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Pentax ZX-30

The Editors, August, 2000

Good performance and all the basic features, at an entry-level price. Photos by Lynne Eodice unless otherwise credited.

In this era of high-tech gizmos, it's comforting to know that you can still get a capable brand-new AF 35mm SLR camera for around $200. Pentax's new entry-level ZX-30 offers a range of features that'll take the new SLR user from point-and-shooting well into serious photography, and provides very good performance, too.

Sired in 1996 with the introduction of the ZX-5, the Pentax ZX family of very compact AF 35mm SLRs today consists of the top-end ZX-5n (our User Report on the ZX-5n ran in the February 1999 issue of Photographic), the mid-line ZX-7 (our User Report on it was in the April 2000 issue), and the entry-level ZX-30 (which replaces the ZX-50). All measure around 5.3x3.6x2.5 inches, and the ZX-30 is the lightest of the current generation at 12.7 ounces (13.3 ounces for the date-back version).

The new ZX-30 is very simple to use, yet delivers very good performance. It provides fully automatic operation, plus full manual control of everything when you want it. And the price is right. The tiny size makes it easy to take along most everywhere.
The ZX-30 offers three standard exposure modes plus seven programmed picture modes. While 10 exposure modes could make for a confusing camera, they definitely don't with the ZX-30. Simply rotate the ring on the exposure-mode dial until it points to the icon for the mode you want to use. That's it—no buttons to push, no sequences to toggle through.

For serious shooters, there's shutter-priority AE (you set the shutter speed you want to use, and the camera automatically sets the corresponding aperture for proper exposure), aperture-priority AE (you set the aperture you wish to use, and the camera automatically sets to corresponding shutter speed for correct exposure), and metered manual (you set both the shutter speed and the aperture, and the camera tells you—via a simple bar graph in the viewfinder—when it thinks you've set the correct exposure). For point-and-shooters,

there's Green Operation (programmed AE) Mode, plus six Picture Modes (which set the camera for point-and-shooting portraits, landscapes, close-ups, action, night scenes, and no-flash ambient light shooting). The camera displays the active shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder and on the LCD panel in all modes—handy for users who like to know this information (i.e., all serious shooters).

While the top-of-the-line ZX-5n offers center-weighted and spot metering as well as six-segment multi-metering, the ZX-30 offers only six-segment metering. But that's the one we used nearly all the time with the ZX-5n—it's excellent, providing good exposures in a wide variety of exposure situations. And for those rare situations where it's needed, the ZX-30 lets you set ±3 stops of exposure compensation (in all modes but manual), in 0.5-stop increments, by pressing the exposure-compensation button and moving the select switch left (for minus compensation) or right (for plus compensation).

Just set the ZX-30's Mode Dial to the smiley face icon, and you're in Green Operation Mode—the camera sets everything automatically. But even in this full-auto mode, the ZX-30 lets you know the shutter speed, aperture, and focus point.
Film speeds from ISO 25-5000 are set automatically with DX-coded cassettes, and you can set speeds from ISO 6-6400 manually (just rotate the ring on the exposure-mode dial to ISO, and use the select switch to raise or lower the ISO numbers shown in the LCD panel. (The LCD panel displays ISO when film speed is set manually.)

There are two focusing modes: auto, and manual. Just set the focus-mode switch to MF or AF, as desired. In AF, the camera automatically focuses on whatever the viewfinder's AF target is pointed at when you partially depress the shutter button, and locks focus there until you either take the picture or let go of the shutter button. If the camera detects subject movement, it automatically activates predictive AF, in which the AF system measures the speed of the subject and sets focus for its predicted position at the instant of exposure. The AF system focuses before each frame in continuous-advance mode, and will keep up with the camera's 2-fps continuous advance rate.

The ZX-30's six-segment meter handled available-light portraits very well, including windowlight.
As the economy model in the ZX line, the ZX-30 lacks the ZX-5n and ZX-7's three-point wide AF area and EV -1 AF sensitivity, but it still performs very well. The AF target in the viewfinder is wide enough for convenient shooting, and the AF system operates in light levels as dim as EV 0 (ISO 100). The built-in flash (when popped up) or dedicated Pentax shoe-mount flash (when switched on) will emit an AF spotbeam to assist low-light AF.

In MF mode, just turn the lens's focusing ring until the image appears sharp in the viewfinder. With lenses that have a maximum aperture of at least f/5.6, the viewfinder's in-focus indicator will glow when focus is established, whether by auto or manual means (and the audible signal will beep, if turned on).

Like the other Pentax AF SLRs, the ZX-30 offers a handy focusing mode called snap-in focus. Set the focus-mode switch to AF, and focus manually at a distance at which you wish to capture the subject (this mode requires use of a manual-focus Pentax lens). Fully depress the shutter button and hold it down (the optional locking Cable Switch F comes in handy here). The camera will fire automatically when a subject comes into focus at the prefocused distance. Snap-in focus is handy for remote wildlife work, such as capturing a bird returning to its nest; and for close-up work: set the desired magnification, then slowly move in on the subject, and the camera will fire when it comes into focus at the preset magnification.

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