Cheap lens thrills. Shiny at that. Mitakon 85mm f/2.0

This lens makes no sense.

Before I start I must mention that like some other items on my photo gear odyssey this lens is in a rare bought twice grouping. With most gear I trade or sell and move on without so much as a second thought. Not this one though, and a video from Lee Haze is partly to blame…

But I digress.

This lens makes no sense. Why? Glad you asked.

Affordability and Aesthetics:

In all honesty I first bought this lens back when I had a K-3ii because 1) It is shiny and 2) It costs under $150 for a K mount. That is all I needed and anything above this was gravy. To that point up until recently I had 2 pictures of this lens on flickr, but none taken with the lens. Sure it looks fine in black, but it makes no sense that a silver lens version this good looking sells for around $150. I traded that lens with the Pentax K-3ii and it remained at the store until this week. After thinking about it I stopped by Southeastern Camera Carrboro and gave it a spin on my newest Pentax. Fortunately Chris gave me the “Hey, this guy keeps selling and buying his gear here.” discount. Available for Sony A, Pentax K, Nikon F, and Canon EF mounts from a few places, but Amazon is the only place where I saw the siver version. Here is one of the first shots I took in the shop and also the moment I knew I would be rescuing this lens for the K-1.

 

Build, Usability and Ergonomics:

The lens itself is built like a tank. All metal with etched and painted numbers and machined grooves on the aperture and focus rings. The packaging and the hood are to be set aside as soon as possible and are the only indicators of cost cutting which is fine with me. For usability this is one of the best manual focus lenses I have ever used on full frame. Less so on APS-C (K-3ii) as I recall accurate focusing through the viewfinder being a bit of a chore even with Pentax’s handy center focus confirmation. This is also why I had 2 photos of the lens and none with the lens until I got the K-1. But with full frame (K-1) focusing through the viewfinder only by sight is a breeze and this lens has been on the camera nearly 24/7 since I picked it up again. This may be owing to the lens’ native full frame focus circle, but the difference between crop/no crop was noticed right away. Ergonomics are great. I keep coming back to this, but this is a lens that feels much more precious than its price point suggests. The focus movement is very smooth and the throw is long, but that is not a ding as this aids in accurate focusing. Also this lens is small and light for an 85mm lens. If you did not know any better you would think it was a 50mm lens at most.

Photo Quality:

Again, this is another area where this lens performs well above its price point. That the lens looks good is a given, but the photos themselves shine in the areas of sharpness, subject isolation, and color. Take this simple shot of a car while I was sitting in traffic.

Simple photo. It actually reminds me of the results I got from using another Mitakon lens, the “Dark Knight” Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 that I used with another full frame gem, the Sony A7.

On the one hand that is not surprising because they are made by the same company. But that lens had an astounding f/0.95 aperture, was considerably larger, and considerably more expensive. (No shiny, silver option though.) Even at $899.99 the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 was reasonably priced compared to other lenses with those specs. Granted the 85mm discussed here has a much more modest aperture at f/2.0, but I think the focal length offsets this advantage a bit. First for photos of people an 85mm lens is more desirable than a 50mm as it has less distortion. Secondly isolation lost due to the more modest aperture is also offset some by the longer focal length. Plus f/2.0 is nothing to sneeze at. 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are my favorite all around portrait lenses and this offers a bit more light than that in a considerably more compact package. Add to this a price of $150 or less and it is a no-brainer.

I knew I did not ‘need’ an 85mm portrait lens, but I wanted one. The issue was that while the Sigma (has AF, a larger aperture and stellar reviews but I could not justufy the outlay personally given what else I had in my bag) and Samyang (larger aperture and only $100 more, but because silver shiny) options are priced right I could not justify buying them, or the very nice Pentax 77mm f/1.8 Limited (had the silver shiny option, larger aperture and AF, but price again) since I had a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and a Pentax 100mm f/2.8  WR macro in my bag already… But I still wanted an 85mm. And this lens was a wonderful way to satisfy that want.

Here is a flickr gallery of photos from this lens that i will be updating periodically.

-ELW

 

 

 

This Old Lens: Vivitar 17-28mm: Vintage love, but there are rules…

I did not want to pay a lot for a wide angle lens. I like them a lot, but I do not use them enough to justify a great outlay. The newly released constant aperture factory option zoom was off the table. Worth it? Yes. Willing to pay that much? No. Next up the Rokinon 14mm manual focus wide angle. I have no issues with manual focus, the price was right, but I am a sucker for vintage glass so after a google fit I found the film era Vivitar 17-28mm zoom. Done. Received the lens and it is quite the looker.

 

But as I have found in the past with a Vivitar film lens on digital (A7) there are some rules. Here are the rules for this Vivitar:

  • Find what your infinity is. Like the 19mm Vivitar I used before infinity was not infinity. After some quick testing I found that infinity on this lens was between 7 and 10 feet.
  • That is about it.

Now some thoughts and some sample shots below and here is a gallery I plan to add photos to here.

  • Locating infinity handles far away focusing. Up close works well with the viewfinder, but Live View with tilt screen offers high and low perspectives, electronic level, focus peaking, and zoom framing and focus aids.
  • Like many wide angle lenses this lens exhibits barrel distortion and vignetting. Both easily dealt with in Lightroom.
  • It only cost $120 on ebay.
  • Vintage lenses looks cool.
  • That is about it.

