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The Pentax PC35AF-M: A futuristic Eighties plastic brick, constructed spherical a improbable lens (All pics: Stephen Dowling)

By Stephen Dowling

Within the early Eighties, compact digital camera designers abruptly had a contemporary set of challenges to take care of.

Digital camera expertise was exhibiting the accepted college of design a clear set of heels – metallic was being ditched for plastic, motors have been changing wind-on levers, and autofocus was quick changing into a bodily actuality somewhat than a digital camera designer’s pipe dream.

Most digital camera producers noticed their compact vary as fertile territory to check out new concepts and supplies, and Asahi Pentax was simply one in all them.

Pentax had by no means been one of many huge names on the earth of compact cameras. It had left the rangefinder market just about alone as everybody from Ricoh to Yashica made fashions aimed on the informal photographer. Within the Nineteen Sixties, it had ignored the half-frame craze with a view to think about its burgeoning line of Spotmatic SLRs. The Pentax title gave the impression to be one thing that you just grew into when you had lower your enamel on another person’s merchandise.

Change was coming. Enhancing expertise, manufacturing efficiencies and a rising inhabitants with disposable revenue made the compact digital camera market too huge too ignore.

Pentax’s first autofocus compact appeared in 1982 – the Pentax PC35AF. The digital camera was virtually utterly totally different to something Pentax had ever launched; a imaginative and prescient of Eighties futurism in shiny black plastic. Because the title advised, the PC35AF was certainly an autofocus digital camera, although in actuality this autofocus was restricted to one in all three approximate zones – one at 0.7m (2.3ft), 1.5m (5ft) and infinity, all indicated by an acceptable cartoon image within the viewfinder.

The PC35AF wasn’t fairly the complete shape-of-things-to-come bundle, nonetheless. The motorised movie transport and rewinding that will develop into de rigeur for compact cameras in only some brief years was maybe one activity too many for Pentax’s designers; identical to the Olympus XA and the Lomo LC-A, the PC35AF had a thumb wind to advance the movie.

The digital camera’s chassis was constructed round a metallic body, and a clamshell cowl identical to that on Olympus’s revolutionary XA saved the 35mm 2.8 lens good and protected when it wasn’t in use. The PC35AF wasn’t precisely compact for a compact digital camera; decide one up and also you’ll be impressed as a lot by its sheer weight as a lot as its forward-thinking design.

Issues would solely get chunkier with the mannequin that will change it a couple of years later – the PC35AF-M.

The “M” on this digital camera’s title stands for motorised. Pentax had provided an adjunct battery-operated motor wind with the unique PC35AF-M which lined the thumb-winder. It wasn’t precisely a sublime answer; the motor-winder ran off a unique battery provide and needed to be turned on individually. A straightforward factor to neglect “out within the subject”.

Launched from 1984, the PC35AF-M added motorised advance and rewind to the mannequin’s already outsized body. Alongside the autofocus and all the opposite helpful electronics, they have been run off only a pair of AA batteries.

Pentax PC35AF-M (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The digital camera’s black body is offset by the intense crimson of the shutter and canopy launch buttons

The PC35-AF-M was a little bit of a thriller to me till British photographer Anil Mistry and I appeared on an episode of the movie pictures podcast Sunny 16. He singled it out as a wonderful digital camera nonetheless accessible for subsequent to nothing: the movie digital camera hype cycle had up to now ignored it, presumably due to its chunky Eighties styling. Positive sufficient, a couple of months later, I spied one on the market at London’s Photographica digital camera truthful for under £15. £15! Certainly, the compact digital camera cult had missed this one.

The PC35AF-M is certainly on the chunky finish of compact cameras. Because of its metallic body it weighs in at greater than 320g, significantly greater than its early Eighties contemporaries such because the Olympus Journey AF. To these of us sufficiently old to recollect cameras like this within the first place its nothing too out of the extraordinary., however to latest movie shooters who would possibly use the Olympus Mju-II as a yardstick, it would come as one thing of a shock.

