A valid response to this blog title is “What?” Allow me to explain. Or try to anyway.
These are interesting times. A lot of virtual ink is spilled debating between mirrorless or DSLR. Most points made miss the point for me really. Sure, I chose mirrorless. But my choice has nothing to do with a dislike for DSLRs. I love DSLRs. But I love film cameras more.
Random Neural Firing Afterthought Sidebar: I really, I mean really liked the “Dark Knight”. It was great fun and while I wish they made more mount variations I surmised from the short flange to internal lens bits (technical, I know) distance that it was never intended to accommodate a DSLR’s mirror box so this 85mm Mitakon was likely going to be my only option. Interestingly Mitakon makes this 85mm in more mounts than they usually seem to do (Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony FE full frame). While not f/0.95, f/1.2 is nothing to sneeze at and while 50mm is my favorite practical focal length, 85mm is my favorite if I have room to back up. Actually bought this lens before I had originally intended since it seemed that the last to be released Pentax variants were drying up at retail sites with only Adorama having any available when I purchased this one. But as of this writing they are now backordered on all, but the Nikon mount. All mounts seem available at their own site, but at a higher cost. Amazon does not even list a Pentax version. B&H charges the full price and also does not list a Pentax variant. Just now noticed that they call this lens ‘The Dream’? Preferred Dark Knight, as a Batman head, but OK. And we are back in 3, 2, 1…
Full disclosure: I LOVE 50mm (or near 50mm) prime lenses.
If I could only have one lens that is what it would be. What is not to love? Smaller than a zoom. Not wide enough to distort. Not tele enough to require backing up much if the subject is close. Usually even the most thrifty variants are sharp enough (even if a bit of stopping down is required) to capture a distant subject and crop later. Usually bright enough to offer very nice bokeh and low light capabilities… Ok. I’ll stop. Personal preference of course. Some would go with a different way, but if you are in the market for another lens this is a good choice. Plus even a bad 50mm is usually still a pretty good 50mm. Everyone makes them. The go to lens on all of my 35mm film cameras.
While brand agnostic I have always had Pentax leanings…
and since 50mm lenses are so affordable I have a hard time turning away a 50mm or near 50mm prime. With adding M42 screw mount lenses this number increased further. Up until recently my go to lenses were the Pentax film era AF 50mm f/1.7 for convenience…
when sharpness and low light took precedence over AF. (The newer, still produced AF Pentax 50mm f/1.4 is nice also, if a bit soft at f/1.4.) All was well until I recently went to a local low light gallery event to hear the talented Zun Lee speak at WSSU’s Digg’s Gallery. I went for the Takumar f/1.4 for low light and the fact that the screw drive f/1.7 can be a bit noisy in quiet environments. But usually easy manual focusing was a bit tricky in such low light. Worked, but I saw where a proper AF lens would have made things easier.
What to do? After some research I settled on the Sigma DG EX 50mm f/1.4. Discontinued and oddly difficult to find in a Pentax mount however. There was the one concern of getting a bad copy of this lens where accurate focus would be an issue, but since:
Pentax does not currently offer a silent focus full frame 5omm prime.
Sigma did not see fit to make a K mount 50mm Art lens to replace the EX. Exceptional reviews, but if I am honest even if they did make a K mount version that lens is:
…a bit large for my liking.
…about 3 times what I wanted to pay for such a lens.
the 50mm EX had love/hate reviews depending on whether the lens received focused properly or not which kept prices in check.
the one lens I was able to find was from B&H with a top notch rating so I had some expectation that they would not bother to sell a ‘bad’ copy of this lens at such a high rating.
I decided on this lens. Received the lens in like new condition with box, padded case, and all original documentation and after some quick testing I found that it was indeed a good copy.
Before I go on about how much I love this lens I must state one caveat.
Disclaimer: If you do order this lens, regardless of mount, brace yourself in advance for the possibility that you will not get a good one and you may need to return it. It is discontinued so any example purchased will be second hand so buy from those you trust. For that reason I personally avoided ebay (no intended slight on the company itself) for concern that some would try to unload a bad copy on me. I stayed to the big boys, KEH.com, Adorama.com , and BHPhotoVideo.com . From the looks of it non-Pentax mount versions are readily available on one or more of the three.