I really like this lens. More specifically the results. Here are some sample shots.

 

Legacy film Pentax 80-320mm: Silver, a solid value, and silver…

 

Ok, I will admit it. I am a sucker for silver lenses, even plastic ones. Especially plastic ones that cost $150 and perform solidly like the Pentax 80-320mm. This lens has been on my radar for awhile and a video from Lee Haze prompted me to hunt one down on ebay:

Received it today and I can already say that this is a keeper. The K-1 has been great on it’s own merits performance wise, but a secret weapon for it that somewhat offsets a common ding (lack of new glass) has been the many legacy glass options. Here are some quick first impression thoughts about this lens and sample photos below.

  • Some have noted slow focusing on older digital bodies, but (like the 50mm AF f/1.7) I have to say that I have been pleased. I have briefly tested the focusing at every focal length, various lighting conditions inside, and out and even tracking a Fire Truck passing by and I have no complaints.
  • It is silver.
  • Very compact and lightweight given it’s focal length. At it’s most closed down it is only about an inch longer than the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 which is already a very compact lens. Granted at 320mm it’s length increases by almost half, but it is no longer than my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, smaller in diameter and much lighter.
  • Very nice colors. Outside and in it seems to render colors accurately with the K-1. From a passing fire truck in daylight to skin tones inside it performs very well.
  • Very reasonable price wise. Prices seem to range between $100-150.
  • Produces very nice bokeh to my eyes and at 320mm backgrounds are very well blown out.
  • It is silver.

I have heard some say that it is no professional lens, but I think that misses the point considering the price point. For starters while I would admit that it would not be a professionals first choice, an enthusiast with a mortal budget could produce some stunning work with this lens.  It also has it’s advantages. I can already see that in ample light I would prefer this lens over the larger aperture of the 70-200mm if extra reach was desired. And in a pinch this lens holds it’s own surprisingly well in interior conditions even though the f/2.8 would be the lens of choice. Another solid vintage entry. More to come when the manual focus vintage film Vivitar 17-28mm arrives.

-ELW

 

 

The Pentax K-1: Where objective and subjective meet.

Opening Disclaimer:

This camera is primarily a stills camera. If you are ok with that proceed. Otherwise you will likely be better off shopping elsewhere. I will note that with the $1,000 or more you save over similarly spec’d stills cameras (Talking sensor format and MP count only since I do not know of a DSLR that has all of the K-1s features. Plus many have no better video specs.) you could buy yourself a very nice video friendly camera. Same can be said for those looking for a high FPS sports camera. If top notch stills are your aim then read on.

Preface:

I love logic. Crave it even. Objective over subjective always. Warm and fuzzy are the enemy.Gushing prose not welcome here. But with the Pentax K-1? Houston we have a problem. I have delayed writing anything about this camera. Why? Glad you asked. Seeing myself as logical I was concerned that my immediate and ever growing… ok, love for this camera would be perceived as the uncontrolled, unchecked ramblings of an overzealous Pentaxian (Pentaxite, Pentaxlandian..?). There. I said it. I love this camera. Hoo, that is freeing. Case in point just recently I took pictures that moved me, dare I say to near tears. Not that the pictures themselves were so marvelous (although they kinda were)…

but more accurately I was moved by the fact that I had actually acquired a camera so much better, with so much more potential than I ever thought I could have afforded. And this day I was using a $50 used film lens. At this point two weeks in I know I have not even scratched the surface of what this camera can do. This is one of those cameras that you do not flip to try another brand or climb a lens system hierarchy. (Update: Wellllll… Turned out that this was not the case. At all. Oh well. Will try not to make such declarations in the future.) This is one you faithfully use for years and then put on a pedestal shelf to be taken down for a spin every once in a while…. like my Dad’s dearly departed ME Super. Wait, more on that in a bit.

Now mind you I come at this not only having used a string of crop sensor interchangeable lens cameras in the last few years (E-P5, E-PL5, D3300, NX300, NX30, RX-100ii, K-3ii, NX1 and a full frame A7 somewhere in the middle for giggles).

 

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Nothing wrong with them, but these mortal digital cameras are tools of convenience and practicality. I cannot afford to develop as many film rolls as I desire to take during a given week. I cannot simply sling a Mamiya around my neck and go walkabouts like I would with a mirrorless or DSLR. Trust me I tried that once at Duke Gardens and came away with a cramped left hand and blown out pits.

Not a good look. That being said I LOVE film. The process. The wonderful noise made by the faint whine of early circuitry and the clack of metal and glass slapping about. The tedious zen of loading and unloading and occasionally ruining  film. Even the not knowing what is to come. I fully cop to loving film. Have always. What format or brand? Yes.

