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My Favorite Film Street Shooter -- the modded Pentax PC35AF
Old 02-09-2019   #1
NickTrop
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My Favorite Film Street Shooter -- the modded Pentax PC35AF

Of all the film cameras I've used for so-called "street shooting" over the years (many -- Konica Auto S3, Yashica CC, Oly XA, Yashica T3, a FSU something or other with attached Summar, a few Ricoh FFs, etc). My favorite is the Pentax PC35AF -- with a slight easy mod. Since there is not a lot of information about this camera, and with prices of point-n-shooters becoming truly laughable (No -- just don't. Spending 100's on any of them is fool's errand. These are aging and fragile beasts made during a time when the Japanese abandoned fantastic build quality in favor of electronics... They all die sudden deaths) I thought I'd do my part to inflate the price of a somewhat overlooked one for others who may be interested, since I already have a minty used sample.

The Relevance and Practicality of Film Point-n-Shooters in the Digital/Cell Phone Era

Full frame in your pocket. I don't like small sensor cameras for the same reason I didn't shoot 1/2-frame and APS film. Blech. And it's not due to noise. The small film/sensor plane puts everything in focus at every (or nearly every) aperture. Photos lack depth and subject isolation. This is not the same as "bokeh". A little out-of-focusness in the foreground and background please. Not much, but some, imo improves a pic. There has yet to be a FF camera as small and as light as many (not all) film rangefinders or nearly all point-n-shoots.

Rangefinders v. Point-n-Shoots
For film, I've come to prefer point-n-shoots over rangefinders. Smaller, lighter, and (if you get the right one) stealthier. I've come to not care so much about bright lenses (to a point) and manual control for this style of shooting as I once was. I want to quickly take a photo with -zero- futzing with focus and controls. The street shooters of yesteryear used the "sunny 16/f8" method since their rangefinders did not have AF or internal metering electronics. They effectively used their rangefinders like point-n-shooters because the electronics of point-n-shoot cameras didn't exist until decades later. By this point, those who were still around were set in their rangefinder-y ways. With a point-n-shoot you are able to capture the "decisive moment" as quickly and more accurately in terms of focus and exposure as "sunny 16/f8" shoot from the hip methods. Improvement in high speed films and integrated flash units made bright (and large) lenses unnecessary for this style shooting.

Which Point-n-Shoot
Many, many ^2 were made over the years. But only few have the specs that meet my criteria for street shooters, which are:

1. No "power on" gears grinding, lens moving in and out, with a second or two wait time. It must be ready to fire in an instant.
2. Manual film advance. No motors! These were noisy beasts. That disqualifies them for street shooting. Plus? The motors always go on these things. (They usually sounded sick right out of the box.) And it drains batteries. As Brother Manyard said about the number 5 -- motors are RIGHT OUT!
3. And a fixed f2.8 lens. Not 3.5. Slower? Perish the thought! 2.8 enables indoor shooting without a flash. If you want to coax some DOF effects, set your film speed slower than box by a stop or two. Speaking of which...
4. Control over the flash! Yes, I'm willing to give up most manual control. I can get -some- back by controlling film speed, but for the love of God and country, I want to control when the flash fires, please.
5. No DX only film speed. No. I want to control that, thank you very much.
6. Cheap. You will die a sudden death. You were made like crap to begin with and you are 90 years old in human years at this point. I don't want to drop dosh on a camera that will kick the bucket at any moment. To do so is madness.

So. Given the above this dwindles the point-n-shoot cameras down to a mere handful. These are the ones that I know of:

1. Minolta AF-C
2. Konica C35 AF and AF2
3. Minota Hi Matic AF and AF2
4. Yashica Auto Focus S
5. Pentax PC35AF

These are the only ones I am aware of that meet my sensible criteria for a street shooter point-n-shooter. (I think there are one or two maybe FSU ones too that meet the criteria but am too lazy to research this right now...) They were all early-80's 'tween models before the Japanese went nutso with auto-everything. That brings the gazillion point-n-shooters down to seven models by four manufacturers.

Why the PC35AF -- modded?
Where to start? Firstly its beautifully crafted clam shell design sexy in black. Way better than Hi Matics, Konicas, and Yashica which look like free-with-subscription Time-Life cameras. It is a solid and understated classy truly "Leica-like" design. There is some heft to it, it is a very well made camera especially in contrast to its rivals except the AF-C (which I've never owned or even seen). No garish "AUTO FOCUS!" lettering, just a tasteful "Pentax" over the clam shell. It's also smaller. Not too small like the XA arguably is -- its size and weight is in the Goldilocks zone. It's a beauty. You don't look like a dork walking around with this thing. Quite classy.

