Tuesday Titans: The Pentax MZ-S

PMZSCPSII

The Pentax MZ-S of 2001. Perhaps the best 35mm SLR Pentax ever made.

The Pentax MZ-S was a high end 35mm autofocus SLR introduced in 2001 by Pentax Corporation.

The MZ-S was the last 35mm flagship film SLR from Pentax and was marketed as a professional camera.

THE MZ-S CAMERA 

The first thing about the MZ-S that you’ll notice right away is the somewhat odd and futuristic look to this camera. The MZ-S was apparently supposed to be the Pentax “MZ-D” which was to be the first Pentax full-frame digital SLR and at that time, it would’ve been the first Pentax DSLR full-frame or not. The prototype was shown in 2001, but never materialized in production.

In many ways, the MZ-S looks and feels like a modern digital SLR. Strong, sturdy, but feels somewhat lighter than a comparable film camera such as a Nikon F-100. If the MZ-S was indeed a digital camera, it’s my opinion that this would be the coolest looking Pentax DSLR ever!

With Ricoh/Pentax’s recent (actually a couple of years now) teasers on a full-frame 35mm digital and thinking back to the MZ-D, it does make you wonder nearly fifteen years later on now, will we ever see a full-frame Pentax DSLR?

Of course, we know they have the technology, but one has to wonder what’s taken them so long. Fifteen years and counting guys 🙂

Anyway, back to the MZ-S. The body is strong with a magnesium alloy chassis and to me it looks great, especially with the BG-10 battery grip attached. But I have heard differing opinions.

This is a story within itself, but aside from their classic M42 and K mount cameras, Pentax has not been known for making the prettiest looking cameras in the modern era. I’ve heard people say that Pentax AF cameras look “atrocious” and “horrific” to, on the other side of the coin, “fantastic” and “magnificent.”

There’s not much of a grey area when it comes to Pentax AF bodies. You either love them or you hate them.

The Pentax MZ-S with the BG-10 battery grip attached has a very aggressive look, not unlike the Canon EOS-1 I profiled earlier. In an odd way, it does look like a Pentax version of a Canon 1 Series camera.

Unlike the EOS-1, the MZ-S feels noticeably lighter. And with the grip off, it is a very nice and more portable body. While marketed as a pro body, the MZ-S actually feels closer to a semi-pro or advanced enthusiast class body such as the Nikon F-100 or Canon EOS-3, although I must say these two cameras do feel more rugged to me than the MZ-S. The MZ-S however looks more interesting than the other two 🙂

The MZ-S featured a 6 point AF system and has a shutter speed range of 30-1/6000s and a flash synch of 1/180s. The camera has mirror lock-up and can do auto-bracketing and multiple exposures.

The MZ-S without the battery grip runs on two lithium CR2 batteries. With the BG-10 attached, the camera will run on four AA batteries.

HANDLING AND OPERATIONS

The MZ-S feels excellent in the hand. Solid, tight, but not too heavy. Controls are well laid out for the most part, but it’s an odd mix of good and confusing.

There are dedicated buttons and switches for AF, Drive, Metering, etc, etc. There is also a dedicated MF/AF switch near the lens mount. When you have clearly marked dedicated dials and buttons, it’s always a good thing.

The cool circular LCD actually has a dial around it that serves as your controller for changing shutter speeds, modes, etc. The funky looking dial on top left of the camera is actually two dials, for ISO, exposure compensation, auto-bracketing, and multiple exposures. This left dial is probably the most confusing part of the camera, but it all makes sense once you get to know it. The camera also has 19 custom functions. This is truly a pro spec’d camera!

PMZSIII

The top deck of the MZ-S. A strange mix of good yet confusing controls, highlighted by that top LCD in a cool circular dial. That’s Pentax for you! Sorry for the dust. I could, if I tried, maybe take a nice studio type shot of this, but I live in the real world and in the real world, there’s dust 🙂

This camera offers quite a comprehensive feature set and I don’t feel like writing a manual on it. But if you want to figure out all the MZ-S can do, you will probably need a manual for this camera.

While you can figure out many things without an instruction manual, again I will say that I think you do need a manual to completely figure this camera out so it’s not the most intuitive camera I’ve ever used, but to be fair, most complex electronic cameras of the modern era fall in the came category.

PERFORMANCE

imgMZSZoeSmile1051 copy (1)

“Sunday” 2010. A smile to transform an ordinary Sunday into something extraordinary 🙂 Pentax MZ-S, Pentax FA 35mm f/2 AL lens, Arista Premium 400 film.

The Pentax MZ-S performed very well in the several rolls I’ve shot with it. The camera was quick to focus, albeit a little noisy when focusing. It will sometimes hunt in low light and the noise can be a little disturbing. AF was for the most part accurate.

MJ

“Joe Young” 2010. Pentax MZ-S, Pentax SMCP-FA 77mm f/1.8, Arista Premium 400.