The Holga? Fun and cheap medium format. The old Pentax power zoom? Bought it new ages ago and still hang on to it. The Polaroid One Step? Purchased to add to the crew since a One Step was my first camera that my father bought me to beat me off of his beloved SX-70. The Minolta? Gift from a friend familiar with my love of cameras. The Canon? Came as a package deal with the Hasselblad. The Hasselblad? Literally dropped in my lap by a friend for a price that I could not refuse. The Mamiya? Sat at the camera store calling me every time I stopped through. The 35mm cameras are very good and I shoot film with them mostly. The medium format cameras? Good gravy. Briefly had me plotting for a digital back or lightly used 645D (645Z way out of my fiscal depth. Other medium digital brands give me high price temporary blindness.) until I snapped out of it and they ruined me for crop sensors and the one digital full frame I had. Until now. Since acquiring the K-1 the film crew, beloved medium format brick (Hasselblad) and cinder block (Mamiya) included, has sat unused for 2 weeks straight and I cannot remember the last time that has happened regardless of what digital camera I have purchased.

Let’s get the sentimental warm and fuzzy out of the way.

Subjective:

Exhibit A) My love for my Dad knows no bounds and while he gifted me his love of photography in general, he specifically taught me how to shoot on an SLR with his Pentax ME Super. There. I held it together so far.

 

Exhibit B) Further until a few years back I never owned a ‘real’ camera of my own. Enter the Pentax ME Super again. While following a friend who had been recently bitten by the film SLR bug to Southeastern Camera I was struck with the thought, I bet Dad still has his ME Super within reach, while my friend Anthony picked out a film SLR of his own from the selection there. Called Dad from the shop and sure enough when I stopped by my folk’s house later that day to pick up the kids there it was sitting on the counter in what appeared to be, but wasn’t, a freshly Armor All’d bag. That is how Dad rolls. I ran a roll through and as soon as I saw the photos I knew I was hooked all over again. After years of suffering through a string of point and shoots my wife instructed me to stop denying myself and buy a real camera. Love that woman.

Exhibit C) Last year I encouraged my Dad to take his ME Super with him when he and my Mom went on a trip to celebrate their 49th wedding Anniversary that included a stop through the Grand Canyon. He managed to get a few shots off before the ME Super finally gave up the ghost after many years of dedicated service. After Southeastern Camera diagnosed the problem (mother board packed it in) and that the repairs would likely cost twice the camera’s value I decided it was time to usher Dad in to the DSLR age by gifting him a mint condition Pentax K20D w/ grip that came with a kit AF zoom and played nice with his existing lenses.

Ok, this is the end of the line for the subjective, warm and fuzzy piece… mostly. More on that later.

Now I will try to get back to Spocks-ville.

Objective:

By this time I was in the Sony A7 phase of my system churn odyssey and it hit me. While playing around with Dad’s K20D and an old SMC-A lens from the ME Super I realize I like the handling of this years old Pentax better than my A7. This has image stabilization?… and wait.. is the center focus point lighting up when in focus while I focus manually? Water sealed, including the grip? What the? I’ve been sleeping on Pentax. Yadda, yadda, yadda and the next week I had a Pentax K-3ii.

 

Loved it, although after an odd series of events followed by what can only be described as a bad call I strayed and continued the system churn odyssey. Hindsight is crystal.

Then ‘it’ happened. Having cataloged the repercussions of my bad call in detail already I provide a link here and will move on. Suffice it to say I needed a new system stat. This my friends is when we had ourselves a convergence. The same day I went to trade my gear, while the getting was good, was the same day that the Pentax K-1 was to be released. (Had been tracking the progress of the K-1 since I owned the K-3ii.) My thought was that I would pick up a K-1 on trade day one. Simple right? Nope. Wildly optimistic? Definitely. But in the end not too far off of the mark. As a result of astonishing timing and Chris…

the manager of Southeastern Camera Carrboro, I found my traded in gear back in the hands of it’s original owner and a K-1 on pre-order directly from the factory in the Philippines to the camera shop in a quantity of 1 specifically for me by the local Pentax rep. Service on 11. All while the online retailers have exactly none available even up to the writing of this post. That worked out nicely.

With a constant track of “Is it here yet?” playing on loop in my head I tried not to drive the folks at the shop or everyone I know crazy. I think I succeeded. My Dad graciously lending me his K20D helped immensely,

but towards the end that did not help so I reverted back to my film cameras. Then it arrived…

 

In typical Pentax fashion there was no fanfare box wise. In fact except for the model number on the box one would be hard pressed to tell the box from the one that my previous K-3ii came in. No penny spent where it has no real impact. I like that. But when I took it out of the box there it was, that familiar feeling that this is a camera that could be used to hammer in a railroad spike should the need arise. I pored over videos, reviews, and had already downloaded the instruction manual so there were no real surprises controls wise, but the feel of the switchgear was impeccable. First thing up? To start I will list the perks available on many or most modern Pentax bodies.

Pentax perk 1) Vintage Pentax lens mount compatibility. Exercised the vintage compatibility chops by slapping on the 50mm SMC A f/1.7 I picked up for $50 while waiting for the K-1. Lenses dating back to the mid 70s up through current lenses are compatible with Pentax digital cameras.You will need to activate use of the aperture ring in the customization menus.

Pentax perk 2) SMC-A lenses (like the 50mm I had that was produced between ’84 and ’89) link to the camera’s aperture controls for fully functional aperture priority mode. To meter with SMC lenses (no A mode) you can either leave them wide open and use aperture priority mode (except for harsh sunlight or when I want to increase the depth of field I shoot legacy glass wide open) or go full manual and press the good old green button on the back. SMC lenses stay open by default to aid in framing I believe. To meter when the green button is pressed the camera stops down to the aperture set on the lens and meters.