Top plate of PC35AF-M (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The digital camera’s minimalist high plate options the backlit setting which overexposes by 1.5 stops

The Pentax PC35AF-M is about half a foot (15cm) broad and 7cm tall – just a little bit bigger than the compact rangefinders of the Seventies just like the Konica C35, however appreciably deeper. It’s the burden that’s probably the most stunning. With a pair of batteries loaded, the cameras weighs in at 365g. The scale and weight is partly due to the 80s-style movie advance and rewind motors. These are neither svelte, nor quiet (we’ll say extra about this later). As somebody who has spent quite a lot of time taking pictures all-metal SLRs, the burden isn’t an issue, nevertheless it’s price mentioning. The dearth of “pocketability” could be a extra urgent concern for these wanting a take-anywhere compact digital camera.

Whereas the PC35AF-M received’t slot in your denims pocket, there’s loads of plus factors. Apart from the battery door, your complete shell of the digital camera is produced from robust plastic. The heft is considerably reassuring. The PC35AF-M seems like a digital camera, not a fragile piece of client electronics simply ready for a superb alternative to fry its circuits.

Behind the clamshell cowl sits the lens, a hard and fast 35/2.8 lens with 5 parts in 5 teams. This child is tack sharp, and one of many causes these within the know have been scooping up this black plastic brick after they can discover them. The clamshell cowl protects the lens when the digital camera’s idle, and is opened with the intense crimson button to its left – the duvet springs open with a satisfying “CLACK”.

Front grip of PC35AF-M (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The waffle-pattern entrance grip of the digital camera makes it simple to carry

The crimson of the shutter and lens cowl buttons distinction superbly with the shiny black of the digital camera physique. The 2-tone color scheme extends to the digital camera’s strap aswell, longer than most to maintain the digital camera’s bulk correctly balanced.

The lens sits flush with the entrance of the digital camera and strikes additional again into the digital camera physique when the shutter is fired. It does so with a wheezing squeak accompanied by graunch the 80s-era movie advance. Whisper quiet the PC35AF-M is just not.

The Pentax has a couple of attention-grabbing options that elevate it above the remainder of its early AF compact digital camera brethren. Like its clamshell-clad affect, the Olympus XA, the digital camera has a backlit mode which is able to overexpose by 1.5 stops if the topic is strongly backlit and also you don’t wish to use flash.

Coca Cola sign on sunny day
The PC35AF_M’s sharp, contrasty lens pairs effectively with cross-processed slide

Talking of flash, the PC35AF-M’s must be manually activated to be switched on; no having to stab a mode button repeatedly to disable it. If a compact digital camera is to present you any semblance of artistic management, that is – in my humble opinion – vital. If the flash can’t be turned off, you’ve bought a glorified disposable, firing its flash each time its blunt digital mind decides the sunshine’s too low. On the PC35AF-M, trying on the digital camera from the again, the flash is activated by flicking a change on the left-hand facet of the digital camera. It pushes up a small flash unit, in regards to the dimension of a inventory dice.  On the again of the digital camera, a small gentle subsequent to the viewfinder lights up when the flash has charged and is able to shoot once more.

Like most compact cameras above bargain-basement stage, the PC35AF-M provides a self-timer; that is positioned on the correct facet of the top-plate, subsequent to the intense crimson shutter button.

Cat graffiti on traffic light

The PC35AF-M is DX coded but in addition has one other helpful characteristic – an ISO change which lets you set the movie pace for rolls which don’t have a DX code. These vary from 100 all the way in which as much as ISO 1000, which implies you’ll be able to push course of 400-ISO movies with out a DX code (akin to Fomapan 400). In any other case, the digital camera will learn movie DX codes as much as 1600.

This being a digital camera from the earliest days of AF, the autofocus itself is considerably rudimentary. Once you press the shutter button, a needle on the underside of the viewfinder strikes to one in all its three focusing zones, marked with cartoons of individuals and a mountain for infinity. The squeak of the shutter is drowned out by the not precisely inconsequential sound of the motor drive roaring into motion. Make no bones about it – it’s loud. But it surely’s not the one noise that make the PC35AF-M just a little indiscreet.

