Pentax P30T

Bad penny done good ? – Pentax P30 Series Review

The Pentax P30 series (P3 in the US) is often not at the top of the SLR shopper’s list. But these models are actually quite capable, abet slightly flawed, and are a cheap way into the fantastic K mount series.

Pentax P30T with Pentax K-A 28-80mm zoom lens
Pentax P30T with Pentax K-A 28-80mm zoom lens

That latter point is key. I’ve said before the optic quality for a SLR body is meaningless – that all depends on the glass you fix on the front. And boy do you get a huge choice here – Pentax are the true masters of backward compatibility with the K mount. You can use one of the earliest K mount lenses that came with the first K cameras  in 1975 on a current Pentax DSLR and shoot it in at least non metered manual mode (in most cases you can use Aperture priority mode and if available stop down manual mode metering). The new shiny lens on the DSLR can be mounted one of the manual 1975 bodies but you’ll be stuck at f/22 due to the lack of a manual aperture ring and  possibly with a cropped image (dependant sensor size). Almost all Pentax cameras offer some degree of compatibility with old and newer K mount lenses (there are some exception however check the mosphotos.com Pentax compatibility guide – some of the MZ/ZX  series for example are not so great)

Heart on wire
Pentax P30t with Pentax-A 28-80mm 1:3.5-4.5. Ilford XP2. Camera copes well with exposure here on this macro shot

Pentax P30T Body Specs

  • Lens Mount : Pentax K
  • Focus: Manual
  • Metering: TTL centre weighted
  • Weight: 500gm (no batteries)
  • EV range *: 1-18
  • Shutter: 1-1/1000 +B
  • Battery: 2xSR44/LR44
  • DX Coding: 25-1600
*EV range based on using 50mm 1:1.4 lens with 100 ISO

 

Our P30 series sits in the Goldilocks zone for lens compatibility. Not only will it work with almost ever manual K mount lens with metering but it’ll do the same with AF K mount lenses (you’ll need to focus mind and you’ll still get the cropped frame issue on some  digital lenses). You can even use M42 screw lenses with an adaptor and there was a range of other K mount lens makers like Ricoh (note some Ricoh MF lenses are known to get stuck on Pentax AF/digital bodies due to a small extra pin)

Test Shot Pentax P30T
Test Shot Pentax P30T with Pentax K-A 28-80mm lens in AP mode. Ilford XP2 July 2016

The original P30 lauched in 1985 is a small K mount manual focus SLR body. It offered shooting in a full automatic programmed exposure mode but for the more tricky shots you could move to full manual (there also was the option for Bulb and dedicated TTL flash). The later P30N and the P30T importantly add an Aperture Priority mode (AP) and a cable point. The P30T featured here was the last in the series and only really differs from the N by having a diagonal rather than horizontal split focus circle and a plastic film door.

Pentax P30T test shot with Ilford XP2, 2016.
Pentax P30T test shot with Ilford XP2, 2016. Shot in program mode the camera does quite well with centre weighted metering

Plastic is a common theme here as much of the camera was made mainly in It. It still feels fairly solid and the grip on the right side  works well.  You get an electronic timer, cable point, film window on rear and exposure lock button but even better there is a Depth of field preview button. Oddly there’s no EV compensation dial which given this a DX coding film speed setting camera is a major oversight IMHO. Film is manually wound on but features an easy load system (there’s no option here for an autowinder – the closely related P50 (P5 in US) does have the option). Nor can you change the focusing screen or lock the mirror.

So how does it shoot. Remember in terms of the final image the camera body adds nothing optically. It is all about exposure and ease of use. The camera has an on off switch but metering doesn’t start til you touch the shutter (it remains on even after you take your finger off. The viewfinder is a joy to use fairly bright and big and uncluttered with only shutter speeds LEDs lightning up on left margin. In program mode a P appears at the top and the selected speed. In AP and manual the current speed and target speed are shown. There is a central focusing microprism ring around the split screen focusing aid.

Pentax P30T top plate
Pentax P30T top plate. Note set at A for auto in both shutter and Aperture settings

For exposure you’ll need to set the camera for its mode

  • Program – Using manual focus K-A or later lenses press red button on aperture ring and move to A. Newer AF lens with automatically be in this mode. With the P30 you can set the shutter dial to any speed but the P30N &T needs the shutter dial set to A too. Note manual lens lacking A on ring can’t be used for program.
  • Aperture Priority (P30N & T only) – Keep shutter ring at A and if needed depress the red button on Apeture ring and move off. Set Apeture to desired F stop (not option on lenses without Apeture ring)
  • Manual with metering – Press red button on Apeture ring on K-A lenses and move off to an Apeture setting (older lens this isn’t an issue). Set the desired shutter speed and adjust both as needed

The camera uses centre weighted TTL metering. Whilst this was becoming outdated with matrix metering systems appearing with AF cameras, it is still pretty good and I found the camera was pretty good even in complex light situation. The program mode is pretty basic when you look at the charts in the manual reminiscent of the auto exposure seen in 70’s compacts. It doesn’t have as wide a shutter range as my Nikkormat EL a camera over a decade older but then again you’re unlikely to miss a 2 or 4 sec setting. However the lack of EV compensation is a noticeable irritant forcing you to calculate in manual mode. Shutter isn’t quiet but isn’t the loudest.

