Pentax Zoom 90-WR Review (with comparison to Olympus Stylus Zoom 80)

Backstory

I was looking for a 35mm film point-and-shoot to use at one of my favorite band's shows. The one I was going to use bit the dust, and I was on the prowl. So naturally, short notice meant thrift stores. So I went to one of Denver's ARC thrift stores. There I found something that looked promising. Not promising enough to use shooting a concert, but I bought it anyway. For $6.00. It was the Pentax Zoom 90-WR. It is a massive thing. It was built almost exclusively of plastic, but that thing could probably take a beating. The strap was pretty beat up, but the camera was in great condition. The batteries were dead, so there was no way of knowing if it worked internally or not, so I bought batteries on Amazon. They arrived. It worked. Yay!

 Fuji Superia 800

Fuji Superia 800

I decided to shoot the concert digitally. But I ran a roll of Fuji Superia 800 through the camera anyway in my free time. Then I shot off the photos to be developed at The Darkroom. At the same time, I ran a couple rolls through my (also newly acquired) Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80. I definitely expected better quality from the Olympus than the Pentax that I bought at a thrift store.

Before the photos were even uploaded for me to see, something pretty dramatic happened. Donald J. Trump was elected to office. Like him or not, there is no denying that the polarization over his electoral college win was massive, and many took to the streets to voice their opposition. So I brought both the Olympus and the Pentax to the protest, as much to test the cameras as to document the occassion.

 Kodak Tri-X 400

Kodak Tri-X 400

 Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Ilford FP4 Plus 125

 Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Ilford FP4 Plus 125

 Kodak Tri-X 400

Kodak Tri-X 400

Design

In terms of design, the camera is very ergonomic. Though it does look like it's from the 90's (it is). So if you're looking for a cool aesthetic statement, the Pentax is probably not the best camera for you. It is just a big gray thing. Emphasis on the word "big". It is massive for a point-and-shoot camera. Especially compared to the Olympus (more on that later). The body is about the same size as my Nikon D3200 body in different dimensions.

I honestly sorta like it as a utilitarian option, rather than the typical fashion cameras that everyone shoots for these days. It's a camera. That's it.

 Next to a large bag of Zapps, with the zoom extended. At a fully retracted 38mm it barely pokes out.

Next to a large bag of Zapps, with the zoom extended. At a fully retracted 38mm it barely pokes out.

Features

It is "weather resistant". Hence the "WR". The only testing I've done of that is walking in the New Orleans rain occasionally. It still works. So chalk one up for Pentax! It can also be used in 14°f - 50°f temperatures with normal functioning capabilities.

 Once again, the zoom-lens is fully extended to 90mm. Not  too  bad!

Once again, the zoom-lens is fully extended to 90mm. Not too bad!

The flash is blinding. Absolutely ridiculous. It makes for some dramatic nighttime shots (as you can see above). But if you don't want that, it's just a few easy presses of the "MODE" button on the top of the camera (along with a variety of other modes). You get spot AF with the press of the "FOCUS" button. Then you have a Macro mode, telephoto (90mm) and wide (38mm) zoom buttons and, of course, the two phase shutter release button for readjustment after autofocus. One button that puzzled me initially was the Infinity focus button on the side of the lens. It's a well-placed button, but when it is depressed, it doesn't feel like anything. It's just an overall mushy button. It auto-winds, as with most cameras of the time. You can do mid-roll rewind. Mine has a dateback, which I never activated. But if you're into that sort of thing, then be my guest!

However, above all else, the coolest feature is *drum roll, please* that it has a built-in remote. And when I mean built in, I mean it attaches to the body and slides out of the side. It is TINY. So try not to lose it. I've seen a few eBay buys of the camera missing the remote.

I'd talk more about the internals of the camera, but information online is scarce. All I know is that it has 8 elements in 7 groups.

The Olympus (Comparison)

 Fun with GIFs. That flash pop-up is my favorite thing about the Olympus.

Fun with GIFs. That flash pop-up is my favorite thing about the Olympus.

A common comparison the camera will get is with the Olympus Stylus Zoom 80. Very similar in specs. They are both fully automatic cameras. Compared to the Olympus, I'd say the Pentax blows it out of the water in terms of image quality. It has a wider overall aperture. The lens zooms closer on the Pentax. And I find the focus to be far more reliable on the Pentax. Don't get me wrong! When the Olympus is focused, it is quite sharp. But I would be inclined to say that the Pentax regularly gives better results.

The Olympus is about 0.6x the footprint, but it also has about 0.6x the build quality. And in some photos, there is a light-leak ring on the film. 

 The Olympus loaded with Fomapan 100 (not my favorite film, admittedly)

The Olympus loaded with Fomapan 100 (not my favorite film, admittedly)

 The Olympus loaded with Tri-X 400. See those light leaks?

The Olympus loaded with Tri-X 400. See those light leaks?

 The Olympus loaded with Fuji Superia 800. Light leaks and flares EVERYWHERE.

The Olympus loaded with Fuji Superia 800. Light leaks and flares EVERYWHERE.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this camera? Absolutely. If you want to get into the world of photojournalism, and still use film because it looks cool, then this is the camera for you. If you adventure a lot, I'd go out on a limb and say buy this camera. Would I recommend it over the Olympus? Wholeheartedly. If you're willing to carry some more weight in return for a more solid build, and better image quality, and a better flash, and better... most things... Then this is the option for you. It won't cost you that much. It cost me 1/10th the price of the Olympus, and I don't regret my purchase.

Manual

If you feel like diving into more info, before you have the camera, check out the manual.

Purchase

If you guys are feeling like picking one up from the interwebs, just look it up on eBay. It's the cheapest way.