Thames barges and buildings in background (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The digital camera’s lens takes fantastically sharp photographs

Pentax’s design group included publicity system lights within the high of the viewfinder – inexperienced means the digital camera is ready to expose. If there’s not sufficient gentle, a crimson gentle within the left of the viewfinder may also gentle up. That, it appeared, might need been just a bit too delicate. If the digital camera thinks the lights too low, it emits a sustained, high-pitched digital beep. It’s loud sufficient to warn each the photographer and anybody else in the identical postcode (I exaggerate, however you get the concept). The PC35AF-M is, due to this fact, maybe not the primary selection for road pictures in lower than good sunshine.

A number of blogs, together with 35mmc, have listed hacks to de-bleep the digital camera, which require taking off the highest plate and fidgeting with the digital innards. It’s not a hack I’ve felt I’ve wanted to hold out, if just for the truth that the PC35AF-M is a digital camera I’ve just about solely taken out in brighter climate. Digital compacts aren’t my ordinary weapon of selection at night-time, anyway.

Greenwich buildings in low light (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The PC35AF-M’s metering is rarely lower than glorious

The PC35AF-Ms drawbacks are, largely, merchandise of the time it was inbuilt. Quiet motor drives have been one other decade away, and autofocus would take a couple of extra years to leap previous the constraints of focusing zones. However there’s loads of different options which imply this digital camera shall be hanging round in my pile of compacts, for a really lengthy whereas.

Most significantly? The lens. Pentax’s fame was not less than partly constructed on the standard of Takumar lenses for its SLRs, and the 35/2.8 constructed into the PC35AF-M’s chunky body is not any slouch. Footage are crisp and contrasty, with no vignetting and little or no distortion on the edges. Each one of many three PC35AF-Ms I’ve examined over the previous couple of years has additionally uncovered movie completely – the sturdy development has in all probability helped.

Couple near market billboard (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The digital camera’s 35mm lens packs quite a lot of the world into the body and is nice for road pictures

There’s a temptation with each compact movie digital camera that’s nonetheless inexpensive to ask the rhetorical query “is that this the following cult compact”. That in all probability doesn’t assist preserve issues inexpensive, but in addition dangers lumping the actual missed gems with some deservedly swerved fashions – the hype mill at all times want new materials. However with the PC35AF-M, I do surprise if a reappraisal is across the nook.

Don’t get me mistaken: the actual fact they’re nonetheless inexpensive is an effective factor. I can solely guess that the digital camera’s relative dimension and weight is what’s holding some individuals again from attempting it. Lighter cameras just like the Mju sequence and the Yashica T4 might have you ever considering this was what a compact digital camera ought to look (and really feel like). The PC35AF-M, from a technology earlier than, reveals that was one thing that took some time to attain.

Sweatshirts in dappled market light (Pic: Stephen Dowling)

Dog and people at traffic crossing (Pic: Stephen Dowling)

Will the PC35AF-M please everybody? Nope – the scale, low-light bleep, noisy motor and sheer weight will rule it out for some. That’s a disgrace, as a result of its faultless metering, crisp lens and strong development make this a way more pleasing digital camera to shoot with than another extra celebrated designs. (In the event you’re somebody with bigger arms, you’ll discover the PC35AF-M a lot simpler to deal with than the likes of the Konica A4, as an illustration.

The PC35AF-M’s dimension shouldn’t get in the way in which of its simple qualities. Neither ought to it underline the opposite “points” it has in comparison with the likes of the Mju-II. It’s true the PC35AF-M’s three autofocus zones pale compared to the 100 discovered on the Olympus mannequin, however this isn’t a difficulty whenever you’re really taking pictures it. The PC35AF-M’s old-school autofocus does the job.

Pentax would later make extra of a splash with their well-received Espio vary within the Nineties, whereas the PC household regularly became a household of cheaper, much less refined cameras. However this Eighties black plastic brick with flashes of crimson actually is the diamond hidden amid the also-rans.

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