The best camera in the world! Pentax full frame MZ-3 By Aivaras Sidla

The best camera in the world! Pentax full frame MZ-3

By Aivaras Sidla


I decided to write, because of three main reasons:

A)    I really enjoy your site and would like to be a part of creating community rather than only visitor.
B)   I’m big fan of Pentax MZ-3 / MZ-5N cameras, and this article is my “thanks” to Pentax.
C)    As film shooter I want to promote film.

I’ll try to concentrate on user view of camera and lenses of the system and let readers know what could be achieved with it and with various film. Hope this will create more interest to use Pentax film cameras and push people to shoot more film. Sorry to inform, but report will be quite personal, contains too much photos and language will not be fluent.

I’m hobbyist photographer from Lithuania. My photography illness started in 2012. I started to shoot digital and by accident I stumbled into film photography – found unused film camera in my office and decided to try it. Then I hooked on film and I can’t let it down since then. Digital camera is used only about 30%, when there is not enough light for film, or when I’m in the mood for digital.

My history of film cameras started from Pentax MZ-30 (called ZX-30 in US) and after tests and changes of equipment, researches, purchases and sales I found which film camera is closest to perfect for me – Pentax MZ-3. MZ-3 is enthusiast camera close to top of the range in Pentax MZ line. Camera has very specific balance of simplicity and automation and this is main point in selecting it. Pentax tried to get back to traditional camera design but they put some modern features in it. In this article I do mention MZ-5n, part of shots are taken with it. This camera is very close to MZ-3. MZ-3 has higher top shutter speed – 4000 vs. 2000 in MZ-5n, but MZ-5n has 2s slowest shutter speed on dial vs. 1 s in MZ-3. There are none any more differences between those cameras that I know. To me they are the same, MZ-3 has advantage being faster;  I use both of them.



MZ-3 has to be used with lenses that have physical aperture rings, aperture is controlled with ring on the lens, and shutter speed is controlled by dial on top. Shutter dial has position “A” for Aperture priority, and with lenses that has “A” on aperture dial, camera can be used in shutter priority, or with both controls on “A” it is fully automatic. Simple as that. Below shutter speed dial is metering control switch – there are options of multi segment metering, center weighted and spot metering.Top left of camera contains exposure compensation dial. Below it is drive selector, with single frame, continuous shooting, timer and several options of bracketing.

Slanted panel, situated below top display contains exposure lock button. Main controls of camera are very intuitive, logically laid, fluent in use and everything could be controlled without taking camera from the eye. Controls of camera are very important issue for me, and MZ-3 has one of most confortable solutions. By the way – I think that creators of todays hot Fuji X-T1 had a good place to get some inspiration for controls.


Viewfinder has 92% coverage with 0.8X magnification, has diopter correction and decent eye point – I wear glasses and that is important for me. There is display of main data in right side of finder with good visibility in good and poor light. Mate screen is suitable for manual focusing even without focus confirmation.



Body is made from plastic and has metal lens mount. I see that some call it flimsy and low quality, but for me it feels solid and reliable. It’s in line to fuji x100, X-E1 cameras that I owned, maybe it has even more solid feel. It weights 410 grams without battery. Body is compact, but with front integral grip and right curvatures in back cover it is very comfortable for my medium size hands.
Camera looks and feels in hand as proper camera should look and feel. Its great. Its traditional but not too old school.


Autofocus is screw drive, so it’s noisy. It’s quite fast with 43 mm and 50mm lenses and slow with 77mm. It’s quite accurate in normal light, usually confuses in backlight situation. I have no experience with fast AF cameras, so for me AF performance is decent and after using MF cameras, even existence of AF is very good thing.
For manual focusing mate screen is enough, after some practice. Additionally camera has visual (green dot in viewfinder) and sound confirmation.

As I mentioned previously, camera has 3 types of metering – multi segment, center weighted and spot metering.  I don’t use center weighted metering, so can’t comment on that.  Multi segment metering works good, I use it for less contrast scenes, and hadn’t any issues with it. According to manual it even senses and compensates metering for backlight scenes, but I haven’t tried. Spot metering is great function in this camera; I use it a lot. It’s great that I am able to switch between multi segment metering and spot metering with my eye on viewfinder.

Panorama mode – there is a switch close to viewfinder that lets curtains on film in upper and lower sections of view. Then view and picture becomes wide. But is happened at the price of smaller frame – this function is similar to cropping. I use it rarely.
Multi area AF – autofocus can work with single center area (Spot focusing) or 3 points automatic focusing. I use only spot focusing.
DX coding – camera takes DX code from film canister and sets ISO automatically for each film. It prevent from stupid mistake to forget change ISO according to film used. There is option for setting ISO manually.
Auto rewind – camera prepares new film by winding several frames on spool, after loading of new film, winds film after each shot automatically and rewinds it automatically after film roll is finished (I receive strange looks when my camera begins whining when rewinding film).  I like auto film advancing, it lets concentrate on scene and prevent movement of camera which happens when manually advancing film.  Catch in focus feature – when using non AF lenses and dedicated remote cable, camera could be set to shoot automatically when subject comes into focus.  This is convenient in some cases. Build in flash  – used in once, so don’t have experience with it. Data back  – most MZ-3’s comes with data back. Date and time can be printed in each photo. Never used it.