Now that I got that out of the way HOLY MACKEREL THIS LENS IS AWESOME!… <ahem>…
Where to start?
Look and feel:
I understand the front element is so large because Sigma really does not like vignetting, but the side result is the beginning of an impressive looking lens.
Walking around the lens reveals impressive fit, finish, and feel. Very business like.
Front element movement during focus range is confined within the lenses dimension unlike my f/1.7.
This is a big lens with dimensions one would expect for an 85mm rather than a 50mm. Not a plus or minus. Just is.
Only one switch so this will not take long. Since Pentax puts an AF switch on the camera one would think one is not required on the lens. But Pentax offers a catch in focus feature for manual focus lenses that is active when lens AF is off, but camera AF is on. This proves very handy.
Will set no records, but has proven more than accurate with minimal to no hunting in my experience so far.
1 is considered soft wide open and has noisier screw drive AF.
1 adds macro capabilities, but offers f/2.8 as it’s widest aperture. For that I may as well use the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.5 that cost me considerably less second hand and offers more focal length flexibility at the same maximum aperture..
2 identical lenses with different names do offer very silent focus, but of the manual focus variety.
On my K-70 it will get me a portrait friendly 75mm FF equivalent field of view so it is like 2 lenses in one.
Acceptably sharp at f/1.4. Very sharp f/2.0 on.
I love the way this lens renders colors. Far better than any of my other 50mms with the only possible match being the M42 Takumat 50mm f/1.4.
The bokeh is just beautiful and the transition between in and out of focus bits is great.
Owing to that monstrous front element (requiring a 77mm filter) vignetting is no issue at all.
End result? This lens stays on my camera most of the time.
Day 1 I took a chance and tested this lens at a St. Baldrick’s event I was asked to photograph at my job. A bit of a gamble, but given my testing the evening before I had some confidence that it would hold it’s own. Instead this lens performed far and above my expectations. Samples from that event and other photos below and a gallery with updated images here.
Not long ago you would find a medium format camera on my person or nearby. Why? Glad you asked. While I always admired the look of the cameras themselves once I obtained one for myself I was hooked by the ‘look’ of the images they produced. Sometimes when people talk about a certain brand or format’s look admittedly I roll my eyes. But to my surprise when my very first roll of medium format film came back the difference was right there before my eyes.
As much as I tried to emulate this look with digital I could not with the tools I was using. That is until recently. Truth be told I had given up and had accepted the fact that I could not afford digital medium format so I split my photography in to practical (digital) and optimal (medium format film) and would usually carry one of each. My fascination led me to purchase 2 more medium format film cameras. I love each for entirely different reasons.
Is it dead on medium format look appropriation? No. Of course not. One cannot simply flaunt the laws of physics. Surface area rules in areas of light gathering and ultimate resolution. Is it close enough? The subject isolation, color rendering, transition from in focus to out of focus? To my eyes and for my purposes combined with the amazing IQ of the Pentax K-1 (called a full frame marvel for a reason) yes. Enough where I can stop hemorrhaging cash getting film developed weekly and reserve film time for fun and special purposes like a recent family portrait session that included my Grandmother below.
My experience with this lens completely shifted my fo… Nope. This totally changed my shopping list. Instead of looking at newer Pentax and 3rd party glass I started looking at legacy glass even scoring 4 M42 screw mount lenses. In order of purchase (galleries linked) the surprise hit Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 ($30), Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 swirly bokeh machine ($47), the technically excellent and pin sharp Takumar 50mm f/1.4 ($100), and one I picked up recently just because it was so inexpensive, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 ($43, no album yet).
I still love film and will continue to shoot with it regularly, but now that I am getting the look I want from digital I can either save a few bucks (hah!) or divert the savings towards even more inexpensive glass that performs well above expectations.
More on this when it returns, but due to backordered parts my Pentax K-1 is off to warranty repair spa until early October. Fortunately I held on to little orphan NX300 with a couple of lenses and a boatload of film cameras of varying format to hold me at bay. But many film cameras and a compact mirrorless do not a DSLR make… or something like that. Solution? Accelerate plans to acquire that 2nd Pentax body. With an acceleration to that acceleration provided by the awesome customer service at SE Camera Carrboro. I cannot say enough good things about this store. What body? Well the title was a spoiler so here it goes.
