Pentax Actually Did It - The Pentax 17 Film Camera - TDS Photo Podcast

This is The Digital Story Podcast #952, June 18, 2024. Today's theme is "Pentax Actually Did It - The Pentax 17 Film Camera." I'm Derrick Story.

Opening Monologue

Talk about having some serious moxie... Not only did Pentax debut the their first film camera in decades, they did it on the same day Nikon announced the highly anticipated Z6 Mark III. And guess which camera we're going to talk about first? All of this and more, much more, on today's TDS Photography Podcast. I hope you enjoy the show.

Digital Photography Podcast 952

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Pentax Actually Did It - The Pentax 17 Film Camera


The Pentax 17 is a half-frame 35mm film camera with auto exposure, manual film advance, manual rewind, ISO selection dial, exposure compensation, built-in flash, and a whole lot of style.

Along with its magnesium top and bottom plates, the 17 borrows many legacy details from past cameras to inform its distinct design: the film rewind knob is taken from the Pentax LX, the ISO dial from the SP, the flash and shutter release from the KP, the lens housing from the Espio Mini, the front logo text from the 67, the knurled battery cover from the DA WR series of lenses, the film advance lever from the Auto 110, and the top plate from a special edition LX.

The viewfinder includes Pentax's own classic logo along with the Asahi AOCo logo and a film plane indicator taken from their line of DSLRs.

And it looks great. The protruding grip houses the CR2 lithium battery, the viewfinder housing is absolutely beautiful, the textured wrap and back memo holder contrast the silver top plate, and the lug straps are arranged so you can wear the camera horizontally or vertically.

Distinct from 35mm "full-frame" cameras with a 36 x 24mm format, the Pentax 17 is a half-frame format camera with a recording area of 17 x 24mm. This smaller, more unique format has a few added benefits.

Let's review the key specs and features.

  • 35mm Half-Frame Film Camera (72 exposures on roll of 36)
  • HD PENTAX HF 25mm f/3.5 Traditional Lens (37mm equivalent) f/3.5-f/16
  • Manual Zone Focus with Macro Setting
  • Window-style optical viewfinder (non TTL) with brightline frame lines for composition accuracy; these lines also include two notches to help compensate for parallax when using the close-up focus setting.
  • Autoexposure, Program, and Bokeh Modes - 1/350th to 4 seconds
  • Built-In Flash, Flash AE Modes - sync at 1/125th
  • Exposure Compensation (-2.0/+2.0) and ISO Dials (50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
  • Manual Film Advance Lever & Film Rewind
  • Takes 1x CR2 Battery
  • 2.5mm Remote Cable Switch Terminal
  • 40.5mm filter ring with light meter sensor in the lens housing behind the filter.

Focusing is accomplished with what I call intelligent zones. You choose a basic zone, but the camera will fine-tune the focusing by adding more or less depth of field depending on your exposure setting. The zones are:

  • Macro/Flower: 0.82' / 0.25 m
  • Close-Up/Knife & Fork: 1.7' / 0.5 m
  • Single Person: 4' / 1.2 m
  • Two People: 5.6' / 1.7 m
  • Group of People: 10' / 3 m
  • Mountain/Infinity

The fixed prime lens is an HD PENTAX HF 25mm f/3.5 Traditional; it's a slightly wide-angle lens offering excellent sharpness and color rendering. It features Pentax's contemporary HD anti-reflective coating, helping to boost contrast and clarity.

The exposure dial is also unique. Your basic choices are programmed exposure or full auto, but with a twist.

The mode dial is divided into two sections: flash off or flash on. Within the flash on section, there is a choice between a Program auto with flash and a slow-sync with flash settings. With the flash off, Program auto, bulb, and slow shutter speed settings can be used, as well as a unique Bokeh mode that prioritizes use of the f/3.5 maximum aperture for the shallowest depth of field. Also, there is an in-between Auto mode that choose whether or not to use flash depending on the lighting conditions.

There is also a built-in flash on the front of the body. This flash has a guide number of 20' at ISO 100 and a recycle time of about 9 seconds. LEDs near the viewfinder display when the flash is recharging and when it is ready for use.

The pictures I've seen from independent reviewers are quite good and would stand up to the images that I currently get with many of my legacy film cameras. Yes, it's half frame, so you won't be making 16x20 prints from the Pentax 17, but that's not its goal.

What it aims to do is provide a modern analog experience that is fun and rewarding. And on both of those counts, it appears to succeed.

You can order the Pentax 17 right now for $499. It should begin shipping later this week.

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Virtual Camera Club News

The Nimble Photographer Newsletter is now publishing every Thursday. Readers will enjoy a variety of content spanning from short photo essays, to commentary on weekly events, to reviews of the latest and coolest photo gear.

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See you next week!

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