Pentax MZ-S 35mm SLR Film Camera Body Only

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I need to re-write this review after owning this camera! It's so good...

Aug 14, 2001 (Updated Feb 4, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:
  • Battery Life:
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Pros:Solid-built, Compact&Lightweight, Ergonomically Excellent, Superior "Hyper-Operation", Data Imprinting, Midroll-Rewind&Reload Mode, Very Carefully Designed! Complete Accessories

Cons:X=1/180th, Film Advance Speed of 2.5fps, Line AF CCD Sensors

The Bottom Line: Pentax must have put great efforts in developing this camera. Anyone knows and appreciates?

I previously wrote a "not recommend" review here and a copy of the review is kept here at the bottom. However, after my purchase of this camera, when I found a very good offer at US$705 last week, I'm starting to appreciate very much how wonderful my MZ-S is!

I've never handled a camera that can give me such a solid and rigid feelings, even my SFX cannot be compared to (The SFX was already been made with fibre-glass materials). The camera body is well balanced and the ergonomics are excellent, especially when the vertical grip BG-10 is attached. Sturdy anti-slip rubbers are coated at appropriate places. Special texture are carved onto all parts of the body, whether it's made of magnesium alloy, rubber or even plastic, so that one will not easily notice that they are of different materials by initial visual inspection.

The camera's curves and lines make it to be the most sexy SLR on the current market. The grip is a little bit edgely, however, after the BG-10 is attached and you will know why and how this is designed.

The PASM mode changing is MZ-5 alike, but the advantage of the claimed "Hyper Operation" is not much easily noticable only if you use it for several times. It's really a very very thoughful design and I can say it's a more practical and convenient approach than the previous Z-1p's "Hyper Program" which I'd also used several times. The position of the "reset" button is more easily accessible than the Z-1p's IF button, particularly when your eye is viewing the viewfinder.

The concept of the "Hyper Operation" is based on program shift. However the shift is driven by the shutter-priority mode in half steps. When the user is viewing the display something like "250 F5.6" in P mode, if he wants to increase the f number to f/11, he simply needs to turn the main control dials clockwise, just imagine to roll over the wheel to the right side where the displayed f-number is. On the other hand, if he wants to increase the shutter speed, he just needs to turn anticlockwise. To reset, just push the green "mode button". The mode button and the main dials sit well in your thumb and 1st finger magically so that whenever you need them, they are always there! To decrease any shutter speed and f-number, you just need to "roll" the wheel to the opposite direction!

The quality of the dials, selectors and buttons are very good. They are very crisp and sharp when changing position. Minimal effort is needed but however the chance to change them accidentally is very low.

The clicks of the left dial are very carefully designed so that the lock button should be used when you go into or out from certain positions.

The SAFOX VII six-point AF system is equipped with only line CCD AF sensors which each of them can detect only horizontal or vertical lines. However, I just discover that the sensors are of very high grade. They are very sensitive, even to very detailed texture or low contrast objects. And much more important, the AF system is very accurate and consistent. I feel that the indication of automatic selected focus point at the bottom of viewfinder is already very good. The red LED indication by other manufacturers is not much better but sometimes annoying and power consuming.

The AF speed is fast but the system is noisy. It hunts sometimes but is accurate and sensitive.

To control aperture value by turning the aperture ring on the lens has both its advantages and disadvantages. I encountered access problem in turning the ring in using larger lens such as the FA 85/1.4. Also, turning to and from largest aperture to the "A" position is sometimes not much convenient. However, the advantage is direct and if one just want to make settings relatively to the largest aperture, e.g., one step down from the maximum aperture in using a variable zoom such as the 24-90/3.5 to 4.5, it's convenient.

I have used the MRC function for mid roll rewind and reload the film, it's really great: fast and convenient. Previously, I need to put the camera to highest shutter speed and smallest aperture and put the lens cap on for ordinary SLRs.

The data imprinting feature is also a good design and I don't need to drop data again except the focal length for some serious experiments. However, I found that the imprinted density on the film is on the high side so that some imprinted characters are not very clear, e.g. 1000.

