Yard Sale season has started up again, meaning that Spring has finally arrived in 2013. My opening shot doesn't look very spring-like, but believe it or not, this was taken a little less than a month ago.
At one of the several yard sales this past weekend, I was amazed to find another Pentax Zoom-90, identical to the one I already have and like a lot. Aside from needing new batteries, it was in perfect shape, including the leather case, and for $5.00, it became mine. For such little money, I didn't get to thinking that I already have one, so why would I want another. This is a camera that has already proven it's mettle to me, so having twins seemed like a great idea. After getting it home, I transferred the batteries (a pair of CR123's) from my other one, and "yep" - everything worked, so I went to the drug store to buy another pair of batteries and some Kodak Color Plus 200, and I now keep both of these in the car, one with the Kodak ISO 200, and the other with some Fuji Superia ISO 800. I do live an exciting life, don't I?
As much as I love the image quality of these admittedly forgettable looking cameras, I'm learning a bit more about film cameras over time - enough to discuss some of the shortcomings of the Zoom-90. First, it has a small aperture lens (f/3.5 to /7.5 when zooming from 38mm to 90mm), and it struck me rather odd that I've never heard the auto-focus actually doing it's thing - it just seems to be always at the ready. The fact is, with apertures this small, the lens would be in-focus for most any picture anyway, and experience has proven me right - it's more like a fixed-focus mechanism that's always ready. This is not a camera that provides much in the way of selective focusing, except hopefully in it's Macro Mode, which I have yet to try. In Macro, the lens auto-extends all the way to 90mm, and allows focus at 0.6 metres instead of 1 metre. In normal mode, this picture shows pretty much the best it can do, with nice sharpness in the foreground, and a slightly perceptible falling away of focus toward the back:
Sure - there's not much to be had here for creative focussing, but it is an ideal keep in the car camera, especially when you can have two of them for 10 bucks, with one equipped for daylight, and the other for low-light.
Another weak point is the Zoom-90's viewfinder. Although it looks big and bright, it is also very vague, with extreme barrel distortion at the wide (38mm) end. I have to remind myself that I'm not actually looking through the camera lens, and the real picture will not be so distorted. The finder "zooms" from 38 to 90 along with the lens - well, sort of. Actually all that's happening is the magnification factor is changing from 0.47X (wide) to 1.05X (telephoto). Cheap and dirty, yes, but as long as you keep it in your head what's happening here, at least the framing will be accurate. And speaking of... the finder actually has Frame Lines, with a parallax corrected line at the bottom for close-ups. These lines are very bright and thick to the point of being distracting, and I'm never quite sure if I should be framing to the inner edge of the lines or to the outer edge - that's how "fat" the lines are.
The camera is ready almost instantly, as soon as you turn it on, which is really nice, but the zoom motor is slow and noisy, and you will be heard if you're thinking of using this one for street shooting. The film advance motor is not overly loud, but again, it will be heard at close range. It is best to stick with a mechanical fixed lens camera for street shooting.
Compact cameras have certainly come a long way since the Pentax Zoom-90 era, but for one thing - you can be absolutely sure that the Zoom-90 will give you a far, far, right out of the ball-park superior image quality to any Digital Compact, or Camera Phone being sold today. And that's about all the Zoom-90 will do - you just turn it on, zoom the lens if you want to, compose, and press the shutter, without the words "focus" or "exposure" even entering your mind... very nice at 2 for $11.00! If I want a film camera that'll do a lot more creative stuff, and with slightly better picture quality, then I turn to my Canon EOS 650, which was $40 with flash and case. And finally, if I want to make pictures that look like like everybody elses, I get out the Canon Rebel T3i, which I'm finding strangely less an less appealing.