Film Friday: Reviewing the Pentax Auto 110, a ‘subminiature’ camera system small enough to fit in your pocket

What I told you it was possible to take an entire camera and a set of lenses with you in just your two front pockets? What if I told you was talking about a film camera? I’m sure you’d have some questions. And to that end I’d point you to Bob Janes’ review of the Pentax Auto 110, a ‘subminiature’ 110 film camera whose body offered relatively advanced features in a pocket-sized form factor.

As Janes explains in his thorough review for 35mmc, the Pentax Auto 110 wasn’t the first 110 SLR to market, but it was the smallest at the time of release and offered a unique design that appears to have originated from Sugaya Optical (full name Sugaya Seikō K.K.), who sold the rights to the design to Asahi, who itself was the creator of the Pentax brand and eventually became known simply as Pentax in 2002.

The camera was part of what Asahi called System 10, which was launched in 1978 and included the Pentax Auto 110 camera, an auto winder, two flashes and three prime lenses. In essence, it was an all-in-one compact camera system that was small enough to fit into, well, almost any bag or briefcase you carried around.

As the name implies, the camera is fully automatic, using an exposure program that ran from F2.8 at 1/30th to F13.5 at 1/750th. The exposure was metered via the integrated silicon photodiode and proved rather accurate, all things considered, according to Janes. The camera featured a rather unique two-blade diaphragm that created a square aperture and doubled as the shutter. As Janes explains:

When the shutter is released, the blades close together to block out light. The mirror (which has been shielding the film from light until now) lifts and the shutter/aperture then opens until it reaches the programmed aperture, at which point is starts to close again. Once it has closed fully, the mirror can drop back down, protecting the film from light, and the shutter/aperture can reopen.’

Composing and focusing shots with the camera was achieved through a split-image viewfinder that offered limited exposure information via an LED light. Janes says the viewfinder ‘is probably the best [one] I’ve come across in a 110 camera’ and notes that the shutter release ‘is broad and comfortable, and is threaded for a cable release.’

As for the lenses, Asahi initially offered three F2.8 prime lenses that attached to the camera with a two-flange bayonet system: an 18mm (36mm equiv), a 24mm (50mm equiv.) and 50mm (100mm equiv.). Eventually, Asahi also developed a fixed-focus version of the 18mm lens as well as a 70mm and a 20–40mm zoom lens.

As you can see in the gallery below, the images aren’t fantastic, but by the standards of the 110 format, they’re fairly sharp and offer impressive bokeh.

Janes concludes that despite ‘a couple of minor niggles,’ the Pentax Auto 110 ‘is about as go-anywhere as an analogue camera gets.’ He adds:

Forget the winder and the flash, just slip the camera into one pocket and a handful of lenses in the other. Your creative options are huge.’

You can read Janes’ full review on 35mmc, wherein he dives further into the functionality and practicality of a camera that competed with the likes of the Canon 110 ED, Minox 110S, Rollei A110 and others.

Pentax Auto 110 Review – By Bob Janes

About Film Fridays: We’ve launched an analog forum and in a continuing effort to promote the fun of the medium, we’ll be sharing film-related content on Fridays, including articles from our friends at 35mmc and KosmoFoto.