Photo Chat Vlog – Pentax Espio and Olympus Accura

It would seem the last few videos on Photo Chat Vlog that have been a bit more philosophical have not been quite so popular, so let’s see if we can get some of our mojo back with some hard talk about pure camera facts.

A couple of years ago I did an A and B test between two different cameras. The Pentax Espio AF zoom (which I will refer to going forwards as the Espio) and the Olympus Accura Zoom 80DLX (which I will refer to going forwards as the Accura). These are both compact 35 millimeter point-and-shoot type cameras with zoom lenses, and they’re both made in the 1990s.

I got both of mine quite cheaply; I think I paid about £15 for the Espio from a charity shop, and I paid about £3 for the Accura from a car boot sale.

I’ve taken a lot of pictures with both of these cameras, and I’ve enjoyed using them both, so when I did this comparison it was to see if I could see any differences between them. I have soft spots for both of them in different ways, but sometimes you have to actually do a close comparison between two things to really know if the soft spot is objectively real, or if it’s something psychological.

Here are both of the cameras side by side. The Espio is on the left and the Accura is on the right. As you can see they’re more or less the same size, they’re more or less the same weight, and they more or less do the same thing. In fact the main difference for me between the two of them is that the Espio takes a CR123 lithium camera battery and the Accura can take regular AA batteries.

Now I can’t stress enough if you’re going on a long trip somewhere, for example going overseas, going to a country where you don’t normally live and you run out of battery in your camera and you can’t find a camera shop, then I can tell you that having a camera that just takes regular batteries is a real plus point.

Obviously two AA batteries are quite big which is one of the reasons why the Accura is not quite as sleek design-wise as the Espio.

From what I can tell from reading on the Internet the Espio was made and released in 1992 and the Accura came out in 1996. Actually looking at these two cameras and having lived throughout the 80s and the 90s in my own mind the Espio looks like it came from the 90 and the Accura looks like it came from the 80s.

That of course is just my gut feeling about it; I’ve always thought the Accura looked a bit old-fashioned to me and the Espio always looked really sleek and cool.

I have to say if I was the kind of person where the camera was a fashion accessory then I would go for the Espio every time.

I actually really love the way that it’s a sleek block, with only curves for softness and comfort. I love the way that the lens folds back flush into the camera and I love all the proportions of all the rectangular features like the view finders and the flash. There’s a real sense of harmony in the design and a desire by whoever designed it to hide the functional aspects of the camera.

When we look more closely at the Accura to be honest I don’t care for the for the way it looks. It doesn’t look awful but in terms of design they didn’t seem to make the same effort to hide the functional aspects of the camera.

So you’ve got this bulge where the batteries need to go, and the lens sits there in a sort of ungainly lump on the front of it. There are different uses of different plastic; there’s shiny plastic for a viewfinder and it comes up in a weird curve and…well, you know you can tell by my words here that I’m not really a fan of the way this camera looks.

But! I’ve used it loads and when I am shooting film with it I don’t care what it looks like. In many ways what we are looking at here is an example of how everything tends to look different design-wise after a while and no doubt in 1996 I might well have thought it looked really cool (if I’d had any money to consider buying one in 1996 which…I didn’t).

So, aesthetics aside, if you’ve never seen a camera like these ones, they are both zoom lens compact cameras and when you switch them on the lenses pop out a little bit, and when we look at a picture of them with their lenses at full zoom, you can see they look quite different.

I think the Espio loses a bit of its cool factor with the lens all the way out, but then the poor old Accura looks even less cool – they both look a bit like Pinocchio here with their lens-noses poking out.

But again that’s a very shallow comment really, because what you’ve got to do when you want to zoom in is move all of the glass that makes up the lens further away from the film, and there’s no way to hide that.

So although they look a bit odd, when those are in the right position the aesthetics of the camera body really make no difference at all – it’s what that lens is going to do focusing the image onto the film that matters.

When you think of the the way that all the lens parts must fit together so that they open and close the same way, every single time, with everything lining up ready to take a picture, you can see how if one thing were to go wrong it might be the end of their useful life as a camera. They’re probably very complicated to fix, especially now long after these cameras have got any kind of warranty or or easy-to-access servicing.

