It's OK to get it all wet: Pentax zoom90-WR

It's OK to get it all wet: Pentax zoom90-WR

I have made it no secret, how I used to naively look down on point-and-shoot film cameras. Lately, I have come to regard them as incredible pieces of engineering. When you truly think about them, even the very average ones you can find, you realize how well these cameras were made. Several intricate parts like motors, gears, and electronics packed together so tightly, with just one aim of freeing you from the stress of thinking about exposures when taking pictures. It's really sad how overlooked most of them are these days, though. People tend to reach for a very few classes of well hyped point-and-shoots, and most of the rest seem to be rotting on the shelves in thrift stores, and at the bottom of boxes in the flea markets. At the thrift stores that I visit, I notice people snagging up SLRs, and the like, as soon as they are placed on the shelves. The lowly point-and-shoot, however, is mostly just left to collect dust.

In this post, I'll be sharing my experience with the Pentax zoom90-WR point-and-shoot camera. This camera is very special to me because, it happens to be the very first point-and-shoot film camera with a zoom that I ever shot. I got it as part of a haul of about fifteen point-and-shoots I picked up from a thrift store. Those cameras had been on the shelf for a while, and I had always noticed them. After my excitement was drummed up, I just walked in one day and picked them all up. Of course, I politely asked for a discount, and the volunteers running the shop were more than happy to give me the cameras for almost quarter of their total listed price. It was, indeed, a great purchase, but I was sad to find that about a third of the cameras were broken after my tests. Of the cameras that worked, the camera I'm describing in this post — the Pentax zoom90-WR — was the one that inspired me the most.

The Pentax zoom90-wr is a pretty large camera for a point-and-shoot. I'm sure its size may have something to do with the fact that the camera is supposed to be water proof. In fact, there is a sign right in front with the camera, that shows a camera placed under a running tap, with the letters "OK" printed quite nicely, as if to tell you it's fine to place the camera under a tap. More evidence for its water-proofness can be found in its gasketed film door and battery cover. I also seriously want to believe the "WR" in the name alludes to the water proofing of this camera.

Apart from the size and water proofing, the camera seems to have a very premium feel to it. There are a lot of curves in its design, so much so that it just screams "I'm from the 90's". All the buttons on the camera are rubberized and feel like gentle bumps on the surface of the camera body. I believe this design choice for the buttons also has something to do with the water proofing. Still on the buttons, there are quite a number of them on this camera. It may as yet be the camera with the largest number of buttons I have shot so far — with a total of fourteen buttons, including one dedicated solely for putting the camera in macro mode.

Staying true to it's 90's heritage, the zoom90-WR features a date-back, which timestamps your pictures, and an LCD on the top which shows you the camera's modes, the lens' focal lenght, and the current frame count. One other cool thing about this camera, something that took me quite a while to figure out, is its embedded remote control. Yes, there is an entire remote control, nicely stuck unto the side of the camera. With the remote, you can zoom the camera, and push the shutter release; you are given the opportunity to use all the photographic features of the camera. The remote is chordless — because it's the 90's remember — and works through infra-red light (much like old television remotes). It was rather unfortunate the remote on my unit wasn't working.

To power this camera up, you required to supply two CR123A batteries. At first, I thought it was another obscure battery no one makes anymore. I was quite relieved to find out they're still readily available — whew! — and also quite cheap.

Shooting the zoom90-WR, like most other point-and-shoots, is a fun experience. You really don't have to think much, and that's the whole point. Adding to the fun shooting experience of this camera, are its wonderful ergonomics. It's just a fun camera to hold in your hands. I mean, while the large body and excessive curves hug your palms intimately, the rubberized surface strengthens and comforts your grip. Being a fully automatic point and shoot, this camera has motors and mechanisms that are definitely not silent. Compared to other film point-and-shoots I have shot, however, the zoom90-WR appears to be quieter than most.

In the optics department, the lens goes from 38mm to 90mm in focal length — which I feel is also alluded to by the "zoom90" in its name — and sports apertures from f3.5 to f7.8. It's really a delight to watch the lens telescope in and out of the camera. It just protrudes, somewhat weirdly, when fully extended to its 90mm end. According to its manual, the shutter on this one goes up to 1/400. The viewfinder on this camera doesn't display any special information. Apart from the auto-focus point, and a vertical parallax correction marker, there is really nothing to see in there. For a camera of its size, the viewfinder is also quite small. But, not to totally discredit the viewfinder, I must say, it's rather impressive how the viewpoint adjusts to correspond with the zoom on the lens. Now that's some engineering.

I could not get to shoot as many rolls through this camera as I'd have liked. To be honest, while shooting the first roll, I had another camera waiting that I was really itching to test. Regardless of the limited number of frames, the results from the single roll of Lomography 800 that came out of this camera were quite impressive. It's obviously not a perfect camera; its got its quirks. But, it makes nice images, and that's fine by me. The lens seems sharp through out all focal lengths, although by comparison, it appears to be a tad softer on the telephoto end. The colours were well rendered, and the contrast of the images were good. Metering on this camera was also impressive; the exposures seemed to be on point all the time. To test its waterproof claim, I took it out into the rain, and it just kept snapping away. Auto focusing on this camera is fast. That's not to say its the best. Although focusing on the wide end works snappily, and was always accurate in my tests, some shots on the telephoto end just failed to focus.

This camera once again deepened my love for point and shoots. I feel I did not do it justice by passing just a single roll through it. To cure my guilt, I'm currently planning a trip to a water park, and I have this camera on top of the list of items I'll be taking along. I don't intend to submerge it, because I doubt it will survive. But, I'm sure a few deep splashes won't really cause any harm to this baby. If you do find any of these anywhere, buy it. No one regards them, so they are quite cheap. If cheap film cameras are your thing, I can assure you this camera will be an awesome investment. Happy Shooting.