There are several aspects that could be better in this camera, but issues are not big. Anyway I prefer to write about them:

Panorama mode – there are 2 problems. First – who needs it? 🙂 Second – more important – if there is backlight in scene, then panorama “curtains” cause bad flare effects. AE lock button – its small, recessed and it hard to find without looking.
There is no mirror lock up feature. I haven’t experienced problems with that, as vibrations are well dampened, but still.

There are several common problems with MZ-3 and MZ-5n:

One is build-in flash spring holder. It breaks and flash doesn’t hold open, It has to be kept raised manually. One of my cameras is experiencing this problem, but for me its not big deal as I don’t use flash. It doesn’t matter when flash is retracted. This problem is easily solved by fixing spring holding pin (with glue).
Second is mirror motor drive gear. Its made from plastic and it breaks eventually. Pentax has solution for that – they produced motor with metal gear and put it MZ-3 limited models and some later models. This motor still can be bought new (approx. 30USD) and could be replaced.

This is where we are coming close to interesting part. Body supports Kaf2, Kaf, Ka, K – mount lenses. Plenty of lenses are available as new or used options. It’s possible to get good quality lenses for reasonable prices or go for top of the range (and quite expensive) Limited’s. More on lenses – later. There is one limiting factor – lenses must have aperture rings, there is no option to control aperture from camera. Worth mentioning Pentax has wide array of legacy lens accessories, providing endless creative possibilities; there are macro add-on lenses for standard lens, macro helicoids, tele converters, even AF adapter that enables AF on some non AF lenses.  I don’t have lots experience here as trying to be as simple as possible. Use only Asahi close up filter Nr. 1 for closer focusing.

To sum all thoughts about camera, the essence not details above, I feel several great things about it:
–       It begs to be used. Starting from look of the camera, feel in the hands, continuing with feel and logic of controls to operational sounds and finishing with results. It inspires to go out (or stay in) and shoot.
–       It disappears when I’m using it. Looks like it’s me and the scene.

I shoot with primes most often. My favorite focal length is around 50mm, sometimes I go for short tele range up to 100mm and I’m big fan of shallow depth of field. Pentax provides exiting options in this area and I will go trough those I own and love to use. I like fact, that Pentax managed to keep their prime lenses extremely light, compact and to keep small filter diameter (49mm in this case) – its important for me that all lenses I use has same filter diameter, It helps to save weight and expenditures for filters.

SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4
Good, predictable, balanced standard lens. A little soft wide open (rarely use it at F1.4), reasonably sharp from F2. Smooth bokeh, nine aperture blades provide non distracting highlights. It gives pictures on warm side and has old lens character (and that’s good).
Lens is quite compact, light despite amount of glass used, its made from plastic. Aesthetically this lens sucks with its horrible design and flimsy aperture ring and small manual focus ring, but from compactness side, from picture quality side and from cost side it delivers with excess. Lens is quite cheep both new and used. I would recommend it to 50mm shooter as universal lens. It my first AF 50mm  lens and I use it till this day, but its least used from 50mm lens range as its too much “in the middle”, not too “perfect”, but character is not pronounced enough. Everything about pictures from this lens fits into word “smoth”, therefore I use it when I want same feel in my pictures.

 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak Ektar 100


 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak Portra 400


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak Portra 160


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak BW400CN Professional


 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak Portra 400


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Kodak BW400CN Professional


 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, Fujifilm Superia 200


SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited

This one is special. Special starting from odd focal length – 43mm. I adapted to it and like fact that could include a little bit more of context into pictures.  It’s very compact and light, build quality is top. It’s real pleasure to handle this lens. Lens is sharp from wide open, bokeh is quite smooth, but highlights could be strange and distracting in some cases. Pictures from this lens is more on “modern”, “perfect” side. It’s my most used lens today. No lens is perfect, but excess perfectness in pictures and rare distracting highlights are compensated by feel of quality, sharpness, focal range and compactness of lens.

Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Kodak Portra 160


Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Fujifilm Superia 400


Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Fujifilm Superia 200


 Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9, Fujifilm Superia 200


 SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Again, typical to Pentax Limited’s odd focal range. Compact, high quality build, integrated lens hood, sharp, smooth bokeh, warm colors. Only good words for this lens.
It focuses slightly slower than 50mm or 43mm, but I suppose this is related to longer focal range.

Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-3, SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8, Fujifilm Superia 200

77 superia naujas

SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7 Limited

Latest addition to my lens stable. It’s very special by way how it renders picture and what colors it gives. There are two words that describe pictures from this lens  – surreal and psychedelic. 🙂 I suppose this could be seen in photos. Lens is compact, light, sharp from wide open. Bokeh is… I don’t know how to describe it… its painted maybe? I like handling and physical feel better than FA 50mm F1.4. And its way cheaper in used lens market too. But not everybody would be fond of this lens strongly pronounced character.  Pictures has this “old school” look.

