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Pentax *ist

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6 68,096 Wed November 25, 2015
Recommended By Average Price Average User Rating
100% of reviewers $78.50 7.50
Pentax *ist

Pentax *ist
Pentax *ist
Pentax *ist
Pentax *ist

The Pentax *ist SLR was the last film SLR produced by Pentax. It was very reasonably priced and aimed at entry level users.

The *ist is tiny and light weight and has a variety of program modes: Normal, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Action, and Night-scene in addition to Tv, Av, Manual and Bulb exposure modes.

A number of extra flash functions are available in connection with an external flash unit: Wireless, High-speed, and Contrast control.

The lens mount has no coupler for the aperture ring so exposure modes with M and K lenses are restricted to Av (with aperture always wide open) and M (no metering).

Read all the details about lens compatibility here!

Year introduced
KAF with limitations (exposure mode limitations with M and K series lenses)
Meter range
0 - 21 EV
Meter pattern
m c s
ISO range
6 - 6400
DX ISO range
25 - 5000
Exposure modes
AutoPict, P, Av, Tv, M, B
Exposure compensation
+/-3 EV
Exposure memory lock
Shutter speeds (auto)
30 - 1/4000s
Shutter speeds (manual)
30 - 1/4000s
Shutter speeds (mechanical)
Self timer
Mirror lock-up
Auto bracketing
Multiple exposures
Built-in 2.5 fps
Built-in flash
TTL flash
P-TTL flash
Sync speed
Flash exposure comp
Yes (11 points)
Autofocus sensitivity
-1 - 18 EV
Power zoom
0.7x, 90%
Viewfinder type
Diopter correction
Exchangeable screen
Depth of field preview
Image size
24 x 36 mm
Panorama format
2 x CR2
Battery grip/pack
BG-20 (optional),
takes AA batteries
Size (W x H x D)
122 x 84 x 63.5 mm
335 g
Price History:

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Forum Member

Registered: September, 2009
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 59

3 users found this helpful
Review Date: November 25, 2015 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: $98.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Extremely compact, fairly well-featured, big rear display, controls well placed, can control aperture from camera.
Cons: Grip can be awkward, big lenses overwhelm it, small+dim viewfinder, too much plastic, noisy, no 'M' lenses.

I don't know why, but I had always wanted an *ist as soon as I got my feet in the film Pentax system. (I started with a SuperProgram and A-50 1.7 in 2009 after freshman year of high school.) The *ist I ended up with is in excellent shape. When I first got it the e-dial would get hard to turn one way compared to the other; my solution ended up being just turning it back and forth until it "broke in" and has felt smooth every since. It's been a great camera, but not quite as great as I thought it would be.

Lenses + Grip
The *ist is very compact. I mainly pair it with a DA 35 f2.4 or 40 f2.8 XS, which matches the small size and weight of the ist well. The ist's control of DA/FA J lenses is excellent and nice to have Av mode with 'em. My FA 28-70 f4 sees a little bit of use on the ist, but the small primes work best. Anything much bigger/heavier than the FA 28-70 feels very awkward to hold with the small grip on the camera and I have medium sized hands. My Tamron SP 90 f2.5 macro is about the biggest lens I can comfortably handle on the ist. I don't have the battery grip, but I could see that being almost required with a telephoto or any heavy glass. Maybe this could be a great camera for someone with small hands, or as a camera to have a child try out film/photography. Not being able to use any lenses older than SMC-A series is a bummer as the ist has a 'crippled' mount and will not fire unless the lens is locked in 'A' on the aperture dial.

The meter for the most part is very accurate and exposes great. I have experienced some shots, mainly beach scenes, be terribly overexposed. Similar shots with my MX or other film cameras usually come out better exposed in similar scenes without compensation. Flash exposure is typical P-TTL that I'm used to from my K10D/K5 (I've only used the pop-up flash). The ist will only meter a K or M lens wide open and then refuse to fire the shutter. Only A and later lenses allowed sadly.

