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12-19-2008, 07:11 PM   #1
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Hands-On Comparison MZ-5n vs MZ-L(6) vs MZ-S

introduction
i hope this will help anyone considering a MZ/ZX series film body. i used my ZX-5n in New York, had such a great time that i wanted to get another body to use two different films at the same time. i thought the ZX-L would be cool because it seemed like a much different body. then after all this talk about the MZ-S, i got one because i thought it's cheaper than a new DSLR and lighter than a rangefinder that i've been craving for and i can't live without autofocus.

to abbreviate, i've called them the -S, -5n, -L. sorry i've used MZ and ZX interchangeably for the -5n and -L/-6 model.









handling

i always thought the -S looked huge, but then i double looked the k-mount page and the physical dimensions aren't actually that much bigger than the other MZ bodies. i prefer the -5n because it has the smallest grip, but enough that it's easy to grab. the -L has a fatter grip. the -S has the most sculpted grip, however, when i was holding it, it felt kind of sharp and not that rounded off (for me). the -S also has an "indigo" style light. the -S gives a more solid feeling than the other bodies probably due to the magnesium shell body. all three bodies are smaller and lighter than the K100D but i like the K100D's meatier rounded grip but overall i like the -5n best.

viewfinder
according to k-mount page, the -S has a smaller viewfinder than the -5n. observationally, it doesn't seem to be the case. the -S has the informational display at the bottom and is nice and clear. the -5n and the -L have the display jutting in a bit from the right which is kind of distracting. the -S and -5n have pentaprisms that are bright, but the -L has the pentamirror which is a bit dimmer. the eyecup on the -L seems really hard and sticks out, it seems to make it more difficult to see the whole screen (eye relief?). the -S eyecup is soft and cushioned. all have a diopter adjustment.

battery grips
again i like the -5n with the grip the best. for me, the -S grip seems kind of awkward, not sure why. i prefer a lighter camera anyways. but the 4xAA battery source is a better option than 2xCR2. the -5n and the -L grips are the same. funny i have two grips for the -L and -5n, one is made in china and the other in japan.

controls

exposure
-5n is definitely the easiest to use of all, main controls being shutter speed and EV comp dials. super easy. the -L is more like the current DSLRs with the on-board aperture control with the LCD display. the knob around the shutter controls the aperture and a small button beside the MF/AF selector adjusts exposure comp. the -S has really nice controls as well, but not as apparently obvious as the -5n. exposure comp and bracketing is handled by the left dial which rotates inside for bracketing (nice design). the shutter speed can instantly be adjusted by the dial around the LCD and green button to reset. the -S and the 5n share the same requirement of the aperture ring (no DA lenses on Av). all three have an AE-L button. the -L which does not have an explicit Spot Meter (except some strange method through AE-L). the -5n and -S have a metering method selector externally.

drive mode controls
the -5n and -S have a drive mode selector externally. the -L drive mode is done by cycling the drive mode button.

depth of preview
on the -5n and -L is done on a switch right beside the mount. the -S has the same trigger as the DSLRs.

shutter release
every pentax i've used has a two stage click button, but the MZ-S has a mushy one (but you don't have to push all the way to trip the shutter). not sure why that is? after using a roll with this, i actually like it, i won't suddenly move my hand when the button clicks. and the push isn't very far down to release but at the same time still a big difference between AF lock and shutter release.

other "features"
the -L has the useless scene modes too that are not very useful. the -5n has the useless panorama mode. the -S has a hold switch.

autofocus
iirc, none of these cameras have cross points. because of this, sometimes it may help to hold the camera diagonally to hit a focus point. to me the -S seems the fastest the -5n and -L are still decently quick. i think they are all faster than the K100D. i haven't had any focusing problems. all three bodies have an af method selector switch besides the lens mount. there is the auto method and then the center point method.

the -S goes a bit further and has 6 focusing points arranged in an inverted t-shape. to change focusing points, you push the af method selector switch up and then roll the LCD wheel. not the easiest thing to do, i'll just stick with the center point. the points are indicated in the bottom display. the -S has an AF-C setting switch, i don't use AF-C so don't remember if the -5n or -L have it.

"after shutter release noises"
the MZ-S has the loudest film advance. the -5n and -L are quite quiet. none of these bodies have the loud slap that the K100D has. the softer mirror allows better handholding speeds. i can handhold the FA31 at around 1/15, which i can do with the K100D as well.

pop-up flash
the -5n has a weak manual pop-up flash that relies on a mechanical button on the side of the prism. mine needs viagra because it doesn't stay up. this is a common problem. the -L actually has an electronic release and seems to be stronger and can be triggered by the scene modes. the -S has a mechanical release and has a metal linkage and works fine.

in terms of flash functionality, the -S and -L are better beacuse they support wireless and wireless high speed sync modes the old TTL as well as the current P-TTL. although in practice would much prefer to do any strobist work with digital so it's not that important.

pentax functions
the -L and the -S have a variety of pentax functions that you can set, like the Custom functions on the DSLRs. but you need to check the manual to remember what they do.