Since this is not my first Pentax dance I have written posts about both the Pentax K-3ii and the Pentax K-1. So instead of starting from scratch I will compare the three by sharing what they have in common and what sets the K-70 apart.
Pentax perks. All three have:
In body image stabilization bringing the added benefits of IS for everyone, virtual AA filter (never had need for it) and pixel shift for higher resolution photos under certain conditions (have not gotten to it).
In body image stabilization also brings one more benefit, Astrotracer, but I list it separately because the K-1 and K-3ii have built in GPS , but the K-70 requires an optional GPS module. Again, I have not gotten around to trying this on any. Glad to have it for when I get to it though.
The venerable 1975 and on K-Mount and all of the lenses that includes.
Water resistant and built like tanks. Being plastic instead of magnesium the K-70 is technically less tank-ish, but in hand the difference is not as big as one would think.
Great, honest to goodness what you see is what you get prism viewfinder. I have nothing against EVFs, and I honestly like both the new and the old tech, but this old school viewfinder is awesome. Most other DSLRs have mirrors instead at this price point.
Excellent low light performance with 3 vertical center cross type focus points that focus down to -3EV (with lense f/2.8 or wider as I understand it). This just works and works well when combined with these cameras and their excellent low light capturing capabilities.
Body only it saves you around $200 compared to the K-3ii and over $1,100 compared to the K-1. I loved my K-3ii, but starting from scratch today I might opt instead for the K-70 bundled with the so far excellent 18-135mm WR for only $50 more than the K-3ii body alone. It would largely depend on if I planned on also getting a K-1 or not.
Video friendly doo-dads like a more traditional flip out screen and on sensor phase detection focusing adding constant focusing to Pentax DSLR video for the first time. Admittedly video is not Pentax’s strong suit, but nice to have nonetheless. IS is a bit wonky during video as well, but nothing that firmware could not fix if they are so inclined. I rarely shoot video however.
Like the K-1 it has proper built in WiFi as opposed to requiring a WiFi enabled SD Card like the K-3ii.
None are compact by today’s standards, but it is the smallest of the three and anything helps when you like schlepping a DSLR wherever you go like I do.
Frames per second fall between the 2 with the K-1 at about 4 fps, the K-70 at about 6 fps and the K-3ii at about 8 fps. True, faster is better and there are better tools for sports, if that is what you are after, and I have had cameras with upwards of 15fps, but these number are all fine for my purposes.
Shutter speed tops out at 1/6000s instead of the 1/8000s top end of the other two. admit 1/8000s is handy to have, but less than essential. Other great cameras, even full frame ones like the D750 I admire top out at 1/4000s for example.
It has a built in flash. I usually despise built in flashes, but I must say the K-70’s is quite nice.
11/9 focus points/cross type to 27/25 on the K-3ii and 33/25 on the K-1. Not good on paper, but real world results depend on the shooter. I have had and still have a camera with focus points that number in the hundreds. How many do I typically use 90% of the time? One. I need about five all together the rest of the time. One on center and one each of the four directions off center. Your mileage may vary.
No top side LCD like the other 2. Do I want this if I can get it? For sure. But other great, highly regarded cameras (like the A7 line) do not offer one at all. Plus it may be a function of using film cameras and point and shoots for so long or that I only got my mitts on cameras with top side LCDs in the last year or so, but… psst… I never remember to look at the top side LCD. Instead I gawk at the big honking screen on the back of the camera.
1 card slot instead of 2. Nice to have, but seeing as I had two much more expensive cameras in the past that also only had one slot (E-P5, A7 and NX1) this is a non-issue for me.
A few additional thoughts before I wrap it up and post some initial pics with a link to an ongoing gallery.
I have grown to like the one system, two body set up since I did so once before. While the K-3ii is an excellent standalone camera I argue that the K-70 is a better compliment to the K-1. The K-3ii is like an APS-C K-1 in many ways. Adds a body with flash instead of having 2 GPS built ins. Adds phase detection on sensor. Offers two crop sizes with the same mount making each lens more flexible like adding a bit of lengthened perspective to the old Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8.