Pentax P30T test Shot with Ilford XP2
Pentax P30T test Shot with Ilford XP2 with a K-A 28-80mm lens. Would have benefited from a bit more exposure here by EV compensation but again not awful

Flash has impressive support. With the correct dedicated unit you can shoot in Program auto, AP or even for slow sync. The camera can support non dedicated units using 100/ setting but you’ll need to make sure your unit won’t fry the camera.

This is often maligned as a low-end plastic number which wasn’t even made in Japan (try finding a camera these days that is) but it is well made and has mind-boggling lens support.  The big issue is the lack of EV compensation. If you can live without that and want or have K mount lenses then this is steal. I’d buy the P30N or T to get the AP option and cable point. The related P50/P5 addresses the EV compensation issue but you’ll have to live with LCD screen instead of shutter speed dial.

What I paid & What it sells at

  • £9.99 + postage with a 28-80mm Pentax K-A lens
  • None currently on eBay (30/07/16)
  • Recent eBay sells bodies only from £4-15.

Why buy

  • Fantastic lens support
  • Lightweight
  • Overall competent at what it does
  • Cheap batteries

Why Not

  • No EV compensation
  • Gun metal colour

Alternatives

  • Ricoh XR 500 Auto – AP only K mount camera of the era
  • Pentax ME Super – Earlier ‘classic’ with AP & manual modes
  • Nikon FE – Nikon that offers similar lens compatibility

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5 thoughts on “Bad penny done good ? – Pentax P30 Series Review”

  1. Alan, a great camera to recommend, something of a lost model in the Pentax range. As you said, most people look for the older ME, ME Super etc.

    I’ve had a couple of P30Ts and a P50 and they were fun to use, and gave excellent results. I used mine with K mount lenses – three I’d highly recommend are the Pentax-M 50/1.7, Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Ricoh Rikenon 50/2.

    The Pentax and Chinon lenses are fantastic, there’s very little between them. The Rikenon 50/2 was a real surprise, capable of brilliant images, and the smaller (later?) version is very light and compact, a great companion to the P30T. You could use that combo for the rest of your life and get consistently pleasing images.

    If you want the shutter priority and program modes also, go for a Pentax-A lens. The 50/1.7 is optically identical to the Pentax-M version I believe so can also give stunning results.

    The only thing I don’t like with the A series lenses is the plastic aperture ring, it just feels a bit cheap compared to the metal one on the Pentax-M lenses.

    Unfortunately the shutter stopped working on one of P30Ts, it just went dead one day, so it was likely an electronics issue. I don’t think this is common though, given how many are still around on eBay in good working order.

    I would also suggest the slightly older (and in my view superior) Super A. This is probably my favourite Pentax M or A body I’ve used, and is brilliant in almost every way. It feels much sturdier and better built (more metal) than the P30.

    The only downside is the silly aperture/ shutter speed display in the viewfinder. It’s digital, too small and too dark.

    On the plus side it’s right at the bottom below the main VF so if you’re shooting Program mode or aren’t too concerned about double checking the shutter speed when on Aperture Priority, you can ignore the digital display and enjoy the large bright clean VF.

    They tend to go for a bit more than the P30 but are still a bargain, like so many film cameras these days…

  2. I agree, this is an absolute bargain at the prices they go for on eBay. I just bought a second P30T this evening for £13.

    I’m off skiing soon, and don’t fancy risking falling down a hillside with a mint MX or the K1000 that I’ve owned since I was 11 in my rucksack. Better still, the P30T is light enough that I suspect I’ll take both bodies out at once so I can shoot two different films.

    By the way, I often work around the exposure compensation issue by pointing the camera at a part of the scene that I think will represent the exposure I want, pressing the exposure lock button, then recomposing and shooting. It’s not always an option, but works well when it is.

  3. I agree – the P30s are the unsung heros of film photography.

    They have the key tools you need for high quality film work:
    [1] depth of field preview (you need to have a high spec Nikon to do that)
    [2] manual exposure option with a photodiode cell and a bridge circuit (voltage independent) so YOU can balance the aperture and speed for the most creative image (not the camera program)
    [3] exposure compensation is not needed – because you can switch to manual (you can’t do that on a Nikon EM can you!) or if in automatic use the “memory lock” button

    Finally they have the winner point for buying today – they are in plentiful supply on auction sites, are inexpensive to buy, cheap to run on standard batteries, have electronic shutters and Silicon diode exposure that keep accurate and fit mount K lenses from any maker (even those Ricoh ones with annoying aperture pins). In the end – all cameras are a box with a light path from lens to film. More mechanics and electronics in the end cannot improve the image.

    In the last 6 months I have picked up 3 of them (when one breaks I’ll have a spare or 2) – along with a range of lenses from 28mm to 200mm for the price of one well used Nikkor 135mm f2.8 (One P30 was GBP £2 with a 50mm lens only last week). So that should set me up for the next 10 years of film photography then!

    Yes – there are program, motor driven, matrix meter, autofocus Pentax cameras to buy instead – but for that type of photography I will use a digital camera with 50 point AF and 100 area matrix metering at burst frame shooting speed with tracking autofocus! Just like “slow food” – welcome to the world of “slow photography”.

    1. Good points Paul. The P30 is a nice camera and it’s short comings are only if you shoot off limits like using expired film (and even then you’ve manual mode. I’d still like a EV dial though 😉

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