Pentax Professional MZ-S
Flagship 35mm SLR Defines Ease of Use, Functionality
BY THEANO NIKITAS • IMAGES BY STEVE TINETTI
"Cirque du Soleil" Flexibility
The MZ-S is out-of-the-box easy to use for basic shooting, with choices of Program, Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, and Manual exposure, as well as Spot, Multi, and Center-Weighted metering—all the standard settings and then some.
The biggest problems we had out of the box were getting used to the tight fit of the film chamber (we had a little trouble loading the first couple of rolls) and not changing the date imprint to blank. We assumed (therein lies the problem) the default was set to "off" and wound up with the date embedded in our first few rolls.
The MZ-S goes beyond the basics, however, and while we're not usually enamored of instruction manuals, we found the accompanying booklet was clear, easy to understand, and opened up a world of advanced shooting options.
It's definitely worth the time to set up the camera's 19 customizable functions before you start shooting. Keep the manual handy for reference, though; without it, you won't be able to figure out what you're setting. Some of the settings probably won't change very often, like enabling or disabling the audible PCV signal. Unobtrusive but clear, the beep lets you know when the image is in focus and when the film count reaches 30, both of which we found helpful.
Although we were initially skeptical about function F2—setting the exposure program line—we made good use of it while shooting with a slow zoom lens (f/3.5-4.5) and slow film (Fuji Velvia/ISO 50). Even though it was a bright, sunny day, the default Program mode wouldn't give us much above a shutter speed of 1/90. That is, not until we adjusted the program line to shutter speed priority. Basically, this function allows you to program the program-default, shutter priority, aperture priority, or to match your specific FA lens. A nice feature when you want to shoot Program, but want at least some control.
The other advanced function we found useful was the ability to customize auto bracketing. F3 allows you to set the number of bracketed exposures (2, 3, or 5). F4 further tailors the feature with a choice of exposure sequence, so you can either start with no bracketing, under exposure, or over exposure. While you might want to change the F3 settings on the fly, it's probably best to leave the sequence setting of F4 to avoid confusion.
Other functions that can be customized include autofocus points (they can be adjusted manually as well), auto exposure, flash (including wireless), data imprinting. The list goes on, with a solid choice of practical settings.
As we mentioned earlier, the MZ-S body is designed to complement its features and functions. With few exceptions, controls are fingertip convenient and quite easy to operate. Although lightweight (the body weighs 18.3 ounces), the camera provides a solid and comfortable grip.
The top panel is slanted, eliminating the need to tilt the camera to read the dials and see the controls. We especially liked the bright LCD panel, which clearly displays current exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, flash
setting, and more. The viewfinder, with diopter adjustment, is bright and clear, making for easy composition and quick reference to exposure.
Although all the controls were, in theory, conveniently located, a few were difficult to access or operate. Even small hands will have a problem changing flash functions, since the button is located in a tight space to the left of the lens mount. One-handed operation of the exposure compensation dial was also tough. Even when we were able to depress the lock/unlock switch and turn the dial at the same time, the dial was stiff and did not move easily from notch to notch. But these are fairly minor quibbles; as always, it's important to try a camera on for size before you buy.
Oh, yes, the camera has a built-in, pop-up flash. The flash is good in a pinch, with decent coverage and accurate exposure. More importantly, however, it can be used as a wireless controller (Pentax has a wireless TTL flash unit-AF360FGZ). There's also a built-in PC connection, so your studio flash will work, as well.