Nevertheless, the X-sync speed of 1/180th sec still a con for MZ-S. As an old user, why I need to bother buying the new flashgun (AF360FGZ) to break the X-sync barrier? The maximum film advance speed of 2.5fps is good for my normal use. But I think there should be an option for a higher speed if external power source is attached. I hope there is a BG-20 can do this.

Last but not least, some common features are hidden in the custom functions, one of the good examples is the selection of program lines. You must go through several steps to make one selection. There is some "slight" indication for your selection and what the PF is generally about for some PFs. If you have good memory, you can remember the numbers for the common PF u need.

The viewfinder of MZ-S is only a little bit brighter than my MZ-30. However, it retains good colors and contrast! Most importantly, the LCD data display is large and clear and can now be seen with ease under bright sunlight. The layouts at the bottom and right side is perfect with that the exposure compensation bar will only be activated when you engage the function. A thoughtful design again!

The mirror and shutter mechanism is greatly enhanced by superior engineering. The mirror-up action is very gentle, and it is truly comparable to rangefinder in vibration! but still the time-lag is very short so that the feeling in pressing the shutter is still very good, and it's indeed better than the Z-1p.

One final remark about the cable switch, new CS-105 is required. However, the operation of the CS-105 is better than the Cable Switch F which I've owned for years. The hold and push buttons are now interlocked to prevent misoperations. The connection and disconnection are also easiler with CS-105.

As a conclusion, for all the above excellence, the MZ-S really worth the money, much much better than its competitors. However, you can only experience and know its advantages after you buy it and try it!

If you didn't read my previous "not recommend" review before, you can read it below and you will see the difference.

====================================================== ======================================================

This is my second opinions about Pentax SLRs. I own two Pentax SLRs, namely, the original Pentax AF SLR SFX and a newer model MZ-30. Of course, I also own several lenses and other accessories to form a "complete" system. Being a Pentax user for years, I have been waiting for years for a top model that I consider worth for the upgrade. The previous Z-1p/PZ-1p is near my expectations except the AF system. On the other hand, the Z-1p has some features that already exceed my requirements, e.g., the "hyper-program" and "hyper-manual" modes, both are very great!

However, Pentax is really lacking commitment to her old customers, especially in the categories of advanced amateurs and professionals (of course I mean 35mm SLR system, don't remind me of any 645 and 67 related matters..). That's why rumors of upcoming of an imagined "MZ-1" had been appeared on the net for years. When this MZ-S really come out, I immediately gathered a lot of information on it by reviewing new articles from magazines and the internet. Finally, the most useful information I found was a full catalogue in the official Japanese Pentax site.

A brand new MZ-S date that I can buy is at the price of US$808. Recently, I had the chance to test the camera for almost 15 minutes in an exposition.

Two major selling points of the camera are the metal alloy body and its compactness and lightweight. However, the Japanese catalogue clearly shows that only the top plate is made of metal, but not the body! Frankly speaking, I really don't care if the body is made of metal or plastic as long as the materials used are not too vulnerable. The camera body is really not bulky and not heavy but I also don't think it is very compact and lightweight, In a few words, I consider those are only over-emphasized words from the marketing executives of Pentax, I don't think such factors are of prime importance.

The hand grip of the body is not covered by "anti-slip" soft plastic materials like that used in my MZ-30, and the shape is also not as fitted as my MZ-30's. Why this "top" model is not as good as a "bottom" model? (Just for my hand, maybe someone has a larger hand may feel better?) Did pentax decide to remove any visually "too plasticky" materials so as to promote this product?? BTW, the overall feeling for the handling is still considered satisfactory.

The camera body succeeds the design policy of Pentax to maintain a complete compatibility over their products in the past and in the future. Almost all the lenses and flashes can be used with MZ-S with all the available functions that the accessories should offer.