Pentax perk 3) Manual lens focus aids. Activate catch in focus in the customization menus and make sure focus peaking is active in live view. Focus peaking in live view will be familiar to anyone who has used mirrorless and allows the use of the tilt screen to frame and focus the picture including being able to zoom in and pan around. Nothing objective about, I love catch in focus. By default the center focus point will stay hot and light up/beep when in focus. Handy, but catch in focus goes one step further. I do not understand why all cameras do not have this available. Once activated set the camera to AF, hold down the shutter while focusing at the center point and the camera will take the shot. This essentially gives vintage lenses rudimentary AF functionality  where you are the focus motor. I believe it was designed to act as a trap focus for a fixed camera but with the next perk it works handheld as well. Every lens now has access to the AF system including my decades old $39 135mm f/2.5 lens.

Pentax perk 4) In body image stabilization. I repeat in body image stabilization (5 axis in the K-1). Let that sink in for a moment. Sure Olympus and now Sony offer mirrorless cameras with this feature, but what other DSLR at any  price has this? Last I checked 0 no matter how much you spend. Works with manual lenses as well, you just need to tell the camera the focal length. And the camera asks you for this once it senses a manual lens. This has so many benefits that are practical and fiscal.

  1. Every lens now has image stabilization from my decades old $39 135mm f/2.5 lens up to my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom and beyond.
  2. Potential for lighter, more compact lenses. Like my previous experience with Olympus this moves the stabilization in to the body reducing complexity and weight for the lenses.
  3. Makes perks 9 and 10 listed below possible.
  4. Saves a ton on lenses. Two lenses I desire greatly, but often cannot afford, are 1) wide-ish to short tele f/2.8 constant zoom and 2) short to long tele f/2.8 zooms. Image stabilization is critical, especially for the tele zoom. Canon and Nikon image stabilized factory options are beyond my comfort level cost wise as well as most brands. When I finally did cough up for these lenses with a system I was burnt badly… Another story. That is now in the past. But not only are the factory lenses less than most for Pentax (owing to not having to include image stabilization I imagine) the non image stabilized aftermarket variants (both Tamrons in this discussion. Sigma made one also I understand, but it had redundant image stabilization, appears to no longer be in production, and cost more new likely owing to having redundant image stabilization.) are a steal. Mine were more so since I was able to buy back the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 for relative peanuts.

Pentax perk 5) Top notch weather sealing (when used with Pentax WR lenses). Above run of the mill rain I have had times at the beach and in some caverns during vacations where I took the fewest photos where I wanted to take them most for fear of ruining my gear. Nice to know that with weather sealed lenses this need not be a concern anymore.

Pentax perk 6) Lenses are generally lower in cost than most. I touched on this above, but I believe this deserves to be listed as a perk by itself. Counting the zooms mentioned above and my 3 vintage primes all in for 5 lenses I have spent $899 so far… For 5 lenses. 5 great lenses at that.

 

 

Pentax perk 7) Fabulous control layout and ample customizations available. Feels like an honest to goodness camera. Some cameras I have owned felt like light capturing electronic devices roughly shaped to resemble a camera, but Pentax cameras feel like actual cameras updated to the digital age.

Pentax perk 8) Awesome image quality and AF. The K-1 even more so due to being full frame, but from my father’s K20D to the K-3ii I had Pentax produces wonderful images. Further AF was never an issue on the K-3ii.

Pentax perk 9) Built in GPS w/ Astrotracer feature shared with the K-3ii I had.

Pentax perk 10) Pixel shift high resolution mode shared with the K-3ii I had.

Pentax perk 11) Value. My K-3ii stacked up well against DSLRs of similar (but fewer) specs from major competitors. More on that below.

May add some more general Pentax perks later, but suffice it to say I really like Pentax products in general.

The K-1

So what about the K-1? Let me sum it up this way.

Regardless of spec sheet, format, or pedigree there is not another single stills camera I would have over the K-1 at any price, film or digital.

Just that simple. More than that nothing comes close. This is not a camera that is ‘good for it’s price point’. Remove price from the equation and it still stands in a class of one. Why? In addition to many of the features above not being offered by other companies at all let’s look at K-1 specific perks.

K-1 perk 1) Stellar spec sheet on par with the best full frame cameras available today. Getting the well knowns that separate it from the rest of the Pentax clan out of the way in one perk. 36MP, full frame, 1/8000s shutter speed, and improved 5-axis image stabilization. Few cameras operate in this company.

K-1 perk 2) To add on to the Pentax perk above it has to be said again. Price. Until the K-1 was released the full frame camera I wanted most was a Nikon D810. No more. At $1,000 less not only does it match the D810 spec sheet it keeps going offering features no other DSLR I know of offers regardless of price (Cameras like the Leica SL baffle me what you get for what you pay wise, but much respect to those who can afford them.) like GPS and image stabilization and…

K-1 perk 3) Built in WiFi. Above not only many of it’s siblings, many other DSLRs like the D810 either do not have or require a dongle for this. Of note the D750 has WiFi, but priced above the K-1 it has 24MP, no IS…

K-1 perk 4) 3rd control wheel of many purposes. Agreed they went crazy with the choices, but that control wheel has been fantastic in use.

