Pentax 17 Camera: My Favourite Photos (So Far)

By Paul McKay

There are Pentax 17 film cameras heading out to photographers all over the UK, and I know that many of you are eager to better understand what images the camera is capable of producing. There's been lots of chat on the internet about it's half-frame format - what that means for the resolution of photos - as well as the quality of the lens. So let's review some of my favourite photos that I've taken so far!

 


 

Technical limitations of the internet

 

One of the challenges for showcasing great quality photography is social media. Instagram and TikTok is how most people first became aware of the Pentax 17 and see sample photos, but these platforms are notorious for aggressive image compression. Especially when included in a video, which is the preferred file format for all social media platforms at the moment.

If you see images on a mobile phone screen, compressed and distorted via Instagram's software, then it's not a fair reflection of those photographs. Detail is lost, contrast and grain are often amplified, and things just look a bit murky - and many of the responses to my initial Pentax 17 camera review questioned the sample photos for this very reason.

The same limitations apply on this very website, and everything hosted on the internet in a 'user friendly' window. One of the reasons that a photo print is the purest final form of photography!

 

Photo prints made from Pentax 17 shots

I printed my entire shortlist at 40cm (16in) and used a magnifying loupe to judge the detail. You could fit ~12 smartphone screens onto each single print. This gives an idea of the level of size compression - never mind data optimisation compression - you're seeing on Instagram!

 

What I can do is host this article's images on a server for you to download on your computer and zoom in to your heart's content, simply by clicking on the link underneath each of the photos below.

 


 

My favourite colour photos

 

I think it makes sense to separate colour out from black and white, as they are often used for different creative processes. Black and white film is - by definition - one further step removed from the reality of the world most of us see.

Colour film is still an interpretation, and different films 'see' the scene differently, so I'll show you a range of emulsions. So let's do 6 colour and then 4 B&W, on a mix of different shooting settings, for Paul's Top Ten! All were developed and scanned by our in-house processing lab to get Premium JPEG files (3167 × 4492 pixels and ~5MB size).

Let's begin 🙌🏼

Flower taken on Kodak Ektar 35mm film and Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

Shot on Kodak Ektar 35mm film. We're going to have images later that show the sharpness of the lens but with this one I love this photo for the softness of the lens as a deliberate creative choice. You can see the very slim plane of focus, but I don't find it distracting and I keep coming back to the gorgeous soft colours in the foreground and background. I think it captures the sense of fading beauty and the start of decay and the balance across the image also feels right.

 

portrait of Ben taken on the Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

A portrait take at night on 'yellow moon' mode i.e. the flash fires to freeze my subject and the shutter stays open to expose the background. I shot this on Kodak Ultramax 400, knowing that should give the camera a good balance between the flash and the background. I love the light trails from the festival's projectors playing around the top of the frame!

 

Photo taken on Pentax 17 film camera showing reflection in the water of a river

High res file available for download here

I took this photo while wandering around Oxford. The sun came out for a couple of hours and the reflections in the river started to pop. Seeing this image has prompted me to get hold of a circular polarising filter to fit the Pentax 17's 40.5mm filter thread - I could have pumped up the contrast a little more! Shot on Kodak Portra 400 35mm film.

 

Lightbulb photo taken on Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

I think this is one of the photos to show just how good the Pentax 17's exposure meter is - and the benefit that we're enjoying from the past two decades of digital and electronic advancement in metering technology. This image was taken in a bright restaurant without any exposure compensation dialled into the camera and it's caught the filament as well as some gentle reflections at the bottom AND a very slight outline of the glass container on the right side. A fantastic execution of a highly unusual lighting situation - absolutely nailed. Shot on Kodak Gold 35mm film.

 

Landscape photo taken on Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

One of the few photos I've taken in landscape mode so far, but I wanted to see how the evening sun captured the length of the building and whether the details would be captured in the brickwork from a distance of 50m. And they are!

 

Raindrops on a leaf - shot on the Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

I promised you a photo that shows the sharpness of the glass! After a spell of wet weather I spotted that these leaves were holding raindrops in a photogenic pose and I couldn't resist. Wonderful detail, gorgeous colours, and one again the camera's light meter is absolutely spot on - nailing the exposure triangle! Getting the drops to stand out from the background, it would have been easy to expose for the fence and lose all the detail in the shining highlights.

