Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lets get Going!!

Let the the grand experiment in Public Blogging about Pentax begin!

First, thanks to RiceHigh for taking this on as a project. Just one more service to the Pentax community.

First posts are always tough so I thought I would start with some easy stuff. My own Blog has been on Hiatus due to work but the last thing I posted was Pentax centric so I am reposting it here. And despite being over two years old, it is more topical than you might thing.

NeoCamera just posted about getting what matters in a DSLR and two of the four cameras mentioned were Pentax - the K20 and K200. Personally I think the K200 is one of the most underrated cameras of its "generation" and it was nice to see someone else recognize it. Along with that, I think the comparisons are pretty much the same. You can substitute k-r or K5 for K200D and current Canikon counterparts and most of the arguments are still the same. So with that, I will repost "Why I shoot Pentax"

Why I shoot Pentax

I was taking a picture of a group recently and after I finished one of the people walked over and asked "Is that a Cannon or Nikon?" After mentally choking him while shoving a 300mm lens down his throat, responded nicely "No, a Pentax" to which he said "Oh, I didn't know they made Digital SLRs." I mentally choked him again.

Mr. Choking victim is not the only one who thinks only Canon and Nikon make DSLRs. Some people know Sony makes them too :) Pentax, Olympus and Panasonic all make "mainstream" DSLRs and there are lots of specialty companies but Canon and Nikon seem to suck the oxygen out of the discussion. That is a shame. If the personal computer experience has taught us anything, it is that competition is good. iPhoto and iMovie drove Microsoft and other developers to make better visual media apps. Google banished unrealistic inbox sizes with Gmail. And look at what the iPhone has done for cell phones! A photography world with only Cannon and Nikon would quickly become boring and expensive. Panasonic is driving the "toss away the past" movement with the GH series that has no mirror and does incredible video. Olympus is trying to see how small you can make a DSLR and Sony has reignited the megapixel race. Canon and Nikon seem to be intent on mirroring each other more than innovating IMHO.

What camera?
Let me start by saying DLSRs have reached a point where there are no bad choices, just different ones. The differences between sensors have become slight and if the rumors are true, Sony makes Nikons sensors. Choosing a camera has come down to the 3 Fs/P - Features, Family and Feel over Price- feature of the body, the family of products associated with it and the subjective "feel" at the price you can afford. Instead of trying to list all the possible "F3/P," Ill tell you what brought me to Pentax.

Imaging resource has a great, but slightly dated, article on why a DSLR. For me, I wanted a better sensor, better lens and better flash. Before deciding what features matter to you, decide what your current camera is NOT doing for you. Todays super zoom cameras are more like SLRs with only one lens than the point and shoot digitals of a few years ago. I almost waited out another generation of DSLR with an FZ28.

The lineup
This site is about getting the most from your budget and that is exactly what I was looking for in my first DSLR. My initial candidates were the Pentax K200D, Pentax K2000/k-m, Nikon D60, Nikon D40, Canon EOS 450, Panasonic DMC-G1. Right at decision time the Nikon D5000 and Canon EOS 500 were announced and gave me serious headaches! I never really considered any Sony or Olympus models.

Cut Day
I eliminated the D40 because it was too limited. The combination of the 6MP sensor and limited autofocus lens selection was just too much of too little. I plan to use this body for 5+ years so I decided 10MP was my target. Yes, I know there is more than MP count but I wanted the ability to make large prints.
Next to go was the EOS 450. Other than price I cant think of a good reason to eliminate it. I just didnt connect with the Cannon. The feel was just wrong for me. Something about the Canon way of thinking doesn't match me because I have issues with my wife's Canon S5 P&S.

I thought REALLY hard about the Pansonic DMC-G1. My last P&S/Supersoom was an FZ8 and I really loved it. Actually, I still have it and use it when I dont want to carry as much or if there is a serious hazard to my camera. I loved the size and true live view of the G1 plus the video capability but the price and sensor sent it packing. The G1, like the Olympus E520, uses a 4/3 sensor with a 2x FOV crop. One of the things I wanted was a bigger, softer sensor and the 4/3 was not what I was looking for. I have also learned, the hard way, not to buy version 1.0.

The D5000/EOS500 threw me for a loop but at the end of the day, the major advantage of them was video with a HUGE increase in price. I have a video camera (a Canon - see I dont discriminate!) and I dont use it much compared to my still camera. I would have to sacrifice a lot of still capability in the form of lenses and accessories to get video and that was not my purpose in going to a DSLR.