Shooting Modes
The ist provides M, Av, and Tv clearly. I think the closest thing to 'P' is the mode on the dial. 'Auto Pict' will select a scene mode based on focus distance from my experience. When the focus is close it will select the macro flower mode, when focused around portrait distance it will select the portrait mode, etc. I mainly stick to Av and it works for me. Oh, the scene mode icons also light up on the dial when selected; and if you are in a scene mode when turning the camera on all the icons light up and do a little animation (like cars that have the needles light up and do a full arc on startup). M, Av, and Tv do not illuminate on the dial, which might have been kinda neat.

Display, Interface, AF, Viewfinder
The rear screen is nice. I think the Minolta a-7 still has the best display interface of any film camera, but the ist screen displays settings nicely. The AF selector is helpful to navigate the familiar 11-point AF system, but being based on the APS-C module it is a tad cramped in the center of the frame. AF performance is similar to what my ZX-5n provided, not amazing but on par with other AF Pentax film cameras. The viewfinder is also more like a K dSLR than a film SLR being a rather dim and small pentamirror setup. A compromise to keep its compact size.

Noise + Build
My biggest dislike is the noise and plastic build. My ZX-5n was a bit quieter, and my Canon EOS 7 (film) with USM/STM lenses is almost rangefinder quiet compared to the *ist screwdrive focusing and firing the shutter. There's quite a bit of mirror slap and electric whirring with each exposure that is very distracting and annoying. Part of this noise is likely due to the very plastic construction resonating all the noise. The compact size, especially with a pancake makes me want to take the ist everywhere, but I hesitate because it just doesn't feel up to being taken on bike rides or tossed in a bag for a daytrip. My MX, Canon 7, Minolta a-7 gang feel so much more up to adventuring than the *ist. So far the plastic build hasn't lead to any issue, but it does not provide much confidence. Made in Japan. It is a cute little thing.

Overall, I think the *ist is best with the small zooms + primes of the A/F/FA/DA series. The 40 XS pancake looks made for the *ist and is my go-to combo. It makes a great compainon to a Pentax dSLR as the controls are very similar and it supports P-TTL and aperture-ring-less lenses. For casual walkaround shooting I grab the ist and stuff it in my coat pocket, but anything else has me grabbing one of the other cameras I've mentioned. I would give the *ist a 9 or 10 if it was quieter, had a more metallic build, a bigger/brighter viewfinder, and supported K + M lenses while still being just as compact.
Site Supporter

Registered: March, 2009
Location: Gladys, Virginia
Posts: 21,611

1 user found this helpful
Review Date: October 11, 2014 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: $70.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Small size, best auto focus for a Pentax film camera
Cons: few options, build not great

Pentax *ist was actually my first Pentax camera. Purchased many years ago. I sold it to get a K100 and then recently picked one up again on ebay for a reasonable price, because I wanted to try my hand at shooting film again.

The *ist is the last film camera that Pentax made. It is a small body that feels a little on the flimsy side. Ergonomics are OK as long as you aren't using too big a lens. There is a grip that allows for the use of AA batteries that also allows for portrait orientation when shooting. Shutter is kind of loud. Viewfinder is a pentamirror, but full frame and so feels as bright as current APS-C pentaprisms. Pretty easy to manual focus with it, if you have the inclination.

The camera itself is pretty basic. It has normal Av and Tv and Green modes. No program mode and (of course) no Tav mode. There are several scene modes on the dial. Controls consist of a single dial, AE Lock, a button that changes drive mode (single shot, multiple shot, self timer and remote control), and a button that allows you to do a couple of multiple exposure shots (limited to three shots 1 EV apart).

This camera does control the aperture from the body (not all Pentax film cameras do), allowing one to shoot lenses without aperture rings at settings other than wide open.

Auto focus is pretty decent. I think this shares the same 11 point auto focus that is in the * ist D (11 points). Unfortunately, since it is an APS-C auto focus module, the focus points are clustered really close to the middle. Focus point is easily changed using a joystick on the back. This camera does not have the ability to drive SDM only lenses (DA *16-50, 50-135 and 200 have dual focusing ability and so will auto focus on this camera).

