Pentax MZ-50 SLR Camera

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This page hasn't been updated for a while, but I keep getting many requests for the MZ-50/ZX-50 manual. The manual exists in downloadable PDF form (you need the free Acrobat Reader) and can be found at.... http://www.pentaximaging.com/customer_care/manuals_literature/show_manual  with the item being ZX-50 about halfway down the page. It's at http://www.pentaximaging.com/files/manual/ZX50.pdf and is about 2.3 megabytes in size and is a fairly poor scan of the manual, it may be hard to read in places. Apologies as Pentax has changed their layout and old link previously shown didn't work. Or start here http://www.pentaximaging.com/customer_care/manuals_literature to look for manuals or order a printed version of the manual.
Better pdfs of manuals can be found here http://www.butkus.org/chinon/pentax.htm

This camera is also known as the Pentax ZX-50 in USA. It is currently the cheapest and simplest of the auto-focus cameras in the Pentax single lens reflex range. All over the world it seems to be very cheap and there is no real advantage to buy it out of your country, buy it locally and get a local warranty. It must be the Pentax SLR price leader to get people into their system. Often it comes with a Sigma or Tamron lens package but try and buy the Pentax lens instead. The Pentax 28-105 is a great lens but the Pentax 28-80 is far cheaper and suitable for a beginner. To make an all-in-one super light travel camera, then consider the new Tamron XP 28-200mm lens with the MZ-50.

This page is written in order to let people know what I think of the camera, keeping in mind that I use all Nikon gear, so have something substantial to compare it against. After not using for some time, I came back to it for print film when I have my Nikons tied up with slide film and B&W film. The MZ-50 is really a nice camera to use, everything is simple and makes sense and it works surprisingly well. I know of a renowned nature/landscape photographer here in Australia who uses the MZ-50 and 20-80 lens with Fuji Velvia and is very happy with his results. He likes its weight, or rather, the lack of it, makes walking easier.

It is a simple to operate SLR with the minimum necessary functions, but all those functions work well. It can be used as a "point & shoot" by setting to the "green" mode and shooting. The "green" mode sets the best aperture/shutter speed combination for the circumstances, taking into account ambient light, film speed and lens focal length. There are the usual portrait, landscape, close-up and action modes provided as well as the green mode. The camera can also be used in shutter priority mode (1/2000 sec to 30 sec, same shutter speed range for auto or manual operation, except that manual also has Bulb mode), aperture priority mode and metered manual mode. Exposure compensation can be applied, +/- 3 EV in 1/2 EV steps. The ISO film speed can be manually set.

The pop-up TTL flash has four modes - always fires, red-eye reduction, automatic flash, red-eye reduction plus automatic. I have successfully used the pop-up flash to fire a pair of Nikon TTL flashes using a Nikon remote TTL controller and the results were fine. The pop-up flash is fairly small so the shadows can be a bit harsh and the chance of red-eye is high as is usual with any camera with a pop-up. Some lenses will shadow the flash and cause dark spots at the bottom of the frame particularly at close focus, the manual warns which lenses may offend. The guide number of the flash is nothing amazing, so plan to use ISO 400 film for any flash work.

The lens needs to be the type where the aperture ring locks to the "A" position, it cannot operate successfully with the aperture ring used for aperture selection. In the modes where aperture selection is needed (aperture priority and metered manual) then the select switch that is around the shutter button is used to alter the aperture. The operation can be auto focus or manual focus selected by a switch on the camera body. When in manual focus the focus rangefinder is still active in the viewfinder. Some of the Pentax FA lenses have a zoom motor in them, this camera does not use that zoom motor. The lens mount in this camera is plastic, for amateur use this is quite OK, as lenses don't get changed thousands of times in a year.

The auto focus is single centre spot so you may have to half press the shutter to focus on the subject, then recompose the shot and fire. The metering is centre weighted and works very reliably for print film. Maybe the metering may be too simple for slide film, unless you use the camera in metered manual mode and take a reading off the main subject or area of interest and use that setting to take the shot probably using a different composition which, in auto mode, may have given a different exposure.

The drive mode switch has three options - single shot per shutter button press, multiple shots while holding the shutter button and self timer operation where the shutter fires 12 seconds after the shutter button is pressed.

