RIP Pentax MZ-50 SLR

My favorite film camera died.

I was near the end of a photo walk in Seattle when I spotted a guy with a dj setup on a rickshaw type of cart. I turned and framed the picture, pressed the shutter, and CLUNK! the mirror flipped up and didn’t come back down. The battery-low warning flashed and the shutter button wouldn’t do anything at all.

I don’t think it’s the batteries. There was no sign that they were low earlier in the day. And the little screen on top shows up just fine and I can change the functions from fully programmed to portrait or sports. But the film won’t rewind and the mirror remains flipped up and jammed and the shutter won’t fire. Anyway, the CR-2 batteries cost $30 and I’m almost certain they won’t help, so I’m not going to buy them.

Last time this camera failed on me it was some kind of internal motor that gave out. That was about 2 years ago. The part cost $25 but the labor was over $150… on a camera I was told wasn’t worth anywhere near that much. Oh, and they threw away my brand new batteries and charged me $15 for new ones that didn’t last very long.

I think it might be the same motor problem again.

I got this camera in February of 1999 at a store called Mega Vandle! Other people were buying point and shoot APS cameras which were very popular in Japan. I don’t think digital cameras were available yet, or if they were, they weren’t much good. I didn’t have a computer back then anyway. I wanted a “real” camera and I felt like I got a really good deal – 56,000 yen for the camera and 2 lenses! (at that time $US1 was about 100 yen, so that makes the cost about $5-600) The original price on the body was 50,000 yen, with the lens going for 76,000 and 81,000 yen. So the expensive lenses were basically free! Of course this is the way they sell mediocre lenses, bundled with camera bodies. I didn’t know anything about lenses back then.

I was thrilled with the camera and loved being able to take pictures with sharp focus and blurry backgrounds – no more wide angle shots with a lot of depth of field, unless that’s actually what I wanted! I hardly ever used the long lens but the 28-80mm lens was great. I loved the sound of the shutter and turning the lens to zoom.

Of course I didn’t use the SLR all the time. When I went to China in May 1999 I took my crappy point & shoot and left my expensive SLR at home. I didn’t want to look like a rich foreigner. I took about 10 rolls of film in China and the pictures were pretty good, even after I dropped the camera in the Forbidden City. Crunch! Just a few pictures lost and some interesting light leaks for a few frames, then she was good as gold. I was glad I didn’t have my good camera with me – dropping it would have been a disaster! Plenty of time since then I’ve chosen to leave the SLR at home just because it was too bulky or too expensive looking, or because I was worried it would be damaged.

I got my first digital camera in the US in 2004. Actually the Fuji Finepix just recently went to the thrift store. It was a good little camera that I eventually outgrew. I miss its small size and integral lens cap, but it didn’t have any manual functions. There were lots of fun experimental things I wanted to do with long exposures and motion blur that I couldn’t do with it, which is why I bought the Olympus XZ-1 – a small camera that can stand in quite well for a dSLR.

But anyway, back to the SLR… In late 2009 I embraced my inner photo geek and started learning about aperture and exposure and all that, so I pulled out my old SLR with the thought that I could get a nifty fifty (50mm lens) for it. I put in a new battery, took a couple of pictures, and then the darn thing stopped working! I decided to get it fixed because it seemed wrong to throw away a perfectly good camera when there are still a few people out there who can fix them. (Now that it’s broken again I concede that it’s NOT a good camera!)

The camera repair people told me that Pentax autofocus cameras were just not very good. Their old manual focus cameras were great and the new digital cameras are good too, but in between Pentax built crappy cameras. What a bummer!

I gave up on the plan to get more lenses for it. Not much point if the camera body isn’t good. I wouldn’t buy an autofocus Pentax again. And I’m not clear on whether the lenses would work with a Pentax digital camera – I guess some of them only work as manual focus lenses. I don’t know. And I don’t really want to buy a Pentax digi-cam anyway! These kit lenses I have are nothing to write home about anyway. They are not “fast” lenses – the maximum aperture is nowhere near as wide as I would like.

My plan is to freecycle the camera body to someone who likes to tinker. Do you know anyone? I’ll contact a camera store and see whether the lenses are worth selling. If they’re not worth the trouble I will donate them. I haven’t decided about the film that is stuck in the camera. I only took 9 shots and I can hardly remember what they were of. Certainly nothing important! I think a few are of the blue trees at Westlake Park and the rest are of Luly Yang’s window displays, both of which I have other pictures of. I could get the photo shop to try to rewind it in a dark bag, but I’m really not sure it’s worth the trouble. I think I’ll let those shots go.

Now I get to think about what new kinds of cameras I might buy! Right now I’m thinking about a Blackbird, Fly (a twin lens reflex “toy” camera) and a Fisheye 2 from the Lomography store. I was considering a Diana F+ but I saw it in NZ and it was quite a bit bigger than I had thought. It also has a lot of accessories and parts (good and bad) and produces “lo-fi, dreamy pictures” which I take to mean that they are out of focus. hmmm… I’m also thinking about a Lomo LC-A+ which is a better quality “toy” camera, which is a classic and gives you pictures with vignetting in the corners – the effect I most often add digitally.  Check out my wishlist on pinterest for pix and links.

And I want to get an iPhone. One of the new ones with a good camera.

Yeah, it always comes back to wanting an iPhone!


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