I have been shooting using FA limiteds and DA limited primes for the most part and the size of the camera works well with these lenses.

I would definitely recommend this as a camera for someone who wants to try their hand at film, wants the process automated, wants to use lenses without aperture dials, and doesn't want to spend too much money.

Registered: September, 2008
Location: TN
Posts: 435

1 user found this helpful
Review Date: December 5, 2010 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: $116.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: very small & light
Cons: AF points too close together

Pros very small & light
Cons AF points too close together
Rating 8
Price (U.S. Dollars) $116
Years Owned 2 months

I can recommend this camera: Yes

Value, Features, Performance & Size
Highly customizable, great for people who have their own darkrooms, certainly offers any feature a shooter could desire.

Tiny size makes it a real gem if you will be carrying it long distances. Looks great with FA lenses in silver.

Camera Review
This camera does pretty much anything you could ask of a camera. I really expected to love it. It's so tiny and lightweight, and I bought it to be my carry-around camera that wouldn't weigh my purse down.

It takes lovely pictures, I ran a few rolls through it. I was a bit surprised the first time I opened it, because I'd never used a camera where the film loads from the right and spools to the left before. That was not a big deal, just something that got my attention.

It has lots of customizable features, like whether you want the film completely rewound or with the leader hanging out, so clearly it is meant for both the casual user and the person doing his/her own darkroom work. I was really impressed by all the ways to customize the camera operation, and it was fairly simple to do. (You can, for instance, turn off the focus beep if you are shooting wildlife.)

I did not care for the focal points. They are so close together I ended up just using centerpoint focus, even though I am used to toggling focal points on my K20. There hardly seemed to be a point to toggling with this camera, so I didn't bother, choosing instead to focus and recompose. It made me wonder why it had so many focal points. I also found the option to lock it to centerpoint just weird and redundant--using that means you can't recompose or it will refocus on whatever is now in the center.

I have tiny hands (I wear a size 4 ring) and this camera was a good size for me, but I actually missed having a larger camera. I don't know how a person with larger hands might feel. I liked it in some ways, but it did feel less substantial (but didn't make my purse cut into my shoulder, so that was a good feature overall).

Really, this camera offers everything a person could want in an SLR, and it's small size is a real plus if you will be walking around a lot or wish to carry it with you all the time. I ended up preferring the PZ-1 I also bought, but I can't pinpoint exactly why. I wanted to prefer this camera because it's so small, but we just didn't click.

Here are a couple of photos taken with the *ist 35 mm. The one with the skull is autofocus and the one with the car was my stab at manual focus.
on the farm | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Alas, poor Bessie, I knew her well... | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Junior Member

Registered: February, 2009
Location: Cote D'Azur, France
Posts: 34

2 users found this helpful
Review Date: August 5, 2010 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: $30.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Small size, modern Autofocus
Cons: Consumer features and build

Pros Small size, modern Autofocus
Cons Consumer features and build
Rating 7
Price 30
Years Owned 3

I can recommend this camera: Yes

Value, Features, Performance & Size
Value- if you bide your time you can pick one up for a nominal sum. For the 30 I paid it's amazing value.

Features- Not bad- it has the wired remote socket, dedicated depth of field preview control, three position AF selector switch and viewfinder AF indicators all lacking from the Kx. On th other hand it only has one control wheel(like all pentax film cameras except the PZ-1. The killer feature is the last generation (for a film camera) Autofocus.

Performance. OK- see specs. Being a film camera, it's mostly a matter of film and processing.

Size. Exceptionally small for an AF camera. Significantly smaller than the *istD or Kx

Camera Review
The pentax *ist was largely overlooked at the time of its release since the world was then already moving towards Digital. Even now, this camera is not the most sought after Pentax film camera (the MZ-S and PZ-1p are generally considered the best K mount film cameras). Nevertheless, the *ist has a number of aces up it's sleeve. Firstly, as the last pentax film camera, it has the best Autofocus system of any pentax film camera, which it shares with pentax's first digital camera, the *istD. Indeed, even modern Pentax cameras offer only incremental improvements. Secondly, this camera is extremely small, having been billed at the time of its release as the smallest 35mm SLR.