The Contenders
My final choices were the K200, K2000 and the D60.
I really liked the price and size of the K2000. The standard kit included a dedicated flash which would save me money initially. It also had slightly better ISO performance than the K200. On the bad side it came with an older kit lens despite being a new camera and it had some other major shortcomings. There is no ability to select the focus point which seriously limits creativity. It also has no weather seals and the included flash is fixed at 90 degrees. Much like the D40, I was concerned that I would outgrow the K2000 far too fast.

Championship bout
So I was down to the D60 and the K200. I will admit that the K200 came in with a "reach" advantage - my first real SLR was a Pentax K1000 - but I had also always dreamed of a Nikon. The initial price was a push since they were only $10 different on the day I got mine. But initial price was only half the story. Nikon decided a long time ago to put image stabilization on the lens instead of on the body. That was probably because the technology for lens stabilization predated affordable digital bodies and Nikon could sell a lot of new lenses to film guys long before they could convince them that digital could replace film. Pentax decided to make every lens better by putting the stabilization in body. But that meant that any improvement in stabilization means getting a new body. Those decisions mean that with Nikon, you pay for stabilization every time you buy a lens but newer lenses might have better stabilization. With Pentax you pay for it once but you are stuck with that level. Nikon also decided that the D60 was for "new" Nikon shooters and did not make it Autofocus compatible with older lenses. So along with paying for IS each time, you are limited to newer lenses and a more limited range. If you wanted the compatibility, you had to jump up to the D80 or better - at a significant cost. There were some other features left to D80 or better buyers - the D60 has no vertical grip or battery grip. There is no built in wireless flash capability. There is no option for uncompressed RAW and no ability to control Noise Reduction. And like the K2000, it has no weather seals. In fact, dust is such an issue, it has a very complex dust removal system. Finally there was the feel. It felt cramped in my hand and with anything except the 18-50mm kit lens, it felt unbalanced because the body seemed too light.

The K200D had a lot of the features the D60 lacked. The in body stabilization meant I could get some seriously budget lenses right off the bat. My first non-kit lens was a 28-80mm Tamron that cost $44. Sure its not pro glass but for $44 if I get 2 or 3 pics a year that I love, it was worth it. The same lens for Nikon cost $90 and on the D60 it would have been manual focus. I got a battery grip with a vertical shutter button for $30 and because the K200 takes AA batteries, I got great Eneloop recharables for less than half what an extra Nikon (or anyone else including the one used on the Pentax K20D) battery cost. And I can use the same batteries in my flash. Im really glad Im not stuck buying Panasonic batteries now that they have disabled 3rd party batteries. The feel of the camera with the battery pack attached is perfect to me and the weather seals give me confidence to shoot in pretty rough conditions. Wireless flash is built in meaning my $250 AF-360 purchase added off camera flash at no additional cost. But I did give up some things with the K200D. The burst rate and continuous speed on the Pentax is no match for the Nikon. Right now I mostly shoot flowers and landscapes so its not as big a deal. But it is limiting. ISO performance past 800 is really not good. I would only use 1600 in a pinch. And there is no denying that Nikon glass is special. My 5MP Nikon CP5400 took incredible pictures that I attributed to the lens. Try finding a Pentax dealer in anything except a LARGE town let alone overseas and renting equipment is right out. The Pentax "ecosystem" is just no match for the Big 2. Final downside - I have suffered from Pentax "focus hunting." I have not used other systems enough to know how they do but I have missed some shots because of it.

Final verdict
In the end it came down to total cost of ownership. The Pentax was going to give me more bang for the buck initially and allow me to add capability much cheaper than the Nikon. Even things like lens filters were cheaper on the Pentax because the lenses are smaller around. That meant I could get more creative sooner rather than later. And the "feel" of the camera cannot be underrated. If you dont like holding your camera, you wont. The D60 and the D40 didn't feel right in my hand, the K200 did. I plan to hold it for a long time. And I wont pretend there was not a bit of contrarian "be different" going on. I owned a Beta VCR (I waited until BluRay won), listen to strange music and was a Mac guy long before it was cool. Maybe when this blog makes me super wealthy and I can but anything I want I will get my dream Nikon but I will probably always be a Pentax guy.

None of this is meant to say "Buy Pentax." The K200D is right for me. But I am saying look at what capability you are trying to add and decide what camera best fits that need at the price you want to pay. And look at the entire price. AA batteries and a battery grip were not factors when I started my search but became ones when I realized that I was going to have to spend a lot of extra money to ensure I had power for a week of hiking and I was going to be changing those batteries more often in dusty conditions. And now I would not even consider a camera that didnt have the option for a vertical shutter. And make sure you pick up an hold before you buy. I would end with a comparison but I want to keep this rated PG!