 

K-1 perk 5) A ‘unique’ tiltable screen. I will be first to admit that it seemed wonderfully over engineered to me initially (I am an Industrial Engineer by degree you understand). But in use this is what it is about.

 

My preference is flip down/up screens (E-P5, E-PL5, NX300, NX1, RX-100ii for instance) and central to the K-1 screen is this type of mount. No sideways motion with those above however. Side 180 degree swing out and swivel screens (NX30 for instance) are less discrete when used as a waist level viewfinder and have an inherent single point failure point where the screen meets the camera. So what if you want a bit of sideways view action, but with more anchor points? Mount the up/down tilt mechanism to the camera using an interesting rods with sliding ball socket mechanism that works as billed. No 180. No big. No selfie zone.

K-1 perk 6) LED access lights. Brilliant. Why has no one else done this?

 

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K-1 perk 7) Full frame. Unique to the K-1 this makes the K-1 so much more usable with the 28-75mm and 70-200mm ranges of the 2 Tamrons mentioned above. On the K-3ii the crop factor was not a plus making the 70-200mm too tele for in a pinch walkabout use.

K-1 perk 8) Low noise and image quality on par with the best cameras out there. This cameras performance far outshines the full frame film and digital cameras I have used and my only real IQ comparison can be made with my 2 medium format film cameras. And I am talking about normal mode. Pixel shift mode provides even greater results where the shooting situation allows. The image quality is that good.

I may add perks if more come to me, but these are more than enough in my book. It is my sincere hope that Pentax can get these in to as many hands as possible. It may not convince die hard brand loyalists to switch. I understand. A lot, emotionally and fiscally, goes in to choosing and building a system. But if you have only APS-C bodies and lenses you owe it to yourself to take a look if you have been thinking of moving to full frame. Same applies if you are looking to start off new with a full frame. If you have found yourself with a full frame body, but like I did you now realize you cannot bring yourself to spend the astronomical sums companies, factory and 3rd party, are asking for primes and image stabilized constant aperture zooms consider this: Backwards legacy lens compatibility and the availability of non-stabilized 3rd party constant aperture zoom lenses means I have spent $100 less for a new K-1 ($1,799), 3 legacy primes ($149), and 2 used zooms ($750) combined than the current new price for a D810 ($2799) body alone. A trade could go a long way is all I am saying.

To close I simply restate my assertion from above and add a gallery. More photos here and will be updated.:

Regardless of spec sheet, format, or pedigree there is not another single stills camera I would have over the K-1 at any price, film or digital.

-ELW

 

I am not well suited to pre-ordering. So I write this as therapy…

Full disclosure/warning: This blog post was written under duress. I suffer from as yet to be officially diagnosed low level OCD and waiting for my pre-ordered K-1 is driving me nuts. As such I have been scarfing down any information I can get my mitts on and my brain is full. This very long winded post is my release valve. Oh, there will be typos. Written furiously over the course of today broken up by family quality time interludes. As is my custom I will be re-reading and correcting over the coming days. Again, you have been warned.

Had planned on writing more about the K-1 after it arrived, but this wait is proving more of a challenge than I thought it would. Never pre-ordered a camera, or anything for that matter, before. I am more of a “Can I get it in the back of the minivan this afternoon?” kind of guy. If given the option I will pay more locally than online, not only to support local businesses (my local camera shop preference is Southeastern Camera), but to have it in hand. Immediate gratification looms large in my wheelhouse. Also a bit of a why should I wait if I give you a bunch of money thing too. Another factor that played a part is that a gear trade was involved. Theoretically I could have listed my gear online like I have in the past and very likely gotten more money, but for me that is a last resort as I do not enjoy that process at all. I will gladly eat profits not to deal with the general populous if I am honest. Hence the trade/pre-order became reality since no ‘real’ money exchanged hands.

Aside from shooting the legacy Pentax film lenses I purchased in anticipation of the K-1 with my Dad’s K20D my other coping ritual is regularly searching for and consuming any media pertaining to the K-1. The most recent and my current favorite entry is the video by The Camera Store and Nick Devlin:

Other articles and reviews that have helped me get through this blatantly first world problem can be found here:

I don’t do doe eyed gushiness. No talk of a certain (insert brand here) look. My general demeanor and wallet will not allow me to suspend all reason to pay enormous sums for one system to another. The only warm spot a company can give me is the knowledge that they are not trying to gouge me price and feature wise simply because they can. Recently I add to this companies that do not unceremoniously abandon their customers, but that is a rant dealt with earlier. Even though I first learned SLR photography on a Pentax ME Super the bulk of my interest in Pentax is for very practical reasons. I have spent time visiting a few systems since I first dipped a toe in to digital interchangeable lens systems three years ago. Here are the reasons why I bought in and why I left:

