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Pentax P30


I never gave much credit to Pentax, I always found myself drawn to the romance of a Nikon or the functionality technology of a Canon. In the digital era, Pentax NEVER got a look in. Their later era film cameras were poor (outside of the 120 realm), their early entrance into the digital market equally as lacklustre. 

It wasn't until I stopped shooting professionally and reconnected with film years later on a Pentax system given to me by my old headmaster. 

I received a good selection of lenses too which convinced me to explore a Pentax system as my main kit. The P30 represents a gateway drug, dragging me back into shooting film, and boy was I lucky, I never realised that Pentax made such great cameras and lenses.

The P30 has been daily carry for almost a year now, until recently when I have been changing cameras for various projects. It was the reason I bought the Pentax LX. All Pentax bodies are easy to carry anywhere, the P30 was no exception due to its size, weight and durability. 

It's closet to a perfect camera (for me at least) if such a thing exists. Some would say its ugly, I say its retro. I like its looks like a mother loves a son, but it wasn't always the case. 

It was spawned during the peculiar limbo period that took place after manufacturers began moving away from heavy, all-metal manual focus SLRs, but before plastic autofocus cameras became the norm. Technically speaking, the P30 is a unremarkable camera, its design mirrors that of metal, mechanical, manual cameras but is made of gunmetal-hued plastic. As far as Pentax SLRs go, it simply cannot compete with the K1000 which remains one of the most popular SLRs of all time. 

P30 From Above

The P30 might be an underrated, overlooked, mishmash of different eras that I'm sad to say has little in the way of romance style / associated with it. But like my first Canon it inspires confidence; I trust it. It has reliable modern metering (from the late 80/90s), a fantastic loading mechanism, long lasting batteries, dependable electronics, simple viewfinder, the list goes on.

So what can it do? Well forget the big green A and look at the simplicity from above. A simple film number windows joins up with the film advance lever. A solid, easy to use shutter speed selection dial is the only primary control on the top of the camera. Depth of field preview is useful, so is the meter lock button. But apart from the self timer and thats as much as you get and or need. K1000 style.


Rear of the P30

The major let down comes with all the DX Coding business - especially today as I need to push and pull my film speed around more than ever. The automatic DX coding with no override is a pain, but wasn't a disadvantage to the entry level consumers which it was aimed at. Automatic and priority modes were all the range.

More information on hacking the DX coding on film here.

Shutter Speed Dial Selector

However I'm not put off; it was a great starter camera back in the 80s, and was a great starter camera for me in the 00s. An introduction to a world of K1000 simplicity, opulent optics and a professional LX which some believe to be the best manual SLR ever made - rivalling the Nikon F3.

By many photographers the P30 is regarded as Pentax's last good manual-focus SLR, and probably the best available SLR made for the mass market of consumers who wanted great quality photographs without actually having to understand how to use a camera.

But not many sold, it represents an end of an era, with the emergence of auto focus, auto wind on, built in zoom, onboard flash, small, compact cameras. Consumers began to think even the P30 was too complicated, was even too big, maybe even too ugly. 

Who knows, maybe it should have been the last 35mm SLR Pentax ever made.

Either way I'm just glad Mr Evans bought one many years ago. Thanks Mr Evans.

PhotographyJames Stier