MZ-S offers a convenient film changing mode and you can mid-roll rewind any film at any time and that film can be reloaded into the camera again and the camera will automatically advance to the previous next film correctly, after you key in the required frame number. But it is not very useful for me as I do not mid-roll rewind and change film often. This feature will be very useful for those who need to change film type in the middle of the roll often, e.g., change ISO speed, or from slide to negative and vice versa.

The data imprinting feature is also a good design but again I don't think it's essential. How often will you need such info? Moreover, you'll need to use a high power magnifying glass and a light box to view the info!

The PASM mode changing is very similar to the old MZ-5 design, where the A-position (Auto) of the lens is the key. There's a green button near the shutter called the "Auto Button" in Japanese or "Mode Button" in English. Each time when you press the button, the manually set shutter speed will be converted to Auto. So, with the aperture ring at A or not, there is four combinations of mode, i.e., the PASM. The advantage of using digital display of the shutter value on the LCD in the middle of the dial is that there is no limitation on the manually selected low shutter speeds as in the design of MZ-5.

Furthermore, the dial of MZ-S can be used for other functions as well, for example, changing the AF selection point when you choose the manual AF point selection mode. I tried this operation. You need to use both hand to operate and I still consider the operation and the viewfinder indication are acceptable.

I don't like to control aperture value by turning the aperture ring on the lens since I don't think it's convenient, especially when you are using a zoom lens with a variable aperture! The aperture value will vary at the same time when you are zooming the lens. Furthermore, when setting the aperture by using this method, it implies a traditional K-mount mechanical communication method (between the lens and the body) is used, I doubt that whether a better accuracy can be achieved when compared with today's computerised signalling and control technology.

With the introduction of MZ-S, it seems that the superior Pentax "hyper" modes have said goodbye to the world and will never appear again. What a pity!

The last advantage of the camera I would mention some of its simplicity in design. The layout of buttons and dials is neat and the number of buttons is reduced to a minimum. And the positions of the buttons are carefully designed for good accessibility. If you use exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing often, the two concentric dials on the left serve you very well. Simply turn them to the values you wants for any combinations! I think I will need them occasionally.

However, in this replacement model, Pentax downgrades all the basic specifications which a high-end model should have. For example, the maximum "normal" X-sync is only 1/180th sec. As an old user, why I need to bother buying the new flashgun (AF360FGZ) to break the X-sync barrier? I suspect the reason why Pentax set the spec to 1/180 is that they want you to buy the new flashgun! The maximum film advance speed of 2.5fps is also difficult to be explained. Again, I would need a 3+ fps speed sometimes. Furthermore, it is not mentioned that the body is moisture proof or dust proof.

The AF system has six points but very unfortunately there is no single AF-sensor can detect both vertical and horizontal lines, I think at least the center one should have the ability.

I tested the AF with the new 24-90 lens. The motor speed is quite fast but sometimes it hunts very seriously before it decided which sensor is in focus and stop, maybe the environment is a little bit dark and some subjects are of low contrast.

Last but not least, some common features are hidden in the custom functions, one of the good examples is the selection of program lines. You must go through several steps to make one selection and there is no indication for your selection once you leave the "PF" setting position.

Even in the PF mode, there is only numeric indication but nothing else. Of course, Pentax will again claim that you will only need the PF functions very "occasionally". But under such "occasion", how can you change the settings without a manual? I agree that one will only need to change some PF settings for only one time after his purchase. But I strongly disagreed selecting one of the four program curves are occasionally required if the users prefer to use program modes sometimes, or for users like me, who like using program modes, but still would like to have some controls on the aperture and shutter.

It is really very disappointed that the viewfinder of the camera is as poor as my MZ-30, very dim and the LCD display is also dim either. I still remember the large, bright and clear viewfinder of the Z-1p. Really very sorry about it..

As a conclusion, after considering the price, I don't think it's a value for money offer at all, unless you require some unique features that I have mentioned above. Even the price is lowered, there are still some disadvantages mentioned above about this body.

And again, for me, I think I will wait for another "improved" or "enhanced" model or wait for a significant price drop.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 705

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