Vintage camera collection – Pentax MZ-50

It’s a bit odd calling this post ‘Vintage Camera Collection’ because this feels like writing a post about a modern DSLR. In many ways, this camera has all the features of a modern slr – auto focus, multiple exposure modes, scene modes, camera body control for aperture and shutter speed etc but instead of recording to a digital sensor it records to film.

The subject of this post is the Pentax MZ-50 – for which I’ve now added some sample pictures.

This was an entry level camera produced towards the end of the era of mass film photography, introduced in 1997. As I said above it has most of the features of a modern digital SLR and was designed to make photography easy for ‘non photographers’ as well as allowing users who wanted to to override the ‘easy’ modes and use their own creative control.

It’s a light weight and quite small camera made of mostly plastic. I paid about £15 for this camera which is an almost give away price considering the feature set it has, but I guess it is too modern to be considered of much value yet. Most things have a value when they are new, loose that value over time and then start to increase as they gain nostalgic appeal. This camera is not yet at that part of it’s value curve.

Condition wise, this is a very clean and tidy camera with only a slight mark on the top of the flash unit to indicate it’s been used.

Exposure modes

The MZ-50 has Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Full Manual exposure control and also scene modes for sports, macro, landscape, portrait and ‘green mode’. The main control for altering the appropriate camera setting depending on the mode selected is a rocker switch fitted round the shutter release button which can be moved left of right. In Aperture priority it sets the aperture, and in Shutter priority is sets the shutter speed. In both of these modes, the rocker will also adjust the exposure compensation by moving it as you press a small button on the back or the camera where the thumb lies. When in manual mode the rocker adjusts the aperture by default and the shutter speed when the back panel button is pressed.

The viewfinder shows the full exposure information on the right hand side along with a small ‘flash’ indicator if a flash is required.

The picture modes are fully automated exposure mode where the camera decides the best exposure following a particular recipe determined by the picture mode selected, for example in portrait mode the aperture is kept open to throw the background out of focus and in landscape mode the aperture is reduced to keep everything in focus etc.

Focus

The camera is fitted with a 35-80mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens which has autofocus capability. It is focused in exactly the same way most of the lenses on my Pentax K5 focus, with a screw thread driven from a motor in the camera body. This has the advantage that I could use my modern lenses on the MZ-50, but I wonder if Pentax would have been better to do the same as Nikon and Canon and ditch the camera body motor so that ultrasonic focused lenses were more available for Pentax cameras. Admittedly, I don’t use my K5 much these days, tending to use the Nex 6 and prime lenses, but I remember being really annoyed that I would find a lens was ultrasonically focused in the Canon and Nikon versions, but the Pentax version was driven by the slower, noisier camera body motor.

The focus performance seems quite reasonable. There seems to be only one sensor in the centre of the picture, but in many cases that is all you really need. If you want to focus off centre it as easy to focus and recompose. Obviously it wouldn’t track moving objects with one sensor, but at the time the camera was made such things were only dreams in designers heads.

It’s interesting that there is no split rangefinder style focus aid on this camera – I suppose once autofocus was available those things were not included because the majority of people wouldn’t use it.

There is an auto/manual switch on the side of the lens mount.

Drive modes

Because this is a battery powered auto drive camera, there is no wind on lever and the camera offers not only single shot mode but can also shoot at a fairly healthy 2 frames per second. Although that would be considered pedestrian in a modern camera don’t forget it’s got to move the film through at that rate, not just move the mirror and shutter. The power for the camera comes from 2 CR2 3v cells fitted in the grip, which power the film transport, the flash, the focusing and the exposure metering.

Other features.

As I said at the start, there is a lot of the functionality of a modern camera available in this unit including TTL flash, electronic self timer, DX coded film, 3 stops exposure compensation, top plate LCD readout & 1/2000 top shutter speed. Although it is by no means a classic camera it still marks an interesting phase in the journey photography took between being a chemical process to today’s digital world.

