Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pentax Zoom 90 Sample Images

Today's post is a bit overdue. Last month, I bought a Pentax Zoom 90 for $6.99 at the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. I didn't think it to be a desirable item at the time, being one of those late 80's ugly compact 35mm cameras which at first glance seem to abandon all vestiges of classic camera build quality and looks. But it turns out the more I investigated, the more I realized this isn't just another curvy plastic forgettable camera. Furthermore, the results I got from it, using a roll of Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 made me really sit up and take notice. Here is an album of that first roll of film.

Photography is always a matter of personal taste, so many people may find these to be "ho-hum", as they may fail to satisfy the latest itch in digital photographic tricks, or all the great stuff that can be done with Photoshop, etc. The camera also has obvious limitations - it will never be able to capture a great super-telephoto of a Marsh Hawk on the fly. No, the big point here is these pictures represent exactly the kinds of pictures that I prefer, nothing more, nothing less. My preferences are "simple reality". First, I like a photograph to look like a photograph, and as a painter (OK I admit, it has been decades since I last lifted a brush), I know how to emphasize good composition. I'm not particularly interested in Macro shots of flowers, I absolutely loathe HDR, and if I could learn how to do it well, my biggest aspirations are toward decisive moment street photography. Beyond that, nothing else matters for me. I prefer maximum depth of field, strong but totally natural textures, and bold contrast. I like my colours to stand out, but not to the point of ridiculous. With this Thrift Store purchase, I've gained a photographic tool that gives me exactly what I want in fully Automatic shooting mode, and it gives it in droves!  This Pentax Zoom 90 certainly offers more than it's exterior styling would suggest.

In order to get a full fame (35mm) compact digital camera, well, until very recently, such a beast didn't even exist! But now, for close to $3000.00, you could get the new Sony RX-1. Also for $3000, I could shoot and process 300 rolls of film with my Zoom 90. Am I daring to suggest the resulting photographs would be in any way comparable? Well, yes! Look at my purely effortless point 'n' shoot results and judge for yourself - these are fine looking pictures. In it's day, the Zoom 90 was a very premium compact (in spite of it's but-ugly looks) that cost $400 new, and I've seen it mentioned in some discussion forums that it was popular among photo-journalists. I would expect the RX-1 to also be aimed at the professional market.

Perhaps we should do the totally insane thing and look at the basic specs for comparison:

The Sony RX-1:

Full Frame 35mm Digital
35mm Fixed f2 Zeiss Sonnar T Lens (no zoom)
8 Elements in 7 groups
ISO Range 100- 25600
Macro Focus down to 0.2m
Hot Shoe for external flash

The Pentax Zoom 90:

Full Frame 35mm Film
38mm f3.5 Pentax Biogon (Zeiss design), zooms to 90mm
8 Elements in 7 groups
ISO Range 50-1600, depending on film
Macro Focus down to 0.8m
Built in zooming flash

Certainly, the Sony RX-1 is the more desirable camera, with far more features and shooting capability (except for a lack of Optical Zoom), and of course unmatched digital convenience. But the Pentax Zoom 90 is no slouch when comparing the basic specifications that really matter... all I'm doing here is showing how much money you'd have to spend to get a digital 35mm full frame compact camera, and up until now this is the only one that exists. Naturally, I should point out after shooting (300X24= 7200) pictures, you will come out ahead with the Sony. I personally have just over 22,000 filed photographs on my computer, a total which includes a lot of RAW and JPEG duplicates, and also a lot of film pictures, all going back to the year 2003, so a fair estimate might be that in the past ten years I have taken around 10,000 photos.

One thing to keep in mind in conclusion - you are far better off to invest money into several different cameras, instead of just one or two very expensive ones, like this remarkable little full-frame Sony. The best way to accomplish this is to have a few film cameras in your tool kit, and if you ever see a Zoom 90, it's obvious you can't go wrong - buy it!


  1. Nice write up here, Dave. (I wonder if I have one of those Pentax Zoom 90s lying around somewhere...?)

  2. Just bought a Pentax Zoom 90 for € 2.- (appr. $ 3,-) including the camerabag. It seems to be working well, will be shooting the first film soon. Thanks for your review Dave.
    Christian Molter, The Hague (NL)

  3. I wonder how this compares to the (somewhat similar but smaller) Olympus mju zooms. I have a mju II zoom 105 but I wasn't impressed. What I really don't like about almost all these 1990's point & shoot cameras is they insist on firing the flash more often than not, sometimes for no good reasons.

    1. I have the Pentax Zoom 90 and the mju.

      For IQ, the Pentax is in a different league. I don't bother with the mju.


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