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01-22-2010, 09:07 AM   #1
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Pentax PZ-1P

Last night I stumbled across a Pentax PZ-1P in the case at the local used-camera mart. The price? It had been marked down from $199 to the princely sum of $49. Needless to say, the camera came home with me.

I had never been particularly drawn to this model -- I have had an earlier SF-10 which was an ergonomic/interface nightmare, and I also have an MZ-S that I adore as the pinnacle of camera interface design. The PZ-1P seemed more like the SF-10 than the MZ-S, so I never sought one out. However, it is a much recommended camera body. The fan base for the PZ-1P seems particularly rabid, so for $49 I was willing to find out what the fuss was about.

My initial reaction is both very good and very bad.

The good:
  • Super sturdy build (even though it's plastic)
  • Fast
  • Can I say again --- FAST!
  • Good ergonomics on the grip
  • Lovely viewfinder display that is bright and very informative, without being cluttered

The bad:
  • Terrible modal interface with one knob to choose different functions
  • Power switch is a nasty slider that is hard to reach and blocked by a mounted flash
  • Ugly as sin -- it looks like a leftover prop from the 1st Terminator movie

The PZ-1P is clearly of the same camera generation as the Nikon F90x/N90s. These two bodies actually seem like fraternal twins -- they look different, but inside they are very similar. Both offer brutally fast single-point auto focus, and both work best when left in Program mode. I do prefer the exposure-compensation controls on the PZ-1P -- they fall nicely to finger tips. The PZ-1P and the N90s both have a cracking good shutter (1/250 sync speed) and inspire confidence with the subdued "Thwak" sound of the shutter/motor drive. Both cameras, when put into continuous motor drive mode, burst though frames with no hesitation and sound like a machine gun. (The sound of the MZ-S is my only disappointment with that camera -- the shutter/motor drive has an anemic wheeze with no satisfying "thunk" at all.)

The viewfinder of the PZ-1P is reasonably large and bright. I don't know if it's my camera, or all PZ-1Ps, but my viewfinder suffers greatly when my eye is not perfectly aligned. (I do wear glasses.) It's as though the whole viewfinder is very unsharp, until I can get my eye perfectly aligned, and then the viewfinder is sharp. This is much less forgiving than either the MZ-S or the Nikon N90s -- both of which are immediately sharp, and invite me to stay looking through the finder and examine all areas of the frame at my leisure.

Obviously, i haven't put any film through the camera yet so I don't have any comments about real usability in the field, or the results given by the metering and autofocus systems. I expect that the PZ-1P will perform superbly however.

So my initial reaction -- I have gained a great deal of respect for the PZ-1P. It is a formiddable camera, solid, top specced, and nice to hold. It suffers for me when I actually look at it (I know, such a shallow way to judge a camera!) and when digging into the interface to control the camera. The MZ-S has kept it's place at the top of the heap in my mind.

01-22-2010, 09:53 AM   #2
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Congrats! $50 for a PZ-1p is not bad at all. I have been shooting a PZ-1 for the last 3 years as my primary and love the interface. I will agree with the on/off switch with a flash mounted. I find myself mostly using HyperProgram as it lets me switch between shutter and aperture priority seamlessly. The three pluses of the P model are the shutter pre-fire, improved AF, and increased drive speed. Not quite enough to make the switch for me, but I think you will love the balance and functionality of the camera. I have bigger hands, so that grip is great for me, and the camera just feels solid.
01-22-2010, 10:09 AM   #3
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I bought a used PZ-1p last year to see what older Pentax film cameras were all about (I had always shot Minolta film equipment in the past). I've been delighted with it and although I still try to chimp after I shoot (why didn't they put a LCD on film cameras?), I've enjoyed it's handeling and controls. After reading the manual about 4 times to get my head around it's controls, my only complaint is that the panoramic switch is in a weird place and kind of hard to use with my wrist strap inplace. I'm with Pete on using the HP mode.

It's a nice switch from my K10/20d cameras.
01-22-2010, 05:02 PM   #4
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OP, nice review. I have had my PZ-1 for almost a year. I really like it. Its ergonmics work for me. I have the SF-1n too and I agree that its ergonmics really lacks; however both cameras are built like bricks. I found that I get used to the SF-1n after a while. Problem is I switch to other bodies and I then forget how to easily use the SF-1n. I guess I have too many cameras.

01-25-2010, 09:27 AM   #5
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it also eats expensive batteries very quickly but has the ability to use DA lenses due to its in body aperture control. personally the body is too ugly and large imo but is a great deal functionally compared to the MZ-S.
01-25-2010, 12:54 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by k100d Quote
it also eats expensive batteries very quickly but has the ability to use DA lenses due to its in body aperture control. personally the body is too ugly and large imo but is a great deal functionally compared to the MZ-S.
Is there something wrong with using rechargables in this camera?