  • Pentax MZ-50 35mm SLR
  • 35 – 80mm f/4-5.6 autofocus zoom
  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Manual mode
  • Picture modes
  • Green mode
  • DX coded film from 25-5000 iso Non DX 6-6400 iso
  • Up to 2 frames/sec
  • Self Timer
  • Pop up flash + x sync accessory shoe
  • 30sec to 1/2000sec shutter speeds
  • +/- 3 stops exposure compensation
  • Phase detect autofocus with in camera focus motor
  • Pentax K Mount
  • Top panel LCD
  • Mid roll rewind
  • Centre (non illuminated) auto focus frame
  • In Focus indication in the viewfinder
  • All exposure information in the viewfinder
  • Auto film load/rewind

18 thoughts on “Vintage camera collection – Pentax MZ-50

  1. Hi Simon. I have recently bagged a couple of sister cameras to your MZ-50 – the MZ-7. One has a 35-80 and the other a 28-80.
    As I understand (having just experienced a failure on the original one purchased) that they both suffer with mirror lock-up and circuit board failures and there is apparently little chance of repairs other than a possibility that a chap in the USA that specialises in Pentax repairs might have parts.
    I also understand that the MZ-7 was preferred because unlike the MZ-50 that has plastic lens mounts the MZ-7 has metal ones.
    I bought these as a lighter and more everyday alternative (cheap enough to leave in the car) to my Yashica 230AF’s – one of which I have had from new along with the lens options and the accessories.

      • Hello simon
        I just bought a pentax mz_m from ebay. When i put the film inside it read it at the first, gose to number 1 and then back to 0 and role the film in! I took it to jassops and they try different film and said camera is faulty. Its look like new and every thing ealse look work properly. Do you knw any tips? Can you help me about that please?

      • Hi – Sorry that is a problem I’ve not encountered on the mz series. I would check that the film transport can properly move but I wouldn’t be certain about how to fix that problem. Sounds like you should have a case to return the camera if it was sold as working.

  2. Got this one recently with a 28-90mm and tried it with my smallest lens (40mm XS)… That makes it a (vest)pocket camera and a very easy to carry combo. I still have to develop the roll but at least it was fine to use. I also like a few things missing on my older P30n like manual ISO overriding the DX coding, and exposure compensation. I prefer the manual film advance though. And I’m OK with manual focus most of the time (not with the MZ series, as you wrote they don’t provide any focusing aid in the viewfinder).

  3. Hi! I’ve just replaced the batteries in my mz50 and have everything set in accordance with the manual but the LCD screen is blank apart from a 24 flashing in the corner of the LCD screen – any ideas why?
    Thanks, Olivia!

      • Yeah I’m assuming that’s what the 24 means, but the rest of the screen is totally blank with no other symbols on screen, and the 24 is flashing — any ideas?? (thanks so much for your time, I’m studying a production degree and am very new to film but want to get familiar with it!)

        Cheers, Olivia

      • It could be that the camera is faulty. The MZ series are not very reliable unfortunately. Is the camera making a whirring noise? There is a motor which operates the mirror and the cog often cracks (I’ve got 3 MZ series cameras with that problem)

  4. Yep that’s it exactly which is so annoying, I haven’t even had one roll developed! will have to take it to get repaired – thanks for your help! Olivia

  5. I have 5 X Pentax MZ-50 and a ZX-50 with similar wind on / shutter problems. They seem to stick the shutter up after a few shots and then advance several frames.on their own (even with new batteries) killing the remainder of the film. A couple were working OK but I’ve lost track of which are good now and it’s a bit frustrating losing the second half of a film in them when I haven’t had much luck with my own developing. Would you be interested in giving them all a once over / fixing where necessary and letting me have one or two back once you are finished with them and you can keep the rest ? We could do the postage so I send to you and you send to me ? From what I can tell its related to a plastic cog slipping on a spindle so might be an easy fix (especially with 6 of them, I think the ZX-50 is the same apart from an LCD Date/Time clock on the back cover).

    Best Regards, Kevin Cooper (yes the one you used to work with) 🙂

    P.S. I also have a boxed zenit photosniper with a couple of bodies one needing a new curtain but I may have a go at that myself as the curtain material is readily available.

    • Hi Kevin – long time no see!

      I’d be happy to see if I can fix one for you but let me try to get my MZ-5 fixed first to see if I’m successful. I tried another MZ-5 a couple of weeks ago and managed to get the mirror motor working but got the shutter blinds stuck in the panorama blinds as I re-assembled it so I’d like to have a success before I tried it on someone else’s unit. If you let me have your email address I’ll drop you a note once I’ve successfully fixed one.

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