Bottom line great camera at an even better price. After churning through a number of systems versatility is one of the defining traits for Pentax cameras. In the gallery below there are shots from different situations to show this. The football shots are taken at night (HS marching band Dad) from halfway up the bleachers behind the marching band. Others shared traits are value, great IQ, weather sealing, great control layout and so forth. I have owned and still own many camera brands and I pride myself on being brand agnostic, but suddenly realizing that you now own 2 Pentax digital cameras and 4 film Pentax cameras including medium format (Fully half of my total count including 7 others, not counting point and shoot digital, with no other brand repeats.) I must acknowledge Pentax leanings even if not intended.
Artificial light is the last frontier for me. Having been taught about the exposure triangle (ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed) as a child by my father natural light has long been my friend. TTL is ok, but I never warmed to it. It was only used when there was not enough natural light. My preference. More aperture! Problem? Fine for artsy fartsy sliver thin depth of field shots, but I ultimately wanted more. A graduation shoot I did earlier this year confirmed that it was time. It went well, but I knew with a grasp on lighting and the proper tools it would have been better. To the youtube! Watched video after video. Yeah, still not getting it. To the internets! Better, but still not fully getting it. Improve photography was where I landed and their tutorial was great. I highly recommend it. They even provided an excellent on ramp shopping list, but I need to do to learn. I could have started with their recommended $140 kit, but…
Wanted to start with three lights.
Too cheap frugal to spend much on something I was not even sure I would like.
Wanted to start with constant lights as I thought that would make more sense to me starting out
Had my doubts, but with a 4 1/2 star rating I was willing to gamble. Received it and I was immediately impressed by the presentation. Carrying bags you say. Nice touch. And they worked as billed. Not a whole lot of light, but it was better than nothing by a long shot.
It helped that I had motivation. We were honoring 5 women at my family reunion that included my Grandmother. In my mind an occasion like this had Hasselblad written all over it. The thing is that, given my experience with the Hasselblad so far, I knew this would require additional light to get the shot I had in my head. I knew the banquet would be held in a hotel ballroom, which experience taught me were 1) typically lighting black holes and 2) typically had oatmeal color schemes. With 400 being the ISO of my sensor (film) and f/2.8 being my top end aperture (the good old 80mm) I knew I would need as much help as possible to elevate my shutter speed under such conditions.
Tried out the lights at home to get my comfort level up. At first it was slow going, but then I used a light meter to take incidence readings of the subject (family member, empty chair, huge stuffed turtle) to set the proper shutter speed and that made all of the difference. It took the guesswork out and I started to get enough good results to go out in to the wild for the first time. Or so I thought. The further I move along in this process the more I realize that a great deal of the photography process has to do with psychology. Having passed the first hurdle, buying lights, in order to use the lights I had to muscle up the nerve to:
Bring them out of my house.
Bring them in to the space where I intended to use them.
Set them up.
This was actually the hardest step because I had an entire family reunion behind me when I stood this budget lamp kit up.
Would I be called out for my bargain basement set up? Nope. Turns out people unfamiliar with photography assumed they cost much more than they did.
Would even the presence of lights and a Hasseblad elevate expectations beyond what I could deliver? Expecations were elevated, but more on the results later.
Gather yourself enough to get the initial light meter readings now that you were no longer in the bonus room anymore.
Thank goodness I tried this at home with varying the light in the room.
Even a base understanding of how to use a Sekonic helps immensely. Practice, trial and error were key.
Then it happened. I asked one of my daughters to sit in the chair after metering the back of the chair for the Hasselblad (400 ISO and f/2.8 netted me a shutter speed of 1/30s. Not as fast as I would have liked, but much better than I would have had in this cave without lights and the subjects would be seated and I was using a bridge girder of a Bogen tripod.), dialed the same settings in to my DSLR (Pentax K-1 with Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8) and boom.
Shot 1. No Lightroom modification at all. Relief does not begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I hugged my child tightly, thanked her, and sent her on her way back to mingling with family. Thoughts on the test shot?
I loved the way the lighting turned out and it was just as I had planned, which was quite a shock if I am honest.
Dead on was not working for me so posing would need to change so I turned the front of the chair 45 degrees right and decided I would have the subjects/honorees turn their heads to look in to the camera. Mobility was a concern for some and I wanted to make the whole affair as comfortable as possible for the honorees, hence the chair.
