Lo-Fi Goes Fiscal – The Protax Z 855 Review

The Protax Z 855 sounds like a claim form for the HMRC/IRS that you supplement this year’s tax return with. But in reality it’s one of the weirdest named and designed toy class cameras I’ve ever used with a fixed focus zoom lens and fisher price digital looks. But just how bad is it? You might be surprised.

You’d also be forgiven for think it’s a trn of the century digital with styling. But nope you have a 35mm with a zoom lens but fixed focus

Metal Sky. Protax Z 855 . 2020
Protax Z 855 and Kodak ColorPlus 200. 2020 Dumfries. Lens wide-note vignetting

Protax ? bet that doesn’t do well in an Election year

Hey ! leave the puns to me. I’ll have you know there are several Protax cameras out there

So is it some brand I’ve missed ?

Trust me you’ve been lucky.

Protax is a name associate with a range of Taiwanese and Chinses made cameras. I’m not sure if they are actually made the same company or just a used name.

The earliest Camera I’ve seen is the Protax 2000

Protax 2000 Camera. Image copyright of Werner Schnell and used with his kind permission. Click here to see his Flickr Stream

This yet another color optical lens scamera (see my Barclaycard Visa review)

There seem to be a range of simple fixed focus cameras predominately made in Taiwan. I’ve seen the following

Protax DX autoflash
It’s the Japan Parts that make the difference
  • PC-606 – a simple rebranding of the Premier PC-606 one of the most rebranded very basic cameras I’ve seen
  • 2L3357 – Simple flash camera occasionally mis-described as AF
  • DX auto Flash – woo ! DX coding still fixed focus
  • QL-835BF – like above but lacking DX. also sold with focus branding.
  • 808G – Fixed focus, motor drive, flash & 35mm 1:5.6 lens
  • Unnamed Protax – similar styling to the Z 855 but fixed focal length
  • QL-605- simple 35mm plastic camera

But it gets more perfidious with digital. There are some early cheesy looking handgrip style cameras that were vogue at turn of the century. But these days Protax is widely used on a range of overpriced digital crap, that trade on being professional SLR. Notably the set of models worryingly sounding…ahem very similar to Nikon models. So we have a D7000, D7100, D7200 and a D7300 as well as an older series that went from D3000 to D3300). They aren’t DSLR and have an overinflated interpolated MP rating.

Writing on the door. Protax Z 855 + XP2. 2020
Protax Z 855 + XP2. 2020 Dumfries. Click on image for larger version on Flickr

Blimey, not one to trade my Leica in for then?

Look if you’ve a Leica M6 with a lens I’ll give you this and a £100 no questions asked 😉

But seriously this ain’t gonna be for you if you like premium gear. But there may be enough for you lomo kids and lo-fi fans.

Disx and No Gull. Protax Z 855 + ColorPlus 200. 2020
Protax Z 855 + Kodak Color Plus 200. Dumfries 2020. Click on image for full version.

Looks like a Kodak Easy Share things ?

Given it’s looks I understand why you came to that conclusion. But no this is a simple 35mm camera that weirdly looks like an early digital like one of those Kodak’s geared for kids.

All plastic affair with a 2 tone satin silver design. It’s a bit creaky but not awful.

Protax Z 855 top plate
No Counter on the top plate

So what’s the Spec, then ?

This is lo-fi stuff alright. You have a fixed focus lens with a non adjustable aperture.

But this has a zoom lens.

Lens barrel Protax Z 855
I always find optical lenses are good for cameras 🤣

I use the word zoom in small caps for a reason. With just over a x1.50 zoom the 32-56mm doesn’t exactly scream much difference. No spec exists so I’m guessing a shutter around 1/100. I suspect there is a fixed aperture circle which will vary about a half stop depending on the zoom. I’m guessing it sits somewhere around f/8 to f/10 mid-zoom. The film plane is curved

The manually triggered flash is powered by a single AA.

Caul. Protax Z 855. 2020
Dumfries, 2020. Protax Z 855 & XP2. Cick on image for fuller version.

Hang sound a bit like the…

Halina Silhouette
Halina Silhouette. Looks good but shoots like a donkey.

Halina Silhouette ?
Blimey you must be a regular. On paper that fixed focus zoom camera should be better with motorised zoom, motordrive, DX coding and just maybe some exposure control. But nope, it’s one of the worst cameras I have ever used.

And SPOILER ALERT the Protax beats that bar – although that bar is currently 3ft under in a swamp filled with toxic slime so it isn’t hard

How does it Handle ?

Standard loading arrangement for this camera with a thumbwheel advance. the simple viewfinder actually zooms which was surprising. Flash is slow to charge up with a single 1.5V battery.

Tow rewind you need to flick the rewind switch on rear and use the standard rewind crank on base. the rewind crank is actually robust but not great to use as the point you grab is small and doesn’t rotate.

Base of Protax Z 855
Base of the Protax Z 855. Note rewind crank and battery hatch but no tripod point

There is no frame counter. But the lens has zoom length markings on the barrel.

Mines had issues on the first roll. It didn’t seem to wind or cock correctly. I’ll put that down to lack of use as the next rolls worked fine. However I suspect reliability is not a strong point here.

So show us Your Results

This did better than I actually though it would. But bear in mind that level was absolute cr&p. Still this isn’t awful.

Bench. Protax Z 855 & XP2. 2020
Protax Z 855 with XP2. Oct 2020 Dumfries. Click on image for larger version

Its images are little soft and soften towards the edge. It’s sharpest between 3-10m. It’s about the same though as many a fixed focal length plastic camera.

Sus 1. Protax Z 855. 2020
Vignetting very obvious at wide end. Protax Z 855 + ColorPlus 200. Dumfries , Oct 2020.
Click on image for larger version.
Sus 2. Protax Z 855. 2020
Zoomed in there is less vignetting. Protax Z 855 + ColorPlus 200. Dumfries, 2020.
Click on image for larger version.

It has barrel radial distortions on both focal lengths and some fringing is evident. There is some loose material in my shutter giving a fabric fringe on some shots. The lens vignettes a bit when shot on wide.

It flares awfully in bright light

Whats Good then

On a plus

  • Not awful image quality
  • has a zoom for a basic camera
  • Viewfinder zooms too

And Why Not

  • There are better cheap cameras
  • Bulky and child like
  • Image not that distinctive
  • Shutter issue on test model
  • It’s not awful but not great
National. Protax Z 855. 2020
Dumfries 2020. Protax Z 855 & ColorPlus 200. Click on image for bigger version

So may be give it a swerve ?

Look this is what it is. It actually is better than I thought it would be and provides image quality in the ball park of the current crop of reloadables and simple plastic cameras. And if plastic cameras are your thang this is worth a sniff

It’s pretty unique as a zoom plastic camera. And it is the best fixed focus zoom I’ve ever used but given the only other I’ve tried is the Halina Silhouette that’s not hard. Mind you you do look like you’ve a fisher-price digital

Better Plastic Fantastics ?

I’d always mention a VUWS or a clone out of the blocks. One of the smallest 35mm cameras ever made with a surprisingly good vey wide angled plastic lens. If a more retro style but better lo-fi optics is required the Hanimex 35 SE/Halina Flash 350 is very worthy and has a coated glass triplet lens that still adds a distinctiveness. Equally the earlier Halina 1000/Ansco 35 offers a plastic lo-fi experience with a plastic lens that is quirky and wrapped up in a retro plastic body. If you want new one of the cameras typified by the Dubblefilm Show may be worth a look.

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