Ricoh’s New Pentax 17 Film Camera Helped Me Rediscover the Joy of Analog Photography – CNET

Like cassettes and vinyl records (and even dumb phones), film photography is having a resurgence. However, getting your hands on a new turntable or cassette deck is easier than a new 35mm film camera, unless you want a toy camera or a $5,600 Leica Rangefinder. Luckily, the new Pentax 17 I recently shot with is a great blend of manual operation and point-and-shoot performance in a compact design. 

While it’s easy enough to find a used camera, the idea for the $500 Pentax 17 is to give those new to shooting film an option without worrying about the condition of the camera or lens. The camera’s features are a step above the $400 Lomo LC-Wide and well beyond the bare-bones $45 Kodak Ektar H35. It’s a half-frame 35mm camera, so you get two 24-by-17mm pictures for each 35mm frame. Film prices are pretty high, as is developing, so getting 72 shots from a roll of 36 certainly helps. Plus, the vertical frames are more in step with phone photography. 

Close-up of the Pentax 17 zone-focus dial on the camera's lens. Close-up of the Pentax 17 zone-focus dial on the camera's lens.

The camera uses a zone-focus system from 0.8-foot to infinity. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Instead of full manual or autofocus, the camera uses a zone-focus system with six zones: 0.8, 1.7, 4, 5.6, 10 feet and infinity (0.25, 0.5, 1.2, 1.7, 3 meters and infinity). Just twist the dial around the lens to the pictograph representing what you’re shooting, and you’re done. If you can’t remember the subject distance for each zone, they’re marked below the lens, and you can see the pictograph through the viewfinder to double-check the setting. 

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The mode dial is split into modes with flash and without, with a Full Auto mode in between. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

The manual controls — from loading the film to advancing frames — give it the tactility that’s missing from simple point-and-shoot film cameras like the Kodak I mentioned earlier. And it’s definitely missing from the phone photography experience. The body is relatively lightweight at 10.2 ounces (290 grams), and although it’s not slim (partly because of the right-hand grip that holds the single CR2 lithium battery), keeping it in a backpack or jacket pocket isn’t an issue. The Pentax 17 is mostly plastic, but the top and bottom are magnesium alloy, which gives it a nicer look and feel. I wish metal were used for the dials, film advance lever and shutter release, but balancing costs (and weight, for that matter) can’t be easy. 

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