Monday, 3 November 2014

Is Street Racing the death of my Pentax K10D's!?

For the last 10 months I've hosted a new blog dedicated to my Pentax K10D's - cameras that I have really enjoyed using. They are fantastic, solid, dependable cameras that are perfect for travel and general shooting.

But the rubber hit the road recently (almost literally), when I decided to cover the annual motorcycle street racing in my local town.

Speed demons the Pentax K10D's are most definitely NOT. In fact, they struggle to get past 2fps, and ISO 800 is pretty noisy. Fortunately, I also have a beat up Canon 50D on 'permanent' loan from a friend, and she also let me borrow her 400mm f5.6L lens for the weekend to shoot with. Oh Yeah!

Streetrace action 2014. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2000th. ISO 800
The 50D has a much more respectable 5fps, and a fairly solid autofocus system for tracking subjects across the frame (something else that Pentax cameras in general struggle with). It was a pretty miserable, overcast (and then very rainy) day, so I cranked the ISO up to 800 on the 50D, set it on Hi-speed continuous autofocus, and mounted the 400mm f5.6L on a monopod for better stability.

No 167. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2500th. ISO 800
I was not disappointed with this setup. In fact, I had an absolute blast and the focus was blazingly fast and accurate 9 times out of ten. And I'm pretty sure that the tenth time was probably user error.

There were only two things I struggled with on the day. First, because it's street racing and you can dangerously close to the action, I found that the 400mm was a bit too much reach and I found myself walking back further than I would have liked to get everything framed right. I could have easily gone with a 70 to 200mm instead. Lesson learned for next time.

And second, as noted earlier, the 50D I've borrowed has had a hard life, and although it performed flawlessly, the batteries for it aren't what they used to be. I took four of them - fully charged the night prior to the event - but they only lasted me until lunchtime and then all four were depleted! Bummer!!

Go Kart demonstration. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2500th. ISO 800
So that meant that, after lunch, I had to pack away the Canon gear, and reach for the Pentax K10D with Sigma 55-200mm zoom lens. The good news with going for the Pentax was that now the battery was going to last, the focal length of the zoom was about right, and the K10D body is weather sealed for what was now fairly consistent driving rain.

Unfortunately, that's where all the good news ends for the Pentax. After using the Canon 50D all morning, mowing to the K10D was painful. The Sigma hunted continuously in the low light, ISO 800 is pretty noisy, and I could only get off one shot before the action was over as the autofocus system and frame rate tried to cope. In a word, frustrating.

Pentax K10D with Sigma 55-200mm at f5.6 @1/640th. ISO 800
I did manage to get one good shot with the Pentax (see above). And that's it. One good image. Out of probably 200 shots I took before giving up and calling it a day. Whereas, with the Canon 50D I took over 1000 images, with probably at least half of them worth keeping. Easily 100 would be worth putting on a cd and giving to the race committee (who kindly gave me an all access media pass for the day). I had an absolute blast with the Canon 50D. I hated using the Pentax for Street Racing.

I do want to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this post; I really enjoy using the Pentax K10D for general photography. They are solid, dependable, well designed and rugged little cameras, that within their limits, take excellent images.

Notice the caveat 'within their limits' in that last sentence? What are their limits? Well, for me, there are only two. By far the major issue I am finding as I go deeper into the system, is lens selection. In the autofocus lineup, it's fairly limited - and very expensive to buy brand new. If I then go second hand, I run into another problem; there just aren't very many available for sale - at least here in New Zealand on our online auction site Trademe.  At any given time their might be two or three Pentax auto focus lenses worth considering on auction (and then at fairly high prices), whereas if we look at Canon in the second hand department, there might for over two hundred worthy contenders, at better prices! For someone who is constantly on a budget with their photography gear, and who needs 'best bang for the buck', going with a Pentax systems seems now, in hindsight, a rather unwise decision.

And what's the second limiting factor for Pentax? Well, in case you hadn't already guessed, it's the autofocus system. It kinda sucks. And even on the latest K5IIs and K3 it's reportedly still behind the likes of Canon and Nikon. Which admittedly, up until now, wasn't a major concern to me. But now it seems like it is. Especially if I plan on doing more street race shooting (and I do).

Finally, there is the noise 'issue' at ISO 800 and above. The files were a little noisier than I would like, and obviously more noisier that the Canon 50D at ISO 800 (itself known as one of Canon's noisier bodies). That being said, I'm not someone who chases the high ISO settings as a 'must have' for my cameras. I grew up 'old school' shooting film, and ISO 400 still seems like a heck of a lot! In fact, shooting at ISO 800 is as much as I would want to push any camera sensor - so these 25,000 ISO figures are just crazy stupid to me. But a relatively 'clean' ISO 800 would make me a happy photographer.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that yes, I am going to sell my Pentax K10D's (somewhat reluctantly) and look at getting something else. What else, you may ask? Well, I think I might know the very thing....

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