  • Olympus (micro four thirds)
    • Why I bought:
    • Why I left:
      • Pricey once you want to jump the fence to the upper end of the line up.Bought the E-P5 used for $800 when I could not justify the additional OMD outlay for the same sensor and IS tech to gain a built in EVF. Personal issue admittedly. So I bought a D3300 instead which was on sale at the time.
      • Physics. Compared low light performance of my E-P5 with a much loved prime up against a newly purchased D3300 with a kit lens one day and the D3300 cleaned it’s clock. No fault of the Olympus.
  • Nikon (APS-C)
    • Why I bought:
      • D3300. Can somebody say deal! The sensor out of a D7200 in a $499 kit? Sign me up.
      • A great camera and fantastic image quality
      • Nothing more needs to be said does it?
    • Why I left:
      • Kind of fuzzy on that one admittedly.
      • Something like at the time I sold it to get an NX30 to share lenses with the NX300 I bought to replace the E-P5.
      • Ok, now I am remembering. Feature lack.Lacked a couple of puzzling things I had become accustomed to on other cameras that seemed to have been left off just to get you to spend more on pricier Nikons. Not cool:
        • WiFi dongle instead of built in. Really? What is this, 1990? I bought one and found it an annoyance that I was destined to lose one day.
        • No front dial. Why? Surely they had the real estate.
        • Fixed, non-tiltable screen. My E-PL5, E-P5, NX300, NX30, and RX100ii all had this.
  • Samsung Part 1 (APS-C)
    • Why I bought (NX300/NX30):
      • APS-C goodness in a micro four thirds sized and priced mirrorless package.
      • The NX30 was aiiight, but the NX300 hit a sweet spot size and performance wise that I found and still find hard to beat.
    • Why I left:
      • When the Sony A7ii was released Sony dropped the price of the A7 to $999.99.
      • That’s all I have got. Because full frame for less than a G. It was all a blur.
  • Sony (Full Frame/1″)
    • Why I bought:
      • For the A7 as previously stated because full frame. I like saying to myself, “I have a full frame camera”.
      • For the RX100ii I stopped by Southeastern Camera and mentioned that I missed having a pocketable camera and Chris lent me the RX100ii to take for a spin over the weekend. Bought it. Nice little camera.
    • Why I left:
      • A7
        • I had great fun with the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95, but I found the practical high end zoom lenses were lacking in performance (f/4 was the best option at the time), very expensive given their modest specs, and their large size to accommodate full frame rather diminished a key advantage of the mirrorless, compactness.
        • AF focus speed and accuracy at the time was meh even compared to other mirrorless cameras I had used. Awful when compared to DSLRs.
        • Just never warmed up to it. Comparing my Dad’s Pentax K20D side by side one day I was so impressed with the 8 year old Pentax that I traded the A7 for a K3ii soon after.
      • RX100ii
        • I bought a phone. Not long after purchasing an LG V10 I found that it’s camera was so capable that I was no longer carrying my RX100ii with me.
  • Pentax K3ii (APS-C)
    • Why I bought:
      • All the things I loved about the D3300 with the added benefits of:
        • In body image stabilization like my father’s K20D and the Olympus cameras I had.
        • “Kind of” in body WiFi with the included WiFi enabled SD card. A tad clumsy, but worked and way better than a dongle.
        • Felt like the water and dust sealed tank it was.
      • With the added benefit of in body IS I could save a fortune on lenses by purchasing non IS Tamron glass trinity and I did just that.
      • Along with the NX300 one of only 2 trade regrets.
    • Why I left;
      • Short version: At times kids will negatively impact your reasoning faculties.
      • Long winded version: My Marching Band High Schooler had volunteered me as AV geek for their band’s half time performances. A concert was coming and I was asked to video that as well. As a video camera the Pentax was a heck of a stills camera. A used NX1 became available at the the local camera shop and I traded because 4K video and constant AF.
      • This can only be described as a mistake in the end. More on that below.
  • Samsung Part 2 (APS-C)
    • Why I bought (NX300/NX1):
      • NX300
        • Regretted selling this camera almost immediately. When replacing the RX100ii I thought, “It would really be nice to have a Ricoh GRII sized camera with interchangeable lenses and tiltable screen… like the NX300 I traded.” So I bought it back from the shop.
      • NX1
    • Why I left:
      • NX300
        • Didn’t. Still have it along with the 30mm f/2.0 and 16-50mm PZ. Already bought, sold, and bought again. I see no reason to go through that again. Even though it is not supported I know of no compact solution I would rather have. Even with Samsung’s decisions it is worth more to me than what I would get for selling it.
      • NX1
        • Samsung.
        • Too precious a camera with a price to dear, especially along with the 85mm and S lenses, to be left utterly high and dry by their manufacturer.
        • For all of my concern about 4K I shot 4K in the wild exactly never. It was clearly overkill for the occasional video I needed to take.

So why the K-1?

  • Purely looking at the actual act of taking a photograph the most assuring and satisfying and beefy in hand cameras I have ever used are the D3300 and the K-3ii. Point them in that direction, make sure the focus points are where you need them to be and image.
  • Purely looking at image quality under the perfect conditions with perfect timing and manual or auto focus on point the full frame A7 was without peer. Everything right the results were amazing.
  • Feature wise I loved the myriad of mirrorless cameras. The tilt screens, WiFi, and more specifically in body image stabilization of the Olympus, and also the K-3ii, was greatly appreciated.
  • Value. Certain non big banner brands offered a heck of a lot of value for the money.

