gems in that Espio range such as the Espio 80, AF Zoom 120mi, 928 (my favourite), Mini (pricey now), 150Sl, 170SL They all have great lenses imho nice pocket size, look good and are still as cheap as chips online ( excluding the mini).

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