Things the camera doesn't have - no multiple exposure mode, no exposure lock, no depth of field preview, no bracketing of shots, although that can easily be achieved with the +/- compensation operation. The depth of field preview can be achieved with cheat mode that is slow but works OK - turn the camera off, move the lens aperture ring away from "A" to the desired aperture to test, press the lens unlock button and partially rotate the lens as though to remove it, part way through this movement the aperture will close down to the one selected on the aperture ring, keep a hold on the lens as if you move it a bit further it will come out. When satisfied with the preview, turn the lens back to home position, set the aperture ring back to "A", and turn the camera on and, in aperture priority mode, select the aperture you previewed. It takes a much shorter time to do than talk about it. Exposure lock can be achieved only by using metered manual mode, meter the scene or important object and make the appropriate aperture and shutter settings, then re-zoom, recompose, re-focus and shoot.

Things it does have - nice and light and small, very fast auto focus with the Pentax 28-80 lens we bought with it, simple to operate, can be used auto or manual (I use it aperture priority mode like I do the Nikons).

It uses two of the small CR2 lithium batteries but if you wish to go to AA batteries there is a battery holder that screws on the base to hold four AAs. That makes the camera a bit bulkier and heavier but it then uses cheap batteries available everywhere. I use re-chargeable alkalines when I use that battery holder so the battery cost per film is low.
Warning: I have found that the batteries will slowly die even when the camera is switched off. If leaving the camera unused for more than a few days, it is best to pop out the batteries. On a holiday when used every day, the batteries will last maybe 25 films, when used intermittently and left for weeks unused then the batteries may last only 5 films or worse. The same thing happens with the Nikon F80, so it is a feature of all modern electronic cameras to drain the batteries slowly even when switched off.

The conclusion is that it is a convenient SLR that does everything that is normally needed to take a photo. There's no tricks to it and everything works just fine. Highly recommended. I also think that if my Nikon gear was lost I would walk into the nearest store and buy one of these to keep going with.

If you bought this camera and then later decided to go and buy something more up market, then it would be an ideal camera to keep as a spare or for the kids to learn on.

At this point I can hear the old argument that beginners should always start on a manual camera. That, in my opinion, is a load of bull. A beginner should start on a camera that allows them to get successful shots, not to be frustrated by bad shots due to wrong settings.

The main point of photography is to take photographs, a lot of people have forgotten that fact. And a lot of people just want to take photographs without worrying about the technical mumbo jumbo. In the case of this camera, it can be set to manual to get more control and has the advantage that the metering appears in the viewfinder. You can zoom and meter and set the shutter/aperture then un-zoom and focus and compose and shoot, all without taking your eye from the viewfinder.

My wife is the one who chose this camera mainly because the usual Minolta/Canon/Nikon offerings didn't feel secure in her small hands. Since then she has tried the Nikon F100 and rates that as a secure to hold camera, luckily it wasn't released earlier! To make the outfit complete we bought the remote release cable so night shots can be done on the tripod without disturbing the camera and we also bought the Pentax 80-320 lens. All up it makes a nice light camera outfit that easily fits in the smallest LowePro Nova 1 camera bag.


My mean and lousy scanner shot of the MZ-50 top deck.
I just placed the camera on my flat bed scanner, too mean to take a real photograph!

The top deck layout is simple. The shutter button is surrounded by the Select Lever to flip either left or right for selecting program, altering aperture etc when some selection is called for. The LCD panel is shown below.

The knob on the right can be turned to....
 

PICT picture mode, the automatic program mode operation, selected by the select lever.
ISO Set can manually set ISO in the range 6 to 6400 and DX auto set from 25 to 5000.
Tv Time value, shutter priority, the select lever alters the shutter speed and the aperture is automatically set.
Av Aperture value, aperture priority, the select lever alters the aperture value and the shutter speed is automatically set.
M Manual metered mode, the shutter speed is altered by using the select lever and the aperture is altered also by the select lever if you hold in the Av button on the back of the camera behind the LCD. The viewfinder shows the scene's metered value and you select suitable shutter and aperture values to get the settings to match the meter value, much quicker to actually do than to talk about.