film roll-in
-5n is the most basic, only choice is to rewind the film all the way back in. the -L has a Pentax Function to leave the leader out. the -S is the best, it can leave the leader out and also resume from where you left off by holding the green button and rolling the wheel to tell it which frame to advance to. (edit: not magic as initially mentioned )

more random comments
-S has data printing like an analog exif
-the difference between the -L and the -5n is pretty staggering, besides the look, they'd hardly be considered similar cameras at all.
-shutter speeds the 5n - 1/2000, -L 1/4000, -S 1/6000
-i'd love to have an MZ-3 to replace the -5n, but they're super hard to find. the only difference seems to be faster shutter 1/4000 and faster flash sync.
-the battery doors on all the cameras are cheap!!!. the -L and -5n are particularly bad because they use a plastic hinge that bends. very gross
-the -S has nice metal rings for your straps
-the -L is made in China, the -5n in Japan. I think the -L feels more solid with more "clicky" controls (maybe it wasn't used as much). the -S is made in Japan.
-if i went on a trip, i would probably take the -L. because the flash works properly and it has the 1/4000 shutter, i like fast iso 400+ film. it's the best compromise of all. and the built-in aperture linkage feels like i'm "hurting" my dear FA limiteds less.


Last edited by k100d; 12-23-2008 at 07:54 AM.
12-19-2008, 07:22 PM   #2
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Thank you very much. I am considering picking up a ZX-L/MZ-6. This confirms some things for me, and I appreciate reading this.

woof!
12-19-2008, 07:32 PM   #3
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Thanks for the review. I've been jonesing for an MZ-S to upgrade my ZX-5n, it was nice to see them side by side. The photos are very helpful. One note on the 5n, you can use da lenses in shutter priority. Just turn the shutter speed dial off A and the camera will select the aperture. Opposite of what I'm used to, aperture priority, but it works. Or keep it on A and go with program, but no quick shift wheel. I don't have a film macro, so sometimes use my da35mm macro on the 5n.
Ryan

Last edited by ryno; 12-19-2008 at 08:09 PM.
12-19-2008, 07:41 PM   #4
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k100d, thanks for the review. You're making me want an MZ-S even more Great write up, and that first picture is pretty cool.

woof, you won't be disappointed with the ZX-L/MZ-6. It's a great camera, and the battery grip helps improve handling if you've got big hands. I second everything k100d said about it. It's served me well for 5 years.

12-19-2008, 09:37 PM   #5
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thanks for the comments appreciate the feedback
i made a bunch of edits to clarify things / clean up some wordings
12-19-2008, 09:41 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by k100d Quote
the -L which does not have an explicit Spot Meter (except some strange method through AE-L). the -5n and -S have a metering method selector externally.
With the MZ-6 you can set it up so that pressing the AE-L will instantly spot meter and lock the exposure. You can then take the picture. If you don't do anything, it will revert back to matrix metering. It's quite elegant to use.

Great writeup and comparison, thank you very much. I have the MZ-S, MZ-6/L and MZ-7.

There are a number features of the MZ-S that I find particularly useful. I'm not trying to steal your thunder, but if you don't mind I'd like to list why I think the MZ-S is a brilliant camera. I won't cover stuff you've already written and obviously these are my reasons for liking the camera and not necessarily anyone else's.

1) Vertical shutter release and DOF preview in the grip. It improves the functionality of the camera 100% over the other 2 cameras. I can now hold the camera more solidly, instead of contorting my hand over the camera when shooting in portrait position. Also extremely useful if you also have a heavy cobra flash on the hotshoe.

2) The slanted top plate. Especially nice if you are using a tripod. You just need to only raise your eyes to see the readings. A brilliant and simple idea.

3) The light illumination button.

a) Extremely useful for checking settings without having to put my eye back on the viewfinder, especially when I am in a dark venue (like a childrens' concert) or setting up my tripod in the predawn when it's almost pitch black.

b) Plus if you have a flash (360/540) mounted on the camera, pressing the illumination button will also light up the display on the flash to tell you the readings. Also very useful, at least for me!

4) With the MZ-6 and MZ-S you can set the built-in flash to act as a controller or CCS when doing wireless flash. I usually have mine set to controller.

5) I actually find the ability to change the focus point quite useful and I can now do it with one hand. I find it particularly useful when doing vertical portraits, when I can set the focus point to easily line up with an eye or bridge of the nose -- useful when your target is a child who moves around a lot.

Tip: When I use portrait lens in the vertical format I sometimes set the focus point to hit the bridge of the nose. I then shoot wide open. This usually means that the zone of crisp focus ends right at the eye and everything beyond immediately blurs into a soft bokeh. Try it... you'll love the results and it's very easy to do because of the way you can set the MZ-S' focus points. I don't know if the camera's designers did this on purpose but it's a brilliant functionality.

6) Ability to change exposure compensation for bracketing by just turning a large wheel with my left hand. I certainly applaud this whenever I am out in cold weather with gloves on.