Because both cameras were made in the 1990s they’re both at least 25 years old and they both have a feature called “quartz date” which allowed you to set a little clock on the camera which would print the date and time onto your pictures.

Here is an image taken in Palma, the capital of the island of Majorca in Spain and this was actually taken on my first roll of film that I tried in my first ever Olympus Mju II back in 2007. As you can see the poor old Mju II had a light leak, but it also had a quartz date feature and if you look in the sand pit in the bottom right of the image you can see the date. This is a low res scan so I apologise for the quality but you get the idea.

Having never had a camera that did this back in the 90’s, I never liked quartz date when I got hold of these sort of cameras in the era of digital photography and EXIF data, so I tend to switch these things off from the get-go.

But the interesting thing about the Espio is when you put a new battery in it the quartz date feature sets itself to the 1st of January 1987, which to me is completely bizarre because the camera was never made in 1987 and it would seem odd to set the quartz date feature to go back in time. I’m a bit perplexed by that…maybe the quartz date module or technology was first developed back then, but nevertheless that is what it does.

Moreover when I checked the Accura’s quartz date default settings I found that the batteries had leaked and this had caused part of the battery connections inside to fall apart!

So this is a plea to you; if you’re new to film photography don’t leave batteries in your cameras because they eventually will break down and leak and the stuff that leaks out of them is corrosive battery acid and if that gets into the delicate electronics in a in a point-and-shoot camera, well that could be the end of your camera.

Luckily the Accura was relatively unscathed and I was able to fix it, and when I switched that one on with fresh batteries in it the quartz date set itself to 1st of January 1993, which seems more like it, although still three years earlier than when the camera was made…

Now a word or two about the lenses – they are both zoom lenses after all. The Espio ranges from 35 to 70 millimeters, and the Accura ranges from 38 to 80 millimeters. I don’t really do maths and so to me the range between the two of them seems pretty much the same.

Basically not an extremely wide angle at one end of the scale, and not an extreme zoom at the other, but both very usable. Imagine you’re on holiday and you want to take a picture of a distant church, well you can use your zoom to get closer to that if you can’t walk right on over to it.

One final thing before we get to comparing the pictures; size-wise these are not going to fit in your shirt pocket or your jeans pocket like an olympus Mju II will or, say the Ricoh R1. They’re not slim cameras and they’re not dainty cameras, but as you should have seen from that video with the lenses zooming in and out there’s a lot of glass and motors and parts needed to make these cameras work, and those take up space.

So these are definitely cameras that you would keep in a small bag or perhaps a coat pocket. I thought that was worth mentioning if you are looking at this video and you’re pondering buying either one of them.

After all that, at the end of the day it’s the pictures that do the talking. Now when you test cameras like this I guess you should use identical film in each camera. I…did not, but then in truth I didn’t set out to deliberately do a camera test. For the most part I actually took different pictures with both cameras but on one afternoon I took both the cameras to the same place and I ended up taking similar pictures with them and it’s these which we’re going to look at.

The Espio had fresh Agfa Vista 200 color film in it and the Accura had Fujicolor Superia 1600 film in it, which is pretty expired. So the two films are actually really different! I got the roll of Fuji film on a trip to the States. It’s from 2006 and I have no idea where it was stored all that time, but it certainly got zapped by the x-rays when I brought it back through the airport.

So this first image we’re comparing is this car park in Banbury in the UK. This is in Banbury Gateway retail park which is on the edge of the town, parallel to the M40 motorway. I stood in the same place with each camera and took both pictures seconds after each other.

This picture taken on the Accura would be at 38 millimeters, and this picture taken with the Espio would be at 35mm.

Slight lens differences aside the main difference between the two (and I’m going to put this down to film) is that the Accura is a brighter picture than the Espio. It’s slightly cooler looking in terms of the picture tone but if you compare the two of them look for the red cars and you’ll see how they look brighter in the picture taken with the Accura than they do in the picture taken with the Espio.

This is one of those cases where if I didn’t have these two pictures to compare with each other I don’t really know if I would be thinking this hard about things.

I certainly find it very difficult to choose between the two of them. The Espio picture is warm and the Accura is cool. Things look a little bit browner and muted in the Espio picture, and they look a bit more glowing but cooler in the Accura picture. But neither of those differences makes either one of the cameras or films objectively better than the other. The differences are subtle.