The lever under the right hand knob can be turned to...
 

Single shot. One shot per shutter button press.
Consecutive shots. Keeps shooting while you keep the shutter button pressed. Maybe two frames a second, depends on flash re-charge time, auto-focus time and shutter speed in use.
Self timer mode. The camera fires after 12 seconds. Don't forget to block the eyepiece with the plastic clip or by draping a black cloth over the eyepiece to stop auto exposure being affected.

On the side of the camera near the back latch is a mid roll rewind button.
Exposure compensation in auto modes is selected by pressing the +/- button (same button as Av) on the back of the camera and using the select lever. Range is +/- 3 stops in 1/2 stop increments. It doesn't reset after the shot or after turn off/on. There is a +/- warning sign in the LCD to remind you it is active.
On the front of the camera surrounding the lens mount are the lens mount latch button, the Manual/Auto focus select switch, a socket to plug the remote release cable into (recommended to buy) and a dual purpose button to turn on/off the beep (indicating in focus achieved) and if the flash is active then it becomes the flash mode selection button.



Entirely without permission I have copied the following from the camera manual...

Page 6 of the English language MZ-50 manual (Australia)

This gives bit of an idea of what you see on the top deck LCD panel. The smiley face is the green mode that is the best thing to start with when you first take photos, from there you can read the book and try the other program modes, or get more involved and use aperture or shutter priority or metered manual modes. Shutter speed will indicate from 1/2000 to 30 sec in half steps and "bu" for bulb. Shutter speed reads as stepless in the specifications even though the readout shows discrete half step indications. The aperture value moves in half stops and changes with the zoom action so you are getting the real aperture indicated. The beep can be easily turned off if you want to be more inconspicuous. The exposure counter stays when the camera is switched off.



Page 7 of the English language MZ-50 manual (Australia)

The autofocus area is the small bracket in the centre of the viewfinder. Shutter speeds and apertures are the same as in the top deck LCD, the exposure bar graph shows how much over or under the current metered value you have set the camera either by exposure compensation or when in metered manual mode. The bar graph shows +/- 3 EV in 1/2 EV steps.
The area the exposure meter covers is not indicated in the manual, from magazine reports it appears that the "two zone" system consists of a centre small circle, almost as small as a true spot meter that probably gives 75% of the exposure weighting and the surrounding rest of the frame gives the other 25%. For metered manual mode just assume the important meter area is not much bigger than a circle around the auto-focus brackets.


Even more scanning...

Page 92 of the English language MZ-50 manual (Australia)

Page 93 of the English language MZ-50 manual (Australia)

The flash-sync-speed mentions "1/100 sec. to a slower speed". With experimenting with the flash on I found that in low light conditions in Picture Mode (any of the canned programs) or in Aperture Priority mode the shutter will only set in the range max 1/100 (max sync speed) down to a speed related to the focal length in use. That is between 1/30 and 1/100 for a 28mm setting, between 1/60 and 1/100 for a 50mm setting and at 1/100 for 100mm and longer setting. This is done to try and prevent camera shake in the background lit by the ambient lighting.

If you really need to get a dimly lit background correctly exposed then you have to go to Shutter priority or Metered Manual mode where you can select any shutter speed between 30 seconds and 1/100 when the flash is on. Of course camera shake may be a problem so use of a tripod may be called for.


The next models up in price and specifications for the amateur market are...
Pentax MZ-6 (now supersedes the MZ-7) which is a smarter and better feature loaded camera. The MZ-6 now appears to have depth of field preview. I suspect that MZ-6 is all you need if getting very serious about photography.
Pentax MZ-5n which has a more "manual" approach to the settings and uses dials to set features and shutter speeds, but has the better auto-focus and metering similar to the MZ-6. It also has Depth of Field Preview which is nice to have if getting very serious or doing work with a wide aperture lens or doing macro.
The MZ-30 is in there somewhere but it is very close to the MZ-50 in features.
The MZ-6 or 7, -10 and -5n can use older lenses that don't have the "A" setting on the aperture ring.
Of course in USA the equivalents are ZX- whatever.

any comments or corrections, please e-mail me on