Pentax Espio Mini Camera Review

A.K.A. Pentax UC-1

10 min read by

Pentax Espio Mini is a compact 35mm point-and-shoot camera with a 32mm 𝒇3.5-22 lens and a great close-up mode.

This is a nice-looking camera. It’s easy to fit in a pocket, and it can render your images beautifully.

In this review, I’ll cover everything you need to know before buying this camera and share the images I got with it while testing on my dog walks — tangled in leashes, chasing squirrels.

I will also briefly compare my Espio Mini against the cheaper Pentax Espio 140v I tested earlier.

Pentax Espio Mini with Kodak ColorPlus.

Espio Mini’s default film ISO.

Before you load any film into your Espio Mini, you should know that it defaults to ISO 25.

This means you won’t be able to use this camera if your film roll doesn’t have a DX code (typical on hand-rolled and small-run film productions, including many Lomography films ).

An exception to this rule is an actual 35mm film roll rated at ISO 25 or something close to that.

Espio Mini controls, specs, and ergonomics.

Pentax Espio Mini is a lot like Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus. It’s light and very compact, considering it has to fit a full-frame lens, a film roll, a motor, and a flash.

The camera weighs just 155g (5.4oz) without a battery (lighter than the Mju) and measures 10.7cm × 6cm × 3.5cm (4.2” × 2.9” × 1.4”) — which is also smaller than the Mju.

The shape of the camera is boxier than the Mju I and II. However, that boxiness also gives space to a luxuriously-large display on the top plate with easy-to-press (for an average hand) rubber buttons. This is an improvement over other point-and-shoot cameras, such as the Konica Big Mini series.

Espio Mini has a sliding lens cover — just like the Mju’s — and comes with a similar, or even slightly-superior, set of controls: flash modes (fill, off, on with slow shutter, bulb, and bulb with no flash). This camera is even modern enough to have a date back that can print an appropriate year on your film frames up until 2030 — if you’re into that. And if you’re lucky, you may find a copy with a working remote. If masked panoramas are your thing, the Mini has that covered too.

The shutter button on this camera is very nice. It looks great but is also well-balanced and easy to feel. This is important for getting shake-free images in low light with the flash off.

The indicator lamps next to the viewfinder are in line with the 1990s point-and-shoots: a solid green light indicates autofocus lock/blinking green means autofocus isn’t set; solid orange indicates flash ready to fire/blinking orange is flash charging. I think it’s nice of Pentax to also place small labels next to each light to ensure that those who skip reading the manual can still use the camera effectively.

The viewfinder is tiny and dim. You can still see the entire frame with the glasses on, but I wouldn’t call it comfortable. However, it redeems itself with the clever automatic masks covering parts of the view when taking close-up shots to compensate for the parallax error. This helps avoid cutting off parts of your image unexpectedly and is significantly better than adding a thin line (which is what’s typically done on cameras of this sort) that’s easy to overlook. The masks also work very well with the panorama mode.

Loading film is easy with Pentax Espio cameras: pull down a switch on the back plate next to a small window and follow these instructions if it’s your first time.

Pentax Espio Mini takes a single CR123 battery that should last you up to 30 rolls of film. The battery door is a little annoying to open — you’ll need to twist the plastic knob with a coin, slide the door loose from the camera (and do the same in reverse after loading the cell).

The only two remaining controls on this camera are the tripod hole and a 10sec self-timer, which I haven’t found a use for. I’ll discuss the flash in further detail below.

Pentax Espio Mini with Kodak ColorPlus.

Pentax Espio Mini vs Espio 140v.

Though they may look similar and share part of their name, Espio Mini and Espio 140v are quite different.

140v is a cheaper camera with a slower 𝒇5.6-𝒇11 38-140mm zoom lens. It’s a little more versatile when it comes to composing the images at a distance — but it can’t focus as close (Espio Mini’s .3m/1’ vs. 140v’s .8m/~3’). The max aperture also decreases on 140v as it zooms in all the way to 𝒇11 which makes shake-free exposures without flash only possible in full sun.

Pentax Espio 140V.