Next the 35/2.8 lens is a cut above, rivaling the XA from which it unabashedly aped. Five element, five group (not the usual 4/3) with a beautiful purple-y coating. It takes nice contrasty sharp images with decent microcontrast.

Unlike some of the others it locks focus easily -- just keep the shutter 1/2 pressed after focus. And, it shows you what zone you're focused on in the viewfinder prior to firing the shutter. A weird "not to be taken for granted" nicety.

Downsides.
The stupid red shutter release is known to jam and seems to be made of cheapo plastic. Why, Pentax? Why make such a great camera and stick a terrible shutter button on it? Why didn't you spend an extra $0.15 in production costs and make a more durable one?

The camera has a thumbwheel film advance like the XA. It is rigid and doesn't exactly glide to the next frame. I always feel like the film isn't properly loaded. This, again like the XA, was a concession to keep the size down. Forgivable but a downside nonetheless.

Closing the clam shell. It springs open with a little red release button -- no problem. Closing it takes more elbow (or in this case "thumb") grease than is should. I always feel like I'm breaking the thing every time I close it.

That annoying low-light beeper! Uggh! Why, Pentax? Why? That said, an easy fix. See "the mod".

Other flaws that most of these cameras have -- film counter barely readable. Suspect battery door.

The Mod.
This has an annoying "danger Will Robinson" low light beeper (along with a red light in the VF) when the shutter speed is too long. This would have rendered this camera useless as a stealth camera if not for a simple fix. Get yerself the proper common screwdriver, take off the top plate, and remove the *$*% thing. Takes five minutes.

In summary. The modded Pentax PC35AF is, hands down, all things considered, one of the best film street shooters ever made. Period. Also, forgot to mention, it also has a 1.5 stop backlight adjustment button. This is an unexpectely refined camera and great photographic tool for film photography.
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Old 02-09-2019   #2
lxmike
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The Pentax Espio mini is a big fav of mine, mind you always have been a fan of Pentax glass
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Old 02-09-2019   #3
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noooo! this review came too early-i wanted to buy it but it will go crazy high now :'(
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Old 02-09-2019   #4
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Functional preferences aside, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I much prefer the classic 60-70s Japanese rangefinder look. The free-with-subscription cameras copied that look for a reason... yet, those cheap imitations did such a poor job of it, they still stand out like a sore thumb.

I see there's a "rare Camo" version of the Pentax on Ebay, for $199 Buy It Now.
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Old 02-09-2019   #5
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Personally, I don't have a bias against turn it on and have the lens extend and the film advance automatically, so give me a Ricoh GR1 or a Yashica T4. The turn on time is less than the time to bring it to your eye. The lenses on both these are best of class. However they do have propensity to break.

The aperture on the top wheel of the GR1 and snap mode give me exactly the amount of control I want on one of these cameras and nothing more and the depth actually fits in a pant pocket.

But in general I hear you on the full frame in your pocket. Was recently going through 10 years worth of photos, mostly digital, many full frame digital and some of the old GR photos still made it into my short list of selects.
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Old 02-09-2019   #6
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1. Should be in the P&S section..
b. Let's see some pics you took with it!
iii. P&S cameras rock! I got fancy pants cameras but these get the biz done. And are a very democratic way for peeps to get into real photography.
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Old 02-09-2019   #7
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Street photography thread, no gear pictures, no street pictures, but huge text....

So, few things to mention.

If camera is in the pocket, it is not street photography. IMO.
If camera has AF, then they are all the same.
Full frame is irrelevant to street photography.
Best Pentax street camera is current Ricoh GRII. And it is digital camera.
This thread has nothing to do with rangefinder sub-forum.
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Old 02-09-2019   #8
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The Above Comments -- response.
1. I couldn't find the PnS section and (in fact) forgot there was one, so I put it here. Mods may, of course, adjust accordingly. Be my guest.

