A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. In this article, Healy delves into the joys of finding a cheap, reliable camera that is perfect for a particular project.
Some time around the end of June, Blue Moon Camera from Portland, Oregon, tweeted a short post about a rather robust point-and-shoot camera they really, really liked. They did not have any in stock, they were not trying to unload inventory, they were just commenting on what a great camera this was to take on a trip, to have in the car, or have as a good backup anytime. The Pentax 90 WR, a 1991 product of the Asahi Pentax company, was an easy-going, sharp, happy camera that had received no hype from anyone and was, therefore, selling for around $15 on eBay. I was very intrigued: These guys know their cameras. I went online and found one for the aforementioned $15, put a roll of film through, and the results made me do my happy dance. The Pentax 90 WR delivered, and then some (WR= water-resistant, not water-proof; so, no diving with it!).
Here are the specs, according to Wikipedia: “It uses a 38-90mm f/3.5 to f/7.8 zoom lens made of 8 elements in 7 groups. Autofocus is based on an infrared type system with a focus lock and a spot AF mode. It has a focus range of 0.8m to infinity. The shutter speed range is from 1/5 to 1/400 with a bulb mode at 10 min to 1/2 sec. The self-timer has a delay of 10 seconds, a two-shot self-timer mode is also available. Film is automatically loaded, advanced and rewound. Mid-roll rewind can be done. It is compatible with DX encoded films from 25 to 3200 ISO. Non-coded films are set at 25 ISO. It is powered by two CR123A battery.”
As many of my Lomo friends already know, I have been working on a forever project trying to preserve in photographic film old storefronts and old signs everywhere I go. Whatever else I’m working on photographically at the moment, that project is also ongoing and happening. I have tested a number of cameras along the way, trying to find the one that would work the best, so as to keep resulting images more or less consistent. I have mostly used and loved the Holga 135bc and the Superheadz Ultra Slim & Wide for those occasions when the 47mm lens on the Holga doesn’t allow me to get the full storefront. What I found in the Pentax 90 is another perfect complement to this project: the 90mm zoom lens allows me to get close enough to big beautiful old signs without cluttering the background. It also allows me to shoot from the car in those instances when stopping is impossible or when the neighborhood is a tad dicey.
Right above there are two examples of how I use the Pentax 90 and its zoom to get great detail on old signs, in this case, both in the city of Tacoma, Washington. I shot both during my first serious outing taking the camera along, a four-day road trip to the Oregon Coast. I was so impressed not only with the results but also with its rugged simplicity, ease of loading and unloading, its squarish looks not likely to tempt anyone into helping themselves to it, that as soon as I got home, I went online and bought another one. I tested it and was not disappointed. I decided I would take it to Argentina on my oncoming trip, shoot with it there, and then leave it to my goddaughters. They LOVE it.
While I carry the camera primarily for the storefronts and signs project, occasionally an image presents itself that is more street photography than anything. In the two shots above, I was going for the Clipper Café sign, in Olympia, and the Cleaner’s clock in the old part of Bremerton, WA. But the scenes in front of me had more than a little “street” interest, so I shot them wide, then zoomed in and got the sign and the clock on their own. Likewise in the image below, I had been walking in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires on a lazy Sunday afternoon and as I was getting close to the subway station to go home, I came upon an enormous crowd of people watching a parade I had not known was happening. The Bolivian community in Buenos Aires was celebrating their patron, Our Lady of Copacabana, and they were styling! As you can guess, I shot without looking through the viewfinder, camera held high above my head and aiming for the dancers and hoping the infrared autofocus on the Pentax would do its thing and get me some part of the image in focus. Not a prize-winning shot by any means, but I love the colors, the movement in it, the dancers’ joyful faces. It captured the feel of the event perfectly.
This $15 point-and-shoot camera covers all my photographic terrains: landscape, street, urban archaeology. I don’t do many portraits but I figure if the opportunity for an environmental portrait presented itself, this camera would not let me down. I bought another 90WR when I returned from Buenos Aires and then a friend gifted me another one she hadn’t used in years. New batteries, 100 iso color film, and I was in business with all three!
I am planning to load my three Pentax 90 with black and white, chrome, and color film and do a little comparative shooting this winter. Stay tuned! In the meantime, before the word gets out, get yourself a Pentax 90 while they are cheap. It is a great addition to any Lomographer’s camera bag.
Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.