This gets more pronounced when you compare the next two pictures. These were taken around the corner in the retail park showing the side of the the Marks and Spencer’s building, and I think it’s more obvious here when we compare them that this picture taken with the Espio on the fresh Agfa film is warmer, in fact to me it almost looks smokier, there’s a brownness to the picture.

When we switch to the Accura with the expired Fujifilm it looks colder and it looks brighter. So given the very similar nature of the two cameras and the drastic differences in the film, well I’m going to say the film is really the thing that is making the difference.

The two cameras are trying to make sense of the same image, the same scene, the same subject matter, but with very different ingredients.

Now when I was standing taking this image, when I turned around 180 degrees I saw this river, so I also took two shots here.

All of these images were taken in September 2016, so it’s the end of the summer and when we compare these two the same warm and cold thing is going on.

The only difference I think is that the picture above, taken on the Espio, looks a bit more zoomed in compared to this picture taken on the Accura.

This could be the difference between the 38mm and the 35mm settings on the zoom lenses, but it equally could be that I shifted where I was standing when I took the pictures, as I didn’t use a tripod for either.

As a kind of extra comparison I did a bit of tinkering with a photo editing program and I zoomed in to the words River Island on the car park images to see if there was anything obviously different in the sharpness of the lenses.

For me, when I compare the two of them it’s the colors that are different, not really the sharpness. Obviously with these digital scans when you zoom in things start to get blotchy and they look a bit like an impressionist painting, but there’s not enough difference in the two images for me to say either one or the other cameras or films is hands down best.

If you were in the odd situation of having to choose between buying the two cameras and they were both in reasonable working order what might be a clincher is your brand loyalty if you have a preference between either manufacturer. Maybe the aesthetics of the cameras also makes a difference to you. Is there anything else?

Well although I was a bit mean about the way it looks earlier on, it’s a fact for me that the Accura is quicker to use. It switches on nice and quickly with a little lever which is mounted on the zoom control, which makes it a faster camera for pulling out of your bag and snapping something. This is a good camera for when you’re on a guided tour in a foreign city and you haven’t got all the time in the world to frame your shots. It’s super-fast to use, and if you combine that with the fact that it can take regular batteries then it wins slightly in the convenience factor.

I have taken lots of pictures with both cameras and interestingly the stats on Flickr rate this image of an underpass taken in Milton Keynes on expired Jessops Pan 400 film and developed in Ilfosol-3 by me as more interesting (that is to say it has had more views and more favourite votes) than this image of a birthday party taken on Agfa 100 APX film on the Espio. So maybe the Accura is best after all…?

What do you think? Compare the albums for the Espio and the Accura on Flickr if you like…

So apart from the way they look there’s fundamentally not a lot that is different between these two cameras, and if you see either of them for sale and they look to be in good working order and reasonably priced then I would endorse anybody buying either of these cameras if they wanted to get into film photography. It is true that the Espio has a couple of trick modes for things like double and multiple exposures and it claims to have a macro feature. But although I’ve tried these features I didn’t use them much at all, and they don’t make the Espio a fundamentally better camera.

Olympus and Pentax were and remain premier camera manufacturers, so their attention to detail in the lenses and the electronics within them and the build of both of these cameras is top class.

They’re both really easy to use, you can find the manuals online for them and so long as things are okay you can definitely switch them on load a film in and start taking some great pictures.

They are both very much cameras from the 90s which was the last epic heyday of film cameras. By the end of the 1990s digital cameras were coming onto the scene and by the mid-noughties that was it; people were buying digital cameras to be their primary mode of photography, and by about 2010 camera phones were turning into what everybody uses to take their snappy pictures on.

So you have to remember when dealing with film cameras that are 25 years old…well sometimes people leave batteries in them which rot away the insides, and when complicated parts wear out they can stop working.

For that reason I always advise you not to spend a lot of money on these types of cameras. I spent £15 for the Espio and that is about as much as I would consider paying for a compact zoom unless I really had to have the camera and trusted the seller.

Certainly if you see one of these at a car boot sale and can haggle someone down to for a fiver, or even £3 which is what I think I paid for the Accura, then do it, because they’ll have more space in their junk room and you will come away with a super cool camera.

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