2. No. The lens "adjusting" takes too long. Cameras have to be instantly at the ready. The Ricoh GR1 and Yashica T4 both have noisy rewind motors. Both are way, way overpriced especially the Yashica which is built like crap. And those decades old motors will crap out. And the fillm advance noise is not good for street photography. These cameras are good for soccer moms in the 90's. Also DX only (I know the Yashica is, don't know about the Ricoh), no control over film speed. They don't make the cut.

3. I don't have pics to post because with film cameras I have prints made and put them in old fashioned albums. It has a five element, five group Pentax coated lens. It's a fine performer -- right up there with the overrated "Zeiss" Yashicas.

4. The camera can be "in the pocket" or not "in the pocket" I don't get your meaning. "If camera has AF, then they are all the same" Ditto. Not getting your meaning. No. FF is not at all "irrelevant". That's just silly. The Ricoh GRII is purportedly a fine camera. Don't doubt it. But I will take a real "full frame" camera over this APS-C, personally. Firstly because of cost. Secondly because the larger image plane affords more depth and dimensionality. 'Sides, this thread was about film, not digital cameras.
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Old 02-09-2019   #9
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Also, for street shooting I will take this camera over an old antiquated Barnack any time unless it has a fine Leica lens attached. If it's some FSU lens? I'm taking this Pentax. It's just a better photographic tool overall from a practical standpoint for this style of photography.
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Old 02-09-2019   #10
Phil_F_NM
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I've made a bit of a hobby out of fixing PC35AF cameras. The stuck shutter button / locked winder is common not because of the plastic of the shutter but because the strip of metal underneath it which is the actual shutter actuator. Easy fix.
Also getting the door shut can be made to be a more pleasant, smooth experience. Also pretty easy.
The removal of the beeper is basically just yanking wires from the solder points. If you wish to do so with scissors, more power to you.
Putting the door on is a PITA. All sorts of bits can fall out of place and you won't know until you try to use it. The default of the camera is with 10 second self timer actuated. Hear me out on this: what I mean to say is the circuit that causes the self timer to operate is in open position. This also happens to be how the board was mapped. Closed circuit = instant shutter. Where the problem lies is that when getting the front portion of the camera back on you have to put the self timer switch to on then wrangle the cover on, upside down, while manipulating the gold filaments of the self timer switch so they don't jam on the board and never make contact. If you have a low temperature soldering iron and don't care about the self timer, I'd bridge the circuit permanently then rip the contacts out.
Another thing to watch out for is the bottom plate being cracked on the side where the batteries go. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CAMERAS IS BROKEN HERE. So use that for a bargaining chip. Don't worry about it being cracked, the camera will still work fine.
Phil Forrest
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Old 02-09-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lxmike View Post
The Pentax Espio mini is a big fav of mine, mind you always have been a fan of Pentax glass
Yes. Pentax was one of the greats. Sad to see they're "almost" gone despite a purportedly great DSLR. While the Espios were Pentax's higher end PnS and were rather pricey in their day, the motors, slow start-up, and slow zooms disqualify them in my book.
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Old 02-09-2019   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
I've made a bit of a hobby out of fixing PC35AF cameras. The stuck shutter button / locked winder is common not because of the plastic of the shutter but because the strip of metal underneath it which is the actual shutter actuator. Easy fix.
Also getting the door shut can be made to be a more pleasant, smooth experience. Also pretty easy.
The removal of the beeper is basically just yanking wires from the solder points. If you wish to do so with scissors, more power to you.
Putting the door on is a PITA. All sorts of bits can fall out of place and you won't know until you try to use it. The default of the camera is with 10 second self timer actuated. Hear me out on this: what I mean to say is the circuit that causes the self timer to operate is in open position. This also happens to be how the board was mapped. Closed circuit = instant shutter. Where the problem lies is that when getting the front portion of the camera back on you have to put the self timer switch to on then wrangle the cover on, upside down, while manipulating the gold filaments of the self timer switch so they don't jam on the board and never make contact. If you have a low temperature soldering iron and don't care about the self timer, I'd bridge the circuit permanently then rip the contacts out.
Another thing to watch out for is the bottom plate being cracked on the side where the batteries go. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CAMERAS IS BROKEN HERE. So use that for a bargaining chip. Don't worry about it being cracked, the camera will still work fine.
Phil Forrest
Excellent info. Thanks, Phil. If my shutter release jams, I'll know who to text. You're a better man than I Gunga Din, for venturing to fix these bad boys. But it's great someone out there can keep a terrific camera as this out of the landfill and in circulation for others to enjoy.
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