Compact 35mm point-and-shoot cameras are hot. Having been pawned for pennies over a decade ago when photographers feverishly traded their film gear for new sensor bodies, they now again fetch top dollar. But now that film photography is in resurgence, tons of cheap (and expensive) models have flooded eBay and small stores, many of which lack good descriptions and in-depth reviews.
In this article, I will be sharing my experience and tips shooting a relatively cheap (sold for around $100-$200 US on eBay) and somewhat unknown fully automated zoom lens 35mm film camera: Pentax Espio 140V.
Released in 1994, it boasts an aspherical lens element within a wide 38mm lens that extends to nearly telephoto territory at 140mm and focuses as close as 31.5” (80cm). It also has a built-in flash and focus, exposure, and film transport automation. The camera weighs 7.41oz (210g), which is fairly light for a nearly thirty-year-old gadget. All you really need to get started with this camera is a roll of 35mm film and an easy-to-find CR123A battery.
Pentax Espio 140V’s 38-140mm zoom lens image quality.
In the ideal light, Espio 140V’s lens is reasonably sharp and has an OK level of contrast. The frames on my film that turned out didn’t need much sharpening or colour correction. The focus looked good — though there was little to no background separation.
The ideal light/film combo for Espio 140V is a sunny day with an ISO 200 film. With its 1/360s shutter and widest apertures of 𝒇5.8 (for wide-angles on the lens) and 𝒇11.8 (for zoomed-in lens settings), the camera is likely to choose a high shutter speed and slightly stopped-down apertures, which are exactly what you want for sharpest images.
If you plan to shoot in darker settings (i.e. at sunset or indoors), I’d recommend using a fast black and white film — anywhere between ISO 800 and ISO 3200. It will give you more room to shoot without flash (while avoiding motion blur) in dusky settings.
Note that this camera is very aggressive with its flash use; Espio also “forgets” your flash preference when you turn your Pentax off (i.e. close its lens cover door).
Of course, you can still use this camera’s long exposures with slow films in the dark — with flash disabled; 140V will keep its shutter open for up to two seconds. Thankfully, there’s a tripod hole for that.
Overall, I found this lens to produce little noticeable distortion and remain relatively sharp at all focal lengths. So if you do not care about the “fine” qualities as much as you want your glass to be sharp, this Pentax’ optics will do nicely. They are well-engineered to balance cost and quality, comprised of glass, plastic, and an aspherical element — a relatively recent advancement in optics to help combat aberrations.
However, the lens gives virtually no bokeh or background separation, and I didn’t feel like it gave particularly outstanding results.
☝︎Further reading: “How to Invert Colour Film Negatives in Photoshop,” where I explain the basic equalization principle used to create images that are practically “untampered” by post-processing.
Pentax Espio 140V’s versatility — can you take it everywhere you go?
Unfortunately, Espio 140V isn’t very versatile when it comes to changing light conditions. Thus it may not be the best idea to take this camera hiking or on a day adventure that ends during dusk without utilizing its flash.
Realistically speaking, this camera has about 7 stops of good, workable exposure range. In daylight with ISO 400 film, this means you can take it into the shade, but nothing as dark as a thick forest or covered indoors with little outdoor light. Similarly, you won’t be able to take your sensitive ISO 3200 film into the daylight without over-exposing at least some of your images. That is if you are like me and prefer not to use 140V’s onboard flash.
With flash, you’ll be able to shoot 140V in the dusk, though you should keep in mind that its viewfinder is rather small and isn’t very suitable for really dark settings.
As for its zoom abilities, the most useful setting for me turned out the camera’s 38mm end with its 140mm telephoto length reserved for odd shots here and there.
The camera is relatively small when compared to the 100+-year-old 35mm film camera legacy. But it isn’t practically pocketable; there are much smaller cameras out there for 35mm film, like Chinon Bellami, Minolta TC-1, and Revue 35XE.
I found my Espio to be best at capturing outdoor human moments with friends/street photography and some daytime landscape/cityscape images. But I struggled using it during nature walks and would not consider it for experimental photography (i.e. long exposures, bokeh, fancy film stocks, etc.) The reason being is this camera’s stubborn flash unit that needs to be disabled every time it’s turned on, and no information or overrides for focus and exposure.
Shooting Pentax Espio 140V: handling and ergonomics.
The controls on Espoio 140V are delightfully simple and intuitive.
Sliding the cover open extends and readies the lens within about 2 seconds; sliding it close retracts it. Oddly, the lens is never fast enough to retract; thus, shutting off this camera involves sliding the cover until it hits the extended lens, waiting for a second, and then continuing the slide until the lens is completely covered. I wouldn’t call this an inconvenience, rather a sign of Pentax cutting corners a bit with this model.
The 🌳 and 🌳🌳🌳 buttons to the right of the viewfinder activate the lens’ and the view finder’s zoom motor. It takes 4-5 seconds for the lens to extend from its widest 38mm to its longest 140mm.
Your zoom settings will reset after you power down the camera (i.e. slide the cover over the lens). So, for example, if you’ve zoomed in, shut your Espio down and then powered it on, it will start with its default zoomed-out 38mm lens length.
Espio’s viewfinder is somewhat small but not as bad as it could be. It comes with a dioptry adjustment slider so that you may be able to take off your glasses while shooting.
You may also find the flash mode cycle button on the top plate along with the date display (something I’d never typically use). A button marked “AF” will cycle through timer delay, remote control trigger (my copy didn’t include one), infinity focus, and spot focusing.
Infinity focusing is a useful setting on autofocus point and shoots as they usually have trouble getting a focus in wide-open spaces, defaulting to something in between portrait and 20m distance. Use this setting when taking landscape shots. Spot focusing may also be useful if you are hoping to focus on a particular element, though I haven’t experimented much with that setting.
Holding down the big silver shutter button halfway activates focus and exposure lock. You can use that to pre-focus your camera on your object/subject of interest and then re-compose your image while pressing the button slightly.
Overall, I found my Espio really easy to use but a bit sluggish in operation. I don’t mind the lack of controls for more precise focus and exposure (other than AE/AF lock). After all, it is a point-and-shoot camera.
Pentax Espio 140V build quality & final verdict.
This isn’t a “premium” 35mm compact camera like TC-1. Despite Espio’s decent optical performance, well laid-out controls, and full-auto everything, it does not feel expensive. The shell is made entirely out of plastic; it isn’t as slick as some cameras of the time could be, and doesn’t fit in a pocket. The strap that comes with this camera is also designed to go around your neck, which isn’t particularly stylish in 2021 (unless I’m too old to “get it,” in which case I bow down to superior fashion).
This camera looks a lot like cheap digital models from the early 2000s, and it likely won’t wow your friends on sight. But it will take your pictures and do it better than many cameras in the same price range.
It’s not always all about the looks and conveniences, of course. Those who find themselves to be regular users of these cameras love the image quality and their reliable, consistent performance:
I’m an Espio evangelist… They [Pentax Espio series cameras] just work. Good glass. Good metering. Reliable. I’d take any espio over a mju.
❤ By the way: If you choose to get your Pentax Espio 140V from eBay, please consider using the above links so that this website may get a small percentage of a sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!