I’ve only used two AF lenses with this camera. The SMC Pentax-FA 35mm f/2 AL, which is an excellent lens, and the SMCP-FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited, which is a superb performer by any standards.

The MZ-S offers six segment, multi-pattern, center-weighted, and spot metering. I usually leave it at the six segment setting where exposures are usually spot on.

MZSZC

“Barbizon” 2010. A star in the making? 🙂 Pentax MZ-S, Pentax SMCP-FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited, Arista Premium 400.

BOTTOM LINE

Pentax has always been a bit of an eccentric in camera world. They have always been the under-dog company that offered a much needed alternative to a world ruled by two or three big dogs.

They created a legacy that includes not only great 35mm cameras and lenses, but they have also been a force in the medium format world with iconic cameras such as the Pentax 6×7 and now in the digital era with the Pentax 645z, beloved by today’s pros. That’s something neither Canon nor Nikon has done. A true Camera Legend company, no doubt.

As far as camera collecting, the Pentax M42 mount cameras and lenses are hugely popular as well as K mount manual focus bodies and lenses. The Pentax AF 35mm film bodies, not so much.

But the MZ-S is different. It is a highly capable body and in my opinion, perhaps the only Pentax 35mm AF body worth collecting. I hope I’m not offending any Pentaxians out there, but cameras such as the ZX-5n and *ist film bodies, while very capable, are hardly what one would consider collectible.

In recent years, Pentax has had a resurgence of popularity, thanks in part to its merger with Ricoh and great cameras such as the Pentax K-5 of 2010.

The MZ-S may have been the most full-featured and capable film SLR that Pentax ever created. It is a well designed camera that can perform to a very high level and has almost everything you might need. And of course, it is capable of using the fantastic Pentax AF and manual focus lenses, one of the largest and most abundant collection of lenses available for any system.

The Pentax MZ-S may have started its life as the would-be Pentax full-frame digital that never materialized, but ended its life as the last great Pentax camera of the film era. It is without a doubt, a Camera Legend and one of the best cameras ever made by Pentax.

WHERE TO BUY?

If looking for the MZ-S, prices are trending at $150-350, with average prices of around $250 or less. There was a time when these cameras commanded close to $400, but it seems the prices have fallen on these babies in recent years.

You can find them quite easily on eBay, where most of them are being sold from Japan.

KEH Camera has them from time to time, prices are usually a bit higher there, but you would probably get the best one for your money, plus a great warranty and return policy.

I got my first one there, sold it and missed it. Found my second one at Adorama in their used section for around $200 in EX+ when they were going for over $300 at the time. And you can sometimes find a good deal from sellers on Amazon.

Note: Sorry a little late with this post, but I got it in before Tuesday was done 🙂

Doing this blog is a labor of love, but these late nights were killing me and I really needed to get myself together. Thanks for your continued support my friends, appreciate it!

 

 

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Titans: The Pentax MZ-S

  1. Sam, thanks for this great writeup and for the advice that of all the AF Pentax SLRs, this is the one to have. I’ve been eyeing others but will now cease and aim higher. And it’s nice to see you shooting Arista Premium 400! One last roll lingers in my fridge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jim, thanks I hope you get one, the MZ-S is a pleasure to use as well as to look at! I loved Arista Premium, wished they were still making it. Loved your results with it! Happy New Year my friend! 🙂

      Like

  2. Hey Bro! Thanks for profiling one of my all time favorites….Having shot more frames with this camera than any others, I can honestly say that I couldn’t have described it any better than you have done here. On balance, it is my favorite Pentax body ever although the two wheel hyper-manual mode of the PZ1-p gives that camera a slight edge in exposure flexibility for shooting transparencies. It is a shame that the MZ-S body never did make it to the digital realm where its uniqueness would have shone brilliantly.
    Happy New Year and keep those legends coming in 2016!
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Frank! Thanks man, I was a little worried when writing this, but coming from you the MZ-S master, the Pentax master, I feel better now! In fact, it was seeing that awesome MZ-S around your neck some years back that made me want one! Happy New Year and my regards to the Mrs 🙂

      Like

  3. Hello,

    I cannot agree more that the MZS is a gem of a film DSLR. In terms of being collectible, only the LX and MX can compete, in my opinion.
    Where I don’t completely follow you is where you present Pentax as an underdog company. It is showing too little respect for a company which basically invented the modern DSLR with the Spotmatic, and in the following years would sell more DSLRs than Nikon, Canon and Minolta together.
    Friendly regards,
    Christophe, from France.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Christophe, yes you may be right, certainly no disrespect intended to the mighty Pentax! I am just basing my comments from my experience of Pentax in the States. While they were always popular and always had a large following, they always seemed to play second or third fiddle to Canon, Nikon, even Minolta in its heyday. At the NYC camera stores that I frequented, Pentax was always the third or fourth choice as told to me by the sales people I befriended. But as you know, Pentax is a giant in the camera world and of course Pentaxians know this all too well. Thanks much for your input, appreciate it! 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s