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Embracing Nostalgia with a Modern Twist: The Pentax 17 Film Camera

Pentax has made a significant return to the world of film photography with the release of the Pentax 17, the brand’s first film camera in two decades. This innovative half-frame camera is designed to capture two vertical frames in the space typically used for a single horizontal image on 35mm film. The ’17’ in its name refers to the 17 x 24mm frame size it captures. The camera is specifically targeted at a new generation of photographers, as in Instagram lovers, particularly young people and smartphone users, who are eager to explore more creative avenues in photography. With its user-friendly features and vertical format that aligns with social media trends, the Pentax 17 provides an accessible and affordable entry point into the world of film photography. Will this keep the demand for film up high? I hope so.

Key Features and Specifications

  • Half-frame image capture (17 x 24mm)
  • 37mm (equivalent) FOV F3.5 lens
  • Zone focusing system with 6 zones
  • Circular leaf shutter (F3.5-16)
  • Built-in flash (6m/20ft at ISO 100)
  • Optical tunnel viewfinder with frame lines
  • Exposure from 1/350 sec to 4 sec (+ Bulb)
  • Supports films from ISO 50 to ISO 3200

The Pentax 17 is available as at late June 2024.

Pentax 17 Target Audience: The Instagram Generation

Let’s be clear about this: Ricoh, Pentax’s parent company, has strategically targeted a demographic that has shown renewed interest in film photography—young people who have grown up in the digital era.

These individuals, often seasoned smartphone photographers, are seeking new ways to express their creativity. The Pentax 17 caters to this audience by offering a user-friendly, half-frame format that effectively reduces film and processing costs. By doubling the number of frames per roll, the Pentax 17 makes film photography more affordable and accessible.

The vertical format of the Pentax 17 is particularly appealing to those accustomed to social media platforms like Instagram, where vertical images are prevalent. This alignment with contemporary photographic habits ensures that the camera feels intuitive and relevant to today’s users.

Simplified Controls for First-Time Film Shooters

To make film photography accessible to newcomers, the Pentax 17 employs programmed exposure modes rather than a fully manual experience. This design choice simplifies the learning curve, allowing users to achieve desired results without extensive experience. One standout feature is the Bokeh mode, which mimics the shallow depth of field effect popularized by smartphone cameras. While experienced photographers understand that true bokeh is achieved by opening the aperture wide, the Pentax 17 makes this effect accessible to all users with a simple mode selection.

Design and Build

The Pentax 17 is a modern point-and-shoot camera with a solid build quality. Weighing 290g (10.2 oz) without film or battery, it features magnesium alloy top and bottom plates and a plastic middle section. The camera’s design pays homage to Pentax’s legacy, with the ’17’ in the logo using the same font as the classic Pentax 6×7 cameras, and the Asahi Optical Company logo on the top of the viewfinder.

The mode dial is divided into three sections: Auto mode (blue), Program and creative modes (white), and flash modes (gold). This intuitive layout ensures ease of use, even for beginners. The film advance lever, frame counter, and built-in flash add to the camera’s nostalgic charm.

I do think the film holder on the back is a nice touch.

Lens and Viewfinder

The Pentax 17 boasts a 25mm F3.5 lens, equivalent to 37mm on a full-frame camera. The lens employs a zone focus system with six presets, providing straightforward focusing options. The viewfinder, designed for the half-frame format, offers a unique vertical perspective, aligning with modern shooting styles.

Battery Life and Usage

Opting for a 3V CR2 lithium battery, the Pentax 17 ensures longevity, capable of lasting through 10 rolls of 36-exposure film with regular flash usage. This battery choice departs from the rechargeable options common in digital cameras, adding to the camera’s retro appeal.

Shooting Experience

Using the Pentax 17 evokes the charm of old point-and-shoot film cameras while incorporating modern conveniences. The manual film advancement, zone focusing, and vertical viewfinder create a tactile and engaging photography experience. The half-frame format allows for up to 72 exposures per roll, reducing the stress of limited shots and enhancing the enjoyment of shooting.

Image Quality

While the Pentax 17 may not match the image quality of full-frame 35mm cameras, it delivers satisfactory results for its intended use. The lens performs well, and the choice of film significantly impacts the final image quality. The Pentax 17 is designed for sharing images on social media and making small prints rather than producing large, high-resolution prints.

The Great Kai Wong Sums this camera up very well

The Pentax 17 is an exciting addition to the film camera market, targeting a new generation of photographers who crave the unique look and feel of film photography. While it may not appeal to seasoned manual shooters, it offers an accessible entry point for those looking to explore the world of film. For those desiring a more traditional manual film experience, cameras like the upcoming Rollie 35AF, with its full-frame 35mm format and F2.8 lens, may be a better fit.

However, the Pentax 17 stands out for its blend of modern convenience and classic film charm, making it a compelling choice for today’s creative photographers.

If you’re someone who hasn’t shot film before or hasn’t done so in a long time, the Pentax 17 is a fantastic entry point. It’s a camera that brings the joy of film photography to the Instagram generation, offering a blend of nostalgia and modern functionality that is sure to delight both new and experienced photographers alike.

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