The camera is not without drawbacks however. In terms of construction, reliability, features and finish this is a cheaper and inferior camera to its sister the *istD, as well as the MZ-S and PZ-1p, which were intended for more demanding professional users. Furthermore, this camera uses the "crippled" KAF2 lens mount (in common with all pentax DSLRs since), which lacks mechanical coupling for the lens aperture ring, depending instead on electronic control from the camera body. This means that older lenses lacking electronic coupling (M42, K, and M lens families) can only meter in the stop-down mode. "A" family lenses with the aperture ring in the "A" position and all more recent lenses (F, FA, DA, DFA) all work as originally intended.

One of the preceding reviews states that the *ist lacks a program mode. This is not entirely true. Although there is no "P" on the mode dial ther is a "standard picture mode" (smiley face) which as far as I can tell is the same thing.

For users looking for a cheap film body for occasional, casual use that works as far as possible like their pentax DSLR and can use all the same lenses, this is a good choice.

For users who require a true film workhorse, this camera is probably not sufficiently reliable or solid.

Lesson learned the hard way

I bought my first *ist after 4 years with my Pentax K10D had given me the confidence and desire to return to film, and develop my own exposures. The *ist uses CR2 lithium batteries (another difference to the *istD, which uses AA pen cells). On the strength of my DSLR habits, I ordered rechargeable lithiums on Ebay. All went well to start with, but after a while the AF went haywire. I bought a replacement *ist, which came with two sets of disposable CR2s, and on an impulse put one set in the old *ist. Lo and behold, the AF worked again, so now I have two *ist film cameras. This is actually quite convenient, since it means I can have two different film speeds loaded.

A note to Buyers
Prices on ebay fluctuate wildly, and "buy it now" prices are generally unrealistic. By biding my time, I have bought two copies of this camera for under 30

Registered: April, 2009
Location: Waldorf, MD
Posts: 1,859

1 user found this helpful
Review Date: June 11, 2010 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: None indicated | Rating: N/A 


However you choose to pronounce it (Eye Ess Tee? Star-Eye-ess-tee? Starist? Ist?) the Pentax *ist 35mm film camera is an astoundingly light and small AF 35mm SLR.

PRO: Size

Designed, I would surmise, as an entry-level 35mm film camera, the *ist is an amazingly small camera. Even with features like a built-in winder, 11-point AF, multiple metering modes and a built-in flash, it's barely larger than an M-series SLR. Without battery grip and a small lens, it weighs about a pound and could fit in a pocket (if you have large enough pockets.) Even with battery grip and a fairly big lens, it's still quite small, and very light.

PRO: Features

The *ist came at the end of the Film era, immediately preceeding the *ist D line of Pentax Digital SLRs. The *ist has features that can be found on many later Pentax cameras:

11-point Autofocus with Center/Select/Auto AF point

Matrix, Center-weighted or Spot metering

Tv, Av, M, and B modes, plus several scene modes and "Auto Picture" mode

Power-up/Power-down Pop-up flash

30s-1/4000 shutter speed range

DoF preview (this is invaluable)

Self-timer, continuous shooting, Multiple Exposures, and Exposure Bracketing drive modes

P-TTL flash metering and compatability with P-TTL flashes

These features, including P-TTL metering, are what compelled me to buy one. It was a film camera that mimicked my K10D in many ways. The feature-list is long, and for such a small camera, very impressive.

PRO: Ease

The *ist has relatively few controls, but they are all very easy to figure out and laid out in a way that makes them easy to understand. About the only hard thing to understand is how to set the aperture in M mode with only one dial on the camera, but the Av button does that, as it does on the single-dial DSLRs. All in all, it's well laid out and everything falls easily to hand. With the battery grip, it's even better, as you get a portrait-mode shutter button and AE-lock control, plus the ability to run AA batteries instead of expensive CR2s.