Thank goodness I brought the old school bridge girder Bogen tripod because 1/30s was not as fast as I had hoped.
When I saw the relatively slow shutter speed I immediately knew proper strobes would be in my future.
Here is the thing. It did not stop there. A small number of family members saw the goings on and asked if I could take their photos. I was honored and said of course. I had brought extra rolls of 120 along as insurance so I ran though a second roll. Then when I went to reach for a third roll is when the shift took place. I could not find the third roll (found it the next week), but I wanted to take a shot of my folks since they were only a week away from their 50th wedding anniversary. Solution? Use the Pentax K-1 I took the test shot with.
That is went things went crazy in a good way. When I looked up after taking my parents shots a line had formed. The rest of my family had been observing and they wanted family portraits as well. My main motivation for taking shots is following in my father’s footsteps whose photos document my own childhood. Now I had an opportunity to do the same for my family not only by the candid shots throughout the reunion but also by providing formal family photos during this banquet. Life is good.
Lighting is simple, but not easy. What closes the gap is practice.
Get a light meter. Practice and learn incidence metering. Trust the light meter.
I know beans about light meters, but do not break the bank. The one I have, a Sekonic L something or another, is fairly basic I understand and fell in my lap when I bought my Hasselblad. But after seeing the results I now swear by them. No in body light meter I have seen yet holds a candle (I am a lifelong perennial accidental bad pun machine) to it.
I got cocky during the shoot with my K-1 and fell back to my comfort zone, Av or aperture priority. 3 shots later with results all over the place due to the lights just out of frame impacting exposure settings I ran back to the light meter settings.
Learn the way of the ‘M’. My path was getting an all manual icon almost gifted to me, but simply turn your existing camera to ‘M’. It will help you in your every day shooting when you do use the priority modes.
Consistency is your friend. I metered exactly once, since the room lighting stayed the same, and except for the Av episode above shot at the 400 ISO, f/2.8, and 1/30s shutter speed the rest of the night. As a result all of the shots had the same ‘look’ and needed no fiddling later to make them look consistent.
Guess what? If you have ever done like me in Av and set a desired aperture, then fiddled with the ISO to get the desired shutter speed you are already 90% of the way to M. Just take the wheel and set all three yourself instead of trying to get the camera to do your bidding the round about way.
Plan to get strobes. The constant lights were nice and included light stands and umbrellas that could be reused with strobes, but with the very affordable Yongnuo set up outlined above there are distinct advantages.
No power chords. This forced me to the corner of the room with outlets and still required a power strip extension chord. I also had to mask out the wall outlet in a few shots. About the only adjustment made to the shots.
Take your show on the road. I quickly saw how additional light would be helpful outside as well. Not an option when tied to the wall outlet.
More power. With strobes I could have easily cranked up the power a couple of notches and gotten the shutter speed up to more favorable speeds. 1/100s at least would have been my preference.
Many would do the trick, but the Yongnuo trigger/flash system is hard to beat. They are not TTL, but I cannot make sense of why anyone would want to use off camera TTL. I picked up a trigger and 3 flashes and after initial testing I am sold. There are reviews aplenty online so I will leave you to the Google.
The only way to figure out what you need is to start with something.
No lights taught me I needed lights. Budget lights taught me that I needed more light, etc.
You are much closer to the next step than you think you are.
Get over yourself and be bold in learning your craft. I could only improve so much in the bonus room of my house.
Watch videos on posing people. They helped immensely. Someone needs to know where people need to stand and that may need to be you. I spent much more time moving people around than I expected.
A successful photo has to do with confidence. My approach was fake it until you make it and I had people asking me if I was sure I was not a professional photographer.
Don’t break the bank. Starting out need not cost you a fortune.
Related, but not crucial to the task at hand is that providing a vehicle to easily deliver photos proved quite popular. My normal every day flow includes editing RAW at night and by simply adding the step of uploading these photos to the reunion page I had already created over the course of the weekend family members were already familiar with my work by the time the portraits were being taken.
Have fun. Keep on learning. One of the things I love most about photography is that it is a pursuit where you will never stop learning if you are doing it right.