Pentax ZX-M SLR Review

Pentax ZX-M with 50mm Pentax-A lens.

The Pentax ZX-M was released in 1997 as part of a new generation of smaller, lighter SLRs. What's unique about the ZX-M (MZ-M in Europe) is that compared to its ZX cousins that were autofocus bodies, the ZX-M is purely manual focus. It's been hailed by some as the modern incarnation of the venerable K-1000. But I like the ZX-M so much better.

I fell into this camera by accident. A very clean model was offered as part of an estate sale for a price too good to pass up (less than $50 with lens). I thought, "What the heck, it's a nice looking little camera." Plus I was attracted by its 50mm f/2.0 Pentax-A optic. As Pentax shooters know, the Pentax-A line of lenses are some of the most versatile mounts, working on practically every SLR the company made.

I put a roll of Fujicolor in the ZX-M and took it on an outing to San Rafael. A week later, when I got the negs and scans back, I was totally impressed by the accurate exposures. This innocent looking SLR has a dead-accurate light meter inside.

Top view of the Pentax ZX-M. Put the exposure dial and aperture ring in the "A" position, and you have full programmed exposure.

Now my curiosity was peaked. I started using the camera more, falling deeper in love with each frame that I shot. Put the lens and the exposure dial in the "A" position, and I have full Program mode. Leave the exposure dial in "A" and set the aperture ring for a f/stop, and I have Aperture Priority. Put the aperture ring in "A" and set the exposure dial to a shutter speed, and I have Shutter Priority. So simple, so effective.

Shutter speeds go up to 1/2000th, allowing me to deal with very bright light. An exposure compensation dial on the left side gives me up to +/- 3 stops, and there's even an depth of field preview button conveniently placed on the right side of the lens.

The ZX-M uses DX-coding to automatically set the film ISO. But unlike many Pentax cameras of its generation, you can override the DX setting by moving the left dial to ISO "up" or "down", then pressing the ML button (memory lock) to change the ISO to any setting you want.

The ZX-M uses readily available CR2 Lithium batteries to power the meter, shutter, and 2 fps motor drive. It won't operate without the cells, so keep an extra set on hand just in case.

I had originally planned to sell this Pentax in TheFilmCameraStore with the other ZX bodies that I have listed there (all of which I've really enjoyed shooting with). But I think I'm keeping this one for myself. 

It's so light, I can take it anywhere, so accurate I can shoot in any lighting, and has everything I need in a bang-around SLR with nothing extra. It's definitely a cool camera.



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