Archive | February, 2013

Pentax DSLR shutter sounds

26 Feb

Update 5 February 2017: There’s now a second part of this, featuring some newer Pentax cameras.

1) Pentax shutter sound: Z-1P, K10D, K-x and K-5

 

 

2) Pentax shutter sounds: K-x, K-30 and K-5

 

 

3) Pentax K-5 IIs shutter sound

 

 

4) Pentax K-5, K-7, K10D and *istD shutter sounds:

 

 

5) Pentax K10D shutter sound:

 

 

6) Pentax K200D shutter sound:

 

 

7) Pentax 645D shutter sound:

 

 

Now for two that aren’t SLRs.

8) Pentax K-01 shutter sound:

 

 

9) Pentax Q shutter sound (lots of background noise!)

 

 

Youtube has many more, for instance similar samples from various additional Pentax film cameras, and of course from other manufacturers. Enjoy!

Nikon releases two cameras, Canon, Pentax and Olympus users panic, and Sony chuckles

25 Feb

People probably thought Nikon wasn’t serious when it relased the D3200 – after all, noise levels for the 24 megapixel sensor were laughable, especially at higher ISO settings. The chickens also did not stir when the D5200 came out – same megapixels, better signal/noise ratio. Apparently, the writing was not on the wall until the announcement of the D7100. OH NO! You don’t mean they can use that same sensor in a sturdier, pro-looking body, OH MY. OH MY GAWD, WE ARE ALL GOINGS TO THE GALLOWS NOW. That pretty much sums up the response from the Canon (yup), Olympus, and Pentax camps. Meanwhile, Sigma kept playing with its own toys in a corner, blissfully unaware that this other Bayerverse existed.

It’s clear that Sony can send the rest of the bunch scurrying at its whim. Release a new sensor, give it to one of the other camera manufacturers and watch how the rest get jealous like little children. That little bit of control must feel good for Sony after having boldly switched its own entire line-up to what it calls SLT – a technology whose time seems to lie in the distant future, if at all ever.

But it remains to be seen how many customers can actually fork out enough money to pay for lenses that actually take advantage of this new-found resolving power on APS-C. Already, one photography magazine has fallen into the trap of comparing the D600 (35mm format) with the D5200 (APS-C) of the same resolution without ensuring that the lens(es) used exceeded the resolving power of each sensor, concluding that the D600 retains more detail, especially at high ISO. If the lenses used had been explicitly stated, a critical interpretation of the outcome might be possible. As it stands, the test was useless.

My photographers of the week 2012/02/25

22 Feb
  • l_objectif, shooting various Leica D-LUX models and having a nice play on words in his (I think?) username
  • LolloRiva, shooting a Nikon D300S

What camera would it take to save the E system?

21 Feb

Following the announcement by Olympus that they want to continue their commitment to their DSLR line, the E system, there has been a flutter of predictions of what sort of camera Olympus should aim to release. Some of these requests have been considerably out of whack with reality.

In my opinion, the one thing Olympus must do is to safeguard the advantage that the crop factor of the Four Thirds system gives. To me, there are two major routes of failure: Either undercommitting on the megapixel count, or coming up with an uncompetitive price point.

Whether the next model from Olympus be a successor to the E-5 or E-30, it’s clear that its yardstick will be the Pentax K-5 II or K-30. Olympus’ s strongest applications lie in wildlife and underwater photography. Pentax’ bodies both offer weatherproofness, and have a high enough frame rate for most current applications. Comparing with the E-5, we see that the latter, where discounted, is still priced well over the K-5 II, and at over twice the price of a K-30. The E-5 offers weatherproofing, five frames per second continuous drive, but only a 12 megapixel sensor, where both Pentax bodies offer 16 megapixels. Assuming, for comparative purposes, that both bodies are used with infinitely sharp lenses, for the same distance from the subject and same real (not equivalent) focal length lens, the two systems are currently at parity with respect to effective resolution. That means the K system has a realistic advantage because it can fit more scene into the frame without sacrificing resolution, at a higher frame rate, and better detail preservation at higher sensitivities (twilight shooting), as well as higher maximum sensitivity. Pentax’ continuous drive is also insignificantly faster, and the quality of its K-series weatherproofing has been cited as a reason for Pentax cameras being used by the US military in Afghanistan.

