Archive | August, 2014

New entry level Pentax DSLR: the K-S1

28 Aug


Following hot on the heels of the Q-S1, Pentax has just announced the K-S1. It has a 20 megapixel sensor Pentax/Ricoh haven’t used before, an inbuilt stereo mic, and supports ISO from 100 to 51200 as well as video at FullHD (1080p) at 30p. It includes an anti-aliasing simulator and shake reduction, and supports the Pentax FluCard for tethered shooting and immediate tablet or phone viewing.

There are several major interface novelties that should greatly increase the usability of the camera. Firstly, the K-S1’s on/off lever also allows you to switch to video. The mode dial will be on the back of the camera, and the currently active mode is illuminated. This will be an advantage when operating in dark environments like theatres or during night photography, and the placement of the dial may make it harder to change modes accidentally, without requiring a locking mechanism. On the front of the camera, there’s a series of LCDs that can be used to communicate things such as a count-down, and perhaps something to do with face, blink or smile recognition. On the newly placed mode dial, there is a position that allows selecting art effects, as well as a position for scene modes.

The camera has no front wheel for changing settings values, only a rear-oriented one.

The K-S1 will be available in twelve colours, the white model optionally including a white kit lens that I believe differs from previous incarnations in having a light grey rather than black rubber ring.


The K-S1 is about the same size as the Canon EOS 100D/SL1, but the Pentax includes a pentaprism, allowing for a brighter viewfinder image and 100% frame coverage.

Best Sigma APS-C normal lens?

19 Aug

In this post, I’ll look at the different options to get an affordable APS-C lens in the 28-35mm range from Sigma. This translates as the equivalent of 42-52mm focal length on a full frame/small format/”35mm film” camera.

I’ve populated the field with three of Sigma’s new “Art” lenses – two primes and one zoom, as well as an older 30mm Sigma prime lens that was the predecessor of the new “Art” version with the same focal length. All four lenses are HSM (hypersonic motor) lenses.

As a bonus, I threw in the 28mm f/1.8 Macro, which is not an HSM lens. Test results are from DxOMark, technical information from Sigma.

Five APS-C normal lenses from Sigma compared.

Five APS-C normal lenses from Sigma compared.

I’ll mostly let the table speak for itself – as per convention, green is good, red is bad.

What you should notice is that while the 35mm f/1.4 Art is clearly an amazing lens, the 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom trails it only slightly in distortion and chromatic aberration, while being equally sharp. At the relatively slightly lower price, this looks like an amazing deal (but yes, it’s very long for a supposedly 35mm maximum zoom lens).

Pentax: That thing with the pin

14 Aug

Sigma currently is discontinuing some of its lenses, and seems to be targeting K-mount as the first mount to do so. It was always clear that Sigma would update its long zoom range to its new Sports line, which, if nothing else, is distinguished by granting access to Sigma’s Mount Conversion Service, which gives users the option to keep the lenses they buy when they change to a different supported camera system. The idea is that you could buy a Canon lens and take it with you when you move to Pentax, Sony, Nikon, or Sigma, at a fee and a few weeks’ waiting time (during which, if you were a professional, you could rent a replacement lens from somewhere, or buy for the interim and sell the worse copy when your first one gets back from Sigma).

So far, Sigma has updated or released a number of lenses for its Art line, which is also eligible for the programme, but not much was heard for Sports or Contemporary, its remaining two categories (Sports is for long lenses, Art for high quality lenses from moderate wide to portrait focal lengths, and Contemporary is presumably for everything else).

So when it comes to Pentax mount, people see that the K-mount bodies are selling like hotcakes, at least in some regions, but feet still get chilly whenever there’s a possibility that fewer lenses will be available in the near future. As a result of discontinuations, people then overpurchase lenses that they think they might need in the future, such that remaining stock can disappear quickly. This apparently happened with the 70-200mm f/2.8, 100-300mm EX, and 120-400mm lenses. In addition, some people called their Sigma representatives and were told different things. One speculation apparently was that the 70-200 was discontinued because only two to three of them were sold, per month, for K-mount in the US. Another person was able to place a “back-order” for one, suggesting it isn’t really discontinued.

Sigma have, in a recent interview, stated that supporting Pentax is more difficult than other brands because Pentax still controls aperture through a mechanical lever. This increases research and development as well as machining costs. In spite of this, Sigma have in the past kept the same price point for lenses in various mounts. From Pentax/Ricoh’s point of view, this circumstance may be seen as a competitive advantage, since at least historically, camera makers have sought to sell their own lenses rather than allowing third party lenses to be bought. On the other hand, having a smaller lens collection available for purchase may cut off sales entirely if people take it as a reason to stop buying into bodies.

It’s also true to say that the contact point between the camera’s and the lens’ aperture mechanisms is an additional source of “shutter” noise when shooting at less than widest aperture. Lenses on any TTL system – Olympus, Sony, Canon or other – ultimately need to move their aperture blades into position. (Btw, that’s one reason why cameras with an optical or hybrid viewfinder, such as the Leica M series or Fujifilm X100, are better at street photography.) However, its clear that Pentax’ additional aperture lever is a source of significant noise.

Not knowing what else may happen at Photokina, and whether something special is happening at either Pentax or Sigma to create these perturbations in Sigma’s lens supply chain, I would still like to ask the question why Pentax doesn’t include an additional aperture-control electrical contact on its next generation of bodies to allow third party lenses to be more easily made or mount-converted, leading to a larger available lens selection that could benefit the wider adoption of a set of bodies that for many applications are still the best available.

Will Canon eliminate viewfinder black-out?

