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Pentax MZs

Pentax came back into the Philippines care of a local distributor (Sanly) with a line-up that caught my attention: the MZ series. Two features especially stood out for me; they were small and the top and bottom models (the MZ-5 and the MZ-M) both had dials. As soon as I was able to sell off the P30t, I bought myself the MZ-M and soon exploded in creativity.*


Largely ignored in the autofocus dominated world, the MZ-M was positioned as the replacement of the K1000 (Pentax stopped producing the K1000 after 20 years in 1997 the same year they began production of the MZ-M). It seamlessly and intuitively went from manual to automatic exposure even with my decades old lenses (A 35-70/4 and the K 135/2.5) with a turn of the knob. No strange rituals like the Canon AE-1 when switching to manual mode; you simply turned the aperture ring to “A” to obtain Tv mode or the shutter speed to to “A” to achieve Av mode; put both on “A” and you have Program mode. Take both of “A” and you have full manual. Piece of cake.

It was as if the MX morphed into something befitting the 21st century. Working with both the MX and the MZ-M feels like I was working with the same model—I knew where the knobs were and things turned the way I knew they would. My learning curve with the MZ-M, and later the MZ-5n, was virtually flat.

Soon after, at the turn of the millennium, I would acquire its improved top of the line sibling, the MZ-5n: it has autofocus and a built-in flash (though it was largely useless for me) plus little niceties like spot-metering option and panoramic masking. The similarities were so astute that it was a brainless exercise for me to switch between cameras and intuition taking over to guide me in the difference. I was ready to take on professional assignments.


I would soon shoot a wedding and by some stroke of luck, the MZ-M suffers a glitch: its motor rewound the film by itself after 2 shots (I lost 2 rolls in the process since it wound the film tongue in). By coincidence, the P30n was sitting in the gadget bag. Quickly calling it in for a substitution, it served as the alternate camera to the MZ-5n (remember it had problems with the winding crank). It performed flawlessly alongside its AF sibling without once the winding issue bothering me, but the intensity of the event must have punished it. While it produced some of the best photos of that wedding, it was also its swan songit died completely soon after.

The MZ-M goes in for a CLA and comes back good as new (although I would learn that it was common among the MZs to suffer that kind of failure with the motor). I would sell that particular MZ-M to raise funds for the Pentax *ist DS. Although I would later realize that James liked it so much that I would pick up another one after. The MZ-5n would get an upgrade when an opportunity came along and I now have an MZ-3 (virtually the same but with 1/4000 maximum shutter speed).

* As of January 2008, the Pentax Photo Gallery has 10 entries for the Pentax ZX-M (as the MZ-M is called in the US market) and 8 of which are mine.


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