Pentax P30 camera review

This is my review of the classic Pentax P30 35mm manual focus slr which was manufactured in Japan in the mid to late 1980’s.

Pentax P30

Pentax P30 35mm camera fitted with Soligor 28mm C/D lens

Of all the 35mm film cameras which I own there are two which are in reasonable condition and would still give good results. A Canon  EOS 300, and this camera a Pentax P30.

I happen to know the antecedence of this camera because my sister, my brother and I clubbed together to buy it as a retirement present for my father when he finished work about 25 years ago. He has always been interested in photography, but could never afford to buy a decent camera so when he finished work we thought it would be an ideal present for him. By memory it cost about £250 which was a lot of money, but at the time it was a top of the range enthusiasts camera. I remember thinking at the time, that to own a Pentax was the pinnacle  of an amateur photographers aspirations. The only other camera which I would have wanted to buy would have been a Nikon. I guess those thoughts are what influenced my decision to by a Pentax K200D a few years ago when I bought my first DSLR and then stick with the Pentax brand ever since. A few months ago my father gave the camera to me since he knows I collect vintage cameras, and he doesn’t get out enough these days to take many pictures.

The P30 is a 35 mm camera which must have been made in the mid 1980’s. The example I have is fitted with a 50mm F1.7 lens which attaches to the body with a K-mount bayonet connection. This is the same type of connection (now with enhancements) that my K-5 has, and I can fit the lens onto the K5. Of course the K-5 is an APS-C sensor camera so the lens acts as a 75mm on the k5, which makes it a good, fast portrait lens. The shutter range is 1/1000 to 1 sec with a B setting and flash sync at 1/100. The camera has program mode exposure control which sets both the aperture and shutter speed, and metered manual mode which means you get an indication in the viewfinder of the correct exposure when you adjust both the shutter and aperture. In this mode you have control of depth of field, motion blur etc by adjusting the correct combination of shutter/aperture.

The viewfinder in the P30 is brilliant. I think it’s better than the viewfinder of my K-5, certainly brighter and because the P30 is manual focus the focus assist section in the center of the viewfinder is a real help. There is a Fresnel screen with a split level rangefinder as well. I wish I could fit the viewfinder from the P30 on to my K-5. Along the side of the viewfinder is an electronic display of shutter speed and the exposure mode the camera is set to. This is minimal information when compared to the display in a modern DSLR !

Pentax P30 dx coding pins

Pentax P30 DX Coding pins inside the film loading chamber

The film speed is set using DX coding on the film canister. This was an early form of bar-coding, with contacts fitted inside the camera which connect to the film canister and read the speed of the film. This was quite a good innovation in it’s day because it stopped a whole reel of film being shot at the wrong exposure. These days, we are used to setting the ISO and colour balance every time we take a shot, but when the P30 was a current camera that decision needed to be made at the start of a reel of film and stuck with. That is one of the reasons that press photographers had several camera bodies with them during a shoot – if they needed faster film just pick up a different body.

There is a self timer fitted to the P30 which allows an electronic delay when firing the shutter. This was achieved by pressing a small button next to the on/off switch on the top plate of the camera and then sliding the switch an extra step forward. When this was enabled the shutter fired about 12 seconds after the shutter release was pressed.

There is an exposure lock button positioned below the prism housing on the right hand side of the camera viewed from the front. This allows the exposure to be locked at a setting so a shot can have the exposure set and then be re-framed without changing the exposure.

Unfortunately although the camera was working fine the last time I put it away, when I got it out to write this post it seems to be completely dead. It’s not the batteries which I’ve tried, so I hope when I have time I’ll be able to fix it and perhaps try a roll of film in it again.

The manual for the P30 is available on-line here.

Update: The problem with the shutter turned out to be the top of the battery compartment. The metal in the central contact had worn off so the batteries weren’t making proper contact. I replaced the cover with one from a donor camera and my P30 is back working like new. In fact I like the series so much I bought a P30t, which has aperture priority auto exposure, as well!

Here are some other shots of this camera

All these pictures can be viewed full sized here

As I said above although I haven’t put a film through this camera I have used the lens on my Nex 6 and can confirm it’s a bit of a star. The pictures I took with that combination are shown in this gallery

and the post is here.

To see the other Pentax cameras in my collection follow this link.

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Categories: Pentax, Photography, Vintage

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20 replies

  1. I love older cameras and to collect them. I still have my first decent camera, a Canon AV1. It took great photos. It doesn’t come out much now but wouldn’t part with it.

    • I know – it’s fun keeping hold of the old favorites. Unfortunately I no longer have the Zenit B I had when I was a teenager or the Olympus OM20 I bought when I started work. I have started to look round ebay to see if I could buy them both though !

  2. I still have my P30 and still use it. It was the first decent camera I bought. I bought it used when I was at University in 1992. I only recently bought a DSLR…a used Pentax of course. I will always like using film!

  3. I’m having a similar problem to yours:
    “…the camera was working fine the last time I put it away, when I got it out to write this post it seems to be completely dead. It’s not the batteries which I’ve tried, so I hope when I have time I’ll be able to fix it and perhaps try a roll of film in it again.”
    Please do a follow-up when you do try to repair it.

  4. I’m seriously considering one of these P30 cameras. I have several older K mount lenses and would like to get together a kit. Does the P30 work with all older K mount lenses and read the aperture info? Funnily enough, I sed a Praktica MTL5 recently, and while I like the ergonomics of the Praktica cameras, the viewfinder and focussing leaves a lto to be desired! If it wasn’t for the split level finder I wouldn’t know if anything was in focus!

    • I think the P30 will correctly work with any K mount lens which has the A setting on the aperture ring. Unfortunately my P30 is no longer working – the shutter stopped a couple of years ago and hasn’t worked since. It’s a bit disappointing because it was my Dad’s camera so one I’d rather keep working.

  5. The Pentax P30 was my first SLR and it traveled with me everywhere for about 17 years. Right now it is sitting in a drawer downstairs, unused. But I just can’t bring myself to part with it…

  6. I bought a P30 from a guy at work many years ago and thought originally that I was robbed but soon realised what a great camera it was and still is. Not a digital obviously which I have two ( very good they are too)but reading your comments I am going to dig it out and give it a go. Cheers

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