 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7, Fujifilm Superia 200


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7, Fujifilm Superia 200


 Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7 + Asahi close up filter Nr.1, Kodak Ektar 100


Pentax MZ-5n, SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.7, Fujifilm Superia 200



And… that’s it.

Steve and Brandon – thanks for keeping awesome site and thanks for publishing this article, or even considering (in case it wont be published :)).
Readers – thank you for reading and looking.

More pictures could be found here:

More about gear setup I use could be found here (only digital camera has changed):

Best regards,


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  1. Followup comment. This camera is great. After I developed the film, I was amazed by how the pictures are great. This means the meter and the lens 50F1.4 combination is very good. I’m not an expert or professional. I just shoot for fun but this looks quite nice even compared to my other cameras. Advantages I found was – light weight, great beep sound to help in focus, Aperture and Shutter priority makes you just think of your focus and composition. I have loaded my Leica M7 with 50 Planar and will compare the results.

  2. Wow. Thank you for this. I just bought an mz3 for 4usd and it is working. This will add to my LX which is a great camera.

    I loaded it already and so far so good. The buttons are all in the right location. Being able to do aperture priority. Light built and not plasticky feeling at all. Leather made it feel and look good.

  3. Aivaras,
    A great job… Your camera and the Pentax F 50 1.7 is ( THE TICKET ) !
    Painting in Light ! Beautiful . . . You’ve got me thinking Superia 200 is a
    nice option … I like your results. Suggest Provia 100F for landscapes; and
    even people; but Portra 160 in particular for People.
    Again ~ a beautiful, effective option. | I have returned to FILM too ! | Bravo |

  4. When i went out to buy my first dslr, my first choice was Pentax. Unfortunately there was no supply chain from pentax in my country at that time so i finally settled for a Nikon. However after reading your article I think i Should have waited a little longer.

  5. Thanks. This was great. The 77, the 43 and the 50,1.7 are great lenses, at least in your hands.

    Superia 200 is a very nice economy film, via Amazon it’s about $2.50 US for a roll of 24 exposures. I’m lucky because I have mini-lab nearby and it costs about $3.00 develop only.

  6. Thanks for kind words.
    MIl – picture with 2 birds is from Latvian town called Ventspilis.
    Dmitris – this camera is best for ME. So we are both right. 🙂

  7. Truly sublime images. And that’s one of the benefits of film, you can change out the film for different looks. Yes, there’s filters, vsco, etc…and with that being said I have got to get Portra and burn a roll on my Bessa.

  8. I will have to show this to an old Army buddy. He loves his Pentax full frame and 35mm. I have a soft spot in my heart for Pentax. My first SLR was the Pentax Spotmatic.

    I’m glad to see lovely images still being captured with Pentax film cameras. Thank you.

  9. Beautiful colors and bokeh. My dad still have a Pentax ME Super, sadly unused after digital gained popularity. Keep it up. You have good skills.

  10. Aivaras,

    Waydago on a very attractive set of photos. Nice variety, nice use of limited depth of field.

    I, too, enjoy the look of your 50mm 1.7 shots. The rendering reminds me a bit of the old Canon FD 50mm 1.4.

    Awesome that you’ve found a system that works well for you and inspires you to go out and shoot!

    I had a Pentax ZX-5n, and liked it quite a lot. My only problem was that in bright light I couldn’t read the Info/Readouts in the viewfinder. :^/ Otherwise, such a nice, compact, and competent camera.

  11. Nice but I feel that sometimes photographers use a very wide aperture just because they can rather than using the appropriate aperture required to tell a story. Sometimes fully open does work well but sometimes you do need to stop down.

    • Oh, yes, I’m guilty of that. Maybe i’m not mature enough to quit playing with shallow depth of field… Its still a new toy to me. 🙂 Seriously. But on the other hand sometimes wide aperture can create mysticall stories from very simple everyday situation and F16 would tear those stories apart.

  12. I’ve had Pentax (z1) but now I only have a K 1000 full of fungus, but I would say that the best cameras ever are the Leica M 6, the Pentax MX and the Nikon F 3….Well, ok Blads 500C are out of this world, the Alpas with their odd inverted film advance are to die for and the Calypso-Phot (I have a weakness for inverted film advance levers…)
    Ok, but you take nice pictures and enjoy your camera and that’s what matters! Congratulations!

  13. I can understand your film nostalgia. I can understand your love for Pentax but the best 135 camera ever is Nikon F6. Anyway your pictures are very nice and wish you all the best with your film photography.

  14. I love film and but its getting expensive day by day. Nice pictures.. Where did you took the picture with 2 birds?

  15. I still use my MZ5 and love it. I foolishly sold my 50mm Fa along with my money making Pentax Z1, I have regretted it ever since

  16. Aivaras…The Pentax MZ-3 in my hands is certainly not the “best camera in the world”…I find a way to screw them all up, no matter which Company manufacturers them…but in your hands…I would say you have made a powerful case…both for these tools and your own photographic gifts…thanks for keep it real.

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