Up until the point that Pentax announced the K-1 and it really seemed like reality the cameras I aspired to obtain were the D750 and D810. The problem was their high price and that I wanted a mixed set of features from each and both lacked a key feature:

  • Wanted the built in WiFi of the D750.
  • Wanted the 1/8000 of a second shutter speed of  the D810.
    • D750 maxes at 1/4000. Heck, my little NX300 will do 1/6000.
    • I actually use this often.
  • Wanted the tiltable screen of the D750.
  • Admittedly 24MP is fine, but if available I want the 36MP of the D810 all other things being equal.
    • From the sound of cameras reviewed with even higher MP compromises start to creep in that offset any benefits once you step too far over 40MP.
  • Both lack in body image stabilization.
    • This one is important to me. I had this available on the Olympus bodies and it was great to have IS when adapting older film era glass. This is one thing that was sorely missed when I adapted legacy glass to my Samsung and Sony mirrorless cameras.
  • Both cost considerably more and pack fewer features.

The K-1 has all of the features mentioned above plus some decidedly Pentaxian features like:

  • K mount lenses dating back to the 70s will mount without an adapter.
  • Better yet lenses like the SMC A 50mm f/1.7 I recently acquired for $50 will even link with the camera aperture controls so the camera can be used in Av mode.
  • I repeat in body image stabilization. This opens up more lenses in certain areas:
    • 3rd party
      • Right now I have 2 lenses I previously traded with my K-3ii that I loved and will now be buying back. The 28-75mm f/2.8 (gallery) and 70-200mm f/2.8 (gallery). The 28-75mm focal length was a bit odd on the APS-C cropped sensor K-3ii (and the one I had for the D3300), but since both lenses are full frame Di lenses they will be right at home on the K-1.
      • Consider this. At the time of the writing of this post I could buy the K-1 and these 2 lenses covering 28-200mm at f/2.8 all new for $3,064.95. Now take a look at this comparison chart. If you buy the lenses new you could get all three for less than some other full frame 36MP plus bodies alone. I do not know if that means anything to you, but as a man with a mortgage to pay and kids to clothe and feed this is significant. If you have got it like that where this does not matter flaunt it baby, as Zero says in the original Producers film, and get whatever you wish and I will be truly happy for you.
    • Legacy glass
      • Like the SMC A 50mm f/1.7 and 135mm f/2.5 I already purchased for $89 combined.
  • Focus confirmation. Tripped over this while playing around with my father’s K20D (which even though released in 2008 it still has IS also) and an old manual film lens from his ME Super. Basically the center focus point will light up when in focus.
  • Catch in focus. Mentioned above I tripped over this feature while in Pentax Forums. In short AF on manual lenses where you are the focus motor by auto shutter when in focus.
  • LED access lights. Any parent who has fumbled in a dark auditorium should welcome this.
  • Access to Pentax’s film era full frame limited lenses which are lens eye candy, especially the 77mm f/1.8.
  • Built in GPS with Astrotracer. I must admit I have no use for this. My K-3ii had this and I did not use it.
  • Relatively inexpensive access to weather sealed lenses in the 28-105mm WR and 100mm WR macro. The 100mm macro WR is excellent by the way.
  • Built like tanks. The K-3ii I had felt like a camera I could use to break open other cameras. By all accounts water and dust sealing beyond reproach.

Not all is not rosy in Pentax land of course. There have been those who have brought up cons that range from silly to justified. I am fortunate in that they either do not impact my style of shooting, or I am willing to overlook them. The common ones are:

Fewer lenses.

  • Non-issue for me. Fewer factory and 3rd party lenses, but enough.
  • I could counter with the fact that since the camera has in body IS it opens up more lenses like the 3rd party and legacy lenses mentioned above.

Extra dials on top redundant and someone complained you cannot see what the dial is set to in camera.

  • Different strokes for sure, but… Um. Don’t use them?

Only 33 focus points.

  • As an olive branch 25 are cross type which is more than many competitors.
  • Personal preference, but no matter how many focus points are available (my current NX300 has 105) I use center point or center cluster focusing.
  • The D3300 had 11 and the K-3ii had 27 and I do not recall a single instance where this was an issue with either.

Slow burst frame rate.

  • Guilty as charged, but I am not a sports shooter.
  • Personal preference, but I had an NX1 that was capable of 15fps and I never made use of it other than to occasionally say, “Hey, watch this <brrrrrrrr…>”.

Sub par video specs compared to the latest releases (No 4K and no continuous AF during video).

  • Again, guilty as charged.
  • Personal again, but I rarely shoot video.
  • As I mentioned above I got an NX1 largely for 4K and AF-C during video and used them exactly never.
    • The events I shot did not warrant 4K so it ended up being a sledgehammer to drive in a thumbtack affair. The AF-C during video was not needed since I shot band concerts and half time performances.
    • It would have been nice to have them on the spec sheet, but I would rather not have them than pay extra to have it.

No in body flash.