Espio 140v’s top shutter speed (1/360) is slightly slower than Espio Mini’s 1/400. Although in practice, Mini’s wider 32mm lens needs significantly less shake reduction than the cheaper camera’s zoom — the pricier camera wins this round as well.

The cheaper camera is also bulkier at 210g (vs. Mini’s 155g), has smaller controls and display, and has a less-refined lens retraction mechanism that won’t let you close it shut swiftly (you’ll need to do it slowly) — the cover will stop at the lens, which will then take a second to retract fully into the body. Espio Mini doesn’t have that issue and is a noticeably better-looking and better-built camera overall.

Still, when it comes to image quality, 140v isn’t a bad camera. Within limits, it can render pictures no worse than the Mini — check out my full review for high-res samples to compare.

Pentax Espio Mini with Kodak ColorPlus.

Pentax 𝒇3.5 32mm lens image quality.

In terms of performance and even some of the visual properties, Pentax’ 𝒇3.5 32mm lens is very similar to the one mounted on Olympus Mju I’s:

Both cameras are soft in the corners while otherwise well-corrected. Both lenses resolve detail well, though it looks like Mini’s is more consistent across apertures, whereas Mju’s is softer up close and sharper at smaller f-numbers.

Like Mju I, Pentax can render very prominent bokeh, though it won’t open up its aperture at every opportunity like the Olympus camera. I think that Mju I renders its out-of-focus areas a little nicer, however.

The best feature of this Pentax lens isn’t the glass — it’s the autofocus. Espio Mini is precise and consistent, unlike many point-and-shoot cameras of the era that tend to miss focus and get confused by wet weather (with some expensive exceptions like the Minolta TC-1). Indeed, it uses a multi-point focusing system that trumps most pocketable cameras, including many of the ones manufactured today for mobile devices.

My least favourite thing about this camera is its tendency to over-expose frames slightly, which may become an issue if you shoot a lot of slide film.

Pentax Espio Mini showing some very slight flaring with CineStill 50D.
Pentax Espio Mini rendering bokeh with CineStill 50D.

Espio Mini’s variable flash.

Camera flash can sometimes feel crude in photographs. Though it’s often necessary and a fantastic creative device, many poorly-designed lights will over-expose and under-expose your images at the same time while causing colour shifts that can make the flowers wilt. But that’s not the case with this camera.

Pentax Espio Mini has an excellent variable-power flash with a well-balanced temperature that can make even the most challenging shots to light look great. It’ll work well at the camera’s closest focusing distance (.3m/1’) and illuminate scenes as far as 3.7m (12’). I’ve got results from it that look evenly exposed at times when I was expecting the worst.

Pentax did an excellent job with this tiny bulb and the electronics that control it. The only way it could be improved is with an external unit or a studio lighting setup.

Pentax Espio Mini with CineStill 50D and flash on.
Pentax Espio Mini with CineStill 50D and flash on.

The future of Pentax film cameras.

If you’re subscribed to this blog’s Community Letters, you already know that Pentax is working on a new film camera. Its release date is not yet known, but we already know it will be nothing like the Espio series. For one, it’ll have a mechanical film winder crank — made abundantly clear in the brand’s latest video.

There’s little to no information on what those cameras will look like other than that there’s a range in the works, with the first prototype sporting an integrated lens and an SLR down the road.

From what I could tell, years may pass before it becomes available. Still, it’s exciting to see legendary companies put their stock back into film photography.

How much do Pentax Espio Minis cost, and where to find one.

Point-and-shoot cameras are very convenient; they resemble mobile photography closely in speed and ease of operation. Many were made to be of exceptional quality with lenses and overall specs superseding older professional SLRs and rangefinders.

That means that these types of cameras are often the first choice for the modern film photographer. Unfortunately, due to their limited supply, their prices are also on the rise.

Today, Espio Mini remains relatively affordable, selling between $200-300 depending on condition. It’s a lesser-known camera than the Mjus and Contax’ of the world which means a decent deal for someone looking for a quality point-and-shoot that won’t break the bank.

By the way: Please consider making your Pentax Espio Mini/UC-1 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!