Pentax P30 (1985) Light Weight Program and Manual Exposure

Pentax P-30 featured image of camera.

Pentax P30

I really like the Pentax P30. It is quite small being almost as compact as a Pentax MX. It also reminds me a bit of the old Pentax ME Super which immediately proceeded it. Some cameras I just like. The P30 is one of them.

The Pentax P30 came out in 1985 making this one of the last manual focus single lens reflexes 35mm film cameras produced. It has both program and manual exposure modes. You will need one of the newer Pentax-A lenses to get program auto exposure. The Pentax-A lenses have a small button on the aperture ring to lock them in the Auto Exposure setting. The older SMC Pentax-M lenses and thread-mount M42s (with adapter) will also work on the P30 but with manual exposure only. There are also enormous numbers of second-hand K, and KA-mount lenses from other manufacturers available – often going very cheap.

Pentax P30The viewfinder is big and bright. LED shutter speed numbers light up on the left-hand side from 1000 down to 1 second. Focusing is very easy with Fresnel screen and a horizontal split level range-finder. The later makes focusing a breeze even with a slow lens and poor light.

All that is required to use program auto exposure is mount a Pentax-A lens and turn the exposure ring to the A setting and press the small button on the ring to lock in place. You don’t need to set anything on the camera body itself. In Program Auto mode the shutter speed chosen by the camera is shown on the left-hand side of the viewfinder. The P30 chooses the correct exposure setting but doesn’t tell you the aperture chosen.

Pentax P30 showing shutter release socket and exposure lock.

ML is the exposure lock. Below it the cable release socket.

Outside on a bright sunny day with 100 ASA film, it will pick something like 1/500th of a second at F8. The program setting effectively makes the camera a simple point-and-shoot albeit without autofocus. The setting is ideal if snap shooting in a hurry.

In manual mode the viewfinder displays both the shutter speed the dial is set to, and the correct shutter speed to use. The later is blinking so you can tell them apart. Turn the aperture or shutter speed dial until both numbers match. If the correct shutter speed for the aperture chosen is below 1/60th of a second the numbers are orange to warn you there is a danger of camera-shake, in which case you should either use a wider aperture, move to where there is more light, use flash, or steady the camera with a tripod.

Pentax P30 mounted with an earlier SMC-Pentax-M 55mm f2 lens. The red light flashes when the timer is counting down. Below it on the lens housing is the depth of field preview button. Beneath that is the button to release the mechanism locking the lens to the camera.The red light flashes when the timer is counting down. Below it on the lens housing is the depth of field preview button. Beneath that is the button to release the mechanism locking the lens to the camera.

A big advantage with old Pentax K-mount cameras like the P30 is the enormous range of readily available, inexpensive, high-quality, second-hand lenses you can get for them. Generally speaking, used Pentax cameras and lenses from the 1970s are much cheaper to buy than Nikon gear. In my opinion, the Asahi Pentax lenses are at least on a par with those from Nikon. As an added bonus old manual focus Pentax K and KA mount lenses will also work on modern Pentax digital SLR bodies too. Using a Pentax P30 is a lot of fun if you already own a sizable collection of Pentax K-mount lenses as I do.

The P-30 has no control for changing the film speed. The setting is by DX-encoding from the film 35mm film cassette only. The Film DX range is 25 to 1600 ASA. If the camera can’t read the DX-encoding it defaults to 100 ASA.

Pentax P30 SLR. 35mm film camera.

Other Features include:

Self Timer. The Self-timer runs for 12 seconds and is set by first pushing down the small button in front of the on/off switch on the left of the top plate, while at the same time sliding the on/off switch forward. Push the shutter release button to start the timer. A red LED on the front of the camera flashes until the shutter fires.

The depth of Field lever on the side of the lens mount.

Shutter: Electronic verticle metal blades.

Manual Exposure Lock on the opposite side of the lens mount. To use this button set the correct exposure, hold down the button, then re-frame your shot. The meter is center-weighted. Exposure range 1 – 18 EV.

Batteries 2 x 1.5-volt button cells: A76, or LR44, or AG13. These are readily available. The downside of the electronic shutter is that with flat batteries not only does the meter stops working; the shutter won’t fire either. So always keep a few spare sets of batteries in your camera bag. The meter switches itself off after a few seconds of inactivity but it is best to switch it off yourself with the toggle switch on top of the camera.

Flash Synchronization is at 1/100 of a second set on the shutter speed wheel.

B-Setting for longer exposures set on the shutter speed wheel. There is a cable release socket on the bottom left side of the lens housing. Not all P30s have this cable release socket. Mine does.

Overall an excellent compact 35mm SLR film camera with basic features. As mentioned above when Pentax-A mount lenses are fitted the P30 has that handy program mode enabling you to point, focus, and shoot very quickly.

You can purchase a good working Pentax P-30 and Pentax-M 50mm f2 lens on TradeMe.co.nz for as little as NZ$50.00. A real photographic bargain!

Photo Gallery – All shots taken with the Pentax P30

There is plenty of great information on old Pentax K-mount cameras at Bojidar Dimitrov’s Pentax K-Mount Page

Here is a good review of the slightly later model Pentax P30T at Matt’s Classic Cameras.

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