One of the things I love about getting back into film photography is how many great old cameras there are out there, many of them selling for way less than they did “back-in-the-day”. If this was 1980, I’d be scrimpin’ pennies to save up for one–and only one–good camera, most likely an SLR. Now I can get that SLR and throw in a rangefinder, a couple point and shoots, a medium format one, and a few other random bits for way less than I would have paid for that SLR. Of course, there’s a downside to that: that SLR that I saved up for, say a Minolta XG-9, (which retailed for about $450 then, which is $1,400 in 2020 dollars!) would be the camera I would use for years, maybe even decades. I’d value that investment. Now? I can get an XG-9 on eBay for about $30 (not including shipping). I can get almost 47 XG-9s today for the price I would have paid for one in 1980!
It’s easy to get carried away, so many great cameras out there for so little. And it doesn’t help when one looks at various camera blogs where people try out a lot of cameras. I definitely want to learn more about cameras, but I also want to keep my buying under control. I don’t want to get a camera, put a roll or maybe two through them, then put it on a shelf for months/years or get rid of them, then repeat. I want to get to know my cameras, and get cameras I enjoy using. I know that it takes some trial-and-error to find what you like, but I think after six months I have something of an idea. From here on out, I don’t want to just buy a bunch of cameras for the heck of it, though I won’t refuse if something nice falls into my lap for cheap/free. Now I’m just going to focus on things that aren’t part of my collection, holes if you will.
And what hole did I end up “filling”? Why, a wide-angle lens, which is generally defined as something less than 30 mm. I read a few blogs extolling the benefits of a wide-angle lens, so of course I casually started to hunt for one.
The problem is that wide-angle lens cameras aren’t as cheap as “normal” prime lenses or zooms. And it doesn’t seem like “quality” is that much of a concern, either. There’s plenty of cheap fixed-focus “wide-angle” cameras from the late ’90s that command high prices due to their “lomo” vibe. Decent fixed lens compacts don’t fare much better for prices. And while something like an Olympus XA4 with its 28 mm would be cool, I know they are rare and not cheap. So I started looking at the dirty world of zoom compacts. While some photo snobs look down at these cameras, I don’t dislike them. And if I’m looking at zooms, I might as well look at what might be my favorite line of them, the Pentax IQZoom series (known as Pentax Espio outside of the U.S.).
There are a few wide-angle zooms in the IQZoom line, but the one that caught my eye was the 928.* Introduced in 1994, it has that classic “bulky” point-and-shoot look that means business. The lens was 28mm on the short side, making it firmly wide-angle. The zoom end goes up to 90mm, not as long as my IQZoom 170SL, but still noticeably a “zoom”. Another thing that stands is the maximum aperture of f/3.5, which was pretty damn big for that era of super-zoom lenses.
But the hook besides the wide-angle, relatively “fast” lens? The wealth of features on this brick. It has a “bulb” mode like my 170SL,** which didn’t surprise me much, as Pentax seemed to like this uncommon-on-a-point-and-shoot feature. But that’s not all. It features an “easy shoot” mode where the lens locks in at 28mm and focuses at 10 feet-to-infinity, which makes it a lot easier to shoot rapidly. (The autofocus is disengaged, no lag.) The 928 also has exposure compensation up to three stops over/under. And even more esoteric, a double-exposure function! Thinking person’s compact, indeed!
This camera impressed back in the day. This Backpacker Magazine article from late 1996 rounding up a bunch of point-and-shoots for hiking features the Pentax IQZoom 928 along with the likes of Contax T VS, Leica Mini Zoom, and Yashica T4 Super! And this Popular Photography article from 1995 also praises the 928.
I kept my eye on eBay for a couple weeks. The IQZoom series doesn’t command the higher prices as other cameras, so I figured I’d wait until an appropriately inexpensive one came up. And one did, so I got it.
The shooting experience was pretty good. The camera turns on fast (faster than the 170SL), but the zoom and wind motors are definitely louder (but not super loud). The function buttons are all clustered around the LED screen on top. The buttons are bigger than what’s on my 170SL, which is nice, since those buttons were pretty tiny. I brought the camera with me on a family trip out to Hood River, loaded with a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400.
So, how are the results? Pretty good. There’s noticeable vignetting, as expected with these cameras. Some of the images are a bit washed out, but I was shooting mostly under mid-day sun. The zoom shots were respectible.
I did give a couple of the special features a test. This shot was done with the double exposure mode while we were at a vineyard near Mount Hood.
And this shot tested the exposure compensation. The sun was behind the sign, so I set the compensation to -2.0. It came out decent.
So far, so good. The camera was fun to shoot, and gave me some nice shots. But that’s just one roll. I’ll put it through the paces with some more color rolls and probably a black and white one too. I also need to test that “Easy Shoot” feature, where the lens locks in at 28mm and focuses at 10 feet-to-infinity. And I’ll be trying out the Bulb mode for long exposures. One interesting thing to note is that the Bulb mode on the 928 maxxes at 5 minutes, whereas the one on the 170SL only can go up to a minute.*** I’ll report back here in a few months when I have more experience with this machine. In the meantime, I’ll have fun!
*If you go look for these cameras, an important thing to note is that there is both the 928 and the later 928M. The 928M has the same 28-90mm zoom, but has a slower lens and lacks many of the features of the 928. Confusingly, many people list the 928 as a 928M on eBay, even though there’s no “M” on it. The quick way to tell the two apart is the 928M is slimmer, and the mode buttons are to the rear of the camera. (The 928 has mode buttons on top, clustered around the LED display.) I’d seek out the 928 unless you like the smaller size of the 928M.
**Though the 928 has a better bulb mode, as you can keep the shutter open for a maximum of five minutes. The 170SL maxes out at a minute.
***It sort of makes sense that Bulb mode maxxes out after a few minutes. The only way to hold the shutter open is by keeping your finger on the shutter release button on the camera or the remote, unfortunately there’s no way to “lock” it like you could with a traditional threaded shutter release.