Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Odd one Out

In my twenty five plus years (yes, I really am that old), of being involved in this passion/hobby/profession of photography, I've used too many cameras to mention.

As a reviewer I was sent most of the newest gear available from the likes of Canon, Nikon and Sony - and I've owned a plethora of cameras throughout the years.

With film, I was a Canon shooter. Starting with the T70 and then on to the T90, EOS10, EOS50 and eventually EOS1. During the end of my run with Canon film cameras I had a brief 'fling' with Minolta - with a 600si (and a friends old X700). When digital starting hitting the scene, I decided to start 'fresh' and not be swayed by Canon simply because that was what I had always (mostly) used.

I tried a Canon 300D, and a Nikon D70 - both on the same day - and, not surprisingly, bought the D70. It was a great camera, full stop - in film or digital. Fortunately, my wife still uses one, so I do get to 'play' with it every now and again.

But since using digital, I've jumped around all over the place. I've used a D70, a Canon 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, & 5D: a Nikon D200, D90 & D300: a Minolta 7D, and Sony A100 (which I have on 'loan' from a friend at the moment).

And then there's the smaller, compact cameras and micro-four thirds that I've 'briefly' owned - including an Olympus Pen E3, Fuji X10, Panasonic compacts and Canon G3's and G5's!

That's quite an extensive list - even if I do say so myself! But there is one glaringly obvious omission to all these brands of cameras that I have simply never tried. That's right - Pentax.

To be fair, and for full disclosure, I did own and use a Pentax 645 medium format film camera for a while (great camera) - but if we concentrate on digital (and we are), then I've never owned, used, or even touched, a Pentax digital SLR.

Pentax K100D. My first Pentax DSLR!
All that is about to change, because three days ago I won a Pentax K100D on Trademe.

Since I am 'between' cameras at the moment, I had been saving my pennies, selling a few film cameras from my collection, and looking to see what I could get for not much money. This was spurred on by the fact that I've actually been booked to shoot a wedding again - for a family we know, in early 2015.

So I wanted to start putting a system together again, maybe even with a view to shooting a few more weddings, and I wasn't comfortable putting myself out there with 'loaner' gear.

Initially I started looking for Sony cameras second-hand, since I actually own a couple of lenses for them already, and can tap into a pretty impressive arsenal of lenses through a very good friend of mine. But I soon found that the prices for the cameras I wanted were too high, and the one's I could afford I didn't really like.

The same was really true of both Canon and Nikon - although I missed out on getting a Canon 30D really cheap because I forgot the auction closing time! Doh!

So anyway, I kept looking, and eventually came across a couple of auctions for Pentax cameras that were in my price range. I certainly knew of Pentax as a brand name - and the classic K1000 as a film camera, but how good could their DLR's be - right? I mean, you simply don't hear about them. When was the last time you walked into a camera store and saw a Pentax on the shelf next to the Canon's and the Nikon's? it just doesn't happen. At least not to me.

But ever curious (about photography at least), I decided to do a bit of research on Pentax's digital SLR's - and I'm very glad that I did.

In many respects, the K100D is a 'basic' camera - the replacement for Pentax's oddly named *ist line of cameras.

It is, for example 'only' a 6MP camera, that can 'only' shoot at 2.8 frames per second, and then 'only' for five (jpeg) images before the buffer is full, and it has no live view, no articulated rear lcd screen, no video shooting capabilities, no vertical grip option and 'only' a 2.5" lcd screen with 210,000 pixels. That's a lot of 'only's'.

But I guess it all really boils down to what you actually want in a camera - and also what you might really 'need' as well.

Denise and Ashley taken on a Canon 10D
I'll give you an example...

6MP in today's medium-format-like environment of cameras with 36MP sensors may not sound like much, but how many do you really need?

I shoot weddings and landscapes (and family stuff), and have never printed anything bigger than A3. My shots are detailed, crisp, clear and can stand a little cropping - which I seldom ever do because I come from the 'old school' where it was engrained into me to 'crop inside the camera'. To be honest, I really don't understand the 'shoot and crop later' mentality that drives these 36MP arguments of 'pulling' out different details from a scene later. Sounds a bit too much like the old shoot and spray (or should that be pray) technique where quantity somehow equates to quality? Shoot a gazillion shots of a wedding and you're bound to get a few good ones - right? It's the law of averages.

When I first started shooting weddings, I used a Canon 10D (together with a 5D) - and I'm pretty sure the first wedding I shot was with my Nikon D70. Both these cameras are 'only' 6MP, but I have never had a client tell me they didn't like my photos because I hadn't used enough mega pixels. I even recently listened to a podcast with a big event and wedding photographer who said he could probably shoot with a 3MP camera and be fine printing up to A3 for wedding albums. So going to a 6MP camera might sound like a step backwards, but I don't see it as such. Especially when the K100D is what dpreview described as being "as good as six megapixel resolution gets, crisp and detailed".

And as for all that other stuff - I've said before that I don't want (or need) live view, video modes or articulated lcd screens with finger touch technology. And no, I don't want my camera to run the latest google jellybean apps either, thank you very much!

What I want is a well built, well engineered, well thought-out camera to help me create some beautiful images. And from reading the reviews, the Pentax K100D should deliver this in spades!

What it does have that excites me (I'm easily excited), is the ability to shoot in Adobe DNG RAW, SD card storage, 11 focus points (9 of which are cross-type), decent low light performance (for its age), the ability to use every Pentax lens ever made, and an anti-shake system built into the body itself (much like the Sony system). It also has a small lcd on the top for information as well - something sadly lacking on most of the 'budget' digitals on offer nowadays. These are the features I'm after.

So I'm building a Pentax system now. And yes, that means that I will add to it down the track - before I shoot the wedding in 2015. And when I look at adding another body, I will look to pay a little more, and get a 'higher' spec'd body - something like the K10 or K200, with 10MP (which I tend to see as my 'happy' medium for sensor sizes).

I've already added to it, in fact, with an electronic shutter release and a Yongnuo 560EX flashgun - both of which I will write about once I've actually got the K100D and started shooting with it. Can't wait!

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