However, not all is glum. Olympus has a highly lauded 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor in the OM-D E-M5, whose next iteration should be expected to close the gap to Sony’s current Exmor generation. That would be a good time to also release an updated SLR model. This new model should therefore offer a 16 megapixel sensor, at least 5 fps continuous drive and 1080p movie recording (so the old mirror assembly could be reused, with video recording upgraded to what exists in the OM-D), and a pentaprism, to match the K-30. The price point cannot exceed that of the K-5 II, but that should be no problem given how much of the technology can simply be recycled from the OM-D line, reducing R&D expenditure. On the plus side, 11 cross-type autofocus points would seem competitive vs. the K-5 (9 cross type, 2 linear) – perhaps one does not go to 35, as the OM-D has done, unless this is easy to do and can be raised as a selling point without hurting the price. A similar argument applies to the OM-D’s five axis stabilisation – if it can be done easily while transferring the sensor assembly from the OM-D, do it, otherwise reboot the DSLR line first and then make improvements in the next model.

As usual, there should be a battery grip and other accessories – perhaps the old ones can be made to fit, since the smaller body of the E-30 already accommodated at least the grip of the E-5. I think the main request, if the E-5 rather than E-30 body is used as a starting point (I slightly favour the E-30, personally), will be to reduce the weight by about 150g – this is where the K-5 would be, over which the E-30 has almost a 100g advantage.

A last word of Opinion Nation: To have a long-term viable E system, you will need to offer an entry level model as well as something professional. Therefore making an E-5 based pro model to demonstrate commitment to the system, followed by an E-30 based entry level to attract new users to your proven system, would be the route I would choose.

Penta-X-Trans?

21 Feb

I previously wrote about how it might be interesting to have two of the more innovative but commercially less successful camera manufacturers pool their technologies, suggesting the Fujifilm and Panasonic could be two such candidates – fully aware, of course, that Panasonic already has a partnership with Leica as well as, separately, with Leica and Olympus (for Live MOS), which could complicate negotiations.

But Fujifilm is an interesting company. There was a time when they made DSLR bodies without having a lens line-up – they used Nikon’s F mount, which made a large number of lenses available to be used. At some point, Fuji gave up on this business, presumably because competition from Nikon was too fierce, and the idea of differently branded bodies and lenses confusing to customers. Since then, Fuji has released DSLR-styled bridge cameras – I assume as a replacement of sorts.

I suspect with SLR cameras being one of the more stable remaining segments in the market, Fuji may be interested in renewing its ambitions and getting a slice of that pie. Pentax has recently made great headway in the segment with releasing the K-5 IIs, which according to reports gives not only great sharpness, but also high colour fidelity. Again, it feels like something so bold and brazen that only an innovative underdog like Pentax could pull it off. But the truth, I think, goes deeper. Pentax had its back against the wall. They’d released the K-5 to great acclaim two years previously, and made a serious impression on anyone in the APS-C industry and market. They had to release an update, but there wasn’t a new sensor, either due to a lack of new negotiations amid the Ricoh take-over, or because the existing contract specified a minimum volume that hadn’t been met. Usually, you would want to release a higher-resolving sensor with an AA filter, so that resolving power could increase without adding moire or aliasing to an image. But Pentax, for one reason or another, hasn’t seemed to have that option. So now the bets are on for a next generation 24 megapixel sensor from Sony, but what if that’s all wrong?

What if Fujifilm’s X-Trans platform could be developed to a point where it’s competitive with Sony’s 16MP model? It’s clear that Fujifilm’s JPEG quality already beats Pentax’ platform with that Sony sensor. A question Pentax might ask is whether the next generation Sony sensor will get them ahead again, or if software support for Fujifilm’s photosite arrangement will have progressed far enough to make X-Trans the more attractive platform. All of this assumes, of course, that Fuji doesn’t have its own ambitions to get back into the SLR game.

Sony, meanwhile, is aware of the pressure, and is anticipated by some to release a whole range of Foveon-style sensors at some point in the near future, which would eliminate Sony’s disadvantage in the aliasing and moire department. It looks to me like the current full frame mania may just give Sony enough time to save its position as the provider-of-all-sensors.

Sharpness

21 Feb

Photography at its core revolves around the challenge of obtaining a sharp and colour-accurate image of a scene. Once we’ve achieved sharpness, we can modify the image in any way we like, even removing the sharpness in creative ways. However, we cannot yet easily move in the opposite direction. Therefore we’re obliged to obtain a sharp image as a first step.

What, then, are the factors that determine the sharpness of the image we obtain?