CON: Lens Compatability

The *ist has a fatal flaw with lenses. If you put a K or M lens, or any third party lens without an A setting on the aperture ring, it will not fire. At all. There is a workaround for this, where you put tape over the lens mount contacts, but it limits you to Av with wide-open aperture only, or stop-down manual mode only. This is annoying, and because of this camera pretty much exclusively, I don't buy lenses older than A-series or similar. Still, if you have an A on the ring, you're golden, and the later aperture-ring-less lenses (even including digital lenses) work just fine.

CON: No Program mode

The *ist has Manual, Tv, and Av, but has no provision for a basic Program mode. This would be very helpful, especially if it was a Hyper Program mode like the PZ-1 or the K10D has. As such, I have to shoot in Av and be careful to choose the right aperture. This is much preferable to the annoying auto-picture modes, which want to deploy the pop-up flash at times when I really don't want to use the flash. The Power-driven Pop-up flash doesn't require the user to put it up, and will even go up without your consent, so you have to be careful. Still, Av is good enough, and beats the silly full-auto modes.

CON: Pentamirror finder

The Pentamirror finder in the *ist is probably one of the big reasons they could make it so small and light. it's a .7x magnification 90% finder, and although it was bright enough I initially thought it was a prism, it's a little darker than my Prism finder cameras, and though I don't notice the crop factor, I must say it's noticeably harder on my eyes with its small size. Not only that, it has some of the worst eye relief of any Pentax camera I've ever seen. If you wear glasses, it's likely you won't be able to see the exposure information unless you take them off. Fortunately, it does at least have a Diopter, so if your glasses aren't too strong you can take them off and adjust.

CON: Construction

This is a minor issue, but I feel it deserves a mention: Though I see no structural flaws or build-quality/durability issues with the *ist, it feels light and plasticky. Light is good, but if you love cameras with a solid feel, this one doesn't offer it. Lightness comes at a cost of a solid feel.


All in all, I love my *ist. I paid $120 for it and it was money well spent. I have a feature-rich, easy-to use, VERY light camera, which when paired with an 18-35mm FA-J lens makes a very competent and light walk-around setup. Unless you absolutely need a faster winder, or the eye relief bothers you, or you just don't like light, plasticky things, or you have a bunch of K and M glass, I would definitely reccomend the *ist to anyone looking for an AF pentax camera.
Veteran Member

Registered: April, 2008
Location: Jakarta
Posts: 1,067

1 user found this helpful
Review Date: May 21, 2010 I can recommend the Pentax *ist: Yes | Price: None indicated | Rating: N/A 


this is my first autofocus 35 SLR. i never knew this thing exist at the first time. until i did some research about which Pentax 35mm SLR has more than one selectable focusing point. Why? because at that moment i was thinking, maybe i can make a better picture if i dont have too focusing and recompose at shooting. silly right? but yes. that was thing which always bogging my mind when i have to shoot 35mm SLR.

i wonder i wish there is some 35 SLR which have 11 point AF that i can select.

and i hit google and pentaxforums. im surprised those feature i want exist in one of Pentax 35mm camera.

about camera, this is the last jewel from Pentax in Autofocus 35mm SLR. i have it second one with mint condition. From a good friend. who managed very good deal for me. very small if you dont have a grip on it. and it still small even with battery grip. pentax did some smart thing while removing top lcd into the back of camera. it chop the dimension drastically. and the 11 AF point is the most luxurious thing you can get here. the focusing is fast, well at least is as fast as my K10D. but because it only use pentamirror, you wont get very big and bright viewfinder. using crippled mount is minus thing too, using old lenses without A, is impossible. you have to stop downed it.

the size and 11 point AF is the plus. combine it wit DA 40 or FA 43, will be very good combination for street shooting.

its quite rare i think. people already looking into digital while this baby being released.

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