Pentax MZ-5: what is it?
Pentax MZ-5, also known as ZX-5 on the USA market, is a fully electronic, autofocus film camera, with all the bells and whistles – all auto exposure modes, and all the autofocus modes, released in 1996. It is a member of the MZ/ZX series of Pentax film cameras from 1990.
Technical specifications are usual for its class – its shutter tops out at 1/2000, it has multiple metering modes, including matrix metering, it has motor-driven film advance and rewind, it has a built-in flash and three autofocus sensors. Its main ergonomic feature is that it is easy to use, mainly because it eschews the multiple-button controls of the previous generation of electronic cameras – it has a direct shutter dial on the top plate with all the shutter speeds, just like mechanical cameras of the 1970s.
Despite the plastic build, it is a reasonably light camera, but it never feels cheap or flimsy, probably because it’s compact, so feels dense.
One of the nice features is a Panorama mode – it has movable light baffles, both in the film chamber and in the viewfinder, so when the camera is in the Panorama mode, those baffles crop the photo into fake “panoramic” mode – 13×36mm. While it does reduce the image area significantly, it can produce interesting images when paired with ultra-wide lenses – mainly due to the fact it crops the image to the cinematic aspect ratio, with letterboxed look due to the unexposed (dark) top and bottom.
How does it work?
The direct shutter speed dial rotates with distinct clicks between shutter speeds and needs a lock button to be pressed only for turning to and from a fully automatic position. It covers the full range from 1/2000 down to 2 seconds in full-stop steps. Additionally, there are three additional positions on the dial – Auto, Bulb and Flash sync (marked as 1/100) settings, for a total of 16 positions. Dial rotates continuously, for full 360 degrees rotation.
MZ-5 has a direct exposure compensation dial as well, ranging from -3 to +3 EV. There’s a selector for metering modes, a selector for autofocus and manual focus modes, a button for Spot AF mode, and a button for popping up the built-in flash. The on/off collar around the shutter button has an additional position for burst shooting mode. The exposure compensation dial is also used for overriding the DX-encoded ISO of the film.
A small LCD screen shows a number of exposed frames, the current operating mode and a few additional pieces of info – but not if the panorama mode is engaged or not, but that’s clearly visible through the viewfinder.
Batteries are on the somewhat expensive side, it uses two CR2 3V lithium batteries. Not the cheapest solution, changing batteries in the field can be an issue, but at least it is a reliable power source, and the camera is reasonably frugal – under normal conditions, one pair of batteries should be enough for at least 30 rolls, according to the camera manual. There was a battery grip add-on, AA-Battery Pack FG, that takes four AA batteries.
Reliability side, the camera is pretty well built, it should not stop working without a good reason… almost never. Except for the issue of corroded battery terminals and/or damage created by that, there is one design flaw in this camera. It’s a plastic gear wheel in the mirror movement department that can get stripped after years of use. Before buying, check if the mirror is moving quickly and without jerky movement.
MZ-5 is a reasonably light camera, so light it can be a bit too light for stability with lighter lenses. With heavier lenses, camera lightness leads to a front-heavy balance, which is not ideal. But at least, it won’t weigh your arm/bag much. The right-hand grip is fairly shallow and not too grippy. With a dedicated Battery Pack FG, only the height of the grip area is improved.
Everything is in a logical place, all labels are clear and avoid any ambiguity, and everyday usage is easy, logically laid-up interface makes the camera virtually disappear for the operator.
Changing operating modes is very logical – if both the shutter speed dial and lens aperture ring are turned to A (Auto) position, the camera is in program mode. Move both to a numerical value position, the camera will work in fully manual mode. Move a dial, or a ring back to Auto position, the one left at numerical value has the priority – if the aperture ring on the lens is in Auto mode, the camera works in Shutter priority mode, and vice-versa.
Table: The shutter speed dial position is represented in the first row, aperture ring position is represented in the first column.
Shutter speed dial
All users of Fujifilm’s X-Pro, X-T, and X-E series of digital mirrorless cameras would be perfectly at home with the philosophy of this camera.
One fine detail comes out of all this. This camera quite literally needs lenses with an aperture ring for a full range of operations. Without an aperture ring on the lens, as FA J, DA and some D FA series (and their 3rd party equivalent) lenses are, according to the camera, that lens is permanently locked in Auto mode, preventing the use of Aperture priority (Av) and Manual (M) modes. That’s significant mostly for owners of those few DA-series lenses that cover a full 35mm film frame. There are two FA J lenses, and unfortunately, one of those is the widest autofocus lens available for the system (FA J 18-35mm), so that’s a shame, but at least you can play around the permanent Auto mode issue using Program mode, and/or forcing certain apertures with carefully selecting shutter speeds.
All in all, Pentax MZ-5 is a compact, well-specced camera. Produced in the late 1990s, it is a modern camera, with all the features it needs, polished by years of cutthroat competition from film camera makers of the era. Plastic in build, it does not feel as good as its fully metal predecessors of the manual focus era but makes life easier with properly modern electronics, good light metering and usage of modern, long-lasting batteries. Because it’s plastic and not as valuable as mechanical-era cameras, it can be found for very cheap, and if you find one in working condition, it is a good buy.
I’d say, MZ-5 is a good, no-frills, relatively modern film camera that does exactly what you’d expect from a camera from that era, and nothing more.
|Year of launch:||1996|
|Lens mount:||Pentax KAF2|
|Film type:||135; standard 35mm 24×36mm, 13×36mm cropped panorama mode|
|Metering range:||TTL 6-segment metering; 0 to 21 EV range; matrix, centre-weighted and spot modes available|
|Focusing:||TTL autofocus, 3-point with spot focusing; -1 to 18 EV range|
|Shutter:||Electronically controlled vertical travel, metal focal plane shutter, 30 to 1/2000s in auto mode, 2 to 1/2000s in manual|
|Film advance:||Motor wind and rewind, 2 frames per second in burst mode|
|Viewfinder:||Pentaprism, 92% field of view, 0.8× magnification|
|Power:||2× CR2, 3V lithium batteries|
The User’s manual download is available at Butkus.org.
A few photos taken with MZ-5
All photos were taken with Cosina AF 19–35mm F3.5–4.5 lens, on Agfa Vista+ 200 film. Scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 8100 dedicated film scanner.