 


 

My favourite black and white photos

 

Confession time: so far I've only shot Ilford HP5 35mm film with the Pentax camera! Although there is a roll of Kodak Tri-X loaded right now, and I still want to see what happens with a super-sharp film like Adox HR-50.

So there is less contrast and tonal range within my favourite B&W photos, but still some (in my view) fantastic examples of what the Pentax 17 can do in monochrome.

 

Shoes and grate on black and white film with the Pentax 17 camera

Mid res file available for download here - note that this one was a standard scan so half the size of the premium scans

A simple snapshot - but when I look at the contrast and detail of the result I am really impressed. I remember that it took me under a second to stand, look down and snap the photo.

 

Rabbit under a table in black and white shot on Ilford HP5 film with the Pentax 17 camera

High res file available for download here

It's the return of the bunny! My house rabbit - full name Lady Jane Grey - caught in a quiet moment of contemplation 🐰 When I use a loupe to examine the full print I can count individual whiskers on her little face, and you can see I've used a wide aperture to separate her head from the background and foreground. FLUFFY.

 

 

Black and white flower shot on the Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

Sticking with the nature theme for a moment, and another rose! You can see the beautiful grain of HP5 in the shadows on the petal, and the layered detail in the centre of the flower.

 

Pigeon in ivy on a house - shot on Ilford HP5 film and the Pentax 17 film camera

High res file available for download here

Download the full size file, zoom in to 100% scale and look towards the top of the ivy and you'll spot this cheeky chap!

 

Pigeon from zoomed in photo taken on the Pentax 17 camera

I didn't even notice him when I took the photo, it was only when I was reviewing the prints that he jumped out. And it's a great example of the detail that this camera and lens can capture at distance.

I also love the shape of the leaves throughout the photo, and the textured sense they give that the house is growing a natural beard to overtake the order of bricks and windows.

 


 

Does image quality matter?

 

I've given brief descriptions of why these are my favourite ten photos taken on film with the Pentax 17 (so far!) - with a mix of technical and aesthetic and artistic commentary.

We know that the final result / photo is only of one several reasons that people shoot film, but with a new camera it feels important to spend proper time on reviewing the technical aspects.

This is a wide-angle prime lens and so isn't specialised for portraits, macro, or fast action. However I hope that by looking through our sample photos so far you'll appreciate that a lack of speciality doesn't mean that this camera isn't capable of fantastic imagery in those genres.

Ultimately if you enjoy carrying a camera then you're going to take great photos. Especially as you learn the foibles of a particular machine.

I already know that I can trust the Pentax 17 camera to expose a scene well, capture great detail in the focal depth of field, and respond quickly in a moment. And I'm confident that the next 100 photos I take with it will bring even better results as our partnership grows!

 What do you think of the high res examples above - is there a surprising level of detail for you?


6 Comments

  • I think the b/w pictures are more successful with the half frame format. The colour has really ugly grain. But £500 for a plastic point and shoot!

    Roger
  • Mine is waiting at home, arrived a couple of. hours after I set off to be away for the wekk argh! Looking forward to using it when I get back and appreciate you deep delving into it’s features and foibles.

    Fraggle
  • I would love to try the Pantax 17, despite not being in the target demographic, grey haired old fart that I am. The price is about right for a brand new camera with a good mix of electronics and mechanical features and I applaud Ricoh Pentax for taking the plunge and producing this fine camera.

    Jim Graves
  • I think it’s an Interesting camera. And although I’ve not used it. I believe it’s to little for to much. There are scores of serviced, fully functional cameras at this price point. I’m not nieve in thinking it’s a cheap thing to achieve. It would have attracted a large sum to release this camera. Bit it’s price is to high for me. There are alternatives such ar the lomo lc wide. That provides the opertunity to do half frame for a lot less. The lca is over priced in itself. I’m not down on pentax I’m very happy they have done this. £500 buys a lot in the second hand market, even with the recent increase in price.

    Jondr
  • Yes, I, too have come across a lot of negative comments on this camera and some of them sounding elitist. As I said on another platform (and predictably,was shot down), any film photography venture should be supported

    John Fontana
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