7) MLU, MLU, MLU, MLU, MLU. I mention mirror lockup so many times because that's how important I think it is.

8) PC Sync port.

9) You can get a screen for the MZ-S that has gridlines etched onto it. It is great for lining up pictures, like making sure your horizons are straight.

10) The battery grip has the IR sensor (for remote control) near the shutter release button. So when you set up the camera in the vertical position it can more easily respond to the remote.

11) Can use the Pentax right angle viewfinder with the MZ-S. (I can't remember the exact model # of my right angle finder).

Thanks again for your analysis.
12-20-2008, 01:06 PM   #7
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just picked mine up, used.



now to read the instructions... cant figure out how to set ISO.
12-20-2008, 01:10 PM   #8
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the battery grip has a selector for Li and LR6 batteries

which category do Eneloops fall under?

12-20-2008, 03:18 PM   #9
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Good write up, I've been thinking of picking up another AF body and found your findings on the MZ-5n and MZ-S pretty useful. The MZ-5n has some definite LX heritage in the top deck, and that's a good thing. Would love an MZ-3 but I'm not sure if that was a Japan-only release or not. Rare as heck.
12-20-2008, 03:29 PM   #10
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Thanks for posting your thoughts and run-through of them, k100d.
And nice pictures to compare


QuoteOriginally posted by tranq78 Quote
11) Can use the Pentax right angle viewfinder with the MZ-S. (I can't remember the exact model # of my right angle finder).
What does this mean ?
12-20-2008, 04:04 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by clawhammer Quote
woof, you won't be disappointed with the ZX-L/MZ-6. It's a great camera, and the battery grip helps improve handling if you've got big hands. I second everything k100d said about it. It's served me well for 5 years.
Thanks clawhammer. I currently have a ZX-M which I use exclusively for M42 - Takumars and such. Use with M42s kind of solves the plastic mount issue, because once the M42 adapter is in place the mount is essentially metal at that point.

In any event, I've missed being able to use AF lenses with the same body that I use with the Takumars, and it involves bringing multiple cameras when I do. I missed it so much I put the split screen from the ZX-M in my PZ-1 and started using that for Takumars and AF lenses.

But the PZ-1 is BIG. That's OK, but I do a lot of things where a small and lightweight camera is a big plus. I immediately started missing the compactness of the ZX-M. It is about the size of a Spotmatic actually, something I am quite used to.

Enter the ZX-6/L. First mod out of the box will be to add a split screen. My understanding is that it throws spot metering off, and there seems disagreement as to whether the variation is linear.

Either way, I am a little on the fence as between a ZX-5n and the ZX-6/L. Anyone care to take a stab at which one I am going to like better?

I'll definitely look into the batter grip.

Thanks again!

woof
12-20-2008, 04:12 PM   #12
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The 5n looks nice with a little silver.
12-20-2008, 08:39 PM   #13
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thanks for the additional comments

QuoteOriginally posted by Jonson PL Quote
What does this mean ?
right angle finder reflects the image so you look down into a tube rather than having to be parallel to the camera

QuoteOriginally posted by Gooshin Quote
the battery grip has a selector for Li and LR6 batteries

which category do Eneloops fall under?
no idea?! did you figure it out? mines had AA alkaline's included and were set at LR6.

QuoteOriginally posted by woof Quote
But the PZ-1 is BIG. That's OK, but I do a lot of things where a small and lightweight camera is a big plus. I immediately started missing the compactness of the ZX-M. It is about the size of a Spotmatic actually, something I am quite used to.

Either way, I am a little on the fence as between a ZX-5n and the ZX-6/L. Anyone care to take a stab at which one I am going to like better?
i agree with you on the PZ-1 size, too big for me to consider.
as to the ZX-5n vs ZX-6, if you like the spotmatic and ZX-M, you'll probably prefer more classic controls and i'd suggest the ZX-5n. it's basically the same layout but with AF functions and more metering capabilities.

QuoteOriginally posted by ryno Quote
The 5n looks nice with a little silver.
that is sweet! but where's the FA43? that's been my favourite on film so far.
12-20-2008, 10:30 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by woof Quote

But the PZ-1 is BIG. That's OK, but I do a lot of things where a small and lightweight camera is a big plus. I immediately started missing the compactness of the ZX-M. It is about the size of a Spotmatic actually, something I am quite used to.
I totally agree with you there. switching between my K10D w/battery grip and my ZX-L w/battery grip is a total shift in size. I took the ZX-L through a canyon in Zion's National Park, and it was just the right size to fit in an Imlay Keg. I kept it protected so it didn't really get a test of ruggedness. I shot about 30 frames of velvia, while my brother shot about 900 shots with his a700, and we both got about the same amount of keepers

PS: Ryno, I have those same placemats!
12-21-2008, 08:42 AM   #15
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The placemats are hand-me-downs from the folks.
I was just in Utah a few months ago.

Me super with a M 35mm f2
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