13 Aug

Viewfinder blackout is one of the most upsetting limitations of current camera technology. So far, it affects all cameras that produce a viewfinder image through the same lens that is subsequently used for image capture.

Canon now has a patent on switching from the traditional phase-detect autofocus (PDAF) sensor to its dual pixel on-sensor PDAF. Like many patents, this is in itself so obvious that it doesn’t, in my opinion, justify a patent. However, Imaging Resource has mused whether this means that there is a sister patent that will explain how a viewfinder image will continue to be generated during such capture. Obviously, this would point at some kind of hybrid viewfinder, but Canon might, in the process, succeed in eliminating black-out. Ironically, one way to implement such a viewfinder would be through another additional pellicle or reflex mirror.

It certainly is bloody time that somebody eliminated black-out. Aptina’s sensors can be read out at 60 Hertz to record a full resolution image. In spite of Nikon’s 1 series supporting such a framerate, something is clearly wrong with the electronics design since even those cameras still have black-out.

One has to wonder whether Canon will eventually bowl itself out of the game with its apparently steam-punk approach to this problem. At the same time, one wishes that Nikon electronics and software engineers would get their hands out of their ***** and produce a better processing pipeline. I have no doubt the Germans could do it if they put their minds to it. Hey Leica, are you listening?

Source: Egami (Google Translate Link Warning: LINK)

Model refresh – an appraisal

10 Aug

“It’s not enough of an upgrade” – a phrase frequently heard on gearheads websites when new models are announced for an existing product line. It was one of the responses to the recent Pentax Q-S1 as much as for the Canon EOS 700D or Nikon D3300. The air is getting thin in the digital camera market, and manufacturers need to cut corners – their manufacturing needs to become more modular, the model refreshes more incremental.

Sony did this masterfully from 2008 to 2011 – their Alpha 200 was chased by an A230, then an A290; likewise, the A350 was succeeded by an A380, then A390, almost at 12-month intervals. They repeated this with the A500 and A550 DSLR lineages. then the A33 and A55 SLT lines, the latter of which endures in the shape of the A58. Most of these models were relatively simple upgrades of a previous one, differing by a few megapixels or a small saving on the sale price.

The downside to this strategy is that not every new model will get fully reviewed by photography and tech publications. For instance, many did not review the Pentax K-50 because while the body was completely redesigned, the internals were nearly identical to the K-30, except that a higher maximum ISO had been enabled in the firmware. Similarly, in the Sigma DP line, many publications will review only one model from each generation as the DP1, DP2 and DP3 do not differ in anything other than focal length and the slightly different properties of the lens; however, even the widest aperture is the same among them.

Nonetheless, each new model release creates headlines in technical publications. Pentax has arguably followed a similar concept to advance coverage of its DSLR by announcing new colour choices or special editions at certain points in the product life cycle. Canon’s “Rebel” entry level DSLRs get extra column inches by having three names each – the 700D mentioned above is also known as the Kiss X7i, or Rebel T5i, depending which market you’re in. International coverage always has to try and address readers from all regions, so each name must be mentioned when referring to the camera. (At other times, redundant words are included in the model name, such as EOS, Lumix DMC, Coolpix or Cyber-shot DSC, in the belief that they confer a particularly sought-after brand identity.)

It is clear that some companies follow such schemes to a lesser extent. While Panasonic’s GH4 is in many ways an incremental upgrade of its GH3 model, it does include one big headine feature – 4k video. Other Panasonic interchangeable lens models have generally stood on their own in this reviewer’s impression. Olympus mixes up its models only in the PEN series (where the difference between E-P, E-PM and E-PL models is generally small, and some upgrades have been minimal), whereas each model in the OM-D series has been individually designed for its intended market.

Samsung has only very recently shown inclinations towards incremental upgrades, whereas Fujifilm has only upgraded one X-series ILC so far, with the X-E2, which was widely considered a success.

In some cases, a quick succession of model increments can be an indication of the health of a model line – Sony’s RX1 was followed by an RX1R, and its RX100 is now on its third model iteration. Nikon’s 1 series has similarly exploded in model lines and generations – again, we are counting the third generation of this mirrorless interchangeable lens camera line. Both the RX100 and Nikon 1 series have undergone significant changes during their existence, however.

And while Olympus and Pentax (with their K-500) have succeeded in diversifying their price points in the entry market by adopting a more incremental and modular approach to design, none of these manufacturers can escape the truth that more radical redesigns are necessary from time to time. The ability of manufacturers to correctly judge the best time for such redesigns, and ability to get them right on the first release will be a large factor in their ability to stand their ground in this highly competitive market.

Pentax K-3 photo contest second round

9 Aug

Since I mentioned round 1 of this contest, saying how high I thought the quality of entries was, I thought it only fair to mention that all the entries from round 2 can now be viewed.

Gunmetal gray – Pentax’ new black

8 Aug
Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition

Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition

It struck me that among the colour combinations available in the Pentax Q-S1 Color Simulator, a sort of gunmetal gray was an option for both the top plate and the lens barrel. So I went to recreate a Q-S1 with as close to the colour scheme of a Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition as I could. It made me think that gunmetal gray might become a colour option that we’ll see in Pentax products more often after this point. I have to admit it looks sleek.

Pentax Q-S1 in what looks like gunmetal gray

Pentax Q-S1 in what looks like gunmetal gray

Updated 2014/08/28: There are two other recent grey models from Pentax/Ricoh, one being the limited edition Ricoh GR and the other a grey K-S1, just announced. The K-S1 colour is called “tweed grey”. Officially, the GR edition is green.

GR Limited Edition