  1. Lens: Lenses differ in “optical quality”, that is to say, how much heterogeneity in surface structure and material composition there is in the glass. Heterogeneous glass will render blurry images, whereas glass that adheres exactly to the intended design will give sharper images. For this reason, many photographers advocate starting with good glass and a cheap camera body, but this again depends on the intended application – for sports and wildlife photography, you will want to have a camera with a high frame rate in order to avoid missing crucial moments in your scene. This may limit your options to mid- to upper-range camera bodies, and take away from your lens budget.
  2. Sensor: The other piece of hardware that matters is the sensor. As part of the sensor assembly, there will usually be an “anti-aliasing filter”, which adds a small amount of blur to the recorded image to avoid the appearance of aliasing and moiré. Recently, camera manufacturers have tended towards giving a weaker AA filter and render a sharper image. It is partly a matter of personal preference whether to use a stronger AA filter, but keep in mind that this, as well as any other filter you use in front or behind your lens, will influence image sharpness.
  3. Focus accuracy: It is obvious that the autofocus accuracy of a camera will determine sharpness (or focus placement, if you will) when using autofocus. When using manual focus on an SLR, much will depend on your skill, but also on having a large and bright viewfinder that allows you to see your scene accurately as it will be rendered on your sensor. On better cameras, the viewfinder will be adjustable to your preferred way of holding the camera up to your eye, or to your level of near- or far-sightedness. The more customisation your camera offers in this regard, and the more accurately you adjust it, the better your focusing ability will be. When using LiveView, you only need to be able to see whether the image on the screen is sharp. Many now recommend using a camera with “focus peaking” to help with this, which highlights any sharply focused edges in your image.
  4. Stabilisation: If you are using longer exposures (weak light or small aperture), and particularly if shooting at greater zoom lengths (telephotography), you’ll have to consider the merits of stabilising your image to avoid blur, either by using a stabilising aid such as a tripod, monopod, gorillapod, beanbag, window mount, etc., and/or by having a camera or lens that support sensor or optical stabilisation, respectively. So-called digital stabilisation is generally less preferred than the other methods, as it typically “slices” the image into sub-images and re-combines them into your final image following alignment. This process is slower both in the taking and processing of the image, and may increase noise in your image. A widely touted rule of thumb says that optical stabilisation should be preferred for larger focal lengths (zoom distances).
  5. Exposure (shutter) time: As mentioned in the previous section, short exposures require less stabilisation. This is because you’re less likely to shake your camera a sufficient amount during short exposures. On some, especially older, camera models the shutter itself will cause the camera to shake, and in some cases the image stabilisation mechanism is in turn shaken in such a way as to add blur rather than subtract it. It’s good to be aware of such settings and either avoid those exposure timings, or disable the image stabilisation. This will vary from camera model to camera model, so you must do some research on how this relates to your particular camera. Notwithstanding these observations, selecting a short exposure is generally advantageous to the quality of your image, with the following caveat.
  6. ISO level: On digital cameras, you can manually select a virtual “film speed”, which corresponds to what in the old days determined how grainy your film was (grainier film catches light more easily on each grain, but with a loss of detail because the “colour dot” (grain) is larger). Higher ISO levels will cause you to lose detail, and will increase noise in your image. You may then want to remove this noise, which, in addition to the loss of detail already inherent in the high ISO level, will cause your image to become even blurrier. Selecting higher ISO levels will allow you to shoot fast action better, but due to the loss of image detail, you should not always shoot at a high ISO setting, or your sensor will perform far below the capability of the sharp lens I hope you bought.
  7. Aperture: This is a slightly advanced topic, but all lenses are sharper at some aperture settings than others. As a general rule of thumb, f/8 will be quite sharp, but the exact sweet spot will vary from lens to lens. The fall-off in sharpness also varies – some lenses can still be very sharp at f/2.8, and most also generate very acceptable images up to f/11. Changing the aperture is, of course, how we control our depth of field, that is, how “deep” into our image we will reach with the sharpness. A small aperture will give greater depth of field, but in order to obtain a nice “bokeh”, i.e. background smoothness, we need to select smaller apertures. Depending on our personal preferences, a truly great lens might be one that allows us to have a part of the image pin-sharp while rendering great bokeh in the background. The shape of highlights on your bokeh, by the way, is determined by the shape of your aperture. Six aperture blades will give you hexagonal highlights. You can make your own.
  8. Adding light sources (flash): Flash may be a very old and time-tested way to improve sharpness in a moving scene, but I mention it last because flash will definitely change the way your scene appears. When using flash, you will always capture an approximation of what you were looking at in real life. Flash can be a creative medium, and especially in a studio setting, where you have more flexibility over the placement of your light sources, these become an irreplaceable part of your toolkit. However, a camera-mounted flash (with the exception of ring flashes in macro photography) will, in most scenes, cause unsightly shadows to appear behind your subject, so camera-mounted flash should be used cautiously and in small doses when possible. You can offset this effect somewhat by “bouncing” your flash off a nearby matte surface with sufficient reflectivity, which will serve to scatter the light from your flash and make shadows less harsh. However, to cut to the short of it, the added light from a flash allows you to lower your exposure times, giving less shake in your image.

Pentax and its competing platforms

16 Feb

For many years, Pentax has maintained two parallel APS-C SLR platforms, the lower one containing the K-m, K-x, K-r and now K-30, and the upper one having the K-7, K-5, and K-5 II/K-5 IIs. Focusing only on recent history, the K-r was developed from the K-x, and the K-30 similarly shares elements with the K-r. The K-7, again is identical with the K-5 except for incremental improvements. The same accessories will fit both cameras.