In summary Pentax seems to have produced a camera that leaves some ‘would be nice’ options off, checks off every item on my DSLR-ish wish list all while adding a few I never would have thought to ask for at a price far less than I would have expected to pay:

  • Full frame
  • 36MP
  • Legacy friendly mount
  • In body image stabilization
  • Water and dust sealing
  • Reasonably priced lens selection
  • Solid focusing performance
  • Built in WiFi
  • forgot something I am sure

In all honesty, for whatever reason they decided to do it, like late to the game, general techno-eccentricity or other, I am impressed that a company would produce such a camera at this price point. Especially so soon after being hosed by another brand recently. It feels almost like a nod to those whose ambitions outstrip their budgets. Quite bluntly until this camera was released I could not afford to enter the realm of high featured, little or no compromise full frame DSLRs. Sure, I could have bought a D610, D750, or an A7ii, but what of the glass? Nikon’s VR constant f/2.8 (even VR aftermarket) and Sony’s newly announced constant f/2.8 lenses (no aftermarket options at this time) are all priced far out of my range. Even when I do step up and get the Pentax native zoom offerings to gain modern focusing motors and weather resistance they are easier on the pocket.

Well done Pentax.

I hope to get my hands on my K-1 shortly.

-ELW

 

 

 

 

 

A funny thing happened while waiting for my K-1, aka the case for older Pentax gear.

You do not need to spend a lot for that muffler (old timey commercial reference).

I recently traded a system to pre-order a Pentax K-1 (more about that when it arrives). I held on to a compact remnant of the previous system (used to take the shot below), but I quickly realized:

  • I am not built for pre-ordering. The waiting. The awful, terrible waiting.
  • Not having a DSLR-ish camera available was going to be more of an issue than I thought it would.

I have moved beyond being self conscious about looking like bootleg paparazzi by regularly carrying a camera on a strap out in the open and much prefer this to having to scramble to get a small camera out of a smaller pocket before a photo opportunity passes (and often failing). While momentarily considering whether to rent a Pentax (my own earlier traded k-3ii at that) from the local shop I remembered my Dad’s Pentax K20D. I put Dad’s zooms aside and scored 2 vintage film era primes, a Takumar 135mm f/2.5 from KEH.com and the Pentax A 50mm f/1.7 found at the local camera shop in their huge Pentax tupperware lens bin. Both were purchased to compliment the Tamron f/2.8 zoom twins I have on hold at the same shop as my K-1 kit.

Here is the thing. This very affordable stop gap set up of an 8 year old DSLR and decades old primes has proven to be awesome. A used K20D can be had for less than $200 and each lens can be had for less than $60. My appreciation for Pentax goes back a ways. In fact if you are not put off by manual focus and enjoy vintage glass as I do Pentax DSLR bodies offer a combination of features that have no equal in the used DSLR market still.

  • In body image stabilization. Most mirrorless cameras and all non-Pentax DSLRs still do not have this feature. Not only does this mean that modern AF lenses do not need IS, but now old vintage lenses will enjoy the benefits as well.
  • In related news modern Pentax digital cameras share their mount with Pentax lenses produced since 1975. Many are ‘A’ lenses, like the 50mm I purchased, which means the aperture can be controlled by the cameras body controls. An added bonus for me is that chosen well vintage lenses offer great looking images and are typically glorious looking and feeling things themselves with their heft in hand and usually metal build.
  • Center focus point is functional on MF. I was floored when I was playing around one day with my father’s K20D and a lens off of the ME Super and it beeped when in focus. Did not expect this on a 2008 camera body.
  • Catch in focus. This. Is. Huge. This is turned on via a setting at the tail end of the customization tab on modern Pentax DSLRs, by setting focus method to AF-S, and then holding the shutter down until an object come in to focus and the camera will take the shot. It is a phenomenal feature. It is billed to be used with a fixed camera, fixed focus distance so the camera will take the shot when an object hits the focus trap. But because of the IS, or SR in Pentax speak, I have found that I can effectively hand hold the camera focus smoothly and have the camera take the shot when it confirms focus at the center point. This effectively makes for an AF set up of a sort with ELW drive instead of HSM or screw type.

The list above talks features, but an additional point I have depends on personal preference so I left it off of the bulleted list. Ergonomics. Your mileage may vary, but Pentax cameras have a feel and control layout that simply does it for me. I once explained to a friend that another admittedly great, very popular camera felt like a screen dependent electronic image capturing device that happened to be shaped like a camera, but Pentax cameras felt like real cameras adapted for the digital era and I prefer the latter. Again, your mileage may vary. And it is water and dust sealed to boot.

On to the lenses (click photos for links to galleries):

  • Compact.
  • Wonderful out of focus bits.
  • Reasonably sharp wide open.
  • Great color rendition.
  • Being an ‘A’ lens it links to the cameras aperture controls.
  • I love the look and feel of this little lens.
  • Infinity is truly infinity. If any of you have ever adapted vintage lenses to mirrorless cameras you may have experienced infinity focus often being a fuzzy mess likely owing to flange distance tolerances being slightly off, but not here. Set to infinity and landscapes and distant subjects are yours for the snapping. True native mount compatibility pays dividends here.
  • All metal and built like a tank.
  • Wonderful out of focus bits.
  • Reasonably sharp wide open.
  • Great color rendition.
  • Not an ‘A’ lens so green button stop down metering is needed if stopped down. Honestly I shoot this wide open 95% of the time so I shoot Av and let the camera meter WYSIWYG.

I will stop myself here, but by my estimation anyone looking for an affordable on ramp to photography, but has limited funds or simply has no desire to spend a fortune on gear should take a look at getting a similar set up of their own. Grab a K20D or newer and your own copy of the very compact Pentax A 50mm f/1.7 and you will have a fantastic set up for not a lot of outlay.

-ELW