EDIT: Thank goodness for Amazon reader reviews. Not buying this one (on eBay or elsewhere)
http://www.amazon.com/Juice-Rechargeable-Photo-Lithium-Starter/dp/B000BOLJ28

Last edited by cheekygeek; 01-25-2010 at 01:23 PM.
01-25-2010, 05:01 PM   #7
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i don't think i've seen any reliable rechargeable lithium batteries for film cameras but i could be wrong
01-26-2010, 12:12 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by cheekygeek Quote
Is there something wrong with using rechargables in this camera?

EDIT: Thank goodness for Amazon reader reviews. Not buying this one (on eBay or elsewhere)
Amazon.com: Juice 2CR5 Rechargeable Photo Lithium Starter Kit: Health & Personal Care
I've never even heard of a 2CR5 rechargable. The rechargable lithium thing is still a newer technology so it may get better, but I've used mabye 3 batteries in 3 years, so the disposables are not an issue. I've heard a lot of people complaining about battery life, but I shoot a couple rolls a month and some astro (read long exposure) and haven't had that issue.

01-26-2010, 03:05 AM - 1 Like   #9
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I always found the PZ-1p to be a very competent performer. I loved its speed (had one since its release)and AF was astonishingly good. Somehow Pentax wasn't able to improve that until the K-m/K2000 came out - that at least is my subjective perception.

The plastic shell of the PZ1-p body is build around a steel frame, quite like the K10/K20 and as such is very robust. It never let me down and matched up nicely with the FA 28-75/2.8 as my kit zoom. One way to improve handling is to add the grip, which sports a hand strap as well. I used one of these (expensive) grips as a base for a rechargeable battery pack in order to get rid of these lithium batteries. It worked out nicely, though the whole thing got quite bulky and heavy.

I only had an MZ-S for a short time and found it nice, but not really an improvement over the PZ1-p. Yes, I liked the much quieter action, but AF wasn't really faster and fps were also not improved. Nothing to compare with the wizzing of the MX and LX motor drives... Perhaps fps were limited by Pentax, because the AF couldn't perform adequately?

Ben
01-26-2010, 02:15 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ben_Edict Quote
One way to improve handling is to add the grip, which sports a hand strap as well. I used one of these (expensive) grips as a base for a rechargeable battery pack in order to get rid of these lithium batteries. It worked out nicely, though the whole thing got quite bulky and heavy.
I didn't know there's a battery grip for the Pz-1(p), I thought there's only a "FDP Grip Strap" that doesn't have battery inside. Do you have more info. on this? I'd be interested in getting one eventually.
01-26-2010, 04:14 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by SquintyEyes Quote
I didn't know there's a battery grip for the Pz-1(p), I thought there's only a "FDP Grip Strap" that doesn't have battery inside. Do you have more info. on this? I'd be interested in getting one eventually.
Your thought is correct, it is only a grip with hand strap - no batteries. I did the battery conversion myself as a DIY project (with the help of a local machine shop).

Ben
02-01-2010, 07:26 PM   #12
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I used to have two PZ-1 beauties, but I sold one a few years back. The one I still have has the grip strap which helps handling immensely. I just wish pentax would allow for a grip strap that could attach from the grip to the body without having to use the tripod mount (K20 and the like); it is so much easier to have the camera "hang" off your hand than around your new neck, wrapping the neck strap around your wrist. As with the flash attached, I must be alone on this one, but with the AF500ftz flash my thumb fits nicely between it and the on/off switch. This is another wish I have: pentax moving the flash mount back to the right; this always seemed to balance the camera much better than a top-mounted one. I know if my K20D was laid out like this I wouldn't have much to complain about, though a little faster fps would have been nice...not ready to upgrade to the K-7 for just that However, I have always found the camera to be a solid performer, and the manual wasn't too bad to get through; it was/is a nice camera to learn and experiment with, and the shutter sound will always turn heads...in a good way

Last edited by dlongstaff; 02-10-2010 at 10:57 AM.
02-03-2010, 05:07 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by filmamigo Quote
The PZ-1P is clearly of the same camera generation as the Nikon F90x/N90s. These two bodies actually seem like fraternal twins -- they look different, but inside they are very similar. .

The Pentax and the Nikon is more similar than you think: they share the same shutter unit.

The (P)Z-1p is the one Pentax camera I never warmed to. I don't miss it...
02-03-2010, 05:13 PM   #14
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What I wonder, is if that camera will suck batteries while sitting idle. It seems a pretty ideal backup, but would need to be reliable just on standby.
02-04-2010, 02:22 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Pål Jensen Quote
The Pentax and the Nikon is more similar than you think: they share the same shutter unit.

The (P)Z-1p is the one Pentax camera I never warmed to. I don't miss it...
Wow ... that's facinating. How do you know this? (Not doubting you, just hoping you are in a position to share more interesting stories or facts from behind the scenes!)
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