I’m speculating here, but it may be the case that two mostly separate engineering teams work on these platforms, creating a moderate amount of competition, friendly or otherwise. Maybe people on the higher-end platform get salaried differently, and those making significant improvements on the lower platform get “moved up”. Whatever the case may be, if I’d had a penny for every time I’ve seen the question, “K-5 or K-30” over the past year, my piggy bank would be quite a bit better off.

For those wondering what the benefits of each camera are, I’ll give you the short version. The K-5 has a quieter shutter, larger buffer, more controls, more access options, and reputedly less fast and accurate LiveView focus (aka contrast-detect).  But the K-30 produces smaller files and therefore writes them more quickly once the buffer is full, which almost makes up for the K-5 buffer advantage. The K-30 shoots video at a higher frame rate and lower quality with greater compression (H.264 vs. Motion JPEG). However, my copy is noisy during filming, making this a non-starter. Both are completely water- and dust-proof if used with a WR lens, the continuous fire advantage of the K-5 (7fps vs. 6fps) is negligible, and both record 16 megapixels, with the K-5 II now having the same weak AA filter as the K-30. The K-5 II also has expanded on the plasticlessness of the K-5 (the body is mostly metal) with a glass display. This also makes the K-5 a little heavier, and in spite of its noisiness, one might consider the K-30 the more mobile camera as it has a deeper grip with a special “horn” on the corner of the body to give extra thumb purchase. I’ve never found myself wanting a strap with the K-30, but the K-5 feels more slippy. The K-5 has a slight dynamic range advantage that I never saw making any difference in day-to-day shooting. But it really more or less comes down to the quieter shutter and video capabilities – everything else you can learn to live with.

But you can now often get the K-30 at little more than half the price of its older brother. The dilemma is that each camera has clear advantages, and Pentax has created a situation where there is no “best of both worlds” – a camera that commands a high price and has all the advantages. Doubtless this is too much to ask, and the weight argument alone makes this a likely impossibility in any camera makers. But I could see customers trading off 100g for a camera that is The Beast. Mind you, both cameras offer way more functionality than any competing brand can give you at a comparable price point. They’re the best bodies around for miles in their class. Emphasis on bodies.

Does Pentax see a lot of customers purchasing both cameras, and then returning one, or selling it onwards? Is it making money for them, in the way that Amazon has short-term ownership firmly integrated into its cashflow? That’s thinking too hard about it, and it wouldn’t, in all likelihood, be a good business strategy because margins are greater for lenses. Yes, Pentax wants to sell you lenses. Pentax is a razor blade/printer business. You get the razor/printer (camera body) at a discount, so you then keep investing in blades/cartridges (lenses). Niftily, though, if those second bodies remained in customers’ hands because a Pentax-aligned customer passes the camera on to one who might otherwise have purchased Nikon or Canon, Pentax may actually then sell more lenses. A bit of a long shot, perhaps, and probably not part of the business plan that was presented to the board.

What’s clear is that after very successfully reviving the K-5 line, Pentax will have to come up with a whopper. Something to blow people away and make them realise that it hasn’t all been done. I’ve a few ideas, but they’re MINE. Until Pentax knocks with cash in hand. So we might see the 24 megapixel sensor from Sony next, or the full frame. Both present significant challenges. Not all of Pentax’ current lenses may be up to looking good at 24 megapixels (again, a challenge for all lens makers!), and many are not full frame, which in the short term will feed Sigma if Pentax does release the FF body without massive lens-backup. (Sigma’s K-mount lenses to my knowledge are all full frame compatible, as their design is identical on other mounts that have full frame cameras available.)

Of course, it has been pointed out that they need only revive some older lens designs in the short term, with incremental improvements made thereafter. However, it is my observation that Pentax, like its peers, has been stockpiling. They have a backlog of lenses, especially the non-WR lenses, which is stopping them from upgrading other lenses to this new paradigm. (Incidentally a similar brand differentiation problem arises here with respect to the premium line of DA* lenses – DA* are all weatherproof, whereas DA lenses have started to be upgraded recently.) So Pentax may need to discount APS-C lenses when introducing full frame, to clear stock before customer interest in APS-C abates.

There are several ways out of the dilemma, however. The K-30 has been extremely favourably reviewed. It could remain in the line-up while Pentax introduces an APS-C K-5 III or K-3 with 24MP sensor, and a separate full frame camera. The K-3 and K-30 could then be merged into a single successor priced slightly above the current K-30, with a mirrorless K-02 to round off the entry segment. Let’s see what Pentax decide to do.